Disclaimer: The author does not in any way hold the rights to Harry Potter or the world in which he lives created by J.K. Rowling.
Note: This is the sequel to Unlocking Harry Potter. I strongly recommend reading that first if you have not already. This covers Harry's seventh year at Hogwarts and has spoilers from the first five JKR books but not HBP, as it had not yet been released when this was written. Enjoy!
Finding the Key
Harry took a deep breath in and let it out slowly. He was sitting with his legs crossed and his arms rested on his legs. His back was straight, as though a string held him up from the crown of his head and kept his spine perfectly aligned. Eyes closed, his glasses were propped on his nightstand. Focusing inward, Harry was able to call on his internal magic and concentrate on it. Its flow all over his body and the tingling he felt from it were heightened in these meditation sessions.
He was flying.
It was not in the literal sense, as his body remained seated on the now soft as a cloud bed in the smallest bedroom at number four Privet Drive. His father had been very angry and frustrated when they arrived in Surrey so he took out his emotions on Harry's room, rather than cursing the Dursleys into oblivion. It was now the most comfortable room in the house with the extra soft bed, cushiony chairs, and a cooling charm to ward off the wicked summer heat. Harry was still amused that Snape knew how to conjure fluffy pillows.
But Harry was getting distracted. It seemed that McGonagall and Harry were right. His form was avian. That would make the transformation more difficult to finally perfect. It was much easier to change from mammal to mammal, as most animagus forms tended to be, rather than mammal to reptile, or mammal to insect. Harry had a newfound respect for Rita Skeeter. She was either much more talented than he had thought, or extremely lucky to perfect her animagus form, and in secrecy at that.
Flying, soaring through clouds, over mountains, feeling the air currents lift him and let him fall... it was incredible. His feathers were ruffled slightly with the speed he flew at. His shadow was cast on a low cloud and Harry saw he had a wide wingspan, with many feathers at the edge of the wing. He dove towards the ground and the speed he moved at was exhilarating, much better than any broom he had ever flown. He was approaching a lake.
Harry opened his eyes and swore rather loudly in several languages. He was almost there, after months and months of patient meditation. If he had just reached the lake he could have seen his reflection, known what bird he was, or at least have much more to work with than large bird. It was pretty late, but Harry's aunt and uncle would probably still be awake, waiting for Dudley.
Dudley had no curfew, no rules to obey, and had been staying out later and later. Harry was sure that one of these nights Dudley wouldn't show up and his aunt and uncle would have to go bail him out of the local jail for beating up some kid or stealing cigarettes from the gas station.
Harry had been at Privet Drive for over five weeks, and would be leaving the next day. Almost all his homework, assigned with his private lessons in mind he noticed, rather than his normal classes, was completed. He only had to practice spellwork, which had to wait a few days more, and meditate on his animagus form, and he had no doubt that once he had access to a laboratory his father would have him brewing potions.
There was a definite downside to having Snape as a father. Potions just weren't Harry's forte. The spellwork was inconvenient to work on there, as flashes of light were suspicious and technically he wasn't supposed to, so he would wait until he was away from the muggles.
He only worked on memorizing the spells, knowing he would be able to practice them at a later time, with no Dursleys making crashes or nosy neighbors looking at brightly colored flashes from his window. He had no privacy on Privet Drive, but the day he had returned to this muggle world was simply brilliant and whenever the Dursleys got him frustrated or interrupted his studies he just brought back the memory rather than letting his anger take over.
After his bedroom had been charmed, transfigured, and completely changed Harry felt the tension begin fade in Snape. The Dursleys had heard them arrive not long before, but with Snape's temper it had not been safe to go see them until he calmed. Knowing the Dursleys they would not see that they were only making things worse until it was too late and they had all been poisoned, transfigured into small slimy creatures, or changed into inanimate objects.
When they finally did go downstairs the Dursleys were cowering in the kitchen, all three of them. In the midst of their worry and fear Dudley had still managed to eat a full dinner and then some while Harry and Snape were upstairs. So much for the diet, Harry had thought with some amusement. A look at Snape showed the glare that Harry had only seen very few times, the most memorable being the night Harry had looked into the pensieve. This time it was under control, though, and there was a slight upturn to Snape's lips.
"Petunia," Snape said coldly with his hand resting on Harry's arm almost possessively, "I must say you look nothing at all like Lily."
Aunt Petunia sneered, unable to control her reaction to her sister's name. Uncle Vernon's neck was purple and the color was slowly working its way up to his face, while Dudley was draining of all color and beginning to look ill.
