** 'Lo all! Glad you decided to drop by. I promise it's worth reading. Really.
Vernon Dursley heaved his body out of the sofa. "All right!" he yelled at the telephone, which was ringing furiously. Unfortunately, the phone did not obey his order.
Hot and bothered, Vernon swaggered down the hall and picked up the phone. Suppressing the urge to simply say: "What is it?" he said, hardly any more politely, "Vernon Dursley speaking."
"Yes," said a young woman's voice down the line. "Hello. I am… Abby."
Vernon snorted. He hated people with silly names.
"I need to talk to your nephew, Mr. Dursley."
Mr. Dursley froze to the spot. His hand moved to put the phone straight back down on the handle, but this young woman was speaking quite normally. Maybe it didn't have anything to do with the boy's abnormality after all. He couldn't see, however, what else it could be.
"Why?" he asked, keeping his voice its normal low growl. It was threatening to squeak.
"Er… he's in trouble."
That sounded promising. "How much trouble?"
"Rather a lot, I'm afraid."
"I'm his guardian. You should be telling me before you talk to him."
Pause. "You really want to know, sir?"
"Right." Another pause. "He was… on a… broomstick…"
"Stop!" exclaimed the man, the word bruising his ears. "You're one of them, aren't you?"
"In a manner of speaking," said the young woman slowly. "Do you mean… am I a wi-"
"Stop!" yelled Vernon again. Boy, was he lucky Petunia and Dudley were out. "I'll get him!"
Covering the speaking end of the phone with one hand and turning so he faced the stairs, he yelled, "Boy!"
A black haired head peered out of the third bedroom door along the landing.
"Yes, Uncle Vernon?" the boy was trying to sound brave, but his uncle noticed with satisfaction that he was shaking.
"Down here, now! " When the boy hesitated, Vernon said, "phone for you."
"For me?" said the boy, emerald eyes widening in surprise. "Who is it?" He flinched visibly as his uncle yelled back up the stairs.
"Never you mind boy! Now get down here before I come up there and tan your hide for you!"
This startled a reaction out of Vernon's nephew. He stumbled out onto the landing and limped down the stairs.
Vernon gave him a slap on the back of the head as he gave him the phone. Still trembling, the boy raised the receiver to his ear.
"Hello?" asked Harry softly. Who could possibly been ringing him?
"Harry! It's me!"
"Shh! My name's Abby, Ok?"
Harry was very aware of his uncle leaning up against the wall of the hall, watching him and listening to every word that he said.
"Abby." He said carefully as if acknowledging the fact that this was who he was speaking to.
"Harry, is your uncle listening?"
"Yes," said Harry in an expressionless way, trying hard not to let his eyes stray to Vernon in case he guessed the purpose of their conversation.
"If you say a single word, boy," warned Mr. Dursley. Harry knew what he meant. He wasn't going to say anything. Hermione would flip.
"Harry, why haven't you been answering my owls? You haven't been in touch since the first week of the holidays. Ron's frantic, even Sirius has owled me asking, the owls just come back with the letter. Are you OK?"
"Yes," said Harry.
"So why haven't you been answering?" she sounded very put out. Harry sighed. No way was she going to find out.
Hermione misinterpreted his sigh. "Oh, right, you can't say. I'll have to ask yes or no questions. Er… did you reply to anyone's letters?"
"No," said Harry. How far was she going to take this?
"Did you get the owls?"
"Yes." That much was true at least.
"Did you… open them?"
"Oh. Could you open them?"
"Why not? Oh, sorry, you can't answer. Was it the Dursleys?"
"So they're stopping your post?"
"Something else is?"
Hermione snorted with impatience down the telephone line.
How much could he tell her? Harry did some very quick thinking. "Er… Srab no swodniw."
"What?" said Hermione.
"What?" said Vernon at the same time.
"Harry, I can't understand a word you're saying."
"Butcanyourememberit?" said Harry quickly.
Hermione grabbed that. "Yes, I think so… Srab no swodniw, llams oot, right?"
"But Harry, that doesn't make any sense…"
"Look," said Harry loudly, "I'm sure you must have a very busy schedule… Abby."
