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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Author Notes:

Originally posted online: August 12, 2003

Last edited: April 25, 2012

Changes of significance: Fliptrask the goblin's name is changed to Peninukk [specifically, Peninukk, son of Maajamalud], which was the character's original name in my goblin language notes but ended up differently thanks to some stray scribbles long ago.  Fixing it for consistency's sake, since goblin names - and the language itself - are significant to the plot later on.

Cheers,

Mike [FP]

One
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

July 9, 1996

A lean young man with round dark-rimmed glasses ran steadily along Magnolia Road. He wore baggy grey sweatpants and a dark boxing singlet. His dark thick black hair stuck out the back of a faded and sweat-stained sporting cap. This year's trainers were better than the last, but still a size too large. He was rangy and he had longer hair than many of the boys. There had been a time not so long before when would have sought to be invisible to passers-by; hiding in the shadows had been well learned at Number Four Privet Drive. He was still in hiding, but no longer from the Muggles of Little Whinging.

There was a certain pleasure in the panting and gasping that came from his invisible minders as they tried to keep pace. He’d warmed to the idea of protectors, albeit reluctantly; it was the occasional sense of others that now gave him pause– the flash of black robes at the corner of his eye, the rustle of a cloak for which he couldn’t account. He unpredictably changed his routes, his habits, and the times he ventured out. A new and deadly seriousness hung over everything like a fog that wouldn’t lift.

He’d been more ignored by his relations than berated thus far. Uncle Vernon avoided him and Aunt Petunia regarded him with a strange almost-sad look in her eyes. They didn’t even ask that he mow or weed or plant; instead they’d taken on a service. When he’d asked about it, she had told him that he wasn’t good enough at his tasks to meet the neighbourhood standard, but there had been no real malice in her voice.

Aunt Petunia sat alone at the dining table as Harry returned from his run. “Clean yourself before you set foot in my kitchen,” she said.

Harry returned, “Yes, Aunt Petunia.” He stopped at the first step and added, “I, er, forgot to thank you for the artwork in the bedroom.”

“You like it, do you?” she asked.

“Especially the painting beside the window,” he said.

There was a long pause before she said with a catch in her voice, “Dudley painted it, and all the rest. He… well, he’s taken up the arts since last summer.”

Harry was gob-smacked. “Honestly? It… it’s quite nice.”

“Be certain you make mention of that to your cousin,” said Aunt Petunia.

“Erm… I’ll do that…?” he managed.

“Run along,” she said briskly. “Vernon will be expecting his dinner.”

After a week's time at Privet Drive, Harry was beginning to wonder whether the Dursleys had been bought off or even cursed by someone. By the time he finished his three-minute shower, dried, dressed and made his way to the kitchen, he managed to once again shake off Aunt Petunia’s odd behaviour.

Uncle Vernon was already an unattractive shade of puce when Harry began to place the meal. There was a crumpled letter and a torn envelope at the centre of the table. Uncle Vernon pounced on his roast; his flatware clattered loudly against the plate. Even after her food was brought out, Aunt Petunia sat with her head angled down. She picked idly at her food. Dudley was quiet; he ate quickly, efficiently. Harry took his place at the table. He started on a full serving to no complaints, as had been the case for every meal since returning from his fifth year at Hogwarts.

Not a moment after Harry sat, Uncle Vernon slammed his fist against the table. Harry flinched but Uncle Vernon’s waggling index finger jabbed toward Dudley. “A qualification in bloody – effing – ART!” he bellowed. “Imagine my pride, Petunia, that our ickle Duddydums is now qualified to become a lazy penniless queer when he grows up!”

“Here it comes…” Dudley muttered.

“Why didn’t you take up knitting instead?” Uncle Vernon spat. “Turning you into a Nancy-boy, they are! What sorts of trainers tell a boy to take up art? Pathetic!” Harry squinted at the crumpled letter; it was Dudley’s O-level results.

“Two hundred for each competition, five hundred a month for trainers and ring time, extra from the market for that ridiculous diet they set for you, call after call to those fools at the sport federation – it’s expensive and it’s a burden. The sacrifices I’ve made for you…” Uncle Vernon ploughed on; “Well, I won’t have you throwing away my money. Do you want to be a bloody freak like the Potter boy?”

“There wasn’t a single disciplinary note from Smeltings this last term, Vernon; not a note, not a call,” Aunt Petunia said.

Uncle Vernon’s chest puffed. “That’s because our boy’s finally intimidating the right people, I expect,” he said.

Dudley set down his fork and said, “It’s because I stopped throwing punches outside the ring.  Coach Crosby –”

“– Should be struck with a knobbly stick until he acts like a man,” Uncle Vernon cut him off.

“It isn’t just Coach who said I needed to change. It’s Mr. Melton, Mrs. Withers, Mr. Sutterby –” Dudley started.

“Then I should have some of my old house-mates come around and we’ll all bring our sticks,” Uncle Vernon snapped. “Smeltings is being held hostage by a pack of soft-headed –”

“They were right, the lot of them,” Dudley protested; “I could be banned from the federation for getting in a scrape now that I’m registered.”

“Smeltings boys mark their place in the world. It’s not a scrape when you’re marking your place,” Uncle Vernon growled.

“Let it go, Vernon,” Aunt Petunia said.

“I certainly won’t let it go! I’ll have you know I’ve called Headmaster Edgerton,” Uncle Vernon said as he wiped at his brow. “You’ll be sitting a second time for this Food and Nutrition business – stupid as it may be – and for Latin as well. Somehow you nearly passed that one. It’s not Business, but it’ll have to do. The exams are set for the first week of August.”

“I’d have done better if you hadn’t put me into competition right before the bloody exams!” Dudley snapped.

