Home isn't Always Where the Heart is.
Harry sat on a decrepit chair examining several leather bound books spread across his tiny table. He dipped a large eagle feather in a pot of ink and scraped it along the roll of parchment. The summer holidays for Harry weren't typical for a fifteen-year-old boy; there was no playing football in the park, no having barbecues and no spending time in the warm evenings with groups of friends. Harry did have friends, but they were all witches or wizards and in this bare room at #4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, he was as far away from the wizarding world as you could get.
Turning to look at the alarm clock next to his bed, he noticed that the green glow it produced was illuminating the far wall, making the room look oddly like the Slytherin Dungeon, a place Harry had invaded during his second year. It was early, 02:13 and Harry hadn't been getting much sleep. Since the age of eleven he had been plagued by nightmares of the most evil wizard of the age, the self acclaimed Lord `Voldemort'. These dreams had, over the previous year, changed; once they allowed Harry to spy on the plans of the Dark Lord, but Voldemort had discovered the connection caused by Harry's scar. Now Harry's dreams were a mixture of horrible nightmares of his previous years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and misleading visions sent by the dark wizard.
Harry blew across the parchment, drying the ink on his potions homework; he then carefully rolled the parchment up and closed the books. Getting up slowly, he stretched and heard a satisfying crack from his neck before moving carefully over to the tiny bed in the corner of the bare room, being careful not to tread on the loose floorboard and risk waking his relatives, the Dursley family. He removed clothing several sizes to big for him, hand-me-downs from his short and very fat cousin, Dudley, placed his glasses next to the alarm clock and collapsed onto the bed.
It had only been a few weeks since Harry's return from school, and he couldn't remember a night he hadn't cried himself to sleep, images of a curtain in a large granite-walled room, the whispers from behind the curtain and the memory of Sirius Black, Harry's Godfather, falling backwards through it, never to be seen again. Harry spent a couple of minutes trying to clear his mind, using the techniques he remembered from his brief and tortuous lessons with Professor Snape, before burying his head in the pillow and drifting off to sleep.
The sky was black as pitch; lightning arced, slicing through the sky and illuminating a somewhat large circle of black hooded figures. The circle, however, had large gaps, empty places between the Death Eaters who shuffled and whispered, their faces hidden behind white masks. With another loud crack of lightning a figure appeared in the centre of the disjointed circle. Falling to their knees the circle fell completely silent. The figure in the centre of the circle spoke with a loud voice, hissing his words "My plansss have been merely ssset back by the failure of your brethren in London, and the meddling of the fool Dumbledore. I will not be defeated and you all know your rolesss in the future conquessst, do not fail me! The ssschool will not be a fortressss for long and sssoon I will have my revenge on the Potter boy and his death with be asss ssslow asss the many yearsss of my exile."
The image muddied and swirled as Harry was awakened by the pain in his scar.
Harry rolled over and struggled to focus his sleepy vision enough to see the clock next to him; the green blur read 05:38. Harry groaned to himself 'just over a measly three hours sleep.' Replacing his glasses, he rolled out of bed and padded barefoot to the window, opening it and allowing the cool morning breeze to wash over him. Then, returning to the desk and pulling out a spare piece of parchment, he opened the ink pot and began to scrawl with his large eagle feather quill. Harry had learned his lesson the previous year, and religiously relayed every dream to Professor Dumbledore. As he finished this letter a swishing noise, followed by a soft screech, sounded the arrival back from a night of hunting of the only companion Harry had so far this summer, his beautiful snowy owl Hedwig, a present from his friend Hagrid who had bought him the very intelligent owl, on his eleventh birthday, the year he started at Hogwarts.
Picking up the parchment, he walked over to the bird stroking her feathers and giving her an owl treat. Hedwig clicked her beak and nuzzled Harry's hand affectionately. "Do you feel up to delivering this, girl?" Hedwig ruffled her feathers importantly and stuck out a leg so Harry could easily attach the letter. Thanking her he carried her to the window; throwing her in the air, she opened her wings and with several beats of her powerful wings flew out into the inky darkness of the night. Alone now, he returned to the desk and scratched out more letters to Hermione, Ron, and Ron's sister Ginny, really just to kill time until he could wander downstairs and make himself some breakfast.
