The struggle against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.
– Milan Kundera, 'The Book of Laughter and Forgetting'
Chapter 1: And So It Begins
Frantic footsteps resonated throughout the cavernous room as a lone wizard staggered through the endless rows of towering wooden barriers, wheezing and clutching his side. The small yellow flames dancing in the rusted iron torches suspended from the high ceiling cast wild shadows along the sides of the narrow halls, making it appear as if they themselves were breathing and alive.
To any other wizard, this would simply appear to be a great indecipherable maze of undistinguishable walls that lead to nowhere. However, to this wizard, this ancient maze of seemingly blank and interconnected walls was his savior. He had flung himself into its dark recesses, knowing that his knowledge of its depths could very well save the current wizarding world.
He halted abruptly in front of a towering blank wall that stretched above him beyond his line of vision and uttered, "Revelare." A number of drawers large enough to entomb three full-grown wizards side-by-side materialized in the side of the wooden wall. Engraved on their rough grimy surfaces in glittering gold script were the words, MoM: Department of International Magic Co-operation's Ancient Archives and Less Recent Records.
The wizard quickly dragged the sleeve of his sliver robes over his wet brow and glanced hurriedly down the dark isle from which he had run. He heaved a drawer open and, with a shaking hand, produced a small glowing cube from the depths of his robes and brought it to his face – its faint light illuminated his features that were now soaked in cold sweat and blood. Everything depends on this, he reminded himself.
Raising the cube to his lips, he then carefully placed it among the other small cubes that lined the bottom and sides of the drawer. He was amazed that such a seemingly insignificant object could house information that was worth thousands of lives. He watched anxiously as its faint radiating light sputtered and died as it became indistinguishable from the rest of the drawer's dusty contents.
He knew that this information was far too valuable to be destroyed, but if it were to be made known prematurely or if it fell into the wrong hands, the consequences would be unfathomable. The end of the wizarding world as they knew it would be a certainty. It was his duty to safeguard the future by preserving the information until the decision had to be made – if it had to be made at all.
Only time would tell if the other Unspeakables would have to be made privy, and he hoped that there would be no need to ever retrieve this file. Now that it was safely concealed, he only needed to ensure that the dummy file was circulated, for it was clear that the others who were after it had a crude idea of its contents and would stop at nothing to have it. Only he and the other secret keeper – Bode who he would soon join in hiding – knew its true contents, and they hoped for the sake of all wizards that it was dead wrong. N Now he was the only one who knew where the information lay hidden.
He jerked his head up suddenly, his entire body was tense, and he strained his ears for the sounds that he hoped desperately were only in his imagination. The wizard quietly shut the drawer and whispered, "Concelare Finalis." The outline of the drawer and the gold script disappeared as the wooden wall assumed its previous inconspicuous façade. He glanced over his shoulder and darted forward down the narrow hall as heavy footsteps approached.
Before slipping into the standard blue Ministry robes he had hidden beneath his muddied traveling cloak, he quickly flipped through the yellowing blank pieces of parchment and photographs contained in the file. He surmised that the parchment and magical photographs were likely locked using a number of Unreadability and Concealment Charms, however the Muggle photographs were rather peculiar. The man made a derisive noise and slowly shook his head; this seemed like such a frivolous case to be classified as a WP10 Security.
The man slammed the file shut with his large hands, sending a cloud of dust flying around him. No matter, he wasn't interested in what he was actually sent to steal – that was not his concern, nor was the Ministry or any of the clueless idiots who worked mindlessly for it.
A small malevolent smile played on his thin lips and, with an almost careless flick his wand, he transfigured the broken body of the Unspeakable sprawled at his feet into a galleon and slipped it silently the front pocket of his Ministry robes. A body of a murdered Ministry official would arouse suspicion and he was under strict orders to be discrete, very discrete.
In fact, they had been so careful to conceal their identity that even he didn't know exactly for whom he was stealing these scrap pieces of parchment and Muggle photographs for or why. But he was only too happy to comply – anyone who had a bone to pick with the Ministry of Magic was fine by him. It was about time the entire establishment was punished for its long list of crimes.
