A/N: The delay between chapters, even though I had completed the rough draft in June, has resulted in a chapter I think you'll like. It has gone through such extensive rewrites that I no longer recognize the original chapter! I appreciate the encouragement and suggestions made by my pre-beta GhostWriter and my beta Aggiebell. You two are absolutely terrific!
To my readers, thank you for staying with my story and leaving such encouraging remarks in your reviews.
Harry awoke the following morning just as the sun began peeking through his window. Though free from bad dreams, the night had been far from restful. His thin, lumpy mattress provided little support and he had never found a comfortable spot.
Moaning quietly, Harry rolled off the bed and pushed himself upright. Grabbing yesterday's clothes, he headed for the bathroom.
"You get up early!" Dudley greeted him from his perch on Harry's bed twenty minutes later. "Don't you ever sleep?"
Surprised, Harry jerked his head in the direction of his aunt and uncle's room. "Keep it down!" he hissed, closing the door.
Dudley repeated the question.
Shaking his head, Harry replied, "Not on a mattress as lumpy as that one. Couldn't get comfortable at all last night." He rubbed his shoulder absently.
"Well, you ready to get started?" Dudley asked, looking somewhat disconcerted at Harry's admission and changing the subject.
"What about your parents?" Harry queried worriedly.
"Them? Are you kidding? They won't hear us with the racket Dad's making in there. Now, are you ready to get started?"
"Yeah." Harry tossed his things into his trunk and walked over to the pole he had set up the night before. Dudley heaved himself off the bed and grabbed the instruction sheet from Harry's desk.
"I read that letter you gave Mum yesterday," Dudley informed him casually. "Your school nurse doesn't think you can move your arm very easily without pain." He peered at Harry with his piggy little eyes. "How high can you raise your arm?"
Harry raised his arm until his shoulder began to hurt.
"That's as far as it will go?" Dudley asked, with a hint of sarcasm.
Harry nodded, feeling a bit annoyed at his cousin and thinking that he sounded an awful lot like Madam Pomfrey.
Dudley then asked Harry to move his arm several more ways before stepping back and frowning at the instruction sheet. Finally, he pulled several sheets of copy paper from his back pocket that was covered in stationary diagrams and Dudley's messy scrawl. He compared them to Madam Pomfrey's parchment.
"Well?" Harry asked when he could stand Dudley's silence no longer.
Dudley studied him a moment, then said, "Your school nurse was right. We gotta start with the stretchiest band. You can't lift your arm very high and according to this exercise sheet Robert and I worked with last term, you should have progressed to the third band by now."
"What else did it say?"
Dudley consulted his papers. "Ice the injury for twenty minutes several times a day. Have you been doing that?"
Dudley harrumphed and rolled his eyes. "Well, I guess that's the difference between sports medicine and whatever you people call it." He handed the pages to Harry and walked over to select the rubber band he wanted. "You can read that stuff later. Let's get busy. I want to work out before breakfast."
They started working. It seemed strange to Harry that Dudley could be encouraging at all; he had expected his cousin to act almost like Professor Snape at his worst, sneering at his students' efforts. Instead, Dudley calmly talked his way through each exercise, making sure Harry did each one correctly. By the time they were done, Harry needed another shower, so Dudley left, telling him to come out to the garage when he was done.
Harry was amazed at what Dudley had set up at the back of the garage near the kitchen door. The floor of Dudley's exercise area was covered with a thick rubber mat. Harry bounced lightly on the balls of his feet as he took in the transformed area. Immediately to his left, a set of free weights sat lined up on a rack in front of an old mirror. Next to it a speed bag was attached to the wall. In the far corner was a weight-lifting bench complete with weight bar. Finally, an old punching bag hung from the rafters in the middle of the space. Dudley had stripped to the waist and donned a pair of boxing gloves. His concentration was intense as he slugged the bag. He looked up, grinning, as Harry leaned against the door jam.
"This is nice," Harry commented appreciatively. "When did you put all this up?"
"Christmas hols," Dudley answered between punches. "The nurse at Smeltings watches me like a hawk and 'suggested' to Dad that I continue the training program she and the boxing coach have me on at school when I'm home during my school breaks. So Dad and I put this up."
