They'd ventured out into the Muggle world again to take Harry to a barber, who cut Harry's hair so that it wasn't down past his ears. Harry admired the haircut in a shop window out on the street afterwards, and thought that he'd never looked better. He looked normal for once, like he could have been any one of the popular kids in primary. After the barber, Remus steered Harry into a clothing store, and Harry worried over the price of the new clothes before Remus told him to pick an outfit out and ignore the price tags.
"But I can't," Harry told him. "We need money for supplies. I know you don't have very much left."
"Stop worrying yourself over it," Remus told him. "You need a new pair of pants anyway and it wouldn't hurt to have a new shirt either." When Harry still hadn't moved towards the racks of clothes, Remus nudged him and said, "If you don't pick something, I'll be forced to pick something. I think that salmon color shirt over there looks rather nice, don't you?" Spurred on by his dislike of the color, Harry picked out a pair of jeans and then a dark blue shirt and handed them to Remus.
"That wasn't so hard now was it?" He asked. After they paid for the clothes, Remus took them back to the camp they'd just moved to that day. Ron was going to visit tomorrow, and then they were going to pick up and move camp again. It was a shame, Harry thought, because he rather liked the spot they were in now. Their camp was smack in the middle of a meadow. There was a little thicket of trees on the edge of it, and a wide creek on the other side. Harry thought that if they could have built a house there, it would have been the perfect place to spend the rest of their days hiding from Dumbledore.
The morning of Ron's visit dawned cold and bright. The skies were clear for the first time in days, and because it had gotten cold the night before, the damp ground was now covered in a heavy layer of frost. It made the world look crisp and clean to Harry, who enjoyed the frost and preferred it to snow. In Harry's mind there was nothing like a clear frosty morning spent sitting around a warm campfire with a cup of hot chocolate to warm his hands.
"So you think they're coming to inspect us?" Harry asked. He figured that's why Remus wanted him to look presentable. He'd made Harry scrub himself clean twice the night before with water Remus had heated up in a pot from the creek.
"They don't trust me because I've taken a very unconventional means of getting you removed from the Dursleys and they won't let Ron come alone. I'm sure that one of his parents will be along with him."
"You don't think they'll tell Dumbledore?"
"I trust Severus' judgment in a lot of things. He seems to think they have no intentions of betraying our location to Albus. They were loyal to him, but so was Severus. If anyone was going to turn us in, it would have been him."
"Well-" Harry hedged. "He's ok."
Remus raised his brows at Harry in surprise, and then grinned. "So you've come around have you? Well, you certainly are like Lily. Reserved and cautious but willing to give second chances."
Harry asked Remus questions about his mother for the rest of the morning until two red heads came into sight on the other side of the meadow near the creek. Harry stood up, feeling as anxious as ever about meeting Ron, and watched as Remus stepped outside of the wards to wave them over to the edge of their camp.
Mr. Weasley seemed to be all smiles, Harry noted, while his son, who was a good two inches taller than Harry seemed to be curious about the camp, and to Harry's consternation, about Harry himself. Ron's eyes kept flickering up to Harry's scar, which was now fully visible thanks to his haircut the day before.
"Remus, nice morning for a visit," Arthur said after he and Ron were inside the wards. His eyes traveled around from the warm fire to the two dirty camp chairs, to the thick tan canvas tent. "Hello Harry," he said, extending his hand. Harry reached out and shook it, and then stepped back and felt awkward because he didn't know if he was supposed to shake Ron's hand or not.
"Here Harry," Remus said, handing his wand to Harry, which caused Ron's eyes to widen in surprise. "Stay inside the wards."
"Ok," Harry said, and he motioned for Ron to follow him towards the thicket of trees. He didn't know what Ron liked to do, but he'd found a lot of salamanders there yesterday and thought it might be fun to catch some of them.
Remus and Arthur watched as the boys made their way across the meadow and out of ear-shot, and when they were both occupied looking at something on the ground, Arthur turned to Remus and said, "It's been a long time Remus."
"I wish we had kept in touch. After James and Lily- well, you sort of disappeared."
"I was looking for work. After the Order was disbanded I needed something to keep myself occupied."
Arthur nodded, eyes reflecting the sadness they both still felt over James and Lily, and though Remus didn't have to say it, Arthur knew he was still saddened by the loss of Sirius too.
"I know you're a good man Remus," Arthur said. "When Albus told us what you'd done, I knew there had to be a reason. Molly was beside herself, because she didn't know you as well as I did so she thought you had ulterior motives."
"Having people know me well hasn't done me any favors so far," Remus said. "Minerva was ready to send me to Azkaban when we ran into her. She thought I'd mauled Harry or turned into Sirius."
"I heard. For what it's worth, I think she feels bad about it. Severus said he spoke to her and she's upset about having to duel you."
"I'm a werewolf. That makes me untrustworthy, but on top of that I was friends with Sirius, who betrayed everyone's trust."
"I don't put any stock in that werewolf business, and neither does Molly, though we do worry about Harry during the full moon."
"He's curious but I educated him about how- dangerous, I can be. We take precautions so there aren't mishaps."
