It turns out the reason they had been so desperate to find him was not, in fact, because he was the Boy-Who-Lived and a national icon. At least, not this time.
There was a Death Eater, a murderer, out for his blood.
Harry glanced at the newspaper article Nott had sent him, alongside the long letter of listed facts about the man.
One of his parents close friends. His godfather. Rumored to be the one who betrayed them to the Dark Lord.
Harry considered if his rule of protecting his own also applied to parents long dead, and decided it did.
Revenge was timeless, after all.
Dudley was different that summer. The boy was losing his fat, though his frame remained large. Instead the muscle was showing through in veined lengths of bulging skin, and his face was getting a hard edge to it that made him think of seasoned criminals.
But they were only thirteen, and instead Dudley looked like an athlete on steroids. Perhaps he was on them. A bad choice, but none of Harry’s business.
The second day Harry was in his muggle relatives house, the boy approached him and asked for a spell.
Dudley crossed his arms, but his eyes remained on the floor.
Harry looked up at that. Dudley flushed.
“I’ll owe you one.”
Harry raised an eyebrow.
“You already do. Several.”
“Well, I’ll owe you more. I’ll be your slave forever. Please.”
Harry sighed. He decided truth would get rid of the boy faster.
“I’m not allowed to do magic outside of school.”
His cousin slammed his fist against the side of the door, making the frame quiver and creak. Then he vanished down the stairs. Harry called after him.
“Until I’m sixteen.”
He heard an answering thump, and looked back down at his book.
No use burning bridges.
Harry studied over the summer before his third year with a fervency lacking the year before. He looked for arcane magics, the obscure facts, the things others did not seek because it was hard to do so.
When contemplating the murder of an adult wizard, one practiced in battle, one needed every advantage.
Harry had no illusions regarding himself. He was young, in magic and in knowledge. Beyond his peers, yes; perhaps beyond Hogwarts itself, if not its library. But he was not a ex-auror who had killed Death Eaters.
He was not a murderer, either. Not yet.
His books told him killing was a difficult choice, and never the right one. But Harry could see that sometimes it was a good one to make. Some people deserved death for their crimes; some deserved death for the crimes they might commit.
It was a good choice to do away with the escaped convict; But perhaps a bad one for Harry to be the one to do it alone.
He told Nott by letter of his plans; Granger he told on the train, and allowed her to rant on deaf ears as Nott rolled his dark eyes.
When she finally fell into furious silence, he spoke calmly and laid out her choices before them.
“Either you tell them my plans, you help me, or you don’t help me. Pick the good choice.”
“You always say that. Pick the good choice. What are you? A robot? Don’t you care we are talking about human life? Who made you judge, jury, and executioner?!”
Harry only stared at her. She crossed her arms, unfolded them, then crossed them again. Then she sighed.
“Of course I’ll help you, idiot.”
The Ministry, in its wisdom, sent the guards of Azkaban to search for their missing convict.
Harry wondered at this choice, when Black had escaped them once before.
He also found it extremely inconvenient for negative emotions to be pushed upon him whenever he went for a run outside. When Hermione discovered a spell to thwart the beasts, he gladly learned it, careless of the claims that Expecto Patronum was a difficult spell to master.
One simply thought positive thoughts. Harry thought of how good a choice it was to defend against the dementors, and the soothing light came forth.
He really didn’t understand what the big deal was when Granger and Nott had difficulty.
Harry had figured the man would come to him, and was not disappointed.
He was, however, confused.
Black did not act rationally. He had heard Azkaban could twist the mind, and perhaps that was all that was wrong. But a wizard who was sane enough to escape such a place would surely be sane enough to at least pick the right dormitory to break in to.
Granger told him the story, of how they had awoke to Ron Weasley squealing in his bed, their portrait slashed and crying.
Harry figured he wouldn’t know until he caught the man just what was going through the murderer's mind.
Granger suddenly spoke from where she sat across from them in the library.
“Why won’t you call me Hermione?”
Harry glanced up, felt a flicker of annoyance in his belly.
“You haven’t given me the honor.”
He said simply, and looked back down. Granger sucked in a breath. Then she spoke firmly.
“Call me Hermione.”
It was an order. Harry flipped a page, and was silent.
“Pass me the quill, Hermione.”
The girl looked up, shocked. Then she beamed, a quick smile that struck him a little oddly in his stomach, and tossed the quill across the table.
Beside him, Nott sighed.
“Might as well call me Theo.”
Hermione was the one to point out that Professor Lupin was a werewolf. Theo was the one who told him the man was also one of his parents friends, and that werewolves were supporters of the Dark Lord in the last war.
Harry was the one who made the choice to keep a watch on the man.
When the professor left in a hurry one night, a large moving map laid out and left on his desk, his Wolfsbane potion untouched, Harry made his choice.
Together, Theo and Hermione followed him as he approached the Willow, entering the suddenly frozen tree, creeping into a room where Black and Lupin embraced one another, laughing and crying.
Harry bound them both, and turned his narrowed eyes to the third creature in the room, a fat balding man with protruding teeth, and beside him, Ron Weasley, unconscious.
Hermione gasped. Theo blinked.
There were too many choices here, and at any moment Lupin would transform, breaking the binding placed upon him.
He turned to his shadows.
“Hermione, take Weasley out of here. You won’t want to stay.”
It was a simple statement. Hermione paused, torn, then her eyes went to the floor. Without a word in disagreement, she cast a spell on the Gryffindor and left.
Theo began to smile.
“Which one do we take first?”
Lupin was reluctant to speak in the beginning. When Harry reminded him that he would transform soon, and Harry would not allow him to last that long, he spoke faster, in hurried words, laying out the rough framework of a story.
Black was innocent. Pettigrew was the traitor. Both were animagi, as was James. Dog and rat, respectively.
