The feeling was exhilarating, wandering around without a care, no worries or fears. Total freedom. Not having a face was refreshing, his existence held new possibilities. Adrenalin was pumping through his new body. His excitement grew as he discovered new scents and sounds that were before foreign to him, and the ground beneath his feet held more information that his sensitive feet were deciphering. He felt stronger than ever before in his life, and everything seemed to move in slow-motion his reflexes were so acute… And all were thanks to the anonymous package he received in the mail. He remembered the opening lines perfectly… ALL THAT IS REQUIRED IS: DARING - it can go horribly wrong, WILLPOWER - the call can be endearing, AND CHARACTER - it lessens the risk infinitely.
Harry lay awake on his tiny bed at number four Privet Drive, where he lived with his medieval Aunt and Uncle, awaiting the yearly arrival of owls on his birthday. He couldn't wait to here what his friends had been up to on their holidays. Harry smiled to himself as he thought of Hermione, a very scholastic Muggle-born with bushy brown hair, studying for the Fifth year O.W.L.'s almost a year before they are to be sat. He gave a slight chuckle as his thoughts drifted to Ron, A tall and gangly redhead from a family of seven, plus his mother and father, who were the kindest people on the planet, being the butt of his twin brothers, Fred and George's, practical jokes.
Harry missed them very much, and had to hold back his jealous feelings toward them for having enjoyable lives and family's that want them.
Harry's smile vanished as the final events of the previous term played through his head yet again, sighing deeply as Cedric's frozen face came into focus. The sound of the quiet clock alarm, signalling midnight, stirred Harry from his self-pity. He reached over to his calendar and marked off another day, counting down to September first. Harry stood and opened the window, letting the breeze play over his face, as he watched for any sign of Hedwig or Pig. He desperately wanted to go to Ron's house for the rest of the summer, but doubted he would be permitted, what with Voldemort being on the loose again.
Harry grimaced at the memory of Wormtail piercing his arm, therefore allowing Voldemort to rise again, claiming to be even stronger than what he was fourteen years ago. No matter how often people told him otherwise, Harry still felt responsible for his return to power. He made a promise to himself at the start of the holiday's, that he himself would destroy Voldemort before the end of his final year at Hogwarts, so long as he lived that long himself. Harry sighed again as he unconsciously ran his fingers over the scar on his arm.
Why must everything happen to me, Harry thought, staring into the clear night sky? I seem to attract trouble, or get other people hurt or killed. Harry shook his head sadly and started to turn from the window when a flash of white caught his eye. Turning abruptly back to the window, Harry could see Hedwig gliding smoothly toward him, Pig following, somewhat ungainly behind her, both carrying a letter.
Harry stepped aside, so as to allow them room to fly into the room unhindered.
Pig was whizzing around the room, making a racket, and Hedwig glided onto an open book Harry had been reading. Afraid the noise would awaken the Dursley's; Harry quickly wrapped his fingers around Pig and removed his letter.
After placing Pig in Hedwig's cage, he moved over to his snowy owl and stroked her on the head as he removed the letter she was carrying. She gently nipped him on the finger affectionately and flew over to join Pig. As Harry moved over to his bed, he threw a quick look at the book Hedwig had landed on, giving a mischievous grin as he sat down.
I'm going to have a fun year this year, he thought to himself as he opened the letter Hedwig was carrying.
It was from Sirius,
Happy birthday, Harry
I hope the muggles are treating you alright this summer, Harry gave a small laugh as he thought of the slave labour he had been forced to perform everyday since he arrived. Shaking his head he continued his letter, I'm sorry I haven't got a present for you yet, but I will have a surprise for you shortly after you return to Hogwart's. I am fine, and staying with Remus, so don't worry about me. We are having a great time, so try to enjoy yourself. I know I've told you this before, but I'm going to say it again anyway. Please try and stay out of trouble this year, because now that Voldemort is back, the risk is too great to go wandering about. Follow the rules this year.
Miss you terribly,
Harry was smiling, knowing Sirius was safe and with Remus, but the smile left his face as he read the last half of the letter. Little did Sirius know, just how many rules he was planning to break this year. Feeling a little guilty about so blatantly disregarding the safety measures set up to protect him, he started to open the letter Pig had delivered, which was obviously from Ron.
Hey Harry, Happy Birthday.
I'm sorry, but Pig couldn't carry your present. It's not that big, but if you compare it to his size, it's huge. But don't worry; I'll be able to give it to you when you arrive! Dumbledore wrote to mum yesterday saying you could come over for the rest of the summer, so we're coming to pick you up tomorrow at noon. Make sure you have everything packed to go.
See ya later,
P.S. Hermione is here already, and has told me to tell you that she says Happy Birthday as well.
Her present is here also.
A wide grin flashed across Harry's face as he read. Finally, he was getting away from the Dursley's.
