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Introduction:

harry potter
Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming

Prologue


The golden candlelight flickered off the stone walls, walls built before the founding of Hogwarts, before the campaigns of Charlemagne, before the birth of Christ. These walls endured the battles of Pharaoh, and of Caesar, and saw the creation of magic in the earliest of days. The rhythmic chant of the sixteen, cloaked in black, resonated against the walls, which somehow knew what was to come.

A thin, toothless, smile creased her aged face, worn by years of waiting, but now… now the time, at last, had arrived. With the sacrifice set, she closed her eyes and nodded, and the sixteen thrust forth their daggers. She could taste the blood, and her smile broadened; the age of Pravus and Morgana had returned… a new age reborn… the age of Voldemort and…

“NO!” she screamed, sensing, too late, his presence.

Harry woke with a start, his sheets soaked with sweat, a mixture of the night’s heat and the new nightmare. Her screams still ringing in his ears, he adjusted his pillow, flopped back down, and… smiled. For the first night all summer, he woke to a dream that had nothing to do about Sirius Black.


~~~~~~~~


Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming

Chapter 1 - A New Beginning


The air was hot and humid as Harry lay on his back watching the clouds fly over Privet Drive. Droplets of sweat fell from his forehead making his hair wet. Under the shade of two large bushes he found himself again, as last year, outside the Dursley’s open window hoping to hear some word of what was going on in the world, hoping to hear some sign that might give him a clue as to what Voldemort and his followers were up to.

He had received a few owls from Ron and Hermione, and one from Remus, each wishing him well, and reassuring him that all was quiet in the Wizarding world. Yet, Harry knew that Voldemort’s greatest strength was stealth, an ability to move unseen and undetected. All might be quiet, but that didn’t mean that nothing was happening. So he listened intently for the smallest of clues, the least story that was out of the ordinary, and in those moments during advert breaks, his mind mulled over the prophecy of his fate… a fate only known by Harry and Professor Dumbledore. One day, Harry and Voldemort would meet, and only one of them would survive.

The newscaster led the stories of the night with a five-car pile-up outside Bristol. A petrol tanker had caught fire and three people had died. “A drop in the bucket,” thought Harry, “if he has his way.” In a few minutes, the news turned to the weather. “Hot, hot and hotter!” chirped the weatherman. With this, Harry’s mind wandered to the parchment Ron had sent him earlier that afternoon. He pulled it out of his pocket and read it again. It was the most newsworthy note he’d received all summer.

Harry,

Sorry to hear you’re so miserable. I thought for sure you were going to be able to stay with us this summer, but things have taken a bit of a turn. Dad was appointed to direct the Ministry’s efforts in the capture of You-Know-Who and his followers. Dumbledore says that the appointment has put our whole family on the Death Eater’s hit list. We’ve had to leave the Burrow to live in the one place I don’t think you’d want to come back to, at least not yet. It’s not the same here as it was last Christmas, that’s for sure. Mum says as soon as we get things straightened up you should come to stay. Be strong, Harry! It should only take a few weeks.

Be careful!

Ron


Harry knew, of course, it was his godfather’s house, Sirius Black. They’d spent Christmas there last year. It was the happiest Harry had ever seen Sirius; the pleasant daydream swirled in Harry’s mind, but then, as it always did, his mind shifted to the scene it had played all summer long. He saw himself yelling at Hermione, demanding that Sirius was in trouble. He saw himself lead his friends into danger. He saw Sirius coming to the rescue… Sirius battling Bellatrix… Sirius falling through the curtain. If Harry hadn’t been so arrogant, his godfather would still be alive, and as much as everyone had tried to reassure him it wasn’t, he knew it was his fault. He groaned just thinking about it again, the pain palpable in his heart. Had Sirius lived, Harry would be with him right now. The Ministry had cleared his name, and the Daily Prophet was declaring him a hero. Sirius Black, the closest thing Harry had to family, and he had led him to his death.

There was a loud pop from across the street and Harry jumped up, twisting just in time to miss the opened window. He’d grabbed his wand from his pocket, but it was just the carpenters finishing up some remodeling work on the old Wythe house. In front was a new SOLD sign. The house had only been up for sale about a week; Harry had never seen a house sell so quickly on Privet Drive.

“Put that down, boy!” his Uncle Vernon hissed, staring down at Harry from the open window. Sweat dripped down his Uncle’s ruddy face as his eyes flashed up the street. “If you want to eat, get in the house… now!” Harry slid the wand back in his threadbare jeans and walked around to the front door.

Not much had changed since last year. Even though the Dursley’s knew that Voldemort had risen again, and that he was out to kill Harry, no one would speak of it. In fact, nothing had really changed at all except for one thing. Dudley, Harry’s oversized cousin, was now speaking with him, and not just jabs and insults. They were having real conversations. Harry was amazed Dudley could even string three good sentences together. At first, they were just questions: “What were those things that attacked us last year?” “Why couldn’t I see them?” “Who’s Voldemort?” “Why is he after you?” It seemed the more he learned about Harry and Harry’s world, the harder it was to hate him. Dudley still had his gang, but when any of them tried to punch Harry in the ribs, or trip him while he was walking past, Dudley would simply say, “Lay off.” And now, they simply did just that. Not only was Harry free to walk the village without fear of being pummeled, he was able to talk to other kids without having to worry that Dudley’s thugs would come after them. The one thing Dudley wouldn’t do was talk with Harry in front of his parents. So, after another silent dinner of cabbage rolls and cottage cheese Harry climbed the stairs to his room.

It had been an exhausting day of nothingness, and instead of reading the Quid-Ex magazine Ron had sent him, he decided to go straight to bed. “Clear your mind,” Harry thought. “Relax.” He had resolved to practice Occlumency over the summer, and was actually getting quite good at it. He was able to sleep at night without dreaming of Voldemort, and his scar had stopped burning. Thoughts of Ron’s letter left his head. The film of Sirius’ death stopped playing in his mind; and soon he was asleep.

The sound of a loud squeal like fingernails on a chalkboard broke his slumber. At the sudden noise, he sat bolt upright in bed. The sun was streaming through his open window; it was morning already. There was a loud clanking and banging in the street outside. Harry rubbed his eyes, trying to adjust to the light; he grabbed his glasses from off his nightstand, and walked over to the window.

Outside, a moving truck had pulled up to the house across the street. A rather beaten up four door sedan was parked out on the curb as well. Movers were opening up the large truck and talking to a rather tall, dark haired man, whose eyes kept darting up and down the street. The morning was warm, but he wore a long-sleeved shirt, as he seemed to be pointing out what he wanted done. “So that’s my new neighbor?” Harry thought. “I wonder what he’s looking for?” A dark haired woman stepped out of the house. Unlike the man, she was wearing a T-shirt, but her eyes too were looking up and down the street. “Mrs. Neighbor?” Harry whispered. “What are you looking for?”

The woman cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “Gabriella!” Then, turning, she yelled something to the man in a language that Harry could not understand, and the man yelled back in the same tongue, clearly irritated. Was it Russian? Greek? Again the woman called, “Gabriella!”

“Yes, Mama!”

A tall slender girl appeared from behind the house. She had long black hair that was tied back in a ponytail. She too wore jeans and a T-shirt, but somehow they seemed to suit her better than her mother. Was she about Harry’s age? Her mother stepped down from the front door, grabbed her by the arm and took her over to her father. He began to yell, but what was being said Harry couldn’t say. The daughter kept replying in English, but the parents… he couldn’t tell. He leaned out his window slightly to see if he could pick out some word he might interpret when an owl carrying the morning’s Daily Prophet hit him square in the face.

The owl squawked loudly, somehow entangling itself on Harry’s glasses. “Get off me you bloody bird!” Harry felt himself slipping out the window. He reached up, grabbed the bird and tore it from his face, the bird screeching louder. Just in time, he caught himself from falling on the side of the window frame, and then looked down. Below in the street, the yelling had stopped. Everyone had turned to view the second story of number four Privet Drive. The movers looked perplexed, the mother and father stared blankly, and the daughter seemed to be laughing with her hand over her mouth. To Harry’s horror, he realized he was hanging out his window in his boxers with no shirt and, of course, a severe case of bed head. He quickly pulled himself back up, flashed a half-hearted wave and smile, and shot back into his room.

What a glorious way to start the day. There he was, thinking perhaps that his new neighbors might be in league with the Dark Lord. Instead, a perfectly normal family moves in, and he almost breaks his neck falling out a second story window nearly saving Voldemort the trouble of killing Harry himself. He went to put a shirt on when another owl arrived, this time with a letter from Hermione. He sat down on his bed, trying to gather himself, and read.

Harry,

I hope this note finds you very well. It won’t be long until we’re all together again! I know it’s only been a couple days since my last post, but I’ll be traveling for about a week and I won’t be able to write. Don’t worry though, everything’s fine! Just a short holiday. I’ll write again as soon as I get back.

Love,

Hermione

Not a moment later a third owl flew in; this time it was a letter from Ron.


Harry,

Things have been getting pretty busy around here. So I won’t be able to write for a few days. Don’t worry though, it’s nothing really important.

I’ll write back as soon as I can.

Ron

The owls began to fight with each other, their feathers littering Harry’s room. Hedwig hooted reproachfully from her cage in the corner. Harry ignored the commotion. Instead, he reread each letter trying to figure out what was going on. Obviously, he was being left out of something. Was he too much of a liability to start helping the Order? It was perfectly clear in Harry’s mind that they were asking Ron and Hermione to help out. “Bit of a holiday!” Harry spat. They were probably being asked to travel somewhere, to get information, or maybe to try and capture one of the escaped Death Eaters. Bellatrix Lestrange? Did they expect Harry to just sit in his nice cozy room and wait for school term to begin? He tore the letters in his hands and scattered them with the feathers across the floor. “Get out of here you filthy birds, I’ve got nothing for you! I never want to see another owl again!” He chased them from his room and slammed his window shut. Hedwig gave a scolding hoot in her cage. “Sorry girl, I just… I just… sorry.” He laid his forehead against the pane of the glass, and watched the movers below take furniture into the new neighbor’s house. He stood there, watching nothing, until Aunt Petunia called him down to start breakfast.

Breakfast at the Dursley table was much the same as dinner the night before. Harry knew better than to say a word, and instead he let his mind turn over the early morning’s events. What was the Order up to? What had they asked Ron and Hermione to do? Why did they both tell him not to worry? Who was the family moving in next door? Was the girl part Veela?

“Uncle?” Harry had found the words falling from his mouth before he could stop them. “Do you know who’s moving in next door?”

“And what business is that of yours, boy!” The question had clearly brought something to the surface, reminding Harry of why he was never to speak at the table. Uncle Vernon’s face began to grow scarlet, and his eye began to twitch. He turned to Petunia. “Perfectly fine neighborhood! Perfectly fine! And now! Now! Ruined.” His last word squirted out like a deflating balloon.

“Now dear,” Aunt Petunia spoke in her nicest and most proper voice, “they may be perfectly fine.”

“Have you seen their car? How could the vermin even afford to live in this neighborhood?” Aunt Petunia simply shook her head, but Harry caught Dudley’s eyes and he clearly detected a look of disgust. “They probably came in to some money the wrong way, if you ask me. How else, eh? How else?”

After breakfast, Harry went outside for a walk to the park and met up with Dudley who was heading down the street toward Magnolia Avenue. “What was the ruckus at breakfast about?” he asked.

“The neighbors of course.” responded Dudley thickly.

“I know it was about the neighbors, what’s wrong with the neighbors?” Harry asked, trying to spell it out for his cousin.

“Well, they’re not from around here, are they? Dad says they’re from somewhere in the Middle East, he figures they’ve got to be terrorists or something. God, he’s bloody ignorant!” Harry just nodded and listened. “The woman was over working on their house the other day, and asked me if I wanted some cookies from the lunch basket she’d brought. They looked weird, but it was the best meal I’ve had in ages!” A look of rapture had spread over Dudley’s face.

“You don’t suppose they’re really dangerous?” Harry asked, wondering if maybe there was a connection, however remote, with Voldemort.

“Look, anyone that invites a stranger in and gives them food is number one in my book!” Dudley exclaimed. Harry couldn’t help but wonder what Mad-Eye Moody would say.

That evening during the news, Harry found himself under the bushes again; listening to yet another account of stories that meant nothing. When the adverts started, the film of Sirius’ death began to play again in his head, only to be cut short by the sweet sound of whistling… a tune Harry had heard playing on the radio over and over for the last few weeks. He sat up and peered through the bushes. Across the street was the girl, her hands clasped behind her back, she was simply whistling and looking at the flowers in the front of her garden. Harry looked and listened for a moment, and his heart seemed somehow lighter.

From inside the house he heard his aunt call out, “Dinner!” Quietly, he stood up and walked over to the front door. The whistling stopped. Harry could feel two eyes staring at the back of his neck. He thought to turn around, and then caught a glimpse of himself in the window; his clothes were covered in dirt and debris from the bushes, and his hair had something imbedded in it that resembled a bird’s nest. He was frozen for a moment. Quickly, he rushed through the front door, shutting it behind him. He looked back through the pane of glass, but the girl was gone.

He laid his forehead against the door, and sighed. Why should he care what he looked like? She was only a Muggle after all, but then another voice in his head whispered, “… a very pretty Muggle.”

That evening, preparing for sleep, he sat down on his bed and began to clear his mind. It was more difficult tonight; there were many voices bouncing about his head. Why didn’t anyone think Harry could help in the war? Why was everyone ignoring him? “They’ll come to regret it!” he thought.

He imagined Ron and Hermione dueling with a Death Eater, “If only Harry were here!” The Weasleys being attacked at number twelve, Grimmauld Place, “If only Harry were here!” The girl across the street, in a long white dressing gown, “If only…” There were loud shouts, and Harry’s dream came to an abrupt halt. He knew the voices. In the darkness, Harry got up and went to his open window; the lights were on across the street. Through a downstairs window he could see the parents fighting again. The father was clearly agitated, pacing back and forth; the mother seemed dismissive, which only heated the argument further. The father kept pointing his finger at the ceiling, and Harry looked up.

His heart skipped a beat, and he quickly jumped back. At the window directly across from his, stood the girl, looking back at him. “Did she see? It’s too dark,” he thought. Slowly, he edged back toward the window. The girl still stood there, but she wasn’t looking back at Harry, she was gazing up at the stars. Her dark black hair was free of its ponytail of the morning, and was draped over a white nightgown, which was blowing gently in the warm evening breeze. She seemed somehow sad. He stood, gazing across the street, for how long he didn’t know. The yelling downstairs had stopped; she stepped back and drew her curtains shut. Harry lay down on his bed. He had utterly forgotten about Ron, or Hermione, or number twelve, Grimmauld Place, but it still took some time before he could clear his mind.

The next morning he found himself outside with a clean pair of jeans and the best T-shirt he could find that wasn’t three sizes too big. He was looking for weeds in the sidewalk, even though he’d just pulled them all two days earlier, when he heard a door open and close from across the street. Casually, he straightened up and turned around. It was the mother. He exhaled. She was taking out some rubbish, when she caught Harry’s eye. She tossed a plastic bag in the bin and looked back at him. Instantly, a light spread across her face and a huge smile appeared. Darting across Privet Drive, she walked straight toward Harry. She was a smaller woman with round brown eyes. Her smile revealed a golden tooth as she came close enough to hold Harry by the arm.

“Are you alright?” she asked with a very slight accent Harry had never heard before.

“Er, yeah.”

“You gave us quite the scare. I’ve never seen so many birds attack a person like that before.”

“Oh, yeah… I guess.”

“Have you had breakfast?”

“No,” he lied but not by too much. For breakfast, Aunt Petunia had served cold toast with cucumber jelly.

“Come here then.” Without ever letting go of Harry’s arm, this small woman with surprisingly great strength was marching him to her front door.

“No, really, I can’t,” he sputtered. He was telling himself how crazy this was to go into the house of a potential enemy. He began to pull back, but the woman held tight and thrust him through the door.

“Don’t be silly!” she said with a hint of mischief in her voice.

All about the entryway and into the living room were boxes and boxes waiting to be unpacked. The air was filled with a warm sweet aroma, and Harry felt his stomach give a slight jab as if to say, “Shut up stupid!”

“Gabriella!” the woman called.

A moment later, the girl descended the stairs in shorts and a halter top. “Yes, Mama?”

“Breakfast is ready, and we have company; that young man from across the street!” Harry had never been referred to as a man before, at least not in a polite way. He felt his stomach give another lurch.

“I met your brother the other day!” said the mother brightly. “Although,” she looked Harry up and down, “you don’t seem much alike.”

“He’s my cousin,” Harry responded dully still looking at Gabriella. She was standing only a few feet in front of him, and he could feel the tips of his ears redden slightly. Her eyes were as black as her hair, and her skin a dark copper brown. She had a dazzling smile, and seemed to blush slightly herself.

“We saw you yesterday morning,” she said still smiling, “fighting off some attacking birds! Why did they come after you?”

“I don’t know… never seen anything like it. That smells wonderful.” He changed the conversation and looked toward the kitchen, but he could see her eye him up and down much like her mother as he looked away.

They ate breakfast while Harry shared what information he could about the village. Beyond pointing out what was where, Harry wasn’t much help. With Dudley and the gang off his back, this was really the first year he’d ever had a chance to meet anyone. He did emphasize that Vernon was his uncle, and Petunia simply his aunt, and that they were most definitely not his parents. But, when they started to ask more about his Dursley family roots he quickly turned the conversation by asking questions himself. He thought, perhaps, too quickly, as Gabriella’s mother seemed to have noted the second shift he’d made in the conversation.

Gabriella was born in Lebanon, a place called Tripoli. The language he heard her parents, Grigor and Soseh, speaking was Armenian. Her father had taught physics at the University of Balamand in Tripoli, and her mother was an artist. The opportunity for what they thought would be a better life came up when Grigor was offered a job at Pensley College outside of Little Whinging with their Astronomy Department.

“He’s always had his head in the stars, and now he can get paid for it!” Soseh smiled. “Life in Lebanon is improving, but the country is still a very dangerous place. Life here on Privet Drive will be much safer; a chance for Gabriella to walk the streets without worry.” Harry’s mind flashed to his encounter with two Dementors less than one block away just last summer.

“Yeah!” he said with a half-hearted smile. Her mother’s English was nearly perfect; he could barely believe she was the same woman shouting at her husband the night before. They spoke for quite some time before Gabriella’s mother offered them some very strong coffee in tiny cups. It reminded Harry of some potion that Professor Snape would concoct, but he smiled and thanked her for it, drinking it down in one gulp, without too much of a grimace. Gabriella seemed to think it funny, and laughed.

“Perhaps some sugar?” she offered.

Asking for sugar would mean another cup however small, and Harry didn’t think sugar would help, but he couldn’t stop himself from handing her the cup and saying, “Sure.” Their hands touched and he could feel his ears reddening a bit more fully this time.

“Mama? Perhaps Harry could show me the neighborhood this morning?” she asked, as she put a small spoonful of sugar in the cup and then handed it to her mother.

“I think it’s a marvelous idea, darling.” Soseh filled the cup with coffee and handed it to Harry. “Here you go. It will put hair on your chest!” she grinned. Harry pictured himself topless hanging from his bedroom window. “Will you have time this morning, Harry?”

Time? Time was something Harry had too much of. His time was spent thinking about Sirius’ death, of Voldemort’s return, of his two best friends taking on adventures he could only wait to hear about. “Absolutely!” he smiled, sipping from the tiny cup. Within ten minutes, he and a very beautiful girl were walking down the street, talking about anything but the Wizarding world.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and The Burden of Becoming

Chapter 2 - Hogwarts Forgotten

It was, in many ways, the happiest Harry had ever been. For over a week, he and Gabriella spent most of their days together, unfettered by fame, or infamy, Harry enjoyed being just a teenager. He was happy to leave discussions of Hogwarts and the Wizarding world aside, and loved just listening to Gabriella tell him of her home in Tripoli. Now that Dudley’s gang was staying away, he was beginning to make a few other friends about town. Together, they went to places in Little Whinging and beyond that Harry had never seen before. Not only was he learning about the place where he grew up, he was learning a lot about himself. It was as if he was breathing clean air for the first time, and he liked it. After another perfect day, Harry and Gabriella were walking through the park as the sun began to set. “Perhaps tonight?” Harry thought.

“It’s a beautiful July night,” he whispered softly. The sun was breaking through slits in the clouds, the sky was turning red, and higher up a magnificent purple.

“Yes.” she said, but not convincingly. She reached a hand to her eye and swept a tear away.

Harry was reminded of Cho Chang’s constant tears. Not this! Not now! But then a voice seemed to echo in his head… Hermione’s voice. “Harry, you’re worse than Ron.”

“No, I’m not,” he breathed out loud.

“What?” asked Gabriella, looking up at him.

“H-How are you feeling? Is everything alright?” he spoke with a gentle voice.

“I was thinking of my home,” she sighed. “On a good night, by the shores of the Mediterranean, you can watch the sun plunge into the sea flashing a million colours.” Her eyes were fixed upon the setting sun in the west, but her mind was somewhere else.

Quietly, he asked, “You miss home, your friends?”

“Yes.” She looked at the ground, then back at him again and smiled. “But, you… you have been so wonderful to me. I think, ‘How can I not be happy with such a special friend.’” Harry’s heart sank; something about how she said the word ‘friend’.

The stars began to pop up across the sky, Mercury was visible low on the horizon. Harry’s mind was still spinning on the word friend, when she caught him off guard. “Does the school teach astronomy?” she asked.

“Yeah, Sinistra’s not bad. Professor Marchanks was pretty stiff about our O.W.L.S. being interrupted, but….” He stopped dead.

“Owls?”

Instantly, it seemed much warmer, he could feel the beads of sweat pop out on his forehead. “Ow! My Foot! I must have stepped on something!” He limped over and sat down next to a tree, taking his right trainer off and studying his foot intently. Gabriella was undeterred.

“Owls?”

Okay, Potter, think. Sure owls, uh, they see owls at night while taking astronomy. But school? He didn’t have a clue what Stonewall taught, or didn’t teach. “Uhm….”

“Hey little lady!” A voice Harry knew all too well broke the night air from across the park. Malcolm Smelt, one of Dudley’s pals. “It’s startin’ to get dark. What’s a babe like you doin’ out all alone in a dangerous park?” His words were sinister, threatening like only Malcolm could deliver them. But instead of turning, Gabriella stepped toward him.

“I think it is you who might find the park a bit too dangerous to be out all alone.” Her words were biting, but Malcolm simply laughed. Was she thinking Harry would defend her?

“A HOT babe at that!”

Harry got to his feet, filling with rage. He stepped forward in one shoe, Malcolm turned.

“Well, if it isn’t Brutus’s Incurable Criminal poster child! Why do they even let you out of that place, Harry?”

Harry stepped closer, reaching toward his back pocket.

“I mean, if you’re an incurable criminal, shouldn’t they keep you away from us innocent townsfolk?” Then, realizing that Harry was with Gabriella, Malcom sneered, “Oh! I see! You’re stalking young ladies in the park now, what a perve.”

Harry was formulating what he'd say to the Ministry as he grabbed for his wand. Then with a swish, a smack, a swoosh, and a thump, Malcolm was on the ground -- out cold. He couldn't believe his eyes; he didn’t have time to think, before Gabriella put Malcolm down hard on his back, whipping his head into the turf. What had just happened?

“Come on!” She grabbed his arm much as her mum had done the week before, and started escorting Harry out of the park.

“Wait!” Harry ran back to get his trainer and returned hopping on one foot, nearly tripping over Smelt, trying to keep up with her and tie his laces at the same time.

“That… that was brilliant!” He was still somewhat shocked about the whole thing. “How did you…” He made a sort of karate-chop motion in the air.

“Mama, told you, didn't she?” Her voice was angry, “Lebanon is a very dangerous place.”

It wasn't until they rounded the corner on Privet Drive that her pace slowed, she stopped and took a deep breath. “You’re a criminal? Hah! He’s the criminal! You know him?”

“He's a friend of my cousin.”

“Asha!” she exclaimed, an accent slipping into her words. “Your cousin is a fool.”

Harry wasn’t going to argue with her, not for Dudley. She sat down on the curb still steamed, but he could tell she was cooling down. He could also tell what was going to come next. “What was he talking about, a school for incurable criminals?”

His heart dropped through the street. He’d spent the most perfect week, with the most perfect girl, and tonight it was to end. He was forbidden to speak about the Wizarding world, and to cover up his time away to Hogwarts his aunt and uncle had declared he attended St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys. Dudley had spread the rumor over the last few years, and most the neighbors on the street believed it. He was actually surprised it had taken this long for someone to mention it.

“It’s just that… that…” he stammered, unable to put the words together. Gabriella’s eyes opened wide, and she let out a small gasp of surprise as she held her hand to her mouth. Harry couldn’t bare it; she thought he was dangerous. He stood up, and looking down at her, he whispered, “I understand.” He paused, fighting to say the words, “Goodbye,” and then he turned and walked away. He was numb; it was as if every feeling had emptied out of him. “Perfect for Occlumency,” he thought. He began to cross the street to the Dursley’s, when he heard her running behind him. He didn’t turn around. “She’s running home to tell her mum and dad. Perfect.” But then a hand grabbed his shoulder.

“Wait.” He stood for a moment frozen, and then slowly turned to face her. She looked up at him. “What kind of criminal?” she breathed. Her eyes looked up disbelieving, but with a hint of twinkle. What was she really asking? He sensed she knew different, but he couldn’t tell her the truth, and he hated to lie. He was searching for the right words, when he realized she was still holding his left arm, and before he could think of anything, she switched the subject herself.

“You don’t go to Stonewall then?”

"No. I haven’t gone to school in Little Whinging for five years now, this September will be the sixth.” The twinkle in her eye sputtered, and her smile vanished.

“Not in Little Whinging, but where?” She turned them both to sit back on the curb, and as she released her grip on his elbow she slid her hand around his arm locking it in her own. They sat side-by-side.

“It’s pretty far from here, you’ll hear them call it St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys, but it’s a lie!” he said defiantly.

“No? What’s it called then?” Did she believe him? She waited patiently as Harry tried to find the words.

“I can’t… I can’t say. It’s against… I just can’t say.”

“But this school for criminals teaches astronomy?” She seemed to move in closer, holding his arm tighter, her voice was incredulous, but her eyes sincere. He looked back into the black pools that had entranced him all week. He wanted to tell her everything, to take her with him right now and show her his life, his real life.

“Uh, yes. Yes, they do.” He pointed to a bright red star directly over his head. “There, that’s Mars.”

“It’s the brightest it’s been for fifteen years,” she whispered. Then pointing to another portion of the sky, “And there?”

“Jupiter. It’s centered in the constellation Leo. If you track a line from that bright one right there and …”

“I know, I know… and how about over here?” Her finger shot across Harry’s face and pointed to the tips of the trees.

“Well, uh, it’s kind of blocked, but if you could see there you’d…” he turned to look at her, and her pointing hand opened and softly touched his cheek. “Well, you’d see, uh, Venus.”

“Fascinating,” she breathed, “and does your school for criminals tell you about the ancient Greek Gods and Goddesses?” She was standing up now, bringing Harry with her, a hand on his neck as the other slid to his waist.

“Venus is the, uh, the uhm….” and before he could finish they had kissed their first kiss. It was warm and wonderful. He brought his arms up from his sides and held her close; it felt so right, so perfect. He looked earnestly into her eyes. “I wish I could say more, but I can’t.”

She looked back up at him, the twinkle had returned to her eyes, and as she let go of his hand she said, “You’re very bright for an incurable criminal; perhaps some kind of evil mastermind?” She smiled and walked away.

“Tomorrow then?” Harry yelled across the street, his emotions still off balance.

She stopped and looked back. “More than just tomorrow I hope!” Then she disappeared through her front door.

