Author's Notes:  This story is a little diddy that's been floating through my mind for a while.  I'm writing this for my enjoyment and for the enjoyment of others.  I have no aspirations to become a professional writer and view scathing, sarcastic commentary as a sign of mental illness. (In other words, criticism is welcome if it is constructive.  If you don't know how to do this, then learn the art as it is perhaps the most lucrative job and social skill one can hone.) 

I hope you enjoy. 

Chapter 1 – Number Seven Privet Drive

The mid-July summer evening was unusually warm and stuffy.  It was unpleasantly humid; the soupy air had the same consistency as when one was stuffed in a small-overheated room with too many people for too long leaving the recycled, heavy, air stale, lifeless, and putrid.  Even the slight breeze that stirred the hydrangea bush Harry lay under offered little comfort.  The young man turned to his side, pressing his face closer to the cool earth in hopes of gaining some relief from the semi-damp ground.  He closed his eyes briefly and listened to the evening news—a nightly tradition he began last summer and continued this year.  The hydrangea provided a double sanctuary for him as it not only provided cover and shade, but it was a private place where he could think, consider, and mentally punish himself for the death of Sirius Black.

When he returned to the Dursleys the prior month, Mad Eye Moody's threat did seem to purchase Harry some space and the Dursleys, more or less, left him alone in his private place although they very well knew he was there.  In the mornings Aunt Petunia always had a list of chores for him (none for his Cousin Dudley, of course).  He was almost accepting of the tasks, as they were dull and mundane and kept his mind from wandering to far more unpleasant thoughts.  More than once he even asked for more work, to which his astonished aunt replied that she had none.  Uncle Vernon, normally not one to pass up an opportunity to insult or throttle him, left him alone—acknowledging the boy with an occasional grunt or glare through his narrowed, piggy eyes.

Ron and Hermione wrote faithfully everyday (letters delivered through Muggle post, thankfully), although Harry couldn't help but notice that the content of the letters were strikingly similar, as if they were together when they were written.  He would also receive an owl from Remus every few days, filling him in as much as security would allow on the goings on at Grimmauld Place.  Hermione, he understood, was spending most of her time at the Order headquarters with a few days here and there with her family.  He never did understand why her parents allowed her to spend so much time away from them (school aside).  Had he had real parents, he scowled, he would not be so eager to traipse off and leave them behind.

"Doesn't she care?" Harry thought to himself, opening his eyes.  "If I had parents… If I had Sirius…"

Peeling back a few branches he looked through to Privet Drive, bending his head to scan the street up and down.  A few neighbors worked in their yards, hurrying to clean up before the dusk and to squeeze out a few more gallons of water on their lawns when no one was looking.  Everything on Privet Drive was neat and tidy; each house exactly as the other down to the lights, bushes, and the criss-cross patterns of the mowed lawns.  If conformity were the path to righteousness, Privet Drive would rival the Vatican.

Every house, except for Number Seven.

For years a shriveled old lady who, Harry swore, lived her entire life parked in front of her curtains had occupied Number Seven.  Every odd event, strange occurrence and sure enough Harry would turn to see her steely eyes peering through the blinds, her face scrunched in such a way that, although he could not see her mouth, he knew she was scowling.  Occasionally he would see her outside, but he did not see her this year— she didn't live in Number Seven anymore.

In February, or so Harry had found out overhearing Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon talk, the woman (Mrs. Nesbett, he later learned—all those years he never did know her name) put her house up for sale and moved to some London suburb to be closer to her daughter.  Less than a month later it was sold—to a single woman in her mid-thirties although Harry rarely saw her.  Like most on Privet Drive she worked and kept to herself and, as far as Harry could tell, was just as bland and boring as the next person.

"At least," Harry mused, "She doesn't seem to interested in me."