"The two of you seem to be doing very well out here. Better than I would have thought. Harry looks good Remus."
Remus pulled out the photos he'd once tried to give to Albus, and handed them to Arthur. He was prepared for a fight if Arthur was still on Dumbledore's side. "That's Harry before I took him. I still can't fathom it, but Albus wanted him to stay with his relatives, even knowing what they were doing to him and how he was living."
Shaking his head in shock and anger at the photos, Arthur handed them back to Remus. "You know Albus," Arthur said seriously. "You're very brave to be taking him head on like this. He has pull with the Wizengamot and the Ministry. When you get caught-" he trailed off because Remus had held up a hand to stall him with a serious look.
"When I get caught-" Remus said, not denying that it would happen eventually, "Harry will be ready. I've been teaching him. Albus shouldn't have the right to make decisions for him when he makes ones based on ulterior motives. The only reason I can think of why he wants Harry to stay with his aunt and uncle is because he wants Harry to grow up impoverished and beaten, half starved and unloved. He must think it will make him stronger. But what made Lily and James strong? Their love. That's what Harry needs. People that love him and look out for his well-being. Not an aunt and uncle who care nothing for him."
"I don't disagree with you. The question is, how can Molly and I help?"
Remus gave Arthur a tired look and Arthur returned it, understanding passing between their eyes. Yes, Arthur wanted to help, not to run back to Albus and report to him about Harry.
"The Ministry will never let me keep him. Especially after I've run off with him. Harry trusts Severus but he'll never be able to take him either. You have a good home though, and Harry seems to get on well enough with Ron." He indicated the two boys across the meadow, who were now each holding a stick and laughing as they had a sword fight.
"You want us to petition to get custody of him?"
"Yes. If you start now, before I get caught, then there's a good chance he won't get sent back to the Dursleys. Don't you think?"
"We'll do what we can. The legal costs alone are more than we have though, and more than you have as well."
"I've been thinking about that. Severus isn't bad off, and I believe he has Harry's best interests at heart. He may be willing to help."
"He'll be fired if Albus ever finds out."
"I think he's had enough of Albus right about now. I don't think it will hurt his feelings any. It can't hurt to try can it? I'm plan A and we both know this can't last forever. I know Harry would stay with me for his schooling if he could, but I can't possibly teach him everything he needs to know. He needs to go to school. You and Molly are plan B. I've got to come up with a plan C in case that falls through. Maybe Severus has some ideas."
Arthur nodded. "I'll have to be discreet about our proceedings. And I won't be able to come back with Ron once we start because Albus will know we're involved and will have eyes on us."
"I understand. Let me know or get word to Severus when things have started moving. Maybe Ron can come visit once or twice more before that happens."
Arthur nodded again. "I would bring Ginny too but Molly wants to keep her out of it. She's not even sure about letting me bring Ron out here with you two being on the run and all." They were silent for long moments as they watched the boys continue with their sword fight.
"Am I doing the right thing Arthur? This is what Sirius would have done had he not switched sides, I know it. It's what James would have done if it were my son in Harry's situation."
"He seems well... happy. I can see you're like a father to him. Severus has kept your secret, it seems he approves, and you know how Molly and I feel. You can bring him to us at any time if you need to. We won't turn him over to Albus."
"Thank you. Severus has made the same offer. I feel too on edge about things though... like Albus knows who is involved. I don't want you to get in trouble. You have a position at the Ministry... aiding and abetting a kidnapper won't look good if you get caught."
"It's for Harry. He's been through enough. I know Molly will agree with me. You know how protective she is over children. We're willing to do what needs to be done."
"That means a lot."
"Do you have anyone else you can trust?" Arthur asked.
"Up until recently I didn't know I could trust you and Molly and Severus. I seem to be finding friends in more places than I realized I had them." And less, he thought, remembering Minerva, and feeling saddened again that he'd lost that friendship.
"You know, the Order was an underground back when You-Know-Who was in power, working behind the Ministry's back. Now we're an underground of the Order and Albus is the enemy. Times have changed."
"He's not the enemy, but he's not a friend either," Remus said. "Any man who would try to toughen up a child by leaving him at the brutal hands of his abusers is not a man I trust."
"I feel sick to realize that he's done this. Harry's just a boy. What else has he done that we don't know about?"
Remus nodded. It was a thought he'd been struggling with for months now, though at the same time he was fighting himself with the thought that Albus was a good man, a man he'd trusted and looked up to for years. He was the one who had come to his parents and gotten them to let him attend Hogwarts when his parents had planned on keeping him hidden away for the rest of his childhood. Albus was the one who had kept his secret for seven years while he went to school until a few students had found out and told on him right at the end of his seventh year. Albus had even offered to let Remus stay at the school over holidays when his mother had died and his brother and family had abandoned him. Remus' heart kept trying to remind him that Albus was a good man and would do no harm to Harry, but his head kept retorting that he'd already done harm to Harry by placing him with his aunt and uncle and keeping him there. He wanted to trust Albus like he had as a child, but he couldn't keep himself from feeling as though his eyes had been opened to the truth and could not be closed again.