It was absolutely empowering to be able to do magic again. He had enjoyed toying with that Ministry scum by repeatedly allowing him to think he had almost escaped, until he finally had grown tired of their little game of Seeker-and-Snitch. He had taken his time killing him just to be able to exercise his magical abilities again, and to his satisfaction, he hadn't lost his touch after all these years. However, it was unfortunate that he had to silence him – the screams were something that he almost enjoyed. But there would be plenty of time for that later; now all he had to do was deliver these few pieces of parchment and he'd be a whole wizard again – they had promised him.
He ran his hands leisurely down the front of his Ministry robes and appraised himself in mirror that he had conjured, his dark eyes glittering coldly. As he stood there, his long hair and patchy beard retracted into his skull and face, his nose lengthened, and his eyes lightened to a pale azure. However, his scar that traversed his face from his mouth to his ear remained. He buttoned a small badge to the front of his robes that read, Jean deMorte, Visiting Intern, France.
"Luxus Reversus," he uttered and the heavy wooden door creaked open slowly. He walked quickly down the corridor to the lift with the file clutched tightly under his arm.
On Level Two, six other wizards and witches entered the lift. He fixed a pleasant smile on his face and nodded curtly to a young purple-haired witch who clambered in and stood bouncing on her toes next to him. He glanced around the now full lift and noted with satisfaction that the Ministry witches and wizards seemed to be too absorbed in their own conversation to take notice of him. Idiots, if they only knew what was happening right under their oblivious, conceited noses, he thought contemptuously.
A red-headed man in shabby green robes was clutching a large oddly-shaped satchel and the hand of a small red-headed girl who stared up at him curiously. The man averted his eyes and then stared up at the Ministry Interoffice Memos flapping incessantly above his head.
"Good day, Arthur. How's Molly and the family?" asked an older witch with heavy eyebrows and sharp eyes who was standing near the doors. Her greying hair was lumped on top of her head like some oversize lopsided cat.
"We're all fine, Amelia…yes, very fine indeed." The man smiled down at the girl fondly. "Yes, Fred and George – they're a couple years older than Ginny here –" the red-headed man gently patted the girl's shoulder and continued, "– will be starting at Hogwarts next week…lots of things to prepare. It's hard to believe that they grow so quickly. Why just the other day it seems like our other son Ron was accidentally magicking away his nappies and tearing across the paddock stark…"
He let their drivelling conversation, filled with niceties and asinine small talk, wash over him. It seemed like a lifetime ago he had been like them, with a family to go home to and a son to love…until the damn Ministry...
Suddenly the urgency of the situation struck him as his eyes fell upon the letters DOMLE with a silver wand cutting through them that were embroidered over the breast pocket of the woman's silver robes. He glanced swiftly at the front of the other three young wizard's robes and noticed that they too had the same insignia.
Damn! Of all people to get stuck on a lift with – Amelia Bones, the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and a bunch of over-enthusiastic Aurors-in-training. They're probably positively trembling with anticipation thinking about how they're going to be saving the world from Dark Magic – if they only knew the reality of it all. To think that they're standing next to… a small cold smile curled on the lips of the man.
He chuckled to himself quietly, but stopped when he noticed that Ginny (was that her name?) staring fixedly at the file under his arm. He glanced down casually and noticed that a number of the Muggle photographs were visible. He shifted the folder to his other arm and began to negotiate the revealed contents back into the folder.
Just then, the lift lurched unexpectedly and the Auror-in-training witch with purple hair stumbled side-ways, causing the entire contents of the folder to slip from his large hands and spill haphazardly onto the floor. He thrust himself forward and began sweeping the bits of blank parchment and photographs towards him before anyone could glimpse their contents.
"Oh! I'm so sorry! I'm always doing things like that. Here, let me help!" The witch bent down awkwardly to help him and, in doing so, rammed her hip into one of the other witches who dropped a large silver instrument with spindly legs with a spectacular crash. The red-haired wizard jumped and the satchel he was carrying split open, sending a cornucopia of strange objects sprawling across the lift.