"Right!" said Hermione. "I've told them you're in trouble because of something to do with a broomstick. Can you do the rest?"
"Yes, of course."
"Just tell me what you-" but the line went dead before she could finish.
Harry turned to face his uncle after slamming the receiver back onto the handle.
"What on earth was all that gibberish about?" roared Vernon.
"It means… It means…" Harry tried to remember what Hermione had said. "It means, well it's a swear, it means, I'll never do it again, and..."
"A swear, eh?" growled Vernon dangerously.
"Yeah. I'm in serious trouble."
"Good! Expelled are you?"
Vernon Dursley gave Harry another whack to the back of his head that made his vision spin.
"Don't you talk to me in that tone, boy! Now back upstairs before your aunt and cousin get home. Now!"
Harry limped back upstairs, using the banister to steady himself. He moved as quickly as he could back to the safety of his room. Well, it wasn't really safety, but he knew he was lucky to have escaped a proper beating.
The first thing he noticed was that Pig, Ron's owl, was banging hard against the glass of his window.
Harry shook his head sadly at the owl. "Sorry Pig," he whispered. "You may be able to get through the bars, even if Errol, Flash and Madeline can't, but I can't open the window. The catch has come off."
I wonder if Uncle Vernon knew he could break it before he tried, thought Harry. That window will never open now.
Hedwig hooted softly from the desk, where she'd been sitting on Harry's diary.
Harry fell into the seat, stroking her. "I'm really sorry Hedwig," he said. "I wish I could let you out."
Hedwig only nipped playfully at his ear. Harry fished under the (very small) pile of parchment he had managed to salvage from the year before, and brought out some owl treats, also from the previous year.
Needless to say, they were well past they're sell buy date, which was flashing in red on the back of the packet.
"You'll get fat if I keep feeding you these," Harry half joked, and tipped a few into her cage. They were disgusting, but they were all they had. Hedwig had. Harry had nothing.
His stomach growled. Harry had not eaten for four days now, and even then it had been a flimsy meal of bread and cheese.
Harry had been thinking recently about anorexics. He had come across the subject in one of those magazines Muggle schools gave out once a term, all about health and safety and so forth.
He had found the magazines under a pile of Dino's, which used to be Dudley's. They had obviously been brought home, dumped on the floor and forgotten. Harry was surprised they had even reached the house.
In the absence of anything else to do, Harry had started to read a few, thinking longingly of his Quidditch books, which were locked in his trunk in the cupboard under the stairs.
It was completely beyond him how anyone could choose to go hungry to lose weight. Mind you, he thought, glancing at his skinny reflection in the mirror on the back of the open cupboard door, I haven't got much to worry about.
Harry shook himself awake. He had almost dozed off at the desk. Rubbing his forehead, which was aching, he climbed painfully out of most of his clothes and climbed into bed.
He had long since given up pajamas. One set of clothes was bad enough.
The single, thin sheet did nothing to comfort him. Dudley had stolen his duvet over a week ago, and Harry didn't dare ask for it back. Dudley was nearly as dangerous as his father.
As it was, Harry slept on an uncovered mattress with the mattress sheet over him. It was good that the weather was still summery. He probably would have frozen to death had it been winter.
He thought this thought every night. It was in his diary, somewhere. Would you rather freeze to death…?
Too tired to do anything other than breath, Harry settled back into the pillow less mattress, and fell into uneasy dreams.
The huge barn owl was carrying him once again over sleeping towns and tiny countryside villages. The best part of the ride was that Harry was in no pain. His leg felt as if there had never been hint of a fracture, and his ribs were at their strongest.
The big house drew slowly closer. Harry did not feel afraid or excited, merely curious. He was almost certain he could here singing.
The owl swooped over the gardens. Harry gasped when he thought he saw several black shapes moving around in the bushes, but the owl didn't stay long enough for him to get a proper look.
The barn owl flew into the house through one of the larger windows, and flew off again when Harry dismounted. The room Harry found himself standing in was bright and cheerful, painted yellow and white with little lilac bunny rabbits giving eggs to passers buy.
A woman who didn't seem to see the boy standing by the window, was singing a sweet lullaby to the baby in her arms, while a boy who couldn't have been more than six, sat and listened too.
