The horizon blushed with dawn as the sun slowly rose over Little Whinging, Surrey. It shone in the window of the smallest bedroom at Number 4 Privet Drive and splashed the bed with frail light, making the boy who lay on it blink. He was on his back, his eyes staring unseeing at the ceiling. His shirt was covered in mud and his jeans were ripped and torn, but he seemed unaware of his dishevelled state. His head hung off the end of the bed as his trainers rested on the headboard. Scruffy black hair fell away from his forehead, revealing a thin scar zigzagging across his skin.
His glasses hung precariously in front of his green, bloodshot eyes, and dark shadows marred his pale skin. He hadn't slept. Every night he watched the sky darken and stared at the ceiling. He struggled, hour after hour, to prevent his thoughts from drifting towards that moment. To stop them from dwelling on Sirius.
As soon as the name slipped into his mind an expression of pain contorted his face. He quelled it in an instant, but the mirror reflected the brief spasm of his upside down features. He glared at the smooth surface for a moment, meeting his own empty gaze and holding it before he rolled off the bed and onto his feet.
His reflected self was thinner than before. Dudley's clothes had always hung off him, but it seemed there was more space in the grubby shirt and jeans than before. He hadn't been hungry, not since… then. The Dursleys noticed and perversely took every opportunity to feed him. After all, it was a strange kind of cruelty that couldn't attract the attention of those who watched his every move.
His eyes flickered back to the window, searching for those invisible watchers. Tonks, with her clumsy cheer and her incredible talent. He could almost hear her voice, happy as ever ringing in his head. He thought of Mundugus Fletcher and his wheedling ways, always rushing of somewhere to gain some more ill begotten goods. Mad Eye Moody…
Something flickered in front of his eyes, making him cringe. The graveyard, the bright green light, and the spread-eagled form of Cedric Diggory. He hadn't been able to look at Moody without thinking of that. Without seeing it again.
‘It's not your fault Potter. It wasn't your fault.' His voice was a quiet, cracked whisper in the early morning silence.
He rubbed a hand across his eyes and shivered as another face entered his mind. Hair peppered with grey and lines of worry etched into that face, too young to be showing such marked signs of age. Remus Lupin, the last Marauder. Or almost the last. There was one other. The betrayer. The one whom Harry had let live in that moment of choice. He could still remember Sirius' face, his fury and finally, that fragile understanding.
His teeth bit into his lip as the sob made his chest heave. He would not think about it. He mustn't. He thought back over the past year, his mind slipping and jumping. Occlumency. He had tried hard, as hard as he could despite his hatred for Snape, despite his disbelief. Now he feared to sleep, wishing he had mastery over his own mind. It wasn't just the nightmares. Bad dreams, no matter what their topic were just bad dreams. He feared the reality of it, the penetration of Voldemort's insidious thoughts. He had tried to remember Snape's words, his harsh advice.
‘Clear your mind of all emotion Mr Potter.'
What kind of advice was that? Only a man as frigid as Snape would expect someone to be able to remove themselves from all feeling in the blink of an eye. He sighed, the pain of memory draining from him. Focusing on the Potions Professor dragged his thoughts onto less precarious territory. He slumped into the chair beside his desk and stared at the parchment that littered the surface.
There were rolls of the stuff. Some of it was homework, and Harry could almost hear Hermione's delight and Ron's despair at his preparation for the next year. There were letters as well. In fact, it seemed that everyone was writing to him, checking up on him in the subtlest of ways.
There was one for almost every day of the summer so far from both Ron and Hermione. Telephone calls from Hermione (the Weasley's couldn't be trusted to use the Muggle device correctly) came at least once a week, and Harry had to confess that it was good to hear her voice. There were also letters from Ginny, Fred, George and even Neville.
Hedwig was out delivering his last batch of replies. He had sent her off in the small hours of the morning, and she had yet to return. Toying with his quill, he looked at her empty perch for a moment before dragging a blank piece of parchment closer and uncorking his ink pot.
The loaded pen hovered over the page as Harry tried to think. He had a History of Magic essay to do; he could make a start on that. It would take all day, and even Hermione had confessed that it bored her after a few hours, but at least it would be something to do to keep his mind busy.
