Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, nor any of its characters or settings. So don't sue me or anything.
A/N: Here it is. The start of my long HP piece. It took me a while to decide if I wanted to do it in Rowling's style, a darker style…or the style I eventually chose…a mix! This is just a teaser, sort of. It will take a bit to get the next chapter out, but it will go faster if I get reviews telling me that people really do want to see where this goes. I promise that if I do get a good response to this, I will finish it. I hate it when a story just ends somewhere in the middle, leaving you high and dry. So do not fear. It will not stay a WIP forever. –Miss Laine
A/N #2: All right. I've revised, revised, reread, reread, revised, ad nauseum. Not sure I spelled 'nauseum' right, though. Anyway, I was working on like the sixteenth chapter or something and realized that some of my plot elements were not the way I had originally planned. I changed some things, some subtle, some not, and hopefully it's all for the better. I will base whether I keep all my revisions or not based on the response I get to these changes, so please remember to review! P.S. Sorry for such a horribly long wait, when I said I'd try to update once a week. I couldn't find my disk drive thingy for my laptop until about two days ago, and I'm working two jobs so I don't have that much time. Thanks for hanging in there with me, though! Miss Laine
00000000000000 Chapter 1: Summer Can't Get Any Worse 0000000000000
Anyone passing by Number 4, Privet Drive, on that sweltering day near mid-July, would probably not have seen the resident in the smallest bedroom on the second floor. The window was closed, despite the heat, and the room was dark and muggy.
Inside the room, though, a young man sat on a threadbare bed, holding a picture album on his lap. It was open to the young man's favorite picture—a happy quintet, one girl and four boys. They were waving madly up at the teenager, smiling and laughing from the small photograph.
The teen sighed and watched the five laugh and joke. Absently, he rubbed the side of his head with the heel of his hand, trying subconsciously to do something about his headache, but he did not take much notice of it. He'd had headaches off and on for a while now, and he assumed that they were probably after-effects of the end of his…tragic…school year.
What mattered at the moment was the photograph, and the people in it. Three of those people were dead. One of them was worse than dead…a horrible traitorous murderer. And the fifth…he was alone now, stranded, none of his friends left alive.
The young man sighed again and pushed his hair back from his forehead, revealing the lightening-bolt shaped scar on his forehead. Harry Potter missed his godfather horribly. He missed the parents he'd never met, he missed having someone that cared for him…he felt just as alone as he figured Moony felt.
He was isolated here at Privet Drive, with no one around that even cared that he was alive.
He closed the photo album carefully and leaned over the edge of his bed in order to slide it underneath. A slight reflection caught his eye and he noticed the mirror that Sirius had given him, the shards all piled together on the mirror's backing. With trembling fingers, he slid it forward, gazing down at his shattered reflection.
Despite the distorted image, he could see that he looked a little different than he had at the start of the summer. For one, he'd finally hit a belated growth spurt. He'd probably grown about two inches, maybe a little more. Bitterly, he thought perhaps it had to do with years of Hogwarts food counteracting years of starvation at the hands of his relatives. There was no other way to explain why he had been so much shorter than other first years in the pictures he had from that year.
He thought perhaps he also looked a little less like a naïve little boy. The embarrassing way his voice had cracked and squeaked towards the end of fifth year and into the summer had slowly evened out, and it seemed his voice was a little deeper now. Finally, he thought distractedly, perhaps I might live long enough to be the 'Man-Who-Lived.'
He was still stick-thin, though. His relatives didn't feel like being generous with his food, and he didn't have Molly Weasley's good food to keep him filled. Not that he had much of an appetite, anyway. Every time he sat down to do something, like eating or reading, and let his mind wander, he'd start thinking about Sirius and the Department of Mysteries. And that, of course, always killed his appetite.
At least he had a bit of tan now, from working outside so much. He didn't like taking his shirt off outside usually—he thought he was too thin, and he didn't like people to see the scar at his elbow or on that same arm from the basilisk. People always asked about that if they saw him working in the front yard. Probably Aunt Petunia would have him down there again soon, slaving away over some plant or another.
It was only a little more than two weeks into summer, and Harry was feeling incredibly restless. He needed to get out. Go for a walk, visit the park, see a movie, something. He just wanted to get out of his relative's house and somewhere else for a while.
But that was the problem. He wasn't allowed out. It had been rather sharply explained to him that he had to stay on the Dursley property at all times. That had been after he'd set off some alarm or other the second morning back. He'd been headed to the store for eggs for his Aunt Petunia when he'd been stopped by none other than Bill Weasley and Mad-eye Moody. They hadn't been too happy, but at least they hadn't hexed him or something.