As he went to lean back to listen to the news some more, a flash of red caught his eye.  It looked like; at least for the split second Harry noticed it, a tiny, bright red cap in the bushes at Number Seven.  He pulled the branches apart more and leaned forward.  Again, he saw a glimpse of red—but just for a second.  He got up from the hydrangea, brushing the loose dirt from his oversized trousers and stepped out of the flower patch and headed across the street.  Reaching the sidewalk in front of Number Seven, he studied the bushes again but could not spot the red, although he did notice from a few telltale small mounds of dirt that the bushes adorning it did have a significant mole problem. 

Hearing a loud screech, he pulled up his head to see a large Eagle Owl circling overhead.  "Oh, bloody night," Harry sighed, "Not in broad daylight…"  Harry enjoyed getting owl posts from his friends, but always took some wrath from Uncle Vernon in the process.  Although the skies were getting darker as dusk approached, it certainly was enough light that the remaining neighbors could see the owl, the scroll it carried, and the highly unusual sight of it giving something to Harry.  He was about ready to retreat to the house when the owl circled over Number Seven, then flew past Harry, missive still attached, as if the bird made a wrong delivery or was lost. 

"Is there something wrong?" a cold voice inquired, making Harry jump. 

"Err… no…" Harry replied and turned to face the person who addressed him.  "I thought I saw something in the bushes, an odd animal," Harry clarified. 

"I see," the woman replied.  She was a thin woman with a severe appearance, 'librarian-like' Harry thought for a second as she, in no small way, reminded him of Madame Pince the Hogwart's librarian, although he knew that it was quite unlikely they were at all related.  The woman was about 5 or 6 inches shorter than Harry, who was now just slightly shy of six feet tall, with mousy brown hair pulled back into a bun.  She wore a well-tailored grey woman's suit with a plain-buttoned white silk blouse.  The woman was not particularly attractive with a long nose that was quite too big for her face and gave the illusion that her pale, concrete grey eyes were slightly crossed.

"An owl too," Harry said nervously.  "Must have been hunting, although I've never seen an owl like that live in this area…"

"Owls do strange things," the woman replied quickly.  "I will check the bushes in the morning."  With a quick nod, but not even an introduction, the woman made her way to her door and entered inside.

~***~

"So you did at least get her name?" Aunt Petunia asked when Harry entered the house.  He stopped in his tracks, stunned, as this was perhaps the first time Aunt Petunia talked to him without yelling, accusing him of something, or giving him a chore.  Seeing the boy's confounded face, she probed, "Certainly you are not that dense?"

"I didn't get a name," Harry said truthfully.  "I thought I saw something…" he shook his head.  "Then the owl…"

"Quit talking nonsense boy," Uncle Vernon said behind his paper.

"She put a really tall fence up around her back yard," Dudley chimed in, immediately getting his Mother's attention.  "Danny Watkins lives in back of her.  He says the fence is so high you can't see in."

"Nonsense," Uncle Vernon folded his paper, but continued reading. "The ordinances are quite strict here and no one could ever get approval for such a thing.  Besides," he looked over the paper and pointed at the living room window, "You could see it from here if that were the case.  You can't, therefore Danny is making things up.  Again.  You are way to clever of a lad to believe everything you hear.  Pretty soon, you'll claim that Danny said one of the freaks from Harry's world moved in…"

"Well, whatever," Aunt Petunia cut in and then walked over to the window, carefully peeling back the blinds so she could look over.  "Never see her around…"

"What do you care, Petunia?" Uncle Vernon asked in an agitated voice.  "Half the neighbors on the street have been here for 10 years or more and you'd be hard pressed to know what they looked like, let alone their names!"

"In this day and age, Vernon," Petunia replied, "It is wise to know who lives near you.  And, for that matter, I have a list of all the names of the neighbors, what they do, and what time they leave in the morning."  Stomping over to the mantle of their fake fireplace, she opened a small box and produced a piece of paper.  Unfolding it, she presented a tidy list.  "The Matthews, Number Eleven Privet Drive, have two children.  Mr. Matthews leaves at 7:20 am while Mrs. Matthews leaves at 7:15 am with the children.  It looks like one of the children is too young for the primary school, so I conclude that she drops her off at the nursery giving her time to drop her elder son off at the primary school later…"

"Perhaps you cannot be too careful," Vernon replied.  Although he was as nosey about the neighbors as the next person, he didn't venture into it as a full-time hobby.  "So, I suppose you require the newest neighbor's name for your collection?"  Not waiting for her to answer, Vernon grabbed the remote and turned on the tele, turning up the volume slightly.