Could it be? Was it possible? What had happened? His thoughts spun to what they’d do tomorrow. Harry’s heart was still pounding, as a car drove down Privet Drive and pulled in to the Darbinyan driveway across the street. Grigor stepped out of the car, shut the door, and looked back at Harry. The two hadn’t spoken much; Grigor seemed never to be home. Tonight, he looked intently at Harry for some time, until Harry waved his hand, and Grigor waved back, turned, and went into the house. Harry floated back up to his own front door; it felt as if he was soaring on his Firebolt. “A perfectly perfect evening.” He opened the door and stepped inside.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” The roar pressed Harry back up against the door.

“Well, we only… I just…” he couldn’t find a good word for snogging.

“Haven’t I told you about THOSE people, boy? Don’t you know what they are! I won’t have anyone in this household consorting with the enemy!” Uncle Vernon was livid.

“But Dudley….”

“Leave Dudley out of this!” His Uncle had turned a brighter scarlet, and a small patch of foam was forming in the corner of his mouth. This was it. Vernon was going to tell him he couldn’t see her again. Harry’s mind began to race. There was always the invisibility cloak, he’d never had a reason to use it until now, except to sneak snacks from Dudley’s room.

“If I EVER see you wave at that, that vermin again, you’ll be locked in your room for the rest of the summer! Now get up there, and don’t come down until morning!” and he turned and stormed away.

Harry was stunned; wave? Uncle Vernon must have only just looked out the window, probably when he heard the car door slam shut. He saw Harry waving at the terrorist across the street. Well, he’d certainly make a note not to wave at anyone from across the street from now on.

He climbed the stairs and got ready for bed. Turning out the light he took off his glasses and slipped between the sheets. He’d forgotten Occlumency, his mind was frozen on two black eyes, smooth copper brown skin and long black hair. “Well,” he thought smiling to himself, “perhaps I am a bit of a criminal. I have faced a full wizard’s trial.” He laid his head down. “I’ve had loads of detentions.” He rubbed the back of his hand. “I’ve almost been kicked out of school!” He was thinking of all the truths he could tell Gabriella, and then stopped. He slipped out of bed, grabbing his glasses and walked to the window.

Her curtains were open, and she was sitting at her bed writing something. A journal, or perhaps a diary, and she appeared to be having trouble with her pen. A candle flickering on a stand near by was the only light in the room. Harry had never seen the Dursley’s light as much as a match; even their fireplace had been boarded up and replaced by a mechanical contraption. The glowing yellow light bouncing off the walls in her room brought his thoughts to the Gryffindor common room. Was she writing about him? Was she recording how she had met a criminal? Or was she writing how she had to save him in the park? Still, she was brilliant tonight. “Definitely a Gryffindor,” he smiled to himself, and he slid back into bed.

The next morning, Harry found it hard to slip away; it was Saturday, and Uncle Vernon was not going to work today. Instead, he seemed to be intent on squinting out of the front peephole to see what was happening across the street. Harry went back to his room after another disappointing breakfast and stood at the window. There she was, waving at him to come over. He shook his head, pointed to his watch and flashed twelve fingers. She signaled an “Okay,” and went back inside.

The year before, the Order had sent a fake letter inviting the Dursley’s to the All-England Best-Kept Suburban Lawn Competition, and while they went to the fictional event, the Order came to take Harry out of the house. Aunt Petunia was thoroughly distraught that they not only hadn’t won, but that there was no such organization. Undaunted, she had organized one on her own -- Little Whinging’s Best-Kept Suburban Lawn Competition. Albeit not as grand as the original concept, today they were to have their third meeting at noon down at the town hall. The morning was already turning hot, and she had put on an overly elaborate dress for the occasion.

“Come on dears! Today we select the judges.” She seemed beside herself with anticipation, waving at Uncle Vernon and Dudley to hurry. Vernon had been keen on the idea last year when he thought he might be a winner, but going to organizational meetings was not his idea of a grand way to spend a day off. He took another look out the peephole; Dudley looked at Harry and simply shook his head. Harry actually felt sorry for him; would he have been somehow normal with a different set of parents? How could they possibly be blood relatives? Vernon turned to Harry.

“Stay out of trouble boy, and no funny business.”

“Yes, sir.” said Harry shortly. His Uncle spoke these words every time he left the house, and the response was always the same.

By ten till noon, the Dursley Family had left the house, and immediately Harry raced across the street. Gabriella opened the door before he had a chance to knock. “Can I help you?” she smiled.

“Only if breakfast is ready,” Harry grinned, sliding close by her as he entered the Darbinyan home.

Her mother and father were at the table reading the newspaper. The now familiar smell of coffee filled the air, and Harry couldn’t help but notice another place was set with a plate full of food. Without being asked he took his seat as Gabriella sat at his side finishing some flat bread. Her father turned the page of the newspaper.

“Well, I hope not too many died.”

Harry turned his head; he hadn’t listened to the news, or read any paper for over a week.
“Died?” he asked.

“Terrible explosion in London,” he sighed, “so far, three found dead. They expect to find more once they clear the rubble.”

“Where in London?” There was a slight tremor in his voice.

“I know it sounds awful son, but things like this happen. Don’t worry though; it was some vacant department store; probably old pipes.” Grigor turned to the next headline.

Harry’s appetite suddenly evaporated. He poked at the food on his plate for a few minutes. He could see Soseh looking at him with some concern, but he didn’t look up.

“A sensitive heart,” she praised warmly. “There are not too many of those left in this world.”

But Harry’s mind had snapped to his visit last year to an empty department store; no one ever paid any attention to it, at least not Muggles. To them it was just an old dilapidated building. But, in fact, hidden within was the most advanced medical center for wizards in all of Europe -- St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. Would Voldemort be so cruel as to destroy the sick and injured in a hospital? He had to find out.

“Excuse me.” He slid his chair back. “I have to go for a minute.”

Gabriella looked at him. “Go where?”

“Just for a minute, I’ve got to, er… finish a letter before the post comes.”

“Okay,” she said brightly, “I’ll come too.” And before Harry could say no, they were both out the door walking across the street.

“Really, it’ll only take a minute. I uh, uh…”

“Don’t be silly. I’ve never seen your house.” They opened the front door and Gabriella let out a small gasp of wonder. “Oh my, it’s very nice; very well… well, organized.” Harry didn’t have the heart to tell her that his aunt had not had time to straighten up this morning.

“If you want, you can watch some television; I’ll only be a minute.”

“No,” she smiled, touching the small of his back. “I want to see your room.” He was torn, and his head seemed a bit cloudy, he couldn’t really think straight.

“Well, alright.” And the two walked upstairs. He hadn’t planned on a visit. The room was okay, but dirty clothes were piled in a corner next to his trunk, his bed was unmade, and torn strips of paper were still scattered on the floor.

“Oh! It’s beautiful!” She walked over to Hedwig’s cage. “You never told me you had a pet! What’s its name?”

“Hedwig. I’ve had her for about six years.” He reached to hand Hedwig a treat, but she was busy letting Gabriella stroke her feathers through the cage. “Here.” He opened the cage to let Hedwig out. “I guess she’s been about the best friend I’ve had around here,” he paused, and turned to look at Gabriella, “until now.” And as if it was the most natural thing in the world he kissed her again.

“Six years?” she asked. And he could see her thinking about something. He walked over to his dresser and pulled out some parchment and a quill.

“This should only take a minute.”

“An old fashioned ink bottle; how wonderful! What made you decide to write like that?” Harry realized that it all must seem a bit strange, but he had to get the letter out… and he wasn’t sure why he’d let her in his room… but he wasn’t saying anything… so it must be okay… and he wasn’t telling her he was a wizard… so it must be okay… and beside she was so beautiful.

“School,” he said simply.

“Ah, yes,” she smiled, “criminals writing with quills and parchment; back to the basics, eh?”

He’d finished off his note. Just a quick, “What’s happened in London? - Harry.” He rolled the parchment, and tied it to Hedwig’s leg. Who was he to send it to if Ron and Hermione were busy? “Hedwig, get this to Fred and George; they’ll tell me what’s going on.” He kissed her on the head, and she flew out the window, soaring into the warm summer sky.

Gabriella stood somewhat stunned. “A carrier owl?”

“Well, I’ve had her a long time, and she’s pretty smart.”

“I see.” She stared after Hedwig long after she’d disappeared from sight. Then, looking back inside, “It’s terribly hot today,” she wiped her brow. “Let’s go for a swim!”

“Swim?” He’d never been swimming in Little Whinging. His last time was at the lake, but then he could breathe underwater. “Swim?”

“You can swim, can’t you? Get your suit and let’s go to the pool.” The pool in Little Whinging would be packed on a day like today. Dudley and his gang had been spending a lot of time there this summer, and with Dudley gone he was sure there might be trouble.

“How about a movie? It’ll be cool inside, besides, the pool’s a long walk, we’ll fry before we ever get there.”

“You’re sweet. I’ll go across to change and meet you downstairs in ten minutes, we’ll take Papa’s car, he never uses it.”

“But I’m not… you’re not old enough,” challenged Harry.

“That’s never stopped me before,” she said with a sly smile. “Besides, I have…” she stopped herself and just waived her hand in the air, signaling it didn’t matter, and then turned to leave. For a moment, she paused at the door, looking at something on the floor, and then went on downstairs. “Ten minutes!” she called back, and was quickly out across the street.

Harry walked to the door to see what she was looking at; it was one of his books, emblazoned with a large H. One of the books Hermione had been harping on him to read since their first year together,

Hogwarts, A History.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and The Burden of Becoming

Chapter 3 - Shattered Glass

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They were in the Darbinyan family car headed to the east side of town. Before he left his room, Harry had decided to straighten up a bit; if Gabriella ever had the chance to come back again, he didn’t want anything strange lying around. Although he’d gone so far as to move his bed and retrieve all the magical items trapped down against the wall, there was still a bit left undone, but he was already ten minutes late, and he couldn’t stand to wait any longer. It was terribly hot outside, and the back of Harry’s legs stuck to the car’s vinyl covered seats.

“How long have you been driving?” he asked. She was wearing a long T-shirt over a brightly colored two-piece swimsuit. For some reason, Harry couldn’t help but think that swimming might not be such a bad idea after all.

“Well, I used to drive a small pickup in Tripoli, so I guess for about four years now.”

“Four years!”

“What? You drive don’t you?”

“Well, no, not really.” He remembered being nearly beaten to death by the Whomping Willow in a Ford Anglia, but that didn’t really qualify as driving. “The Dursleys really haven’t given me the chance to learn. I don’t think they’d even try when I’m old enough for my provisional.”

“They’re horribly cruel if you ask me.”

Hearing her words, Harry smiled and nodded in agreement. It was wonderful having someone in Little Whinging on his side for a change. As they drove toward the pool, Harry told her Vernon’s edict that he was prohibited from waving across the street. Gabriella shook her head and sighed.

“Papa had hoped to leave that sort of thing behind, but he also gets rude comments at work. He tries to hide it, but I can see he comes home angry at times.” They pulled in to the crowded car park. “Well, if we get the chance, I think I can teach you how to drive,” she said with twinkling eyes.

When they got to the pool entrance, there was a long line of people waiting to get in, and standing in the sun, Harry began to sweat through his T-shirt. Wiping his brow in the heat, he looked at Gabriella, and rolled his eyes. “I love swimming, don’t you?”

“It won’t be much longer,” she said with a smile, and handed him a bottle of water from her bag. When they got to the front, he paid for them both, and they started to go in.

“Hold it!” An older man, somewhat taller than Harry, was scowling in their direction. He passed Harry, and walked straight to Gabriella. “Let’s see what you’ve got in there.” He was pointing to the sports bag she’d brought with her; Harry carried a similar one.

“Hey, you didn’t ask to look in mine! What’s up?”

Gabriella held up her hand saying, “It’s all right Harry,” and then she opened her bag for inspection.

But Harry was getting hotter. “We’ve been in line behind fifty people, and you haven’t searched anyone’s bag!”

Gabriella looked somewhat upset that he was taking her side. But why? This was outrageous! Just because of her skin colour?

“Son, it’s my job to keep the two hundred people in here safe, and that includes you AND your friend here.” He closed her bag, and said, “Thank you, Miss.”

The pool was packed, and they weaved their way to a small opening on the concrete deck just five feet from the water’s edge and set down their towels.

“That was ridiculous! As if you…”

“As if me,” she interrupted. “Papa’s timing has never been that great; of all the times to move to England,” she said with a sigh. “I don’t need you to fight my battles for me!” For a flash, there was an eerie anger that raged in her eyes, but then softened and she took his hand. “Really, okay?”

He wanted to carry the conversation further, but one look into her saddened eyes, and he was lost. “Okay,” he agreed, but he still couldn’t help think it was unfair. He knew what she felt like, and it was horrible, everyone presuming they knew Harry Potter, before they ever so much as shook his hand. One glance at his forehead was all anyone ever cared to know, and one glance at Gabriella’s face instantly made her a suspect.

After about an hour, Harry’s mind had left the entrance and was focused on the here and now. He found that swimming wasn’t so bad after all; he was there with the most beautiful girl at the pool, and they spent most the time simply hopping in the water to cool down only to lay back out in the sun and talk.

“Hey! Harry! Gabriella!” He looked over to see Emma and Duncan just getting to the pool. They had met the two of them earlier in the week at an ice cream shop and had seemed to hit it off pretty well. Duncan lived just two streets down from Privet Drive, and knew all too well about Dudley and his cronies. They carved out a space and the two joined Harry and Gabriella.

Duncan took off his shirt. “Bloody hot, isn’t it?” he asked with a long exhale. About Harry’s height but stockier, he was a year older. His hair was long and blonde, and he had freckles that ran down his back reminding Harry a bit of Ron. Around the bicep of his large right arm was a tattoo of thorns that matched, somewhat, the earring on his left ear. A bit older, Emma was a runner. She had just competed in the All England Track Championship placing third individually in the 400 metres. Her hair was a short, light brown, revealing piercing green eyes, and she wore a broad smile. Around her ankle was the same tattoo of thorns.

“Duncan’s been working at the shop all morning,” Emma bemoaned, “so he’s a grump. How are you two doing?”

Gabriella and Emma began to chat, and Duncan jumped into the water to cool off. As Harry looked around the pool, for the first time in his life he felt normal; he was just a normal kid at a normal pool on a normal summer’s day. Even at Hogwarts he couldn’t just sit and be one of the crowd, but now, he sat without a care in the world.

“Anybody for a drink?” he asked. The two girls nodded, engaged in conversation, Emma letting out a small laugh and turning to look at Harry as he began to walk away. She had a peculiar curiosity in her eyes, as Harry smiled back.

He’d picked up four drinks, thinking Duncan would want one too, and was weaving his way back through the crowd.

“Hey, perve, thirsty today?” It was Malcolm Smelt, flanked by another one of Dudley’s pals. He was wearing dark glasses, but they didn’t cover completely the bruise under his right eye. He too had just stopped at the snack shop, and was holding an ice cream cone in his hand -- chocolate mint. He took a long lick and asked, “So, peakin’ up any more dresses, Harry?” Harry’s blood began to boil. “I mean, I guess if you're gonna look, this is the place to do it… how pathetic,” he sneered.

For the first time all summer, Harry’s scar began to burn. “Now that gal you were checkin’ out last night, she was like hot chocolate. I think I’ll get me a little of that action, if you know what I....” Malcolm looked down to see the ice cream in has hand begin to melt. Well, it looked like that at first; it was more like deflating, oozing down the side of the cone and around his hand. But it wasn’t dripping to the ground; instead, it started to spread like some slowly creeping vine. First it was around his wrist. “What the...” And then it started to move up his forearm. “Get it off!” he yelled. No one seemed to understand, but Harry, what the big deal was. He tried scraping it off with his other hand, but the green ooze simply grabbed the other hand and held it tight. He ran screaming into the changing room. Harry smiled, though he knew he shouldn’t, but somehow he enjoyed that very much. He turned, hands full of drinks, right into Emma.

“Was that who I think it was?” she asked.

“Malcolm Smelt,” Harry said coolly, trying to manage the four cups he was holding. How long had she been there?

“Gabriella told me about him. What a creep. Here,” she said grabbing two of the cups, “I thought you might need a hand.” Together, they walked back to the pool’s edge. “What happened? Why did he run from you like that?”

“I guess he doesn’t like to get his hands dirty,” he said simply. “Hey, Duncan, want a drink?” Duncan waved, swam over and pulled himself out of the pool.

“Thanks, mate!” He took a sip and grimaced. “They're warm! Harry you’d better go get your money back.” Harry took a sip. They were more than warm; they were quite hot in fact.

“Uh, yeah,” he said nervously, “I'll be right back.” He hopped up to get fresh drinks.

When he returned he could tell by their faces something was afoot. Gabriella looked up at him patting the towel by her side. “Sit,” she said smiling. He handed out the fresh drinks again and waited. “Emma here tells me there’s a band playing tonight in the square… an open air concert.”

“Yes!” Emma chimed in. “The Steel Chords; I just bought their last CD and they’re fantastic! What’s more it’s free! If we get there early, I’m sure we can find a good place to sit. Duncan and I were planning on doing dinner first, if you two want to come, say about seven?”

Harry’s heart seemed to jump; he was being asked by friends to go to a concert with his girl. It seemed that that there could be life on Privet Drive after all. “Well, I’ll have to ask,” Harry lied. He knew if he asked the answer would be no, but maybe if he talked Dudley into staying out late. “As long as I’m back before Dudley,” Harry thought.

Gabriella also knew the Dursleys well enough to understand that, if he asked his Uncle Vernon, the answer would be no. She looked at him with knowing eyes, but didn’t mention it; instead she held her hand to his face.

“Hand me the lotion Harry; your neck is getting red.” He passed her the bottle, and she put it on his neck and shoulders. She then rounded on him and started putting it on his nose and cheeks giving out a little laugh. “You look like you’ve been eating whipped cream!” Gently, she spread the lotion on his face and up to his forehead, and then paused. She’d seen his scar a million times, and hadn’t said a word; she traced its outline with her thumb. “You were rubbing it a minute ago, does it hurt?” She looked from the scar to his eyes, and he felt she could see through to his soul.

“Does it hurt?” he pondered. What should he say? “Naw. Its just this connection thing I have with a dark wizard who plans on destroying all humanity, and may just have the power to do it.” Instead, he simply reached up and grabbed her hand. “With you here nothing hurts.” He pulled her close, and they kissed.

“Well, I think we’re on then,” said Duncan with a wide smile. “Seven sharp at Belton’s; best fish and chips in all England!”

They swam and chatted for a couple hours more, before deciding to call it a day. Heading home, the car was filled with the scent of suntan lotion; the sun had turned Harry a little too red.

“I think that’s going to sting tomorrow,” Gabriella said. They turned the corner past the town square where they would be returning later that night. “Well, we do have all summer to get you tanned up. We’ll just have to get your clothes off more often!” she joked. And before Harry could come up with anything remotely witty to say, she called, “Ah! Here we go.” She pulled off into the large car park of a church. It was empty, except for the church van parked in the corner.

“What are we doing here?” he asked. Gabriella stepped out and walked around the car opening Harry’s door.

“Scoot over!” She nudged Harry to the driver’s seat, and he obliged. “Well, let’s see, you know what the steering wheel does?”

“But you said you’d ask your f-father first,” stammered Harry. “I don't think I can...”

“Don't be silly,” she said. And with those words, he knew he was about to learn how to drive whether he wanted to or not.

It was getting late by the time he started to get the hang of it. “We’d better go,” he said, “we don’t have much time to get ready.”

“Do you want to take it home?” she asked.

“Maybe next time,” he said, and then stepped out and around the car with a grin.

As they drove down Privet Drive, Harry noticed the Dursleys were home. “Stop here,” he said quickly. “I’ll walk the rest of the way.” He kissed her goodbye and said, “Give me thirty minutes.” He watched her park in the drive and enter her house before he walked to number four. Inside he found the Dursleys had just finished eating.

“If you plan on being late for dinner, boy, don’t expect to eat!” his Uncle snapped.

“Right,” Harry said flatly; normally he’d be serving dinner, not eating it. He narrowed his eyes on his cousin and nodded his head for him to go upstairs. “I’ll just be in my room.”

A few moments later Dudley slipped in.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I need to go out tonight, and I might be late. I was wondering if...”

“Gabriella?” Dudley asked. Surprised, Harry nodded. “That’s reason enough; no problem. I need to get out of this place myself. Only five people were there this afternoon, and it took them three hours to pick two people to be judges: Mum, of course, and a Mrs. Finley; God it was awful.” He turned to go, and then remembered. “Frank stopped by a while ago; he said Malcolm went berserk at the pool. Thought he was bein’ eaten by his own ice cream. Finally, washed his hands and the problem went away.” He looked at Harry. “It sounds almost… magical.” Harry looked away, offering only a sigh. “Well, he’s been a bit of an idiot lately anyway. I’ll take off in about ten, okay?” Harry nodded, and Dudley walked through the door, slamming it shut and shouting, “…and the next time you want to borrow my stuff, ask!”

Gabriella and Harry made it to Belton’s with five minutes to spare. Duncan and Emma were already there. They’d taken a booth near the window and were waving at them to come over. No sooner had they sat down than the waitress was delivering the food. Harry looked up, confused.

“On me, Harry,” Duncan said, “two for one coupon tonight.” He held up a small coupon book, waving it in his hands.

“Well, I’ll get desert then.”

“I bet you will!” said Duncan with a wink, and passed over some napkins.

Emma was looking at a flyer. “Well, there’s a warm-up band that starts at nine, the Chords start at ten. We’ve got loads of time, how ‘bout we walk from here?” Everyone nodded as they ate.

“Hey, Harry, how ‘bout a shot?” Duncan was holding up a little flask; Emma glared at him.

“Duncan, put that away!” she said, but Duncan poured some into Harry’s cup anyway.

“Yeah, yeah, alright; just a little something to light the fires, eh, Harry? Cheers!” He held up his cup to Harry’s. Harry hesitated. He wasn’t going to ruin an evening by being a stick in the mud. He lifted his cup.

“Cheers!” said Harry in an uneasy tone, and he took a drink. His eyes winced and he felt like spitting up, but he swallowed. He’d seen the older students drink at Hogwarts, and once he tried to nick a glass, but Hermione caught him and made him put it back.

“See!” Duncan crowed. “It’s lighting the fires already!”

Gabriella set her hand on Harry’s leg and gave it a slight slap. He glanced over at her with an apologetic look, and shrugged his shoulders.

The walk to the square was only a few minutes, and with the concert tonight a lot of the shops were still open. It wasn’t much, but Harry was starting to feel the drink getting into his head. Since he’d never had fire-whiskey before, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect; he held on to Gabriella for a little more support. They looked into the window of a small gift shop; stuffed animals lined the windows. Emma cooed, and Duncan took her inside first.

“They’re rather cute, you know,” said Gabriella looking through the window.

“Who, the two of them, or the stuffed animals?

She laughed. “No, those two bears there holding hands; one has glasses just like yours.” Thinking about his lack of Muggle money, Harry frowned.

“Listen,” he said, “I barely have two pounds to rub together. I wish I could but I… I …”

She held her hands up to his mouth, and said, “Hush,” in a low whisper. Then, lowering her hand, she kissed his lips. “I don’t want what’s in your wallet; I want what’s right here.” And she held her hand on Harry’s chest. “Come on, let’s go in and have a look anyway,” she said brightly. Harry’s head was spinning a bit, but he wasn’t quite sure if it was the fire-whiskey or her kiss. She took him by the hand into the shop.

Emma was looking at some necklaces on the side of the wall, and Gabriella joined her. Harry walked over to Duncan, who handed Harry his flask again.

“Little sip?” he asked. Harry took the flask, and glancing back at the girls took a small sip. Now he knew why they called it fire-whiskey. His mouth and throat burned a bit, as Duncan patted him on the back. “Look mate, I know the Dursleys are keeping you down. I was wonderin’ if maybe you’d like to help out at the shop? I know the owner there real well, good friend of my dad’s, and I’m sure I could get you in. Pay’s not too bad for part time work. It’d give you a few pounds to put on Gabriella. What do you say?”

Harry didn’t think twice. “Sure, when do I start?”

“I’ll talk to him tomorrow!”

“Hey, Duncan, come here!” called Emma. The girls had made it to the earrings and Emma was holding up something that looked like a thistle with a red berry in the middle. “Try this on.” She handed it to him, and he modeled. “Oh, it’s perfect,” she said with a smile, and then quietly hummed a short tune, interjecting a few words as she looked in the mirror. All Harry could make out were the words: oak, ash, and thorn. Emma turned back to Duncan and grinned. “It’ll be your birthday present!”

“When’s your birthday?” asked Harry.

Duncan took off the earring and handed it to Emma. “Week after next, on the 24th.”

Harry smiled a bit too broadly. “That makes us both Leos!” He slapped Duncan on the back enthusiastically.

Gabriella looked at him. “Why? When’s your birthday?”

“The 31st. At least, that’s what they tell me.” He was looking at the mirror holding up his fringe, and grinning at his scar.

“I wonder…?” Gabriella went to a small display. “Harry, what do you think?” She held out an earring in front of his face. “Do you think it’s a bit much?” In her hand was a silver lightning-bolt, and she held it to his ear. “The other one could be mine.” She held it to her own ear.

“I-I don’t think…”

“Ohhhhh, I LOVE it!” Emma squealed. “Harry, it looks fantastic.”

“Quite the statement mate, with that scar on your head,” Duncan chimed in.

“Well?” Gabriella asked, looking into his eyes. “It can be my birthday gift to you.”

“Bloody hell; why not.” And Harry climbed into the chair to have his ear pierced. The salesgirl came over.

“Oh, an excellent choice, give me just a moment.” As she went to get her tools, Harry stared in the large mirror directly in front of him. Well, now he and Ron’s brother Bill would have something in common. Everyone thought Bill was cool; he started to grin again.

The salesgirl stepped back over to the chair. “This won’t hurt a bit. It looks like your first time, at least on the ears. Is it?” Harry nodded, flushing a bit scarlet. “Well, you may want to pull away, but try to stay as still as possible, it won’t take but a second.” She held what looked like a staple gun to Harry’s ear and….

There was a tremendous CRASH, as the mirror Harry was staring into shattered into a million pieces. Emma, and another woman in the store, screamed. Duncan, who was taking a swig at the time, also gave a small yelp, spilling what was left down the front of his shirt. Only Gabriella seemed un-swayed by what had happened.

“Did it hurt?” she asked, sincerely concerned.

“Not really,” Harry replied, a lightning-bolt now dangling from his ear. “I guess I must have kicked the mirror, or something,” he said sheepishly.

“Or something.” Her eyes were twinkling again, and the twinkle remained as they held hands making their way to the square.

The concert was loud, and he’d had a smashing good time; he danced and even sang a few of the songs he’d heard played on the radio. He and Gabriella wore smiles the whole night. At midnight, the band went home, but it wasn’t until an hour later that the four made it back to their cars.

They stood outside Belton’s for a few minutes, and Harry gave out a yawn. Duncan shook his hand. “Harry, you’re a good mate.” He took hold of the new earring in Harry’s ear. “Grow your hair a little longer, and you really will look like a criminal!” He smiled, put his arm around Emma, and walked to her car.

Harry let out a deep breath. “Yeah, I could be a criminal,” he whispered, his head still a bit light. “We’d better go, Gab; I don’t know how late Dudley was thinking, but…”

“You were wonderful today, Harry,” she said, and kissed his cheek. “Mama was right, there just aren’t enough sensitive hearts out there any more.” She opened the passenger door of her father’s sedan. “I’ll drive.”

On the ride home, he found himself drowsy. His hand was on her leg as she held the steering wheel with both of hers. It had been a day of firsts; his first visit to a swimming pool, his first double date, his first concert. He felt like sleeping, but he was troubled; twice today he’d unwillingly lost control of himself. It was the first time that had ever happened before, but then, Malcolm deserved what he got. He held his hand to his ear. Well, that… that was definitely a first too. What was he going to tell the Dursleys? Somehow he was too tired to even worry. The car was slowing to a stop, and Harry opened his eyes expecting to see Privet Drive, but they were back at the church car park.

“I think we have a few minutes, don’t you?” Gabriella turned the ignition off, and changed the station on the radio.

“I really don’t feel like driving tonight,” Harry muttered.

“Don’t be silly,” she said slyly, as her eyes twinkled at Harry. Suddenly, he wasn’t quite so tired anymore.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and The Burden of Becoming

Chapter 4 - Tears in the Sunset
~~~***~~~


