Part One: "Moving Day"
If there was one thing that Vernon Dursley of number four Privet drive disliked more than his good for nothing, scrawny, freak of a nephew, it was noise.
That horrid white rat-on-wings the boy kept as a pet rattled the door of its cage whenever it was not allowed to fly at night. The boy stomped around the house and blamed Vernon's own darling son for the racket and broken floorboards. He broke the dishes and screamed at the little cuts on his fingers when he did the weeding and grunted and moaned when he had to mow the lawn.
Worst of all were the whimpering and cries that came from the sissy's room at night.
He screamed out names in his sleep and called ridiculous things like "No, please don't kill Cedric!" or "Sirius, where are you?" or "Avedakedavravoldemort!" (Whatever mumbo jumbo nonsense an avedakedavravoldemort was. Perhaps it was a part of that 'Quidditch' that Vernon had caught Harry reading magazines about. He had burned those magazines - unnatural moving photographs and all.)
But as annoying as all that noise was, there was a noise that he loathed even more: moving trucks.
They meant some new annoyance was arriving.
Vernon Dursley could deal with already-established annoyances; he knew how to handle them. It was the new ones that set him on edge.
There was nothing quite so grating as the whine of brakes being squeezed lightly to graze off hot tires, nothing so jarring as the thin, tinny wail of the backing-up-beeps they made. And nothing so horrid as the electric screech of the American music that screamed out of the cab as the young woman in the torn denim trousers hopped down and ran under the cover of an upraised jacket to the front door.
Number three Privet Drive had been empty for three whole months and his darling Petunia had despaired of it ever being filled again. It was the house into which their own living room windows afforded the best view, and if there was no one in the house to gossip about and spy on, then what was the point of the house being there, ruining her perfectly good view into the back yard of number three Magnolia Crescent?
When she had heard the moving van arrive, Petunia had been so happy she had begun to make cookies, despite Dudley's new diet. Even the grim grey sky had not dampened her spirits. The world outside had been submerged in a very sudden downpour just minutes prior to the moving van's arrival.
His nephew had run into the house shortly after the rain began and tried to whine his way out of having to finish fertilizing the rose garden, just because he was a little wet. Vernon had told him sternly that hard work built character, and to quit being such a girl. Really, the boy did nothing of any use to anyone - as far as Vernon could tell, all he did at that horrid school of his was sit around all day waving a stick and muttering strange words like 'avedakedavravoldemort'.
He wasn't even on the school football team, scrawny little bugger that he was.
Dudley on the other hand - Dudley had written home to tell them that he was the captain of the chess club and the wrestling club. His nephew's sudden blurted comment that Dudley probably won just because he could sit on his opponents had earned him a whole twenty four hours without meals. Honestly! Did they not teach manners at that damned crackpot excuse for a school?
Vernon chewed on the bottom of his moustache thoughtfully, smelling the baking cookies and peering out the lace curtains at the commotion across the way. The rain did not seem to be letting up, and he feared that the golf course would not be dry in time for his ten a.m. tee time the next morning, at the green with the manager of an equally successful screw-manufacturing company.
The young woman (and Vernon had to admit, happily married man that he was, he didn't mind watching her bend over to pick up something from the floor of the box), still wearing her jacket over her head, dashed back and forth several times between the back of the van and the front door of the house, and Vernon frowned.
Was she moving in alone?
Her husband ought to be there to help her unpack, oughtn't he?
Unless she was one of those divorced women... scandalous. That's what it was. Teenaged pregnancy and divorce were the plague of the younger generations. No morals, no responsibility. He blamed her parents.
He considered sending the boy over to lend her aid, then quickly vetoed the idea. It was her fault she was divorced in the first place - probably had a wicked-sharp tongue - let her struggle with her unpacking alone. Besides, it would do no good for the young lady's first impression of the Dursleys to be that unnatural freak.
Vernon turned away from the window and went back to where he had abandoned his afternoon tea and the Saturday newspaper.