"You have no right to be in my home!" Uncle Vernon snapped.
The hand slowly moved up and there was a gentle pressure on Harry's shoulder and he stepped forward into the kitchen, his father following. "Is that so?"
The Dursleys did not understand the subtle art of intimidation. Blustering and screaming they understood. They had no idea that a quiet Snape was much more dangerous than any amount of loud obscenities.
"You can stay here," Aunt Petunia said with a strained voice directed at Harry, "but you'll do as you're told. There will be no funny business, and you'll not hide in your room, forcing us to fetch and carry for you."
Harry raised an eyebrow and could tell his father had done the same. Snape's voice was like liquid nitrogen, colder than ice, "I understand you met an acquaintance of mine with a most interesting vision problem." The Dursleys all flinched. "I assure you, that where he would threaten, I would act. You see, Alastor was an Auror, a dark wizard catcher, while I was a dark wizard, and rather close to James and Lily. I have only recently learned of the manner in which Harry was treated whilst in this house and I take it as a personal offence."
Aunt Petunia's eyes widened, as did Uncle Vernon's. Dudley's could not possibly have gotten any wider than they already were. Snape rolled up the sleeve of his dramatic black robes and displayed his Dark Mark to the Dursleys.
"He was a spy on the wizard that killed Mum and Dad," Harry said quietly, changing the fearful focus of the wide eyes to his face. "He had to stop spying when he was uncovered and nearly tortured to death but he managed to escape despite the dozen or so wizards trying to kill him. He wasn't always a spy though."
"True Harry," Snape smirked down at his son, "but I was never a completely loyal follower. I did kill and torture a number of muggles, but it was that or death. My uncle was the loyal one." The Dursleys were all shaking by that point and Snape sneered at them, his sneer much better than Aunt Petunia's. "I do not trust nearly as much as Alastor." Harry snorted. Moody wouldn't trust his own mother if she was still alive.
His father squeezed his shoulder and Harry held back his laugh. "There will be none of this one letter every three days business. I will come here whenever I feel necessary to check on Harry, and there will be no pattern to my visits. If Harry is assigned any chores an equal amount of work will be assigned to and carried out by your son. Harry has homework to complete, some of which requires solitude which you will not interrupt."
Snape had then done something Harry had never expected from him, at least never in public. He leaned down and kissed the crown of Harry's head, "I will visit soon. Be good, but don't resist the urge to curse them if they misbehave. I doubt the Ministry would bother you after the events of this year."
Harry had grinned and hugged his father, "I'll miss you. Give the others my regards, and remember Code 35." Harry had smirked at the perplexed feeling he detected but did not appear on Snape's face.
The Dursleys had taken Snape's warnings to heart and had been on edge all summer. Whenever there was a loud noise of any kind they all jumped and looked around for Snape. The nerves were making it difficult for Dudley to eat, and he was finally losing some weight. Harry would have felt a little guilty if they had not intentionally made his life hell for more than ten years... and if Dudley didn't seriously need the weight loss.
He voluntarily did more chores than he was assigned, as Aunt Petunia couldn't bring herself to tell Dudley to do more than dusting and washing the dishes. Harry didn't mind doing the yard work or cooking, but Aunt Petunia wouldn't let him anywhere near the food preparation... as if he would poison them all with the food he had to eat as well. They even ignored Harry when he sat on the stairs and watched whatever movie Dudley had most recently brought home.
As he had promised, Snape's visits were unpredictable. He sometimes apparated in just to say a few words to Harry and then left without seeing the Dursleys. Then there were the days when he would spend hours there, working with Harry on Occlumency and Legilimency or going over some of his homework. Sometimes they would play chess, and Harry found his skills didn't improve no matter how many games he played. There was always the presence of the Dursleys though, and it made for a constant tension.
All letters had been exchanged through Snape, and Hedwig had stayed at Hogwarts where she could stretch her wings without fear of attracting unwanted attention from wizards and muggles alike. Neville had spoken to his grandmother, and Harry would be visiting the Longbottoms on Neville's birthday with them, his father, and Luna and her father. They were going from Mungo's to Grimmauld Place where Neville and Luna would spend the remainder of the summer. Harry assumed he would be staying as well but Snape never gave him a clear answer when he asked.
