It was the end of an exceptionally hot summer day in Privet Drive. The inhabitants were all out in their gardens watering their neat lawns or otherwise cooling off under large parasols. Children were running around everywhere, some eating large, colourful ice creams, others jumping around in the many sprinklers that were out, enjoying the last of the sun before their parents would come to call them in.
Harry Potter was sitting on the steps of number four, passive to all the happy activity. His mind was somewhere quite different at the moment; he was, as he had been so many times that summer, engrossed in the events prior to his vacation. How could he have been so stupid? How could he have let Voldemort get to him like that? Why hadn't he practiced occlumency like Snape had told him to, instead of being proud and every bit as arrogant as Snape always accused him of being? Why couldn't he have proven him wrong? These were questions he had been asking himself over and over again all summer, and this fine summer's day was no exception.
Today his contemplation was cut short however, by a shriek from inside, followed by the appearance of a particularly purple-faced Uncle Vernon. Vernon was Harry's uncle by marriage; a beefy man with very little neck and an extremely short fuse who seemed to live to make Harry miserable.
"You, boy. In here," he said quietly, seemingly trying to suppress his rage while at the same time trying to convince the neighbours that everything wascompletely normal. The result was quite frightening, and Harry decided he'd better hurry up before his uncle went completely out of his head, something that would be sure to cause an extra amount of trouble for him. He stood up quickly and pushed his now quite long hair out of his eyes while following the large man through the open door.
The moment they were inside and safely out of sight from the neighbours, Uncle Vernon grabbedHarry firmly by the collar and put his face, now a lovely shade of blue, right up to Harry's.
"That – ruddy – owl-" he started, seeming unable to figure out the right way to express his outrage. "Flying! In the kitchen! Scared Petunia half to death –you, boy; you'd better control that animal, or-"
Aunt Petunia gave another loud screech.
"Just get it out of the kitchen!" his uncle yelled angrily.
Harry sighed and wrenched himself out of Uncle Vernon's grip.
"Sorry," he mumbled grumpily, walking calmly into the kitchen where he saw Hedwig, his faithful snowy owl, sitting on the kitchen table with a letter tied to her foot, and Aunt Petunia huddled in the opposite corner of the room, holding a frying pan. Aunt Petunia was his mother's sister, a bony and relatively normal-sized woman with an exceptionally long neck she often used to spy on the neighbours. Usually keeping a pretty ladylike, cool fascade, his aunt was now white-faced and shaking with anger, her hair, usually so neat and sleek, standing out in every possible direction as she looked at Hedwig with an expression of utmost loathing.
Harry held out his arm and Hedwig climbed on and nibbled his ear affectionately. He looked sideways at Aunt Petunia, who gave him a very unpleasant look and put the frying pan down.
"I hope you weren't intending on using that," Harry said, shooting her a slightly threatening glance.
"I might have," Aunt Petunia replied defiantly, turning her back to him, pretending to busy herself with kitchen work.
"You might have regretted that," Harry said snidely, walking out of the kitchen.
As he passed his uncle in the hallway, he grabbed Harry's arm and fixed him with a furious glare.
"You keep a civil tongue in your mouth, boy," he warned, as Harry wrenched himself out of his uncle's grasp for the second time that day.
"Yeah, sure. Whatever," he replied dully, trying to slip past his uncle but he caught him firmly by the arm yet again and pointed his finger at Harry, nearly poking his eye out.
"And you controll that animal, boy -or I'll do it myself. And I can promise you there won't be a whole bloody lot of owl left when I'm finished, understand?"
Harry felt himself getting angry. He didn't mind it when his uncle threatened him, he was used to it, but upon hearing him threaten the one friend Harry had in Privet Drive, he tore himself away from him and whipped out his wand, always in his pocket these days.
"You do that," Harry said irately. "-and I'll make sure there isn't a whole bloody lot of you left whenI'mfinished."
Aunt Petuina, who had been listening attentively from the kitchen, screamed loudly and came running out, throwing herarms around her husband and pointing a bony finger at Harry, her face caught in a gaping expression.
No doubt curious about all the noise, Dudley Dursley, Harry's astonishingly corpulent cousin, chose that moment to waddle into the hall and, his face going white and his five chins shaking , he ran over to his parents and tried to squeeze himself between them, letting out a small squeal.
The Dursleys had always hated magic, and for eleven years, Harry had in fact not known that he was a wizard at all, due to the fact that Uncle Vernon thought he had it in him to squash it out of him. He had of course failed miserably, and Harry had started his first year of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in euphoria at being able to get away from his doomed existence in their household. He had had no idea then that his existence was bound to be doomed wherever he went. He had learned about Lord Voldemort, the most evil wizard of all times, and his scar shaped like a lightning bolt, the eternal mark of the deadly curse with which Voldemort had tried to kill him when he was only an infant, and the fame that this failed cursehad given him. He had not known however, the reason Voldemort had tried to kill him in the first place. Not until the very end of last year had he learned about the prophecy, the prophecy that his divination teacher, Professor Sibyll Trelawney, had delivered some sixteen years ago, stating that Harry was the only one who could defeat Lord Voldemort; neither can live while the other survives...