As he stood to put the letters away, another owl flew through the open window, baring a letter with the Hog wart's seal. Knowing that it was the letter containing the list of new school supplies, he decided to open it at Ron's tomorrow. Gathering all the letter's together, Harry's eye's, yet again, fell to the book that was laying open on his desk. Deciding that it was safer to take the book with him, he threw it into his trunk then and there, before he forgot to do it later on. As he prepared himself for bed, the sudden urge to not let anyone else find the book overcame him. He quickly returned to his trunk and removed the book from inside, but as he went to place it under the floorboard, he knew that he didn't want to leave it behind either. So, after much brainstorming, Harry decided to make a secret compartment in the top of his trunk, so he could take the book with him, but not have anyone else find it. He frowned as he realized that this was the first thing he desperately wanted to keep a secret from EVERYONE. Ron, Hermione, Sirius. Even Dumbledore.
Harry only got a few hours sleep, as it had taken him a good part of the night to make the compartment. He was forced to go slowly because he didn't want to wake the Dursley's by making too much noise.
Harry was abruptly woken by the thunderous bashing on his bedroom door, and the sound of his Aunt Petunia's screeching voice.
"GET UP THIS MINUTE YOU LAZY PIECE OF GOODS!!" she shouted through the door. "Your Uncle has some important client's coming over today, and I want this house sparkling clean!"
Harry groaned as he sat up and looked at the clock. It was six thirty. Harry groaned as he got out of bed and got dressed quickly. How could she call him lazy? Harry thought as he vacuumed the lounge room floor, and cleaned all the windows in the house. If he was lazy, Dudley was a fitness instructor. Harry was starting to get worried as noon crept closer, and Aunt Petunia still wasn't letting up on the chores for him to perform. Though the real thing that was worrying him, was not having everything packed and ready to go by noon, but at what time did Uncle Vernon's clients mean to arrive?
Harry stopped dusting the furniture, and turned towards his Aunt, who was eyeing him as if he were a mad delinquent.
"Why did you stop? Get on with it," she told him, waving her hand at him dismissively.
"Er, Aunt Petunia?" Harry asked quietly, resulting in a sharp look from his Aunt. He waited for the normal verbal berating that followed his speaking, but it never came, so Harry took the silence as a sign he could continue.
"Um, I was wondering, when Uncle Vernon's guests' were arriving?"
Petunia eyed him suspiciously, as though determining whether he was worth an answer, before replying, "In one hour, so stop making noise, and keep working." Harry quickly looked at the clock on the wall, and his insides lurched.
They would be arriving at eleven thirty. Only half an hour before Ron was due to come and collect him.
Harry's insides now turned to ice. He didn't even know how Ron was going to pick him up this year. He threw a quick glance towards the boarded up fireplace, as the memory of how the Weasley's had arrived the previous year floated to the surface.
Aunt Petunia had noticed that Harry still hadn't resumed working, and he must have appeared deep in thought, for she suddenly strode right up to him, pointing her finger accusingly.
"What are you thinking about, you little leech?" she hissed. As Harry faltered for words, a thought must have occurred to her, for her eyes suddenly widened to the size of golf balls, and she started to slowly back away from Harry, who looked at her with mild concern.
"Err, Aunt Petunia? Wha-" Harry started, but stopped as she brought her hands to her mouth, eyes now showing pure terror, looking behind him.
Harry's heart skipped a beat as he could feel the presence of someone standing behind him.
He swivelled quickly on his heel, expecting to see a Death Eater, but was taken by surprise as he now stared at a very furry torso. He slowly looked up towards the head of the creature, and noticed that it still hadn't made any movement to say whether it was friendly or not. Harry gasped as his eyes rested on the creatures face, which, where it not for it's human posture and sky blue fur, resembled that of a tiger, with pure white hair on it's head, reaching to it's shoulder blades, that was plaited down behind it's pointed ears, letting the rest fall freely. Its eye's were by far it's strangest feature. They were a deep violet with hues of blue and red flickering slowly. They were almost hypnotizing. Harry tore his eyes away from the dazzling eyes, and noticed that the style of dress was that of an American Indian, but it wasn't wearing a shirt, so Harry presumed it to be a male. There were even a couple of feathers' in his hair, just behind one ear, of a strange colour. The creature must have noticed the panic on Harry's face, for he suddenly dropped to one knee and bowed his head, though even after this, he still reached Harry's shoulder in height.
"Sincerest apologies, Mr Potter. I did not wish to alarm you," He rumbled in a baritone purr. Harry's fear ebbed away as the creature spoke, for he sensed the same gentleness in Hagrid, and detected softness in the rumble of his voice. Though the creature was indeed every bit as tall as Hagrid, he wasn't as wide, not that that was such a bad thing. Harry was sure he'd fit between his shoulders at least twice, and judging by his build, he was probably stronger than Hagrid as well.
Harry shook himself, as he realized he was staring, and decided to try and ease the tension. Gingerly, he approached the creature and held out his hand in greeting.
The Feline lifted his head to look into Harry's eyes, and Harry noticed that his eyes had now turned blue, but before he could query the beast on this, He had smiled toothily at Harry and accepted the offer, with a bone crushing hand shake. Harry grimaced slightly and stifled a cry as he felt a bone in his hand shatter. Harry tried to hide the pain by bowing his head to the Feline, but he must have noticed his suddenly tense posture, and released Harry's hand, who cradled it close to his chest. The feline stood abruptly and held his hands out in front of him, as if he thought Harry would attack him, and, with eyes now red, spoke in a fearful tone.