“Mind your tongue, boy!” Uncle Vernon shouted. “You’re sitting for Mechanical Drawing as well. At least you could work as a draughtsman. I’ll not have a son of mine on the dole!”

“But… but I didn’t take the course!” spluttered Dudley.

“Then you’d best start revising,” Uncle Vernon said with an entirely false smile. “If you don’t pass Mechanical Drawing and at least one of the others, then returning to Smeltings will be the least of your worries. Do we understand one another?”

“Vernon!” Aunt Petunia shouted. Dudley noticeably paled. He left the dining room and made for the cellar without a word. Harry followed him as soon as he had cleared the table, out of morbid interest in the new-and-evidently improved Dudley.

The speed bag thump-thumped as Dudley gave it a pounding. “Don’t talk to me, Dad – I’m warning you!” he snapped without turning around. He gave the bag two furious shots before he brought narrowed eyes to bear on Harry.

“And what do you want – a good laugh at the ‘queer’?  Take your shot, Potter,” Dudley grunted, moving to the heavy bag.

“He’s being a stupid git,” said Harry. “You could stay at your school or something, right? I’ll bet your mum would pay for it behind Vernon’s back.”

Dudley kept pounding away. “They’re better to you than to me this summer! If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was your hocus-pocus–” His hands fell to his sides like stones and he added in a whisper, “That bloke with the crazy eye… did he…?”

Harry said, “I don’t think so.  I don't understand what's going on around here, honestly. You could have done better on your OWL – er, O-levels, I mean. The rest of it though… seems like all you’ve done is listen to your professors.”

Dudley sat down heavily; he explained, “Coach Crosby, he said I’d fight better if I kept it in the ring… said I needed to find something else for myself, right? So he sent me to Mrs. Withers and she said I was being who Piers and Gordon wanted me to be, not who I wanted to be. I don’t know about that, but it wasn’t getting me what I wanted, you know? So the second week back to Smeltings, Piers is pushing around this first year and the kid gives me this look and he says ‘help me’ but the words don’t come out… and so I tear Piers loose and then lay him flat. You know what happens? This first year, he says I’m his hero, and the other midgets all come ‘round to thank me for it, and this other one gives me his lunch!” He shook his head. “I didn’t take it, he gave it to me! Makes a fellow think, right? Well, Piers and Gordon, they came for me a few days after that… they shouldn’t have done that. Now they just stay clear and I’m done with them. I haven’t hit anyone else since then – ‘cept in the ring, of course. So I go back to Mrs. Withers and I ask her, what do I do now? That’s when I started painting – been doing it for a while now.”

“You’re good at it, I think,” Harry said honestly.

“Yeah, right… so everything’s hung in the small bedroom.  Mum figured Dad wouldn’t bin them if he didn’t see them. Mr. Sutterby, he thinks I could probably sell some of it. He says I have a ‘gift’, whatever that’s about. Dad, he just figures I’ve gone soft in the head.” He stood up and gave the heavy bag one crushing blow after another. “I’m doing everything Coach says… I fight better now – I’m faster on my feet, and it’s like I can see what’s coming… I’m going to keep my title… more than that, I hope… people like me now … the teachers like me… girls like me more, and I expected they’d think I was a poof… so what did I do that was so – bloody – wrong?” Dudley wondered.

Harry shrugged. “It seems like you did a lot of things right.”

Dudley harrumphed, and then started his ordinary routine again – left, right, left, right. “You know those demented things…?” he asked.

Harry hesitated. “The Dementors? Yeah… I know them better than I’d like.”

Dudley mumbled, “They can’t come here, can they? I mean, er, that’s why you stay here – isn’t that it?"

“It’s something like that,” Harry said.

Dudley switched to staccato jabs. “This Lord Whose-its of yours, he can’t come here either – right?”

Harry thought for a moment about what to say, and decided on the truth: “I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

Dudley gave the bag a last shove, and then began to take off his gloves. “He killed everyone in Mum’s family?” he asked.

“He killed my parents at any rate,” Harry told him. Dudley lost his colour again; Harry thought he looked like a Dementor was within reach.

After the gloves were put away and the elastic wraps rolled, Dudley said, “I’m not that smart, you know?” Harry bit his lip as Dudley went on,“I’m smart enough to know that I don’t want to get thrown out of somewhere safe from those dementle things and your Lord Nutter. I have to pass these exams.”

Harry said flatly, “I have to kill him.”

Dudley backed away a step. “Kill who?”

“Him. Lord Voldemort. You see, there’s this … oh, never mind. Point is, it has to be done and I’m the one to do it,” said Harry.

“Crikey… actually kill him?” Dudley asked.

Harry nodded. It felt good to tell someone what he had to do, even if it was out of context, but he felt a wave of everything come at him – especially Sirius. He cleared his throat. “I’ve a suggestion for you… I’ll study with you for your O levels, and you teach me how to box and what to do with those weights.”

Dudley shot him a dubious look. “What good is that? You know Latin, do you?”

Harry started, “Well, wiz… that is to say, I’ve picked up quite a lot for spell… I mean, uh, not properly.”

“Better sweeten the deal, then,” Dudley said. “You know how to draw?”

“Er, no… but I have an idea on someone who does,” Harry said.

‘What else?” Dudley demanded.

Harry thought for a bit, and then added, “I’ll take over the cooking and the marketing entirely from Aunt Petunia.”

“You’d get the training diet right at least – I’ll give you that – and I suppose you could revise for Food and Nutrition,” Dudley said. He quickly regained his colour and bluster. “Well, I’m well trained in the sweet science, you know, and I suppose I could show you the ropes, so to speak… how to give old Lord Whoop-dee-doo the old one-two, and all that.”