"It's not a collection," Petunia corrected despite the fact Vernon had already tuned her out.  "It's for our safety.  Think of the property values should someone unsavory move in.  I feel that this is an important way to protect our investment."  Walking back to the window, she peered out through the now dimly lit street.  The sky was dusk, but not yet dark enough for the street lights to come on.  "Judging from how she keeps her bushes…"

"I think she's a professional," Harry said.  "Works in London, I'd guess from the clothes and all.  Very conservative."

"Banking perhaps?" Petunia said with a slight hint of approval, forgetting for the moment she was having a conversation with the boy.

Harry shrugged his shoulders indicating he didn't know. 

"That damn Figg woman again," Petunia said while grinding teeth, as she lowered the blinds slightly so the squib on the street could not see she was being spied upon.  "To think she is a… a… freak.  I should have never trusted her…" 

Harry walked over to the window and cautiously peered outside.  Arabella Figg was out for her nightly walk.  She always made it a point to pass by the house at least once a day.  Although Harry tried to understand that the routine was for his protection, he was starting to understand the Dursley's point that it was an invasion of their privacy.  He felt like he was constantly being watched and that feeling was about as uncomfortable as being vulnerable.

The squib had stopped in front of his house, but was looking at Number Seven.  Not directly at Number Seven, but the sky above it.  A lone owl, a different one than from a few minutes earlier as far as Harry could tell, circled a few times without landing and then flew off—like the last, as if it were lost. 

"One of those bloody owls is looking for you," Petunia sighed.  "Stupid things…"

"They're quite bright," Harry said in retort.  "If it had something for me, it would have delivered it.  I think it's just hunting…"

"Hmm…" Petunia said.  She and Harry kept on looking out the window, ignoring that Dudley now began to whine.

"But it's the conclusion of a three-part," Dudley began.

"Shh…" Vernon warned his son. 

"I'm going out to talk with her," Harry said.

"Do tell her to keep off our property, will you?" Aunt Petunia said with distain.  "And another thing…"

"Oh boy!" Vernon and Dudley were laughing hysterically.  "Lucius, Rodolphus, Rabastan… what did a circus escape?"

"What was that?" Harry rushed over and grabbed the remote, turning the volume up louder so he could hear the announcement over their laughter. 

"Authorities have been told that these criminals are extremely dangerous.  You are not to approach or attempt to apprehend them…" the announcer said in a serious voice that hid an underlying panic as a series of photos flashed in the view box behind him.

"Walden Macnair," Vernon pointed to a still photo of a burley man with a black mustache.  "That's the only normal name in the group."

"That's because they've escaped from Azkaban!  All of them are wizards and witches!" Harry shouted.  "They set a trap for me earlier this year… they were caught but since the Dementors left Azkaban…"

"The Dementors are roaming free?" Petunia shouted in fear and then clasped her hand over her mouth.  It seemed that Vernon was distracted by the announcement and did not notice her outburst.

"Don't tell me they're coming here, boy!" Vernon roared.  "Petunia!  Promise or not… this will be the SECOND time that he's led danger right to our door…"

"But I'm safe here!" Harry protested.  "Besides, I don't think they know I'm here… unless some in the Ministry working for them…"

"I don't give a rat's arse about YOU boy!" Vernon yelled back.  "That thing nearly took Dudley last year.  Sure, boy, YOU'RE safe.  What about US?"  He shook his meaty finger in Harry's face.  "Dumbledork doesn't give a care about…" His tirade was cut short as a huge explosion rocked the house.  "Oh NO!" he yelled, "THEY'RE HERE!  PETUNIA, DUDLEY, TO THE CUPBOARD UNDER THE STAIRS… NOW!" 

