Sign of the Lion
Chapter 8 - Return to Sender
Harry slept badly. He could never remember any of the dreams that woke him up, but they always ended with the lion from the Gryffindor banner jumping out into the Great Hall. When he could no longer close his eyes, he went to the window and peered out. It was still dim enough that there wasn't much to see, so he decided to take a shower.
He had the customary scrutiny of the lion mark on his arm and again tried to scrub it off. This time Harry didn't bother much with it and pulled on some black Hogwarts robes. He escaped from the quiet dormitory downstairs where Ron found him later, trying to make his fringe lie flat.
"Couldn't sleep?" Ron asked, stretching. "Same."
Harry shot him a startled look. "I thought I was the only one up all night."
Ron shrugged and covered a yawn, waiting until he could speak again. "I'm starting to think Hermione's got a point, mate. Maybe you should go to Dumbledore."
Harry didn't answer, silently fuming. He could take care of himself - he didn't need people running after him all the time. A glass pane shattered nearby, sending in a chilly draft. Ignoring the raised eyebrow he got from Ron, Harry stared at the window until it repaired.
"I will," he insisted. "I just don't think it's very important."
Ron just stared at him and looked on the verge of saying something, but shook his head instead. He walked over to the portrait and climbed out, Harry following after a tense moment. The Fat Lady sleepily bade them on their way before dozing off again.
The Great Hall was not completely empty when they arrived, but there were enough people around for Ron to drop his voice to a whisper. Harry shut out whatever he was saying and absently poured out some Pumpkin Juice for himself. Some of the teachers were conferring in low tones and not one of their expressions was devoid of worry.
Harry was saved any further distraction from Ron when Katie Bell and one of her friends made their way over to him. They were entering their last year of Hogwarts, he remembered.
"I'm Quidditch Captain," Harry informed Katie shortly.
She rolled her eyes and tugged on the badge. "Who else would McGonagall choose? At least without Oliver and Angelina we can get some sleep this year. By the way, Harry, with Alicia gone we'll need to hold try outs."
Harry straightened his badge carefully, thanking the girls mentally for changing the subject so well. Ron immediately jumped straight into an animated conversation with them about the recent game that included Puddlemere and the failing Chudley Canons. A few minutes later, the hall had begun filling up and the two girls were called away by their friends.
Hermione arrived shortly afterwards, sorting through a stack of timetables for the Gryffindor students. Ron scanned his carefully, then he grinned. He waved it in front of Harry's face and it took a moment for Harry to realise what had gotten him so stoked.
"Finally," Ron said reverently, "no more Potions...no more Divination."
Harry looked at his own and inwardly groaned. He'd forgotten completely about Potions. He frowned at his timetable. "We've got Defence Against the Dark Arts first with the Slytherins. Any idea who the teacher is?"
Ron was too busy helping himself to a plate of sausages to form an answer, but snorted his opinion on having Slytherins in the same class. Harry was distracted by the arrival of the post, the owls swooping low over their heads and dropping packages all over the hall. Disinterested, he poured some Pumpkin Juice into his goblet and was about to lift his spoon when a letter dropped in front of him.
He immediately recognised his own handwriting and the letter itself. Harry looked questioningly at Hedwig who merely ruffled her feathers and took off. Turning back to the letter, he realised that the envelope had been ripped open, tearing through the addressed name on the front.
Feeling a churning of apprehension, he pulled the contents out but only found the letter he had written to Sirius. Obviously, someone had read it...but why would Hedwig go seeking them to return it to its sender? Harry stuffed it into his robe pockets and tried to eat something. Ron swallowed a mouthful of food and pointed his fork at Harry. "Are you alright, mate?"
Hermione looked up from her propped up book upon hearing this. Taking in Harry's pale face and untouched food, she shut her book with a snap. "Harry, if you don't go to Dumbledore, I will."
"Who's going to make me?" Harry wanted to know, idly looking at his fingers.
Hermione narrowed her eyes, but made no further comment. Harry reached into his pocket to pull out the letter to show her, but he found something more solid. Frowning, he pulled out the book with the lion on the cover, wondering how it ended up in his pocket. Wordlessly, he handed it to Hermione and rose from the table. He didn't feel like thinking about going to Dumbledore anymore.
Ron and Hermione found him ten minutes later in the DADA classroom, flipping listlessly through his books. They sat on either side of him and began a light conversation via Harry. He wished they wouldn't pester him into talking. Blocking out whatever they were saying, he stared out the windows at the sweeping grounds below.
Some Thestrals were near the edge of the Forbidden Forest, pawing nervously. Harry had, in the short time he'd known of them, never seen them behave like it. They were pacing through the trees and skirtively avoiding becoming too obvious.
The door to the classroom swung open and students filed in, taking seats which were parted from the other house. Hermione shook her head and was probably about to comment on the Sorting Hat's song from the previous year when Harry shot her a cautioning look. At the same time, a window shot open and let a draft of wind in.
"Harry," Hermione warned.
Ron happily gestured towards the Slytherins, whose books had been knocked over by the slightest breeze. He seemed particularly cheerful that the DADA teacher hadn't arrived yet either. Ron put his arms behind his head. "Anyone will be better than that Umbridge cow."