Give Voldemort ‘the old one-two’ – please! he thought. I just need to pound the stuffing out of something.

July 28, 1996

Harry settled into his bed after a nasty bit of weight training in the cellar. He knew he should work on his summer scroll for Snape but he didn’t care a whit. I’m living like a Muggle, it occurred to him, and the idea was more comfortable than he would have guessed. He’d avoided a single coherent dream about Voldemort all summer– certainly, he hadn’t felt any sort of crawling about in his mind – and all of his studying and training and cooking and reading left little time to dwell on anything. He dreamt regularly of Sirius falling through the veil in the Department of Mysteries, the look of wonder and shock frozen on his face. Sometimes Sirius would fall through the veil over and over. Other times, Harry would dive after him and then wake up in a sweat. Even so, he hadn’t once screamed in the night.

He gave a telephone call every two or three days to Arabella Figg, the Squib who lived two streets away. She passed along to the Order of the Phoenix that he was in good health and that the Dursleys were not mistreating him. That was all Dumbledore and the others really cared about, he supposed. The telephone call was a compromise, as he’d neglected to send an owl after four days on Privet Drive. Lupin had shown up in a panic with Dumbledore in tow. He had felt badly for Lupin, who looked a mess, but the sight of him had been a living reminder of the loss through the veil.

Harry had made his feelings perfectly clear – he wanted no owls, no visits, and no bother from the minders. Thus far, his wishes had been respected. He assumed that Dumbledore had held everyone back. They certainly hang on his every word, Harry grumbled to himself. Hedwig was nonplussed at having no post to carry and responded by disappearing for days at a time.

The large screech owl that chose to peck on Harry’s window was thus an unwelcome surprise. It perched on the ledge and displayed a large and floridly addressed envelope. Harry took the envelope, gave over a few Knuts with a sigh, and shooed the owl away.

A scarlet and gold border formed from two illuminated dragons and a capital “G” framed the address. It didn’t take him long to guess the sender. The envelope opened of its own accord when he absently dragged a fingertip across the seal, and the parchment inside leapt into his free hand:

Mister Harry James Potter
The Smallest Bedroom
Number Four Privet Drive
Little Whinging
Surrey

Mister Potter:

Mister Sirius Black entrusted Gringotts Wizarding Bank with the disposition of his estate per his Last Will and Testament entered into record on February 27 of the current year.

The Trust Department demonstrated the validity of the late Mister Black’s Last Will and Testament to the satisfaction of the Contract and Administrative Services Office of the Ministry for Magic of England and Scotland. Gringotts has settled any and all outstanding debts and tariffs and is prepared to distribute the corpus, including all remaining personal and real property, in accordance with the terms of the aforementioned Last Will and Testament.

The Last Will and Testament names you as the late Mister Black's heir and principal beneficiary. Contact the Trust Department of Gringotts Wizarding Bank in order to accept the terms contained therein and arrange for a public reading. Mister Dedalus Diggle, Esq., the late Mister Black's solicitor of record, has been appointed as executor. You are allowed to retain your own solicitor of record in this matter.

Respond by August 16 unless you prefer that the Ministry for Magic sticks its snout into your business.

Peninukk

Head Goblin, Trusts and Investment Schemes
Gringotts Wizarding Bank


He tried to crumple the post but it sprang back, as flat and smooth as when it left the envelope. “Stupid letter! Stupid goblins!” he shouted.

“Shut it, boy!” Uncle Vernon bellowed from down the hall.

Harry muttered under his breath and sped down two sets of stairs to the cellar. He wrapped elastic around his hands and then pulled on Dudley’s spare pair of boxing gloves. They were stuffed tightly with foam to fit Harry’s smaller hands. He worked the speed bag as Dudley had shown him. Harry was a good student when he wanted to be.

He switched to the heavy bag, hitting it stoutly. Pound. I don’t want your money or your things, Sirius. POUND-pound. He saw Bellatrix Lestrange, as though she were before him in the cellar. Pound-pound-POUND.

“Bitch!” he cried out. The word tasted like blood in his mouth. POUND-pound-pound-pound.

He thought about Dudley’s fear of the Dementors, his fear of leaving Privet Drive. Pound-pound. He’s right, of course; nowhere else is safe, not really. Pound-pound. Voldemort will come anywhere, do anything to get at me. Pound-pound-pound. He’ll take away everything and everyone I’ve ever cared about. Pound-pound-pound. The Dursleys – well, Dudley and Aunt Petunia at any rate; they’re all the family I have, and they’ve not been so bad this summer. Pound-pound. He’ll kill Dumbledore, I suppose, if he can manage it. Pound-pound. Lupin, definitely. POUND-POUND. And Hogwarts; he’ll destroy Hogwarts.

Harry felt quite odd. Pound-POUND-pound. The Order – he’ll kill them all to get at me. Pound-pound. The Department of Mysteries weighed upon him. Neville. Luna, too. They were brave, the both of them, and they’ll be killed for it. POUND-pound-POUND. A draft blew upon him, almost a light wind. The whole of the D.A., probably – Dean, Seamus, Katie, Alicia and Angelina…Susan Bones and MacMillan and the other Hufflepuffs, Cho and Corner and the Ravenclaws…and all the Weasleys, every last one of them. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, and Bill and Charlie, even Percy the Prat. POUND-POUND. And the twins. Yes, a wind definitely blew – a hot wind. And Ginny, poor Ginny – she’s already suffered Riddle once. Pound-POUND-POUND-pound.