Neville's grandmother had joined the Order and would gather and spread information through her contacts with the old pureblood and wealthy light families. She didn't actually attend most meetings, which led Harry to discover that the Order had many more members than he knew about. According to both Neville and Snape she was quite influential and had been responsible for the attitude of a few of the Wizengamot members during Harry's trial two summers ago. Harry had teased Snape for actually agreeing with Neville on something.
Harry went downstairs to investigate the crash. He took his time, as there had been numerous such incidents thanks to the jumpy states the Dursleys were in. When he got to the kitchen he saw that Snape was standing there with his arms crossed on his chest, glowering at Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. Dudley was probably out smoking or terrorizing the neighborhood pets and small children. If he was a wizard he'd make a fantastic Death Eater. The look Snape gave him clearly stated, 'What took you so long?'
"Sorry," Harry said casually, ignoring the Dursleys. "I didn't hear you come in. I was doing my homework for Minerva and was finally getting somewhere." A raised eyebrow was the only response and Harry grinned, "A bird, a large one just like we thought."
It was only then that Harry noticed the Dursleys were staring at him not with fear, but with horror. And the horror was not of him, but for him. He blinked for a few moments and the remembered that he had gotten ready for bed before starting his meditation work. The scars that littered his torso and arms were fully visible for the first time that summer, having been either covered with a shirt, or exposed where the Dursleys didn't see him, like outside in the garden. The sun darkened skin made them stand out more than they did in, say, the winter.
"What...?" Aunt Petunia actually seemed a little concerned. Her face was a little green and Harry could feel her mind reeling.
Harry's side that was permanently angry with his relative had come out then and he snarled at them, "What do you care? Half my scars were caused by you and your oh-so-brilliant-can't-do-any-wrong bullying son. My growth was stunted from living in a cupboard and malnutrition. I've fought giant snakes and spiders, dragons and dark wizards, but for years my nightmares were about you."
The air was crackling with loose magical energy and Harry reined it in, controlled it, without a word or look from his father. They had discussed this, knowing that the potential for accidental magic always increased around the Dursleys. As he grew more powerful his temper grew more dangerous and control became more necessary. He understood why Remus was such a control freak. As a werewolf he had always been more powerful, especially when angry, and must have had to learn to control that at an early age.
He didn't hear the comment his aunt made, "What was that?"
"I'm sorry," Aunt Petunia said quietly. Harry scanned her with everything he had and felt her flinch a little at it. She was being sincere and there was even a flash of regret and guilt... but she shouldn't be able to detect his scan... not even his father could... unless...
Harry turned to his father and asked quietly, "Did I get it from Mum?"
"Yes," Snape nodded and granted Harry a small smile, "but I'm not sure she knew. I figured that out this winter. I intended to tell you soon."
Uncle Vernon had quickly recovered from his horror at Harry's scarred form and did not look happy with his wife's apology for their behavior in raising Harry, "What in the bloody blue blazes are you talking about?"
"Aunt Petunia is not a witch like Mum was," Harry smiled just a little, "but she is not completely normal either. There a few talents that have very little to do with magic, and it's all hereditary. Dudley could have magical children some day, granted someone's willing to bear them." He subdued the shudder of disgust that threatened at the thought. "Would you say she's more like a squib?"
Snape smiled just a little more, "Most likely. After all, with a sister as powerful as Lily it would be truly strange if Petunia had no talent whatsoever."
Aunt Petunia looked completely stunned and Uncle Vernon was flipping between fury and disgust. It looked like he had married a freak after all. Harry felt a moment of pity for his aunt. Life had not been easy for her, and it looked like his leaving forever wouldn't help much.
"Talk to Mrs. Figg," Harry recommended compassionately. "Once you get past the cat obsession she might be able to help."
Aunt Petunia looked at Harry with watery eyes, "I might do that."
Harry looked at Snape, to find out why he was there when Harry was leaving the next day. He cocked his head to the side just slightly and raised one eyebrow. With the bond making their emotions more accessible to each other gestures were often all they needed to communicate.
"I was going to make sure you were ready to leave early tomorrow," Snape hesitated, "but I am not sure I want you to stay here tonight."
Harry's eyes darted to Uncle Vernon and back to Snape. The hatred pouring off the man was sickening. Harry realized that even the emotions he felt from his uncle when they were directed at Aunt Petunia and Dudley were not honestly affectionate. They were all mixed up in Uncle Vernon's own self-pride and ambition, pride at having a thin and attractive – at least Vernon thought so – wife and ambition for his son. If the man was not so concerned with the opinions of others Harry would be worried for his aunt once he left.
He nodded slowly. Uncle Vernon was near breaking, "I think you might be right. Should I get my things?"