"Tonks! Not again!" seethed Amelia Bones who was clutching her foot which had apparently been unfortunately positioned when the chaos ensued, "You're never going to get past your pre-Auror training at this rate!"
"Oh! Goodness…here, I can fix it!" The witch pulled out her wand.
"NO!" yelled another young wizard, lunging forward and tripping over the little red-headed witch who was giggling and picking up some small square objects with colored wires and metal prongs sticking out of them.
The man straightened up with the file in his hands as a loud squeak issued from his left heel. A yellow duck rolled away as the lift touched down with a loud clatter. "C'est pas un problem!" he said as he stepped out of the lift and strode towards the fireplaces that were the Floo Network at the end of the hall, leaving the chaos behind him.
Cassandra Casely strode purposefully into the small room and paused to take in her surroundings. As part of the Auror Special Tactics Team Investigating Mysterious Deaths, staring at dead wizards and witches all day was nothing out of the usual for her. She surveyed the wizard who lay her feet lay, his light blue eyes staring unseeing up at the ceiling. He had a large scar that cut across his cheek.
Work had been so slow lately that she had volunteered to assist with the Ministry Hit-Wizards Training and had been called in to the scene at the last minute. Although she highly doubted that Dark Magic was involved in this case, as Dark Magic-induced deaths were far and few between, she had agreed to make an appearance. In fact, there had only been two suspected Dark Magic cases in the last five years. But she had heard that the Unspeakables were rumbling about new Dark Magic and wondered if this was the beginning of yet another uprising.
They had been successfully repressing Death Eater activity ever since the last war. But, every couple of years, on the Anniversary of Voldemort's defeat in late October, there was usually some renewed activity. However, it was nothing that the Ministry couldn't handle. In fact, it seemed like the Ministry was poised to finally stamp out Dark Magic once and for all, especially with Cornelius Fudge poised to take the helm as the new Minister for Magic.
She made a mental note to give her letter of resignation to Amelia Bones as soon as she finished this case, hopefully before October. She was tired and, after twenty-odd years, the strenuous Auror-lifestyle was finally taking its toll. She had seen enough and was ready for the safety and security of a desk job.
She turned her attention back to the task at hand. There was little evidence that pointed to a clear cause of death. In fact, it would seem like this man had been killed by the Killing Curse – if it weren't for the dried blood on his collar.
She deftly slid her worn chameleon gloves over her hands before examining the man's head. There was a small bruised lump protruding from behind his ear. She bent closer, her sharp blue eyes narrowed thoughtfully; it looked to be an embedded Magic Inhibitor and Tracking Device. She frowned; those hadn't been employed since before the last war. In fact, the Ministry had strictly banned their use on wizards and witches years ago.
Cass sat back on her heels and tapped her wand against her full lips as she stared into space, turning over the evidence in her mind. This man had obviously been a suspected criminal, and, at one time, had been under close Ministry surveillance. Interesting now that he's dead…a suicide perhaps? Well, it's not unheard of considering the desperate state of many of the tagged, she reasoned. She made a mental note to check with St. Mungo's for escaped or recently released patients. However, to find a tagged wizard after all this time was curious, and the blood…
She began to methodically examine the rest of the man's body and found a small black and white Muggle photograph crumpled in his fist. It was a picture of a small skinny dark-haired boy with glasses, sitting alone in a busy schoolyard. It was obvious that the picture was taken hastily and from a fair distance, as it was slightly out of focus and blurry around the edges. It looked to have been taken while the photographer was moving. She turned the picture over; March 1997 was printed on the back in large block lettering.
Strange, she mused, the picture certainly couldn't have been taken March 1997 because that was eight years from now. Perhaps this Muggle boy is a relation to this man? Could be a half-blood –? She pulled a small thin metallic aerial from her belt and waved it over the picture. Nothing – there was no Dark or Light magic embedded in the photograph. She raised her eyebrows as she slipped the photograph into an Aquaflamora Sheath to protect it during decontamination.