The heat burned the sweat from him. RON! I won’t let him get to Ron! I WON’T! POUND-POUND-POUND-pound. Something creaked. Harry could feel bits of … something… flying around.  His eyes squeezed shut as he pounded away. Pound-POUND-POUND. HERMIONE! NO! POUND-POUND-POUND-creak! He saw Ron beside him, bruised but defiant. Hermione was forced to her knees before Voldemort; his Death Eaters jeered and called her a worthless Mudblood and worse. The wind roared in Harry’s ears. He’ll kill my best friends! He’ll destroy everything and everyone I’ve ever cared about if I don’t stop him first. POUND-creak!-POUND-creak! He couldn’t shake Ron and Hermione from his mind’s eye. I have to kill him – I have to end this! Voldemort sneered, spoke the curse, and shot flashes of light, first red and then green. Ron was face down in a spreading pool of blood. Hermione’s eyes were wide and empty. Harry shook her and she didn’t stir, didn’t blink; a burning rage filled him. Everything around Harry and his two oldest and dearest friends erupted into inextinguishable green fire. POUND! POUND! POUND! CRASH!

Harry gasped for breath. He reached for the wall to catch himself and instead caught the floor. There were soft bits of something beneath his hand. He looked around the room through a greenish haze, struggled to focus, and recognised the problem – no glasses. His fingertips only found more soft bits here and there. He could hear bangs and thumps, growing closer. Bumps and thumps echoed from the stairwell. His hand closed on his glasses; the frame was askew but they were otherwise undamaged.

Foam, elastic and leather were strewn all over the cellar. Remnants of Dudley’s boxing gloves hung from his wrists. That wasn’t the worst of it, though. The heavy bag was in five pieces. One small piece swayed crazily from the chain that had held the bag from the ceiling. Three small pieces lay about the room. The fifth and largest piece stood across the room from Harry. It was – melted? – and embedded firmly in the concrete wall.

Thump… thump… thump… THUMP… THUMP. He heard panting and wheezing. “WHAT IN BLOODY HELL IS GOING ON DOWN HERE?” His last thought as the room spun and he passed out was, Oh, well; it was too good to last...

...Harry’s head slipped under the dark waves. Long white fingers clutched at his throat, slitted red eyes burned at him, and a cold laugh haunted him. He gasped for air and took in sea spray. A woman’s shrill voice called out “Let go of him!” The voice was far away or perhaps right next to him. “For God’s sake, let go!” Yes, the voice was definitely close. Harry raised his hands to his throat and felt thick-fingered hands.

Look – at – my – wall! I’ll dump him on the corner so his freak friends can fetch the body!” Through the rippling dark waves, Harry made out a purple face with spit bubbling at the corners of its shrieking mouth. Then there was a second pair of large hands and then – air! Fresh air seared his chest. Darkness resolved to reveal Dudley pushing Uncle Vernon back against the wall to one side of the molten punching bag.  Harry tried to speak but only managed a few raspy crackles that made him cough.

There was an insistent rapping from upstairs, a loud tapping on glass. Aunt Petunia, as distressed as Harry had ever seen her, told Dudley, “Keep your father off him, however you have to do it,” and then shouted up the stairwell, “What is that racket about? I’m coming!”

An owl hurtled down the stairs into the cellar, swooped over Harry’s head and dropped a parchment envelope at his feet. It took a graceful turn and then shot back up the stairs.

“OWLS! AAAHHHH!” shrieked Uncle Vernon; he slid slowly down the cellar wall onto his ample backside. Harry tore at the envelope and wondered what sort of punishment the Ministry for Magic dispensed to under-age wizards who destroyed the cellars of their Muggle relatives:

Mister Harry James Potter
The Unintentionally Damaged Cellar
Number Four Privet Drive
Little Whinging
Surrey

Dear Mister Potter,

The Ministry of Magic detected an indeterminate emission of magical energy within the confines of Number Four Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey, at nine minutes past eleven this evening. This energy emission did not correspond to any known spells or potions, and is therefore outside the scope of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Under-age Sorcery.

Though uncommon, it is not without precedent for young wizards to experience nocturnal energy emissions or other episodes of unintentional wand-less magic. We believe that this incident was most likely a consequence of your natural development, although the amount of energy detected was rather more substantial than normally observed.

It is important that young wizards affected by such circumstances learn to control nocturnal emissions and similar episodes, and to constructively channel their pent-up energy. Accordingly, we have notified the Headmaster, your Head of House, and the Matron of the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry of your suspected condition. They are well prepared to assist you in the selection of effective methods and learning materials, and will guide you in the development and maintenance of appropriate control.

Yours sincerely,

Mafalda Hopkirk

Improper Use of Magic Office
Ministry for Magic


Harry looked up at the Dursleys. Aunt Petunia stood at the foot of the stairs, ashen faced. Dudley watched him with a glare and a scowl. Uncle Vernon, still purple though a shade or two lighter now, closed the distance between them much faster than a man of his size had any right. He whipped his arm toward Harry before either Dudley or Aunt Petunia could react and seized the letter.

“From your ruddy Ministry, is it? You should get the gallows for this!” Uncle Vernon bellowed. He read the letter from the Ministry, shook his head, and read it a second time before his brow beetled. “What are they playing at? Nocturnal emissions…? Natural development… appropriate methods… maintain control… pent-up energy?” He snorted and then began to laugh. His beefy torso rolled in waves. Just as Harry thought he was going to stop, he burst into hysterical cackles.

“Give me that!” Aunt Petunia snapped, snatching the letter from Uncle Vernon. She, too, read the letter twice, and then sniggered, “Goodness… when this happens to Dudley… heh, heh… I just have to… ha, ha, ha… wash the sheets!”

Dudley flushed beet-red and angrily seized the letter from his mother. He read the letter very slowly. After a second reading he thrust it back at Harry and then began to rummage through his mangled equipment.