Several hours passed before Vernon found himself once more at the front window of his house. The bright yellow moving van in the driveway of number three had been replaced by a low, violet sports car that made him bristle - the noise that thing would make! And she would inevitably gun the engine as she raced out to do whatever disgusting things young punk girls did in the ungodly hours of the night.
Petunia slipped up to the window beside him and said: "Oughtn't we invite her to dinner tonight?"
"Why?" he grumbled, although his annoyance was mostly left over from catching the boy making puddles of muck all the way to his room when he came in from the back garden. Couldn't he have just stood on the stoop 'till he dried?
"Well, she is new in the neighbourhood, and it would be very improper not to offer her a meal of welcome. Besides, I thought I saw Ethel Jones next door pulling her good roasting pan out of the cabinets."
Vernon bristled again - damned if Ethel and Roger Jones would be first to do anything when Vernon Dursley could prove that he was faster, richer, smarter, and better.
"Fine," he huffed, "send over the boy."
"Not Dudders?" his wife said softly.
"And risk him getting his new loafers wet? Send Harry - no one will care if he's soaked."
Anathema Oldwyn had never seen anything quite so curious as the scrawny boy in an oversized, faded tee-shirt that declared that he had survived the 'Python Experience! At the London Zoo!' He was drenched to the bone and peered up at her from under worn round glasses with vibrant green eyes. He looked equal parts annoyed to be out in the rain, relieved to be outside, and curious about her.
"Hallo?" she said, opening the door just enough that she could see him. She shifted the red lollipop in her mouth over to the side of her cheek with her tongue. The white paper stick stuck out of the corner of her lips like an unlit cigarette.
"Hallo," he replied softly, and she was slightly startled to hear how deep his voice was. She reassessed her previous impression about him - he wasn't a boy, he was a young man, probably only just fifteen or sixteen. It was the oversized shirt that made him look so young and thin. "My name is Harry, and I live over in Number Four." He pointed briefly behind him.
Ana lifted her eyes and narrowed them at the three pale faces that peered through the lace at her across the street. Figures. Finally able to get a nice inconspicuous house in the middle of the nice inconspicuous suburbs and the Spying-Neighbours-From-Hell have to live across the way. She made a mental note to draw her front room blinds and leave them drawn... as soon as she had them up.
"I'm Ana. What can I do for you, Harry from Number Four?"
"My aunt wants to invite you for dinner tonight, if that's alright." Harry looked vaguely annoyed with the mention of his aunt and that intrigued her.
Ana, who had not been anywhere near to a good home-cooked meal in at least six months, and relished the idea of figuring out her new Spying-Neighbours-From-Hell before she had to engage in any counter-annoyance-tactics, thought about it for all of three seconds. "Sure - just let me grab my umbrella. C'mon in for a second, Harry from Number Four." She stepped back to give Harry room to enter, then caught sight of the dirty, dusty handprints on her pants. "Actually, I'll just run upstairs and put on something less ick."
Warily, Harry accepted the invitation and stepped into the front hall. He kept one hand wrapped around the handle of his wand, which was jammed into his back pocket, tucked under his overly-large tee-shirt to keep it hidden. The house was dark and dingy and desperately in need of a fresh coat of paint, a thorough bleaching, and at least two new light-bulbs.
And nope, there were no Death Eaters. He let go of his wand.
Ana dashed up the stairs to her bedroom. Harry watched her go and deduced that she had moved into the master. Number three was built exactly the same as number four, only in reverse. The house was a mirror image of his Aunt and Uncle's, which meant that there were at least two empty bedrooms upstairs. Harry wondered why she'd bought such a big house if it was only her living in it.
Harry glanced over at the stairwell and frowned. She had a cupboard under the stairs as well, although Harry was pretty sure Ana wasn't keeping her nephew prisoner in it.