The previous weeks of the holiday had not been intolerable; during the days Harry had been working hard in the Dursley's garden building a rockery. Carrying heavy stones, bags of sand and soil from the front drive round to the back, the work was physically demanding, initially leaving Harry exhausted and sore, but helping him sleep dreamlessly at night, something Harry was only to happy to promote. As the weeks wore on, the effort got easier; as he adjusted to the physical work, the dreams had started to return. Two weeks in the sun hauling things about had had an impact on his body; he was taller than the previous summer, his frame more athletic than skinny now and he had some colour on his back, shoulders, and face, which helped to hide the signs of sleep deprivation from the Aurors who had visited every four days.
Harry enjoyed their company, questioning them about developments in the wizarding world, especially now the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, had actually seen Voldemort in person. He was told that, following Fudge's 'awakening', last year's "Educational Decrees" about Hogwarts were abolished and Dumbledore had been given complete control again. The Daily Prophet had apparently been under fire from many high ranking members of society for their failure to report any details of the Dark Lord's return. While he was glad of the information, Harry was also pleased when they left; over the years of his life, Harry had only recently acquired friends and while his companions meant more to him than anything in the world, he liked time and space to think. His sources of information, however, were not limited to the Aurors. From letters received from Hermione and Ron, Harry received regular updates on the other one as they talked mostly about each other. Harry enjoyed Ginny's letters the most, as she was always telling him about Fred and George's business, what the Burrow was like with Bill and Charlie back for a holiday and more gossip she somehow managed to obtain relating to members of the school they both knew.
Harry missed the Burrow more every summer, when he was there, he was never hungry; Mrs Weasley was always over protective and fussed over him; he loved being able to fly in the wood behind their home or just being able to relax and do nothing for a while. Banishing this thought, as he knew it would eat at him, making him feel sorry for himself, Harry turned to check the clock, which now read 06:47. Turning back to his desk, he secured the lid on the ink pot and placed the letters to one side; he would have to wait for Hedwig to return, or Pig to bring a letter from Ron or Ginny to send them.
Harry threw on some clean clothes and then went to the bathroom and splashed water on his face, brushed his teeth and attacked his hair with a comb, with little success. He crept downstairs to the kitchen, collecting the milk from outside the front door on his way and depositing it in the fridge, removed two pieces of bread from the bread bin and popped them in the toaster then removed the butter and marmalade from the fridge and a plate from the cupboard. The toast popped up half done as always and Harry pushed the lever to return them into the toaster, knowing he had to keep watch. Harry had lived in the muggle world for the first 11 years of his life and he knew that the dial on the side of the toaster was pointless no matter what position it was set on; left to its own devices the toaster would automatically provide bread in two states: slightly warm or charcoal. Removing the toast manually before it reached the second state he buttered and liberally covered it with marmalade before returning the butter and marmalade to the fridge and washing the knife, before he ventured outside with his plate.
Harry sat on the patio, his back resting against the wall, eyes half open, listening to the bird song, and watching the sun slowly rise off the horizon over the roof tops of the sleepy suburb. The lawn was dappled with rays of the sun passing through the trees at the end of the garden. In the distance Harry saw three shapes crossing over the sun, two uniformly growing larger, the third much smaller moving erratically, bouncing as if on a piece of invisible elastic. Harry knew this was Ron's owl Pig and so, having finished his toast, he moved back inside. Depositing the plate in the sink, he silently ascended the stairs to the smallest bedroom in the house, and opened the windows wide to provide access to his new visitors. The two large owls circled the house and landed gracefully on the window sill. The third owl flew headlong into Harry's chest and, stunned, fell into his hands. Removing the letter quickly in deference to Pig's dazed state, Harry placed the tiny screech owl next to Hedwig's water bowl and advanced on the two regal looking owls and removed a letter from each. Upon removal, the each owl nodded and took flight, obviously not waiting for a reply.
The first letter had an unfamiliar seal with the letters W.E.B. intermingled in a shield. Opening it and reading the top lines Harry's heart doubled in speed.
