The sullen look on Dudley's face was almost as much of a gift as the cupcake in front of him.
Harry glanced up at Miss Harper. She was younger than most of the other teachers, and he'd always thought she was pretty, but now she seemed blinding.
It was just a small cupcake with a candle in it, but it was the closest thing to a present Harry had ever had. His aunt had once given him a dirty sock, but she'd changed her mind and snatched it away.
Harry had to fight the urge to hunch his shoulders and guard the cupcake. If Dudley hadn't been at the back of the crowd he would have done so anyway, even though he'd seen Miss Harper get on to other children who acted like that.
The fact that she'd remembered his birthday was almost as amazing as the gift itself. She'd done this for the other children, but somehow Harry had assumed that he'd be skipped over like he was at home.
Compared to the huge cake and the mountainous pile of gifts Dudley got every year, this was a pitiable birthday celebration.
Yet as the other children began to sing in a half-hear ted, desultory fashion, Harry couldn't help but look at the teacher. She looked a little bored, but no other teacher had even tried to remember every student's birthday.
She'd remembered Harry's birthday, something no one had ever done before. She'd never been as beautiful as now, and Harry wondered if this was what it felt like to fall in love.
Harry felt himself being shoved from behind, and he felt to one knee. The curious glow he'd been feeling all day finally faded.
Glancing backward, he saw Dudley and his friends. Dudley's face was flushed.
He'd known there was going to be a reckoning, he'd just hoped that it would be later. He would have liked to have had a little more time to indulge in the fantasy of being a normal child with a normal birthday.
"That's for eating my cupcake, freak!" Dudley snarled.
Harry stared at them for a moment. He grabbed the strap to his bag and he surged to his feet. Before Dudley could say anything else, Harry was already off.
As much as he'd hated Dudley's favorite game, Harry hunting had made him fast and agile. The threat of being beaten was more than enough motivation for him to learn.
Unfortunately, the other boys learned almost as fast as he did. As Harry dashed forward, he saw that some of them were already waiting for him. Dudley had somehow added more people to his group of bullies.
The new ones weren't used to Harry's tricks yet, so he managed to slip in between them.
After that it was a matter of speed and endurance.
Harry sometimes suspected that Harry hunting was the only thing that kept Dudley from getting fat enough that he couldn't move. Even so, he was always at the back of the group, depending on the others to catch up with Harry and hold him.
The other advantage to being hunted repeatedly was that Harry had learned the neighborhood. He knew every shortcut and hidey hole between the school and his house, and even some in the other directions. Hiding was risky. As long as he wasn't found he would be fine, but the best hiding spots only had one entrance, and if he was caught in one of these he would be trapped.
Trying to go to an adult was hopeless; the beating he'd get would be twice as bad once the adult went away, and they never believed him. They always assumed that he was exaggerating or playing.
Harry cursed under his breath as he saw three boys emerge from a side street a block ahead. They were on bicycles, and there was no way he could outrun those. He slipped behind a bush, praying that they hadn't seen him.
From where he could see, it looked like they were being systematic. They had a pretty good idea of where he was, and he saw other boys emerge, checking the bushes.
Even as Harry slipped into an alley, he could hear people calling out from the far entrance of the alley.
They were closing in on him from the front and from behind. Harry knew there was a loose board in one of the fences; there wasn't a lot of room to squeeze through even for him. None of the other boys would be able to squeeze through at all.
He didn't know what was on the other side of the board, but there wasn't time to worry about it.
Harry rushed for the fence, grabbing the board and moving it aside. It was a tighter squeeze than he'd suspected, but by pushing his backpack through first and exhaling, he was able to squeeze through.
He slipped though and turned quickly, hoping the board with his hand. Hopefully no one would notice that it was there and they'd just think that they'd missed him.
He heard the sounds of searchers entering the alley and he held his breath.
The sounds of the boys on the other side of the fence were strangely muted. Despite this, Harry found himself holding his breath for long moments as the boys on the other side of the fence turned over old boxes and tried to look in every nook and cranny.
It wasn't until they were gone that he took a deep breath and finally allowed himself to breathe.
He simply crouched with his forehead against the fence with his eyes closed for several long moments, waiting for the pounding pulse in his ears to finally slow.
When he finally opened his eyes and looked around he froze.
Sandwiched in between the cookie cutter houses to each side, before him was a monstrosity of a house. It looked as though it had been put together by a madman, one piece at a time with no concern for the laws of physics. It's second floor was bigger than the first, but smaller than the third. It looked as though it had been built piecemeal, with different parts having different architectural styles.
Considering that it had to be at least four stories tall, Harry didn't understand how he hadn't noticed it in a neighborhood where every house had one story. It should have been visible from blocks away, like the old church or the school.
Somehow Harry had missed it.
There was a strange haze in the air all around, something Harry had never seen before. It made the sky seem reddish and made everything inside seem sinister.