Likely a suicide, she thought, if decontam doesn't show anything, I'll hand the entire case over to the newbie, Frankle; he's been itching for some work lately. She pulled a small pocket mirror from a leather pouch on her belt and tapped it with her wand before holding it to her face, "Tell Frankle to get up here; he needs to see this."
Cass rocked to her feet and walked swiftly out of the room. Now, the matter of her resignation…
"In the car NOW, boy!"
Harry looked up from the note he was writing to Ron, and the locks that had separated him from the outside world of the Dursley's clicked and snapped angrily as they retracted into the doorframe. He turned quickly and surveyed the door; his body tense and ready for whatever abuse Uncle Vernon felt was appropriate at that moment. But there was no familiar crash of the door bouncing open or yelling, instead they were replaced with heavy footsteps thumping loudly down the stairs. Harry wondered if this temporary respite was a good or bad sign.
His eyes darted around the darkened room, searching for his one means of defense and his last link to his real life – his wand. Even if he was forbidden to use it, just holding it and feeling it gently vibrate under his fingers gave Harry some comfort. Miraculously, that small demonstration of his magic was the only thing that had kept him from going out of his mind all summer – that and the plethora of letters and food that arrived almost daily from Ron, Hermione, and Lupin. And of course there was the secret he, Hermione, and Ron shared.
Harry quickly strode over to his bed and yanked his pillow away to reveal his wand, which he tucked into the back pocket of Dudley's old jeans that he had been wearing for the past week. He had taken to sleeping with his wand tucked under his pillow just in case…
Death Eaters. Harry felt a surge of anger course through him. The Dursleys he could handle; after fifteen years he could keep himself in check and in control…well, most of the time. But Voldemort and his Death Eaters were another story. Every time Harry let his mind wander to the dangerous and painful thoughts of the events that transpired at the Department of Mysteries a few months ago, he could feel himself losing control. And control was something that he needed to maintain if he was ever going to return to Hogwarts and his friends.
Just two more weeks. Two more weeks… chanted Harry for what he felt like was the hundredth time that day. He hated returning to the Dursley's every summer and, although the rational part of his brain understood that this was essential to ensure his survival, he positively ached for the day when he would be able to escape to the Burrow and see Ron and the rest of the Weasleys.
Harry returned to his desk and, still standing, hastily scribbled the same message from Ron's note onto another piece of parchment, JG-BW/0100/14/8/JP
Harry reread the note quickly and made sure everything was exactly as he intended. He had to be ready tomorrow at one in the morning. Harry ginned as he remembered how much Ron had protested using their middle names in their code.
"You'd say the exact same thing if you had a horrible middle name!" Ron's voice cracked.
"Honestly, Ron, I'm sure there's nothing wrong with your name. Besides, this way nobody will know who wrote the messages or who they're intended for. If we were caught –"
"Hermione," Harry interrupted, "explain to me again how we're NOT going to get caught for doing underage magic."
There was a pause and Harry imagined Hermione chewing on her bottom lip like she habitually did when thinking about something that could be construed as marginally rule-breaking, "Well, it's not REALLY magic per se…I mean, it's doesn't require a wand. It's spells, hexes, and charms that the Ministry monitors – you know wand-requiring magic or powerful accidental magic – and this…well this…this is more like a potion really…"
"So, we just have to…to follow your…er…directions and we can talk to each other all summer?"
"We'll have to coordinate our communication time before hand using owls – you know using our middle names so nobody will suspect anything – and I'm not sure how long the potion will work, or how far away we can be. I'm surprised that we are able to keep this conversation going for this long actually…" her voice trailed off.
"This is brilliant, Hermione!" Harry whispered, barely able to contain his excitement.
"It's Bilius," Ron's voice was very quiet.
"What are you talking about?" Harry and Hermione said simultaneously.