Blurred dreams of love and music gave way to the rumblings of traffic passing by on Privet Drive. Harry woke to find himself in bed, the sun already high in the sky. He was trying to remember how exactly he made it home last night, when he heard a car door slam outside, and then another. Slowly, he lurched out of bed, his head a bit achy, and walked over to the window, just catching the Dursleys drive away; they were on their way to church. He scratched his chest preparing to return to bed, when he saw her in the window directly across from his. Already dressed, with her hair again back in a ponytail, she was waving at him madly. She pointed, as if to say don’t go, and disappeared from her window. Quickly, Harry tried to rub the sleep out of his eyes, as he heard her front door slam. He stumbled to his dresser, grabbed a comb and tried hopelessly to run it through his hair.

“Ouch!” he cried. He was combing too quickly and caught his ear. Then, he remembered the new piercing. “Oh, yeah,” he muttered to himself, then paused and stood back by the bed to see how his earring looked in the mirror. The door to his own house opened and slammed shut. His eyes finally focused, and, seeing the vision before him, a sudden shudder of panic raced through his body, as if he’d plunged into the icy depths of the lake. “Oh, no!” he thought; her steps echoed throughout the house as she raced up the stairs. There’s no time! She burst through his door and threw both arms around him. It was a deep kiss. He saw a lightning-bolt hanging from her ear, and he could feel himself being pushed backwards. Suddenly, there was a loud screech at the window.

“Hedwig?” Harry turned, but in the window was a brown tawny owl Harry had never seen before. There was an official looking parchment attached to its leg addressed to him. He took the parchment that had a red wax seal across it with a large H stamped in the middle; Gabriella had her arms around his waist looking over his shoulder.

“You’re very popular with the birds.” He could tell she was trying to keep her voice calm. “What is it?” Harry knew what it was, the results of his O.W.L.S.; he wanted to tear them open on the spot, but he knew he couldn’t.

“Er, nothing, I can read it later,” he answered nervously, as he slid the letter into the top drawer of his dresser. “Where were we?” he asked, turning around to kiss her again, but her eyes had seen it. They were wide, the pupils so large they made her eyes blacker, if that were possible.

“Your… your hair.” She was staring past him to his neck. He’d noticed it in the mirror, but what could he do? When he was younger, his Aunt would always try to cut his hair, only to have it re-grow to its original length again by the next morning. He’d never cut it and it had never grown… until today. Overnight it had grown a good three to four inches longer. She put her hand up, almost frightful to touch it, and then brought herself closer as if to see if it were real.

“How… how is it possible?” He tried to stay composed, as if nothing really had happened.

“Do you like it?”

“I… well, yes, but…” There was a familiar hoot in the window.

This time it was Hedwig, back from her errand to Fred and George. She had a modestly sized package and seemed put off that there was another owl in Harry’s room. The package she was carrying contained something moving inside it. Harry took it from the owl’s leg, gave the two birds a treat, and sent the tawny flying on its way, while Hedwig returned to her cage to rest.

“That’s more than just a letter, it’s a parcel! How many people send packages with owls? She doesn’t seem big enough to carry a package that large.” Gabriella watched the first owl fly away, but then turned on Harry waiting for answers, lots of answers. The package in his hand kept squirming.

“They’re nothing, really,” he said unconvincingly, as he tried to put the new package in another drawer of his dresser, but it wouldn’t fit. It was emblazoned with three W’s and he was sure Fred and George had sent something special with their reply.

“Who are you kidding, Harry. What’s going on?” He was cornered, and he didn’t like it. “That ‘H’, it looked official. What does H stand for? Hogwarts?” She’d remembered the book and was putting it together; it was like watching a black-haired Hermione in action. “Is that your… your school?” He didn’t like being pressed like this in his own bedroom, and the pounding in his head from the activities of the night before became more pronounced. “That mirror, last night; did you kick it, or did it just shatter?” He had no idea what to say, as the air in the room began to grow thin, and he attempted to catch his breath. “And Malcolm, Emma told me he ran from you screaming while you stood there with boiling hot drinks,” she said calmly, stepping towards him as he stepped back. “And now… now your hair.” Her voice was almost analytical, and that made Harry angrier. Trapped in his own room, he exploded in the only way he knew how.

“Shut up!” he yelled. Gabriella stopped her advance. “It’s none of your business! You… you wanted to date a criminal? Well… well criminals don’t say crap when they don’t want to, especially to nosey busybodies sticking their nose in where it doesn’t belong! And… and if you don’t like it… bugger off! Go on! GET OUT!” He was advancing on her now.

He thought about what she’d done to Malcolm in the park; she could have thrown him out the window if she wanted, he knew that. He half hoped she would, or at least grab the parchment from his hands and tear it open. She’d know then. He wouldn’t have to keep this stupid secret. But instead, her face wilted, and with it so too did Harry’s heart. She turned and ran out of his room just as quickly as she had arrived. With each door slamming shut as she sped home, another piece of Harry’s spirit drifted away.

“Perfectly perfect, Potter,” he scolded himself.

Sitting back on his bed, his shoulders slumped over the package from Fred and George; he let out a sigh, and slowly opened it. A small black furry creature and a silk sack landed in his lap. The creature had a collar around its neck and resembled a sightless mole with no legs. The collar had a tiny yellow tag with the words “PULL ONLY IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.” He set the creature on his pillow and read the note.

Harry,

First of all, the explosion in London was just an old department store, but nobody’s sure who’s responsible. It’s terrible, but only Muggles were killed. Secondly, please find two enclosed items. The first is your annual dividend as our first and only investor; the shop’s been doing gangbusters, and we can’t wait to show you our new ideas. We thought you might need some Muggle money so we had Bill work the exchange rate. The second is a gift to celebrate the results of your O.W.L.S. It’s a molamar, and there aren’t too many of them around England. Let’s just say Percy would turn puce if he knew you had one. They don’t eat or drink anything, just keep it somewhere warm and dark, and it’ll do fine. If you ever find you need to get away in a hurry, a real hurry, pull the cord and hang on. It only works once though, so use it wisely.

See you soon!

Fred & George


“Use it wisely,” he read again--the same words left on a note attached to his father’s invisibility cloak he received one Christmas. Harry thought back to when the first owl arrived from Hogwarts that same year; it seemed so long ago. What if he’d never received that letter? What if he never made mirrors shatter, or people blow up like giant balloons? Would it be so bad to be a Muggle? Gabriella would still be here right now. He looked down at his bed; instead he had a molamar on his pillow.

He opened the silk pouch, and found it filled with gold Sovereigns. By the looks of it, there was close to a thousand pounds there. He closed the bag and placed it under the floorboard in is room, then picked the small animal up off his pillow and pulled open the drawer of his dresser. Gently, he placed it under his socks, and he reached for the parchment. He glanced out the window, but her curtains were drawn shut. Still, his pulse couldn’t help but quicken when he broke the wax seal; this was it, his real future.

He unrolled the parchment. The marks were, well, unbelievable. He’d failed Divination and History of Magic, of course, but had received Exceeds Expectations in Charms and Astronomy. He scored Outstandings in Defense Against the Dark Arts, Transfiguration, Care of Magical Creatures, and… Potions! He re-read the scores multiple times, at the bottom of the parchment in small print read “Scores have been adjusted, providing students credit for the school’s poor oversight.”

“Umbridge,” Harry whispered. This meant he could be an Auror if he wanted to; he could devote his life to destroying the evil in this world. He jumped up and yelled as loud as he could. For a moment, his mind left the Muggle world, and envisioned his future bringing down Voldemort and his followers. He waved his hand in the air as if holding a wand. “Today you’re going to die… Tom,” he whispered. There was the slightest pang in his forehead. The phone rang, and Harry ran downstairs to answer it; it was Emma.

“Good morning, Harry!” she said brightly. “I hope you’re feeling okay this morning.”

“I’ve been better,” replied Harry.

“Well, listen; Duncan’s got some news that should cheer you up. Do you have a minute?”

“Sure,” said Harry, and a moment later Duncan was on the phone.

“Hey mate! Well, I’ve talked to the boss at Sunshine Sports, and you can start training today, four pounds an hour. It’s not much, but like I said last night, havin’ it’s better than not. What do you say? Stop by about three and I’ll spend a couple hours showing you the ropes.”

“Sounds great!” Harry replied, not even considering the money he now had upstairs. “I’ll see you at three,” he said, and hung up the receiver, not really caring why his head was aching so. It seemed the Wizarding world would have to wait for Potter the Auror; today, he had a different job--a job in the Muggle world selling sporting goods. He would prove to himself he could make it on his own.

He went upstairs, showered, dressed, and tried to do something with the new look. How was he going to explain his hair to Duncan? But after two hours training, Duncan hadn’t mentioned a thing. Harry had just finished learning why footballs were very different from basketballs, when, for the first time that day, Duncan asked a question that had nothing to do with work.

“So, how’s Gabriella?” Something in his voice told Harry he knew what had happened, and something in Harry’s expression told Duncan the answer. Before Harry could answer, Duncan continued, “Listen, mate, women are a strange breed. She’ll get over it; just stay cool, and you two will work it out, you’ll see.” The words helped a little, and Harry was glad to have a friend he could talk with, even if he didn’t say much.

For the next few days, Harry spent his afternoons in the shop, mostly organizing the shelves, and helping customers with questions. The Dursleys were actually happy that Harry was working at a Muggle job. First, it kept him out of the house, and second he was so tired when he came home he usually just went to bed after dinner. In fact, it was at the dinner table that they brought it up in hopes that Dudley might consider getting a job. Dudley said he’d think about it, and then asked for seconds. As far as Harry’s longer hair, it only caused Aunt Petunia to look at him with fierce disapproval, to which he simply shrugged his shoulders and asked for seconds. Only Dudley was successful. What she didn’t see hidden behind his locks was an earring that matched his scar.

Aside from constantly harping on Harry to do more garden work, the Dursleys were growing less bothersome. Still, his evenings were far from enjoyable; each night he'd come to his room, look out his window only to see her curtains drawn, and then collapse on his bed. He’d sleep for a couple hours then leave to walk the streets. He was, in fact, miserable.

On this particular evening, he found himself in the park again, hanging from an old tire swing. It was going to be another fiery-red sunset, but Harry didn’t much notice. Duncan had asked if he wanted to join him and Emma for a bite to eat, but Harry passed; honestly, he hadn't felt much like eating for days. He kicked off the ground with his foot, as if launching on his Firebolt, only to swing back down to earth. He kept re-writing the scene that played out in his room with Gabriella, and yet, no matter how he tried to come up with better words to say, or actions to take, it always ended with her finding out he was a wizard.

But then, how could she not know, even now? Is that why she’d been avoiding him? That somehow she knew he was something strange, something different, a danger? It tore at him to think that she might believe him really dangerous; that she might be frightened he would hurt her. She was smart, yes, but putting Harry in wizard’s clothing was a far stretch for any Muggle imagination. He walked over to the same tree where the two of them had confronted Malcolm. It started here; it would end here. He would just put her out of his mind; it was just a bit of Occlumency. He sat. He tried to make his mind go blank, but felt somewhere inside, small pieces of his soul had disappeared. He imagined her eyes twinkling back at him, his body shuddered, and he put his face in his hands. People had scorned him before, feared him, despised him, and he was able to let it go. “Let it go,” he thought, but tears began to well up inside him. “She hates me,” he said aloud.

“No she doesn’t,” whispered a familiar voice. He sat frozen, his face still buried in his hands. “She could never hate you.” Two hands took his and pulled them gently away from his face. A tear fell from his cheek as he looked up into her eyes, two black stones on which the rain had been falling. She knelt next to him with her hand against his face.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, “I never should have….” She held her hand to his mouth.

“No. I’m sorry,” she said, “I was behaving like a four year old. You were right, I was a nosey busybody.” Harry winced at the words. “No, I barged in on you without permission, and then started grilling you like I was my father or something. I was horrible.” Harry shook his head. “I don’t care where you go to school; I don’t care what others say about you. If I ever poke my nose in where it doesn’t belong, tell me off. I just…” she paused, “I just need you to know that you’ve captured my heart.” Her eyes fell to the ground, and then she looked back at him, holding her hand over his chest. “I only hope that there’s some of your heart left for me,” a tear let loose down her face. It caught the setting sun, golden-red, like a tiny fireball falling from the heavens, then, a silvery glint reflected into his eye; on her ear hung a tiny lighting-bolt.

He stood up, grasping her hand and taking her with him; he looked at the sunset, and turned to her. “One day, I want you to show me how your sun plunges into the sea,” he said, holding her close, “because you have more than my heart… I love you,” he whispered, and then bending close, he kissed her. Harry felt a surge of warmth pass through his body, and his neck began to tingle. That night and the many that preceded Duncan’s birthday, Harry didn’t return to number four, Privet Drive, until well after everyone else had gone to bed.

On the day of Duncan’s birthday, Harry was in the shop putting out a new display of golf balls. An older man in a bright pink polo shirt, checkered pants, and a green hat greeted him with a great smile and a small bow. His eyebrows were very long and white, and he wore a purple paisley scarf around his neck.

“Can I help you, sir?” Harry asked. The old man let out the slightest laugh and shook his head.

“No, I think you’ve already done plenty, more than anyone should ask of a child. Still, there are others who hope you’ll do more. Enjoy your youth my son.” He gave another small bow with a nod of his head, and left the store.

“Couldn’t find what he was lookin’ for?” Duncan shouted from a few rows over.

“I think he was just checking prices,” Harry called back, as he watched the wizard walk down the street past the storefront windows. Well, he looked like a wizard, anyway.

As the sun began to set, Harry and Gabriella strolled arm-in-arm to Duncan’s home from Privet Drive. The way Duncan told the story, he was to go with his parents on vacation to France for two weeks, but had asked if he could stay at home, to earn some more money. They agreed, and he now had the whole house to himself. Their gift, for his seventeenth birthday, was that he could host his party at the house, as long as they returned to find it in the same shape they left it. By the time Harry and Gabriella arrived, the place was packed, and Harry seriously doubted Duncan would be able to keep his promise. A few of the people in the house Harry knew from his days at school in Little Whinging. Quite a few remembered him too, and most wanted to ask about Brutus’s school for criminals. To his dismay, far from being shunned for this like he had been in the past, he found himself quite the infamous celebrity.

“What did you do to get in there, anyway?” one kid asked.

“Are you kidding?” another responded. “Last year he nearly killed his cousin! Wish you had Harry, he and his pals are just thugs. After it happened, Dudley wouldn’t come out of the house for two weeks, and Harry wasn’t even around!”

Harry said nothing; the chatter seemed to make Gabriella raise her eyebrows, but she simply smiled and held his arm closer. They made their way to the guest of honor who was busy mixing the night’s punch.

“Harry! Gabriella!” called out Duncan, as he shoved one of his pals on the shoulder. “Move over you!” They came closer. “Punch with a punch!” he said with a sly grin, and pouring a bottle of clear liquid into the bowl. “You inspired me Harry! White Lightning!” Harry took a mental note to limit himself to one cup tonight. “Emma’s upstairs still. Why she takes so long to get ready is beyond me. Harry could you put those on?” He directed Harry to some CDs on the counter.

Snaking through the crowd with Gabriella they found the sound system. He looked through the selection and found “The Steel Chords--Into the Darkness.” He popped it into the player, and before long many of the guests were dancing. Harry was in a sea of happiness, and he seemed to draw life from it. He’d always hated the Muggle world. At first, he had thought of Hermione’s parents as the exception, then Gabriella and her family, then Emma and Duncan; the circle was growing wider every day. Harry looked up and saw Emma climbing down the staircase, a large cake in her hand lit with candles. He silenced the music, and everyone began to sing Happy Birthday, and as the cheers ebbed away, Duncan raised his voice. “To the best mates in the world!” he bellowed as he raised his glass, his eyes turned toward Harry.

“Here, here!” Harry yelled, holding his cup high in the air, and all drank.

It was late before the last guests left. The music had stopped, and Duncan surveyed the damage. “Well… jist a few paper cupses to pick up,” he slurred, staggering to reach one, and knocking over a lamp instead. He was in pretty bad shape.

“Come on, baby,” Emma said, grabbing him around the waist, “let’s get you upstairs. Harry, could you give me a hand?”

“Sure.” He grabbed Duncan from the other side, as Gabriella started picking up the rubbish. Although Harry, having forgotten his mental note, was a little unsteady himself, they got the blonde upstairs and into bed. He started babbling gibberish.

“I’ll bet Europe’s not so bad when yeh don’t have yer kid around to bother yeh. ‘Scuse me, but did anybody see Todd? Yeh know what, Harry, I think yeh could use another pair of trainers, what are yeh… size ten? Thank God, Emma’s come teh save me.”

“Oh, dear,” said Emma, concerned more about Duncan’s pallid color than his babbling. “I better get something just in case.” Quickly, she left to go downstairs.

“Yer a real mate, mate,” Duncan muttered into his pillow. “Yeh ever need anythin’, hear me, anythin’, yeh just call on ol’ Duncan, eh?” He turned to look at Harry. “Hear me?”

“You bet Duncan,” said Harry with a smile as he pulled the sheet up over his friend.

“And don’t ever let her go, eh? She’s got your number she has, keep her close, Harry! You two together are magic mate, pure magic. Ask Em! She’s special too. Eh, Em? Well, Em knows. We’re bound by thorns, did yeh know that Harry? Keep her close…. Where’s Em?”

“Right here, Dunc,” she said as she walked past Harry, carrying a large plastic bucket and then setting it at Duncan’s bedside. “He usually doesn’t, but better safe than sorry.” Harry walked on downstairs; amazingly, Gabriella already had most of the rooms clean. The kitchen had two large rubbish bins filled with paper cups and plates. He wished he had remembered his mental note; his head was starting to pound a little. Gabriella tossed another plastic cup away, and washed her hands.

“I told Emma I’d finish, but she says she’ll take care of it in the morning. Duncan doesn’t need to work, thankfully, how about you?”

Harry was rubbing his temples, trying to take in what Duncan had said. “Huh? Er, no, no. I’m off.”