Don't cry out
I am here
Please be still
Do not cry
Will sing to you
Harry frowned, despite the peace of the song and the beautiful atmosphere of love and warmth that spread around mother and children.
This was not like the other dreams. The others always started with Death Eaters…
Please God, no…
The sound of manic laughter echoed up the stairs. The little boy went to scream, but the mother put a hand over his mouth and pushed him into the cupboard, the baby still entangled in her arms.
Then, without warning, the door burst open. About ten, no, twenty Death Eaters piled into the room. The tallest was the only one not wearing a mask. It was Lord Voldemort.
The mother, although prepared for an attack, had evidently not expected this. With a scream she threw herself to the ground, protecting the bawling baby with her body.
Almost carelessly, Voldemort raised his wand. "Avada Kadavra!" he said softy – dangerously. Pain flashed across Harry's scar, he gave a yell that no one could hear. And the deed was done.
The Dark Lord motioned to a Death Eater, who kicked over the still body to expose the baby who liked rabbits. The flash of green light and the lightning bolt of pain came once more. The baby was silenced.
The boy in the cupboard was screaming now at the sounds of his mother and her baby being murdered. Harry turned his tearstained face away as Voldemort raised a hand at the boy, who was being held in position by two large Death Eaters.
There was nothing he could do to help. Harry had already tried; the first few times he had had these dreams. All that happened was that he walked straight through people, sometimes seconds before they died.
The only good thing about these dreams was that they couldn't give him nightmares, because there was a new one every night.
He screamed as the worst pain of all flashed across his scar. The boy had been trying to escape. Both had suffered for his pains.
The killings had patterns, Harry had realised. The less helpless the victim, the greater the pain. Lots of them had fought, but none of them had yet survived…
The cold merciless laughter cut through the air once again as the lifeless body of the little boy fell to the ground beside his mother. The Death Eaters piled back out again, still laughing, and as the door slammed shut, Harry woke with a start.
Ron stared for the hundredth time at the letter Hermione had sent him with their only clues as to what was happening to Harry.
1) Harry is getting the owls but he can't open them
2) It's because of his aunt and uncle in some way
3) Srab no swodniw
Srab no what? Ron had been on the verge of sending an owl back to Hermione to ask what on earth she thought she was doing, when he noticed a P.S.
I have no idea whatsoever what that last bit means. His Uncle was watching him, so I guess he was speaking to me in code. Do you get it?
Well, Ron certainly didn't. He propped the pillow against the headboard and sat up to ponder the puzzle.
"Boy! UP! Now!"
Harry was already up. He hadn't had any sleep last night apart from the part with the dream, and he couldn't call that restful. His only set of clothes was back on him, and he had been sitting still, trying not to be sick for the last two hours.
He was now very good at sitting and thinking. Usually he thought about the dreams, whether they were true or what they could mean. But the thought of the tiny baby lying still in its mother's arms as the screaming boy was dragged from his hiding place was enough to make Harry retch.
Still managing to keep a hold on his feelings, he hobbled towards the door of his room. When the dream ended, the pain had returned.
"Hurry up!" called his Aunt Petunia again.
Harry made his way to the top of the stairs, nursing his ribs. He was just putting his foot on the very first step, when something hit him hard in the small of his back, and he went head over heels down the wooden, but thankfully carpeted, stairs.
He landed with a thump on his side at the bottom. Uncle Vernon came bursting out of the kitchen. "What's going on here!" he roared.
"Harry was too long on the stairs," said Dudley, charging down them, as if stairs were sacred places that only allowed one person on them at a time, such as toilets.
Vernon growled and picked Harry up by the collar of his too large T-Shirt, choking him. "And what have you got to say for yourself, eh?"
Harry could only splutter as he wriggled, trying to breath.
"Answer me boy!"
But the constriction on his throat forbade him. Uncle Vernon was holding him above his head, stopping Harry from letting his legs take the weight.
The next thing Harry felt was severe pain around his stomach. He doubled up as the bread and cheese of four nights ago threatened to say its goodbyes.
"Not in the hall, please dear," called Petunia from the kitchen. "And where's that boy got to?"
