“Boy!” snarled Vernon Dursley through the closed door to Harry’s bedroom at Number Four, Privet Drive. “Boy! Up!”
Harry did not need a wake-up call; he had been up for hours. He was sitting, still in his oversized pajama pants, watching the beginnings of the sunrise over the horizon of Little Whinging, trying to keep his mind completely blank. Sleep had not come easily to him since his return to his aunt and uncle’s house three days before; in fact, it had come hardly at all.
“Boy!” shouted Uncle Vernon again. Harry sighed wearily and crossed the small bedroom to open his door.
“Yes, Uncle Vernon?”
“Have you written your letter yet?”
Harry could not register what exactly his uncle was on about so early in the morning. He stared at his uncle uncomprehendingly. “My…letter?”
“Don’t play stupid with me, boy. It is time for you to write to those freaky friends of yours so they don’t come barging into my home!”
At this, Harry remembered the warning given to Vernon by the members of the Order at King’s Cross Station. They had said if they did not hear from Harry for three days in a row, they would be coming to check on him. Uncle Vernon had been repulsed by the entire lot of them, and (although he would never admit it) intimidated by Mad-Eye Moody’s threats. Harry knew that the last thing his Uncle wanted was for any of them to be seen by his “normal” neighbors on Privet Drive, and had been lectured all the way back from the train station on what exactly would happen to him if any of the “freaks” came to call.
“No, Uncle Vernon. I haven’t written them yet.”
Vernon reached into the pocket of his plaid bathrobe and thrust a black ink pen and a pad of Grunnings memo notes into Harry’s hand. “Get to it, boy. I want to read that letter before you send it, and mind you, do not even think of implying to them that we have been anything less than satisfactory. Keep in mind that we are the ones who have kept you your entire life, and you should be grateful.”
Harry stared at the memo pad in his hands, suppressing a mirthless chuckle at the thought of Mr. Weasley’s amazement at the laser-printed Grunnings logo on the top of each small sheet. “Yes, Uncle Vernon.”
“I have to get ready for work. I want that letter finished by the time you come down to breakfast, and you had better hope it is written to my satisfaction.” With a final, purple-faced glare at his nephew, Vernon turned away and stalked back down the hall to his bedroom.
Harry sat down at the small desk in front of his window, set the notepad aside, and pulled a roll of parchment and a quill from the top drawer. He thought for a moment before he began to write; for his own reasons he did not want any visitors from the wizarding world either.
Dear Professor Moody, Professor Lupin, Tonks, and Mr. Weasley,
Things are fine so far, and the house has remained calm, which is good. As Hermione and Ron will know, we were set quite a lot of homework for the holidays and I have started work on it.
Please tell Hermione and all of the Weasleys I said hello, and I hope their holiday has started off well.
Harry read carefully over the short letter several times. Finally convinced that there was nothing in it that would alarm anyone, he set it aside on his desk, got his clothes and a towel, and headed for the shower. Another day had begun.
Uncle Vernon read Harry’s note as he sipped his morning coffee, and then handed it to Aunt Petunia, who immediately pursed her lips and held it gingerly, as if the very parchment Harry had written on could be contagious. Harry did not look at either one of them. Instead, he concentrated on rearranging the small portion of scrambled eggs on his plate so that it would look as though he had eaten some, not that any of the Dursleys would notice or care.
“Fine. Go upstairs immediately and give this letter to that bird to deliver, and she had better be fast about it, too,” Uncle Vernon stated, pushing the parchment back at Harry and disappearing behind his newspaper.
Grateful for the opportunity to leave the gleaming white kitchen, Harry took the parchment back up to his room. Waking Hedwig gently, he tied the note to her leg and asked her to take it to headquarters, where he knew that at least one person in the Order of the Phoenix would be there to receive it.
His duty done for the day, Harry lay on his back on his bed, staring at the small crack on the ceiling in his bedroom, trying desperately to keep his thoughts off of the Department of Mysteries and the devastating hole in his heart where Sirius had been. He focused on the beginning of the crack and began counting backwards from one thousand, moving his focus slightly along with each passing number. This was the only way he had found that he could stop his thoughts from spinning out of control and consuming him, the only way he had found to keep himself sane.
If Ron or Hermione could have seen Harry, they would have been quite alarmed. The truth about Harry’s stay with the Dursleys was quite different than what he had implied in his letter. Yes, things were calm, but they were anything but “fine.” Citing the episode with the dementors the previous summer, Uncle Vernon had confined Harry to his room, save only to take care of his hygienic needs and for meals, so that no one or nothing could find him. Petunia had told him that Harry was safe, and therefore so were the rest of them, as long as he was inside the house, so Harry was no longer allowed to leave. Period.