"My deepest apologies Harry Potter, I meant no harm to come to you, I only -,"
Harry stopped him by raising his good hand and attempting to smile reassuringly at him.
"It's ok, really. Hagrid used to do the same thing all the time, although he never actually broke something. But don't knock yourself about over it," he added as he saw the expression forming on the Feline's face, "I can get it fixed later on."
The Feline seemed to be considering Harry's words, for his eyes had returned to violet, and he nodded.
"You won't have to wait for it to be fixed though, if you permit me to touch you?" the Feline said softly, as he tentatively extended a massive hand, palm upwards.
Harry hesitated for a moment, not knowing what to expect, but as the creature seemed friendly, he obligingly extended his injured hand.
The Feline smiled softly at him, and very gently, cupped Harry's hand in both of his. Harry looked on curiously, as the creature's eyes started to glow an intense white, but quickly brought his eyes back to his hand as a tingling feeling started in it. A golden glow escaped the gaps in the Feline's fingers as the pain vanished from Harry's hand, and as the glow faded, the creature released Harry's hand as good as new.
Harry stared in wonder as he flexed his fingers, not feeling any pain, and spoke in a voice full of awe.
"That was amazing," he exclaimed, looking up into the now violet eyes, "Thank-you, you didn't have to do that, it was-"
"I caused you harm," the Feline interrupted, "It was my duty to repair you, for it was unintended."
Harry simply nodded his head, not wanting to press the matter.
"But I waste precious time, so I will be brief," He said, before Harry could speak again, "My name is Kahn, and have come to tell you that you must leave this house immediately." Harry was taken aback by this abrupt statement, and didn't react strait away. Kahn stared imploringly at Harry, who visibly shook himself, and looked up at him with a worried expression.
"He found me, didn't he," said Harry softly. It was not a question.
Kahn nodded his head seriously, then placed a hand on Harry's shoulder, making his knee's quiver.
"Do not be afraid, Harry Potter. You have the advantage."
Harry shot Kahn a questioning look, who nodded back at him, with a sly grin.
"He does not know of your new gift."
He spoke so quietly, Harry had to lean in closer to him, but drew back quickly when he finished his sentence, panic coursing through him.
"How do you kno-"
Kahn held up a hand to silence him, "I was watching when you did it," he said apologetically, "but do not worry," he added, seeing Harry's worried expression, "I would not divulge such information to anyone, without your permission."
Harry eyed Kahn with uneasiness before saying, "You wouldn't?"
Kahn gave a slight bow of his head and replied, "I stake my honour."
"Thank-you," Harry said, truly meaning it. As Harry turned to gather some of his belongings, he realized that Aunt petunia was still standing, as a statue, in the hallway. He shot a look at Kahn, who nodded reassuringly before stating that she would not remember his being there, and that Harry should make haste in his leaving the area. Harry quickly dashed up the stairs, to his room and collected his father's invisibility cloak, and his wand. When he returned to the living room, it was to find Kahn, with his hand hovering just above Aunt Petunia's head, emitting the strange golden glow again. Kahn lowered his hand, and Petunia, walked away from him, into the kitchen as if she had never seen him. Kahn then looked over at Harry, who was wearing a bemused expression, and gestured towards the kitchen elaborating on what he had done.
"Do not worry," he said quietly, "she will remember only that you have done your chores, and left with your Ronald Weasley."
"Actually, that was what I was going to ask you about," Harry said in a rush, "Ron doesn't know that I won't be here when he arrives, so-,"
"I have already dealt with that problem, Harry Potter. He expects you to arrive later tonight, if you hurry." he said, smiling slightly. Harry nodded his thanks and turned towards the door, but turned back again as another question occurred to him.
"Err, How am I to get my Hogwart's gear from here, to Ron's house?" Harry questioned. Kahn simply nodded at him and told him it will be taken care of, when he arrives. Harry merely nodded and threw the cloak over himself, and turned to leave. He opened the door, and realized he forgot to thank Kahn for the advanced warning, so he turned to tell him so.
He was gone.
The speed at which he could travel excited him. He knew he was already near his destination, for he had travelled there once before, and that journey had taken twice as long. He marvelled at how little of his energy had been spent on his travel, and he had been travelling near top speed most of the way. A kind of sorrow washed over him as his target came into sight, for the urge to stay as he was, almost overcame him. He still wished to wander free, into the night. However, as he turned to leave where he had tried to get to so desperately, his reason to be there returned to him….
Harry pulled the invisibility cloak tighter around himself, as the bitter cold wind, and night air burned his exposed skin. In his rush to leave he had forgotten to get a jacket, and he was now shivering uncontrollably, and teeth chattering. At least it's not much further now, Harry thought to himself as he stumbled, almost blindly up the hill to The Burrow. He could almost imagine the warm bed that would be waiting for him, when he got there.
Harry finally made it onto the front porch, and slid the cloak off himself after a swift glance around to make sure no one was watching him. With numb fingers, he reached out with a balled up fist and rapped on the door. Nothing. Frowning, Harry placed an ear to the door to see if he could hear any movement inside. After determining that there was indeed no movement inside the house, he knocked again, this time more forcefully, and called out, "Hello? Ron? Is anyone there!?"