Dudley raced into the kitchen. Vernon gave Harry a shove into the kitchen, and he fell to his knees on the cold tiled floor.
As he gasped for breath, a list was thrust in front of his nose. "Do them," said Petunia. "Or no food today."
What's new? Thought Harry as he took the list.
"Go then!" taunted Dudley, accepting a huge plate of bacon from his mother. The Dursleys had long since given up letting Harry cook the food in case he poisoned anything. Harry had to admit that this was unusually smart of them.
He backed out of the kitchen. Once in the hall again, he glanced at the list. It was a long one. Harry knew he'd never be able to do all of those jobs in just a day.
Well, he might as well get started. The first thing on the list was 'weed the garden'. It sounded like a stupid thing to start with. It would be easier to mow the lawn first, for example.
Harry had learned, however, that it was best to do everything the way they wanted him to. A slip up now might mean something worse than a fracture.
So, hot, tired, and with a bruised neck, Harry got a bucket and trowel from the garden shed, and set to work.
Two hours later, he was covered in mud and dirt, his knees and the ends of his shorts were soaked and freezing from the morning dew, and his hands were burning where they had been repeatedly stung by nettles.
In just twenty minutes, Harry was painting the garden shed again, for the third time that fortnight. The Dursleys must be running out of ideas for things for him to do.
The dark brown Harry was now using was exactly the same colour the shed had been in the first place. With all his weight on his right foot, because of the fracture in his left one, he started the up and down motion.
While he worked, he tried not to think of everything that was happening in the present. He thought about how good it was going to be to get away and back to school with his friends. He would never complain about homework again.
The right leg got pins and needles after a while. Harry rested for a while against the wall, watching the paint dry. He smiled slightly at that little piece of irony.
Harry sprang upright, gasping in pain as he spun around on his injured leg.
His Aunt Petunia had been watching him from the kitchen window with sharp eyes while doing the washing up. Now she marched towards him across the grass, face red and angry.
"Don't you ever let me catch you slacking, you nasty little boy!" she screamed just softly enough so that it wouldn't alert the neighbors.
Harry noticed with a flash of fear that his aunt still had a soapy frying pan in her hand, but she merely waved it to indicate that he get back to the job.
Sighing, Harry returned to his painting (up, down, up, down) and Aunt Petunia went back into the house.
Despite Aunt Petunia's efforts, one of the neighbors had been alerted anyway. The small head of elderly Mrs. Figg was peering over the low fence. She must have been standing on something.
"Hello, Mrs. Figg," said Harry, as cheerfully as he could. It came out flat and monotonous.
"That looks like fun," the old woman ventured.
"Yeah," said Harry. He managed a weak smile at her before returning to those, soothing, and constant strokes. Up, down…
"Did you offer to do that for your uncle?" she asked.
"Er, all right," said Harry, trying to be polite while not looking up. He had found that people could tell when he was lying just by looking at him. Especially his family.
"Are you all right, Harry?"
"What?" said Harry, looking up at last. "Yes, of course I'm all right."
"All right then dear, just checking."
Harry's blood ran cold. Had she guessed? Could she see…?
"It's just that, you hardly look as if you're enjoying yourself, and you've got a nasty black eye there…"
Harry breathed a sigh of relief. "I've just got a lot on my mind, Mrs. Figg. I'm fine, really."
"Ah. I don't suppose you'd like to come over and talk about it?"
Harry knew what would happen then. She'd guess the truth if she got close enough, and then he'd have to deal with the child authorities. Why couldn't they just leave him alone?
"That's very kind of you Mrs. Figg, but I ought to finish this. Some other time, I promise." And he gave her a more real smile.
Mrs. Figg shook her head as she climbed down from the apple basket. What a smile! She thought. That boy could be handsome if he'd start eating properly. She spent the rest of the afternoon thinking about 'teens of today'.
"Hello, Mrs. Weasley."
"We're so glad you could come."
"I'm very glad you could have me, Mrs. Weasley." Hermione spotted Ron in the doorway of the kitchen.
After four days of worrying over Harry's mysterious message, the two friends had decided it would be better if Hermione came over for a couple of days so that they could put their heads together properly.