Harry had only left his room on a few occasions since his arrival, the weight of his depression so complete that it often rendered him unable to move. He had no appetite, and in only three days he had lost enough weight for his baggy jeans to become even baggier. He rarely slept, and there were dark circles underneath his eyes. Anyone looking at Harry Potter would never have guessed that he was only fifteen years old. The despair in his green eyes made it apparent that he had been through more in his short life than most adults would ever have to go through. He was near his breaking point, and he knew it, but he could just not find it in himself to care.
* * *
Remus Lupin sat at the long table in the kitchen of Number 12, Grimmauld Place, carefully perusing the Daily Prophet for any sign of Voldemort’s whereabouts. Not, he reflected, because the idiots who ran the paper would actually know where Voldemort was building his stronghold, but because one of Voldemort’s greatest powers lay in the subtle and insidious way that he injected his poisonous presence into the world. Many of his machinations would be imperceptible to someone who did not know what they were looking for.
Hearing a soft tapping at the door, he crossed the room and opened it to find a snowy owl with a small roll or parchment tied to its leg. The owl floated gracefully down to land on the back of one of the kitchen chairs.
“Hello, Hedwig,” Remus said softly, taking the letter from her and offering her a link of the sausage he had made that morning. “Are you taking good care of Harry?”
Hedwig hooted through her mouthful of sausage in what seemed to Remus to be a sad sort of way, then flew out the kitchen door towards the window through which she had entered the house.
After quickly reading Harry’s note, Remus sighed heavily, his pale face registering even greater sadness. He knew Harry was not fine. How could he be? Remus was possibly the one person in the world who could understand how profoundly Harry was feeling the loss of Sirius, and far from reassuring him, Harry’s short, impersonal letter made him worry even more about the boy. If only they could bring him back here, among people who cared for him. But Dumbledore insisted that Harry’s safety was his most important concern, and that Harry could not leave Privet Drive until after his sixteenth birthday.
The kitchen door opened and Molly Weasley entered the kitchen in her flowered dressing gown.
“Morning, Molly,” he greeted her. “How did you sleep?”
“Oh, fine, just fine, although I could hear Fred and George getting up to something in their room until late last night. I’m not sure if I dare ask them what they’re on about this time.” She turned to flash him a weary smile and noticed the small bit of parchment in his hands. “Remus, have you got a letter from Harry? Is he alright?”
Remus wordlessly handed her the note and her smile faded as she read it. “That poor child,” she whispered. “He should not be alone at a time like this. Maybe if I talk to Dumbledore again…” She trailed off, knowing that talking to Dumbledore would not change Harry’s present situation.
“Now, Molly, Harry has said nothing to indicate that he is being mistreated.”
Molly frowned. “Do you really think he would tell us? I’m going to send Arthur to check on him straightaway.” She made for the kitchen door, her thoughts of a cup of tea forgotten.
“I don’t think that would make things much better for Harry right now…” Catching the worried creases on Molly’s forehead, he added, “I am sure he would tell us if they were mistreating him. I know he wants to be here with us as much as we want him here.”
“Have you written him, Remus?”
“Yes,” Remus sighed. “I wrote him on his second day back. Aside from this, I have not heard from him.”
“Ron and Ginny have both sent him owls, too. I’m sure Hermione has as well. No one has heard a word. Honestly, Remus, does he have to be there? Can’t we keep him safe here, with us, where there are people to talk to, to care for him?”
“Dumbledore has insisted that Privet Drive is the only safe place for him right now, Molly. If nothing else, we have to trust him on that.”
The expression on Molly Weasley’s face indicated that she did not have so much faith in the Headmaster when it came to Harry’s well-being. Even as she fumed over the injustice of Harry’s situation, her eyes testified to her immense sadness and worry over the boy she considered one of her own.
* * *
At one in the morning on Privet Drive, the dark-haired boy in the smallest bedroom thrashed around on his bed, his threadbare sheets entangled around his body and soaked in cold sweat. “No, no!” he moaned. “No, it’s not me, it’s not…”
The ghostly figure of a sixteen-years-younger Sybill Trelawney gleamed on the surface of the Pensieve in Dumbledore’s office… “and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies...”
I have to kill him. I have to.
“Yes, Harry. It’s you. It’s always been you.” Sirius Black appeared beside the chair where Harry was sitting. “That’s why I died. That’s why your parents died. It’s always been you.”
“No! It’s not me!” He looked at the pale face of his Godfather.
“It’s you, Harry, and more people are going to die because of it. I died because of it. I died because of you.”
Harry watched, horrified, as a stone archway with a tattered veil appeared behind Sirius. Sirius doubled over as he had in the Department of Mysteries and slowly, gracefully fell through the veil. “It’s you, Harry…it’s you…”
“NOOOOOOO!” Harry screamed as he sat bolt upright in bed. “Sirius!”