Harry read the letter again. ‘Unexpected nocturnal emissions’… ‘a consequence of natural development’… ‘constructively channel pent-up energy’… no, they couldn’t think that! His face burned and his insides plummeted. Uncle Vernon tried to speak, waggled his index finger at Harry, and again burst into laughter. Harry wanted to dash up the stairs, burst through the front door, and run south-eastward until he fell into the sea and drowned, but his feet were rooted to the floor.

He jammed the letter back into its envelope but the corner hung up on the inside of the envelope, which left only a single line below Madam Hopkirk’s signature visible:

cc: Profs. A. Dumbledore & M. McGonagall, Madam P. Pomfrey, HSWW

A one-way journey to the sea sounded better to Harry with each passing moment.  After a very long time - Harry was sure it was in the vicinity of a week - Uncle Vernon calmed down enough to say, “YOU – clean this up! Stay up all night if it’s required. I expect you to figure out how you’re going to repair my wall, and you’ll start at it tomorrow. I know you people have your ways, and I don’t want to hear a word about it. That wall will be repaired before we’re rid of you. Is – that - understood?”

“Yes, Uncle Vernon,” said Harry.

Uncle Vernon muttered, “Shame about the equipment,” at Dudley, whose jaw dangerously tightened.  Aunt Petunia gave a baleful shake of the head as if Harry was a pet who had wet the carpet. Uncle Vernon sniggered as he followed her up the the first flight of stairs and then laughed all the way to his bedroom.

Dudley crossed his beefy arms, clenched his fists, and stood silent until his parents could no longer be heard. He reached down and picked up a twisted and battered ten-pound dumbbell. “My bags… my gloves… my weights… all – ruined! RUINED!”

Harry said quietly, “I’ll buy you new equipment.”

Dudley eyed him like a predator scouting for a live meal. “With what? You wear my hand-me-downs, you don’t get an allowance… steady on – you don’t get an allowance, right?”

“I’m receiving an inheritance,” said Harry. “You remember my… godfather?” Dudley gave a nervous nod.

“He was killed this spring by one of Lord Voldemort’s followers,” said Harry matter-of-factly, even though there was nothing at all matter-of-fact about what had happened or the churning in his stomach every time that he thought of it. “There should be enough to take care of everything.” And if not, there’s surely enough in my vault to cover it several times over, he knew.

“When?” Dudley asked menacingly. “I won’t miss training over this.”

Harry trudged up the stairs to gather up supplies. “Tomorrow, then,” he croaked, his throat still burning. “Time to start cleaning, I suppose.”

July 29, 1996

Harry sat bolt upright in his bed, dizzy and disoriented from yet another Sirius dream. He fumbled for his glasses. It was half past six and he’d had a little more than three hours of sleep. He tugged on his jersey and sweatpants, crept down the stairs, and prepared the morning meal. It struck him that Uncle Vernon would as likely laugh at him as shout. When Dudley made his way down, he slipped past and back to his small room.

He quickly leafed through stacks of books and papers. At last, he found the scrap of parchment that he was looking for. He tucked the scrap in his pocket along with a Muggle biro and a handful of Muggle coins from the small cache of money tucked away in the bottom of his trunk.

“I’m taking my run early,” he called out to Dudley, and set out the door into a fifth day of mist and drizzle just as his uncle lumbered down the stairs for breakfast. Near the end of his usual hour and a half he stopped at a telephone box across from the market. He fished out the coins and the scrap of parchment and dialled the number written there.

After several rings, a woman answered, “Hello?”

“H-Hermione? Uh, Hermione Granger, please?” Harry stammered.

“May I ask who is calling, please?” The voice took on a suspicious tone.

“This is Harry Potter,” he said.

“Ah! This is Mrs. Granger speaking,” the woman said. “Hold while I fetch Hermione, would you? No doubt she’ll be pleased that you’ve called.”

There was an interminable silence, and then… “Harry? Is that really you?”

“Hello, Hermione,” he said. There was a long silence. “Hermione?” he said again. “Hello? Are you still there? Erm... how has your summer been?”

“Harry Potter!” Hermione erupted. “I hear from you for the first time since King’s Cross - on the telephone, no less – after no letters, no owls, not a sign of you all summer long, and you have the NERVE to ask me that? ‘How has your summer been’? You could have been dead for all we knew, and you call me to ask ‘How has your summer been?’ You are a PRAT, Harry – a great PRAT, that’s what you are!”

“Look, I…” Harry tried to interject.

She blustered on, “I’ll tell you how my summer has been – rotten to the core! Everyone’s a wreck, for goodness’ sake, what with all the attacks–”

Harry cut in, “Attacks? What attacks? I haven’t seen anything on the news that would have -”

“There’s another one in the Prophet every single day. It’s even in the Quibbler, for goodness’ sake!” Hermione fumed.

“I meant the news on the telly, Hermione,” Harry said. “You know I don’t take either of the papers.”

“You’re not watching very closely, then!” snapped Hermione. “You mean to tell me that you don’t know anything? I expected that Professor Dumbledore would have kept -”

Something inside Harry flared. “What, that Dumbledore would have kept me informed? Like he’s kept me informed for the last five years, do you mean? No, Hermione, there’s no risk of that. I don’t know a thing about anything that’s happened this summer – not one thing!”

There was silence again for a moment, before Hermione shouted, “For the first time in this conversation, I completely agree with you! You don’t know a thing!”

Harry took a few calming breaths. “I don’t want to fight with you, right? I’ll leave it to you and Ron.” He hesitated for a few moments and then added, “An owl came yesterday.”

Hermione asked quietly, “Was it from Gringotts?”

“How did you…?”