Immediately, thunderous footfalls were heard, stampeding down the stairs and towards the door. Harry took a nervous step backwards as the torrent of noise came closer. Harry was forced to cover his eyes as the door to The Burrow was flung open, and a flood of light invaded the night's darkness.
"Oh! Harry!" came a relieved voice, louder than the rest of the jumble of voices which had started simultaneously, "Your positively frozen, come in, come in." Harry now recognized the voice to be Mrs Weasley's, and let her guide him into the house and in front of the smouldering fire, which Mr Weasley set about restarting. As Harry's eyes readjusted to the light, he saw that everyone had jumped straight out of bed, and rushed downstairs when they must have realized he had arrived. The fire was now crackling happily, and Harry rushed over to sit directly in front of it, extending his frozen hands. Ron and Hermione, who at least took the time to put dressing gowns on, both took seats on either side of Harry and gave him looks that clearly stated he had lost his mind. Ron shook his head and spoke in a hushed tone.
"Tell me that you didn't walk all the way here, dressed in that," he said, staring at Harry's clothes, which were composed of a pair of jeans, a shirt, sweater and sneakers. Harry shook his head, and spoke in a still quivery voice, "I would have worn a jacket, but I was in to much of a hurry to leave, and forgot to put one on…and of course I didn't walk here. I live on the other end of the country, remember." Harry stated, looking pointedly at Ron, who gave a small smirk, before casting his eyes downwards. Hermione, however, fixed Harry with a questioning stare before asking, "But, if you didn't walk, how did you get here?"
Harry cast a quick glance Hermione's way before focusing on his hands, and seemed to consider his answer for a longer duration of time than was necessary, for such a simple question.
"I caught the Knight Bus," he finally answered, tensely. Hermione seemed to have noticed this, and having the ever-quick mind, presented Harry with a problem with his answer.
"How would you be able to catch the Knight Bus, when your trunk, and money, have all been in Ron's room since this afternoon?"
Harry cast a quick glance Hermione's way before focusing on his hands, and seemed to consider his answer for a longer duration of time than was necessary, for such a simple question.
"I caught the Knight Bus," he finally answered, tensely. Hermione seemed to have noticed this, and having the ever-quick mind, presented Harry with a problem with his answer.
"How would you be able to catch the Knight Bus, when your trunk, and money, have all been in Ron's room since this afternoon?"
Harry looked up at her quickly, and scowled. Why did she have to pay attention to every little detail, Harry thought as Hermione waited for his reasoning.
"What does it matter, how he got here? Really Hermione," Mrs Weasley spoke up suddenly, "I would have thought you'd be more concerned about his catching pneumonia."
Hermione averted her eyes from everyone giving her an incredulous stare, and frowned at the dancing flames. Harry's annoyance faded as he spotted tears brimming in Hermione's eyes.
He now felt the beginning of guilt, for he knew that Hermione would ever wish ill of him, and she was only trying to determine the answer to a problem she had found. Very hesitantly, Harry raised his hand and rested it softly on Hermione's shoulder, silently reassuring her that he knew she meant no harm.
Hermione looked up at Harry, and smiled slightly in thanks. She opened her mouth, as though to say something, but was interrupted when everyone's attention was diverted to the kitchen. The very loud crash of shattering china, reverberated around the small area, and Ginny was standing, staring at the hand Harry had on Hermione's shoulder. Harry saw this, and quickly removed it, while shooting a nervous glance at Ron, who was trying to hide a smirk. Mr Weasley immediately stood and approached Ginny swiftly.
"Ginny, are you all right? What happened," He asked softly, voice full of concern at his daughters' strange expression. Ginny must have realized that she had been staring, for she blushed crimson, and stooped to start cleaning up the broken china.
"I'm sorry! They slipped, I'll clean it up," she said, as Mr Weasley knelt beside her.
"Don't worry about the plates, sweetie," he told her, placing his hands on her shoulders, stopping her from picking up the pieces, "they're easily fixed."
Pulling out his wand, Mr Weasley simple said "Repearo", and the plates magically flew back together, looking good as new.
Abruptly, Mrs Weasley stood and strode over to the breakfast table, while pulling out her wand and said to Harry, "Have you eaten anything today, dear?"
Harry mutely shook his head, as he had only just realized this himself. But before he could even think about this revelation, Mrs Weasley conjured a plate of hot sausages, and a loaf of bread.
"Hot Dogs!" she said brightly, as Harry got off the floor and made his way over, to sit at the table.
Everyone else, eagerly followed suit, and soon everyone was chatting merrily across the table, through mouthfuls of sausage.
Once everyone had eaten themselves silent, they all said goodnight and headed off to bed. On the way up to Ron's room, and some much-needed sleep, Harry felt a hand grab his arm and pull him into some shadows.
Harry turned to face whoever had grabbed him, and came face to face with Hermione. She was staring at him in a shrewd, calculating manner that Harry didn't appreciate. Harry crossed his arms and frowned at her, causing her to raise her eyebrows.
"Did you want something?" He asked her bluntly.
Her expression quickly turned to a hurt one, and she shook her head in disbelief.
"How could you, after everything we have all gone through together, how could you so bluntly lie to us?" she said in a mournful choke. She didn't even get to the end of the sentence, before tears filled her eyes again.