"We will stay with Remus this evening," Severus said decisively.
Aunt Petunia gasped and Harry shook his head sadly. She must have met Remus years ago, when his parents were still alive. He remembered then a little story that Remus had told him, about Aunt Petunia's wedding to Uncle Vernon. They had certainly met Remus before as he had been there as Harry's mother's date.
Harry went upstairs and cast a wandless charm on his trunk to make it feather light, already packed in anticipation of leaving the next day. He left the bedroom as it was. Aunt Petunia might even appreciate the changes regardless of the part magic had in creating them. Downstairs he set his trunk down.
"Should I bother with a robe?" Harry asked his father.
Snape shook his head, "We're not going to be out long, though shoes would not be amiss."
Harry shrugged, "We won't be outside much, right?"
"Just on the doorstep," Snape sighed and Harry grinned. Victory was his.
Harry gave his Aunt Petunia a contemplative look. He didn't bother with his uncle, as nothing would ever get through to that man. "Goodbye. If you ever need to contact me talk to Mrs. Figg. She'll know how. I won't be coming back to this house... ever."
"Good riddance," Uncle Vernon muttered.
Harry shot his father a restraining glare. He agreed with Uncle Vernon fully on that one. Snape nodded reluctant acquiescence.
Aunt Petunia swallowed as though eating something distasteful, "Goodbye Harry. Your parents would be proud."
The tandem apparition was the same as it had been before, a sort of cross between apparating and using a Portkey, disorienting and stomach upsetting. Only two more days, Harry told himself. He would be seventeen and could get his license and never use a Portkey again.
Ron, Hermione, and all the others there had been thrilled to see Harry a night earlier than he was expected, though Harry thought his father might have some explaining to do once Dumbledore found out. Really though, it was Snape's decision to make and not the headmaster's, from a legal standpoint anyway.
They had gone up to bed almost immediately after everyone had greeted Harry and Mrs. Weasley had gotten him to eat something and drink some hot chocolate. The Dursleys had given him far more food than usual, but Mrs. Weasley's cooking was much better than Aunt Petunia could ever hope.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione had stayed up late talking in the room that Harry and Ron were sharing again. Harry had been a little disappointed that Charlie wasn't there but understood that he had work to do and couldn't run off to London every time Harry was there. After all, Charlie wasn't quite powerful enough to apparate that long a distance.
Very few wizards could travel more than a hundred miles or so at one jump. The further the apparition the more tiring it was. The Floo system also became less reliable with increased distance and differences in the structure of the system from country to country. That was one reason there was very little interaction between the English and American wizarding communities. Portkeys, restricted in every country and difficult to accurately create, were the only easy way to travel great distances.
All summer long Harry had taken the Good Dreams potion. He knew he wouldn't be able to deal with both the stress from the Dursleys and his nightmares. He took the potion that night as well, though less than normal as he was only going to get a few hours of sleep. He wanted to be well rested for visiting the Longbottoms.
"Harry, mate," Ron's voice invaded Harry's peaceful slumber, "you've gotta wake up already!"
Harry blinked and opened his eyes, taking his glasses that Ron was holding out for him and putting them on, "What time is it?"
"Ten," Ron laughed. "Did you think I'd actually be awake first otherwise? Snape wanted to let you sleep but you have to leave soon."
Harry nodded and pushed himself upright. He grabbed some clothes and stumbled into the bathroom for a shower. Looking himself over in the mirror once he had washed Harry wondered vaguely why he didn't need to shave. Every other guy in the dorm did. He shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair, having given up on owning a hairbrush or comb years ago.
Mrs. Weasley had the requisite cup of coffee and some food waiting for him, which he consumed eagerly. He only noticed his father's amused smile once he had downed the second cup of coffee. It was getting increasingly difficult to wake up without that jolt from the caffeine.
Harry nodded and they headed for the fireplace, "Yeah."
Snape rolled his eyes, "It is yes, not yeah." Harry heard a snicker and snapped his head around to glare at Ron. He didn't mind his father's efforts to civilize him, not really. No one else had ever cared enough to try, or thought it important that Harry know how to act properly. "We don't have time for Gringotts today. We can go tomorrow afternoon after we stop at the Ministry."
Harry nodded and grinned. The trip to the Ministry was for his apparition test, finally. They were scheduled to meet the Longbottoms right after lunch. It was going to be interesting to see Neville and Snape interact outside of school. They threw a handful of powder into the fire and headed for Diagon Alley.