"Do you work out every morning?" Harry asked, his curiosity mounting.
"Yeah. Drives Robert crazy on weekends, though Mum and Dad are happy I'm keeping up with my training this summer. You ever do any lifting at that school of yours?"
"A little," Harry answered, thinking of all the new equipment he had been using in the P-T Room at Hogwarts prior to the battle for Hogsmeade.
"Good. Then you'll know what to do." Dudley yanked off his gloves and strode over to the line of free weights. He selected two tiny dumbbells and then told Harry to join him in front of the mirror. "Robert's information sheet said you should be doing some lifting to build up your muscles. I made him come down to the gym with me because his doctor recommended it. He hated it at first, but the longer he trained, the better his shoulder got. I think yours will, too.
"I made a list of exercises you can do out here that may or may not require a small dumbbell." He shoved the weights into Harry's hands. "When you do these exercises watch yourself in the mirror to see if you're doing them right."
"What should I look for?" Harry asked earnestly.
"Don't slouch. Stand up straight," Dudley replied, poking Harry in the back. "Start with the easiest one first, and go slow for maximum effectiveness. You'll know if you're doing it right." Dudley paused, and then something akin to a sneer crossed his face. "Think you can handle all this?"
Harry shot Dudley a hard look before nodding and turning to the mirror. Dudley smirked and walked back over to the bag to resume his slugging. Harry gazed at himself in the mirror, feeling rather shy about watching his posture. I've got to do this if I'm going to heal up soon, he thought.
He then read through the list Dudley had fastened to a clipboard and hung on a nail next to the mirror. He was reluctant to try anything not prescribed by Madam Pomfrey, but his desire to get better soon won out over his inner protests. He started with the easiest exercise and progressed down the list until he had finished everything without the weights. Then, he did them all over again with the weights Dudley had given him, working until the pain had him gritting his teeth. He knew he had to push through it to get well and the sooner the better, he decided.
Suddenly, Dudley was at Harry's side, placing a rough hand on Harry's shoulder and stopping the exercise session. "Are you trying to kill yourself?" he scoffed. "Potter, if it hurts more than a little, stop and get an ice bag and give it a rest. You can do more later." He strode over to the weight bench muttering, "Stubborn git doesn't know when to quit."
Harry put the weights away and slipped back into the kitchen, warily looking round for his uncle. The snoring was still coming from upstairs and he heaved a sigh of relief. At the sound, Aunt Petunia looked up from where she stood at the stove making breakfast.
"Morning, Aunt Petunia," Harry said. He shut the door quietly. "Dudley said there was an ice bag in here somewhere. Where can I find it?"
His aunt put down her spatula. "What do you need it for?" she snapped. "And why were you bothering Dudley?"
"My shoulder hurts. Dudley said ice would help," Harry said, advancing further into the kitchen. He began opening cupboards, looking for the screw-top rubber-lined cloth bag he knew was kept near at hand.
"I'll get it. It's up too high for you to reach and I don't want you falling off the stepladder," Aunt Petunia told him irritably. She took the bag from a shelf above the stove and filled it with ice before handing it to Harry. "Mind that it doesn't drip."
Harry put the ice bag on his shoulder, silently wishing for one of Healer Rodkey's inflammation reduction charms. "Thanks," he mumbled. "I'm going upstairs to lie down."
"Don't fall asleep. Breakfast will be in thirty minutes. I won't hold your food," Aunt Petunia called waspishly.
The ice felt good. As the pain ebbed, Harry reached for his alarm clock and set it. He was asleep in seconds.
Breakfast was a silent affair. Uncle Vernon had finally come downstairs still clad in pyjamas and dressing gown and promptly buried himself in his Sunday newspaper. Dudley came in from the garage and quickly gulped his meal, answering any questions his mother asked him very briefly. Aunt Petunia had set a Dudley-sized plate of eggs, bacon and toast in front of Harry and sat down across from him with only a cup of tea. As he ate the huge meal she eyed him over her cup, making him feel extremely ill at ease.