“I received a letter yesterday evening. Harry… are you all right with this?” Hermione asked.

Harry said flatly, “He’s dead. They have to do something with his things, I suppose.”

“Are you ready to; you know… talk about what happened? I mean, if you are, then you can talk to me,” Hermione told him. “You know that, don’t you? You can always talk to me.”

The telephone receiver shook in Harry’s trembling hand. He knew that she meant well, but he also knew that he wasn’t ready. For that matter, he doubted that she was prepared for what he might have to say. He wondered what she would think of him if he recounted his last meeting with Dumbledore.

“Do you have a number to ring Dean Thomas?” he asked abruptly.

“Wha…? For Dean? I have tried to collect numbers from the Muggleborns I know… why would you want to contact him?” Hermione asked.

“I need someone who can draw,” Harry said.

“Someone who can draw…? I’ll see if I have it, then,” she said in an odd pitch. A minute later, she returned to the telephone and he scribbled down the number.

“I need to get to Diagon Alley, as well,” Harry said.

“On account of the letter?” she asked.

“That and some other business,” he said.

“I’m sure that if you owl Professor Lupin, then the Order can make arrangements for you,” she said. “I imagine that Professor Dumbledore might even have Gringotts call on you.”

“Oh, I’m sure Uncle Vernon would love that,” Harry laughed. “‘Uncle Vernon, let me introduce you to my personal goblin banker.’ Can you imagine it? I could sell tickets.”

Hermione said flatly, “I rather imagined they would send a human employee?”

“I’m joking, obviously,” Harry told her. “I was actually hoping that you could help me with directions to the Leaky Cauldron. I mean, I’ve ridden there, but I didn’t pay any attention. Will I come close on the Underground from King’s Cross?”

The line went silent for a few moments, and then Hermione thundered, “Are you completely MAD? If you really must go there, then you owl Professor Dumbledore right -now and he’ll arrange an escort! You’ve no idea who might be listening to this call!”

Harry snarled, “I can take care of myself! I imagine the Order has better things to do than baby-sit me if things are as awful as you say. Just give me the directions, would you?”

“Fine! I don’t need to get them from my parents. This is a horrible idea, Harry!” Hermione barked place names and turns at him. Harry barely managed to put biro to parchment in time. When she finished, she added sarcastically, “Anything else I can do for you, mi-lord?”

Harry snapped, “That’s quite enough, thank you. I don’t want to be a bother!”

There was another long pause on the other end of the line, and then Hermione said with a trembling voice, “You’re not a bother, Harry. I just… I just… well, I just worry about you constantly. Can you blame me? It’s not as though you don’t attract trouble. I mean, if anything… anything at all…”

“I’m sorry,” Harry said; “Please don’t cry.”

“I’m not crying,” she sniffed.

Harry said, “I’m sorry all the same. It – it’s good to hear your voice, Hermione.” He felt a wave of sadness from somewhere; he needed to comfort her and to show that he was sorry. The telephone box was positively stifling. Even the receiver was hot to the touch. He opened the door a crack and a warm draft blew in. There was an odd popping and grinding sound on the other end of the line, followed by a strange sound from Hermione and a resonating whump! The line went dead.

Harry raced for Privet Drive. Hedwig had been gone for days. He hadn’t been able to reach Mrs. Figg for two days, and he didn’t know who else might be watching him or how to contact them without using an owl. He couldn’t yet Apparate and of course the Dursley house wasn’t connected to the Floo Network. Hermione was in trouble, and his chest was pounding, and… and he forced himself to think. That’s what she would do if she were in my shoes, Harry thought. She would stop and think on what happened.

If the phone had died because of a Death Eater attack, then the Dark Mark would alert the Order long before he could reach her home. If she was being watched, then she was probably safe. He decided that his best option to connect with the wizarding world was to get to Diagon Alley as quickly as he could.

Ten minutes later, Harry ran into the house. “Dudley!” he shouted.

Dudley grumbled, “I’m busy, Potter,” from the sofa. He was still sulking over his weights and punching bags, but the old Dudley would have assembled his friends for a round of Harry Hunting – or worse.

Harry grabbed him by the arm and pulled without effect. “Have you ever taken the train?”

Dudley still didn’t look up. “The train?”

“You do want me to replace your things?” Harry snapped.

Dudley perked up. “My things…? Oh! So you want to fetch your money?” He sat up, but Harry was sure he was moving slowly on purpose. Harry tugged at his arm, and he snorted, “Where’s the hurry, what?”

“I thought you wanted new equipment straight away,” Harry said quickly.

“Doesn’t mean you had to cut into my programme. If I hadn’t thought you were good for it, I would have taken payment from your hide,” said Dudley. He strolled to the kitchen and rummaged until he found a train timetable. “All right, where do you need to go?”

“King’s Cross, or near to there, actually,” Harry told him.

Dudley’s eyebrows lifted. “London? You need to go to London?”

Harry cleared his throat and explained, “You can’t exactly use the normal places when you’re on the run from the law. I mean, he was wanted for a dozen murders, after all. He made some private arrangements, then, with some of his associates in London, and…”

“I’m not spending half the day on a train, not today at least,” Dudley said firmly.

“Forget it, then,” Harry huffed. “We have our own ways. I’ll just get my wand and –”

Dudley crossed his arms and blocked Harry’s way. “You’re not going anywhere unless I come with you, and I’m not going to London today.”

“You don’t need to come along,” Harry snapped. “You already said I’m good for it.” He headed toward the door.

Dudley planted his hand on Harry’s chest. “That’s nothing to do with it. Mum told me you can’t leave unless she says so, or unless one of us is with you – Mum or me, I mean; even Dad can’t allow it without Mum’s say-so. It’s to do with whatever keeps us safe. She isn’t here and I’ve got other things planned. We’ll do it tomorrow or the day after.”