According to them, he was not safe in the least if he left the Dursley property. Tracking spells and the like could be used to find him when he was off the property, and the Order couldn't have that many members on 'guard' duty. Moody had given him a short note to give to his relatives explaining that he could not leave the property for any reason, and that had been that. It had left Harry slightly disgruntled and infinitely more depressed. He was a prisoner, really, on the Dursley property. He couldn't do anything.
So now he was here, in his room, staring at the remains of a mirror and wondering why his life had to be so busy one moment, then deadly dull the next. A happy medium would be nice, he decided. Something where he didn't have to be racing around, scared, in pain, etcetera, and then afterwards sitting there doing nothing, going over all the mistakes he had made.
Oh well. He'd already done two essays, one for Charms and one for Transfiguration. He'd already decided that he wouldn't do the Potions essay until he knew how his OWLs had gone. Dumbledore had mentioned that OWL results would be late this summer because of inconsistencies in testing—that meant Dumbledore had to figure out what to do to sort through Umbridge's interference.
He didn't hold out much hope for achieving the needed 'Outstanding' in Potions. There was no way he would've gotten anything above an average, and Snape wouldn't even consider letting him into the NEWT level class with a grade like that.
All in all, it had been a pretty lousy summer.
After the rather over-dramatic warning at the train station, he had sort of expected to have a better summer than last. Perhaps be left alone by his relatives, get lots of letters from his friends, that sort of thing. Have an almost normal summer, if at all possible. He just wanted to be able to have a little normalcy in his life, like other kids, muggle or otherwise, seemed to have. But instead nothing had gotten better. His situation was tense, at best, and it didn't seem likely that it would get any better.
Near the beginning of the summer, Dumbledore had sent him a letter almost immediately stating that Hermione, Ron, and any others would not be able to write him. It was too dangerous for owls and for himself, so he was effectively cut off from everyone but Dumbledore, who seemed able to send owls no matter the conditions. Harry almost felt like defying Dumbledore's order, but he didn't want to risk Hedwig. If anything happened to her, he wouldn't be able to forgive himself.
At least he would receive his OWL results. Maybe.
The only owl that he was allowed to use was the small brown owl that came every three days in order to deliver a short note from Dumbledore and pick up his own letter of assurances for the Order. It was not very fun or interesting at all.
The Dursleys had not left him alone, either. They let Harry write his letter to the Order every three days, afraid of what would happen if they stopped him, but otherwise they kept everything locked up and hidden away. He still had to do chores, as usual, but he almost welcomed the escape from his overwhelming boredom.
He did not like to be bored. Not this summer. It gave him too much time to think, to go over the dreams he had every night…Sirius…falling, falling…
He shook himself out of those thoughts for probably the thousandth time that morning. It was hard not to think of his godfather. He'd lost him because of his stupid mistake, his stupid decisions. Sirius would still be here if it weren't for him. If only he had listened to Hermione.
That was one of his new rules. Listen to Hermione. He trusted her, of course, and he also knew that she was much smarter than him. If he'd listened to her, Sirius would still be alive. That was enough proof for him.
"BOY!!!" he heard suddenly. It was his aunt, shouting for him. She'd gotten grouchier this summer, with a shorter temper. She tended to take more swings at him with the frying pan than before, and he really had to be on his toes to dodge every swing. If one connected, he'd probably be knocked out, he figured.
That was the odd thing with his relatives this summer. While Vernon really seemed to have been intimidated by the Order, Petunia had become more aggressive. Vernon paled whenever Harry mentioned his 'friends,' while Petunia would tell him to stop being arrogant and get on with his chores. Sometimes, if he really frightened his uncle, Petunia would even take a swing at him. This was not what he had expected from his relatives. Usually his uncle was the one to want to hurt him or scare him or whatever; not his aunt. But she was refusing all attempts to intimidate her this summer.
Harry supposed it had to do with the Dementor incident with Dudley. Certainly, his cousin was not the same boy that he had always been—he was pale and thinner and tired all the time, as if he could not get over the terrible things he had heard and seen when near the Dementor. Harry still didn't know what Dudley had seen or heard, and he could never get within ten feet of his cousin without the other teen running for it. Whatever he'd heard, Harry decided, it had to have been pretty bad to Dudley.
Probably someone telling him he couldn't eat ever again, Harry thought with a sarcastic smirk, then sobered. Dementors weren't funny, and he shouldn't expect Dudley to be able to get past their effect very quickly. Especially since he really didn't understand just what Dementors were. If he could only get Dudley to listen to him, just for a few moments, he would be able to explain that Dementors brought up your worst memories and fears, but Dudley usually ran the other way if he heard him coming.
Oddly, it was a lot like how Harry had spent his summers before Hogwarts—except he had been the one running from the other.
