Disclaimer – This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by J. K. Rowling, various publishers including, but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, and Raincoast Books, and Warner Brothers, Inc. No profit is being made, and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. In the interest of story continuity, a certain scene is taken at near-verbatim from Order of the Phoenix; they are in no way my work, but J. K. Rowling's.

Spoilers: OotP

Rating: ?

Summary: Harry's summer away from Hogwarts after Order of the Phoenix. A suprising change in Aunt Petunia, a visit to Grimmauld Place, and a revelation from Snape himself.

*author's note – I started to get this idea as I read OotP, but I'm having to go through it again and try to remember some details from the other four books. Consequently I've split this into three chapters – one is finished, two and three are soon to follow. Thanks to Wolfie for letting me shamelessly borrow her copies instead of buying my own. :p

Fear Itself

Chapter One

The image of young Professor Trelawny stood within the Pensieve, small and ghostlike, as Harry sat in the chair across from Professor Dumbledore. She spoke in uncharacteristic rough tones:


Harry flashed back to the scene beneath Hogwarts nearly six years before. He stood staring down at the remains of Professor Quirrell and his ashen clothes. As with all his nightmares for the last several months, Harry ponderously looked at the Sorcerer's Stone. But instead of the smoky visage of Voldemort rising up to scream through him, he heard the awful voice from moments before.

"You heard her, Harry. I cannot live while you survive, and so you must die at my hands. You have escaped me a fifth time now, but I know your secret, and I am coming for you." Harry heard a step behind him and turned toward the noise. The scene changed to the Death Chamber in the Department of Mysteries, deep within the Ministry of Magic. His godfather, Sirius Black, stepped forward from the shadows of the darkened doorway. It had seemed moments since Harry had watched him fall into that blackness.

Harry started towards him, but stopped almost immediately, as he had done so many times before. "You're not him. Sirius is—"

"Dead," rasped Voldemort's voice, issuing from Sirius' mouth. Harry could see the cold rage reflected in the impostor's eyes. "Dead from your own stupidity. You may be marked as my equal," Voldemort hissed with contempt, "but how I do enjoy seeing

you suffer. It is like an appetizer before the delicious main course." This last sounded almost like glee, if a snake could be described as being gleeful.

Boiling anger contorted Harry's face. "STOP USING HIM LIKE THAT!!" Harry slapped a hand to his hip, groping for the wand holster that wasn't there. With ponderous slowness, Harry's head turned to where his hand was searching. His wand, which he kept with him constantly, was nowhere to be seen on his hip.

"Looking for something, Harry?" Voldemort's voice rasped. Harry looked back up to see the image of his godfather holding his wand. Taking each end in both hands, Voldemort snapped it in half with a resounding crack. Sparks showered out, accompanied by a distant, high-pitched scream.

"Now I have you, you cannot escape." The visage of Sirius grew until all Harry could see was his face. His mouth opened and shrieked, moving forward quickly – engulfing Harry, swallowing him whole.

Harry came awake with a wordless shout. He was sitting up in his bed at Number Four Privet Drive, covered in sweat. It was still dark, and he fumbled for his glasses when a hand placed them in his. With a start, Harry jammed them on his face, looking around.

"It's only me, Harry." He recognized his Aunt Petunia's voice, which sounded odd without its usual contempt. "You've been muttering for the past half-hour. Fortunately Vernon has become a heavy sleeper and Dudley is away in Paris with friends. Do you want to talk about it?" She was sitting on the edge of his bed, but he couldn't see more than her shadow.

Harry sat quietly for a moment, staring at the outline of his aunt. "It's the same nightmare, Aunt Petunia," was all he could offer. They had started almost as soon as he had returned home from the train station. Even though this scene had been repeated several times in the past few weeks, it still seemed unnatural to have his aunt appear so concerned. Petunia gave a small sigh.

"Well, nephew, it's half-past four. Shall we have some tea then?" Harry responded with a polite yes, please and as soon as she stood, he tossed back the covers and found his slippers.

As they made their way down the stairs, Harry recalled the moment they arrived home. Dudley had been silent, while Uncle Vernon began to rail at him. Aunt Petunia remained silent, and Harry was still so sunk in misery that he missed her lack of support.

"Well, boy, I can't say as I'm too pleased at being threatened by your friends back at the station. Seeing as how we've been good enough to allow you to stay here after all the nonsense we've had to put up with the last five years… Well, I'm not having any ruddy freaks tromping up my walk every three days! You can send your messages, and you can make your phone calls, but not until everyone else in this house is asleep, you hear me, boy??

"And since you're using the phone, you can help out around here. I expect you to cut the lawn every Thursday, and help your aunt around the house and garden whenever she needs it. You're going to earn your keep around here, starting as of this summer.

"Since this Voldyperson is loose and after you, you aren't to leave the house without myself or Petunia for any reason. We've had an owl from that Dimbalore fellow at your school, and frankly I think it's a bunch of rubbish. Trying to scare us into treating you better, he is, and I resent it! Now go to your room!" Uncle Vernon seemed to be getting redder as he carried on. Now that he was finished, he was panting and staring balefully at Harry.

Harry resolutely dragged his trunk up the stairs with one hand, while carrying Hedwig's cage in the other. He fumbled with his door and kicked it open. It wasn't until after he'd dragged his trunk in and settled Hedwig's cage on top of it that he noticed an addition to his room. A television!