Harry skirted around Dudley and made it as far as the front room before Dudley again blocked him. “A friend of mine may be in danger,” Harry insisted. “If you don’t want to help me, just say it. I shouldn’t expect help from you, anyway.”

Dudley’s eyes narrowed. “Are you taking the mickey out of me?”

“I wouldn’t joke about something like this,” Harry said.

“What sort of friend, then?” Dudley asked.

Harry demanded, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, come off it. I said, ‘what sort of friend’? It isn’t one of those red-headed sods with the awful candy, is it?” Dudley grumbled.

Harry tried to summon a neutral expression but couldn’t keep himself from fidgeting. “No, it’s not one of the Weasleys. Look, I’ll ask one more time. Are you going to help me, or not? After this, I won’t be asking again!”

Dudley gave Harry a knowing look. “Ahh, I see. It’s that sort of friend. There’s only one reason for the red face and all this wiggling about, I figure: Potter’s got himself a girlfriend!”

Harry steamed, “I do not have a girlfriend. Hermione and I have known each other since our first day at Hogwarts, and I think she’s in danger. I don’t have time to waste on – what are you laughing at?”

Dudley hooted, “Hermione? That sounds like somebody’s grandmother. Oh, your girlfriend must be a prize!”

Dudley proceeded apace with insults, and Harry seethed. He could feel Dudley’s hot breath blowing on his face, and he could almost hear his self-control cracking and popping into useless bits. He seized the front of Dudley’s shirt and shouted, “Shut it! Why, you’re not worth a tenth of her! You’re not good enough to clean up after her!”

He shouted so hard that the room was swimming and his own ears were ringing, before he realised that Dudley was laughing at him. “Oh, definitely a girlfriend!” Dudley howled. “This is brilliant! I wish I hadn’t broken my camera, because this would be smashing – “

CRASH!

Dudley pulled away from Harry’s grasp and spun around. Harry didn’t have to move at all to see that Aunt Petunia’s prized vase was no longer on the mantle.

Both of them gaped at the pile of porcelain bits on the carpet. Dudley shrieked, “Oh, God! Mum loves that vase! It’s the one Dad brought her from China, or – er - Canada, or somewhere…” He settled himself, glared at Harry, and added, “Point is, she’s going to kill you!”

The room instantly stopped swimming before Harry’s eyes. “Kill me? I didn’t do anything! It must have been tipsy or something!”

Dudley shook his head. “How thick are you? It’s broken. You’re – well – you know… you. As dodgy as this summer’s been, that’s still how Mum will see it.”

Harry fished around a bit, and produced his wand.

Dudley backed up quickly. “I’m just telling it like it is. Don’t point that thing at me!”

Harry sighed. “I’m not pointing anything at you. Do you think all the pieces are there?”

“Looks like they are,” Dudley said tentatively. “Why?”

Harry replied, “I don’t want to leave it chipped; Aunt Petunia would take notice.”

Dudley’s eyes grew wider. “Steady on! You’re not fixing it, are you?”

“That’s my plan – lumos!” said Harry, frustrated with Dudley’s inability to grasp the obvious. Dudley flinched when the spell was cast. Harry ran the lighted tip of his wand along the edges of the carpet and along the fireplace masonry, hoping to spot any shiny bits.

“You should put that thing away before one of those birds comes… er… what if those dementey things come looking for you?” Dudley whimpered.

“First of all, I don’t think the witch who sent them in the first place is in any condition to do it again – aha, there’s one. Second –good, there’s another – the Dementors aren’t working for the Ministry any more – glad that I took a glance beneath the stones – and third –” Harry blustered as he deposited the bits of vase into the rest of the pile, “– let the Ministry come. I honestly don’t care any more.”

Harry pointed his wand at the pile of porcelain and said,“Reparo!”  Two more stray bits jumped off the carpet to join the rest of the vase as it reassembled itself. “I guess there was no need to look closely,” he said sheepishly.

Dudley goggled at him with a mix of awe, fear and jealousy. Harry fetched a cloth and quickly dusted the entire mantle, rather than take the chance Aunt Petunia would notice that the vase had moved. He sat down and waited for Dudley to say something, or for an owl with an official envelope to arrive. Dudley went from whimpering to scowling to silence and there was no sign of an owl.

Finally Dudley crossed his arms stiffly and said, “Okay, Potter… you fix my camera and I’ll come with you to London. You’d best decide now, and there’ll be no lingering.”

Harry only thought about it for a moment. “If one repair spell didn’t earn a letter, what harm can there be in another?” he figured.

“Fix the camera and then we’re off… but wash first – you smell,” Dudley said.

- - - - - - - - - -

“We should have stayed on the Underground another two stops or more,” Dudley whined; “we’ve walked a half an hour at least. I don’t think you’ve any idea of where you’re going.”

Harry ignored him and squinted for a moment. “Finally! It’s right there,” said Harry, waving his hand toward a record store and a bookshop.

Dudley looked, and then squinted, then put his hands to his hips and leaned forward intently. He said impatiently, “So… does your sort keep their money in record stores, or do you stuff it behind books?”

Harry said matter-of-factly, “You can’t see it… or you’re not seeing it, at any rate. It’s between the two stores.”

Dudley’s eyes crossed for a moment. “Between the…?” He recovered himself and snorted, “Sounds like codswallop to me. ’Course, so does putting back together broken vases and blowing up the cellar and those dementles. So, then – how do I get inside a place that I can’t see?”

Harry thought about that as they crossed at the intersection. He stopped in front of the record store and said, “All right, put your hand on my shoulder and I’ll lead you in like a blind person. Close your eyes – I think that will be easier.”