A drop of ink smattered into the middle of the creamy parchment, shining with a monochrome reflection of the sunrise. Harry glared at it and swore under his breath. Another sheet ruined. Removing his glasses, he lay his head on the desk so that only his right eye was glaring at the droplet of slowly drying pigment. Nothing stirred the semi spherical surface. There wasn't a ripple or disfiguration, just the intensity of black and the striking white of the reflected sun. He stared at it, feeling his eye adjust and readjust. It was strange, but if he stared at the blackness long enough, it was as though it surrounded him. The lack of colour flooded his thoughts, bringing with it silence. Was this what Snape had meant by emptying the mind? He just needed to swamp it all out, to not feel anymore.
A thunderous knocking at his door made him jerk from the strange trance. He scowled as the hinges protested to the beating and Uncle Vernon's voice boomed through the woodwork. ‘Boy? Get up boy! You must be hungry, help your Aunt cook breakfast.'
‘Yes Uncle Vernon.' Harry grabbed his glasses and yanked open the door, smothering a smile as his Uncle was temporarily unbalanced by the unexpected movement. Piggy eyes looked back at him and for a moment the moustache quivered over a sneer. ‘Better make yourself scarce after that boy. I have important people coming over for lunch, very important people.' A fat finger was waved in Harry's face. ‘I don't want you and your abnormality making trouble.'
Harry went downstairs, yanking his trousers up a bit higher as he went. He really needed a belt. Maybe he could find some string somewhere. Aunt Petunia's hiss of disgust made him look up in surprise to see her sharp eyes glaring at him. ‘Look at you, you're filthy! What a disgrace! Why can't you be clean and handsome like my ickle Diddykins? At least he's a healthy size, unlike you.'
Harry's eyes darted to the boy in question. Dudley sat at the kitchen table, his bottom overlapping the chair all around as he ploughed through a massive fried breakfast. His eyes had been glued to the T.V. screen, but at the sound of his mother's pet name for him they narrowed and swivelled to Harry, as though daring him to comment.
‘That is not a healthy size.' Harry muttered under his breath as Dudley shifted his weight a bit and a waft of stale cigarette scent filled Harry's nostrils.
‘Take the frying pan.' Petunia snapped before a grim smile crossed her face and a look of mock concern came into her eyes, ‘Oh and be sure to feed yourself well. At least four rashers and two eggs.'
He did as he was told, wondering how the Dursleys could be so very stupid when it came to the welfare of their own son, but so very cunning when it came to making Harry's life a misery.
‘So Potter… give us a shout if you need us. If we don't hear from you for three days in a row we'll send someone along.'
Harry grinned as he remembered the look on Uncle Vernon's face. The same expression crossed those ugly features every few days when, true to their word, Lupin or Moody dropped by to check on him. The Dursleys had been perfectly behaved. There was no physical abuse, no endless chores and no imprisonment. Instead they had changed their tack. Harry didn't know if the people who watched him could also hear what was going on, but it seemed both Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon thought they were safe from prying ears. At every opportunity they would criticise Harry and idolise Dudley, always comparing the two. Secretly, Harry was beginning to think they were blind. ‘Where have you been to get so filthy?' Aunt Petunia demanded as she stared at him, watching every mouthful he forced down his throat.
‘I went for a walk yesterday evening and it rained, that's all.'
‘Well there'd better be none of that mud on my carpets!'
Harry placed his knife and fork on his empty plate and stood up, carrying his crockery to the sink before turning to leave.
‘And where are you going?' Petunia demanded, only to be shushed by her husband's reply.
‘I don't want him here when the McKillens arrive. This is important business Petunia, and I don't want him around. You hear that boy?' Harry rolled his eyes as he opened the front door, leaving his uncle to bellow after him, ‘And with any luck you won't come back!'
‘I wish,' were Harry's last words before he stepped out into the garden. The last thing he heard was his Aunt's choked gasp before the door closed on the neat, suburban house.
As always, the flowerbeds were a riot of vivid colour. By some twist of nature the geraniums had grown brilliant vivid pink and a shocking red. The result was a clash of shades that made Harry wince and narrow his eyes before he looked away. He made his way down the path careful not to disturb the perfectly mowed grass (he had spent most of yesterday mowing it to his Aunt's satisfaction) before unlatching the gate and stepping onto the pavement.