"There you have it. Go on…laugh all you want, that's my horrible middle name," Harry heard him sigh in resignation.
"BOY! DON'T MAKE ME COME UP THERE!" Uncle Vernon's voice jolted Harry out of his thoughts.
Harry closed his eyes and concentrated on stemming his temper. Uncle Vernon had been especially vile the past week. Harry assumed that may have had something to do with him accidentally punching a hole in the kitchen wall during one of Dudley's thinly-veiled attempts to get him expelled from Hogwarts for doing accidental magic by threatening to dismember his owl.
"Hedwig, take these to Ron and Hermione straight away," said Harry as he tied the small message satchel to her leg. Hedwig hooted softly and launched herself out the window. At least now she'll be safe from Dudley for a couple of days, he thought numbly as he watched her disappear over the neighbor's rooftop. Privet Drive was always lonelier without Hedwig.
Harry blinked and shook his head. How long had he been standing at the window? He turned and slid onto his stomach and pulled himself quickly under the bed, sneezing as dust and cobwebs flew through the small space between the bed and the floor. He hastily pushed aside a dusty copy of The Daily Prophet with the headline, 'Murderer, Sirius Black, Still At Large' emblazed across its front page.
He pulled up a loose floorboard and retrieved a small phial of light blue liquid and a piece of flesh-colored putty no larger than the tip of his index finger. Harry grinned and suppressed a chuckle – if Snape only knew what some of his potions were being modified and used for! He silently thanked Hermione for her ability to pay attention in class. Jumping to his feet, Harry carefully wrapped these items in his Quidditch practice shirt and stuffed it in his trunk before walking toward the door. He would need them tomorrow.
Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley were assembled in the living room as Harry descended the stairs. As usual, Dudley was slouched in the corner, thoroughly engrossed in the latest issue of Boxing Champions Weekly – a magazine that Aunt Petunia had purchased in triplicate (one for every one of Dudley's favorite places: the toilet, the kitchen, and his bedroom) once he showed the slightest interest in reading. Little did they know that Dudley had taken to hiding dirty magazines from Piers in between its pages, and the way Dudley's eyes were currently staring fixedly at page inches from his face, he was do anything but actually reading.
Harry snorted in disgust.
Aunt Petunia was whispering to Uncle Vernon who was standing with his back to Harry, her thin lips moving frantically as if she was stuck in the fast-forward function on the video player, "…but Vernon what if it doesn't work? You know that he's not allowed!"
"Never stopped him before, did it? You know what they said; it'll be no problem if –"
Harry narrowed his eyes and glanced between Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. He surmised that they were probably conspiring to remove yet another one of the few self-proclaimed luxuries they bestowed him. He wondered what it was going to be this time: lunches, use of the bathroom facilities, or perhaps they were going to make him stay outside all night again.
"What am I not allowed?" he said loudly.
Petunia jumped, her hands flying to her throat and Vernon swung around as if he had been electrocuted, his beady eyes settled on Harry who was now standing in the doorway.
"You'll not be allowed to eat for the next week if you don't get into the car NOW!" roared Uncle Vernon as he gestured violently toward the front door.
Oh, that's terribly original, thought Harry darkly. He braced himself for the impending onslaught of fists, "No," he said with determination.
Dudley looked up from his magazine hopefully, a hungry gleam burned in his small eyes.
"How dare you say 'no'…you ungrateful little abnormal…" growled Uncle Vernon who quickly lessened the distance between him and Harry; his face began to flush the bright tomato red that signaled dangerous territory.
Harry stiffened, pulled himself to his full height, and was surprised when he was looking slightly down at his uncle. "Not until you tell me where we're going." He didn't really think that he'd get a straight answer, but it was worth a try. Anyway, Harry didn't really give a damn about what Uncle Vernon did to him anymore.
Aunt Petunia spoke, causing Vernon to freeze and Harry to turn in surprise. "We're going to visit Marge. She…she would like to see you, Harry." Aunt Petunia glanced at Uncle Vernon quickly.
