"Take care, Harry," Lupin said quietly, "Keep in touch."
Harry had certainly kept his word. He wrote almost everyday; it was a subtle emotional escape from life at the Dursleys. Every letter he had received, however, told him that his actual escape from the wretched place would be later that summer. "Dumbledore wants you safe...," Lupin had written. Sighing, Harry slid down the length of his door. At least this summer he knew why Dumbledore wanted him to stay with the Dursleys.
Harry knew the whole story back to front; how his mother's blood ran through them all, protecting him. How as long as he could call this place a home, he would be safe. Harry shook his head sharply, trying to forget thoughts of last year, but the memories flooded in so fast he was unable to stop them. Hermione, gasping as a blue flame brushed her chest, causing her to fall limply to the floor... Ginny Weasley, looking pained as she gripped her ankle... and then there was Sirius.
Sirius. A tight, unpleasant something was building in his chest and Harry swallowed. This summer had definitely been the worst, even more horrible than last year's. The Dursleys, in fear of being jinxed by a man with one bulging magical eye, had left Harry quite alone. Harry didn't have to do chores, he could be out later than Dudley, and making breakfast for the entire family was no longer an option. Not that Harry took advantage of any of this. He was almost longing to be doing chores, doing something, just so he wouldn't have to be alone... his mind dwelling on thoughts of Sirius.
It always came unexpectedly. Harry could be eating a piece of toast and suddenly his mind would fall on Sirius. Uncle Vernon definitely looked at him funny when Harry had choked on his piece of bread and jam, his eyes watering. Of course, the Dursleys never asked questions. And Harry wasn't about to tell them what had made him suddenly stop eating and quietly head to his room upstairs.
Yes, all in all, this summer was going horribly. On the one hand, however, he was getting letters almost everyday from a variety of people. Hermione and Ron were certainly on the list, but he'd also been writing to Professor Lupin, Ginny Weasley and Hagrid.
It was nice to speak with Lupin, who had once been a good friend of Harry's parents. The old professor always had words of encouragement. He wrote constantly, informing Harry of what was happening in the wizarding world, while carefully avoiding the subject of Sirius. Harry had strong suspicions that Lupin was feeling just like Harry was; but unlike Harry, he could hide it a little better.
Ginny Weasley was something else all together. Still a little unused to seeing her talking so freely in front of him, Harry found himself almost looking forward to her letters. Unlike Hermione's serious tone, and Ron's cautious conversation, Ginny kept her mail cheerful and bright. Harry could not understand exactly how she had managed to do it; he definitely couldn't find anything to smile about.
"Get down here, boy! Now!" Aunt Petunia's voice suddenly echoed up the stairwell.
Harry pushed himself off the floor and opened his door. He started wearily down the stairs but when he reached the kitchen his feet came to an abrupt halt.
Mrs. Figg was leaning over the counter, seemingly in deep discussion. Or rather, Aunt Petunia was chattering gladly about the new roses she planted earlier while Mrs. Figg look blandly on. Harry cleared his throat lightly to announce his presence. They both turned to face him, Mrs. Figg looking slightly relieved to see Harry standing in the doorway. Aunt Petunia's smile vanished.
"I'm sure you remember Mrs. Figg?" Aunt Petunia spoke in a forced tone.
Harry glanced at Mrs. Figg, his heart bursting, and said, "Absolutely."
Maybe it was just a trick of the light, but Harry could have sworn he saw Mrs. Figg give him a shadow of a wink. It was odd, Harry hadn't seen another witch, wizard, or squib for weeks and the effect was causing him to struggle with his excitement. Perhaps he was leaving at last...
"Good," Aunt Petunia said sharply, then turned back to Mrs. Figg. "If you'd go on ahead, he'll be along in a minute."
"No, no! I don't mind waiting!" Mrs. Figg piped happily.
