'Looking for this?' demanded Dudley.
'Give it back.'
Dudley's powerful hands broke Harry's wand in two.
Such was his shock that he simply couldn't react fast enough. His cousin Dudley was still enormous, but a year of strenuous sport meant that by now, a large proportion of Dudley's bulk was muscle. Harry was seized and thrown into a wall and then, half stunned, hurled downstairs. Catching the banister, he succeeded in slowing his decent, but not enough to avoid a collision with a china cabinet, the glass of which broke into sharp and shining pieces. Bleeding, he found his glasses and put them on. As he staggered to his feet, Dudley's arm went around his neck while his own arm was twisted up behind him. The arm around his neck became a hand upon his shoulder and his own arm was forced higher.
'Struggle and I'll break it,' said Dudley.
Harry did not struggle. He allowed himself to be pushed out of the front door, through the garden and along Privet Drive. Finally the two boys reached the path that lead to the derelict industrial estate, long scheduled for redevelopment. Harry knew then that he was in real trouble.
Dudley's grip on his arm had been unrelenting. Harry tried to assess the damage that he had sustained. There would certainly be more, he realised, as he was dragged out of the brittle sunlight, through a broken door, into the stifling gloom of an old workshop. Around the edges were haphazard piles of broken things and empty containers. When Harry was dropped onto the rectangles of hazed brightness from a filthy skylight, the pain from the shattered glass was startling. He rolled over to face his cousin, to find Dudley's face twisted with hatred.
Then began the rain, sounding like single blows upon the aged structure, increasing in frequency. The light on the floor began to ripple. There was a flash and the sound of thunder.
'Freak.' muttered Dudley. Do you care that my mother cries herself to sleep every night? She didn't ask for her sister to be what she was. She didn't ask for her to marry that Potter, and she certainly didn't ask for you! All these years we've put up with you. You're not even grateful. You haven't had surgery on your spine. You haven't lain in a hospital bed, wondering if you'd be crippled for life, while the nurses whispered about your abnormality.' He turned away and started to explore the piles of rubbish. Finally he found a large, nail studded piece of broken timber. He turned back to Harry.
'My mum might be terrified of Dumbledore but I'm not.' He sounded more determined. 'You're supposed to be safe in our house. Well, guess what? You're not, and you won't be returning to Privet Drive.' Wielding his improvised club, Dudley came closer. Heart pounding, Harry dragged himself back, leaving red smears on the dusty concrete.
Again a thunderous roar echoed through the gloom, but now different in quality and much closer. Dudley turned to find that the patch of broken sunlight from the skylight held a dark figure on a motorbike. The bike darted forward, towards Dudley who stepped back, a manoeuvre repeated until he tripped over some junk and fell backwards.
'Get on,' hissed the rider. He didn't wait. The bike turned and smoothly accelerated towards the door and then Harry felt a blow to his side and heard the ringing of dropped metal. Dudley must have thrown something, he realised as the bike emerged from darkness into rain and the cooling breeze of passage.
They stopped in the shelter of trees beside the park. Harry dismounted awkwardly and turned to his rescuer who kicked out the bike's stand and lifted away her helmet. Shoulder length dark hair was pushed back from wary brown eyes. 'Do you want to tell me what that was about?' she said.
'Not really,' Harry replied, staring at her, 'but thank you.' He put his hand to his side and found his shirt damp and his fingers red.
'You should go home,' said the girl.
'No,' said Harry, 'that was my cousin: I live with them. I can't go back.'
'I go to boarding school, they all live miles away.' He looked around. Wasn't someone supposed to be watching him? Where were they? After last year . . . last year when Dementors had been set upon him.
As if summoned, he felt them: the wrongness of them, the sickening feeling that happiness was not even possible. 'Go,' he said.
She didn't seem to have heard him. Instead, she was looking at something behind him. 'What the hell's that?' she murmured.
Harry turned to follow her eyes and saw two dark shapes gliding towards them. 'Dementors. Go! It's me they're after.' She continued to stare. 'GO!'