Harry was dumbstruck and he momentarily forgot he was staring a spiting-mad Uncle Vernon in the face. What would possess the Dursleys to go out of their way to take him to visit Marge and her awful army of snarling bulldogs, let alone have her request that he actually visit? Probably because they would enjoy watching Aunt Marge constantly interrogate and berate me.
"Why are we visiting Aunt Marge in the middle of the night?" Harry said warily. Something is going on…this is definitely not normal. Harry tried to hide his alarm. He didn't want to give the Durselys the satisfaction of seeing him put-out.
"Never you mind," growled Uncle Vernon, turning away.
"It's her birthday at midnight," Aunt Petunia said suddenly as her eyes danced nervously around the room. Dudley was gaping at them like a giant blonde hog over the top of his magazine, which Harry noticed with satisfaction, was upside down and backwards.
Harry frowned. Why would they bring me to Aunt Marge's birthday party? To do the dishes…serve cake? How thick do they think I am? Harry suppressed a snort.
Harry guessed that Uncle Vernon must have sensed his doubt because he suddenly sprung to life and bellowed, "If you must know, BOY, I don't want you alone in our house. You and your unnatural little friends will be running around doing who knows what! Blowing things up and…" Vernon gesticulated wildly to make up for the lack of words, "…blowing things up!" he repeated forcefully, spit flying. Lowering his voice, he peered up at Harry and sneered, "Don't think that we didn't know you let them into our house the last time."
"Yes, they stole a potato peeler and –" Aunt Petunia's face contorted with disgust "– they touched things in the kitchen!" she finished dramatically. As she said this, her pale eyes darted to kitchen as if there were some magical disaster lurking in the toaster, waiting to unleash itself on her at any moment.
Harry ducked his head, fighting desperately to keep from laughing. The 'last time' had been last summer when members of the Order had broken into the Dursleys in order to bring him to Grimmauld Place. If he remembered correctly, they had been more alarmed at the cleanliness of house than anything else, but had hardly considered blowing anything up.
This seemed to be an appropriate reaction because Uncle Vernon just glared and gnashed his teeth before collecting his car keys and pushing past Harry to stomp out the front door. "In the car now, or it'll be that bloody pigeon of yours next!" he snarled over his shoulder.
"Dudders, get into the car or we're going to be late," said Petunia briskly, approaching Dudley who promptly snapped his magazine closed and shoved it protectively under his large beefy arm.
Dudley walked past Harry and punched him hard in the shoulder. Harry glared at Dudley with disgust; he knew exactly what Dudley was hiding in his magazine.
Harry leaned heavily against the leather seat and let the smooth oscillations of the car carry him as they sped into the night. He was lost in thought and was barely aware of Aunt Petunia nervously glancing back at him, or Uncle Vernon muttering under his breath, clenching the steering wheel until his knuckles were white. The radio was playing loudly…
"It was a hot one today, 30 degrees! Thankfully, we're in for better weather tonight – no storms! We have clear skies, cooling down to a comfortable 24 degrees. Beautiful night for a stroll with your sweetheart or a drive…"
What troubled him the most, strangely, was the lack of news about Voldemort all summer. It wasn't that Hermione and Ron hadn't been keeping him up-to-date on the events in the wizarding world, but quite the contrary. In fact, to his delight, they had done an exceptional job at keeping him abreast of what was going on.
Their conversations were at the point now where they were ridiculously predictable, almost scripted, but Harry never tired of them. They would begin with small talk and the re-telling of the latest escapades at the Burrow, which usually led to muffled laughter and sarcastic comments, much to Ron's annoyance. Then, to Harry's annoyance, Hermione would invariably steer the conversation toward him and what happened at the Department of Mysteries. After a verbal match of seek and evade, the conversation would end in a question and answer session with Harry, to Hermione's annoyance, asking a different version of the same question, "Is there any news about Voldemort?" The answer was always the same, "No news, yet."