As soon as he was finished, Harry cleared up his dishes, then left for his room. Hedwig hadn't returned, so he pulled his Transfiguration book out of his trunk and began his summer essay. When that got tiring, he pushed aside the layer of debris at the bottom of his trunk, opened the lid to a secret nook he had created there and pulled out some notes he had made of his talks with Professor Dumbledore. He studied these until lunchtime.
Dudley was the only one in the kitchen when Harry went down stairs. "Where's Aunt Petunia?" he asked, sitting down across the table from his cousin.
"Mum? She's outside hacking at the rose bushes. One of those owls you people use to carry your post showed up with a letter she had to sign and send back. She wasn't at all happy the owl came during the day," Dudley reported, smiling. "I'll be surprised if there's anything left of those bushes by the time she gets through with them. You always get them to bloom real nice while you're here."
Harry stared at his cousin in surprise. A compliment from Dudley? Where'd that come from? Unable to form a more articulate response, Harry mumbled his thanks and bit into his sandwich.
The two boys ate in silence for a few minutes until Dudley finally asked, "How do you do it, Harry?"
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Do what?" he asked.
Dudley stared at his plate, nervously picking through his pile of mixed fruit slices. "Stand up to things like the Dementoids and that Voldemort creep you talk about sometimes," he said to his sandwich. "You don't seem too scared of him."
Harry thought a moment before replying, "Voldemort's been around for as long as I can remember. Yeah, he scares me, but what I'm learning at school is going to help me survive the next time we duel. I found that out during the battle in Hogsmeade." He paused, choosing his words carefully. "And knowing about Dementors, erm, that's just a part of what I've learned."
Dudley put down his sandwich and looked directly at Harry. "I could never go into the kind of fight like the one that did that to you," he said, pointing his fork at Harry's sling.
"Why do you say that? You're the Smeltings boxing champion for goodness' sake!" Harry exclaimed. He picked up his milk glass and took a big swig.
"That's different. It's just sport. You--you could have died in that fight, Harry! I wouldn't have the guts to do what you did."
"Hold on there, Dudley. I know you spend hours in the gym training. You're surrounded by coaches and your teammates, too. Isn't Piers on the team? What about Robert? Doesn't he go to your matches? I know you know what you're doing when you climb into the ring!"
Dudley shook his head. "I'm not popular with my team, Harry," he said, looking like it was actually costing him something to admit it. "No one but the coaches ever says stuff like you just did to me. And Piers and I haven't done much together at Smeltings. He's in another dormitory; he's made other friends and we hardly ever see each other since he's gotten involved in the computer club and I'm at the gym all the time."
"You were with Piers and your other friends yesterday evening," Harry remarked.
Dudley harrumphed. "Like that was a laugh!" he said sarcastically. "For the first time it wasn't much fun scaring the little kids out of the play park. Something didn't feel right, but I couldn't tell Malcolm or Piers that. They'd think I'm just as weird as you!" He bit into his sandwich and chewed thoughtfully. "Robert's all right, but he cares more about passing his classes than getting fit and hardly ever comes out of the library if he can help it."
Harry suppressed a smile as he thought about Hermione's love for the Hogwarts library. "There's nothing wrong with the library," he said more to himself than to Dudley. "My friend Hermione spends loads of time in there looking up survival stuff for me to learn. Half of what I know I learned from her!"
Dudley pushed away from the table and lumbered over to the refrigerator. "That's the difference between you and me; you have friends, I--I don't. Not like the ones who come to get you," he said, sounding dejected. He grabbed the carton of milk and left the kitchen, leaving Harry to clean up both their plates.
After another short nap with the remains of the ice, Harry felt restless and told Aunt Petunia he was going over to the play park. Sticking his wand in his back pocket, he began walking briskly down Privet Drive towards Wisteria Walk.
The air was just beginning to warm up, making it the perfect time for a walk. Harry listened to the sounds of the neighbourhood, keeping an ear out for the sound of his minder, whom he knew was following at a discreet distance. Half-way there he heard someone stumble and wondered if Tonks was on duty.
He reached the play park and continued walking briskly round the inside perimeter. The pages Dudley had given him emphasized keeping up with his pre-injury level of physical fitness, and that's exactly what he was determined to do. Round and round he went until he was pleasantly tired and slightly out of breath. He grabbed a quick sip of water at the park's fountain and then found a seat on one of the swings. He took off his sling and stuck it in his back pocket. It felt good to let the arm dangle loosely at his side.