"I didn't." Harry replied stonily, and turned to leave, when Hermione spoke again.
"See! You lied flat to my face again! What's gotten in to you?"
Harry was getting frustrated, and for the first time, he wanted to yell at her, but held himself back.
Without turning around to look at her, Harry practically spat, "Nothing has gotten into me, now stop poking your nose in other peoples business."
With that he stormed up the stairs, leaving Hermione staring at his retreating back, tears rolling down her cheeks.
After a few minutes, Harry had cooled down and was beginning to regret his harsh words. He stole a glance over to Ron, who had fallen into a deep sleep, and wondered if he would have the same reaction as Hermione, when he realized Harry was keeping things from him. Harry sighed softly and shook his head, trying to clear it of all the thoughts passing through it.
This was supposed to make his life more enjoyable, not miserable. Sighing again, Harry rolled over in his small bed and removed his glasses.
He would try to make it up to Hermione in the morning.
Over the next few days, Harry found that this was going to be very difficult. Hermione was trying to avoid Harry, and would stay in the same room as him, for only a few minutes or for meals and such. Whenever he tried to catch her eye, or try and talk to her, she would look away and find something that she had to do, or just leave the room. Ron was quite confused at they're strange behaviour, and when Harry had told him that he told Hermione to stop being nosey, Ron was surprisingly angry with him.
"What did you go and tell her that for!?" he told Harry, who looked sourly down at the ground.
"I really didn't mean to snap at her. I'd just had enough for one day and sort of, lost my temper." Harry replied, dejected. Ron's expression had softened slightly, and in a calmer tone, told Harry that he had to go and apologize to her, and threatened that he would lock them in a closet together if they hadn't made up by the end of the day.
So, rather reluctantly, Harry made his way quietly to the living room, where Hermione was immersed in a thick book. For a split second, Harry thought that it was the one he had hidden in his trunk, but as he crept closer, his panic faded as he realized that the book was, 'Hogwarts: A History'.
"Haven't you already read that?" Harry spoke up suddenly, causing Hermione to jump and spin to see who had spoken. Her surprise quickly became defiance as she closed her book, and made to stand up.
Swiftly, Harry moved over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder firmly, preventing her from leaving the chair. Hermione frowned up at him, but her expression quickly turned to defeat, as she looked into Harry's pleading eyes.
Sighing, Hermione slumped back into the chair and waited for Harry to speak.
Hesitating slightly, Harry sat down opposite her, resting his elbow's on his knees.
"I'm sorry, Hermione. You were right. I lied." Harry spoke very softly and hung his head, while Hermione gazed at him pleadingly.
"Why would you lie? I thought we told each other everything?" She replied, just as quietly.
Harry paused for a moment, before plunging onwards.
"I had to tell you something that sounded authentic, because… Because, I promised I wouldn't tell anyone how I got here so quickly."
Harry couldn't believe what he was saying. Here he was, trying to apologize for lying, by covering up his lie…with another lie. It was ridiculous, and Harry was sure that Hermione would see straight through it.
Hermione however, seemed to be considering his answer, trusting that he wouldn't lie to her, while apologizing for doing just that.
"Why didn't you just say that you weren't allowed to tell us?" she said softly.
Harry hesitated briefly before giving his explanation. Why was he lying to her? He could tell her anything, and until now he had. However, something in his gut, refused to let him tell her. Tell anyone.
"I didn't want you all worrying about anything. If I'd told you that I wasn't allowed to say how I got here, you would all think that something had happened. I just don't want the year to start with something new to worry about. I have enough to worry over as it is." Harry grimaced inwardly as he spoke, but he had told at least a smidgen of truth. He did have enough worries to turn him grey.
"Oh, I'm sorry Harry. I didn't realize how much everything was getting to you lately." Hermione answered in an apologetic tone. "It's no wonder you, err - you -." She struggled to continue the sentence, and looked away.
"Lost my temper," Harry finished for her. Hermione looked back up at Harry, and saw the regret lingering in his emerald green eyes.
Hermione suddenly gave Harry a small smirk. "So, am I nosey?" Harry shot a grin back at her, then adopted a mock serious frown.
"You most certainly are, I regret to say...Nosey."
Harry smiled at Hermione, and was quite relieved to see her smile back.
It was intoxicating. He couldn't get enough of the way this made him feel. However, amidst all the excitement, a trickle of guilt flowed through him. He wished that they could share this with him, but that would mean admitting his mistakes. He didn't think that he could stand their rejection. He stared up, into the sparkling night sky, and sensed the coming of a storm……
"Are you sure you want to come today, Harry?" Mrs Weasley asked, as they got ready to leave. They had all decided to go and visit Diagon Alley, and pick up their new school supplies, "You look ill, dear."
She placed a hand on Harry's forehead, checking his temperature, and gazing at the dark circles starting to form under his eyes. Harry shook his head quickly.
"Of course I want to come, I wouldn't miss it. I'm fine, don't worry about me."