Harry had no idea what the Ministry was doing besides sitting around debating with the Wizengamot about how to redistribute funds, which according to Hermione and The Daily Prophet was all Fudge and his cronies did these days. Who cares about bloody money when Voldemort's lurking around doing who-knows-what?! Harry thought angrily. Never mind that his scar had barely twinged all summer.
In fact, there was scarcely a word about Voldemort or Death Eater activity since the flurry of articles that came out at the end of the last school year. It seemed, to Harry at least, that the Ministry was purposely thrusting other issues into the spotlight in order to avoid addressing what they was doing (or not doing in his opinion) about Voldemort directly.
Certainly, there were the odd articles, but they were devoid of any real useful information. Just last week an article in The Daily Prophet explained how to defend oneself using only a bedroom slipper and a balaclava. Harry had made a very sarcastic remark about how he could now sleep soundly on very cold nights without fear of being attacked. There had also been an article on how to correctly identify the Dark Mark, although the editors had prohibited a picture of it actually being published, so the article was reduced to a description of a skull with a snake for a tongue (Hermione thought that it was to prevent wizards from producing imitation Dark Marks). The Quibbler faithfully published articles speculating about the whereabouts of the Voldemort and his Death Eaters. But somehow, Harry thought it very unlikely that Voldemort was in Vanuatu searching for Fire-Breathing Lava-Crumpetiers or in Antarctica penguin-watching.
Harry turned towards the window so Dudley wouldn't see how aggravated he was. Why had he even started thinking about all of that again? He knew that it was a complete waste of energy and it only left him feeling edgy and helpless, and wanting more than anything to pack his trunk and head off to the Burrow or Diagon Alley.
During the day it was easy enough to keep his mind from wandering. There was Aunt Petunia's constant stream of criticism as well as the endless gardening and house work the Durleys imagined for him on a daily basis. Harry's most recent past-time was determining which member of the Order was on duty and then tracking them with the intention of getting news about Voldemort's activities. Twice he had successfully sneaked up on a napping Mundungus Fletcher hiding under an Invisibility Cloak (once in the neighbor's tree, and once in one of the dustbins along the side of the house) and managed to accidentally scare him senseless before he Disapparated. Harry also thought that he had spotted Tonks disguised as an old lady with blue hair driving a mobility scooter trailing him on his way home from his Friday errands for Aunt Petunia. However, by the time he had double-backed to intercept her she was nowhere to be seen.
Harry wondered what Ron and Hermione were doing right now and tried to glance at the moon through his window. Thoughts of days filled with Quidditch in the paddock, warm buttered bread and stew, and post-dinner games of exploding snap floated into his head. He pushed the bitter feelings back into his stomach as the heavy dead feeling that had permanently taken residence in his chest since…Sirius, Harry shook his head and pushed that name to the back of his mind, since…last year retuned with a vengeance.
Harry looked out the window and concentrated on the stars. He usually found the solitude of deep night profoundly comforting. There was something about the stillness, it was as if time was almost suspended and everything could be put on hold. He found the steady gleam of the stars strangely peaceful. Maybe it was because they were a constant – something that could be depended on no matter what happened. He would sometimes stare out his window at Privet Drive and just let the darkness take him over. It had a mysterious numbing affect and it managed to somehow quell the pain in his chest.
Harry now tried to find that dark comfort, but a disquieting feeling was tugging at his conscious. However, this wasn't anything new as he usually felt like this around nightfall. There was something discomforting about the transition from the predictability of the day and light to the simplicity and solitude of the night and the dark. It was sort of a limbo where he didn't quite know what to do with himself. Maybe it was because this was the time of day when his menial tasts were finished and the Durleys seemed to rather enjoy dinner without his company. It was then that he would write mundane letters at Hermione's insistence, "Well, we still have to write regular letters otherwise Ron's parents and Dumbledore might suspect something, mightn't they?" or try to complete some of his summer homework.