Wizarding Education Board
Ordinary Wizarding Levels Results of........ Harry James Potter
Harry had forgotten about the results; heck, he had forgotten he had taken exams; considering the many events from last year they hardly seemed important, but Harry wanted to be an Auror, a position that required both good OWLS but also require certain subjects to be completed in the Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests and access to these subjects was restricted. In order to take NEWTs in potions, he would have to have excelled on his OWL's; Professor Snape would take no less than an 'Outstanding' mark for access to the NEWT Potions Course.
Care of Magic Creatures..................E
Defence against Dark Arts...............O*
History of Magic...........................….T
Harry's jaw dropped; he remembered being quietly confident leaving the potions exam, but to get an 'Outstanding'… then Harry smiled, he had had as much luck in the History exam, as he had in the lessons, falling asleep...and getting a T (Troll) classification.
Studying the marks Harry's only worry was the 'E' in Transfiguration; would that be good enough for what he intended?
Still feeling a little apprehensive, Harry opened the second letter, this one sealed with a Hogwarts crest.
Congratulations on your outstanding OWL results. Due to your grades I am writing in regards to your wish to become an Auror and wondered if you still wished to pursue this career path? If this is the case I would like to offer my services as a tutor during the weeks before the start of the forthcoming term. The Headmaster has agreed that this would be beneficial to you.
Congratulations again on your results and please reply as soon as possible; you will be able to contact me by walking to the end of the drive.
Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft.
'What!?' thought Harry, rather confused. Re-reading the last sentence several times, he suddenly worked it out; he then bolted from his room, almost knocking Dudley over as he ran down the stairs and through the front door. At the bottom of the drive, sitting on the wall, was a large tabby cat with two black circles around the eyes. On seeing the young boy the cat looked around, checking both ends of Privet Drive, and then jumped from the wall, morphing into Professor McGonagall.
"Hello Professor...Great to see you."
"Hello Mr. Potter," the stern lady eyes were almost smiling. McGonagall's dress matched her persona perfectly, looking for all the world like a middle aged School Mistress: charcoal grey full length skirt, white blouse perfectly pressed and charcoal grey jacket, even the dark travelling cloak with thistle pin in the lapel did nothing to attract attention; indeed, this woman could have easily passed for a Muggle. "Have you thought about my offer Mr. Potter? I told you last year that I would do everything in my power to help you if you wanted to proceed in your career choice. Your OWL results have done nothing to sway my judgement that, with some hard work, you would make a fine Auror."
"Thank you Professor..." Harry paused. "I am determined to do what I can...But..."
"Spit it out Mr Potter."
"D-does this mean I can return to Hogwarts early Professor?" Harry stuttered.
"I'm afraid not Mr Potter." Harry's heart felt like it had jumped into his stomach and his head dropped. The thought of trying to gain help with his magical studies while still living at the Dursley's was impossible.
"If you would let me finish Mr Potter..." The corners of her mouth twitched slightly, knowing his dislike for his relatives' care. They were, as she herself had described them, 'the worst type of muggles imaginable'. "The Headmaster has found a suitable property just outside Hogsmead, which can be prepared if you accept my offer." She paused. "That is of course if you are willing to comply with several rules."
"Of course Professor." Harry almost shouted.
Smiling slightly at the excited young student, she continued, "The Headmaster will require several days to prepare for your arrival. You are to stay here until then; we will arrange a portkey to transport yourself, your belongings, and your escort to a location outside Hogsmead. You should wear your father's cloak, until such time when you are told to remove it. We will be arriving at 10:30 the morning of the nineteenth; have all your belongings ready. Then I will explain the rest of the rules to you. Oh and Mr Potter, for everyone's safety it is essential that you tell no one about this, that includes your friends. It is highly unusual for a student to be provided with such an opportunity. Do not make our trust in you misguided, Mr Potter!" she finished strictly.
"The Headmaster has your owl, Hedwig, I believe; he will keep her for you until your arrival."
"Yes Professor. Thank you."
"That's quite alright Harry, I always keep my promises." With that the Professor turned to leave; catching a glimpse of a short fat shape in the door of #4 Privet drive, she nodded her head slightly and said politely, "Good day to you Sir." as she walked out of sight behind the next door's overgrown hedge.
Harry turned slowly, seeing the glare on his Uncle's face, he quickly moved towards the house. Vernon Dursley allowed Harry to enter before rounding on him. "Who was that?" he spat, his face a blotchy red.