Curiosity getting the better of him, he craned his neck around the corner and took in the piles of unopened cardboard boxes in the living room. The windows were glazed over with a filmy layer of grime and the light coming in was filled with dancing dust motes.
"Depressing, isn't it?" Ana's voice floated down from the top of the stairs, as she walked down to stand at his side. He lollipop was gone. Harry jumped and lowered his eyes, suitably embarrassed for having been caught prying. "I hate knowing that it's going to all be there for me to unpack when I get home."
"Yeah," Harry said, unsure of what else to add.
She smiled at him fondly, finding his embarrassment adorable. "Right then, Harry-from-Number-Four. Lead on."
Harry allowed himself a little smirk at his new nickname, but quickly quashed it as the front door opened. He didn't want his Uncle to see it. Ana locked the door behind her and together they dashed across the street under the cover of her bright red and yellow spotted umbrella.
Vernon ushered her inside with all due pomp and ceremony and Harry had to repress another quick smile as he realized that she had changed out of her torn denim trousers into thick, black army boots and matching black fatigue pants with a black tank top. A little silver sword pendant dangled from a thin black necklace, looking like a miniature crucifix - definitely NOT what a proper young lady ought to wear to dinner.
It was obvious by the look on Vernon's face as he graciously took her rain slicker that he was thinking the same.
"Thanks so much for the invite!" she said cheerfully, and Harry smirked again as his Uncle bristled. "The name is Ana. Ana Oldwyn."
"Get up stairs and get changed into something suitable," Vernon hissed at Harry, shoving Ana's slicker and umbrella into his nephew's hands. Then, in a louder voice added, "Welcome to Privet Drive, Mrs. Oldwyn."
Ana laughed, a free and unconstrained young woman's laugh, the likes of which Harry hadn't heard since the last day of classes when he had parted ways with Hermione and Ron on the Hogwarts Express, half a month earlier. He hung up her slicker in the hall closet, and put her umbrella in the bin by the door, then dashed upstairs to change. He left the door open a crack, lest he miss some of the conversation.
"Oh, I'm not a Mrs. anything!" Harry heard Ana protest with a chuckle, "and Ana's just fine, Mr...?" Harry could imagine her dark-painted lips pulling back into a full smile.
"Dursley," Uncle Vernon said tightly. "Vernon Dursley - and this is my wife, Petunia and our son, Dudley."
"And the other one?" Harry heard Ana ask as he quickly changed into warmer and drier clothes.
He wished he could wear his Muggle clothing that fit, the stuff he had sent Hermione out to buy for him while he was in London last year, staying at Grimmauld place before his fifth (and most miserable) year. But if he did, Harry knew that Uncle Vernon would demand to know how he had paid for it, and then the secret of his stash of Galleons may come out, and that was the last thing he wanted.
The Dursleys would go bonkers if they found out he had a pile of Gold in a vault underneath London. It might not be theirs, but he knew that they would do their best to make it so.
As Harry gathered up the bottoms of Dudley's old grey sweat pants, which pooled around his ankles, and left his room, he heard Uncle Vernon reply. "Which one? Oh, him. He's our nephew, Harry. We've very graciously opened our home to him after his parents were horribly and terribly killed in quite a tragic car crash."
"Ah-hm," Ana hummed, and by the look on her face that Harry caught on his way down the stairs, she wasn't swallowing. Harry found himself liking her already.
Dinner was served shortly thereafter, and Ana made all the appropriate 'this is fantastic' and 'thank you ever so much' noises required of proper dinner guests, while shooting looks over the table to the equally irritated Harry and spitting the overcooked and mostly dry and burnt food into her napkin ever so discreetly.
She, very graciously, Harry thought, answered all of Petunia and Vernon's rather invasive questions about how old she was (23), where she had attended school (A small university near Liverpool), where she was currently employed (owned her own blogging' company, which earned her a pair of glares), and where her husband was (she coughed, blushed once and said 'not married, never was, never planned on it').
