Chapter 1: The Coldest Summer
Not for the first time, the night was a restless one for Harry Potter. His bedroom window was flung open wide, hoping against hope to entice a non-existent breeze into his stifling room. The heat wave engulfing Britain had reached Little Whinging only a few days before and the solid scorching humidity was now almost unbearable. Privet Drive was still the same; the large square houses and the pristine gleaming cars the only things unaffected by the arid heat. The soaring temperatures had made Uncle Vernon more volatile than ever and he delighted in taking his frustrations out on Harry.
'This is the work of your lot!' he bellowed one morning, sweat seeping profusely from his beetroot red face, 'That Lord Voldy-thingy and those Demembelers! This is their doing, that's what this is! All our trouble comes down to your lot in the end!'
Harry was used to being blamed for most of Uncle Vernon's problems. He needed to vent his anger several times during the day and shouting at Harry appeared to be his preferred method. If it wasn't the heat then it was work problems (Uncle Vernon couldn't sell drills if Harry was on his mind), or miscreants in the street (all the scruffy people in the world were Harry's best mates according to Uncle Vernon), or the hole in the Ozone Layer, which Uncle Vernon swore was caused by Harry's abnormality.
But in the dark of his bedroom Uncle Vernon's rants didn't matter much. Nothing much did these days. If Harry's mind wasn't drawn to the return of Lord Voldemort then he was back in the Department of Mysteries, staring into the dark veil. The very thought of Sirius made his insides clench. He curled up against the agony of it, as if trying to turn his back on it. But it was no use; no matter which way he turned, or whatever he did, the ghost of his Godfather followed him both night and day.
It was during the long, dark night hours staring down Privet Drive that Harry felt the urge to talk about Sirius. He could imagine what Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia would say if he tried talking to them; the thought was almost comical. He had tried to say something in his letters to Ron but couldn't quite word it. Hermione was on holiday, too far away to say the things on his mind. In her last letter she seemed to know what Harry was thinking; she had a way of doing that.
'…things must be hard, there on your own…I doubt Ron would be much help…talk to me if you need to…'
And, at times like this, he did need to. And she'd be the best person; she'd let him rant, let him scream; let him talk if he wanted to. And she'd be the only one who wouldn't laugh if the emotion overcame him and he was reduced to angry tears. But she wasn't here, was she? The frustration was as stifling as the heat and Harry wasn't sure quite how much more he could take.
Lack of sleep had made Harry more and more apathetic as the summer went on. The stifling heat, coupled with disturbed dreams on the few occasions he actually managed a few non-waking hours served to heighten his already drawn and skinny look. Uncle Vernon, who was rarely found to miss out on such opportunities, took full advantage of Harry's dishevelled manner.
'Can't you make an effort to look tidy?' he barked at Harry as he sat opposite him at the breakfast table, 'Look at Dudley, look how smart he is. If you must be in this house can't you at least pretend to be decent? To be normal?'
'Vernon!' snapped Aunt Petunia, 'Mrs. Number 6 is in her garden! Keep your voice down!'
'Why don't you just tell them you can't sleep?' hissed Dudley maliciously.
'What are you on about?' Harry said back, keeping his voice low.
'I hear you every night,' said Dudley, smirking. 'Last year it was, "Oh Cedric! Don't be dead!" and this time its, "Sirius! Sirius! Come back. I need you! I'm coming to get you!" What's the matter? Another one of your boyfriends dumped you? And who's this "hermyony"? I hear you whining about her being dead half the time as well."
'You keep your mouth shut!' spat Harry.
'Hermyony! Wake Up! Wake up!' aped Dudley in a girly voice.
Harry got up quickly and made for the kitchen door, rapping Dudley hard on the head as he did so. He made his way into the hall with Uncle Vernon firing violent threats at him and Aunt Petunia shouting about hurting her Duddy-Dinkums. Harry thought it best to get out of the house as quickly as he could. He went to his bedroom and was just pulling on his trainers as Uncle Vernon's voice wafted up the stairs.
'Just like his father, maybe Marge was right. Maybe it is the breeding…'
Ignore it, Harry said a Hermione-like voice in his head as a car pulled up in the street and the door slammed, he's goading you…wants a response…it's Number Four I think…
That was a strange thing to say. Voices were coming from outside now, from on the lawn maybe. It was a woman's this time that Harry didn't recognise.
'Are you sure it's the right street, honey? Maybe it's the next one.'
'No, it's this one. Privet Drive, look!'
It couldn't be. It was Hermione's voice again but not in his head this time. He sprinted to the window and sure enough there she was, outside with her finger on the doorbell. A shiny blue car sat waiting for her on the road with two occupants in the front seats. The doorbell rang and Harry flew to the bedroom door, yanked it open and raced onto the landing. But not before Uncle Vernon and Dudley had reached the front door.
'Who are you?' Dudley spat.
'I'm Hermione,' she said pleasantly, 'Is Har – HARRY! There you are!'
Harry leapt the last few stairs as Hermione rushed into the house, uninvited, to meet him. She clobbered him with bear hug, as his face got lost in the expanse of her bushy hair.
'Oh Harry, how are you? I'm so sorry I didn't write more often but I don't have an owl and Hedwig was exhausted after her last trip to me. I hope you don't hate me. I'll make it up to you I swear.'
Hermione didn't seem to want to let Harry go but Uncle Vernon's booming voice did the trick.
'Who are you? And what do you mean barging into my house? Uninvited I might add. I suppose your one of those – those- things.'