It was nice sitting there alone. The sun warmed his skin, making his minor aches disappear. He felt stronger today and knew that Dudley had been just as right about physical exercise as Madam Pomfrey. He was enjoying the solitude, too. As much as he loved Hogwarts, there was never a place where he could be truly alone; someone was always trying to find him and sometimes he felt as if he lived in a fish bowl with people peering in on him at all hours of the day.
He didn't know how long he sat on the swing watching the shadows change with the movement of the sun. It was peaceful here, healing even, and when a mother brought her little son into the play area he observed them with interest.
A bark of harsh laughter and the creaking of the park gate made him jump, ending his contemplation. He looked round. Dudley and his friends Dennis, Gordon, Piers, and Malcolm had let themselves in and were strolling his way. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw the mother grab her young son from the teeter-totter and hurriedly leave the park, staying as far away from the newcomers as possible.
Now alone on the swings, Harry watched as Dudley and his friends sauntered further into the park. All five were smoking cigarettes and joking around as they walked. Gordon yelled something rude at the woman and her son as they fled the park while Malcolm punched Piers playfully on the arm. Harry knew they hadn't seen him yet, but it would only be a matter of time.
"Hey, Big D, isn't that scrawny kid your cousin?" Dennis asked several minutes later as they came into the play area.
"Yeah, so what if it is him?" Dudley said in a bored tone.
"Isn't he the one that goes to that school for criminals?" Malcolm asked. "The one all the parents keep whispering about?"
Gordon suddenly switched to a falsetto voice. "Gordon, dear, don't go near that Potter kid when he comes home for holiday. He's been at that school for criminals again this year and I don't want you around him."
This struck everyone but Dudley as extremely funny, and the group burst out laughing. Harry could see that for the first time in his life, Dudley wasn't particularly enjoying Gordon's antics.
Harry stayed in his swing waiting to see what Dudley's gang would do next. Behind him, he heard a soft shuffle of feet and knew his minder had moved closer to him. For the second time since he'd left the house Harry wondered if he or she had a back-up should things get out of hand.
"Hey, Potter!" Gordon said, coming to stand a few feet from Harry. "Who said you could swing here?"
"No one," Harry answered. "I was here first."
"Well, I want your swing," Gordon demanded, stepping closer.
Harry looked at the other swings. They were all intact and mostly new. "There are others you can sit in," he answered levelly.
Gordon was now so close that Harry could smell stale cigarettes on his breath. "Look, freak. That's my swing and I'm going to sit in it," he said, his voice taking on a menacing tone.
Harry considered his options for a few seconds. He couldn't believe Gordon was picking a fight with him on such a childish pretext. However, he knew he was in no shape for a brawl, especially against Dudley's whole gang. He slowly rose from the swing. "It's all yours, then," he said, moving backwards away from Gordon. "I've even warmed the seat for you."
Gordon followed Harry. "Don't get cheeky with me, Potter. Did I say you could leave?"
"I don't recall needing your permission," Harry replied, taking a couple of steps backward to get completely clear of the swings and a possible confrontation. Dudley, he noticed, was standing off to one side watching the row develop.
"That's not my point. You don't have my permission to leave," Gordon growled, following him.
Sarcasm crept into Harry's voice as he replied, "I apologize, then, sir. May I go?"
"Yeah, but I'd watch my back if I were you," Gordon said. "We don't like freaks around here."
Harry swallowed, hoping that his minder was ready to take action. "So I've heard," he said tightly, glancing at Dudley. "I'll be on my way, then."
As he turned to leave Harry heard Dudley mutter, "Don't call him a freak," just loud enough to be heard and paused in surprise.
"What's got into you?" Piers asked, voicing the question Harry wanted to ask.
"Just leave him alone, all right?" Dudley said somewhat defensively.
As Harry walked past him, Dudley half-turned saying, "Get out of here. I'll take care of them." Harry nodded and left the play area, walking towards the park gate. As he neared it he chanced a glance over his shoulder. He wished he hadn't. Gordon had followed him and within seconds had yanked Harry's wand and sling from his back pocket. He threw the sling on the grass and examined the wand with interest.