"A professor from school." Harry was trying not to appear too confrontational.
"That was one of your kind! What did she want?" The last word was so vehement that it sprayed Harry's face with spittle.
"The professor wants to give me extra lessons. Following my exam results..."
"Ha!" interrupted his Uncle. "Not as clever as you think, hey?" he sneered. "Got to attend summer school; well I'm not paying for it."
"You don't have to pay for it." Harry thought about this for a moment, and realized he did not know if it would cost anything, but the idea that his Uncle would let him go because he was stupid seemed to work. Of course it would remove Harry from the house considerably earlier than expected and Harry would happily empty money from his vault to leave his prison before the planned release date.
"When are you leaving then?" Harry smiled inwardly, Uncle Vernon had come to the same conclusions.
"Err, two days. I am to be picked up at ten thirty on the Nineteenth."
"Fine! But you better have finished that rockery, boy!"
"Yes, Sir." Harry tried to look dejected but inside he was jumping for joy. The idea of finishing the rockery was not pleasant, but in two days he would be free from the Dursley's for another year. Remembering the letter from Ron which was still upstairs, Harry added, "I left my gloves upstairs; I'll get them and go straight outside."
"Do that!" Vernon chuckled victoriously and stomped into the kitchen, no doubt to break the wonderful news to the rest of the family.
Harry ran up the stairs quickly, hoping his Uncle didn't turn and see the huge smile on his face. Entering the bedroom Harry grabbed the letter from Ron, and turned to Pig now twittering noisily. "Can you stay here till I get chance to write to Ron, please Pig?" The little owl squawked again once. "Thanks Pig." Harry grabbed a handfull of owl treats and put them in the little bowl next to the water, hoping that they would keep the little owl quiet till he could get upstairs and write back to his best friend.
Turning, he grabbed his gloves, stowed the letter in an enormous pocket in his jeans and went downstairs and outside. Filled with vigour from the news, Harry grabbed two large bags of compost, threw one over each shoulder and walked round the side of the house to the back garden. Depositing them, he practically ran around to the front again. Repeating this six times, Harry was left with only seven large stones and two bags of pea gravel. Grabbing a stone he walked carefully to the back. This time on his return trip Harry stopped at the side of the house; avoiding the windows, he removed the letter from his jeans and opened it.
Got my OWL results last night.
Obviously all wizarding families got Owl Post a bit quicker.
I can't believe it...I got them! I got 'O's' in Care of Magic Creatures and another in DADA. Thanks to you I'm sure; hanging out with you all this time did some good hey? Just kidding...I got 'A's' and 'E's' in everything else, well apart from Divination, got a 'P' but we didn't need to have an inner eye to know I'd fail that. Mum's well chuffed said, she knew I could do it, reckons there's another Head boy in the family...Yeah right!
How did you do mate? I bet Hermione got all O's...
Harry smiled, he wondered how long Ron would take before he mentioned Hermione.
...have you select what NEWTs you're taking? You know what else, next year no more potions! I think I am doing DADA, Care of Magic Creatures (Can't wait to see what Hagrid tries to kill me with), Herbology and Astronomy.
I heard from Neville apparently he got an O* in Herbology, can you imagine? The highest mark ever recorded since they standardised the exams in 1907...
So that's what an 'O*' was. Harry hadn't thought anything of it before.
...he did really well in most of the other things too, well apart from potions.
We are all wondering if Dumbledore will let you come to stay for the last few weeks of the holiday; you'll have to ask him! Hermione's coming, and you know we'd all love to have you here.
Tell me how you did, and what NEWTs you think you're doing.
Hope you can come to visit!
PS Ginny says 'Hi'.
Harry sighed, folding the parchment and putting it back in his pocket. He would dearly love to see the Weasleys for a few weeks, but he knew his training was more important. Walking round to the front of the house, he hefted another stone and continued his toil, knowing he had to get this finished as quickly as he could so he would be ready when he was collected. He wondered who was collecting him, but put this from his mind, focusing on the task at hand.