Mrs Weasley gazed at Harry in mild concern, but left it at that and took the Floo powder from the top of the fireplace. Everyone got in a line, and helped themselves to a pinch of the powder, before flying through the Floo Network, and into Diagon Alley. Fred and George immediately sought out their friend, Lee Jordan. No doubt to invent new way's to cause more trouble at Hogwart's this year, seeing as it was there're last. Mr and Mrs Weasley took Ginny and told the trio, to meet them back at The Leaky Cauldron in two hours. After they left, Harry, Ron and Hermione went to Gringott's, got they're money, and then proceeded to visit the various shops and stalls, to collect the new thing's that were required for the year. They all went to Madame Malkin's and purchased new robes, for they all had grown to tall for the one's they had. On the way back to the hotel, weighed down by all their packages, Ron finally voiced what he had wanted to say all morning.
"Are you sure you're feeling alright Harry?" He spoke up suddenly, "because you do look a little pale, mate."
Ron was eyeing him off with a look of mild concern on his freckled face, and Hermione was gazing at him expectantly. Harry looked between them, feeling irritated. Why did everyone have to get so worked up over him? It's as if Harry didn't know when he was unwell. Well he knew exactly what was wrong with him, but he wasn't going to tell anyone the reasons behind it. Harry stopped walking abruptly, so Ron and Hermione came to a halt also, turning to face Harry, expecting an answer.
Harry sighed inwardly as he formed the tale in his mind, wondering again why he didn't just come out and tell them the truth.
"Listen guy's, I know that your worried about me and I appreciate it, but I'm fine," Harry paused slightly to read the expression's on they're faces, and was annoyed to find disbelief on both of them. "I'm serious, I just haven't been sleeping very well lately, OK?"
Hermione simply nodded her head, while Ron was eyeing him questioningly.
"How can you not be sleeping well, when your hardly ever asleep?," he said, matter of factly, "Your almost never in bed anymore."
Harry looked at Ron with a slight sense of panic. Had he found out?
Harry then looked over at Ron with a trace of contempt, etched on his face. Ron looked slightly taken aback at Harry's cold response, but Harry didn't really care at this point.
"So now your keeping tab's on my sleeping hours, are you?" Harry said, cold sarcasm lacing his voice.
Ron looked away, a hurt expression forming on his features.
"No, I just here you walk in every night, leave, then come back at about four a.m. I don't know about you, but I call that not sleeping."
Harry felt his anger ebb away, and scolded himself silently for his harsh reaction to his friend's words. What he had said, was in fact, very close to the truth, but Harry wasn't about to tell him the reason for his night-time outings. Seeing that Ron still bore a begrudged look, Harry decided to end the discussion.
"Look, I'm sorry about what I said. It's just that, I get tired of everyone worrying about me. The slightest little things, and people drop everything and come running" he finished with a scowl. Hermione took the opportunity to speak, for she had kept silent through the discussion seeing as it involved Harry and Ron.
"Harry, we only worry because we care about you," she said seriously. Harry looked at them both, knowing what she said was true, then looked at the ground, ashamed. How could he ever tell them that he was disregarding EVERY safety measure, that was in place solely for his protection, just so he could enjoy a sense of freedom. Harry decided that he should change the subject, for he didn't wish to continue the topic.
"Anyway, like I said before, there is nothing wrong with me."
As they nodded their heads, reluctantly agreeing, they heard a cold drawling voice call out from the crowd….
"Not yet there isn't, Potter. However I'd be surprised if you make it to the end of this year still alive, or maybe you'll get someone else killed again."
Draco Malfoy was edging his way towards them, through the crowded alley, with a sneer plastered on his pale features. Harry felt his blood boil as Malfoy came closer to their gathering, wanting with all his being, to throw himself at the Slytherin and to at least give him a broken nose. Draco must have noticed Harry's aggressiveness towards him, for his sneer faltered for a moment, being replaced by slight caution, before returning to it's normal over confidence.
"Shove off Malfoy," Ron spat, as he struggled to subtly hold Harry back off Malfoy, while Hermione had balled her hands up into fists.
"Oh, look who's here" said Malfoy with the air of sarcastic surprise. "The Weasel and the Mudblood have graced us with their woeful presence."
He smiled coldly at their furious reactions, knowing that they could do nothing drastic in response to his words. His confidence was replaced with shock when he glanced at Harry. He was shaking uncontrollably with suppressed rage as the memory of Malfoy's father, watching with his fellow Death Eaters as Harry was made to duel with the reborn Voldemort, swam into view.
Even Ron and Hermione seemed taken aback, at the extent of Harry's hatred, and had edged slightly away from him.
Harry had never felt such rage before in his life, and he didn't know where it stemmed from, but he didn't fight the urges that were flowing through him. In this case, he almost welcomed them. Finally, when he could take his rage no longer, Harry leapt at Malfoy, who wore a look of terror.
However, as Harry threw himself forward, he slammed into something very solid, that had stepped between them at the last instant. As Harry staggered backwards, he felt a pair of strong hands steady him.
Harry let the stranger hold him steady as he shook his head, trying to clear it as the rage he had felt slowly vanished. Hermione and Ron quickly rushed to his side, asking if he was all right. As Harry nodded in response, he looked up at the person that he had run into.
A young man of around twenty five, was giving Harry an apologetic grin, as he stared searchingly at Harry with startling blue-green eyes.
"Sorry about that," he said in a deep, powerful voice. "I didn't see you there, are you alright?"