“Excellent; I think I have a few ideas on how we might spend it.” She grinned, and her eyes were twinkling again. “Emma’s been really helpful tonight.”

After saying their goodbyes, the two started off down the sidewalk. The night was warm, and most the homes had their windows open. They were approaching her house, when they heard the sound of shouting; it was her parents again. Harry hadn’t noticed them fighting for quite some time. “Gabriella, it’s nothing bad I hope.”

“No, nothing bad,” she sighed, but Harry doubted her sincerity.

“Come on, you can tell me.”

“No… No I can’t,” she said sharply, but then kissed him gently goodnight. “I’ll see you tomorrow then?” He nodded, and watched her cross the street. When she entered, the shouting stopped. A few seconds later she had drawn her curtains open, a match flashed, and the glow of candlelight filled her room.

As for the Dursley home, it was dark. The other day, Harry had paid Dudley four pounds to make him a spare key; he slid it in the lock and slipped upstairs. The first thing he did when he entered his room was to go to the window; across the street, Gabriella sat, writing again. His vision, somewhat hazy, Harry could swear she was writing with a quill. He grinned; she’d thought his was such a brilliant idea after all. He could hear a siren in the distance, and as he looked up at the sky, searching for a moon that was not there, and for no reason in particular his mind turned to Remus Lupin. He would not be a werewolf tonight. “Two weeks to rest,” Harry whispered.

Harry wondered what sort of lifelong torture such a fate would mean. When Harry first returned to Privet Drive, he was feeling sorry for himself for being isolated and alone. How was Remus doing now that his dearest friend had once again been taken from him? Harry cursed himself for being so juvenile; he’d forgotten about those that were truly lonely. He’d forgotten Remus who was hated by his own wizard kind; he’d forgotten Hagrid, despised by many as a half-giant, who’d been like a father to Harry, or maybe a big brother… a really big, big brother. For a moment, Harry drunkenly smiled to himself, but then immediately frowned; what were they all doing now? Surely Voldemort’s Death Eaters, or the Dementors now serving him, were on the move?

The siren stopped, and the ruffle of wings was carried on the warm summer breeze. An owl appeared at Harry’s window with a parchment; it had been quite some time since he’d received any unasked for post. His head was still spinning as he took the note, gave the owl a treat, and sent it on her way. Hedwig chirped. “Just a minute girl, I may have something for you to do.” He opened the note, it was from Hermione.

Harry,

Sorry it's been so long since our last letter. Holiday was wonderful. I'm staying with the Weasleys until school starts. Mr. Weasley seems to always be at the Ministry now, and lately Mrs. Weasley’s been gone an awful lot. So, I offered to help out. It's pretty quiet around here with only Ron and Ginny. Fred and George pop in and out every so often, wanting us to try some new scheme or another. I'm not too sure what Mrs. Weasley thinks, but their dad is beaming, but of course there's still the occasional meeting.

We can't wait to get you here; Fred and George have offered to help out. Be ready for an exceptional birthday present! Dumbledore was here this morning and suggested you'd rather stay with the Dursleys this year. Ron looked at him as if he were mad! But Dumbledore simply smiled and said "Things change." Hah, as if! I hope they’re not treating you too awfully. Anyway look for us on your birthday!
Love,

Hermione

“OUR last letter?” Harry repeated to himself out loud. “So you two were off with the Order, weren’t you?” Instantly, his temper ebbed to the surface. “We must protect poor Harry, mustn’t we?” He threw the letter on the floor, and grabbed some parchment. He’d tell them all off for keeping him out of things again, for thinking he was too incapable of… and then the blood drained from his head to his feet. “My birthday?” he squeaked. “No, not next week, I need more time!” Quickly he scrunched the parchment he was scribbling on and tossed it aside. He took a deep breath, trying to clear his head, and with some effort began to write.

Hermione,

Dumbledore’s right! Things do change; the Dursleys have been smashing. I think I’ll need the rest of the summer to get to know them better. Don’t come to get me, I’ll see you and Ron on the train.

Be careful!

Harry

“There,” he whispered to himself; it wasn’t great, but it’d do. He tied the parchment to Hedwig’s leg and sent her to the window. “Get it to them tonight; you need to stop their plans!” She flew off, disappearing into the night sky. Harry looked down to see Gabriella, holding her candle and looking straight back at him. She was smiling as she held the flame up to her lips, a golden twinkle flashed across her eyes, and the room went dark.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and The Burden of Becoming

Chapter 5 - The Test
~~~***~~~

Light was beaming in through the window, when Harry heard a rattling noise in his room. His face was buried in his pillow, and his head was telling him not to move; he half turned to look with one eye, but that was no use. His newfound hair was covering his face like a thatched roof, and he didn’t seem to have the strength to lift his hand to move it away. There was a familiar hoot.

“Hedwig?” His voice was hoarse and scratchy, “Hedwig, come over here girl.” The snowy owl obliged and lit on Harry’s bed; slowly, he reached up and untied the parchment attached to her leg. He tried to blow the hair out of his eyes without moving his head, and unrolled the scroll; it was from Ron.

He didn’t bloody believe that Harry would ever want to stay at the Dursley’s, and were they holding him there against his will, because if they were he’d see the whole Order come and snatch Harry away again. Ron’s letter went on, saying that Harry knew ways to get the truth to them, and they’d be there in an instant. But, if he really did want to stay there, then their birthday gift was a bust, and what did Harry want?

Harry had missed a few words here or there, but he figured he’d got the gist of the letter; it dropped to the floor. He stroked Hedwig and she flew back to her cage. Lifting up ever so slightly, he tried to look to see what time it was, but the moment his head left the pillow the whole room spun upside down as if he were back in the maze of the Tri-Wizard Tournament. He quickly grabbed his pillow for a firmer foundation. “Note to self…” he thought. “No more drinking with Duncan.” The house was silent when outside a car roared by, the sound of the engine pounding in his head. He groaned, wishing it hadn’t been so hot that he needed to keep the window open.

He tried to focus his mind on last evening’s events, but it was like looking into a crystal ball in Trelawney’s Divination class--pure fog. After a few minutes and some deep breaths, he began to remember… her parents were arguing again, and she wouldn’t tell me, but who was he to talk? Duncan saying that Emma knew something… something about him being magic… about them being magical together. It was too difficult to put the pieces together in his mind, and he couldn’t stay in bed all day; Gabriella had some plans. Flat on his face, he slowly turned one leg out on to the floor, and then the other. He was on his knees, still clutching his pillow to his head, when the front door opened and shut; footsteps were coming up the stairs. He was sure it was Uncle Vernon coming to tell him to mow the lawn.

“Please don’t yell… please don’t yell,” was all he could think when the footsteps stopped outside in the hallway. “Well, what are you waiting for?” He half turned his head to the door, peaking through his hair when it opened. It wasn’t Vernon or Petunia; it was her. She was wearing white shorts and sandals, and was carrying something in her hand. That’s all he could manage without turning his head further, which he knew would be a massive mistake. She sighed, clucking her tongue.

“I thought you might need some help, here, drink this. Mama says it’ll do the trick, something to do with quail eggs and… well, you don’t want to know.” She knelt down beside him and handed him a glass. “Take a sip.”

He gingerly lifted his head up just enough to poor a few drops into his mouth. He could feel the liquid burn a little as it went down his throat, but almost instantly the throbbing in his temples began to recede. She helped him turn around and sit, his back against the bed, and then sat next to him.

“Drink the rest.”

He obliged, and in a few short minutes he was feeling much better.

“Your Uncle and Dudley left early this morning, and your aunt left about ten minutes ago. She was all dressed up for something.”

Harry remembered muttering, “Hairdresser,” as he began to straighten up. “She always tries to look as good as she can before she goes. She’ll be there for a couple of hours.” He put his hand down and found Ron’s parchment. They both looked at it and Gabriella stood up.

“Look, I have to go; I just wanted to make sure you were okay, and now you are.”

“No, wait.” Harry tried to get to his feet, but the room still wanted to tilt a bit, and as he began to tumble, Gabriella held his arm. “Don’t go, not yet.” He stood straight and brought her towards him. “We’ve got the day together, right?”

“Yes, of course,” she said with a broad smile.

“And you have a few thoughts on how we might spend it?” It was his eyes now that were twinkling.

“Actually,” she said slyly, “I do.” She ran her finger down his chest toward his navel. “And do you want to know how the morning starts?” Her thumb was drawing circles around his belly button. Harry nodded his head smiling. “With you getting showered and dressed!” She kissed him quickly on the lips and turned to the door. “You have fifteen minutes, and then we need to go!”

“But, but I thought…,” he stammered.

She eyed him slyly with a broad smile. “Don’t be silly,” she said, and closed the door behind her. Harry stood for a moment his mouth open, and then shaking his head, reached down to pick up Ron’s letter. He was feeling much better really. He set it down on his dresser and headed to the shower.

It took him every bit of fifteen minutes to get ready; he was tying the lace on his trainer, when he heard her call, “Come on! Come on!” He ran out to find her standing by her father’s sedan, another car parked in the driveway. “It’s mine!” she said, her eyes beaming.

“What?”

“Papa just bought a car!” Harry glanced at the new car parked in the drive; a deep metallic burgundy, full sized four door. He could see Uncle Vernon turning green already. “And the old one is mine! Come on, get in, we only have a few minutes.”

She drove to the town square where the open-air concert had been held, and quickly parked the car. Harry was at a loss, and Gabriella was saying nothing behind her white smile. She had given him some bread to eat in the car, and he brushed the crumbs off the front of his shirt as he raced after her. She was heading up some steps, and stopped short of the door. “Here, you’ll need these.” She handed Harry an old piece of yellow paper, and a bright pink one. “And, you’ll need these.” She held up her keys. Harry stared blankly. “Go on. Go on!” She pushed them into his hand and closed his fingers. “I’ll wait here till you’re done!” And she pushed him through the door.

Inside a number of people were filling in papers. He caught the eye of one of the guys he’d seen at Duncan’s party the night before, his eyes were bloodshot and his hair uncombed. “Hey, Steve!” said Harry as he waved.

“Hey, you takin’ the test too?” Steve asked, managing a weak smile, and slowly turning his head back to his paper.

“Test?” Harry breathed.

“Excuse me son, are those your papers?” A frumpy man in his forties was looking at Harry, and holding out his hand. Without thinking, without looking, Harry handed him the papers that Gabriella had given him. “Yes… okay… very well, looks like your provisional is in order… and I see it’s your birthday, take this and sit over there.” Giving Harry back his papers, he also handed him a booklet, paper and pencil. Harry looked down; it was his theory exam. The booklet was filled with driving questions, and the answers were to be recorded on the white sheet. He looked toward the front door, and thought of taking off, and then looked back down to the paper. “But I’m not old enough,” he thought. He opened up the yellow paper; it was his birth certificate, or at least it looked like his birth certificate, only it had Harry turning seventeen yesterday.

“Duncan,” he whispered, and then looking to the door he said, “Gabriella.” With that, he decided to give it a go. It soon became clear why Gabriella had been quizzing him lately while they drove about town, and after about thirty minutes, he thought he’d answered most of the questions correctly. He took his exam paper up to the front desk where the man took the it and slipped it into a machine. “Very good,” he said, “thirty-two correct; you pass. Here’s a sheet you should review covering your mistakes. Do you want to take the practical today to have your provisional stamped?”

“Er... sure,” said Harry, shrugging his shoulders.

“Very well, sit down over here,” the man said. Harry took a seat and had his eyes examined by a girl not much older than he.

“I like your earring” she said and winked, placing some picture cards in front of him. “What colours do you see in this picture?” A few moments later he was standing near the front door waiting for another examiner. When she stepped from around a partition, he had the distinct impression he was looking at a younger Professor McGonagall; her hair was tied up in a bun, and she carried a clipboard and pen. “Your car?” she asked curtly.

“Erm, just outside.” Harry took the keys from his pocket, and stepped out the door. Gabriella was nowhere to be seen. The examiner had him drive the car around a few blocks, do some maneuvers, and then demonstrate his parking skills in the same church car park where Gabriella had taught him the ropes. He thought back and smiled.

“Very well,” she said, “you may return.” They pulled in front of the examination office and stepped in. “Take this and hand it to the front desk,” she said briskly, and then strode over to Steve, who was sleeping in his chair. Harry took the form to the desk and handed it to the man, along with his provisional.

“Yes, very good.” He typed some things in the computer and a few minutes later handed Harry the pink piece of paper. “Your stamped provisional, you’re legal to drive on your own, only cars or motorbikes. You can file this,” he said handing him another paper, “to receive your permanent license. If you were to do that today, your permanent card should arrive to your home address,” he paused looking down at his papers, “number five Privet Drive, in about ten days. Be safe, lad, and obey the laws.” Harry could hardly believe his ears. The whole thing took about two hours, and when he stepped out the door, he saw Gabriella sitting on the hood of her car.

“Well?” she called.

Harry held up his pink paper. “I passed!” he yelled back.

“I knew you’d do it!” She ran over to him and gave him a kiss. “I’d have died, if you hadn’t; let me see, let me see.” She took the paper from Harry’s hand as they walked to the car. “You know, of course, this means you’ll have to take me with you wherever you go.”

“That’s easy, since it’s your car,” said Harry smiling.

“I’d say this deserves a celebration! How about lunch?” She climbed in the passenger side, but Harry hesitated. “Oh Harry, you just took some old steel-eyed woman around in this car, and were fine. I don’t think I’m that much of a distraction am I?” He climbed in and turned the ignition.

“Well, if you were wearing a swimsuit, AND had a clipboard… maybe. Where to?” he asked.

“Duncan gave me a two-for-one coupon to Belton’s; what do you say?”

Before long they were eating fish and chips by the window, as the day grew warm while they watched the people walking by. Finally he asked, “Okay, I have to know; how did you do it?”

“Well, I didn’t exactly. Emma kind of helped. Last night she mentioned Duncan was going to get his provisional today now that he was turning seventeen. I told her how I’d tried to teach you after we’d been swimming,” she said. “Emma’s eyes lit on fire with excitement. This morning she came by handing me the birth certificate. She started by scanning Duncan’s, changed the names around, printed it out, and tumbled it in the dryer.”

Harry looked at it again. “It looks real to me.”

“I know,” she said. “She works magic with that computer of hers.” At first the words didn’t seem to concern Harry, but in the back of his mind they seemed to grow. Innocent enough, right? But something was bothering him, and he couldn’t get his mind around it.

“I understand we’re not supposed to right after eating,” she paused to sip her drink, “but what do you say we go to the pool?”

“I don’t have my stuff.”

“It’s in the car,” she replied, and her eyes twinkled. She had purchased towels and a new suit for Harry. “Well, while you were having fun, I had to do something; besides, you definitely needed a suit that fits you better.”

Even though it was a weekday, the pool was packed. At the gate, Gabriella had opened her bag before they even had a chance to ask. Harry recognized a few faces from last night’s party, most resting in lounge chairs, and sipping drinks. As they picked their way through the crowd there were a few who called their names, one of them, Thad Zavier, came up to Harry and said, “Some party last night, eh!” Harry and Gabriella nodded, but then Thad turned squarely to Harry, turning a shoulder to Gabriella. “Good to see you at the pool, Harry.” There was far too much emphasis on the word ‘you’, and Gabriella knew what it meant instantly. “You’ve run Dudley’s gang out of here; Malcolm won’t step foot in this place. Good going!” Harry looked around and found quite a number of people were looking in his direction, a few flashing him the thumbs up.

They found an open spot and laid out their towels. “Gabriella,” he said softly, holding her hand, “he didn’t mean…”

“Oh yes he did!” she snapped, and then squeezed Harry’s hand. “They all mean it, Harry; don’t forget that. I’ve seen children, half your age, carrying rifles to kill people because they wore different color robes. Whole villages have been slaughtered because they prayed to the wrong god. When they point their sites at you for being different, Harry, when they hold a knife to the throat of your….” her voice trailed off and she looked away.

His mind slipped back in time only a few months to his battle with Bellatrix; she had called him a half-blood, and had used the Cruciatus curse on Neville simply for fun. Was Thad so different from Bellatrix? A voice inside told him yes, but by how much?

“Come on,” he said, “let’s go for a swim.” Gabriella nodded, and they both jumped in the cool water. The sun was glinting off the silver lightning-bolt that dangled from her ear; it was brilliant, flashing against her dark skin. “How could anybody not think she was the most beautiful creature that walked the earth?” he thought.

She caught him looking at her, and something about the expression on his face made her smile. She swam closer and gave him a kiss. “I do like your hair, you know.” And she splashed him with a face full of water, laughed, and swam away.

The number of swimmers had thinned in half by the time they’d gathered their things to go. He hadn’t slept much the night before, and the day had been very long. A few kids said goodbye as they made their way to the exit. He had been happy just being one of the crowd in Little Whinging, but his name was gathering celebrity, and it was making him uncomfortable. He just wanted to be invisible.

“Oh no!” Gabriella gasped.

He’d been holding Gabriella’s hand, mindlessly walking to her car. Looking up, he saw it. On the hood was the word ‘Beware’. They ran to the car. “It’s only shaving cream,” sighed Harry. But then, looking closer, he saw that the tires had been slashed. Gabriella began to tremble with rage.

“Safer?” she shrieked. “Is this safer, Papa?” she yelled again to the air. She took her fists and pounded the hood. “I’m so stupid!” She pounded again, each time crying out, “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” Harry pulled her close, and held her tight. Finally, she took a deep breath. “Always the hero,” she said softly into his chest. He stroked her hair, wondering what she meant; he hadn’t been much of hero this summer.

People leaving the pool passed them standing there as if nothing had happened. “Is nobody going to offer a hand?” Harry thought. After five minutes, he looked at her and said, “We’d better call your parents.”

Gabriella wiped the tears from her eyes. “No… no, Papa will be at work, and Mama can’t,” she sniffed, “can’t drive.”

It would be a long walk, and calling the Dursleys was definitely out of the question. He was thinking of trying Duncan when someone called out, “Harry… Gab… Oh my god, what’s happened?” It was another kid he’d met at Duncan’s party the night before, he couldn’t remember his name, but before long, a few more had gathered around the car. One of the girls was holding Gabriella, while Harry talked with some of the others.

Within minutes, there was a beehive of activity. One of the guys had been working a summer job driving a tow-truck. “Stand pat, mate,” he said. “I’ll get you and the car to the shop. I’ll be back in ten minutes,” he called as he ran off.

Someone else was bringing food from the snack bar. Harry looked up surprised to see it was the same man who had insisted he search Gabriella’s bag on their first visit. “It’ll just go to waste,” he muttered as he passed Gabriella a sandwich and drink. “We’ll be closing soon anyway.”

Another kid Harry didn’t recognize turned and said, “Harry, me da’ sells tires; I’ve been workin’ there all summer, and I know we can get yeh a good deal, but they still won’ be cheap.”

“I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten…”

“Wes, Wes Tucker,” he said with a broad smile as he shook Harry’s hand.

“Wes, I can get you the money,” Harry whispered, “but let’s keep it between you and me, eh?”

Before long, the car had been towed, and they’d been given a lift to the shop where the tires were being repaired. Quite a few of his new-found friends were still hanging around, but as the task neared completion, one-by-one they said goodbye and filtered out the door. The sun had long set, as Wes called out, “That’s it! Good as new; better really!” He wore a broad smile as he wiped his hands on a rag and walked over to the two of them.

Gabriella looked up at him. “Wes, I can give you…”

“Close that purse up, Gab; it’s taken care of.”

“What? How?”

He looked a bit uncomfortable, then seemed to hit gold. “Er, a customer turned those in today fer a new set. They were jus’ headed teh be recycled, but they still have some good tread on ‘em. It’d just be me labor, and that’s no charge.”

“Oh, you’re wonderful!” she cried, and wrapped her arms around him in a huge hug. Harry simply winked.

On the way home, Gabriella drove. “I think it drives a bit better, what do you think?”

Once again, Harry had found himself drifting to sleep in her car. “What? Oh, yeah, drives great.” He looked at the park passing by and thought of Malcolm. “You know, it might have been me they were trying to intimidate.”

“What? Why you?”

“Dudley’s gang; I can tell they haven’t enjoyed Dudley holding them back this summer.”

“But it’s my car, not even Malcolm would…”

“Wouldn’t he?” Harry interrupted. “I was the one driving when we got to the pool. Maybe he saw me get out and thought, ‘Here’s my chance.’”

“It doesn’t matter, Harry; if they slashed the tires, whoever they were, it means they had knives.” There was a moment’s silence. “And… knives kill, Harry,” she said with an unusual tremor in her voice. They turned down Privet Drive, and she stopped to let him sneak out before she pulled into her driveway. As he began to open the door, he stopped and looked at Gabriella.

“Did you notice?” he asked. “The man with the sandwiches?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t know; maybe… maybe there’s still some hope. Do you think?”

“Harry,” she stroked his face and kissed him, “with you at my side, I think we might just change the world.”

“Can it wait till tomorrow? I’m beat,” he sighed, and then grinned and stepped out of the car, gently shutting the door. Gabriella leaned toward the open window.

“I think we started tonight. They seemed to rally around you, Harry. It’s your heart, everyone can see that. You were marvelous, goodnight.” Harry stuck his head through the window and gave her a quick kiss. She looked at him for a moment and her eyes began to twinkle. “I love you,” she breathed, then rolled up the window and drove away.

“What?” he stammered, but she was gone. He watched her pull into the driveway and disappear into the house. “I love you, too,” he whispered to himself.

A cloud had rolled in front of the quarter moon, and suddenly the street had become quite dark. Harry walked toward his front steps, thinking about tomorrow. The warm air carried the sweet scent of dampness. “Rain, tonight.” he thought, looking back up at the darkening sky. He was moving up the walkway, when he heard a crack like a branch snapping. Instinctively, he reached for his back pocket, but it was empty. This morning, he had left his wand in his trunk upstairs. He looked toward his darkened window, and then across the street; he could see the soft light of candle flickering off the walls in Gabriella’s room. The wind began to pick up, as he looked toward the sound. In the street was a stooped, hooded figure. Harry’s heart leapt.

Mixed with a gust of wind he heard, “Little Harry!” It was a woman’s voice, he’d heard it before, and he’d heard those words before. Bellatrix?

The woman advanced, lifting her hand, and Harry stepped back, but his foot caught the lower step, and he fell backwards. He couldn’t catch himself in time, before his head hit the upper step, and his eyes saw a blinding flash of white. He could hear her running toward him, but he couldn’t see; his head was spinning. He was trying to lift himself up, when she grabbed him by the shoulders. He spun to strike when…

“Are you okay, dear?”

It was Mrs. Figg. Harry lowered his hand. “Well, boy, are you okay? The fog was slowly clearing from Harry’s head, and he began to focus on the elderly woman’s face.

“Mrs. Figg?” She brought him to his feet. “Is that you?”

“Harry Potter, have you been drinking?” she said sharply.

“My head… I fell. Have you been watching me?”

“Watching you?” she chuckled. “Heavens no. I was just up at the market getting some milk.” She brought her face in close, sniffed, and apparently satisfied let go of his arm and stepped back. “I should think you, of all people, would know better than to be wandering the streets alone at this time of night. If Dumbledore knew…”

Harry hadn’t thought too much about Dumbledore. “Is he having me trailed again this year?” His eyes glanced back down the street. “Because if he is, I want them to stop. Tell him that I don’t…”

“No one’s trailing you, Harry,” she cut in. “I’ve been told specifically to let you have your leave. But I would think you’d still come to visit on occasion. It seems you’re getting on better with the Dursleys, I hear.” Her voice carried a hint of disbelief.

“Well, I… er, yeah. They’re loads better this year. Dudley’s even talking to me.”

“And you’ll be staying through the summer?”

“I hope so.”

“It wouldn’t have anything to do with Mrs. Darbinyan’s cooking?”

“I thought you said…”

“Well, I’m not blind boy. Mind you, I haven’t said anything, but you’d best watch yourself. You don’t know anything about these people. For all you know they could be…”

“They’re not terrorists!” he snapped.

“Idiot, boy, for all you know they could be working for him.”

“Well, they’re not; I’d know. I’ve seen the likes that work for Voldemort, and they’re not it.”

“Very well, very well.” She picked up her shopping bag. “Just remember, all that glitters is not gold. He’s turned brother on brother, friend on friend, husband on wife. Don’t delude yourself into thinking it couldn’t happen.”

He watched her for a while walk down the street toward her waiting cats. He glanced up at Gabriella’s window. The light still flickered. Had she seen? The day of her first arrival, he had wondered if her family was in league with Voldemort. “You are an idiot, boy,” he thought to himself. “Not everything and everyone has to do with Voldemort.” He climbed the steps and went inside.

Quietly, he slipped in to the Dursley living room, and made his way up the stairs, rubbing the back of his head. The only sound was the rhythmic snore from Uncle Vernon reverberating through the walls. When he opened the door to his bedroom, he let out a small gasp of surprise. Standing in front of him was George Weasley, and on Harry’s bed, covered in blood, was George’s twin brother Fred.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and The Burden of Becoming

Chapter 6 - Dudley’s Confession
~~~***~~~

“Hello, Harry!” said George with a bit of pomp and a broad smile. “Wonderful evening, don’t you think?” At that moment the rain began to fall. “Well, it was wonderful. Goodness! Look at his hair Fred! A new look, Harry? And what’s that I see on your ear, can it be….”