Aunt Petunia frowned. "Very well..." She glanced at Harry, looking very much like she was dying to say something nasty but wouldn't dare in front of a neighbor. "Mrs. Figg will be taking you for the evening," She spoke finally. "Vernon, Dudley and I are going out."
Harry's heart leapt further. Staying with Mrs. Figg? Normally, they would have just left him alone. Perhaps they were also remembering last summer.
"All right. Am I leaving now?" Harry asked.
Aunt Petunia's lips pursed. "Yes. Go."
Harry turned quickly and started toward the door, barely listening as Mrs. Figg said her goodbyes to Aunt Petunia. He was going to spend an evening away from the Dursleys and with a woman in contact with wizards, no less! Harry grinned. Maybe she'd even show him pictures of all her cats...
He'd only been waiting on the doorstep of number four for a second, when the front door flew open, a look of disgust of Mrs. Figg's face as she swept out.
"Honestly..." she murmured, "that woman... and her boy! Nasty, boisterous thing he is..."
Harry grinned again, his hands in his pockets. "Mrs. Figg? What're are we going to be... uh ... doing?"
Mrs. Figg smiled slightly. "We thought you might enjoy this. You'll be seeing some familiar faces at dinner."
"Who?" Harry said eagerly.
Mrs. Figg waved her hand impatiently. "You'll see soon enough."
They walked on in silence, Harry's heart beating furiously. He was dying to see everyone... but suddenly, the prospect of having to face a whole group of people seemed daunting. They passed houses with golden lights pouring out of curtained windows and the trees and bushes cast long shadows on the sidewalks. Harry's stomach twisted with guilt. He didn't want anyone to ask questions about Sirius... he didn't know if he could answer them.
Finally, after much walking, they reached Mrs. Figg house. The grass looked weedy and unkempt, something Aunt Petunia always wrinkled her nose at. There were at least a dozen cats roaming the yard. A few of them were pouncing on each other in the wilting begonias, yowling and hissing.
"Shoo, Scruffy!" Mrs. Figg said to a exceptionally decrepit looking tabby, who was in way of the door. The cat looked dolefully up at her then slinked off to a darker corner of the yard.
The inside of her home was just as it had always been. This time, however, Harry recognized the tell-tale signs of a squib living in the house. He paused to read the titles of some books on the top of one of the shelves. In bold, red print, one read: "Stay Charming: A Squib's Guide to Life" and the other: "Muggle or Magic? What It Really Means When Someone Tells You You're Not a Witch." And on closer inspection, Harry could see the feathered tops of quills sticking out of a nearby drawer. He was starting to wonder why he'd never noticed it before... but, of course, the last time he'd been here was when he was six. He'd probably been too busy trying to avoid eating stale cake to worry about anything else.
"This way! Hurry up, or we'll be late! Everyone's waiting!" Mrs. Figg called ahead of him from the kitchen.
"Waiting? Where are they?" Harry asked, following her. The house did seem mighty quiet. He followed her to the kitchen. It was also empty.
"Headquarters, where else? It's much too unsafe here... and Remus says you're clever..."
She was bustling around the kitchen, peering under pots and pans. A Siamese cat curled around Harry's legs, causing him to jump slightly.
"Erm ... Mrs. Figg? What're you doing?" Harry asked as she fell on her hands and knees, rummaging through a cupboard.
"Looking... for... a..." She stood up suddenly and reached on top of the fridge, pulling down a can of cat food. "This!"
Harry stared at her.
"Well?! Take it, boy! Weren't you listening when I said we couldn't stay here?"
Harry stuck out his right hand hesitantly. "Uh... what is it?"
"A Port Key. Really, the way most go on about you... personally, I don't think you have a single ounce of sense," she said incredulously.
Choosing to ignore this comment, Harry started to ask if she was coming with him but there was a sudden familiar tug behind his navel. Harry sped dizzily through a whirlwind of sound and color, only to come crashing down onto cold, stone ground.