"Yes, I'm fine thanks," said Harry, as the man released him from his grip. As Harry straightened up, he took a closer look at the man, who was still eyeing Harry with a touch of concern. He was quite tall, just over six feet, and was of a tanned complexion. His jet black straight hair hung from a pony tail, that reached his shoulder blades, was greying at the temples. His build resembled that of a boxer in his prime, and he gave off an aura of authority. His clothing, however, was very strange for someone found in Diagon Alley. He wore a pair of faded denim jeans, and a black singlet stretched across his broad chest. A leather knapsack, was flung over his back, and looked as if it contained only a few items. Strangely, he wore no footwear, and a piece of old leather was strapped around each wrist.
Harry realized that he was staring, so he broke the silence amongst them.
"Um, not to sound rude or anything, but….are you a Muggle that knows how to get in here?" he said cautiously as he eyed the man's clothing. Surprisingly, the man laughed at the question.
"Don't worry, your not the first wizard to ask me that, and to answer it, no I'm not a Muggle." he replied kindly. Harry saw him pause briefly to throw a glance behind himself. As he turned back around, Harry heard him chuckle, and he shook his head. Seeing Harry's questioning glance, he gestured behind him and said, "Your other friend seems to have left you behind."
Harry had completely forgotten that Malfoy had been there, and stepped sideways to look around the man.
A scowl appeared on Harry's face as he looked back at him. "He, is not our friend, and that's putting it mildly."
The man simply nodded, leaving it at that, knowing that it wasn't his place to interfere. Suddenly his face wore the expression of mock horror, and he gave a short bow. "But how rude am I? For I have not even introduced myself to you and your friend's. My name is Hank O'Fallen."
Although Harry had never met Hank before, he was sure he knew him, but he wasn't sure how. None the less, he accepted the hand that Hank extended, as did Ron and Hermione, each stating their names. Harry was very surprised at Hank's reaction to the sound of his name. Most other wizards did a double take, and their eyes raked his hairline to see if they could spot his scar. However Hank had merely nodded politely, and smiled at him.
"A pleasure to meet you all," he told them, kindly. "However," he said as he straightened up, "I delay you from arriving at your planned destination, so I will hold you up no longer."
Hank gave them a short nod of farewell, and as he left, he said over his shoulder, "I hope to meet you all again soon."
Harry, Ron and Hermione all gave a small wave at Hank's retreating back, then set about picking up the item's that Harry had unconsciously flung aside, just before Hank's timely arrival.
As Harry picked up 'A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration,' he through another glance towards Hank's area, still not shaking the feeling that they had met before.
"He was very pleasant, wasn't he?" said Hermione. "Even if he did dress a little strangely."
Ron shook his head in exasperation as he heard Hermione's last words.
"Hermione, he was dressed like a Muggle, and *your* a Muggle born. Remember? How can you say that he dresses strangely when you used to dress in that stuff as well !"
Hermione shot Ron a dark look, before continuing gathering items.
"For your information Ron, no Muggle in London would dress in that assortment of clothing on a day like this," she pointed out while looking pointedly at the sky, which was very dark and threatened rain, at the least.
"All the more reason to get back to the Leaky Cauldron," spoke up Harry, butting into the growing argument. Ron and Hermione gave a quick nod in agreement, before picking up the rest of Harry's gear and setting off to meet the others.
Back at The Burrow, Fred and George had taken Ron aside to give him a gift. At first, he was rightfully reluctant, but after they promised that it wasn't another prank, he left with them. As they rounded the corner, Fred caught Harry's eye, and gave him a wink before continuing with his brother's.
Harry smiled as he turned back towards Hermione, who had seen Fred's message. She gave Harry a piercing look before whispering to him, "What are they going to do to him?. They're not going to use him as a guinea pig again are they?, because if they are - ," she had started to stand, and follow the twin's, when Harry had silenced her by holding up his hands, and motioning for her to resume her seat.
Hesitantly, she complied and was now patiently waiting for Harry's reason to be so sure of the Twin's honesty.
"Look, they're not playing a trick on him," Harry told her quietly. "They're only doing what I asked them to do at the end of last term."
Hermione was eyeing him expectantly, silently telling him to elaborate.
Harry sighed before resigning himself to the fact, that he was going to have to tell her what he had done on the train, after she and Ron had left the compartment. "After you and Ron walked out of the train, I gave Fred and George my Tri Wizard winnings."
Hermione looked shocked, and opened her mouth to say something, but closed it again when Harry raised a hand saying he hadn't finished. "I told them it was for the joke shop, but that they had to buy Ron some new dress robes with some of it."
Almost on cue, Ron came bursting into the room, wearing very hansom burgundy robes, made of silk with golden trimming embroidered around the hemline on the bottom and on the neckline.
"Hey guy's! Look what Fred and George got me! Aren't they great," he was positively ecstatic about having something that was brand new, and not a hand-me-down. Harry couldn't blame him though.
While Ron was showing off his robes to Hermione and Ginny, who had come over to see what the commotion was about, Harry snuck a look towards the doorway, where Fred and George stood, beaming at their little brother. He nodded his head towards them in silent thanks, and they gave him a thumb's up in reply.