"Hi, Hermione," said Ron. His red hair was tousled; he can't have had much sleep.
"Hey, Ron," said Hermione.
Ron led the way up the stairs in silence. Fred and George were waiting for them in Ron's bedroom. Hermione glanced at them suspiciously.
"Ron filled us in," said Fred.
"We're helping," said George, firmly.
"Good. We're going to need all the help we can get. Straight to it?"
All three boys nodded.
It seemed pointless. Strawberry season would be over in a few months anyway. Harry knew perfectly well, as he slaved among the soil, that Dudley only wanted the strawberries to smear on things to freak people out.
No one would forget that fateful incident last week, when Susan from next door had fainted at the sight of a little sparrow covered in strawberry juice with a message written beside it saying, 'One down, couple of million more to go…'
Harry was nearly half way down the list, and it was nearing six o'clock. In that time he had gained scratches from a saw, splinters from new wood, and a huge bruise on his right cheek from a well-aimed saucepan.
He glanced at the box. Just three more plants and then… well, he couldn't remember what came next.
Harry looked up sharply, and saw the last man and dog he wanted to see when he was kneeling in mud with a new bruise to match his black eye.
"Professor Lupin? Sirius?" The dog was growling.
"Shut up," whispered Harry. "They'll hear you!"
Sirius barked. "I think that was the canine impression of 'let them come'," said Remus Lupin. "Harry, what's been-"
"This way," said Harry quickly. Wincing, he got to his feet, and moved round the back of the house towards the shed. Aunt Petunia had left the window.
"Watch the paint," Harry whispered as he pushed open the door to let them inside. "I've just – mmph!"
As soon as Sirius was inside, he made an incredibly quick transformation and pulled Harry into an enveloping hug.
Harry sobbed in pain as Sirius pressed his broken ribs. His Godfather drew back very quickly.
"Harry, I'm sorry, what the hell happened?"
"Harry, look at yourself! You can't tell me now those monsters haven't hurt you."
"I had an accident, OK? I walked into a door…"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever," said Sirius. "I've heard it all before. Look at me Harry."
Harry looked up at him, unwillingly. Sirius' grip on his arms was painful. Remus just stood back, watching.
"No lies. What happened?"
"I've told you…"
"Harry," said Professor Lupin suddenly. "You've got a limp and two bruises on your face. And you walked into a door?"
"I hurt my leg when I fell down the stairs."
"Remarkably clumsy this summer, aren't you?" growled Sirius.
Harry wasn't even sure why he was lying. He stayed quiet.
"I'm not leaving you here."
"Sirius, you can't…"
"Oh, yeah? Why not?"
"I promised Dumbledore. I said I'd stay here…"
"Dumbledore never thought anything like this would happen, did he?" said Sirius.
"You don't get it! Dumbledore put me here so I wouldn't put anyone else in danger! I can't go anywhere else until I go back to Hogwarts."
"Harry," started Remus. "That's not true…"
Harry froze. "I have to go."
Sirius made a move as if to go out of the door, find and kill whoever had called, but Remus held out a hand to stop him. "He's right, Sirius. We should have gone to Dumbledore first."
Harry knew he was making a mistake. He just couldn't stand anyone fussing over him now, when he had ruined the summer for practically everyone.
Sirius sighed heavily, resigned. "Harry," he said. "If anything happens. Anything. I want you to leave at once, right? Go anywhere you know is safe. Take the Knight Bus if it helps. Just DON'T stay here."
Harry nodded to show he understood, and the two men disapparated. That had been close.
The fifteen year old walked out of the garden shed, where he'd been offered a chance of freedom, back into his living hell.
**Ha ha! There lies the first chapter, ladies, gentlemen, and strange beings from mars that have hooked up to our phone lines! (Yes, we know you're out there…)
The Harry Smashing does get worse, for those of you who like that sort of thing. I'm hoping to make this a proper whole fic, with the whole of Harry's fifth year, but only if people review. I am a review addict **backs away from bright lights** I confess, I confess!
Hope you enjoyed it. If you didn't, maybe you wouldn't have read this far down. If you did, there's a little button at the bottom left you might want to click…