The Dursleys didn't know about this however; they didn't care about whatever problems he might have. What they cared about was their own, one-sided impression of things, and as far as they were concerned, anything magical was abnormal and dangerous.So any mention of Hogwarts,Harry's friends, or anything with even a remote connection to the magical world, would cause them to drop whatever they were holding, stop in mid-sentence, back into corners and fall off their chairs. Harry remembered that first summer back from Hogwarts, when he had casually told Dudley to "say the magic word" at the breakfast table. Though all he had meant was please, the reaction had been atomical, and Harry wasn't likely to forget it for a while.
Harry lowered his wand and, giving the Dursleys a pitiful look, stuffed it back into his pocket before stepping past the still cowering groupand ascending the stairs that led to his second floor bedroom. He shouldn't have lost his temper like that, he knew it, but he just hadn't been able to help himself. His temper hadn't really improved over the summer, and this had just been one of those long and dreary days, this little incident really topping it off nicely.
Once safely in his room he walked over to his desk and set Hedwig down on the only space that wasn't covered with books or clothes –he hadn't been very thorough about cleaning his room this summer. She held out her leg dutifully, but Harry just glared at her.
"What the-" he started, then he collected himself, trying again. "Why on earth did you come through the kitchen? You know you're not supposed to do that."
Hedwig hooted indignantly and flew over to the window, tapping it impatiently with her beak.
Harry frowned. "No, I'm not letting you out – oh!"
He suddenly realized that the window was closed. Come to think of it, it was also swelteringly hot in his bedroom; no wonder. He couldn't really remember closing it, and it must have been the first time that summer –he had left it open at all times because of the heat.
He felt bad for criticizing Hedwig, and quickly set to untying the letter from her foot, muttering a quick apology, which she seemed to accept. Then he went over to the window, letter in hand, and opened it carefully. Hedwig flew out immediately, brushing him slightly with her wing as she passed him.
Harry sighed and looked at the letter in his hand. He could clearly make out Hermione's neat handwriting on the envelope and opened it tiredly, cursing under his breath.
It was good to hear from you. I was getting slightly worried when you didn't respond to my previous letters.
(Take a hint, Harry thought, annoyed)
I am currently enjoying a relaxing vacation in Norway with my parents. It is absolutely fantastic; there are so many things to see here! Sundry old museums (most of them run by muggles, but we met an old witch in one of the museums in Trondheim who told us many fascinating things, among other things giving us a detailed description of the Norwegian "nisse"), old churches, and the nature is positively gorgeous!
I have also gotten to do a bit of research, and the magical history here is simply enthralling! I am hoping I can make use of it in History of Magic next year –I wrote a little essay on it.
Harry rolled his eyes, slightly amused; he could hardly imagine any essay of Hermione's being little
Anyway, Harry, I hope you are enjoying yourself a little, despite everything. I know you're feeling dreadful pain right now,
(You don't know the half of it, Harry thought bitterly)
-but you mustn't let it get you down. You are strong, Harry. You can get through it. And if ever you need to talk, do not hesitate to write. I am here for you.
Harry folded the letter and stuffed it unceremoniously into the envelope. Hermione was one of Harry's two best friends. A very bright girl with extraordinarily bushy hair, she always thought she knew best. And Harry had to hand it to her; a lot of the time she really did know best, but right now he wished she would just leave him alone. Every lettershe had sent him that summer had sounded like that, and she had sent a fair few letters too. The only reason he had responded to the last one, was that he was afraid she would come storming to him, hadn't he assured her that he was ok. He didn't really know why it angered him so much, she was his friend and she just wanted to help, it was just that the idea of her thinking she knew how he felt made him so frustrated. She couldn't possibly know how he felt; no one could know how he felt. He was alone, and it was just something he had to learn to live with.
He lay down on his bed, thinking about how thoroughly miserable he was. Then he got to thinking about the bottle of whiskey he had stolen from Uncle Vernon's liquor cabinet last week, and thinking that he should probably let it stay under his loose floorboard. However, the need for something numbing finally overpowered him, and he took the little bottle out, opening it and taking a sip.
It burned his throat slightly, but not as badly as the first time he had tried it. He was quite surprised that Uncle Vernon hadn't noticed anything yet, as he usually had a little shot of something in the evenings on the weekends. He had been very busy lately however; his company, Grunnings, had received an unusually large order of drills and it had been driving him crazy.
Harry sat quietly for a while, thinking about it, every now and then taking a swig out of the bottle.
Suddenly he heard footsteps on the stairs, and he hurriedly shoved the bottle back under the floorboard, straightening up just as Dudley poked his fat face into the room.
"What do you want?" Harry snapped, as Dudley opened the door all the way and stepped into his room.
