Thank you so much to Marauder By Night for the wonderful chapter image and extra special thanks for ensuring that the text in the letter pictured is the same af the one in the letter featured in the chapter..
Several days had passed since he first arrived there. How many, he couldn't quite recall. The place felt calm, yet damp, dark and far removed from any familiarity. A speckle of light struggled to filter through the stained-glass windows. What in Merlin's beard was he doing in that building? In a Muggle church, of all places!
Snape had mentioned something which had sounded to him like a message in code. He had explained, in a dispassionate, matter of fact, teaching style, that in the middle ages, Muggles who were, or were perceived by the authorities as wrong-doers could escape harm for up to forty days by entering a holy place. After that, they would have to either give themselves up or "abjure the realm"; in essence, make an oath to leave the country at the earliest opportunity and under certain conditions. But what did this mean for him, in the here and now?
Severus was a half-blood, after all. Did he know something a pure blood like himself did not? Did religious Muggles have a limited amount of magical ability? Did Muggles who were not really Muggles choose religion as a way to practice their magic without even knowing what they were? Maybe, just maybe, they could cast spells to protect sacred buildings. Maybe, just maybe Voldemort, in his abhorrence of all things Muggle, had overlooked this. Maybe, just maybe, Severus Snape knew it.
How long did he have to stay there? How long before the protection ceased? He could not live as a Muggle; he could not do it, could not accept it, not even for his own safety! Or could he? He did not know who he was any more. Dumbledore had offered to protect him. Come to the right side, Draco, we can hide more completely than you can ever imagine. Of the fact that he was hiding, there was no doubt. He had been a coward, or perhaps, Dumbledore had been right again, and he simply was not a murderer. Would Voldemort ever forgive the Professor for his interference? Perhaps Snape was already dead. Nothing was certain, nothing could be guessed. Maybe that was why no sign had come, why he was still there, waiting. He had failed the Dark Lord and, undoubtedly, a price had to be paid. But by whom and how soon?
What had become of his mother? Was his father truly safe in Azkaban? He knew full well that no communication with the outside world was possible. He would just have to wait, alone and desolated.
Was it possible to do magic in that place? He was cold, hungry and scared. He could just simply conjure up a small fire. Should someone discover him, he could always cast a memory charm on them. It was worth a try.
No spell can bring back the dead; I thought you knew that, Harry. Those words resonated in Harry's mind time and time again. He was on his own. He had been losing, one by one, most of his protectors. The protection placed on 4 Privet Drive would be gone on the night of his 17th birthday. Would his relatives be at risk? Not that he had ever cared much for them. They had treated him with worse than contempt, often with cruelty. Ron and Hermione had insisted on coming with him but he knew that would had only made matters worse. Soon, it would all be over, he would leave them for good, and then, he would have to face something no one would ever be ready for. The task was insurmountable. He would now try to sleep, even though it was only early evening; try to sleep and to forget about Horcruxes and about Ginny, amongst other things.
"Harry, Harry!" shouted a voice from downstairs.
No doubt, some burdensome chore awaited him. Harry attempted to tidy up his hair a little, rather unsuccessfully, and slowly and unenthusiastically got up.
"Harry!" There was a knock at his bedroom door. "Harry, dinner is ready," said his aunt Petunia in a strangely impatient tone.
Although he was somewhat hungry, he had no desire to sit with the Dursleys for however long it took to eat dinner. Then again, he was too tired and too preoccupied to argue, to dismiss the invitation. He dragged himself down the stairs and was surprised to find his aunt on her own. Apparently, Dudley and Uncle Vernon had gone out, though she didn't say where.
"Harry, I would like to have a little talk," she said in very low voice, which seemed to convey a mixture of embarrassment and complicity.
Harry was certain that some unpleasantness was brewing. "What about?" he replied half curious, half suspicious.
She sat at the kitchen table and made a motion for Harry to do the same. "You are leaving us soon, is that right?" started Mrs Dursley, keeping her gaze down, playing with the rings on her fingers.
"That's right. I'm only here because Professor Dumbledore asked me to stay until I come of age. After my birthday, you will be rid of me forever. That has always been clear." Harry said proudly, almost as if trying to prove to her and to himself that he was now an adult. An adult capable of fighting his own corner, an adult who didn't need their charity anymore.
"And then what?" There was a twinge of worry in her voice.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, you know, the protection. Will we be in danger?" Petunia's eyes narrowed; she was sitting tight.
"That, I honestly don't know."
"But what about the old man? Can he not put some other protection in place for us? After all, we have given you a home all these years. We have fed you and clothed you..." she went on, carried away with her account of her own generosity.
Harry could not stand hearing Petunia talk about his mentor. He had not wished to let them know of his death as he believed that fear of him was the only reason why they were being remotely civilised. But, partly out of impulse and partly out of remembering what Dumbledore had once said about doing what is right and not what is easy, he spat out, "The old man is dead."
"Dead?" An expression of true dread took over Petunia's face. "Was it ...was he, the one who ... my sister?"
"No. It was one of his minions, if you must know. No-one can protect any of us anymore."
"This will just not do" shouted Petunia on the verge of tears. "I knew it was a mistake, taking you in. None of this would have happened if it hadn't been for my foolish sister and for you, YOU!"
"My world would have existed even if you haven't heard of it, I can assure you," Harry replied, trying to remain composed.
"Yes, but we wouldn't have been targets!"