Dudley said, “That’s odd… I know I smell food… and beer, I think?”

Harry said, “Open your eyes.”

If anything, the Leaky Cauldron looked a little more downtrodden than Harry remembered. The biggest difference between this visit and his last, however, was that he was now staring at two dozen wizards and witches with menacing expressions and pointed wands.

“Tom,” a warlock Harry didn’t recognize shouted, “you need to see about your Notice-Me-Not!”

A bald old man hobbled from behind the bar. “What’s the kerfuffle… more Muggles? How’re they finding the sodding door? Right then, who has a cracking memory charm?”

Harry was thankful Dudley was silent. He chose not to speak, and instead drew his wand. This one should be all right, at least – definitely self-defence, he thought. “Expelliarmus! Accio wands!” he shouted. A pile of wands formed at his feet.

He smiled at Tom the innkeeper, and said, “Shall we start again?” Looking to the mass of shocked faces, he added, “Sorry about all this.”

Tom looked at him apprehensively. “You do have a familiar look about you… Merlin’s ghost, you remind me of Sirius Black…”  Harry afforded himself a slight smile. True, his hair was somewhat longer and a small growth spurt had left him lankier… Sirius would have a laugh over this, he decided.

“I guess I’ve changed a bit since you’ve last seen me,” Harry said. He shifted to one side so no one else would see, and then drew back his fringe. 

Tom raised his hand to his mouth. “Bless my soul; it has been a long time!” he said, and then stepped forward with surprising speed to pull Harry into a vigorous handshake.

The innkeeper looked around the room and then announced loudly, “Right, then – show’s over. Don’t leave your wands lying about.” He turned to Harry and added, “I’ll arrange food and drink for you and your companion. Follow me.”

The three of them entered a private parlour. Tom flung the door closed, quickly cast an Imperturbable Charm, and then demanded, “What in the name of Godric Gryffindor and all that’s holy are you doing here alone, Mr. Potter – and with such an obvious Muggle in tow?”

Harry said, “This is my cousin, Dudley Dursley” – Dudley offered a limp handshake and a squeak – “and I need to get to the Alley as fast as possible.”

Tom pursed his lips in thought for a moment. “You shouldn’t take the Mu… er, your cousin. Trust me on this.” He turned his attention to Dudley, addressing him like a small child, “Mr. Dursley, you may stay in this room until Harry comes to collect you. I’ll bring you something to drink and eat. Can I trust that you will stay out of trouble?”

Dudley was sufficiently cowed that he responded in kind, “Yes, sir. I’ll be good.”

“Hurry along, then, and do your business,” said Tom.

“A moment with my cousin and then I’ll be off,” Harry said firmly. Tom frowned but stepped out.

Harry set down his knapsack and drew out his Invisibility Cloak. He didn’t want to leave it with Dudley, but it seemed the right thing to do. He waved his hand in front of Dudley’s face. “Dudley?”

Dudley flinched. “This is all very dodgy,” he said quietly.

Harry shook him by the shoulders. “Dudley! I need to leave you with something; this is very important. It belonged to… Dudley!”

Dudley looked at Harry with unfocused eyes. He came back like a boxer shaking off an unexpected blow. “Sorry, it’s just – I mean – this is how you live?”

“Not really, no. The Leaky Cauldron is just a gateway of sorts to where I’m going. Now, I need to show you something.” Harry spread the Invisibility Cloak across the table before Dudley, which promptly vanished.

Dudley flinched, but then broke into a smile. “Blimey, the fun a bloke could have with this!” he said.

Harry couldn’t help but grin, even though Dudley’s idea of fun was probably quite different than his own. “This was my father’s” – he hesitated, and quickly decided what to tell Dudley and what to keep to himself – “and you might need it while I’m gone. If anything happens that’s too much – and I don’t mean wands or owls or the like – you throw this over yourself, head straight out to the front door and don’t look back. Understand?” Harry knew Dudley didn’t like being ordered around, but he seemed nervous enough to comply.

Dudley nodded and responded, “If something mad happens, go straight through the pub and outside.”  Harry instinctively patted Dudley on the shoulder and then made his way out of the parlour.  Tom was waiting for him just outside, with a nondescript black cloak in his hands. “Take this,” he insisted; “Best that you don’t pass through the gate without one.”

Harry nodded and put on the cloak. He walked briskly through the bar and into the tiny courtyard, eager to tap the bricks and enter Diagon Alley. What he saw in the alley stopped him cold. Where there had been a trash bin and tufts of weeds, there was now a gatehouse with a barrier. Harry thought it looked like a border crossing from one of Uncle Vernon’s history programmes on the telly. One security wizard was sitting in the gatehouse, and a second stood before the barrier. Both wore peacock-blue robes emblazoned with the letters D.F.D.L. and an eagle clutching a snake in its talons.  The wizard standing before the barrier immediately drew his wand, and Harry responded in kind.

The wizard asked, “Would you please step over here?” and pointed toward the gatehouse. Harry was checked front and back with the same kind of golden rod used at the Ministry for Magic.

“Wand, please?” asked the wizard sitting in the gatehouse. Harry produced his wand. His wand lowered from view for a moment, and then the security wizard quickly moved to hand it back. He extended a hand in greeting. “Mr. Potter, what a surprise! Sorry about all this – the times we live in, and all that?”

The blue-robed wizard appraised Harry. “So you’re Harry Potter? I expected you’d be bigger.”

The wizard in the gatehouse cut off his colleague curtly; he said, “Thank you, Mr. Potter. Enjoy your time in Diagon Alley.” The barrier floated upward, and the brick wall reorganized itself to reveal the cobblestone street beyond.

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