At 1 o'clock Harry was covered in sweat and dirt, his hair more untidy than usual, and all he really wanted to do was go inside and have a sit down for a while, but, as he approached the kitchen he was barked at not to bring dirt into the house. A plate and glass of tap water where thrust at him, on it lay a stale piece of buttered bread, a lump of cheese, and an apple. Harry's stomach rumbled expectantly, not knowing the measly food it would be receiving. Scarffing it down, he returned the empty plate and glass to the kitchen and, not really feeling like sitting on the hard paved patio, he proceeded to attack the remaining items to be moved to the back garden with a determination brought on by his anger towards to the Dursleys. By late afternoon, Harry had succeeded in moving everything, and had already deposited the contents of the soil and compost bags in their pre-allocated spaces, creating a bank ready for the stones and gravel.
Exhaustion took over as Harry removed his dirty trainers; leaving them at the back door, he removed his shirt, now soaked from sweat and caked in mud. Harry entered the house silently and proceeded upstairs, depositing his shirt in the laundry and taking a shower. He regained just about enough energy to scribble a response to Ron's letter, telling him of his results, leaving out the exact marks for DADA and Potions and telling him he was undecided about his NEWTs, as he really didn't want to let on that he was not going to be dropping Potions. He also apologized for not being able to come to visit, adding perhaps they could meet up in Diagon Alley to do their shopping. Harry thanked Pig for waiting and attached the letter to the little owl; walking to the window he released him into the air. Then he proceeded downstairs to eat whatever wretched dinner his blood relatives would provide him.
That night Harry was too tired to dream, once excused from dinner, and still fully dressed he fell onto his bed and slept the sleep of the just, smiling slightly in the knowledge that he would be soon leaving.
Harry awoke late the next day, having completely drained any energy reserves he may have had the previous day. Hearing the Dursleys stirring, he quickly threw on some clothes, his head still groggy from eleven hours sleep, but physically feeling better for it. He slipped down the stairs, out of the front door and round to the back; lacing his muddy trainers, Harry started working just as Aunt Petunia entered the kitchen, thinking to himself that it was better to go without breakfast than have to face the screamed abuse and comments about him being 'a lazy good for nothing.'
By lunch that day, Harry had finished the rockery and stood back, admiring what he had accomplished with a strange satisfaction. 'I did that' he thought, his muscles aching and his hands covered in small cuts, as the worn and altogether sad gloves had offered little protection, but he had done it, which gave him time to pack and make sure he was ready for tomorrow morning. Harry accepted the sub-standard rations that were loosely call lunch and went upstairs to shower. He spent the afternoon packing, making sure he emptied everything from the room. His trunk was almost complete full of wizarding equipment, but still had room for his trainers, his only jeans, a few t-shirts and his favourite muggle clothes, the knitted jumpers sent every year from Mrs. Weasley.
That night Harry did dream, but it was not one of his usual nightmares; he saw images of the Weasleys at the Burrow, smiling and happy, the twins causing havoc, Charlie joking with Ron about Hermione making Ron's face the same colour as his flame red hair, and Ginny curled up on the rug in front of the fire, the light dancing off her pale soft features, looking determinedly at the book and parchment in front of her sucking the tip of a large quill. That night Harry couldn't help but smile as he dreamt of someone else's family.
The next morning Harry woke early, filled with excitement. He was washed, dressed in tattered muggle clothes, and had made himself toast and a mug of tea before any sound, bar the snoring of Vernon and Dudley, was heard in Dursley house. Washing the mug and plates he returned to his bedroom and sat on his bed, staring out his window, while wondering who would be collecting him. Harry could hear his Uncle speaking overly loud, intentionally he was sure, so Harry could hear. "Always knew he was thick that one, just like his parents, that's why they have to give him extra schooling! Ha Dudley's never needed that! But least he'll be out of here soon useless good for nothing..." Harry's mind wandered, long past caring of the Dursleys' opinion of him, he had developed a skill for blocking out there voices very much like white noise. Harry was day dreaming of running but not as himself, he was lower to the ground and was on all fours, his muscles feeling massive, strong and powerful, his sight, hearing and sense of smell all amplified many times...*Ring* the door bell, Harry turned to the clock on the chest of draws: 10:29. Harry flew down the stairs but was just beaten to the door by Uncle Vernon.
A/N : Thanks to Dice again for being great.