* * *
"So-" said Ron, using a long stick to bat at the tall wild grasses of the meadow. "You live here?"
"Not here exactly," said Harry. They'd looked for salamanders and had a sword fight with barely more than a few sentences to each other, but he could tell that Ron was curious and wanted to ask all sorts of questions. "We move around a lot. Sometimes every day, sometimes not for a week or more."
"Why? Doesn't your dad have money for a house?"
"Remus? He's my dad's friend. My parent's died."
"I know you're Harry Potter... I know the story... I thought maybe he adopted you or something. My parents won't really say much about you. I heard them talking about a werewolf and the Headmaster of Hogwarts though."
"Remus is a werewolf."
Ron gave Harry a look and Harry laughed. "Well I'm not. Not yet anyway."
"Are you going to be?"
Harry looked over his shoulder to where Remus and Ron's father were still sitting around the fire, drinking coffee now.
"Someday," Harry said proudly, turning back to Ron. "I want to be just like Remus. No one will mess with me if I'm a werewolf."
"You're Harry Potter though! No one's going to mess with you either way. Just wait until you get to school. Everyone knows you defeated You-Know-Who."
"I'm not going to Hogwarts."
"I'm not supposed to be here with Remus. Dumbledore wants me to live with my aunt and uncle, but they're evil. They didn't like me and they weren't nice. Remus tried to get Dumbledore to let me live somewhere else but he kept saying no, so Remus brought me out here. That's why we move so much, because we're on the run. I'm not going to go to a school where Dumbledore will be in charge of me."
"How will you learn magic though?"
Harry pulled out Remus' wand and levitated a rock off the ground. "Remus teaches me. I can do about forty first year spells now and even a couple of second year ones."
"Wow," Ron said, impressed. "I wish mum and dad would teach me. Fred and George are always bragging about how they can do magic and I can't."
"Fred and George?"
"My twin brothers. I have five brothers and a sister."
"How come they didn't come with you?"
Ron seemed nervous and thoughtful then, and said, "Only me and Ginny know about you, because we were with mum when we ran into you. Mum and dad told us we couldn't tell anyone else about you, not even our brothers. They're all at school right now anyway, and Ginny's home with mum. Like I said, they wouldn't really tell us why, only that we had to keep our mouths shut. I didn't think it was because you were on the run."
"If we're caught they'll send Remus to Azkaban and send me back to my aunt and uncle. Remus got in a duel with a Professor from Hogwarts a few months ago before Christmas because she spotted us!"
"Really? Which one? Was it Snape? Fred and George are always complaining about him, and he gives me the creeps. He came over twice since we first saw you."
"He's ok," Harry said. "No, it was Professor McGonagall. She saw us and started shouting at Remus and they had a duel in the Fifth Wizarding Quarter! Right there in the middle of the street in front of everybody!"
"And Remus won, right?"
"Not really," Harry said glumly. "Professor Snape was there and he helped Remus and me escape. No one but your family knows he's helping us. It's strange, because he doesn't even like Remus, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't like me. I tried to use Expelliarmus on him when he first found us and he wasn't too happy about that."
"You're brave Harry. You would be in Gryffindor if you went to Hogwarts. Are you sure you don't want to come?"
Harry wrinkled his nose up in thought. It was nice having a friend his own age to talk to and hang around with. He would like to meet other kids his age and be friends with them, and he'd like to learn, but he didn't want to be separated from Remus, who was the only adult he knew of aside from Snape who might actually care what happened to him. Snape would be there at Hogwarts, but that was no guarantee that Dumbledore wouldn't try to mess with him and send him straight back to his aunt and uncle's house. "I don't know," Harry said truthfully. "It's still a ways off. I already don't like Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall and I should stay with Remus."
They walked around the perimeter of the camp for another half hour talking about Quidditch teams, school houses and duelling, kicking at rocks and using sticks to swipe at the tall grass before Ron's father called for them to come back to the campfire.
"Harry, it was a pleasure meeting you," Arthur said, shaking his hand again.
"Yes sir," Harry said. "Please tell Mrs. Weasley thank you for the sweater at Christmas. I wear it all the time."
"Do you? She'll be pleased to hear it. I think she said something about knitting yours extra thick to keep the cold away." He turned to Remus and shook his hand as well. "We'll talk soon," he said, and Remus gave a nod.
Harry waved goodbye to Ron, and then Arthur took them outside of the wards and apparated.
"Did you have a good visit?" Remus asked.
"Yes," Harry told him. He refrained from telling him about all the talking and thinking about Hogwarts he'd done though.
"Good. Let's get camp packed up and ready to move."
"Do we really need to?" Harry asked. Ron seemed like an honest guy. His family couldn't be on Dumbledore's side if he and his sister had been told not to tell anyone about seeing them.
"We can't take any chances," Remus said. "If they want to get in contact again they'll talk to Severus. Until then we'll have to be precautious."
"D'you think Mr. Weasley liked the camp?"
"Well enough," Remus said. "Though he may have some trouble convincing Molly that you're well fed and taken care of."