Her name, she had to explain, Anathema Oldwyn, was mostly 'Olde' English, as her parents had been fond of well... really strange old names. When asked where they were she told the Dursleys that they also had died in a 'horrible and terrible, quite a tragic car crash', which left Vernon with a look on his face that suggested his salad'd had some chunks of lemon in it. They even went so far as to question her choice of hairstyle, a mopish, chunky, carefully-waxed mess that was a very unnatural black cherry colour filled with electric purple and yellow streaks. She told them it was what all the young were sporting this season, with a mischievous wink in Harry's direction.
Harry thought she looked like a punk-goth girl who had just gotten too lazy to put on all the makeup and jewelry. He bet she had a tattoo hiding somewhere inappropriate, then forced the thoughts away before he could start envisioning what and where.
Ana was almost twice his age.
Which was a pity. Really.
Dudley looked too occupied with his meal to be confused. Or to notice how hot Ana was. Which was so much the better, to Harry. No competition.
Harry shook his head and forced those thoughts away too.
Had he really just called the goth girl from across the road hot?
Sometime around the pudding and tea she sat up slightly and stared past him, to the back garden. Harry turned in his seat to see what in the back yard had her so transfixed. "Hey," she said softly, even as he felt the skin along his spine goosebump. "Is that your dog? His eyes are gorgeous."
"Dog!" Vernon screamed and jumped from his feet to chase it away with cries of "Out of my rose bushes, you filthy, mangy mongrel!"
And indeed it did look like a filthy mangy mongrel. The dog was large and black and had patches of fur missing and appeared as if it hadn't eaten in weeks. But its eyes were a piercing blue-grey that Harry recognized far too well.
"Sirius," he whispered under his breath and was almost out of his seat before his Aunt Petunia screeched at him to sit down and stop gawking at the stray mutt.
Harry clenched his eyes shut and bit his tongue and did as he was told. He tasted blood.
Ms. Oldwyn's nose wrinked.
If that mutt had really been Sirius, he would be back.
Already he was composing the letter he'd send with Hedwig in his head. It started with something like: "SIRIUS! IS THAT YOU! ARE YOU OKAY!".
Across the table, he felt Ana's eyes boring into him, and he raised his green gaze to meet her blue one. For a moment he was startled to see just how very blue her eyes were - he hadn't noticed before, but they were nearly glowing, they were so bright. How had he missed them?
She smiled at him softly, and he excused himself to do the dishes.
He rushed through them as Ana finished pretending to sip her tea in the front room with his Aunt and Uncle, then raced upstairs. He had barely finished scrawling out his note and sending Hedwig on her way when there was a soft knock at his door.
"Hallo, Harry?" Ana called gently. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah!" he replied, "Don't come in, it's a mess!" It wasn't a mess. Harry was used to keeping small spaces very tidy – he'd lived in a cupboard for most of his life, and then at school he had to share a room with five other guys. However, Harry had Gryffindor and Hogwarts banners and scarves and moving Wizard's photos all over his night-table and walls, and he didn't have the time to stash them. He opened the door a fraction, just enough for him to poke his head out of, and looked up at her. "Yes?"
Ana laughed gently - "I asked your Uncle if you could come and help me unpack tomorrow, and he said it was okay so long as you finish mowing the lawn first."
Harry frowned. "That'll take hours if it's still raining like this."
"I'll make sure it doesn't." Ana winked at him. "How's your tongue?"
"You bit it."
Harry felt the blood rising on his cheeks. No one had ever asked after his health at Privet Drive before. "I… uh… I'm fine. Bad aim. I stopped bleeding."
She smiled a sort of secret smile, then turned on her heel and was off down the stairs in a billow of rain slicker and short, cherry-black hair.
Harry found himself smiling softly as he closed his door and lay back on his bed, waiting for a reply from the dog. There were readings and essays waiting for him under the loose floorboard under his bed. He knew he should do some of his summer homework or something to help pass the time, but how could he possibly concentrate on something as abstract as potions when there was the possibility that Sirius was alive?