However, lately, the summer heat and the suffocating presence of the Dursleys drove Harry outdoors and he had taken to wandering to the park or the pool. Harry watched as parents returned from work and children bounced home to gather for dinner. He could see them sitting together in their living rooms, the warm light illuminating their silhouettes against closed curtains as he walked home alone among the lengthening shadows. It was this time of the day when he felt Sirius's loss most deeply; it reminded him of how close he had been to having something like a real family…until he had messed everything up.
Harry studied his reflection in the car window generated from the green neon glow of the dashboard controls. The infamous mark that permanently branded him peeked out innocently behind the curtain of thick hair that haphazardly covered his forehead – his cursed scar. He averted his eyes and unconsciously flattened his fringe with his hand.
Dudley, who had finally exhausted his reading material, surveyed Harry from across the backseat of Vernon's very expensive company car. "I'd hate to look at myself if I were you, too," he sneered.
Harry stared at the back of Uncle Vernon's large head directly in front of him, concentrating on how the lights from passing cars bounced weirdly off of its baldness. He wasn't going to fall for any more of Dudley's attempts to get him to do more accidental magic and kicked out of Hogwarts.
Dudley seemed to read his thoughts. "Do you really think that you are actually going back to that school?"
Harry slowly turned and saw Dudley's unmistakable smirk in the semi-darkness. He was apparently satisfied that he had finally gotten a response. "Shut up, Dudley, before I jinx your mouth shut permanently." Harry's fingers were positively itching for his wand.
"You can't do magic outside of school." Dudley glanced at the front seat and then back at Harry and hissed quietly, "Besides, they're coming to get you, and you won't be able to do anything!"
"You don't know what you're talking about." Harry was barely maintaining control. His felt the muscles in his jaw twitch and his fingernails were digging into his palms. What was he talking about?
"I know about you and your freak-of-nature friends…" Dudley narrowed his eyes and tapped his ear knowingly, "I know about Voldemort – he's going to kill you."
So, Dudley had been listening to their late night conversations all summer, probably through the wall that separated their bedrooms. Well, if Dudley wanted to play that game…"You're not the only one who has ears, Duddikins." Harry tapped his ear in jest and leaned over. "I know what you have there in your magazine, and I know what you do when you're alone in your room." Harry saw Dudley's eyes widen in astonishment though the semi-darkness. Harry felt a strange energy pulse through him as he continued, "You wouldn't want your mum to accidentally find something of yours…"
Dudley's face contorted in anger and he pulled back his right arm. Harry turned and flattened himself against the door as Dudley's mammoth fist tore through the air inches from his face and connected with the back of Uncle Vernon's head. The car veered sharply to the right as Vernon slumped over the steering wheel and Petunia screamed. Harry was thrown forward toward Dudley and saw his hammy fist rushing towards his face.
Harry flew backwards and his head cracked painfully against the window. Small white lights were dancing before his eyes and he tasted blood. But before Harry could respond, he was pinned against his door as the car lurched suddenly to the left. Petunia was shrieking and grabbing at Vernon. Dudley fell on top of Harry heavily and then they were both thrown forward where they collided with the front seats. Dudley screamed in pain.
The car was careening out of control and barrelling down the road very fast, pitching violently to the left and then to the right, tossing the occupants around like rag dolls. Harry caught a glimpse of headlights rushing towards them and threw himself onto the floor as the sound of squealing breaks and blazing horns filled his head. The last thing Harry remembered was the sound of Aunt Petunia's panicked screams, crushing metal, and breaking glass.
Harry was barely aware of anything except the blinding pain. It felt like his head was fit to split into a million pieces and his entire right side felt like it was on fire. Something warm and viscous was sliding down his face and neck and he felt something solid and heavy crushing his arm. He couldn't move. He couldn't see anything.
My wand… And with that thought, Harry slipped into darkness.
A/N: Thank you to my PS beta, Alliekiwi, for her attention to detail and setting me straight once and for all about those British colloquialisms. Even though I couldn't bring myself to substitute "hooters" for horns because I was just laughing too hard, and thought that everyone else would fall off their chairs giggling at the most serious and critical point in the chapter (*wink*), I do very much appreciate her candor.