Everyone rushed to the cupboard and opened the door.  When Harry was younger it was his room… his life.  He recalled the quarters being cramped, but staring into the small space, he began to realize just how much he had grown over the past few years.  "Not YOU boy," Vernon growled pushing him to the wall, "Remember, you're the SAFE one here." 

Harry looked on, nervously watching the door (why, as any semi-adept wizard could apparate next to him if he chose) and the sight of Dudley trying to squeeze his way into the cupboard, like a piggified Winnie the Pooh squeezing out of Rabbit's hole.  After a few minutes the boy was hopelessly stuck and the amusing antics of watching his Aunt and Uncle trying to free his cousin made him forget that they were supposedly under attack.

"Uncle Vernon," Harry cleared his throat.  "If the escaped wizards were here… shook the house… they would have come in already and killed us.  I'd think…"  Harry tried to smile as he looked upon his Uncle whose red face beaded with sweat from the physical exertion of trying to extract his equally large son from the small stair cupboard.

"You enjoyed that, didn't you!" Vernon screamed, causing a large vein on the temple of his forehead to pulsate.  "Causing a panic… being the center of attention…"  As he continued his tirade, an owl flew in through the open kitchen window and into the hall, dropping a letter at Harry's feet. 

Scooping it up, Harry quickly opened it.  "Maybe some instructions from Professor Dumbledore," he offered in an attempt to console his hyper Uncle.  Unfolding the letter, he read.  "Underage Magic?  But I didn't do it…"

Uncle Vernon grabbed the letter and read it.  Looking at the boy, the then referred to the letter, stabbing it with his index finger, "See here, several dates and times.  They were not just referring to tonight.  Levitation Charms, Thermagentic Potion Brewing… Looks like they've been very patient.  Another inquiry and hearing, but at least they're not sending a pack of freaks to confiscate your wand.  Not like that's entirely a bad idea in one form."

"Thermagentic Potion Brewing?" Harry balked.  "That's NEWT level work.  I don't have a clue how to do that!  And, look," Harry pointed to one specific entry.  "We were at Aunt Marge's house for dinner that night."

"You were lucky she even allowed you into her home!" Vernon added but then realized the boy had a point.  As he considered the note, and Harry's single piece of (in his opinion) tenuous evidence, another owl flew in.  "PETUNIA, WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT THE BLOODY KITCHEN WINDOW ALREADY!" he shouted as he tried to bat the creature from his house.

Opening the newest letter, Harry read:

Harry –

I thought that you might have heard this through the Muggle media, but Malfoy, Lestranges and the other Death Eaters escaped tonight.  To top it off, we're getting reports that you've been doing various pieces of magic—including some fairly hefty spells—throughout the summer.  Given what happened last year, it's apparent the Ministry is giving you some latitude, but this has crossed the line.  Dumbledore is at the Ministry right now trying to smooth things out.  In the meanwhile, put away the wand—please Harry. 

Remus

Harry ran into the kitchen and grabbed a pen and paper, quickly scribbling a note.  Running past the Dursleys in the hall, he stopped.  "Uncle Vernon, may I have the key to Hedwig's cage?"

"And just why should I do that?" Uncle Vernon asked, his vein throbbing more than ever as his face transitioned into a plum shade of purple.

"So I can send a message saying that I didn't do anything.  It might be nice," Harry added with a terse smile, "if you concurred.  Otherwise you will have a houseful of 'freaks' in less than a hour."  Holding out the letter and pen, he looked on as his Uncle grabbed it and wrote a few lines of his own before shoving the paper back at him. 

Reaching into his pocket, Vernon grabbed a set of keys, carefully selecting a small silver one that hung on its own ring.  "The minute the bird returns it gets locked back up, understand?" the large man screamed rhetorically at Harry as the boy ran up the stairs.

~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~

Thanks for reading.  Second chapter to be up soon.  Please leave feedback!  If you wish, comments may also be sent to my email (listed on the profile).  Thanks and I hope you enjoyed.