Harry held his hands up. “Shhh, you’ll wake them.”

“Who, the Dumbsleys?” asked George.

Fred sat with one of Harry’s T-shirts over his face, it was soaked in blood. “I thought you were getting on smashingly,” he mumbled through the shirt.

“What happened? Skiving snack box?” asked Harry.

“No,” said George, “he accidentally apparated onto your bed, fell off and smashed his face into the dresser there.” Harry looked; the lamp had fallen over.

“I thought the bed was over there!” griped Fred through the T-shirt as he rubbed his knee.

“It was,” Harry answered, “but I was cleaning up and…”

“And you moved it? Don’t you know anything? You never…”

“Never mind that,” George interrupted. He walked over to his twin and pointed his wand at the bloodied face; a blue light bathed Fred’s fading freckles and the bleeding stopped. “Ron told us you were staying, and why. We don’t buy it for a minute.” George began to survey the room.

“So,” Fred sighed, wriggling his nose with his fingers, “we’re here to see if it’s true.” He looked at the bloodstained shirt and handed it to Harry. “Er… sorry.” He stood up and looked out at the rain. “George, what do you think?” He raised his hands as if boxing in a marquee. “Fickle Furniture--Make your mother-in-law think twice before she pops in! Well?”

“Not bad, we can make furniture that moves randomly by itself! Recordra!” He scribbled something in the air with his wand, and a parchment appeared in his hand. He then tucked it into the sleeve of his green jacket. “But, we’re here to check on dear Harry.”

“Really, I’m fine,” Harry said, a bit too convincingly. “They’ve been much, much better, why just the other day we, uh,” he paused searching for something to say, “we selected judges for the Suburban Lawn Contest!”

“Right!” exclaimed George. “And this is better because…?”

Fred let out a high-pitched two-tone whistle. “Oh my!”

George turned to the window. “What?”

“Harry has a neighbor!” he said with a sing-songy voice.

Harry could tell this was going to be bad. “It’s nothing. They moved in a few weeks back is all.” He walked to the curtains to close them, but that only made the twins realize they had something.

“A neighbor?” George asked whimsically, as he pushed Harry aside and looked out the window. The rain was falling steadily. Across the street Gabriella sat, again in pure white. The candlelight seemed to make her face glow as she wrote by the flickering flame. “Well, mate, what’s her name?”

“I, er, don’t know; haven’t really met her.”

“Haven’t met her?” Fred asked, raising his wand. “Accio omnioculars!” The omnioculars Harry had used at last year’s Quidditch World Cup flew to Fred’s hand from the trunk on the floor.

“No, don’t!” Harry tried to be uninterested, but his voice was quivering slightly. “It’s… it’s rude.” But Fred was already gazing across the street through her window.

“Bloody rain,” he said. “I can’t seem to… oh, dear me! Harry? I think she’s a thief!”

“What?”

“She has something of yours,” said Fred again with a sing-songy voice. “Look George.” He handed George the omnioculars and turned to look at Harry; without thinking, Harry held his hand up to his ear, stroking the earring.

“Fred,” George asked, “should we go get that back for Harry?”

“Yes, I think we should.”

“Harry, be back in a flash, mate.”

“Noooooo,” he hissed. Fred and George just stood their smiling. “Okay, okay, I know her, but you have to swear…”

“On our honor, mate,” said George as he held his hand over his chest. A moment later, he kicked Fred in the shin.

“Ouch! Er, yeah, on our honor!”

Harry told them of the last few weeks, leaving out various details he thought didn’t concern them; he ended with hitting his head on the steps below, and Mrs. Figg’s warning. “Swear again you won’t tell anybody. I mean anybody!” The twins were grinning from ear to ear, but nodded their assent.

“Still, Harry,” George spoke first, “there might be a connection. We could ask Dad for you, he’d know if…”

“Nobody can know! She’s a Muggle. I’ll never hear the end of it.” No sooner had the words slipped from his mouth than he wanted to put them back in again.

“Fine,” said George handing Fred the omnioculars, “we’ll keep it quiet. You have your bit of fun this summer, but promise at least to be careful?” Harry nodded.

“Harry?” Fred called, as he replaced the omnioculars in Harry’s trunk; he’d seen something and started to pull things out. “There’s glass all through here; you really should clean this up.”

“Wait!” Harry yelled, but it was too late.

“Reparro!”

Harry could hear Uncle Vernon let out a particularly loud snore, and then there was silence.

“Nothing to worry about,” said Fred pulling out an old square mirror. “Probably broke on your way home. Anyway, it’s as good as new.” He reached to hand it to Harry, but Harry stepped away. “What’s the matter?”

Harry’s face had turned ashen. He felt suddenly cold, very cold. Sirius had given him the two-way mirror to speak with him when he was at Hogwarts. Sirius kept the other. Harry had forgotten it until, until it was too late; if he’d remembered sooner, Sirius would still be alive. The film started to play in Harry’s mind once again. What he’d forgotten walking the streets with Gabriella, suddenly came flooding back… a flash of red light, a black veil, and Sirius… gone. Slowly, he took the mirror from Fred’s hand, wondering again if Sirius had the other mirror on him when he went through the black curtain. Harry had tried to use the mirror last spring, but when it failed he smashed it in his trunk.

He walked over to the window and looked out, lost in thought. Her room was dark… was she looking at him now? Water streaked down the window in sheets.

“Well, Fred, we’d better go,” said George standing up. “Harry, can we report that you’re okay then?” Harry simply nodded.

Fred walked to the center of the room and said, “And don’t move the bed again, okay?”

George added, “This does mean our plans for your birthday are ruined. Did you have a gift in mind?”

A gift? He placed his head against the side of the window and gazed out across the street. His eyes watched the water dripping like so many tears off the windowpane; the reflection of his scar looked back at him in the glass. “They’ll never find it,” a voice whispered in his head, but another fought back, “I’ve got to see.”

When the twins had gone, Harry undressed and sat on his bed. His mind was racing and his heart beating in anticipation. “Occlumency,” he thought. “I must get myself under control.” He let out a deep breath. The day’s exam left his head. The thoughts of hatred at the pool were swept away. I love you vanished into the ether. Bellatrix on the street evaporated into nothingness. The gift… the gift splintered into a thousand fragmented pieces and disintegrated into dust. Soon he was asleep.

In the days following, Harry and Gabriella had resolved to spend as much time as possible at the pool.

“We can’t let them win, Harry,” she would say defiantly. Her eyes would burn hot, and he could see a simmering anger ebbing just below the surface; somehow, he thought he understood. So, before Harry would go to work in the afternoons, they would be at the pool when it opened, and when Harry finished work, they would return until the gates were closed. Harry stopped reddening and began to get a pretty decent tan. Mr. Nellis, no longer asked to look into Gabriella’s bag, indeed, he’d asked that they park in his reserved spot, so that he could keep an eye on her car while they swam.

Harry awoke on his birthday when the owl delivering the Daily Prophet arrived. He glanced at the headlines; more information on protective spells; a group of rogue Dementors had been caught and Arthur Weasley was receiving high praise for his excellent work; the Ministry was undergoing renovation to prevent further incursions. He tossed the paper aside, threw on yesterday’s T-shirt and strolled downstairs. Uncle Vernon had already left for work; Aunt Petunia was putting away the dishes and there was no food in sight. Dudley was at the couch with his videogame machine, the sound of engines racing roared throughout the house. Petunia cleared her voice in disapproval.

“Good of you to get out of bed sometime today,” she said, placing the last plate in the cupboard. “As you very well know, this is a special day.” Other than to tell him the date, she had never so much as mentioned his birthday before. “We will be leaving this afternoon for Dudder’s middle-weight boxing exhibition in South Benton; we will stay overnight, then after the tournament tomorrow, go to visit with Marge. We will be back on Friday evening, and when we return, I expect to see this house exactly as it is now.” She folded the dishtowel neatly and set it in the hamper. “You may have a mind to leave today, as you have done in the past,” she said, glaring at him intently, and then as if regretting the words said, “but it would be wise for you to stay.” She paused, and for a moment Harry saw something in her face she’d never shown him before… concern, but in an instant it was gone. “The front garden needs mowing, and I expect you to fertilize the flower beds. The inspection is in only two weeks, and I won’t have our family lose because of your interminable laziness.” She removed her apron, folded it, placed it in the closet, and then checked her hair in the mirror. “Come on, dear,” she said to Dudley, “it’s time we go meet the judges.”

“I’m not going,” Dudley said flatly. “Malcolm and Piers are coming over later; they’re going to help me on a few moves.”

“Oh, that Malcolm is such a sweet boy,” she said smiling. “Very well, give them my best.” She went to the door, straightened her dress, and stepped out into the morning air.

“Sweet as lemons,” Harry sighed, after the door was shut. And he sat down next to Dudley who handed him the other controller.

Dudley passed Harry’s car in the straightaway and said, “I haven’t seen Malcolm since you two had your little meeting at the pool.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know; he just keeps avoiding me--one lame excuse after another. Ernie thinks he’s afraid of you.”

“Me? I’ve never touched him.”

“You never touched Aunt Marge either.”

“Well, she had it coming.” Harry passed Dudley on the curve.

“Yeah,” Dudley sighed, “I suspect Malcolm did too.” He put down the controller and Harry passed him at the finish. Dudley walked over to the cupboard under the stairs, opened the door, looked inside and then said, “They used to make you sleep here.”

“Yeah. So?”

“I used to think it was funny; little Harry stuck in the cupboard.” Dudley slammed the cupboard door. “Harry gets his burger taken away because I’m still hungry. Harry at home while I go to the show.” Dudley moved to the window and leaned against the wall looking out. “I hope I get creamed tomorrow.”

“You won’t.”

Dudley looked back at him and smiled slyly. “You’re right,” he said, and then he turned and continued to stare out at the street. There was a long pause as Dudley churned something over in his mind. Harry just watched until finally, still facing the window, Dudley spoke with a slow, sorrowful voice. “Do you know what I saw when the Dementor had me?” Harry straightened; he wasn’t expecting this.

“I don’t know. But, I’ll bet it was worse than your worst nightmare.”

“They showed me… I saw… me,” whispered Dudley as he held his hand up to look at it just a few inches in front of his face. It cast a shadow with the morning sun onto the floor. “Well, what I am, or maybe what I’ll be.” He turned to look at Harry. “I won’t let them teach me to hate, Harry; I won’t hate others just because I hate it here. My happiest times are when I’m out of this dump at school, sound familiar?” He went to a bottom drawer in the kitchen and pulled it all the way out and set it on the floor. Then, reaching deep underneath, he pulled a small package out. He replaced the drawer and walked over to Harry. “Here,” he said tossing the package to Harry, “happy birthday.”

Harry sat, stunned. The gift was heavy. He pulled the paper away to reveal a round stone, about the size of a snitch. It was a smoky blood red with flecks of gold glittering in the sunlight. It looked as if hot red embers had been trapped just beneath the surface. “Cool, but…”

“It made me think of the remember-ball you told me about,” Dudley said, not getting the word quite right, but the effort made Harry smile. “Take it with you to Hogwarts and when you see it remember that I’m sorry I was such an ass for all these years. And if I forget when we’re at home, use it to clonk me on the head so I remember good-an’-proper.” He grabbed his Walkman and headed to the door. “I’m outta here.”

“Dudley? Tonight, I’m not doing anything; maybe we could catch a show… together.”

“I’m off to South Benton to smash some bloke’s face in, remember?” He opened the door and looked back. “But thanks for asking.” The door shut behind him.

Harry sat for a few minutes, admiring the gift that Dudley had given him; it was like no stone he’d ever seen before. Finally, he went upstairs, showered, put on clean shorts and a shirt and quickly walked over to Gabriella’s, his hair as messy as ever. He was going to have to leave for work soon. Soseh answered the door.

“Ah! Harry, come in, come in.” The boxes were now gone and their home had the warm look of being lived in. “Gabriella’s out for the moment, she should be back any time. Are you hungry?”

“No thanks, I’m fine. I just…”

“Don’t be silly. Come. Sit down and eat.”

Harry had two plates before he took a seat in the Darbinyan living room. The room was a bit too warm and Harry started to nod; it had been another long night. He woke with a start to something moving around his leg; at his ankle was beautiful white Persian cat. She was weaving her way in and around Harry’s bare legs, leaving flicks of fur.

“I didn’t know you had a cat,” he called to the kitchen where Soseh was washing dishes.

“Gabriella has had Shara for years. She leaves fur everywhere she goes.” Harry couldn’t remember Gabriella ever mentioning her cat before. “I hear it’s a special day today.”

“What? No, not really, I have to work.”

“Is it not your birthday?”

“Oh, that, well… yes; but I’m not much into birthdays really… bit overblown, if you ask me.”

“Bit overblown? I think not! Birthdays should be vibrant celebrations, filled with laughter, filled with the memory of the parents that bore us, of the life we have been given, and thoughts of the years ahead we yet have to make a difference in this world!” She had stepped over to her front window and peered out looking for her daughter. “You have not made plans to celebrate, not even with Gabriella?”

“Well, no, not really, she’s already given me a gift,” he said holding his hand to his ear. Soseh smiled.

“An interesting gift, that; it holds two meanings I think, maybe more.” She sat down across from Harry looking intently at him. “First, of course, is that both you and she wear them… a connection… a sign of love.” Harry reddened. “Second, the earring matches your scar…” she paused, glancing at his forehead, “a sign of pain, I believe… great loss.” Her face was soft and her smile gentle. He had been careful to cover his scar with his hair whenever he left the Dursleys; even now he knew it was covered by his fringe. Soseh had never before mentioned it, never asked about it, but now, her gaze was fixed upon Harry’s forehead. “And still… I see another meaning…” Harry began to sit up; it was as if Snape were climbing into his brain. “Yes, someone else…”

The door burst open; Gabriella stood framed in a golden light. “Oh good, you’re still here.” She seemed out of breath, but was smiling as Harry stood up and gave her a kiss.

“Good morning,” he said. “Where have you been off to?”

“Oh, nowhere really.” She looked at her mother who was now crossing to the hallway. “Where’s Papa?”

Soseh just shook her head. “He’s out. Out again.” There was a hint of anger mixed with worry as she disappeared down the hall. Harry wondered if Grigor’s absence had been the source of their arguments.

Gabriella turned to Harry and asked, “Don’t you need to be at work?”

“I have about fifteen minutes; more if you’ll drive me,” he said with the look of a lost puppy dog.

“YOU can drive yourself,” she said slapping him on the shoulder, and then she held him tight. “I missed you.”

“It hasn’t even been eight hours,” said Harry with a smile.

Soseh returned carrying a brightly wrapped package. “Happy birthday, Harry!” She handed him the gift. “Go ahead, open it now, but be careful.”

Harry gingerly pulled the corners of the package open: a frame. Then he pulled the paper away; it was a painting. Standing on a beach, in front of a dazzling sunset, were Harry and Gabriella. They were looking into each other’s eyes. She had one hand to his chest; his was to her face.

Gabriella shuddered, “Oh, Mama! You never told me. It’s gorgeous.” She was looking over Harry’s shoulders, her hands around his waist.

“Yes,” Harry said, “yes it is.” But he wasn’t thinking about the sea, or the brilliant colours of the sun. Soseh had captured her daughter perfectly--her hair, her eyes… Harry gazed at the gift for some time, staring intently at the girl next to him in the painting, and then quite naturally turned and hugged Soseh. “Thank you, it’s perfect.”

On the way to work, Harry drove the car while Gabriella’s conversation seemed to be sidestepping something she really wanted to say. Finally, as they were rounding the last block, she took in a little breath and said, “Harry, I know you don’t think your birthday’s a big deal and all, but I was wondering…”

“Yes.”

“Well, I was wondering if maybe you and I could have dinner tonight with Duncan and Emma.” Before he could answer she added, “Nothing big, just the four of us. They really want to wish you a happy birthday, and besides it’s only fair to Duncan, you went to his, right?”

Harry grinned. “Right.” She was so strong, so determined, and yet at times so uncertain. “Just the four of us?”

“Yes.”

“Just dinner?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.” A great big grin burst across her face. “But not too long, we owe each other some quality time.” He shut his eyes and yawned rubbing his face.

“Harry?” Her voice was again uncertain. “I saw… the other night, did you have…” she stopped herself and then hoisted a smile back on her face. “I’ll see you tonight, then? Emma and I will drop by at six.”

They kissed and she drove away. Had she seen Fred and George in his room? Perhaps Mrs. Figg? Or was it something else?

Duncan was already at work when Harry arrived. He waved and called, “Hey, mate! We’ve got a load of new stock in back to bring up. I’ve been clearing this area up all morning. We should fit most of it here; it’s all winter stock. And today… today is payday!”

Harry spent the afternoon assembling racks for skis to be displayed, large down coats, gloves, and snowboards. It was hard to imagine they were getting ready for winter while the sun was still so warm. Unpacking ski gloves, Harry realized that in few short weeks he’d be heading back to school. What was he going to do?

“What if I just stayed,” he thought. “Dumbledore said I’m safe as long as I’m at home.” He could spend the rest of his life on Privet Drive together with Gabriella… but, of course, he couldn’t. He wouldn’t run from his future; his destiny was to destroy or be destroyed, but then, it didn’t say it had to be this year, or even next. What if he didn’t face Voldemort for fifty more years? “You’re dreaming,” he whispered to himself, tossing another pair of gloves into the bin.

It had been a hard day’s work and six was fast approaching. He was just about to unload the last box of children’s thermals when a familiar voice spoke over his shoulder.

“Skis? Skis already? I’m surprised you don’t have holly hanging from the windows!” It was the same elderly man he’d seen in the store before. He was wearing bright green pants, a pink paisley silk shirt, and the same cap he’d worn before; in his hand was a box of golf balls he’d just purchased. “You’ve been working hard here, haven’t you?” Harry shrugged his shoulders and nodded; he’d made a point of getting as many hours as he could to pay for Gabriella’s tires with the money he earned himself. “Modest too,” he let out in a little laugh. “Not many boys your age are willing to put in the effort anymore.” The gentlemen glanced out the front store window, and said with an odd intonation, “Well, I think there’s still time for a few more rounds in the sun before winter sets in; what do you say?” He set to go out the door, but just before leaving looked back at Harry and said with a smile, “You would have made your parents proud, son. You deserve a happy birthday.” Harry just stared as the door shut behind the old man.

If Harry had his doubts that this man was a wizard, they were gone. Was he the one Dumbledore had sent to watch him? He’d met other witches and wizards in town before, not knowing it at the time, only later to find them shopping in Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. He was trying to decipher it in his mind, when Duncan called out, “Turn the sign around, mate. We’re closed!”

Harry walked over and locked the front door, flipping the sign to read ‘~CLOSED~’ to those walking by. He glanced out the front window, but Emma and Gabriella weren’t there yet.

“Listen, mate,” Duncan said. “Here’s your paycheck; we can get it cashed and you can make your last payment on the tires to Wes tonight.”

“But the girls… I don’t want Gabriella to know.”

“Emma called about an hour ago; they’re running way late. I told her we had enough work to do to keep us going till seven. That should give us plenty of time. We can take my car, but you’ll have to drive,” he said shrugging his shoulders. “I haven’t passed the test yet.”

Harry realized that he didn’t have his wand and nightfall was approaching again. He didn’t want to find himself on the street once more in the dark without it. “Can we stop by my place first,” he asked. “I’d like to change before dinner.”

“I don’t think so, Harry. Wes only stays a little while to clean up after they close. In fact, we better get going right now!”

By the time they drove up to the tire shop, Harry was feeling a bit apprehensive as the sun began to cast long shadows in the street. Surprisingly, he found it hard to find a parking space. “I thought you said they closed at six?” he asked.

“Beats me, mate; maybe they had a tire sale today or something.”

They walked to the front doors and Harry tried to see through the front window, but all was dark in the shop. Harry turned to leave. “They’re closed up; he’s already left for the day. I’m sure the doors are locked.”

Duncan looked away as if he had something in his eye. “I don’t know… give ‘em a pull.”