Closing his eyes to force himself to relive happier times - Ana reminded him so much of Tonks - and not the terrifyingly helpless moment when he had watched his Godfather slip behind the Veil, Harry tried not to strain his ears for the sound of Hedwig's wings.
When it finally came, twenty minutes later, he jumped up and pulled the message off her leg so quickly she squawked at him for the indignity of it and pranced over to her water dish with a disgusted look at Harry.
The message was scrawled in wet mud on the back of his own note paper –
"IT'S ME. OK." And a sloppy paw-print.
For the first time since Sirius had 'died', Harry found himself crying. But these tears were happy ones.
For a few moments, he indulged in the tears, then he scrubbed them off his face and pressed his nose to the window. He couldn't see the big black, Grim-like dog, but it didn't mean Sirius wasn't there.
Harry wanted to go downstairs and into the back yard immediately, but he knew that he'd never be able to make up an excuse convincing enough to get away with it.
He would have to wait until the Dursleys were asleep.
Harry flicked his room light off and on a few times, hoping that out in the yard Sirius could see it. He waved at the window and held up a finger and hoped that it was message enough to Sirius to tell him to wait.
The ensuing hour was hell to Harry.
He sat on the edge of his bed, trying not to bite his lip in frustration as he heard his Aunt, Unlce and cousin go through their nightly routines before going to bed. He hear the toilet flush, the water running, the sound of people brushing their teeth, the sound of Dudley 'sneaking' to the kitchen for a 'snack' (that is, all the leftovers he could stuff in his face before Aunt Petunia went downstairs to stop him), and the groan of the springs of all their beds as they finally went to sleep.
Harry waited until he could hear the snores from Uncle Vernon and Dudley before he carefully stood up and slipped on a spare sweater and his slippers.
As an afterthought, his father's Invisibility Cloak. He had managed to slip out of his trunk before it had been locked in the cupboard under the stairs for the season, when Uncle Vernon had been too busy cussing at Hedwig to notice.
Careful not the tread on the squeaky floorboards, Harry tip-toed downstairs. Harry also retrieved an old blanket from a pile in the sitting room that Aunt Petunia had meant to give to a second hand store and was sure that she wouldn't even notice was missing.
He pulled as much of the leftovers he dared to take out of the fridge, as well as a bottle of fresh milk and a shallow breakfast dish. He knew Dudley would get blamed for them missing in the morning, and that Dudley would pound him for it later, but he didn't care. Opening the back door slowly so as not to creak the hinges, he stepped outside, down the porch, and out under the bush that was under his window. The Dursleys would not be able to see him from that angle, if they cared to look outside.
Pushing the cloak back so his head and hands were visible to himself, he lay out the dish and poured the milk into it, then unwrapped the leftovers and set them down beside it, shoving the cellophane into his pocket. He hoped that Sirius was nearby and would be able to smell the cold food.
Before he had waited for long, a snuffly, black snout poked out of the hedgerow that divided the backyard of number four from that of number two and Harry had to hold back his shout of joy.
"Sirius?" he whispered instead and the head poked all the way out, followed by the body. "Is that you?"
The dog nodded and then brushed past Harry towards the food, pausing momentarily for a quick lick on the boy's cheek. Harry said nothing as he watched his godfather wolf down the meal. Then Sirius changed back into a human, sitting cross-legged beside Harry. He gratefully accepted the second-hand blanket that Harry tossed over his shoulders, and Harry threw himself at Sirius. For a long while they simply held each other close, saying nothing, just happy to see one another again.
"Sirius," Harry started, "I saw you fall... b-beyond the Veil, and you didn't answer the mirror! What happened, where have you been? Are you okay? You look terrible and I--"
Sirius cut him off with a wave of his hand and a short, dry, weak chuckle. "Later, Harry. I've been walking for weeks. Let me just sit for a bit."
"Okay," Harry said softly and, for the moment, was content.