Looking at it, Harry instantly recognized it as one of Dudley's cast-offs, but the message was clear enough to him. If he was going to persist in watching the news, he could do it up here away from the rest of the household. There was no note to indicate who might have put it there, but Harry didn't care.

After a few moments of stunned satisfaction, Harry closed the door and sat on his bed. Home. He didn't like the fact that he was going to be stuck here for a whole summer again. It was necessary, he knew, but he didn't have to like it. He had been hoping that he could go and stay with Sirius at Grimmauld Place this year. Harry tried to choke back the tears and failed.

If only he had tried harder at Occlumency lessons, if only he hadn't tried to play the hero… There were so many ifs and Harry couldn't go back and change them. Sirius was gone, and it was his fault. Padfoot wasn't coming back, just like Nearly Headless Nick had said, and it served Harry right.

Distantly, Harry had heard the car doors shut, and the engine rattle to life. Hedwig gave a quiet hoot. He barely noticed when the Dursleys' car backed out onto Privet Drive and drove away. He didn't care, so long as they were gone. He lay back on the bed, staring at the ceiling.

Harry was surprised when, a short time after the car had gone, a light knock came upon his door. When he didn't answer right away, the door opened and Aunt Petunia leaned in. "Can I come in, Harry?" He nodded his head, wondering why she was asking at all. She came and sat on the edge of his bed, and had the strangest look on her face.

Aunt Petunia waited a few moments before she spoke. "Harry, I want you to know something. Despite how Vernon and I might feel about what you are, we do want to see you grow up. Vernon doesn't believe much of what Dumbledore had to say in his letter to us, but I do. If you want to talk about anything, anything at all, I'll listen." Harry was completely taken by surprise. The look on her face was concern!

"Vernon set the rules, and I'd have you follow them to keep the peace. Dudley is going to spend the summer in Paris with friends, and his father has gone with him on the TGV to make sure they meet properly. He's coming back tomorrow, so if you'd like, you can come down for supper.

Harry stared at his aunt, wondering who had stolen her away and replaced her with a proper aunt. She moved as if to go, but Harry put his hand out. He looked at the telly and then back at her questioningly, unable to ask aloud.

"Believe it or not, that was Dudley's idea. He got a new one at Christmas, and Vernon started in about how you were watching the news last summer. Your uncle couldn't understand why, but we all do now. Try to keep the volume down, and he's agreed to pretend you don't have it. Dinner's on in an hour." Harry watched her leave, stunned.

That night, and nearly every night after, the horror visited him in his dreams. Each time he awoke to find his aunt sitting on the bed with him. It was comforting in its own way, but Harry could only manage to tell her about Voldemort being in them. That was all he could say without falling to pieces in front of her. She never pressed him, and she never coddled him, but she was there just the same.

Vernon said very little to Harry, and did his level best to ignore his presence in general, which was just fine with Harry. Hedwig went out every couple of days, but his messages were short. Nothing much going on here… Things are fairly quiet… I'm getting fair treatment… Harry didn't really feel like saying much, but it wasn't safe to discuss anything more anyway.

Harry wasn't surprised that his friends were doing little more than he was. Hope you're doing well… We can't wait to see you again… from Hermione. Ron had written similar messages, but also engaged in a correspondence wizard's chess game with him. Since Harry didn't have a proper board, he made do with a muggle set, but he only played half-heartedly.

Fred and George even sent him some of their newer inventions for the joke shop once. Snap Dragons, which the package proclaimed in bold red letters to actually turn into four inch tall dragon statues that snapped at shirt sleeves and shoelaces whenever someone wandered too near. Harry wasn't even tempted to try it on his uncle, but it was fun to watch it natter at his shoes for a bit.

George had written in his note that he and his brother had been working on a dragon that went round breathing flames. After starting a fire that had taken great effort to put out, they were back to the drawing board on it.

The Falling Hat was entertaining too. It fit well enough when you put it on, but as soon as you moved about, it gradually grew to slip over eyes and ears. It also had a chameleon version that looked like any hat it touched. The best, they said, they were saving for Harry's birthday at the Burrow.

Harry received the most suprising letters he had all summer that first week. One came from Snape, which was even more brief than any of his: Keep practicing, Potter – Prof. Snape. The meaning was clear enough – Harry was being told to keep up his Occlumency practice. He savagely tore the letter to shreds after reading it the first time.

The second letter came from the last person Harry expected, Percy Weasly. It too was short, offering an apology for not believing him and that he would see him at the Burrow. Harry didn't know what to make of that, and so he tossed it in the garbage with the shreds of Snape's note.

Summer dragged by, and Harry quietly watched the news, scanning for signs of Voldemort's activities. He was disgusted, but relieved that once again Voldemort had decided to stay low.

Thursdays were taken up with lawn cutting, and helping his aunt weed the garden and pot plants. He stayed out of his uncle's sight as much as possible, left the house rarely, and spoke even less. The days dredged by as Harry made small attempts to work on his summer homework but seemed to make little headway in it.

At least Hedwig was in a good mood. It was all Harry could do not to succumb to the cavernous hole in his chest each day. The night terror of his godfather's form and Voldemort's voice blaming him was a constant litany of truth. Aunt Petunia seemed to grow more and more concerned at his continuous silence. It made Harry long for the mother he'd never known.