Abruptly she seemed to wake up. 'PRAT!' she screamed, seizing his arm. 'GET ON!'
There wasn't time to argue. Harry got on. There was a roar, and they were moving quickly over the rain-soaked tarmac. Harry did not dare to turn around, fearful of unbalancing the bike, which got faster and faster. He bent his forehead to the girl's back and hung on. Harry thought about his Firebolt and it occurred to him that she wasn't really that good with the bike, and then wondered just how he had reached that conclusion. The ride became smoother after they reached the motorway, and the feeling of utter dread subsided. Lost them, thought Harry.
After about twenty minutes she turned off the motorway, onto a country road, and stopped the bike in a lay-by, again under the shelter of trees. He dismounted, and this time she did the same. She removed her helmet and stood swinging it gently while she considered him. Finally held out her hand. 'I'm Jane. Jane Norton.'
'Harry. Just Harry.' Unthinking he held out his own hand and saw her wince at the blood on her fingers. Her other hand reached into an inner pocket of her leather jacket and pulled out a mobile phone. 'Call someone.' She handed him the phone and waited.
Harry wiped his fingers on his jeans and carefully pressed the tiny buttons, grateful that Hermione had made him memorise her number. She had also given him ten pound coins. Sometimes it's nice to talk,' she'd said, although he had wondered if she meant that it would be harder to lie. The coins were with everything else at Privet Drive. Except Hedwig. He was glad that she was out and fervently hoped that she would remain so. Finally there was an answer.
'Hello. Could I speak to Hermione Granger?'
Harry was asked to wait. Jane spun around and walked to the middle of the lay-by, out of hearing. As he waited, Jane circled a litterbin, watching it carefully until, apparently reaching some sort of decision, she kicked it, hard. She then started to circle in the other direction.
'I'm sorry. The Grangers are not here. Can I take a message?'
Harry swallowed. 'It's urgent, is there a number I can reach them at?'
'I'm sorry, but they have all gone away and we have no means of reaching them. The locum, however, is excellent. If you are in pain, we have an appointment free this afternoon. ' Harry remembered that the Grangers were Dentists.
Again came the sound of Jane punishing the metal receptacle.
'No, that's ok. Will you tell Hermione that Harry Potter called? I'm alright, and I'm heading for London.' He could always hitchhike. 'Jane,' he called, walking towards her, 'how do you switch this thing off?'
Jane discontinued her assault on the rubbish bin and returned to the trees, looking at him rather oddly. She took the phone, pressed a button and returned it to her pocket. 'Well?'
'The Grangers can't be reached and there's no-one else.'
'What about your school?'
Harry stared at her. If she had seen the Dementors, she couldn't be a muggle. And yet she seemed to know nothing. Perhaps she was a squib and her parents had decided to keep her in ignorance rather than . . . 'I don't know the number.'
'They're not in the book.'
'What will you do?'
'I'll go to London. I've got an address. I can hitchhike.'
Jane just looked at him. 'I'll take you.' She opened one of the bags on the side of the bike and pulled out a plastic raincoat. 'Put this on.' Further rummaging produced a map. 'Where to?'
'You don't have to do this,' said Harry. Abruptly a gust of wind caught the trees overhead and water cascaded over them causing Jane to flinch and then shake herself.
'No?' The raincoat was thrust at him. 'I think I do.'
Harry found King's Cross Station on the map and, from there, the location of the Leaky Cauldron. He pointed it out. 'It might be difficult to find' he said, ' but I can get there from the Station.'
'That's ok, I rarely get lost.'
'Then what were you doing in Little Whinging?'
The expression on her face was indecipherable. 'I got lost.'
Leaving the lay-by, Jane did not turn back to the motorway, but followed the country road for a few miles until it reached a slightly more major route, where she turned towards London.
A short time later they came to a large transport café: a cheerful looking place with a couple of trucks and a dozen or so motorbikes in the car park. Jane pulled in and stopped beside them. She reached into her jacket and handed Harry some money. 'Get whatever you want,' she said. 'I'd like a bacon roll and a large cup of tea.' Then she strolled off to talk to a gang of bikers who were contemplating the rain from under an awning.