Magnolia Crescent went past unnoticed. He didn't see the various cats sunning themselves on walls and on the warm bonnets of newly parked cars. He was busy thinking about his friends' final words at the station. They had sworn they'd get him out of here as soon as possible. True it had only been two weeks but he craved, often with great power, the comfort and ease of life at the Burrow.
He turned into Magnolia Road and made his way to the park gates. They were open and inviting in the brilliance of day. Not that it mattered to Harry. The park had become a place to sit and think. Even now, full of screaming children and irate mothers, it seemed so much better than Privet Drive.
Despite Dudley's best attempts, the park was mostly unblemished by vandalism. Harry received a few distrusting looks as he settled on a bench in the sun and felt his muscles relax in the warmth, but they didn't bother him. If nothing else, it made a change from the stares of amazement he received in the Wizarding World. Besides, he thought as his head lolled backwards and he shut his eyes, if his aunt and uncle put about the lie that he was "incurably criminal", then he had to expect some side effects.
Harry raised his head and looked at the little girl who stood in front of him, eating an ice cream with every sign of enthusiasm. She was quite young, probably about ten. She had bubblegum pink curls and her front teeth were missing. As she ate, she gave him a jaunty wink and plonked down on the bench beside him.
‘You do know most little girls don't have pink hair, don't you Tonks?' He said, a grin spreading across his lips.
‘Well, it might be a bit conspicuous.'
Tonks wrinkled her nose and gave a one-shouldered shrug, indicating that she couldn't care less. ‘Old One Eye won't thut up about being dithcweet. Bethides, that'th the firtht time I've theen you thmile for weekth.' Harry shut his eyes again and felt his smile fade. It didn't matter what he did; in the end his thoughts, feelings, and memories all came back Sirius Black.
It had probably been the strangest death Harry had witnessed. There had been no trademark bright green light—Sirius had just fallen through that veil. He'd gone from living to dead in a second. There was no body, no funeral. In a way that was easier for Harry. He could almost pretend it hadn't happened. He'd done all right so far, foolishly convincing himself day after day that eventually Sirius would come back.
‘You know they're lying, don't you?'
‘Who is, Tonks?'
‘Thothe thtupid Durthley'th. I heard her thith morning thaying about Dudley being better looking than you. What rubbith!'
She finished off her snack and jumped down before turning to face him, her dark eyes looking severe. ‘You are all wight aren't you?' Her words sounded concerned, almost sisterly, and her childish face was contorted into a very adult expression, her lisp disappearing. ‘I know that it's terrible for you Harry. I can't even begin…' she trailed off, looking hopeless. ‘Listen, just hang in there. You can get back to the Burrow sooner than you think.'
Harry sat bolt upright. ‘I can go back? But isn't it dangerous? Dumbledore said…' But Tonks was already walking away, melting into the crowd of kids until he couldn't see a trace of her bright pink curls.
Harry got up and wandered through the park a bit more, away from the play area and towards a more secluded, quiet region. The tall oak trees offered dense, dappled shade, and he slumped gratefully into the dusty ground and leant back. He had no idea what time he would be allowed to return to the house, not that it mattered. He'd become used to sitting here for hours at a time. He could almost fall into a sort of doze, not quite asleep, yet not alert enough to think about much at all.
He watched the world through half-closed eyes, wondering what his best friends were doing at the moment. Hermione had said in her last phone call that she was going over to the Burrow when her parents went on holiday. Ron had seemed very enthusiastic about her arrival and Harry couldn't help but feel left out. The twins were probably busy with their new joke shop and poor Mr Weasley was almost without doubt working non-stop for both the Ministry and the Order. He felt so stupid just sitting here, whiling away the hours of his life.
Precious hours they were too. Dumbledore had spoken of the prophecy, one of Professor Trelawney's few accurate predictions. At one point in his life, Harry would have to make a choice. To murder or be murdered. Neither appealed.
He sat there as the sun shifted around him and patches of light and dark snaked their slow way across his skin. He paid no attention to the passers by; his half lidded eyes were focused only within his world of thought, and it wasn't until he heard a clatter of wings above him that he resurfaced into reality.