"What's this? Hey, the freak carries a toy wand with him!" he chortled, turning the polished holly shaft in his hand. "Do you think you can scare me with a bunch of hocus-pocus like you do Dudley's parents? Huh?"
"Give it back, Gordon," Harry said, extending his hand.
"What do you need it for, freak?" He backed up waving the wand in Harry's face, just out of reach.
"It's mine. Now give it back." Harry said a little more forcefully, following Gordon back toward the play area.
Gordon tossed the wand into the air like a baton and let it drop to the ground. Harry bent to grab it, but the other boy raised a booted foot forcing Harry to snatch his hand away as the foot descended a little. "No! Don't break it!" Harry yelled desperately.
Laughing, Gordon picked up the fallen wand and waved it triumphantly, shouting, "Abra kadabra! Sis boom bah!" When nothing happened he turned and threw the wand into the back garden of one of the houses on Magnolia Road. "You want it, go get it!"
Harry lunged, his injuries forgotten. His reaction took Gordon by surprise and Harry actually landed a couple of good punches before two sets of hands roughly pulled him away from Gordon and held him tightly. Harry winced as Malcolm tugged on his left arm, but otherwise tried not to let on how much his captors were hurting him. Instead, he searched the park for Dudley, but his cousin was nowhere to be seen.
Dennis now walked up to stand next to Gordon. "Looking for your cousin, freak? Well, he's gone, said something about Old Lady Figg or something. Weird!"
Harry twisted, struggling to free himself, his mind racing. Where is Tonks or whoever is the hell is supposed to be minding me? he wondered as Dennis' words gradually sank in. Has Dudley gone to find her?
"He cheeked me," Gordon sneered, as Harry nearly wrenched his right arm from Piers' grasp. "Go on, Dennis. Teach the freak a lesson."
"Yeah, teach him a lesson!" Malcolm called, shifting his grip on Harry's arm.
A feral grin spread across Dennis's face and he cocked his fist. "I think I will," he snarled.
Harry waited for the punch as he made another attempt at freedom. He tightened his stomach muscles as much as possible and closed his eyes against the anticipated pain. He'd been in this situation many times when he was little and had been caught at the end of Dudley's frequent "Harry hunts." Just get it over with, Dennis! he silently pleaded.
The punch landed high on his abdomen, rock solid and taking Harry's breath with it. He doubled over gasping for air and waiting for the second blow that was sure to follow. It never came. Instead, there was a shriek from behind him and the sound of something whirling through the air. It connected with a clank and the next instant, Dennis and Piers dropped his arms as the implement connected a second time.
"Get away from him, you no-good rapscallions!" the familiar voice of Mrs. Figg yelled as Harry collapsed on the ground.
Dudley's gang scattered. The sight of Mrs Figg chasing after Dennis and Gordon swinging her string bag of cat food tins would have been laughable if Harry didn't hurt so much. Instead, he lay where he had fallen and fought to control his breathing. He couldn't. Every time he took a deep breath pain lanced through his ribs and he knew Dennis had broken at least two of them. He rolled over on his back, breathing shallowly. His eyes drifted shut as he willed away the pain.
"Harry," a second voice called. "Harry, are you all right?"
"Tonks?" he queried, not opening his eyes.
"Wotcher, Harry," she said. "Where did he hurt you?"
"Ribs," he gasped, opening his eyes. "I think they're broken."
"Can I see?" Tonks asked, reaching for the hem of his shirt. Harry nodded and she exposed his abdomen, probing gently with her fingers until he flinched.
"Harry, I'm going to fix your ribs. Three are broken. Hold still," she said. He did and seconds later felt her healing spell wash over him in familiar waves of heat, then cold. He took an experimental deep breath and was grateful when he felt no pain except for a lingering burning sensation from the spell.
"Thanks, Tonks," he mumbled, pushing himself into a sitting position.
"No problem," she said. "Did they hurt you anywhere else?"
Harry shook his head. "I don't think so. I hurt, but it's nothing one of my pain potions and some ice won't fix," he admitted, flexing his left shoulder, wincing.
He suddenly glanced sharply at Tonks. "You were right here," he said, an accusing note creeping into his voice. "Why didn't you stop them before they hurt me?"