Harry went into the café and found the toilets. He chose the one marked 'Disabled' and locked the door. Then he stripped off the raincoat and bloody shirt to examine himself. There didn't seem to be any glass in the cuts, which were mostly dry, but punctured skin and a large, ugly bruise marked where Dudley's improvised missile had struck. As he dressed he wondered at Jane's acceptance of the Dementors. He wondered why she had not asked more questions.
When Harry came out of the café, she was sitting alone, at a table under the awning, with two helmets. She raised the new one and grinned. 'Got one.'
Harry put down the tray he was carrying. 'I'll pay you back,' he said.
'No worries.' Jane clearly enjoyed her food, or else she was very hungry. She didn't talk until she had finished. 'Off to the loo,' she said, and went.
Neither was she inclined to talk when she came back 'Okay, Harry?' and then she zipped up her jacket, put on her helmet and walked back out to her bike, where she sat and waited. Harry put his glasses into his pocket, donned the helmet and followed her out.
Lightening twisted while rain fell in dirty grey sheets, soaking his legs almost instantly, getting under the helmet and running down his chest and back and Harry was glad when Jane pulled off the road again. The raincoat had helped but it had not been sufficient and he was wet and very cold. This time she stopped outside a shop with large sign advertising industrial clothing. 'I could do with a new jacket,' Jane announced. Harry felt uncomfortable. She must have noticed that he had been shivering.
The shop wasn't big, and with the sheer amount of stuff piled onto its shelves, it resembled something from Diagon Alley. 'Great,' said Jane, turning to Harry. Then she stopped. 'Harry, are you alright?'
'A bit wet.'
'Harry, get whatever you want. It's not a problem.'
'I'll pay you back.'
'Fine. I am not short of money.' She looked at his battered trainers. 'You could do with a nice set of industrial boots. Steel toecaps. Solid. Decent socks. Work upwards. I love shops like this.' She disappeared between the racks.
Harry decided to take her at her word. A red and grey check work shirt, jeans, socks, underwear and a pair of boots were soon piled onto the counter. Harry found Jane looking at jackets. 'Think I'll stick with what I've got' she told him. 'See anything you like?'
I'm paying her back Harry reminded himself. He took a few minutes to choose a jacket and some waterproof leggings and took these to the counter. 'Do you have a changing room?' he asked the shopkeeper.
'Over there.' The old man pointed. Harry picked up the clothes and went to get changed. He left his old clothes, leaking pinkish fluid, in a bin that he found there.
Jane was waiting in the doorway, leaning into the wall with her phone to her ear. 'Answer the bloody phone you bastard,' she whispered. When she saw Harry she straightened and put the phone away. 'You look like a lumberjack.'
Saying nothing, Harry donned his coat, enjoying its new smell.
'Nothing wrong with being a lumberjack,' teased Jane. He ignored the remark. Good Samaritan or not, she was beginning to annoy him. He would have to apologise to Hermione for thinking that she was bossy. As they headed out into the storm he thought that he could hear Jane singing to herself.
London was a nightmare of water and traffic but eventually Harry recognised the station. True to her word, Jane had not got lost.
Soon after, as traffic ground to a halt, Jane cut out of and overtook the line of cars. Then she stopped. She half turned and pointed upwards to where the Morsmordre hung ghastly in the sky over Diagon alley. Harry leaned out and looked along the road toward the 'Leaky Cauldron.' A man in "muggle clothing'"directed his wand towards the occupants of a car. Obliviate thought Harry.
Then the bike was moving again, crossing the road and returning the way that they had come. Out of sight of the Morsmordre, they pulled in to the kerb and Jane wrenched off her helmet. Harry opened his visor. 'Up to you, Harry,' said Jane, 'or is there somewhere else you'd rather go?' Harry nodded dumbly. Even if the Death Eaters had gone, he didn't trust the Ministry. 'I'll find a garage and we can look at the map where it's dry,' said Jane.