A plan within a plan, too well hidden from those who needed to know, because no one was trusted. Secret Keepers and Fidelius Charms.
Harry did not wait for more. A quick spell knocked the professor unconscious once more, and Harry wasted no time to secure the werewolf behind conjured silver bars. He left Black unconscious, seeing no need to disturb the man.
Instead, he focused on Pettigrew.
The rat squealed. He screamed and begged and pleaded. Harry was content after a moment to lean back against the wall and watch Theo practice the spells his father had taught him.
When a black robed figured burst into the room and summoned Theo’s wand, Harry realized he had made a bad choice to stay in the Shack for his revenge.
He had, however, made a good choice by staying against the wall and out of the light.
His own spell took professor Snape by surprise, knocking the wizard back against the wall to slump to the floor. Across the room, Lupin began to shake and tremble and scream, his body rippling in transformation.
An idea came to Harry, a way to cover both his own revenge and the truth of what happened within the Shack.
Within an hour, Harry and Theo had finished removing Black and Snape from the decrepit building, exiting through the thrashing willow before ducking back inside. With a flick of his wand, Harry removed his transfiguration on the silver bars, reverting them back to wooden slivers, and listened as a werewolf had his first meal in years.
Harry smiled at Theo, and considered the next set of choices.
There was no good choice when it came to Professor Severus Snape. Black seemed fine enough, once released. He clapped them on the back and told them well done for their successful punishment of his dear pal Peter Pettigrew, and the good lump they had given ‘Snivellus’.
He did, however, regret how guilty Lupin might feel once he came to.
Black also told them memory charms were useless on ‘the bat’. Apparently, the man was also a master at Occlumency, a skill that not only protected from Legilimency, but over time would reverse work done on the mind.
So, Harry reluctantly decided the best bad choice was to wake the man up and see how he reacted.
His Head of House was furious.
First, he ranted about being attacked, an argument Harry thought superfluous as he had taken Theo’s wand first.
Second, he berated Harry as a useless Potter, and Theo a brainwashed Slytherin without a single strand of self-preservation.
Third, he attempted to kill Sirius Black, which he was surprisingly good at for a wizard without a wand.
Harry decided it was time to intervene.
By the time dawn lit the sky and the howls abated, Black and Snape had come to some sort of agreement, and ceased trying to throttle one another.
It helped that Theo explained the situation to Snape; It also helped that his Head of House didn’t seem too upset by Harry’s version of revenge.
In fact, the dour man seemed almost pleased.
Harry found Hermione in the hospital wing, scowling as they entered.
“Where were you? I got ambushed by Professor Snape! I just knew the man had killed the lot of you!”
Harry sighed, and sat down, content to let Theo give his version of events. Instead, he glanced around the room, aware that Weasley was not present.
“Ron’s rat has been missing. My cat, Crookshanks, well, I thought he had killed him months ago. Ron’s been mad at me about that, but it didn’t bother me. I think he is in shock that he’s been sleeping with a animagus for years and years. Pomphrey sent him back to the dormitory. I’m still here because the Headmaster wants to speak to me, he just hasn’t arrived yet.”
Harry let the words flow over him, taking apart the pertinent details. Mentally, he sent Crookshanks a high five. He knew there was a reason he liked her cat.
Harry met Hermione’s gaze.
“Don’t meet his eyes.”
She froze, then bit her lip.
Harry nodded, and rose.
He heard Theo’s hasty goodbye behind them, a tradition Harry found wasteful and unnecessary, as he strode from the room.
That summer Harry was able to truly disappear.
First, he visited Nott manor, a situation that lasted approximately two weeks, until Professor Snape stepped from the fireplace and attempted to apprehend him.
Harry had thought of this; his portkey took him to Spain. He spent a month with his godfather, traveling across Europe in ever widening circles, listening to the man complain of the amount of time the Ministry was taking to decide there was enough proof that Peter Pettigrew was not, in fact, killed a decade ago by Sirius Black, but a month ago by Remus Lupin.
Lupin was charged a fine for irresponsible containment during his monthly transformation. Black paid it, and Harry paid him. He felt the werewolf deserved the reward for his service, and figured the mans guilty conscience must be somewhat soothed that the wizard he ate was a death eater.
It seemed an appropriate fate for a traitor.
When Black informed him he had been ordered by the Headmaster to return Harry to his relatives, Harry set off on his own. He looked in on various Potter properties he had become aware of at a visit to Gringotts, and finally found one with sufficient wards to keep any tracking rituals at bay.
Egypt was really quite a beautiful place, given the fact that Harry was allowed to remain inside the house the entire time, sequestered among the rare books he had found, and safe behind a layer of wards.
He only regretted his inability to find a good place to stretch his legs. But it was the price paid for silence.
When he returned to London the week before term, his room was visited by the Headmaster himself.
Dumbledore looked grave, his old features twisted in sorrow.
“My boy, I must inform you that there was protection placed upon you the night you received that scar. It required you to consider your mother’s relations to be family; their house your home. Now, due to your recklessness, that protection is gone.”
Harry sighed, and thought of all the holes in such a statement. Had the Dursley’s ever been his family? Had Surrey ever been his home?
Of course, watching Quirrell burn alive had been useful. He would miss that perk to his mother's blood magic.
Dumbledore straightened in disapproval.
“Do you not regret what you have done?”
Harry met his blue eyes, felt the push, and recognized it. Anger swirled and grew, and he found himself standing, fists clenched, about to make a bad choice.
Rationality returned. He sat.
“Of course, Headmaster.”
He simply said. Harry found it easy to lie in the face of a man he now knew to be his enemy. Odd, that he had never realized how much murk hid beneath the genteel face.
After all, the elderly wizard smiled far too much.