Hedwig was perched in one of the higher branches of the tree Harry sat beneath, doing her obvious best to be invisible against the darkness of the tree bark. Her snowy white plumage was not coming to her aid, and she gave a quiet hoot of reproach as Harry looked carefully around before beckoning her downwards. She gave him a look that told him he should have been in his room to receive his mail before gliding downward and landing on Harry's arm. She stuck out her leg, snatching an owl treat from his fingers and barely giving him time to free the letter before taking off again and vanishing quickly from sight in the bright sunlight. Harry watched her go, biting his bottom lip as he wondered whether or not he'd left his bedroom window open. If he hadn't, he knew full well his pet would give him the cold shoulder for the best part of a week. She hated being shut out.
An idle breeze made the paper flutter in his grasp and he looked down at Ron's untidy black scrawl. The parchment was folded and there was just a capital "H" on the face of it. They had tried to be discreet but sometimes, like with the owl, they had no choice in the matter.
Pack your trunk, you're coming home. Ginger and Little Red will be over to pick you up tomorrow. Can't wait to see you. H2 hasn't stopped worrying since she arrived.
Harry snorted. "Ginger" was Mrs. Weasley and "Little Red" was Ginny. At least he thought so. He hadn't been around when the dubious code names had been invented and there had been a cryptic letter from Ron. It had been a series of questions that only someone who was either very close to, or actually a Weasley would know in order to help him work out who was who. Some were obvious. Percy for example was "Big head", and Harry was working on the process of elimination. At least he knew H2 could only be Hermione, after all no one else he knew shared his initial unless he counted Hedwig.
A tiny smile crept across his lips, feeling strange on his face. He was going back to the Burrow and to the closest thing he could call family. Dumbledore must've taken some convincing, because after what had been said at the end of last term, Harry had felt sure that he was doomed for another summer in the "protective" custody of the Dursleys. Perhaps the headmaster had found a way to make the Burrow as safe as Privet Drive.
Around him, life continued. Children ran and played under the ever watchful eyes of their parents. People came and went as the day drew to its peak and then began to retreat towards dusk.
It was as the first streetlights came on outside the park and various gardeners and attendants began to eye him with unkind concern that Harry rose to his feet and dusted himself off. The man at the gate rattled his keys before padlocking the bars tight against the outside world as Harry departed and made his quiet way home.
The residential roads of Little Whinging were quiet and half deserted as he walked from one pool of light to the next. The windows of the houses were open against the humid night, and the chatter of televisions created a strange harmony with the lazy chirping of insects in the neat grass.
As Harry turned into Privet Drive a figure brushed past him, knocking his shoulder in their hurry. Harry caught a glimpse of dark clothing and a flash of silver before the stranger walked away, leaving a timid apology on the air. The man stopped at the mouth of the small road, and as Harry watched with idle curiosity, he saw another glimpse of silver. Not jewellery as he had first thought, but five fingertips protruding from the cuff of a sleeve.
His heart jumped in his throat as he reached for his wand, but before Harry could decide what to do the man was gone, leaving nothing but the empty street and the relative silence of suburban night.
Number four was undamaged. The perfect wall was still intact, the pristine lawn undisturbed, and the plain façade of the house was the same as he had left it. There was no Dark Mark and no massacre. Harry felt a pang of disappointment but stifled it guiltily. He didn't like the Dursleys, but he didn't wish them dead.
He opened the gate and stopped, looking down at the object that lay atop the low wall. A black lily rested there. It had five petals. Four were black with a single line of scarlet running from petal tip to the centre of the flower. The fifth petal was unmarked and plain black. Despite its sinister appearance Harry reached out a shaking hand. He jumped back as soon as his fingers touched it, but the flower just lay there, innocent and dying. Feeling foolish, he picked it up and shut the gate behind him, leaning against the wrought iron as he tried to think.
It had been Pettigrew, he was almost sure of it. The glimpse of silver was the hand that Voldemort had gifted to the easily manipulated man, and even the voice was familiar, but why was he here and why had he left a flower? Harry shook his head and walked through the garden, passing through the door and closing it firmly on the outside world.
Lightening flickered on the horizon and as the thunder growled, fat drops of rain began to fall, shattering the heat of the summer into pieces.