"Hey, Harry!" someone called from across the room. "When's the next DA meeting?"
Hermione looked pleased that someone had brought it up other than herself and raised an eyebrow questioningly at Harry, waiting for his answer. Harry, shifting uncomfortably at all the pairs of eyes focused on him, was saved by the arrival of the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.
She tripped over something non existent at the doorway and landed on her face. Jumping to her feet, Nymphadora Tonks pushed her hair out of her face and beamed down at the students - all of whom rather startled.
"Sorry I was late!" Tonks grinned. "I just forgot that term started yesterday, that's all. Now, the roll."
She scanned her eyes over it, biting her lip for a moment. Ron was staring at her, grinning broadly. Harry arranged his face to hide his own grin, but failed. Tonks looked up suspiciously at the tittering class, then turned her smile back on. "Harry! Ron! Hermione! What a pleasant surprise."
Ron hid behind his hands as the whole class turned in their seats to look at them. Hermione smiled vaguely back, using the expression that usually Mrs Weasley reserved for Sirius' cousin. But Tonks was already bouncing to start the lesson.
"First rule - never poke a sleeping dragon! I want it written down three times, first in lower case, upper case then both."
"Perhaps we should have a more...qualified...DADA professor?" Malfoy suggested, covering a forced yawn.
Tonks looked quickly at the roll then smiled sweetly up at him. "A Malfoy. I thought that stench coming from the corner of the room was familiar."
The students all gaped at her. Malfoy fumed, but surprisingly said no more. He glared daggers at Tonks who simply ignored him and continued with the lesson.
The N.E.W.T. DADA class following was much the same, but included more advanced course aims for the terms. Leaving the classroom, Harry decided that he wasn't going to be cornered into going to Dumbledore so muttered something about leaving a book behind. He was just about to leave when Tonks dropped a glass tank.
"Oh no!" she wailed. "That's the seventh time since the start of summer."
Harry took out his useless wand and repaired it for her, hiding the smile that had broken out on his face. He tucked it back into his robes. "Professor Tonks, what you said to Malfoy...it won't pass easy with the Slytherins."
Tonks, using a mirror to adjust her hair colour, looked up sharply. "They'll live. Can't believe I'm related to that git," she added in a grumble. "And if I catch you calling me anything but just Tonks..."
"You'll what?" sighed Harry. "Give me the lecture you were about to?"
He swung his bag over his shoulder and left the room.
Although Harry tried to avoid going to the Great Hall for dinner after Advanced Charms, his stomach reminded him that he hadn't eaten anything since that morning. He was saved having to sit next to Hermione and Ron when pulled down onto the bench near the doors.
"Hey!" Beamed Siobhan and pointed to the girl next to her. "This is Alex. We just wanted to know if you'd tell us a few things!"
Taken back, but certainly grateful, Harry answered questions about Quidditch and the Muggle world. When he'd run out of things to say, Siobhan said brightly, "Can you tell us about Voldemort? My mam said he picks his nose and when he flicks green booga at people they die."
Harry stared at her, surprised that she hadn't opted to use "You-Know-Who". Alex, the quieter girl, suddenly jumped in, "Oh wow! You have a fringe too! This is so weird!"
Hungry or not, he wasn't going to hang around the pair for much longer. In some ways they were more bearable than the Creevey brothers, but in other ways, they were just as annoying. Harry excused himself, saying that he had homework to do.
"Do they give you work to do on the first day in sixth year?" Siobhan looked crestfallen.
"Erm," Harry managed, then made his escape.
He was the only one in the Gryffindor tower when he stepped through the portrait, but didn't mind. He pulled on his pajamas and climbed into bed. This time, he was able to sleep.
Harry dreamt that he was standing in a grimy kitchen. There were no windows and the door across from him was bolted shut, keeping the smoke and steam trapped in the room. The moisture clung to him and, for a moment, it was hard to breathe.
A resonating thud sounded from the door, shifting eddies of dust from underneath. Harry stepped backwards and caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Spinning, he saw someone he knew crouched by the table.
"Professor Moody?" he asked tentatively.
It suddenly struck Harry that he'd never seen the retired Auror quite so defeated, not even in his fourth year when looking down at him in a comatose state. And Mad-Eye didn't seem to have heard or seen him. Another thud sent shivers through Harry and he crouched also, wondering if he was finally having a Voldemort dream.
The door made a crack as it popped out of its hinges and banged sharply on the stone wall. All the steam blew in a frenzied turn; Harry couldn't see much further than the end of the table. But he didn't need the flash of green light that blinded him or the glimpse of something not quite human to know who had entered the kitchen.
He felt like he was blown backwards - then came down on the floor of the dormitory with a sickening thud, much like the ones from the dream.
"Harry! What happened?"
"Bad dream," he muttered. Ron's face swimming before his eyes.
Ron helped him to his feet, freckles standing out on his just as pale face. "Are you alright? Was it a..."
He caught himself with a look at the other boys. Harry pressed a hand to his forehead, frowning. He sat down on his bed and ran a hand through his unruly fringe, saying dazedly, "I'm...alright...Ron, my scar isn't hurting."