Harry felt drawn to the house, but he also felt uneasy. This felt a little like the witch's gingerbread house in one of the books Dudley had discarded when he was younger.
He wouldn't be able to leave for a while yet; the boys would take time to tire of their game and go home.
In spite of himself, Harry found himself walking slowly toward the house, his backpack forgotten against the fence behind him.
It was only as he reached the back porch that he realized what he was doing, and by then it was too late.
The back door slammed open and an old man with stringy, yellow hair stepped out. In his hand he held some kind of stick.
The man's rheumy, yellowing eyes glanced at him, and then up at his forehead.
Harry didn't know why so many people had that look of recognition when they looked at the scar on his forehead, but they'd had it his entire life. Usually, the response was to bow even as Harry's aunt and uncle hurriedly led him away.
This man didn't bow; instead he smiled, showing misshapen teeth. It wasn't a happy smile.
"Potter, is it? On my doorstep, eh?"
The man chuckled, and it was a mean, ugly sound.
Harry found himself backing away slowly. Suddenly a beating by Dudley and his friends didn't seem that important.
"Don't leave yet boy; the fun's barely started."
The man lifted his wand and whispered "Crucio!"
Harry's world turned to pain.
"W..w..what have you brought us?"
Harry couldn't move; after what had been done to him already he wouldn't have been able to have moved anyway, but the man had done something with his stick and now he couldn't even blink his eyes.
They were in a dark room, and there were torches on the wall.
"I stumbled across a gift for my lord." the older man said. From the corner of his eye Harry could see the man grin that ugly grin again. "The master will want to see this."
The man in front of them stared for a moment, then scowled. His stutter vanished.
"If he's not pleased with what you've brought him..."
The man standing over Harry chuckled. "No worries about that."
Scowling, the man in front of them turned their back to them. If Harry could have gasped he would have. There was a face on the back of the man's head!
The face scowled down at them.
Before it could speak, the man reached down and moved Harry's hair aside with his wand.
The face seemed at a loss for words. After a moment, it finally spoke.
"Where did you find him, McNair?"
"I was checking an old property held by a mudblood, dead in the last war. The wards were still up, but sometimes you get wizarding scum trying to settle in. Nobody misses a wizard who can't even make a place for himself."
The face nodded impatiently.
"When I felt someone entering the wards, I went to investigate, and look who I stumbled across."
"Fortunate indeed," the face said. "And so much for Dumbledore's prophecy."
The smile on the face was even worse than McNair's smile.
"Are you going to show him to the others?" McNair asked.
The face stared at the other man with a contemplative expression before finally shaking its head. "I will have my body before I deal with the others again, and only a fool would keep an enemy imprisoned for months."
"There's the prophecy," McNair said hesitantly.
"I'm sure Dumbledore would have liked to have kept it to himself. I imagine he regrets taking that fool Trelawney for a drink in Hogsmeade on that one particular night."
The face waved it's wand, and a moment later a poker by the fireplace shimmered and shrank, turning into a small blade.
A flick of the wand, and the blade was in the hand of the man whose head hosted the face.
"I'll imagine you were hoping I'd use magic," the face said.
The blade seemed unnaturally shiny, and even though walking backward and using a knife backward wasn't easy, somehow the two faced man made it work.
A moment later the blade was at Harry's throat. The man looked awfully uncomfortable, given that his elbows didn't bend the right way, but the face didn't look like it cared.
"The one thing the muggles are good at are killing each other," the face said. "Let's see you try to get out of this."
A moment later Harry felt a sharp pain across his throat, and a moment later everything went dark.
On the evening of his tenth birthday, Harry Potter died.
Harry woke, gasping for air. He tried to sit up only to feel his face smash into something solid.
It took him a moment to realize that he was back in his cupboard. He grabbed for his throat, but his skin was unbroken. There was no pain.
It hadn't been a dream; he'd never experienced pain like he'd had in that vision, and if pinching was enough to wake people up, that would have been enough to make him never sleep again.
A sudden pounding on the roof above him as his cousin jumped up and down made Harry startle.
"Happy birthday, freak!" Dudley shouted. "Maybe your parents will come back from the dead and give you something!"
Harry froze. Dudley had said that yesterday...exactly that. His birthday had been yesterday, not today.
As he slowly exited his cupboard, Harry felt a strange sense of Deja' Vu. His cousin and aunt were wearing the exact same clothes as they had been wearing the day before.
It wasn't surprising that Dudley would wear the same clothes, but Petunia would never wear the same clothes in the same week, much within two days.
If yesterday had been a dream, how did he know what they would be wearing?
If it wasn't...
It wasn't until he was sitting in front of the lit cupcake that Harry realized that the day really was repeating itself.
He felt himself go numb with sudden horror.
Today was the day that he died.