Harry pulled at the doors, and they swung open. There was a flash of light and an explosion of sound. Harry stepped back shielding his eyes, but Duncan grabbed his shoulders from behind and pushed him through the door. The time, at last, had come.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming
Chapter 7 - Eyes of the Dragon
~~~***~~~

“SURPRISE!”

The tire shop had somehow been morphed into a Brazilian scene from Mardis Gras. Helium balloons filled the ceiling and floated all about the shop. Dazzling streamers hung from the ceiling. Cardboard cutouts of palm trees stood next to two long tables of food, and behind them a large banner spanned the wall that read HAPPY BIRTHDAY HARRY! But, most striking of all, were the people. There were people everywhere! Everyone was wearing a swimsuit, or some sort of beach attire. Some had long strands of beads around their necks. The place was so packed Harry could hardly push his way in with Duncan’s help. In the center of the room were three large punchbowls set inside white-walled tires. There stood Emma and Gabriella; anxious smiles hung on both their faces. Suddenly the room erupted in a chorus of “Happy Birthday to you….”

Harry began to make his way toward them shaking hands and greeting those he met on the way. He saw Wes, of course, and Tom who’d driven the tow-truck when Gabriella’s tires were slashed, a lot of folks from work, some kids he and Gabriella had met on their long walks, and others he knew from his time at the pool. In fact, he suddenly realized, he knew all these people, some better than others, but he recognized every face. It had only been a few weeks, but it seemed he’d met half the kids in Little Whinging and they were all here to celebrate his birthday.

When he finally reached the girls, he looked at Emma first and gave her a hug. “Thanks, it’s wonderful.” Then, he reached out his hands to Gabriella’s. “Just the four of us, eh…nothing really big?” She was biting her lower lip. “In the car, I thought you were worried I’d say no. Is this the real reason?” She nodded, and his face split into an ear-to-ear grin. “You’re brilliant you know?” He reached his hands to her face and they kissed. The uncertainty was washed away and a twinkle emerged.

“Yes, I know,” she said smiling and then looked to Emma. “But, with Emma’s help, it wasn't very hard. Everyone we asked said they'd come. I don't think so much because you’re a criminal,” she winked, “but because they know you have a sensitive heart.” She held her hand to his chest. “There's live music! Some friends of Tom's have started a band.”

The party broke out of the sales area and into the back shop where three kids had set up to play. It made for much more room. Some of the crowd danced, others just talked, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Harry cornered Wes where he could finally talk to him alone. “You didn't need to do this you know.”

“Didn’t I? Have YOU ever said no to Gabriella?” he asked, raising his eyebrows at Harry. “No, I didn’t think so.”

“Well, it’s spectacular, thanks.” Harry handed Wes the money. “It’s the last payment. This is still just between you and me, right? Well, besides Dunc.”

“Absolutely,” said Wes patting Harry on the shoulder, “and happy birthday.”

There was a tap on Harry's shoulder. It was Gabriella. “What are you two scheming about?”

Harry put his arm around her waist. “Just thanking Wes for the party, it's… it’s…” and suddenly, looking around at the people smiling, enjoying each other's company, he lost the words. Here were kids from all walks of life and backgrounds. Like the balloons above the punch bowls, they were a rainbow of colours, and best of all, nobody noticed. They didn’t notice if you were from the Middle East. They didn’t notice if you were poor. They didn’t notice whose hand you were holding. They didn’t notice if you had a scar on your head, or if your parents had died. Here he wasn’t a marked man, nobody was. This… this was everything that Voldemort hated. Dumbledore had spoken of the greatest power hidden in the Department of Mysteries. Tonight he felt it course through his veins and somehow he felt safer and stronger than he’d ever felt in his life.

“Harry?” a soft voice whispered in his ear. He turned to see Gabriella watching him. “Is everything okay?”

“Never better,” he whispered. “Shall we dance?”

It wasn’t until well past midnight that things began to break up. The band had stopped some time ago, but Wes was still piping in tunes through the shop’s sound system. The punch bowls were empty and the food was all but gone. Finally, all that remained were Gabriella, Duncan, Emma, Wes and himself. Harry, to his regret, had once again forgotten his promise to stay away from the punch. Fortunately, Gabriella had been declared the designated driver for the four friends earlier that evening. She, Emma and Duncan were collecting trash that had accumulated at the food table when Wes spoke up.

“Leave it,” he said. “We’re doin’ inventory tomorrow so the place is closed. I’ll have time to take care of it in the mornin’.”

Gabriella looked at him and said, “You can’t be serious? It’s as if a tornado’s been through here.”

He looked around. “Nah, it’s not too bad,” he lied. “I’ll leave the balloons and tell dad it’s some sales idea. Harry, you want the banner?” He pointed at the sign across the wall.

“Wes, the banner’s served its purpose on that wall tonight.” Harry was having some trouble holding his train of thought. “I think it’s time to let it go. It’s time to let it all go.” His eyes seemed somewhere else. “Emma took some pictures tonight; that’ll be good enough.”

“Right then; well, you four best be goin’, ‘cuz I’m leavin’.” He flipped some switches. The music stopped, the lights went out in the back shop and he ushered them to the front door.

“Wes, do you need a ride?” Gabriella asked.

“Nah, I’m just around the corner. I could use the walk before I make it home.” He took a deep breath and turned out the last light, then locked the doors. “Good night. Happy birthday, Harry.”

“Thanks, Wes,” Harry replied, “we’ll see you soon.” He was looking up at the stars, almost defiantly glaring at the bright red glimmer above his head. Duncan and Emma were already headed to Gabriella’s car, when she took his hand.

“It’s not my father who’s the only one with his head in the stars,” she spoke gently. “Come on, let’s get home, I have something I want to give you.” Harry looked down to speak, but she simply touched his lips with hers and said, “Later.”

The streets were empty on the ride home. They stopped in front of Duncan’s house. The lights were out. He and Emma both stepped out of the car. “Well, mate, I’ve been in Little Whinging seventeen years, and that has got to be the best party this town has ever seen.” He paused rolling over something in his mind and then said, “We need to talk, you and me. Sometime this week, okay?”

Harry looked puzzled. “Sure. This week.” Duncan started for his front door, but Emma remained. Something was troubling her.

Gabriella spoke first. “What’s the matter Em?”

“He puts on a good face, but he’s upset, really upset. His parents didn’t invite him to go to France; they just went. They didn’t even mention his birthday. They travel all over the world, and leave him here to watch their precious plants.” She looked at Harry. “You’ve kept him together this summer, Harry. He keeps saying that if Harry can do it with no parents, while being stuck with the Dursleys, he can do it too. But I don’t know, he keeps talking about dropping school. I was thinking, maybe you and I could…”

“Emma!” Duncan called out from the door. “Are you and Gab going to keep yappin’ all night or what?”

“I’ve got to go.” Emma started towards the door and then looked back at the car. “Thanks, Harry, happy birthday.”

Gabriella started toward Privet Drive, but neither of them spoke about Emma’s words. Tonight, instead of stopping short and dropping Harry off, she pulled into her driveway. The Dursley car was gone and so was her father’s. They got out of her sedan and she walked to the boot and took out a box. As she started to walk across the street Gabriella looked at Harry with a grand smile and said, “Come on then.”

For some reason Harry was uneasy. He looked up and down the street, but could see nothing in the darkness. He found himself a little light headed and cursed himself for drinking again. This wasn’t how he would keep Gabriella safe. Instinctively, he reached for his back pocket, only to find it empty. “Damn,” he hissed in a low voice.

Gabriella was already on his front porch. He hurried to meet her at the Dursley’s front door, but when he turned his key in the lock, he found it already open. Gabriella noted the concern on his face.

“What is it, Harry?” she asked. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing. Just the, er, door. It’s unlocked. Dudley probably kept tight about me having a key so they left the door open is all.” But in his mind he thought the Dursleys would sooner see him crawl through a window. Slowly he opened the door and turned on a light. Gabriella strode past him.

“Well, if there’s someone in here let’s find out.” She looked back at him and smiled. “We have things to do.” She set the box down on the coffee table.

Harry smiled and shut the door. He walked over to Gabriella and was about to give her a kiss when a large crash shattered the stillness of the Dursley home. It was from upstairs. Before his eyes, he saw her body tone suddenly change. He’d seen only a glimpse of it in the park that evening with Malcolm. She seemed almost catlike, her hands away from her waist, her back erect and her head slightly cocked as if to hear the slightest sound. She began to walk stealthily toward the stairs, but Harry stopped her.

“No. Let me,” he whispered. She glanced at him and shook her head no, and then took another slow, quiet step forward. There was something almost frightening in the look of her eyes. She looked as if…. She took another step toward the stairs. “What are you doing?” he thought. But, there was no need to argue about who would climb the stairs first. Whatever had made the noise was now making its way down the upper hall and heading their way. Harry motioned for her to step back and this time she obliged. No sooner had they taken positions at the bottom of the stairs, than a voice rang out breaking the tension.

“Bloody hell! When I get my hands on that… that idiot!”

“I’m not sure Harry’s the idiot, Fred.”

It was the Weasley twins, and a look of relief registered on Harry’s face as he wiped his brow. Gabriella saw this, but remained ready, her jaw tight.

“Fred? George? Is that you?” Harry called out. As the words left his mouth they appeared, each in their dragon skin jackets, at the top of the stairs.

“Hey mate!” called George as he stepped briskly down the stairs, but Fred wore a scowl on his face and was limping as he descended.

George shook Harry’s hand and said, “Happy birthday, Harry.”

Fred shook Harry’s hand too, and then burst out, “Did I tell you not to move the furniture in your room? Did I tell you that?”

Seeing Gabriella against the wall, George gave Fred a look to silence him and said, “Fred here accidentally, er, tripped over your trunk upstairs, Harry.”

“Oh no!” Harry gasped. “I was cleaning up this morning and moved it to the…oh, I’m so sorry Fred.” But he couldn’t help letting out a small laugh. Gabriella was completely flummoxed.

“Well,” Fred said, “happy birthday.” He limped over to the kitchen. “Is there anything to eat in this place?”

Suddenly Harry became quite uncomfortable. “Erm, Fred, George, this is Gabriella.”

George beamed. “Absolutely splendid to meet you. Harry’s told us so much about you.”

“Yes, all summer long,” Fred chimed in, opening and closing cabinets. “Gabriella this, Gabriella that. Quite annoying really.” He started opening drawers.

“Gabriella,” said Harry ignoring him, “Fred and George are friends of mine from… from school.”

Gabriella’s face softened somewhat, but apprehension remained in her eyes. “A pleasure to meet you both,” she spoke to George. “You’re twins?”

“Yes.” George looked at Harry smiling. “We get that bit about as much as you get….” And he nodded to Harry’s scar. “So tell me Gabriella, do you like Harry here?”

Fred picked up on the pitch in his brother’s words and added, “Yes, is he everything you knew he’d be?”

“Because we think he’s fabulous.”

“A number one kind of guy.”

“First-class, mate.”

“Yes, everyone thinks Harry’s special.”

“Not special in the this chap needs help sort of way.”

“No, not like that.”

“And not the sort that would go out with just any girl.”

“Well, maybe most any girl.”

“At least those girls that would speak with him.”

“You do speak, don’t you?”

Gabriella finally broke out in a smile. “Yes! Yes!” she finally called to get them to stop. “He is a first-class mate.” She walked over to Harry and put her hands around his waist kissing him on the lips and he immediately turned scarlet.

“Well, brother,” said Fred, “either she’s lost her mind completely, or… nope, she’s lost her mind completely.”

George started for the door. “Well, Harry,” he said, “we can’t stay and chat like this all night.”

“No. We’ve things to do, places to go, and… aha!” Fred found an apple in a low drawer beneath the oven.

“We just came to give you this.” George handed him a small square package.

“It seems,” Fred said chewing on his apple, “Kreacher had it hidden deep in his den. We don’t think Sirius had it for some time.” He held Harry’s arm and his bright tone deepened. “No one believes he could have answered, even if you had remembered to use it.”

“Fred,” called George, “let’s go.”

“Yes, let’s. And Harry, please leave your furniture alone. Otherwise you may find a surprise in your morning cereal.”

“Goodbye, Gabriella,” the two spoke simultaneously. “Harry’s right about one thing, you are beautiful.” They walked out the door closing it behind them. Harry heard a small snap.

Gabriella went to the front door to say goodbye properly, but when she opened it they were gone. She stood for a moment and looked up and down the street. Then, closing the door, she came back to the living room where Harry stood waiting to be bombarded with questions. In his hand was a square package wrapped in plain brown paper. She stood and looked at him for a moment. He couldn’t tell what her face was saying. It was as if some inner machine were working away, deciding its next move, and then he saw in her black eyes a sense of triumph and the twinkle was back. He felt utterly helpless.

“Well?” she said. “Let’s open it then, shall we?” They sat down at the coffee table next to the box she’d brought in. Harry grabbed the remote control and turned on the television. He changed the channels a few times and stumbled on to an old film.

“Don’t think I’ve seen this one,” he said trying to change the focus of the evening, but she was having none of it.

“Don’t be silly. What did Fred and George get you for your birthday?”

His hands began to tremble. He knew what it was. He didn’t need to open it. Still, he found his fingers reaching for the package. They slipped open the wrapping paper to reveal an old square mirror. Harry looked at it knowing its twin was now on his dresser upstairs. He handed it to Gabriella.

“It’s beautiful,” she said, turning it over in her hands. “Who’s Padfoot?”

“What?”

She handed him the mirror pointing to writing on the back. In black ink were the words

Padfoot,
I don’t think detentions will be quite as boring any more.
Prongs

“And Prongs?” she asked. “Do you know them?”

His heart skipped. It was his father’s writing. He’d never seen it before. It was much neater than his own; ‘Prongs’ was finished with a flourish. He sat there for a moment looking down at a bit of his father, tracing the curves of each letter with his finger….

“Harry?”

“What? Er, uh, no. I don’t know who that could be.”

“Really?” She was incredulous. “Perhaps one of your criminal friends?”

Harry thought how close she was to the truth, but simply smiled back and shook his head. Carefully, he set the mirror down on the coffee table next to the Gabriella’s box. He looked up at her and grinned taking it in his hands. “And this?”

“Well, it was for you,” she said crossing her arms and legs and sitting back, “but after the way the evening’s gone so far, I think I’ll take it back.” Then she gave him a look out of the corner of her eyes and a flash of sparkle appeared. Harry inched closer to her on the couch.

“Well,” he said, “it’s not a very big box is it?” He inched again. “I mean if it were a proper present, it would be…”

She shoved him on the shoulder, but he grabbed her hand pulling her close. “I love you when you’re angry,” he said, and they kissed.

After a bit, Gabriella broke the silence. “Go on then, open it up.”

He unwrapped the paper, and then carefully lifted the top of the box. Inside was a small statue, slightly larger than his hand. He pulled it out of the box. It was heavy, too heavy, really, for its size. His mind flashed to the Tri-Wizard tournament as he hovered around her and she reared her head and blew flame. It was as if the instant had been captured, frozen in time. Here in his hand was the head of a Hungarian Horntail. It was staring straight up, mouth open as if to breathe fire. Its gaping jaws filled with golden teeth. Its lizard-like skin was a matte black, and its eyes… its eyes, like a cat’s, glinted with the fire of burning embers.

The miniature head was mounted on a mahogany base to which was attached an engraved brass plate. The words read “Out of bravery, fire. Out of wisdom, blood. Out of love, true power.”

Harry was stunned. Every detail, every crevice and scale, the look of the eyes, the grimace of the mouth was exactly as he had remembered it. But how? It was impossible. Finally he breathed, “It’s brilliant.”

“Well,” she started, “I saw that little dragon you have at your bedside table, and described it to Mama. She helped me make it.”

“You made this yourself?” he gawked. “But it seems old, very old.”

“Mama helped.”

“You’re incredible!” He gazed at the snapping dragon again. “And the words, what do the words mean?”

The smile on her face broadened. “It’s a puzzle Harry, a riddle. I think you have all the pieces to put it together. If you truly are a brilliant criminal mastermind it shouldn’t take long at all.”

“I hate puzzles. How ‘bout a hint?” He set the statue down next to the mirror.

“No.”

“Not even for a kiss?” He put his arm around her.

“No.” She laid her head on his shoulder holding him tight and sighed. “Harry, I don’t want you to go.”

The words deflated him instantly. They were running out of summer. In his heart, he didn’t want to go, but he knew he would. With both arms he held her close. He could feel her breathing against his neck; he could feel the pulse of her heart next to his. The black-and-white film played quietly on the television. He was suddenly very, very tired.

“You really do have a sensitive heart,” she whispered. The room was feeling warm. “I saw it tonight at the party… in your eyes.” His eyes… his eyes were heavy. “Harry, the dragon… it will make you stronger.” But, he was asleep. She lowered her head to his chest and closed her eyes. “Bravery… Wisdom… Love…” she whispered in cadence to the rhythmic beat of Harry’s pulse in her ear. “I saw them all in you tonight, Harry. Mama’s never been wrong. If you are the one, the heart of the dragon will be yours.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and The Burden of Becoming

Chapter 8 - Nowhere to Run
~~~***~~~

He woke the next morning to the sound of a motorcycle driving by. “Or was it a dream?” he thought. Slowly, he opened his eyes. The television was off and on the coffee table stood his mirror, and a black dragonhead. “Gabriella!” he called feebly, but she was gone. He righted himself and went upstairs to get ready.

The cool water of the shower began to bring him back to life. When he returned to his bedroom, he saw his trunk moved squarely to the middle of the room and smiled thinking of Fred, then pushed it back against the wall. Next to his bed was the statue of the dragon he’d received after the first task. “How could she remember the detail?” he thought. For a moment he held it in his hand, then set it back down and moved the trunk back into the corner. He’d dressed and was hopelessly combing his hair, looking at the small, square, silver mirror propped upright on his dresser, when he heard her come through the front door.

“Harry!” she called.

“Up here, Gabriella!” he yelled down.

Before his eyes, the mirror filled with smoke, then opened on to the living room below. In the frame was Gabriella standing by the sofa and looking up the stairs. Her hair hung over her shoulders and in her hand was a mug. She reached down to pick up his shirt which he’d left on the couch the night before.

“Sometimes I wonder,” she whispered, folding his shirt in her hands and starting up the stairs.

Quickly he placed the mirror before him face down on his dresser and ran to the hall. “Up here,” he called again, coming out to greet her. He stopped in the frame of his bedroom door when the morning owl arrived with the Daily Prophet. “Not now,” he thought. He turned back, grabbed the paper, and quickly sent the owl on its way. Gabriella stepped into his room as he tucked the paper into his top drawer. He had just glimpsed the lead headline Dumbledore Announces Changes at Hogwarts, when she walked into his room. The first owl was taking off, as she walked toward the window.

“More post?” she asked. Harry said nothing. “You’re right, I promised; no more questions.” She handed him the mug. “From Mama,” she said smiling. She was looking at Harry, her back toward the window, when he saw another owl flying toward his open window. She caught his eyes looking past her and turned just in time to see the owl fly in and land on her shoulder. She didn’t flinch, instead she said quite matter-of-factly, “Another letter?” taking the scroll from the bird.

“They’re not suppose to give you other people’s post,” Harry said. Gabriella handed him the envelope.

“I think he likes me,” she said stroking the bird’s feathers. Hedwig gave a hoot. “Are you jealous Hedwig? Don’t worry, I love you the most.” She gave both birds a treat and sent the other on its way. Then she took Hedwig out of her cage and started stroking her feathers sitting on Harry’s bed. Harry simply held the letter in his hands. “Well, is it a late birthday card?”

It wasn’t; it was clearly from Hogwarts. It had an H stamped in wax on the back. He knew she would notice that; she was feigning ignorance. He looked at the wax seal hesitating to open it, not because Gabriella was there, but because he knew what was in it… the end of summer. Finally, he opened the scroll. It was his class schedule, the list of books and supplies he’d need for the year, and two smaller scrolls of parchment. The first was a short note: “The Hogwarts Express will leave from Platform Nine and Three-quarters on the 1st of September at 11 a.m. sharp.”

“It’s my class list for the new year,” he sighed. “I’ve got to buy a lot before we leave from King’s Cross.”

“Well, if you’re free today,” she said brightly, “we can do a little shopping.” Looking down at the letter, he simply shook his head no. He rolled the scroll and slid it into his dresser.

“I have to work for a couple hours this afternoon. Just to finish up some stocking. I’ll have to get these things later,” he said. “Besides, there’s a lot of special stuff I have to get from London.”

“London? Oh, I haven’t been there yet. I can take you! Shall we go tomorrow?”

Harry took another sip from the mug. “I’m hungry,” he said. “I don’t suppose your mum…?” Gabriella smiled, shaking her head.

“Let’s go,” she said. Harry took another sip and opened the second scroll. Looking at the words he began to tremble. “What’s the matter?” she asked.

The last parchment was a new Hogsmeade permission slip. It read: “Due to recent events, all students above the second year must obtain signed permission to leave school grounds for any reason other than medical emergencies. This includes, of course, the Hogsmeade outings. Please return the bottom of the parchment with your parent or guardian’s signature.”

“Harry?” Gabriella asked again, “What’s the matter?” Harry crumpled the parchment in his hand, squeezing until his fingers turned white, and threw it in the dustbin.

“No problem,” he lied trying to bring himself to the present. “Just last night’s activities I guess.” He took a deep breath. “Let’s go,” he said with a week smile.

They went downstairs, Harry in the lead, and he quickly stepped to the mirror and dragonhead that were on the table. The mirror simply looked like a mirror now. He laid it flat and walked back to Gabriella. “That’s a wonderful gift, thanks.” He kissed her. They stepped out the front door and started toward the street. The morning sun was bright in their faces. “I’m starving,” he said the sun warming his spirits. He looked back at her with a grin on his face and stopped dead. His jaw fell to his chest, his eyes wide. Gabriella turned back to the house to see what he was looking at. There, in the driveway, was a motorcycle with a large red bow.

“I didn’t see that when I came in!” she exclaimed.

It was gorgeous. The bike was black and chrome. It had low-rise handlebars and wire-laced wheels. On the black leather seat was a large note. The two of them stepped up to it and Harry removed the paper. It was from Hagrid

Harry,

I’ve heard you got your papers to drive. I figure this belongs to you now. Sirius would want it that way. They tell me the Dursleys are being nice to you this summer. I don’t believe it for a second. If they give you a problem, let me know.

Happy Birthday,

Hagrid

Harry looked at Gabriella. “It’s a present, from a friend.”

“A friend? You’re kidding, right? This is spectacular!”

“Well, it was my godfather’s, see, and….” he couldn’t finish. He began to tremble again. He touched the handlebars and then put his hand on the seat. Once, Sirius had sat here. Once, Hagrid carried Harry to Privet Drive in a basket while his mother and father lay murdered. Gabriella held him by the shoulders.

“I see your heart again, Harry.” She took his hand and turned him around. “It was your godfather’s?” He nodded, unable to speak. “And now it’s yours?” Again, he nodded. He could feel the tears well up in his eyes, but he wasn’t going to cry. “Then let’s give it a try?” she said in matter-of-fact tone. “He wouldn’t want you to have a bike you couldn’t ride, would he?” Harry blinked.

“But I… I can’t,” he stammered. “I’ve never…” but then her words echoed in his ears.

“Don’t be silly,” she said simply. “If you need to ride, you’ll learn. I’ve been on a few motorbikes before, none as nice as this. It won’t be too difficult, but we need to get helmets first. Maybe today at work?”

Suddenly it seemed so obvious to Harry. Of course he could learn to ride a motorcycle. He worked in a sporting-goods store and had a teacher that lived right across the street. He suddenly had a vision of himself on the bike, flying through the air with Gabriella holding his waist. Well, maybe flying along the ground, for now anyway. His stomach gave a lurch. “Let’s eat,” he said, and the two walked across the street, saving the motorcycle for the afternoon.

When they walked in, Grigor and Soseh were seated in the living room. Soseh was reading a book and Grigor the paper. It had been some time since he’d seen Grigor in the house. Now that he thought of it, he hadn’t heard any arguments for ages. Still, Harry sensed tension in the air. Neither would look at the other. Perhaps it was just the stress of moving. When Soseh saw Harry, she stood up.

“Ah, Harry.” She stopped, and looked at him with concern. “You look pale? Are you ill?” she asked, and held her hand to the side of his face. For a moment, her eyes closed, but then she shook her head no, and slipped her hand away. “Perhaps you are just hungry. Your family is away for the weekend? You’ll starve! Come, sit down.” Harry thought that it didn’t much matter if Aunt Petunia was cooking or not, but an excuse for extra desert was worth holding on to.

He stuffed himself to overflowing and was ready to burst when Grigor closed his paper and stood up. Carefully, he folded it four times and tucked it next to the couch. He walked to the dining table and put his hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“Are you finished Harry?” Harry had a few more bites he was debating on, but something in the tone of Mr. Darbinyan’s voice said it was time to be done. Harry set his fork down.

“Yes, sir. Your wife is a wonderful cook.”

Grigor smiled. “She is wonderful at many things, Harry. At cooking, she is a goddess!”

Soseh glanced back to him from the kitchen, but did not smile.

Grigor looked back to Harry. “May I speak with you for a moment?”

“Sure.” Harry stood up and followed Grigor to a study just off the stairs to the second floor. He’d never been in this room. In the center was a large wooden desk. It was covered in papers, some of which were in the midst of being graded. On the walls were pictures of galaxies and planets. All around were charts of stars and constellations. There were a number of small telescopes that seemed to be just for display and a small library of texts on astronomy, astrology and physics. Grigor motioned to a small leather chair next to the desk.

“Please sit,” he said. Grigor sat down himself behind the desk, the faintest pleasantry of a smile on his face. “I understand you’ve been seeing a lot of my daughter?” he asked.

Instantly, Harry’s heart began to race. “Yes, sir,” he said.

“And, I understand that last night you stayed out quite late, yes?”

Harry hadn’t been sure when Gabriella had left. She might not have been home till early in the morning. He stayed the course and said only, “Yes, sir.”

“Gabriella is a very lonely girl, Harry. We have taken her away from her home, her friends, everything she has ever known. It was only natural that she should come to admire the first person in England that showed her kindness.” Grigor spoke as if explaining planetary motion. Harry did not like where this was going. “You have known each other for only a few weeks, yes?” Harry nodded, but it had been more than a few.

Grigor continued, “In a few more weeks, I understand that you will be heading back to your school, a school that provides special rehabilitation.”

Harry’s heart sank. Grigor had heard of St Brutus’s, but how? He was afraid for his daughter. He was thinking Harry wasn’t good enough for her. His heart began to pound in his ears and every pore broke out in a cold mist.

“Perhaps it would be wise,” Grigor said, as he stood adjusting the knob on one of his telescopes, “if you simply agreed to go your separate ways at that time.” Harry couldn’t stand it; he had to defend himself.

“But…” Harry sputtered. Grigor cut him off.

“My boy there are things about Gabriella you could never comprehend.” His voice was raised. He straightened a stack of papers on his desk, and sighed. “It is possible that when you return next summer you will find your lives still aligned. It would be wise to give Gabriella the time and space she needs to make such a decision.” Harry sat, unable to speak. What was he supposed to do, just forget that she ever existed? Grigor, held open his hand to escort Harry to the door. His knees felt weak, but he stood and walked across the room. Just before he came to the door, Grigor held out his hand to shake Harry’s, but instead of holding his hand he reached to his forearm. Harry did likewise. Locked in this foreign handshake Grigor, his eyes stern, finished with, “Harry, this was a conversation between men. Please keep it that way.” Harry nodded, they shook, and Harry walked out. As the door shut behind him, his head began to spin.

He looked about, but Gabriella had gone. Soseh was at the kitchen sink still doing dishes. Harry had to look twice. She was working that same pan when he’d left the room. She wiped her face with the sleeve of her shirt, but would not look toward Harry. What was he to do, just leave? His head was light and the floor beneath his feet seemed to be giving way when he heard Gabriella’s voice.

“Are you two done?” she said brightly. “We’d better hurry; you’ll be late for work.” She had no clue. No sense of what had just been said.

“Yeah,” Harry said, “we’d better get going.” He felt pale and shaky.

“Are you okay?” She stepped to his side and whispered in his ear, “Remember this next time you decide to have an extra cup of Duncan’s punch.” She pinched him on the side and grinned. “Let’s go, I’ll drive and you can rest. Bye Mama!” There was no answer. As Harry went out the door, Soseh was still washing the same pan.

In the car, Harry was numb. Gabriella was jubilant explaining the various aspects of riding a motorcycle. By the time they arrived at the shop, all Harry wanted to do was climb in to bed and never wake up. He kissed her goodbye and they made plans to meet mid-afternoon to start practicing on the motorcycle.