Uncle Vernon seemed unable to muster the will to say the word witch. Hermione opened her mouth to reply but Harry shot her a discouraging look. He was impressed by how unfazed she seemed in the face of Uncle Vernon's torrent.
'Hermione, I'm so glad to see you,' said Harry. 'But what are you doing here?'
'What do you mean, Harry? Didn't you get my letter?' asked Hermione, puzzled.
'Hedwig hasn't brought me any letters since you said how well your holiday was going,' Harry replied.
'But I didn't send it by owl,' said Hermione. 'I've been home a few days now but, like I just said, I don't have an owl. I sent you a letter by normal mail.'
'Well I never got it,' said Harry, turning to glower at Uncle Vernon.
'Oh yes, a letter did come for you a few days ago,' said Vernon coolly.
'Then where is it? Why didn't you give it to me?' asked Harry.
'I burned it,' said Vernon calmly. 'No one writing to you can have anything good to say. The ashes are probably still in the hearth if you want to abracadabra them back together.'
Uncle Vernon looked at Dudley and together they chortled like deranged pigs.
'You should have read it, Mr Dursley,' said Hermione politely. 'It would have brought you good news.'
'What news could you give me that would be good?' Uncle Vernon retorted, wearing a look that suggested being spoken to by a witch might somehow infect him.
'Well,' Hermione began, somewhat tentatively, 'Its up to Harry, of course…he has to decide,' she turned to him, 'if you don't want to, its ok…but it might be an idea…and it could be fun…'
'What?' Harry asked, bemused.
'Well, it was Dumbledore's idea…I said you might prefer the Burrow but Dumbledore thought…but you don't have to if you'd rather not...'
'Hermione, spit it out,' said Harry.
'Well,' Hermione began, wringing her hands nervously. 'The Burrow's a bit full this summer. Charley and Bill have joined the Order and have gone back home, as well as Bill's fiancée. You'll never guess – he's marrying Fleur! You remember, from the Triwizard Tournament.'
'Wow,' said Harry, who wasn't that surprised as he'd always seen Bill as effortlessly cool.
'But anyway,' Hermione continued, 'with all those extras the house is full. But Dumbledore wants you to be somewhere safe, somewhere you can be looked after. And he realises that place isn't here.'
'I'm not going to Grimmauld Place,' said Harry. 'Not as long as I live, if I can help it.'
'He thought that too,' said Hermione. 'That's why I'm here. You see, Dumbledore's put all kinds of protection on another house, he's even made Ron Secret-Keeper on it and a couple of Order members are going to be guarding it. He wants you to go there for the rest of the summer.'
Harry wasn't sure he was going to like this, a highly disturbing image of bunking down with Professor McGonagall flashed across his mind as he tentatively asked whose house it was.
'Its mine, Harry,' Hermione replied. 'Dumbledore thought you might like to spend the rest of the summer with me. He seems to think I can look after you. And my mum's easily as good a cook as Ron's, though don't tell him that. But you don't have to come, if you don't want to…'
Her words trailed off as Harry let the impact settle on him. She seemed to take the silence as a rejection.
'But if you don't want you, you don't have to,' she said repeated, looking slightly hurt.
'Hermione,' Harry said slowly, 'just one question.'
'What is it?'
'Do you mind helping me pack?'
She beamed back at him, her broad smile trumped only by the huge grin sported by Uncle Vernon. The sudden realisation of two Harry-free weeks caused such an upturn in his mood that he even offered to carry Harry's heavy Hogwarts trunk downstairs. Dudley seemed totally flummoxed by the whole thing.
'You've got a girlfriend?' he spat as Harry dropped Hedwig's empty cage next to his trunk.
'What's that tone supposed to mean?' Hermione snapped with much more vigour than Harry felt the situation required. Dudley seemed taken aback.
'Doesn't mean anything, not that it's your business. But it's him-its Harry-it's…him! Just look at him. And he dreams about you. Cries your name in his sleep like he's found you dead. He's really weird.'
Hermione looked desperately at Harry who suddenly found the pattering of the wallpaper very interesting.
'You must be desperate to want him,' Dudley continued. 'All skinny and ugly. Should've been done with his mum and dad, save the world looking at him.'
Hermione suddenly looked dangerous; a look of cold fury had swept into her expression. She reached into her pocket and drew out her wand, Dudley tripped over his fat feet in his haste to get away.
'One more bad word about Harry and I will jinx you into the middle of next year!'
'Hermione!' Harry yelled dragging her away, 'Let's just go now, ok?'
With what looked like a surge of reluctance Hermione pocketed her wand and followed Harry outside. He dragged his trunk and Hedwig's cage to the car where Mr. Granger heaved them into the boot. He was a tall man with flimsy brown hair but a warming look and deep hazel eyes. Mrs. Granger was sat in the passenger seat and Harry immediately saw where Hermione had inherited her bushy hair. Harry thought they both had a dentisty-look about them, and not just because of their perfectly formed, pearly white teeth.
'Hi,' Mrs. Granger smiled as she twisted around in her seat, 'you must be Harry. Hermione's told us lots about you, it's almost like we know you. She hardly stops talking about you, you know. Its Harry said this and Harry did that and Harry the other. If I didn't know better I'd say she was quite taken with you.'
She gave a wry smile to Hermione and a little wink. Hermione blushed crimson and turned away from Harry muttering 'Mum!' so Harry could barely hear. The car moved away as the door to number 4 Privet Drive closed. None of the Dursleys had come to see Harry off. As Privet Drive disappeared into the distance, Harry looked at Hermione with an insatiable grin clinging to his face. She was taking him away from the Dursleys for two whole weeks. He didn't think he'd love her any more than he did at that very moment.