"You will not be targets after I am gone. I will make sure Voldemort gets wind of the fact that I don't live here anymore. But if you are so worried, you can try helping me."
"Helping you? How? To do what?" she asked, looking flabbergasted.
"You could begin by telling me where my mother lived before she died, her actual address in Godric’s Hollow," he said with a sense of opportunity.
"I don't know that. I lost touch with her, after..., umn..., after I married your uncle," she explained almost apologetically.
Harry thought she was lying. It was pure guesswork but he thought that, if he was right, he might make her believe that he could read her mind. "You are lying. You were in touch, but you didn't want Uncle Vernon to know. Isn't that right?" he looked straight into her eyes, with assertion, with conviction.
"How do you know?"
"I have my ways," he replied with a knowing smile.
"Why do you want to know anyway?" asked Mrs Dursley as if she was missing part of the plot.
"For starters, so that I may visit my parents' graves. You owe me that much, after you let me believe for about ten years that they'd died in a car crash! It was bad enough to be unloved, to have no parents, but not knowing anything about them was the worst," ranted Harry, unable to bottle up any longer the resentment he still felt about the Dursleys having kept him so completely in the dark.
"You must understand. What was I to say? And to a child! I didn't even know myself, exactly, how your parents died. You must understand!" Petunia was now almost pleading for forgiveness, whether sincerely or not, Harry couldn't quite decide.
Harry remained silent for a moment and then he added, "There is more, though. You are afraid, you want protection. Well, you know why I am famous in my world, don't you? Because Voldemort used the same curse on me as on my parents but I didn't die, instead he lost his powers. My mother, your sister, made it happen. If I can find the exact spell she used, I might have a slight chance of doing it again. I need to find her wand. If you want to be safe, I have to defeat him and for that, I think I need her wand."
"But you won't, I mean, not that I ever went there but, I believe the house was destroyed," she argued.
"I believe that too. But I have to give it a go. If you tell me what I ask you, I won't bother you ever again. Also, despite the way you have treated me, I will try to keep you all safe, if I can at all, I promise!" Harry vowed.
"Very well." She suddenly rose from her chair and went upstairs. A few minutes later, she came back holding an envelope in her hands quite tightly. He nearly froze. For the first time in his life, he saw his mother's hand-writing.
"May I?" Harry was curious and excited. This was the closest he had ever been to his mother's thoughts. He was almost shaking, but tried to conceal the fact. He had never felt particularly close to his aunt and, even if she was his mother's sister, he felt that his grief ought to be something private. Not that he saw being emotional particularly as a weakness, but he certainly wasn't about to cry his eyes out in front of her.
She looked at him but rapidly looked away. She passed on the letter and Harry, for a moment, felt as if she was squeezing his hand, as if she was trying to give him strength.
I am writing to you because it pains me that you don't regard me as a sister anymore. We belong to different worlds but not separate ones, just different. I would also like to let you know that we are well for the moment, but in danger, through no fault of our own. Something evil has taken over our world and we just cannot let it happen. I trust that you will not reveal this address to anyone although, I am sure you won't; not even to your husband. Not that this would matter anyway, as I doubt that either of you knows anyone in our world that can do us harm. Should anything happen to me, to James, or to both, you needn't worry about my son. We have friends who would gladly take care of him, although, I sincerely hope it will not come to that. I hope you will remember our life as sisters before I went to Hogwarts and also remember that our parents loved us "both". I hope that you and your family are well and that you will write sometime.
At the bottom of the letter was the address of a place in Wales. His mother's family had come from Wales, after all, Harry recalled. He thought it was likely to be a Muggle village. Harry buried his head in his hands for a moment. That had been a very emotional moment indeed. He swallowed hard and tried to contain his tears. A multitude of emotions, rage, sadness, love and despair collided in his mind.
"I am sorry," said Petunia, sounding actually genuine.
"You didn't kill her," Harry said coldly. "But I guess you didn't reply either," he added, wondering whether Petunia ever felt sad about her sister's death, whether she ever regretted their estrangement.
"It is a long story that happened a very long time ago. What good would regrets do now?"
Harry remained still, contemplating the ceiling as if something extremely interesting was written on it.
"I must admit, I never wanted you. I had my own family and you were forced upon me. You were a reminder of a sister who was bright and pretty, always the favourite. Your uncle had given me security and respectability. And then, you came into our lives and threatened all of that, well… the respectability at least!" she cried.
"I can't say that I love you either but I wish you no ill. I will do what I can to keep you safe but I would be grateful for a bit of help," stated Harry looking straight into his aunt's eyes whilst trying to keep at bay the involuntary tears that were beginning to form in his.
"A bit of help? How?" her voice sounded now rather panicky.
"By telling me about my family, about my mother, my grandparents, the usual stuff." He paused and looked at the kitchen clock. "How long are Uncle Vernon and Dudley out for?"
"I don't know exactly but they will not be back for a while yet," she said with a slight twinkle.
"You staged this, didn't you?" Harry also smiled.
"Yes," she admitted very timidly, looking down.
"Because you have lived in my house all these years and I don't know you and because I am afraid of what might happen when you are gone."
"Does that mean that you wish to continue in touch with me after I am gone?"
"I will consider it," she replied in a whisper, staring at a salad bowl on the centre of the table, not wishing to make too much eye contact.
"Nothing personal, but I think it is better if we don't. You would be at risk if we do."
"But you said you want my help..."
"Only if you want to give it."
"What do you want to know?"
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