Dudley didn't answer for a moment, seemingly taking in every part of Harry's room, a look of deep concentration on his face.
"Hello?" Harry said, waving a hand in front of his cousin's face to get his attention. "Did you come in here to show me how you can stare stupidly into space, because frankly, Duddy -I've noticed. See, you do it about ninety percent of the time."
Harry gave him a nasty grin and Dudley turned his head slowly in his direction, looking as if he was wondering what Harry was doing there. Then he shook his head violently and said, "Dad wants to talk to you."
Harry raised his eyebrows questioningly.
"Is that all?" he asked, wondering why his cousin would come all the way up to his room to ask him that, when all he had to do was yell from downstairs. It was a long and exhausting walk, after all.
Dudley didn't answer; he just walked out of the room, and Harry heard him close his bedroom door a few seconds later. Very strange behavior for his cousin, he thought, as he walked slowly down the stairs.
When he walked into the living room, Uncle Vernon was standing by the fireplace, looking as irate as Harry had ever seen him.
"There is something missing from my liquor cabinet," he said in a voice of forced calm.
Harry, horribly aware that he had just been drinking, made sure to keep his distance from his uncle while putting on an innocent expression of mild surprise.
This only seemed to infuriate his uncle more.
"YOU HAVE BEEN – YOU HAVE – HOW DARE YOU – FIRST YOU THREATEN, THEN YOU - YOU ... -SCARED US HALF TO DEATH, YOU DID - I'LL MAKE YOU PAY - YOU - I KNOW YOU- "
Uncle Vernon was so angry that he couldn't even get the words out. Harry frowned in mock confusion and thoroughly enjoyed the effect this had his uncle, who started pulling large chunks out of his moustache, something he had a nasty habit of doing whenever he was too furious for words.
"You can check my room," Harry said unnecessarily, stepping aside as Uncle Vernon charged past him, taking the stairs in four strides, something Harry hadn't thought was physically possible for his uncle to do.
Harry walked calmly up after him, slipping quickly into the bathroom to get some mouth spray before joining his uncle in his room.
Uncle Vernon was searching frantically through all of Harry's belongings, all the while cursing under his breath, as he wasn't finding what he was looking for. Harry couldn't help but smile coyly as he stood there, for once grateful that he had such en extremely thick uncle.
"Not here, but ... maybe in here..." His uncle mumbled frantically as he tossed all of Harry's things around the room. "I'll find it -it's here, Iknow it... He'll pay, I'll..."
This went on for what seemed like a very long time, but after about ten minutes of finding nothing, Uncle Vernon finally gave up and left Harry's room with a snarl, meaning that Harry had better not show his face downstairs for the rest of the evening. Just as well. He wasn't feeling particularly sociable anyway. He had, in fact, kept to himself most of the summer, getting quickly tired of company. The "company" in this house was, of course, never especially pleasant, but he could still sense a definite change in himself when it came to being around people. When he thought about it, he was noticing changes in other areas too, changes that troubled him.
For one, he had always loved getting mail from his friends, whereas now he just wanted them to leave him alone altogether. He had also, for some strange reason, started caring more about how he looked; he had let his hair grow longer, though not long, he was more careful when picking out clothes, and he would often spend long periods of time in front of the mirror in his bedroom, examining himself. This might not have so much to do with vanity, he realized, as he would stand for long periods of time in front of anything, examining whatever he happened to be looking at. At times, he wasn't even really seeing what he was looking at, but instead seeing an evil, snakelike face with red eyes like slits.
The most disturbing change however, was how much he thought about revenge. And the more he thought about it, the more he wanted to hurt the person who had lost him his godfather. The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to kill Bellatrix Lestrange.
His nightmares had become less frequent, but when he did have nightmares, she was the one he dreamt about. He would dream that she was lying on the floor, helpless and screeching, while he stood over her, holding her under a much more successful cruciatus curse than the one he had tried to perform last year. He would do this for a while, all the while talking to her quite calmly, as if this was regular, everyday business. Then he would lift the curse, look into her black eyes and yell "Avada Kedavra!" A powerful jet of green light would burst from his wand, and he would see himself in her eyes for a moment, before he changed. A high-pitched, evil laughter would erupt from his mouth before he woke up in a cold sweat, thrashing in his blankets, often on the floor.
He lay down on his bed again, wishing he were a normal boy, a boy who wasn't destined to kill or be killed, a boy who had a family, a boy who had a life. He was so sick and tired of being "the one who has power the Dark Lord knows not," he was so frustrated with the thought that only he could end this, only he could vanquish this evil.
He wasn't even afraid anymore, he wasn't afraid to fail. It didn't seem to matter any longer, and besides, reckless as it may sound, he realized that he could do it. The issue he was facing now was being able to put an end to Voldemort without becoming him in the process.
He closed his eyes and buried his head in his pillow. And as he lay there, he drifted slowly off to sleep, forgetting momentarily the doomed world around him.