Harry could hear his aunt stomping around angrily downstairs, and rolled his eyes. Her antagonism was really starting to irritate him now. He didn't remember her ever being this way to him—well, at least not constantly—and now that he was old enough and strong enough to not have to worry about being afraid of her, it annoyed him instead.
He rolled off his bed and trudged to the door of his room, opening it slowly. "Coming!" he called, trying to keep most of the annoyance out of his voice. She probably wanted him to weed or water or something. She was always calling him down to do things like that.
He stomped down the staircase slowly, a little grumpy at being jerked from his thoughts so rudely. In the kitchen, his aunt was holding a pair of pruning shears. "The rosebushes along the fence need to be trimmed, boy," she told him sharply. Harry wondered idly why none of his relatives ever called him by his name. Potter was the best he ever got, though they managed to make that sound like an insulting occupation rather than his last name. "I expect it done before dinner, or you won't be eating."
"Fine, Aunt Petunia," he grumbled. He took the shears from her outstretched fingers and walked past her and out the back door. He could just imagine her watching him, hands on her hips and her eyes narrowed. She didn't trust him not to chop the roses to tiny pieces, but she still made him do all the work.
The sun was shining down hotly in the backyard. He clipped each rosebush slowly, mind blissfully blank for once. It was too hot to do much thinking, and he was perfectly content to just watch the chunks of rose-stem fall to the ground. The heat and the glare on the white roses was making his already-bothersome headache worse, and he stopped several times just to close his eyes and rub his temples.
The headaches he'd been having was something new to him. When he'd been younger, he'd never had headaches like this—where the ache would last for several days at least, varying randomly in intensity. They'd started gradually, when he'd had a headache maybe two days after reaching Privet Drive again, and the first had lasted just a few hours.
Now, his present headache had lasted most of the week. Most of the time, it was just a dull ache somewhere in his head, but other times the pain would flare up unexpectedly. The pain didn't seem to be coming from his scar or in any way connected to it, so he hadn't mentioned it in any of his letters, but it was annoying. All the chores made it worse, as well, and every night that he had a nightmare or for some other reason lost sleep, he woke up with even more pain. He'd taken to borrowing Tylenol from the medicine cabinet when he could, but it didn't really seem to do much more than take the barest edge of his aches. So much for Muggle medicine, he'd quickly decided.
He stopped trimming bushes again as sweat dripped down his face, and set down the shears while he rubbed his face with the heels of his hands. He felt tired and slow, and all he really wanted to do was go back up to his dark room and lie down.
Sighing, he picked up the shears and went back to work, snipping bits off the next bush with careful movements.
"Hot work there, son," a voice said above him. He jumped about a foot in the air and whirled around. He stopped himself from pulling his wand from his waistband only at the last moment.
A man was looking over the fence, leaning his arms on the tops of the boards. "Sorry I startled you," the man said apologetically.
"I'm all right," Harry said.
"Name's Lewis Cauldwell," the man said. "Just moved in here."
"Ha—Hello," Harry started to say, then hesitated. The man's voice sounded…familiar? He wasn't sure if he was just being paranoid or not, but there was no way he was giving this man his real name. "My name's Christopher Dursley," he said, making up the name on the moment. He didn't like having to say he was a Dursley, but it couldn't be helped.
Mr. Cauldwell smiled. "Most boys your age are out with friends," the man commented. "Trying to earn up money for a car?" he asked. Harry nodded after a moment.
"Yeah, that's it," he agreed. "My Aunt and Uncle pay me to take care of the garden."
"They're not your parents?" Mr. Cauldwell asked.
"Nah. My Uncle's brother was my father," he lied. "He was killed in a car accident, along with my mom."
"Oh," the man said, looking slightly embarrassed. "I'm sorry."
Harry shrugged. He didn't want the man to feel guilty, just in case he was trustworthy. "It's all right. They died when I was three," he said. That was only a slightly modification to the truth. He'd just have to remember to keep the story straight. And hopefully this Lewis guy wouldn't talk to his Aunt or Uncle anytime soon. "Look—I have to get back to my work," he said. "It was nice to meet you, Mr. Cauldwell," he added, turning back towards the rosebushes. The man nodded, and then suddenly laughed.
"Well done, Harry," he said. "I'd give that a nine out of ten."
Harry had his wand out in an instant, trained on the strange man with the not-so-strange voice.
A/N: Argh! A cliffie!! I always hate these things, but this is it. I haven't quite decided who the stranger is…but I'm plotting out both possibilities and seeing if perhaps this stranger won't reveal himself on his own. Please review if you read this, even if it is just a few words. I won't continue it if I don't get a response!