Finally, the first of September arrived, and The Burrow was a hive of activity. People were rushing in every which way, making sure that they hadn't forgotten anything, while Mrs Weasley was bustling around the kitchen, making sandwiches for everybody.
When everyone was sure they had everything, they all hauled their trunks out onto the lawn, and waited for the taxi's that Mr Weasley had phoned.
Harry checked the new watch that Ron had got him for his birthday, and saw that it was nine o'clock.
If they didn't hurry, they all would miss the Hogwart's Express. As the minute's passed by, they were giving each other nervous glances, wondering where the taxi's could have gotten. As the clock reached ten thirty, Mr Weasley threw his hands up in exasperation.
"Alright, that's it! Everybody back into the house. It's time for desperate measures." He opened the door to the house, and ushered everybody inside. As soon as they were all gathered in the lounge room, Mr Weasley went to the fireplace and retrieved the Floo Powder from the hearth. He motioned for everyone to keep back, as he threw a handful into the flames. As the emerald flames erupted, Mr Weasley pulled out his wand and said a strange incantation. While Harry was still trying to work out what effect the words would have had on the flames, Mr Weasley spoke to everyone in unison.
"OK everyone, we're taking the Floo Network into Platform 9 ¾. Molly," he said in a rush, motioning towards the fire. "You take Ginny through first, then Fred and George after you, Err, Ron - You go with Hermione, and I'll follow you, with Harry." Everyone merely nodded to acknowledge that they understood, before taking their appropriate place in the line towards the fire.
Harry watched as Mrs Weasley and Ginny, shouted, "Platform 9 ¾!," and were instantly whisked away in the green flames. Fred and George followed suit, followed by an uncharacteristically awkward, Ron, and Hermione. As they vanished from view, Harry and Mr Weasley stepped into the warm flames. Harry held onto his trunk a little tighter, not wanting to lose it through the journey, considering what was hidden in it. Harry chanced a quick look at the time before he prepared himself for the rough ride ahead of him. It was a quarter to eleven. Bracing himself, Harry drew a deep breath and hollered, "Platform 9 ¾!" in unison with Mr Weasley. As Harry saw Mr Weasley, Hedwig and his trunk vanish, he suddenly experienced the sensation of being stuck in place, wanting to move, but unable to.
Abruptly, he felt himself being thrown from the fire, as though discarded like a piece of garbage.
Harry landed heavily on the opposite side of the room, and stood up shakily, panic and uncertainty coursing through him. Why wasn't he able to travel the Network? He had been able to not that long ago, when he ventured to Diagon Alley. But now Harry had no way of reaching King's Cross Station. Harry suddenly smiled knowingly. At least, no legal way of getting there…..
He couldn't believe how the situation always arose to his convenience, every time he wished to escape. He ran through the streets, oblivious to the screaming that was following his passage. He needed to go faster, to push his limits and see how much he could take. He looked around to regain his bearings, ignoring the rain that was pelting down upon his body, and leapt off towards his target once more…..
Harry rounded the corner of the alleyway he had taken as a shortcut, trying to shave as much time off the trip as he could. He sprinted up the street towards Kings Cross, nearly slipping over more than once on the way. He looked at his watch again to see if he was able to make it in time, and saw through the water droplets, that it had just gone quarter past eleven. Harry let out a despairing groan as he slowed down to a jog, and wondered if the barrier would still be open.
Panting slightly, he entered King's Cross and cast a quick look around. Nothing seemed out of place, so he headed towards the ticket box between platform's nine and ten. Harry cast a discreet glace towards all the muggles, to see if anyone had noticed his arrival, and when he was satisfied no one was looking his way, leant up against the barrier.
Immediately, Harry felt himself fall sideways through the magical doorway, and only just caught himself before falling to the concrete. Harry straightened up quickly and looked around, to find the platform deserted, and the Hogwart's Express was nowhere to be seen.
Harry sighed and resigned himself to the fact, that he would have to find his own way to Hogwart's this year. As he ambled over to the train tracks, he felt a little dismissed, for there wasn't even a note left for him. Though he thought to himself, Mr Weasley probably apperated back to The Burrow, when he realized that Harry hadn't arrived with his belongings, but Harry had left so soon afterwards, he probably missed him by a good few minutes. And they certainly wouldn't expect him to turn up here so soon afterwards.
Harry sighed again as he decided that he would have to get to Hogwart's the same way he got here. Not that he didn't like it, but it meant explaining himself to more than just Hermione. Dumbledore would want to know this time as well, as would Professor Snape, Ron, Ginny and the rest of the family. He knew that the scene would grow ugly, when he told them that he couldn't tell them how he got there. Dumbledore would bide his time, until he was ready to tell him. Harry was sure of that, but Professor Snape would almost certainly demand on the spot, for Harry to divulge the way he had gotten to the school so quickly, and accuse him of breaking every law in existence in the process.
Although Harry would call, 'every law in existence,' a bit of an exaggeration, he would agree with Snape, though he would never admit that to his face.
Reluctantly, Harry set off down the tracks, in the direction of his school.
As he travelled, he tried to come up with a good explanation, for his speedy arrival, but nothing really convincing came to mind. This wasn't going to be easy.