As they rode Harry reached a decision. It wasn't that he actually distrusted Jane, but neither was he prepared to take her to Grimmauld Place. That she could have accidentally arrived just in time to rescue him was just too unlikely. He'd have to lose her.
At the garage Harry offered Jane his helmet. 'Thank you,' he said, 'but I think you've done enough. Give me your address and I'll send you the money for the clothes.'
'You don't trust me.' Jane gave a twisted smile. 'Can't say I blame you.' She stared at the rain dark street. Then she reached into her pocket and pulled out a notepad and pencil. She scribbled a number and tore off the piece of paper, which she offered to Harry, who took it. 'Call me to let me know when you're safe, or if you have a problem call me,' she insisted. 'By the way, what's the name of your school?'
'St. Brutus Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys,' stated Harry.
She laughed. 'Hogwarts.' Harry stared at her. 'Until I was about eight, I used to believe that my father was a wizard,' confessed Jane, smiling wryly. 'He knows Professor Dumbledore.' If it doesn't work out for you, call me. Sooner or later he has to answer the phone and I can get him to pass on a message. Look, I want to get cleaned up, so I'll be in London for about another hour. After that I'm going home.' She paused. 'If you want to, you can come with me. Although I should warn you, it's in Scotland.' She put away the notepad and pencil and then pulled three twenty-pound notes out from her pocket and offered them to Harry.
'Fortunate,' said Harry, 'that you arrived in Little Whinging just when you did.'
'Right,' said Jane. She reached into the neck of her jacket and pulled up a cord that hung around her neck. Suspended from it was a blue torus of what looked like lapis lazuli. As it caught the light, Harry could see that there was a pentacle inscribed into it. 'Supposedly an extremely powerful magical protection. If you don't mind having your life turned upside down.' Her eyes met his. 'What's changed Harry? Why did I have to rescue you?'
'He's been back over a year.'
'But no-one believed it,' said Harry. 'Now they do and he's got no more reason to hide. No reason at all not to kill people.'
Jane rubbed the side of her face. 'I can take you wherever you need to go,' she said quietly. Harry shook his head and held out the helmet. 'Keep it,' she said, 'it will keep off the rain. Worst case, you can hit someone with it.' She thrust the money into the pocket of his jacket. 'Where's your wand anyway?
'Dudley broke it.'
She grimaced sympathetically and stepped back. 'Good luck, "Just Harry",' she said as she set about refuelling the bike and Harry walked out into the rain.
Harry walked back to the last underground station that they had passed. One of Jane's twenty-pound notes gave him a ticket and a pocket full of change. He found the platform and waited, feeling more alone than he could ever remember. To his relief no one seemed inclined to pay any attention to him. He dreaded the thought of the house on Grimmauld Place. At least, he consoled himself, I can find out if Hermione's ok - and the Weasleys.
Confused images and darkness flashed by the windows as he settled into a corner of the carriage and huddled into the warmth of his coat, feeling oddly comforted by it. Three boys had got on at the last stop. Occasionally they glanced towards him but they made no attempt to approach. As the train slowed for his stop Harry stood up and, balancing easily, he found himself gently swinging the helmet as he had seen Jane do earlier. The boys at the other end of the carriage settled back into their seats.
As much as he hated the house that was the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, at least he would be among his own kind. It was with feeling if immense relief that Harry finally arrived at Grimmauld Place and so, when the house failed to appear, he felt betrayed and utterly lost. There was no number twelve. He tried walking backwards and forwards in the rain but nothing at all happened.
Harry had dreaded returning to the house, but now that it refused to appear he was desolate. As he saw it, he didn't have much of a choice: either go back to Diagon Ally and risk the Death Eaters or, more likely, the Ministry of Magic, and after last year he really did not want to do that, or call Jane, whose willingness to back off had made Harry far more inclined to trust her. He turned wearily back toward the underground station where he'd seen a phone.