Inside the shop Duncan was busy with a customer. Harry went over to the winter goods and began to finish what he’d started the day before. It was tedious, monotonous work un-boxing merchandise and placing it on the appropriate shelves. His mind raced. He could count on one hand the number of times he’d spoken to her father. He didn’t know Harry at all. Did he think he was a street bum? Some gloves made their way onto the shelf for scarves. It was a lie. Harry could prove it! He could take care of Gabriella better than any…. He crumpled to the floor, his face in his hands. It wasn’t a lie. It was true. How could he ever take care of Gabriella? How could he ever grow to spend the rest of his life with her? Harry was a wizard, and she was a Muggle. He grabbed a ski hat and wiped his face. And if he did bring her into his life, what then? There was a very real possibility that Harry wouldn’t live to see the next year. He’d never know if their lives were still aligned or not. He couldn’t put her at risk of death. What if Voldemort found out? Harry stood up and began walking to the back of the store; he was feeling sick.

“Hey, mate, hold on, I haven’t opened ‘em up yet.” Duncan ran towards Harry holding a set of keys. They got to the men’s room and he unlocked the door. “Bit too much last night, eh?” he said, patting Harry on the shoulder. Harry just nodded and went inside. Duncan followed. What he needed was air and this wasn’t it. He tried to splash water on his face, but it just made him wet and miserable.

“Give it some time, Harry. We’re pretty slow today, if you want to take off.” Harry just shook his head. He couldn’t bear the thought of heading home to Privet Drive, not now. “Suit yourself.” Duncan leaned against the paper towels. “Harry, I’ve been thinkin’. You’re as bright as they come. I’m guessin’ you could run this place if you wanted to.” There was a long pause as Duncan grabbed some paper towels and shot baskets into the trash. “I hate this hell hole. But you knew that, Harry, didn’t you.” Another shot made the mark. “I need to get out of Little Whinging. I need… I need to be rid of my folks.” His last shot missed wide and he leaned back against the towels again. “Mr. Fettle’s wantin’ to set up another shop in South Benton. Says I could run it if I wanted to. Emma’s been begging me to get out of Little Whinging. She’s been talkin’ to the coaches at the University and might even get a track scholarship there.” He paced to the door. “Well, I was thinkin’… I was thinkin’ what I need is a partner. Someone I can trust to run the place when I’m not there. I was thinkin’ maybe you could cut out of St. Brutus’s, or wherever it is they make you go, and give it a try with me.” Harry opened his mouth to speak, but Duncan held up his hand.

“Now I know you’re in no state of mind to be makin’ a big decision like this. I just want to let you know I’m thinkin’ about it, that’s all. The money’ll be ten times better mate. You’ll be able to have your own place, and buy your own car to drive Gabriella around in.” Duncan opened the door. “Look, mate, take as long as you need in here. If you want to work, work, and if you need to go, go. We can talk more about business later, there’s plenty of time.” He left Harry, alone, staring at the door, as it swung shut.

Harry chose to work. He needed the time to think, to set his mind straight, but the direction his mind was headed started to twist off the tracks. He wasn’t poor. He had a vault full of galleons at Gringotts, but he knew that wouldn’t last him his whole life--certainly not if he was to have a family. The thought of leaving the Wizarding world was emblazoned in his mind. He’d leave the rest to sort out Voldemort. He’d have a well-paying, respectable job and Mr. Darbinyan would see that Harry was good enough for his daughter. She’d graduate next year and come to live with Harry in South Benton. It seemed so simple, really. He’d made friends in Little Whinging; he could do it again. Besides, his mind flashed red, they don’t think I’m capable of handling the fight anyway. They’ve got Ron and Hermione out there. They don’t think they need Harry, but they’ll see! “They’ll see!” he yelled out loud. A few customers turned to look. His mind was on fire. By the time Gabriella walked into the store, his decision had been made. He would spend the rest of his life with her, and leave the Wizarding world behind.

She was with Duncan laughing about something when he came up to her. “Hi Harry!” she said. He put his hands to her face, drew her close, and kissed her.

“I love you,” he said. “You know that don’t you?”

“Of course,” her voice skipped, “why?” He had a look about him she’d never seen before. She knew something was wrong and it wasn’t last night’s party.

“And you… you said you didn’t want me to leave, right?”

“I did, Harry, but…”

“Well, that’s it then,” he continued, “isn’t it?” He was looking out the window nodding his head up and down as if coming to agreement with an imaginary person.

Duncan took him by the shoulders. “Come on, mate, let Gabriella get you home. You need to rest. Remember what I said, there’s plenty of time, so take it.” Harry spun on Duncan.

“No! There’s no time.” His eyes were wide. “Helmets! Gabriella, we need to get helmets!” He ran to the back of the store. Moments later he returned with two helmets and a wild smile on his face. “I love sporting goods, don’t you?”

On their way home Harry was silent, but alert. His eyes fixed ahead, unblinking. Gabriella was worried. In his mind, he was putting it all together. How would he get rid of his things… his magical things? Hagrid might take them. He could just trash the lot. He really didn’t have any family left, and certainly there wasn’t anybody who gave a damn about what he was up to. He’d keep the motorcycle though; he could use that to get around town. He could get Bill to cash out his Gringotts account and have it exchanged for pounds. With Fred and George opening another store in Hogsmeade, they were bound to stay successful; they could keep sending him the occasional dividend. He had more than enough to get a place to stay and with the money from the new job he could keep up the rent, buy food, do whatever he wanted. “Yes, yes, that’s it,” he muttered to himself.

He was smiling as they pulled into Gabriella’s driveway, but it was an unnatural smile.

“Harry,” she said, “I think you should lie down for awhile.”

He looked at her as if she were mad. “Are you kidding? There’s no time! You said you’d teach me how to ride the bike. Let’s do it!” He was possessed, and would not be deterred, so Gabriella, growing more concerned with each passing minute, agreed. By the time the sun began to set, Harry had become as good, if not better, on the motorcycle than she.

“Just like riding a Firebolt,” he whispered. His thoughts turned to flying, but he squashed them like a flobberworm under his foot. He refused to stop to eat, or drink despite Gabriella’s pleadings. If Harry wasn’t exhausted, she was.

“Come on Harry, it’s time to go home.”

“Yes, yes,” he said, “there’s a lot to be done. I’ve got to finish before they get back.”

“Before who gets back? The Dursleys? What do you have to finish?” Gabriella was desperate. She didn’t know what was going on, but Harry remained silent, flipping the visor on his helmet down and heading off to Privet Drive with her holding him tight around the waist.

He was traveling too fast when they passed through a red light near the park. On the opposite corner was a police car. Immediately its lights went on and it pulled out behind Harry.

“Harry,” Gabriella called out in the rushing wind, “pull over. You ran a red light.” Harry shook his head and sped up. The siren began to blare. “Harry, slow down, you’re going too fast!” But he wouldn’t listen; he didn’t have time to stop and talk to policemen. They’d want to know things: things Harry didn’t have time to tell them. He turned left onto the street where Duncan lived, but he couldn’t hold it. The bike began to give way beneath him.

It all happened in slow motion. He could hear Gabriella scream, hold tight to his waist and then slip away. His body flew in the air toward the sidewalk. Sparks flashed as his bike scraped the pavement. The right side of his body slid along stones. He bounced hard against the sidewalk and rolled onto the grass. The bike hit the curb and leapt into the air, over his head, landing against some bushes. He heard the screech of brakes, the silencing of the siren. “Gabriella?” he thought. “Where’s Gabriella?” Fighting the pain, he forced himself to one knee and saw her face-down on the pavement. The new white helmet he had bought hours before was scraped black. He took off his own helmet, stood up and stepped toward her. His right side wanted to buckle, but he refused. She needed his help. One step. “Please be okay.” Two steps. “Move, just move!” Three steps. “I didn’t. I couldn’t have.”

He was upon her lifeless body when a car door slammed. There was a clicking sound across the street. He heard a voice, distant at first, and then clear and strong. “… I said, move away from her, boy!” It was the policeman. He was walking straight at them with a baton in his hand. “Step away!”

It didn’t make sense. Harry’s head burst with pain. He had to protect her. He felt rage like he’d never felt before. He knew he had no wand, but his soul was on fire. Instinctively, he raised his right arm and from somewhere deep inside, a place Harry had never been before, he cried out, “NOOOO!” Red light erupted from his arm and through his hand. It hit the policeman squarely in the chest lifting him off the ground, and smashing him against a van parked across the street. The officer dropped to the ground in a heap.

Harry ignored him and turned to Gabriella’s body. Slowly, he turned her over. “Gabriella, come on baby, wake up.” He stroked her arm. He lifted the visor on her helmet and looked upon her face. “Please baby, we’re safe now.” There was nothing. “We’re going to South Benton with Duncan, you and me.” Tears were falling down his face. “I’ve got it all planned. Next summer, we’ll watch the sunset on the Mediterranean, I swear.” He held her tight and closed his eyes. “Please… please Gabriella, wake up.” Suddenly, he heard voices. A woman across the street screamed. His head began to spin, but it became crystal clear what he must do next. He kissed her cold hand, his own trembling, and whispered, “I’ve got to go baby. I’ll be with you soon.” He stood up and limped unsteadily toward the motorcycle. The engine was still running. Wincing, he pulled his leg over the seat, and sped away.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming

Chapter 9 - An Uncertain Future
~~~***~~~


Harry rode the motorcycle through the Dursley’s maturing flower garden, shredded blossoms flying everywhere. The wheels ripped across the front lawn, gauging it with deep ruts. He hid the bike along the north side of the Dursley home, scraping the paint on their siding for nearly nine feet. For an instant he looked at the bent metal and scraped paint, then ran to the front door. Trying to focus his blurring vision across the street, he saw the lights were on downstairs. But tonight, there would be no candle flickering in the window above.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered and wiped his face with his blood stained hand. He burst through the front door.

“What to take?” he thought. He was halfway up the stairs when he remembered her gift. He ran into the living room, sweeping up both the mirror and the dragonhead into his left arm; his right arm was useless. Everything seemed to be spinning. He would put everything in his trunk, and… and… he stopped. “No,” he whispered. “All I need is my wand.” He laid the mirror on the dresser with its twin. Next to these he put the dragonhead. On a piece of parchment he scribbled as best he could, “Soseh, I’m sorry.” Blood dripped onto the parchment and spread like an expanding cloud as he set it under Gabriella’s gift.

Harry turned to Hedwig’s cage. “Hedwig,” he said, “I’m setting you free.” He took her to the window, held her with his one good arm, and stroked her feathers. “If you want, fly to Hermione. She loves you almost as much as me.” He thrust her out the window, but she flew back in. “I said fly away you bloody bird!” She stood there on the windowsill, then flew back to her cage. “You’ll figure it out soon enough when Vernon tries to roast you!” He kneeled down to his trunk, pulled out his wand, and slipped it into his pocket. “I need to find him, and get this over with. That shouldn’t be hard at all. I’ll just let him know I’m available. Malfoy’s mother will know how to contact him.” Nearly losing his balance, he stood to leave.

“Goodbye girl,” he said to Hedwig. “I’m off to see how the bike flies.” He was headed to the door when he stopped to look at the room one last time. He still had some chocolate frogs under those loose floorboards. “Childish,” he thought. No sooner had he turned to go than an owl flew in through the window with a scroll. Harry came to the open frame and yelled out to the wind, “I’m not staying! I don’t care what you say!” Again he made his way to the door. This time there was a burst of flame, a phoenix feather, and a howler. “There won’t be anybody left to hear it,” he said defiantly and proceeded down the hall. But when the howler spoke, he stopped to listen. There was no yelling, as Harry had expected, but a loud and commanding voice, a voice Harry knew well-- Dumbledore’s.

“Stay where you are…;”

“Typical,” Harry thought and he turned to leave.

“… she is still alive.”

He stopped cold. “Alive?” Panicked, he ran to his room. “Where is it? Where is it?” he yelled. On the floor was the envelope he’d turned his back on. He tore open the letter.

---
Harry,

An associate of mine has handled things on the street. Your friend is fine. Please, stay where you are. I will see you at first light.

Mr. Weasley
---

Harry stood for a moment, holding the note, reading and re-reading it. It began to tremble in his hands. Soon his entire body was shaking. The night was warm, but he felt terribly cold. He took the covers off his bed and wrapped them around him. He went over to his window and stared across the street. Her curtains were drawn shut, and the lights downstairs were off. “How could she be alive?” he thought. His mind was spinning too quickly to put anything together. He sat by his window and continued to stare at the window across from his. As his vision failed, the street seemed to fill with fog; everything was turning gray. He was still shivering when he noted that the night was growing lighter, the first signs of a new day. Finally, exhaustion overwhelmed him, and all was darkness.

It was just a few hours later when he woke to a hand on his shoulder. The sun was just lifting over the Darbinyan home. He opened his eyes, and for a moment the sun’s rays blinded him.

“Harry, are you okay?” It was Mr. Weasley; his voice kind and gentle. “Come over here, and lie down.” He lifted Harry to his feet and moved him carefully toward the bed. Harry’s eyes couldn’t seem to focus on anything. He grabbed Mr. Weasley’s shirt.

“Gabriella, she’s okay? Your scroll, you said…”

“Gabriella’s fine she…”

“Where? Where is she?”

“You’ve been watching her all night. She’s in her bed resting. I think she’ll wake up late today, but when she does she won’t have a scratch.” He began to take the cover from around Harry, and let out a small gasp. “Which is more than I can say for you. Merlin! What happened to you?”

Harry looked at himself for the first time in the mirror. What he saw, he couldn’t recognize. The right side of his face was swollen black and blue. Blood still trickled from his right ear soaking his shirt in a clotted mess. He had to peel the bedcover away from his right arm. It had been scraped raw, or was it burned? It looked like it had been through a sausage grinder, and it was still oozing.

“I’ve got to see her,” Harry said. He began to limp to the door. Mr. Weasley stopped him.

“No. No you don’t.” He was clearly agitated. “They said you were fine; that you ran in here with no problems. I thought… Harry, tell me you won’t move.” Harry flashed his eyes out the window. “She’s fine, Harry. She won’t be awake for hours. Please, swear to me.” Harry nodded, and sat down on his bed. He was starting to realize he couldn’t see well at all, and that the pain of his arm was nothing compared to the throbbing of his head.

“And… and the police officer? Did I…”

“He’s fine. Everyone’s fine, but you!” Mr. Weasley straightened his shirt and took a deep breath. “Options…” he muttered to himself. “I need options. Okay, I’ll have them connect the floo, and I’ll get a portkey. Damn the paperwork! We’ll use whichever works first. Don’t worry, Harry. We’re going to get you taken care of right now. Please, stay here!” With a snap, he disapparated.

Harry put his head to his pillow; it pounded. The room was starting to spin. What had happened last night? He was certain she was dead, but he hadn’t had time. And what about the policeman? He looked at his arm. Small droplets of clear liquid fell to his bed. Wincing, he squeezed his fingers to prove to himself that it still worked. “But how?” he whispered into the air. His breathing was becoming labored. “I… I saw green?” he rasped, unsure what was real, what was dream; everything was spinning.

A few moments later Mr. Weasley was back; in his hands was a box. “Harry,” he said, “where’s your wand?” Harry still had it in his pocket.

“I have it,” he wheezed, now finding it hard to breathe.

“Okay, then,” Mr. Weasley spoke, “let’s get up.” As Harry lifted his head off the pillow a sharp pain struck him on his right side. He groaned. “We’ll never make it downstairs.” Mr. Weasley opened the box to reveal a small golden sphere. “It’s a portkey, Harry. A bit rougher ride than floo, but we need to go immediately. You know what to do?” Harry nodded. “On three then? One, two, three.” Harry’s navel was grabbed from behind and a wave of searing pain shot through his body. Traveling by portkey was disorienting at the best of times, but now Harry’s head was splitting.

When they stopped, Harry fell to the ground, his face hitting the floor. “Black marble,” he thought, trying to draw a breath that wouldn’t come. “This must be…” But in that instant his vision failed, and all went dark.

The air was cold and crisp. It was suddenly much easier to breathe, although his head still throbbed. All was dark, very dark, except for the stars. They were everywhere. “So many colours,” Harry thought. As his eyes adjusted, he saw that he was standing in a garden. There was a rustling in the bushes. Suddenly a gnome popped his head out, then disappeared. From behind, Harry heard screaming. He turned and the scene changed. He was in the street next to Duncan’s house. No, he was in Duncan’s house looking through the front window. On the street, a police car’s lights flashed as a policeman started to get out.

“Oh no, Duncan!” a woman’s voice gasped. “I think the one on the ground is dead.” It was Emma, or someone like Emma, standing on the front porch and holding Duncan tightly by the arm.

“Did yeh see the bike flip over that guy’s head?” Duncan replied. “He was almost flattened!”

“What… what’s he doing?” Emma asked. Harry seemed to float, watching himself reach down and turn Gabriella’s lifeless body over. There was a blinding green flash. “It can’t be!” the woman’s voice cried out, twisting into…

The garden returned, and the sound of crickets filled the air. But the air was colder now, much colder. He began to shiver when he heard a faint hissing sound.

He woke as the door to his room squeaked open, pushing the hiss to the back of his memory. He heard footsteps walking close. He was in bed, the linens pulled up to his chest. He kept his eyes shut. “Is this still a dream?” he thought.

“Well he’s looking much better, isn’t he?” It was Hermione’s voice.

“Lots,” Ron’s voice mumbled. He was eating something. “I don’t think he’ll miss one of these, do you? I mean he’s got so many, anyway.”

“Ron, you’re hopeless,” Hermione chided. “Well, we should go. They said it might be a few more days before he wakes up.”

“A few more days!” Harry sat up, the room began to spin, and he put his head back down again. “How long have I been out?”

“Harry! You’re awake!” Hermione ran to his bed and touched the right side of his face. Her own face looked red and swollen, as though she’d been crying. “They weren’t sure you’d…” she shuddered.

“Hey mate,” Ron chimed. “You’ve got a story to tell if you ask me.”

“HOW LONG HAVE I BEEN OUT!” he demanded. His two friends each took a step back.

“Well,” Hermione said, “three days, if you count the day you arrived and not today. It’s Monday.” Harry surveyed the room. He was definitely in St. Mungo’s. On the walls were paintings, their characters moving to see who was yelling. Across from his bed was an open window through which he could see an azure blue sky.

“What time is it?” he asked, trying to calm himself.

“Almost noon, mate,” Ron answered. “Lunch will be by pretty soon… I hope.”

“I need to go.” Harry turned out onto the floor, holding the bed to steady himself. His right arm, which was wrapped in gauze, ached, and his head was pounding. He began to sway. His two friends quickly grabbed either side.

“Come on Harry,” Ron said. “You’ve go to lay down, you’re brain’s been scrambled.”

“My brain’s fine!” Harry pushed Ron away. He didn’t want to be here. He had chosen to leave this world behind. He certainly didn’t want to see these two. “How was vacation?” he sneered. He could see immediately by their reactions that they had lied. “Off to the war without Harry, were we?” He stood and tore his arm from Hermione, but winced at the pain. “Well you can keep your bloody war! I WANT OUT!” He started for the door, and then realized he had nothing on but a hospital gown. Without looking back he said through gritted teeth, “Where are my clothes.” Each word landed with a thud.

“Oh Harry,” said Hermione, her voice quivering. “They were torn and covered in blood. We were going to bring you new ones. When you got better.” Her voice was thin and weak.

“Come on Harry,” Ron pleaded. “Sit back down, and we’ll get you some clothes right now. Come on, mate.”

“I’m leaving,” Harry replied, “with clothes, or without.” But no sooner had he turned to the door, than it swung open in front of him. It was Mr. Weasley, but no smile appeared on his face. Standing inches away, Harry realized that the lines in his face had been cut somewhat deeper than he remembered. His eyes, once so carefree, were steely.

Mr. Weasley looked around the room. “Ron, Hermione, I need to speak with Harry alone,” he said curtly. They both made to leave. Harry was determined not to look at them, but then Hermione touched his arm.

“I like your hair,” she smiled, and left the two of them to talk in private.

Harry’s heart felt a pang of guilt, and his shoulders slumped a bit. Mr. Weasley still stood looking at him straight on. “Your friend is fine Harry. I’ve had someone by every day. You, lad, had it much worse. We almost lost you. The healers finally stopped your brain from swelling, but they want you to stay here for a while longer. They said the bandages on your arm will have to stay for at least a week. When you’re healed, you can do whatever you want.” He spoke these last words with added emphasis. “Please, lad, back to bed.” This time Harry obliged. His mind was still foggy and he could feel his legs starting to give way. But, if Gabriella were okay, he would sort things out here.

“Mr. Weasley, the policeman, he’s alive?” he said, pulling the linens back over his chest.

“Yes, he’s fine Harry. It seems he was hit with a rather severe stunning spell. Still, his bruises were easily healed, and all he’ll remember is that he fell asleep in his car at the park. The neighbors who came out to look at the commotion have all been altered to remember nothing. Your motorcycle is safe, and a note has been left with the Dursleys that you’re at the hospital.” There was a large look of distress on his face. “Harry, you didn’t have your wand with you at the accident?”

Harry looked at his bandaged hand. “No,” he replied.

“Did you see anything, anyone, that might have cast a stunning spell?”

“They don’t know,” Harry thought. He considered explaining, but the idea quickly left his mind. “No,” he said simply.

“We think someone was there Harry, but how, we don’t know. It’s possible they tried to attack the policeman first, so they could turn on you. The area’s been monitored closely for signs of magic all summer. That stunning spell tripped all kinds of alarms. Our people were at the scene in seconds; one saw you ride off.” Mr. Weasley walked to the window and let out a deep breath. “But we have you back now, don’t we.” He walked over to Harry and tried to hoist a smile on his face. “What is it Harry?”

“You don’t have me. You don’t have me at all.” Harry’s eyes were fixed on the ceiling above. “When I leave here, I’m never coming back.”

“I understand,” said Mr. Weasley his voice once again calm and gentle. He took a seat next to Harry’s bed. “And where will you be going?”

“I think you know, sir.” Harry’s insides were churning. “I’m done. I quit.” He rolled turning his back to the guest beside his bed. “You won’t have to worry about Harry Potter getting in the way. Let Ron and Hermione, and all the rest keep fighting the battles. They seem to have done fine this summer. All in one piece still.”

“Is that what you think they’ve been doing all summer?” The chair slid closer to Harry’s bed. “And you’ve been stuck at the Dursley’s again. But we thought you were getting along much better now? Were we wrong?”

Harry wanted to bury his head in his pillow, but instead turned to look at Mr. Weasley. His eyes had brightened, and his smile had smoothed the creases on his face. Harry searched for the words. “It’s just that… Gabriella… she… I…” Suddenly a dawning comprehension appeared across Mr. Weasley’s face. His eyes began to shine.

“Do you think you’re the first young wizard who has fallen for a Muggle before?” Harry said nothing. “You know, of course, Seamus?” Harry’s mind flashed to his classmate at Hogwarts whose mother was a witch, but father was a Muggle. Suddenly he wanted to know how. He couldn’t believe he’d never asked. His head fell to the pillow again.

“The thing is,” said Harry, “her father, he hates me, he thinks…”

Again Mr. Weasley interrupted. “I recall a young woman named Lily whose father refused to let her see the man of her dreams. I believe his name was James,” he smiled.

“My father…?”

“Your father and your mother’s father never saw eye-to-eye. James was a bit too much flash. Still, your father was very persistent, and in the end…. Well we know what happened.” Mr. Weasley rubbed his hands to his face. He was tired. “Harry, there are ways to do this. Ways to do this right. Don’t be rash, and don’t be foolish. You’ll see, just give it time.” He stood up and stretched. “Molly will be by later to say hello.” He stepped toward the door. “And for the record, you’ve been doing a bit more magic than those two combined.” He pointed out the door. “That mirror trick.” He shook his head. “I don’t know how you do it.” He walked back to Harry’s bed and held his left hand. “Son, if you’re in love with a wonderful girl who loves you back, let that be enough for now. The rest will come soon enough.” Mr. Weasley straightened up and put a smile on his face. A moment later, he’d left the room. Outside, Harry could hear him raise his voice telling his friends to wait, to give Harry some time.

“I don’t know how I do it either,” Harry whispered to the ceiling. He was trying to sort things out properly, when he realized he forgot to ask what Gabriella knew. She was okay, but had they wiped her mind too? How much? Suddenly, Harry had visions of returning to Privet Drive as a stranger to Gabriella. “What if she doesn’t recognize me?” he thought.

The flapping of wings filled the silent room. Perched on the window was Harry’s snowy owl. “Hedwig!” he called. “What are you doing here?” She flew to his bed, a letter tied to her leg. It was a regular white Muggle envelope, and on the front was the name “HARRY” spelled out in large handwritten script. He slipped open the letter to reveal two things: a plastic card with his picture on it, and a light-yellow paper resembling his own parchment from home. His heart skipped. It was from Gabriella.

Harry,

I feel so foolish trying this. If Hedwig comes back with this same letter tied to her leg, I’ll just die. Dudley’s home alone, and has let me into the house. He says you’re okay, but in the hospital. He won’t say where. Your Aunt came home Sunday night and saw the garden torn to shreds. She screamed for fifteen minutes until they finally pulled her into the house. Your provisional license came in the mail today, now you can crash legally, well sort of. I guess you won’t have me to keep an eye on you. All I remember is the accident, and waking up in my bed. How did you get me home?

I’m worried about you Harry. You were possessed that night. It wasn’t like you. Please write and tell me you’re okay. Everyone’s asking about you. Mama keeps telling me not to worry, that you’re fine. She’s never been wrong before, but my heart hurts. I miss you dearly. You said you didn’t have time, Harry, but you do. I’ll give you all the time in the world.

I love you,

Gabriella


Much as he’d done with his father’s mirror, he traced her handwriting with his fingertips, trying to feel her breath on the paper. Was she sitting on his bed when she wrote this? Was the sun red over Little Whinging? He thought of what Mr. Weasley had said. Was love enough for now? Only Harry and Dumbledore knew the prophecy. If Mr. Weasley had known, would he still think that love was enough? “The rest will come, alright,” Harry thought, “and I can’t put her in any more danger.” He had to write back, but how? “Ron!” he called out. “Ron!” Ron burst through the door with his wand at his side looking for trouble, Hermione one step behind.

“What, Harry? What is it?” Looking at Ron there, ready to defend him, wand set to strike, Harry began to laugh. Sheepishly, Ron lowered his hand and put the wand away.

“A lot of attacks here at St. Mungo’s are there?” Harry jibed.

Ron smiled back. “Well, it could have been a Devil’s Snare, right? You wouldn’t be the first, mate.”

Harry sat up in bed. “Listen, both of you, I’m sorry for being such an arse a minute ago. I’m really glad you’re both here, and I promise to tell you everything soon.” He paused. “But right now I need some paper. I’ve got to write a letter.”

Hermione stepped forward opening a book and pulling out a loose sheet of parchment. “Here Harry, you can use this. And here’s a quill.”

“Who’s the letter for?” asked Ron.

Harry looked up. “Honestly, you two have been really fantastic. But what I need right now is some peace and quiet.”

Ron looked at Hermione. “I think we’ve just been given the old heave-ho wouldn’t you say?”

“I think you’re right, Hermione. Harry, do you think we could join you for lunch?” Harry nodded and the two left the room.

For a while he stroked Hedwig’s feathers thinking about the summer. His mind slipped back to the events of the last year. He thought of Cho and the Valentine’s Day fiasco. He felt much older now, perhaps too old really. He remembered Sirius and Cedric, and thought hard about how they died. He would not feel sorry for himself. He would not deny his destiny. And he would not deny his love for Gabriella. He began to write.

Gabriella, my love…

I’m so sorry, forgive me. I never meant to hurt you. I’ve let you down. I’ve let you all down. My own selfish desires put you in danger. It will never happen again.

I’d give everything to have you in my arms, right now… to look into your eyes and stroke your hair. But that is not my destiny. Instead, I’ve been put on a solitary path. For a shining moment our ways were aligned, and I was happier than I’ve ever been, or ever will be. But it’s time I travel to my uncertain future. I know you won’t understand, but those who travel at my side do so at their peril. I see that now. It was ordained when I was born.

Before I go, I leave you with two things--my heart, and my soul. Keep them with you, safe in Little Whinging. I won’t need them anymore. I can’t ask you to wait, I may never return. But always remember, I make my choice because I love you.

I’ll always love you.

Harry


He rolled the parchment, and tied it to Hedwig’s leg. “Take it to her girl,” he whispered, “and stay there. Watch her for me.” He wiped his face as his owl leapt toward the window. “Goodbye,” he choked.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming

Chapter 10 - Burning Water
~~~~~*~~~~~