Tonks' face flushed. "Sorry, kid," she replied, handing him his wand. "We're under orders to not to reveal our presence unless the situation gets really serious. The Ministry's having a devil of time keeping a lid on things with the Muggles - what with the increasing Death Eater attacks. It's getting harder and harder to keep our world a secret."
Harry opened his mouth to retort, but Tonks cut him off.
"Come on, then. Let's get you home," she said, helping him to his feet. She grabbed her Invisibility Cloak from where it lay beside him.
Harry swayed a bit, then recovered his balance as Mrs Figg came puffing toward them.
"That Dennis!" she exclaimed angrily. "I'll skin him alive if I ever catch him!"
Harry smiled at his elderly neighbour. "You do that," he told her.
She frowned and asked, "Are you all right? Can you make it home?"
"I'm fine," he said, gritting his teeth as they walked slowly towards the park gate. "The sooner I get home, the better."
Half an hour later, the three stopped in front of the wall separating the Dursley's garden from the street. Tonks, who had disappeared under her cloak again when they left the park, gently patted him on the back as Mrs Figg opened the gate.
"You made the right choice not to draw your wand, Harry," she said, confirming his earlier decision.
Harry wished he could believe Mrs Figg, but for once his mind and heart were not cooperating; he had too many unanswered questions. "Why didn't Dudley defend me?" he blurted, asking the question that was utmost in his mind. "I know we've never liked each other much, but he could have at least called off his goons!"
Tonks' voice spoke softly over his shoulder. "He did something better, Harry. He found your wand and gave it to me. It may have looked like he was condoning his friends' actions, but he chose the right thing instead of going along with Gordon and Dennis," she said.
Harry closed his eyes, hoping Tonks' story was true. "Thanks for telling me, Tonks," he muttered, turning towards the gate.
"I'll be speaking to Dumbledore about this, Harry," Mrs Figg told him. "He might want Madam Pomfrey to check you over. In any case, send Hedwig to me tomorrow morning. I'll have my answer by then." She stepped back. "Go on with you now. You'll go upstairs and lie down, if you know what's good for you."
Harry smiled wanly. "I will, Mrs Figg," he said. "Oh, and thanks for coming to my rescue."
"No need to thank me, Harry. I'll be in touch," she said and shuffled off down the street, her string bag clanking softly with each step.
Harry wasted no time upon entering the house. He ached all over and all he could think about was a fresh bag of ice and a pain potion as he entered the kitchen. Aunt Petunia had left the ice bag on the counter next to the sink. He filled it with ice and headed for his bedroom, his anger at himself simmering. Why had he thought Dudley would defend him in front of his friends, especially after what they'd talked about at lunch? Just because Dudley had been nice to him last night and this morning, he'd let his guard down, wanting to trust him a little. Feeling frustrated, Harry pushed open his door, but stopped when something rustled behind him.
"Are you... all right?" Dudley's question sounded tentative, as if concern for Harry was a completely foreign idea.
Harry turned. "I've been better," he answered as he gingerly rubbed his ribcage.
Dudley nodded. "I tried to stop them," he muttered, studying his trainers. "I'm sorry I didn't do a very good job of it."
Harry crossed the landing, pulling his wand from his pocket. Dudley's eyes widened, but Harry switched his grasp and did not point the tip at his cousin. "Thank you, Dudley, for finding my wand," he said softly. "Getting this back means a lot. Will your friends be angry?"
Dudley shoved his hands in his pockets. "It doesn't matter. They'll forget about what I did in a day or two," he mumbled. He looked up at Harry's shoulder. "What's important is you getting better. Have you taken your medicine yet?"
Harry shook his head, feeling tired and achy. "Not yet, but the ice is helping already," he admitted, smiling as he adjusted the ice bag in a better spot.
"Good," Dudley said, turning back into his room. "I'll see you tomorrow morning, then."
"Yeah, good night, Dudley," Harry said, as he entered his room. He quickly downed a dose of his pain potion and settled onto his bed. The cold found its way further into his shoulder as potion kicked in, making him feel relaxed and sleepy. Turning towards the wall, Harry closed his eyes and shut out the world.