As Harry sat in bed, Ron and Hermione at his side, for the first meal he’d had in over three days he didn’t feel much like eating. He was expecting questions, lots of questions, but thankfully they didn’t come. At first, it was as if he were eating lunch with two perfect strangers. The conversation was pleasant, the weather and recent Quidditch happenings, but no deeper. By the time his two guests had finished, Harry had only taken four or five bites. It was Hermione who could bear it no longer.

“Harry, are you okay?” It was a simple question with so many answers.

“Yeah,” was all he could muster.

“I mean, I know you might not want to eat,” she paused, “but maybe you’d like to talk.”

“Talk about what?” he asked trying to sound as if nothing were the matter.

“Well, the accident for one thing, or why you wanted to stay with the Dursleys all summer, or your hair for that matter, and…”

“Right, mate,” Ron cut her off. “We best be getting on.” He was glaring at Hermione with eyes that would burn. Hermione seemed ready to burst, but just let out a deep breath.

Harry really didn’t feel like talking; he didn’t feel anything really. Before they had come in he had cried for a bit, but that was finished. “There’s work to be done,” he thought to himself. Finally he asked, “Well, you could tell me what Voldemort’s up to.” Predictably, Ron hissed. Hermione simply slapped him on the arm.

“Get over it, Ron,” she said. She returned to her chair and spoke to Harry. “Well, nobody knows really. Some think he’s retreated to the shadows now that the Ministry’s on to him. He may be out gathering supporters, looking for the best time to strike. A few think that when he tried to possess you he was hurt somehow. Others think he’s turned to easier prey… Muggles. The car bomb that went off in London, some say that was done by Death Eaters.”

“Car bomb?” Harry exclaimed.

“Well, that’s what was reported,” she answered.

“Pretty slick trick, really,” Ron added. “A wizard rolls a car into a building and disapparates just before BOOM! Everybody thinks he was just vaporized in the explosion.”

“It’s sick is what it is,” Harry said flatly. “Just as sick as Wormtail’s servitude… I hope he rots.”

“Harry? What made you want to get an earring?” Hermione asked, trying to turn the conversation. “And your hair?”

Harry touched the lightning-bolt with the tips of his fingers. His eyes flashed toward the window. “I wish I could fly,” he thought. He placed both his hands to his head and slowly combed his fingers through his hair. “I’m really tired. Maybe later.” He put his head down on his pillow. Hermione made to say something, but Ron grabbed her arm for which Harry was grateful. They said goodbye and left the room.

Their last words echoed in his mind. Had he done the right thing to say goodbye to Gabriella? If Voldemort was seeking Muggle prey, what better choice than Harry’s girlfriend? His arm began to ache again, a dull throbbing in his forearm. He thought back to the accident. “I wonder,” he whispered. He looked down at the plate of uneaten food in front of him. He held up his right hand.

“Accio spoon,” he said. Nothing happened. “Accio spoon,” he said again, and again nothing happened. “What an idiot, Potter!” he yelled at himself and he made to push the tray away. But before his hand left his side, the plate on the table before him flew to the floor crashing into pieces. Not three seconds later, the door to his room flew open. It was a thin girl with a heart-shaped face and bright green hair.

“Everything okay, Harry?”

“Tonks?” Harry exclaimed, glancing quickly to her, then to the floor, then to her again.

“Last time I checked, yes.” She looked the same as ever, perhaps more tan. Her black T-Shirt was emblazoned with a new band name on it, Dragon Divas. Around her neck was a pair of headphones, a wire strung to a Walkman just like Dudley’s. With a wave of her wand, the floor was cleared and the plate put back on Harry’s table. “Well, they’ll think you were hungry anyway,” she said smiling. “So, when do you get out of this place?”

“Soon, I hope.”

“Do you have a ride back to the Dursley’s, or would you like me to…”

“I’m not going back.”

“What? What do you mean you’re not going back?” She seemed quite confused about his decision.

“It was a lie,” he said. “I’m not getting on with my aunt and uncle. In fact, I hate it there and I’m not going back.”

“But, what about…” she stopped. “Well, I guess you can do whatever you want.”

“What about what?” Harry asked. Tonks walked over to the window breathing deeply.

“It’s a beautiful day today, isn’t it?” she asked.

“Tell me what you mean,” said Harry sharply, his temper flashing. She stood silent and then it hit him. “Was it you? Was it your job?”

“I know you hate the idea Harry, but when you’re not in the house, you’re more at risk. So, I asked if I could be your watcher. I could be sure you wouldn’t see the same face twice. It was almost as good as being invisible.” She turned to look at him. “I’m sorry,” she said, managing a nervous smile. “I know it was an intrusion.”

Harry was searching his mind, trying to think of when he’d seen her. He wasn’t sure if he should be furious, or think she was brilliant. “Was it you… in the sporting goods shop?”

Tonks shook her head almost laughing. “No. That was my pop. There were a couple days I had to do some work for the Ministry. He sat in for me. He loves Muggle golf, that man. He was ecstatic that you worked in a sporting-goods shop. What he can’t do is fly as fast as that motorcycle of yours. If something would have happened to either of you, I’d never be able to forgive myself.”

“Either of us?” Harry’s pitch was higher.

“Well, I was watching you all summer, Harry. I… I know about Gabriella.” Harry started to speak, but she jumped in. “Look, my job was to make sure you were safe and report back to Arthur Weasley you were okay. What you did this summer is your business and my mouth is sealed.” Then she smiled looking at her tanned arms and said, “I must say I did enjoy my time at the pool though.”

“Then you know, you know…”

“I know you’re safe enough here in St. Mungo’s. I know Gabriella’s safe on Privet Drive. That, Harry, is what I know. What you did behind closed doors was your own business, not mine. And it doesn’t matter if those doors were to your house, a friend’s house, a tire shop, or a four-door sedan.” A thin smile appeared across her face. Tonks walked over and looked out the window up at the sky. “There’s one thing, Harry that I don’t know; do you love her?”

It fell from her mouth into Harry’s lap.

“Because, if you do love her Harry, that might just cinch it, at least for me anyway.”

How could he be having this conversation? He looked to the door, half hoping someone would burst in to say hello. Tonks came to his bed and held his hand. She looked down to his bandaged arm and back to his eyes. She slipped her finger across a wisp of hair hanging on his face and stroked it back to his ear.

“You changed your hair for her, didn’t you?” Harry was too deep in thought to speak. “That’s how it started with me, trying to please people. They’d say they wished my hair was curly, and the next morning poof! curls. Eventually, I was able to change it, because I wanted to. Soon, I was able to change much more than my hair.” For a moment she stood there and stroked his hair, then held the earring in her fingers. Harry didn’t move. He was trying to take it all in and it was all coming too fast. “I hope I didn’t hurt you too much.” She kissed him on the forehead, and turned to leave. Before she was at the door, Harry stopped her.

“Tonks, wait. I need to know.”

“We’ll have plenty of time to talk, you’ll see, plenty of time.” She started to the door and stopped again. She took off the headphones and handed her portable stereo to Harry. “Here, you may want to listen to this for a while. It sure beats the music they pipe into this place. You can hand ‘em back before you head to Hogwarts. They won’t work there.”

“Thanks,” he said, staring up at her, his mind still off balance.

“If you change your mind about going back, let me know. Let someone know. I’ll find out and get you there.”

When she’d left the room, Harry found his mind swirling. His head ached and he wished he could have a Pensieve to examine his thoughts one by one. Finally, he focused on clearing his mind, of letting everything drain from it. His head lay on his pillow, his eyes fixed on the ceiling. The last thought to escape was “You love her, don’t you?”

He woke when the evening’s dinner cart trundled in pushed by a young girl in light-blue robes. Behind her was Mrs. Weasley. She wore a broad smile, but her eyes had dark rings under them. She seemed somewhat thinner than when they’d said goodbye just a few months ago. She was carrying a large bag, and a vase of very bright-colored flowers.

“Harry!” She set the vase down on the table under the window. The sky outside was a vivid red, and the one cloud he could see flashed a brilliant gold on its rim. “Harry, how are you darling?” The young girl placed the food tray at Harry’s bedside and quickly left. For a moment Harry stared out the window, then returned to the room.

“Hello,” he said sitting half up on his bed.

“Here, dear, let me take care of that.” She adjusted the pillows on his bed, straightened the bedclothes and, just like Tonks, took a wisp of hair from off his face. “They told me it had grown a bit. What’s this?” She had seen the earring. “Well, Harry what’s gotten into you this summer?” Her voice was a bit reproachful, but he could tell her heart wasn’t in it.

“I don’t know,” he said, his eyes flashing to the window. “Just thought it’d be a good idea at the time. Bored I guess.”

“Well, why don’t we take it off and put it somewhere safe?” She reached toward him.

“No! Uh… no. It’s okay, really.” He found his hand on the earring, stroking the silver. Mrs. Weasley sat down.

“You look like you’ve been eating well. I guess you and the Dursleys were getting on all right.” She began to open the bag. “Your clothes were a mess, I had to toss them all. Hermione helped me pick these out. You can wear them when we take you back to the Dursley’s.”

“Take me back?”

“I think you told Ron and Hermione earlier that you were leaving with or without your clothes. I think with is a much more prudent idea, don’t you?” She smiled and Harry couldn’t help but smile back. She had truly always been like a mother to him and somehow having her here made him feel a bit stronger. “The healers say you might be able to leave tomorrow morning. The bandages on your arm will have to stay on for a few more days, but you can remove them yourself. Now, all we need to do is get you back home safely.”

“Home? Privet Drive?” he asked. She nodded. “I’m… I think Grimmauld Place is a better choice.” He could see her eyes brighten noticeably. “I’ve got so many things to do before school starts. I just… can somebody pick up my things for me?”

“Certainly! I know just the two who can do it.” Her face soured somewhat. “As much as I hate seeing them at that ridiculous joke shop of theirs...” she sighed, “and now they say they want to open another one!” She clucked her tongue. “We’ll have your things waiting for you when you get home,” she said, and this time home seemed to have a much warmer meaning. “Listen, Harry, there’s two others that have been outside all day. They won’t leave even though I’ve asked a dozen times. Are you up to it?”

Harry looked to the window to see the sky darkening. In truth, his head was feeling better. He took a deep breath and exhaled. Then, he nodded. It was time to talk.

A few minutes after Mrs. Weasley left, Ron and Hermione entered each carrying a food tray of their own. They both sat at the table with the fresh-cut flowers.

“You know, Harry,” Ron sighed looking at some greenish-brown gravy, “you really should give us some credit eating this stuff with you. It’s bloody brave really.”

“Oh be quiet Ron,” Hermione chided. “That’s fortified with all kinds of nutrients. It might even put hair on your chest, wouldn’t that be amazing!” Ron reddened noticeably. She turned to Harry. “You’re looking better since lunch. It’s amazing really. They might let you go tomorrow!” she smiled.

“Yeah, that’s what Mrs. Weasley said.”

“And you’ll be going to the Dursley’s then?” she asked in the most timid of voices.

“No. I’m going to Grimmauld Place.” Saying it was like swallowing something far worse than the food before him.

“That’s great, mate!” Ron garbled through a mouthful of food. “You won’t recognize the old house. Mum’s been working on it all summer. It practically looks cheerful. When we first got there….” Ron continued to describe the move from the Burrow to Grimmauld Place. He went into detail about the house cleaning efforts, and their first weeks at their new lodgings. Harry was relieved that he didn’t need to speak. He was content to listen, to eat, and to rest. Hermione finished her meal quietly as Ron spoke. Her eyes kept darting at Harry, his hand, his hair, and his earring. She was performing an examination as only Hermione could do and Harry knew it. It wasn’t until Ron started to approach the day of his vacation that her eyes started to become distracted. Finally she jumped in.

“Really Ron, you’ll bore Harry to tears. He’ll see the house tomorrow and that will be enough.” Harry saw his chance.

“Well,” he said, “I would like to hear more about your vacations.” He put his head back on his pillow and waited.

Ron looked at Hermione and she at him. Finally, Hermione spoke first. “Well, my vacation, it wasn’t much of anything really. Just a bit of fun with the family. They wanted to go to Germany this year. They have such wonderful pastries there. Dad loves German beer, and Mom loves the food. We had a chance to see some very old castles. I didn’t tell them I saw a few ghosts. It was a nice break, but that was about it.”

“You’re a good liar,” Harry thought, and then turning to Ron he said, “How about you, Ron?”

“Oh, uh, me? Well, uh, nothing like Hermione’s. Uh, we just went up to the, uh, North Coast. Saw the whales and all. Pretty cold this time of year, really. I was glad to get back.”

“You’re a bad liar,” Harry thought. He smiled and queried, “Cold?” Ron began to whiten. “The thermometers around here have been exploding. In fact I was watching the weather report the other day and…” he stopped himself. He knew where this would go and he didn’t want to go there. Not now, anyway. “Well, I hope you enjoyed the whales.” Ron nodded taking in a spoonful of green gravy just to avoid having to speak.

“You look like you’ve gotten some sun,” Hermione said brightly. “At least you’ve been out of the house this summer?”

“Yes, I’ve been doing a bit of swimming at the local pool. I met a few friends and I guess that’s what led to getting this.” He touched his ear and thought of Emma and Duncan. What would Duncan do when Harry wouldn’t return to Little Whinging? Would he stay to finish school, or head to South Benton without Harry? Next summer, if there were one, wouldn’t be the same… in many ways. “I had a job working in a sporting-goods store.”

“Oh wow!” she exclaimed. “That’s wonderful. Was it fun? Did you sell anything in particular?”

“We sold all sorts of sporting goods… footballs, golf supplies, ski poles. A pal of mine and I were actually thinking of starting our own store.”

“To do what?” Ron asked.

“Sell sporting-goods,” Harry replied quietly. Sitting in St. Mungo’s the idea seemed so absurd; as absurd as talking about flying broomsticks would be while sitting in Belton’s eating fish and chips.

“You’re not serious? I mean, you wouldn’t, right?”

“I was ready to this morning. I’m still ready, really.” His eyes assessed the four corners above Ron’s head. Stars were beginning to sparkle through. “Her window will be open,” he thought. Would she be writing by candlelight when Hedwig arrives?

“But you couldn’t. You, you’re…”

“What am I Ron?” Harry spat. Then turning to Hermione he asked, “Do you know? What am I?” Deep from somewhere, hidden, the rage began to fill him again. He stood up, wavering and then walked, his legs still unsteady, to a mirror hanging over a basin of water.

“Harry,” Hermione said, “please lay down.” She tried to hold his arm, but he tore it away. He stared at himself for some time.

“What is Harry Potter?” he bellowed looking in the mirror. “Let’s see. There he is! Harry Potter, the kid with the scar on his forehead. Did you know he talks to snakes? Pratty glory seeker if you ask me. His parents were killed by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, sad isn’t it? I hear he’s in league with the Dark Lord himself. Oh, no. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named wants him dead, so we must watch out for him–keep him safe. He’s our only hope, but don’t get too close, you may wind up dead yourself.” He could feel the anger ringing in his ears.

“Voldemort will stop at nothing to see him turned to ashes. Do you know why?” He spun to Ron and Hermione and yelled, “Do you?” They were both standing, eyes wide, and mouths open. It wasn’t an expression he was expecting; they looked scared. Then he noticed they weren’t looking at him, but past him. He turned around to see the basin of water. It had risen a few inches off the counter and it was boiling. Steam was rising from its surface. The instant Harry realized what was happening, it fell, splashing hot water into the air. The burning liquid sprayed onto his legs.

“Ayyy!” he yelled.

Hermione grabbed a towel. “Here, Harry.” He took the towel quickly dabbed his legs. Red welts were springing up all over. “Stay here, I’ll get a healer.” She ran and left the room.

Ron grabbed Harry by the shoulders. His voice was shaky. “Over here, Harry. Can you sit?” Harry nodded and sat back on his bed. For a moment he stood there, silent, next to Harry, and then, placing his hand on Harry’s shoulder, he spoke again. “I’ll tell you who Harry Potter is. He’s the best mate anyone could ever have. I’m guessing there’s a few Muggles who found that out this summer.” He looked him square in the face. “It’s all you’ve ever been to me, Harry.”

Harry thought about how Ron had always endured his celebrity. Was it worse to always be in the shadow? He let out a deep breath and whatever anger he was feeling vanished. They’d never really kept secrets from each other, not many anyway. If he was going to tell anybody, Ron should know. He couldn’t stand the thought of there being an invisible wall between them that only the two could see. “Listen, Ron,” he said, “I need to tell you…”

“No, mate. I need to tell you. We’ve never kept secrets from each other and I can’t now. It’s just that…” Hermione burst into the room with the healer.

“It’s his legs,” she panted. “They’re burned.”

“Let me see, let me see.” The healer examined his legs. “How on earth?” she gasped. Then she raised her wand. A blue-green glow emerged bathing Harry’s legs. It felt cold. The blisters began to fade and then disappeared. “There’s a change of gowns in the closet there. Get out of these wet ones.” Harry walked over to the closet and without thinking took off his gown to grab another.

Hermione let out an “Oh!” covered her eyes and turned to face away asking the healer what the spell was she used. Harry put on a new gown and walked back to bed. He suddenly felt very tired again and his head was pounding.

“Where in the name of Merlin did you get boiling-hot water?” the Healer asked. “There’s nothing here that…” Harry, fell to one knee at his bedside.

“My… my head. It’s starting to hurt again.” Quickly she helped him to bed. “Try to relax; I’ll get your potion.” As she left the room, Hermione came to his bedside.

“Harry, are you okay?” He sat up in bed and glanced at the door.

“Yeah, I just needed to get her out of here. I’m tired of questions.” He put his head back on his pillow. It did ache. “I hate questions.”

Again Hermione’s voice became somewhat smaller. “You do know, the water, that’s… that’s…”

“Not normal?” Harry helped. “Surprise!” The sarcasm in his voice was thick. “Harry’s not normal. He talks to snakes, he sees through the mind of Voldemort, and now…”

“… now he does magic, serious magic, without a wand,” she finished his sentence with a whisper. Ron stood silently. “How long Harry?” she asked. For a moment he stared into space, and then he told her. He told her about the glass at the zoo, the Dementors last year and being able to light his wand without touching it. Without mentioning Gabriella, he told her about the shattered mirror, and the food tray, and ended with burning water. He left out that he almost killed a police officer. She sat down, calculating, as only Hermione could and asked, “It might be innocent enough. Have you tried without being upset or emotional?” Harry nodded.

“It doesn’t work,” he said. “This stays in this room, right? I don’t need to become some sort of experimental test subject or something. You’ll tell nobody?” It was Hermione’s turn to look a little vexed.

“As if, Harry! Maybe something really has happened to your head after all.”

The healer came in with a potion. “This will help your head and let you rest.” He took the drink and felt the pounding recede. The lids on his eyes became very heavy.

“Listen you two,” he said feeling like he’d had a mug too many of Duncan’s punch. A wave of exhaustion passed over him. “You’re the best, really. Tomorrow, tomorrow we can…” but he never finished the words.

The room faded to black. He was at the poolside with Gabriella. Kids everywhere were splashing, shouting and laughing. He heard “Goodnight, Harry,” and felt a kiss on his forehead. She was holding his hand and smiling. The clouds in the sky were bright-white and puffed out like floating cotton candy. The door to his room closed.

He was in his room on Privet Drive petting his molamar. “All I need to do is pull the cord,” he thought. “Where will you take me little molamar? Can you take two?” The molamar transformed and in his hand was a small cup of coffee. He was in the Darbinyan study, her father was pacing the room, his black eyes flashing red at Harry. “I can take care of her, Mr. Darbinyan. I’m not a criminal!” He was at the couch with Soseh, her dark brown eyes seeing through to his soul. “Yes, Mrs. Darbinyan, there’s someone else; don’t you see the connection? That’s why I’m leaving; tell her that’s why. She’s safer away from me.” An old man in bright-green pants was helping him to his feet as Duncan chatted with Emma at the register. “Summer?” asked Harry. “There’s no summer left.” The old man shook his head and turned away and Harry suddenly felt very cold.

He was in a dark room, the study at Grimmauld Place. Sirius was handing him the ebon dragonhead. His face was pale, but bore a broad smile as he said, “Resist the temptation, Harry.” Then the face changed; it wasn’t Sirius, it was Harry. He was looking at himself in the mirror. “Who is Harry Potter?” The room behind was dark but his face glowed white. His features began to flatten, to turn gray. His hair was receding. His eyes began to turn red, burning back at him… snakelike.

“No!” he yelled. The mirror shattered in silence.

The sound of screeching filled the air and Harry opened his eyes. It was morning and he was in St. Mungo’s. Perched on the chair at his bedside was Hedwig, a letter still tied to her leg. “It didn’t work,” he whispered. Feeling shaky, he laid his head back on his pillow, but Hedwig pecked him on the back. Harry turned and looked again. It wasn’t the same letter he’d sent. This was a regular white envelope; Gabriella’s perfume filled the air and for the briefest of moments Harry forgot he was a wizard.

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2 comments

anonymous readerReport

2013-04-24 08:24:26
Read the entire story. You are a good writer! I'm glad you put your story up here.

anonymous readerReport

2013-04-24 03:47:52
Please finish don't leave us hanging too long

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