Chapter One: A Mysterious Summons - Escape From Privet Drive
Disclaimer: If you've seen it before, it belongs to J.K. Rowling. Otherwise, it's mine. Naturally, I'm making no money off this.
A fierce summer thunderstorm raged across Little Whinging as the car belonging to Vernon Dursley pulled into Number Four, Privet Drive. The downpour was nothing short of torrential, and nary a few seconds passed without the steady pattering of the falling rain being interrupted by flashes of lightning and claps of thunder. The overall scene, Harry Potter thought, fit his mood rather accurately. Harry was by no means a normal boy, a fact of which the Dursleys, his only living relatives and most unwilling guardians, seldom ceased to remind him.
Truly, Harry Potter was a wizard, and a right famous one at that. He had defied and defeated the terrible Dark Lord Voldemort more times than any other wizard, living or dead, earning him the moniker "The Boy-Who-Lived", a lightning bolt scar on his forehead (where Voldemort's Avada Kedavra had struck the then one-year-old Harry and rebounded, banishing the evil wizard into a mere shade) and a place in the wizarding world's history books. Alas, the resulting peace was doomed to end, as Voldemort later returned to an organic form, and used Harry's own blood to regain his former body at the end of Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and thus began his reign of terror anew. Right now, though, these things were far from the adolescent wizard's mind, as Harry slowly stepped out of his uncle's car into the pouring rain, thus officially marking the beginning of his least favorite few months of the year, those spent away from Hogwarts.
Naturally, the portly Vernon wasted no time in waddling into the house, leaving Harry to soak in the rain and carry in his belongings by hand. Harry sighed, realizing that his uncle had conveniently forgotten to leave him the keys to the trunk, meaning an extra trip into the house to get the keys, and back out into the small monsoon to get his things. Mad-Eye Moody and the Order may well have threatened the Dursleys out of taking any direct steps to make Harry's life any more miserable that it already was, but leave it to Vernon to find small ways in which to torment the young wizard regardless. Harry turned to enter the house, almost thankful for the small irritation that had effectively halted his own inner musings, when a barely whispered Alohamora caused the car's trunk to click open.
Harry cocked his head in the direction of the spell, seeing nothing until Kingsley Shacklebolt's head appeared from under the hood of an invisibility cloak. Dumbledore's babysitters had wasted no time, Harry thought with no small amount of annoyance, which for some reason caused an itching in his upper back, but he sent a small smile (that failed to reach his brilliant green eyes) at the tall black auror regardless.
"No problem, kid. Don't forget to send us an owl every few days letting us know you're alright. I've got to get back to my position. Take care of yourself, Harry, and try not to get yourself down too much. Sirius wouldn't have wanted that."
"I'll try. Have a nice day."
Of course, the mention of Harry's recently departed godfather sent the young man right back into his subdued mood. The tears no longer came, though, and the heart-wrenching pain that had accompanied any thought of Sirius Black for that past week or so since his untimely demise had subsided to a dull ache. Harry wondered for a moment if Sirius would have been disappointed with him for that. Deciding to simply let the matter drop for the moment, Harry opened the trunk the rest of the way and began to haul his belongings into Number Four, his own personal prison, now more so than ever before. He could see Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia peering at him through the front blinds, no doubt hoping that he'd be struck by an errant thunderbolt.
A second jaunt into the now receding downpour saw Harry loading Hedwig's cage into the house, the snowy owl raising a small ruckus at being drenched in rain.
"Sorry, Hed. I'm sure you'd rather not spend the night caged up in the walrus's car."
Hedwig responded with an annoyed hoot and a nod. Upon Harry's entry into the house, the owl decided to take the opportunity to spread her wings a bit and shake off the rainwater...right onto Uncle Vernon, who quickly turned a most unseemly shade of purple.
"BOY! Take that ruddy bird up to your room, and don't you dare come out again until we call you for supper!"
"Yes, Uncle Vernon."
Harry couldn't resist the urge to send a small smirk at his beefy uncle as he trudged up the stairs into his barren bedroom, leaving Aunt Petunia shrieking about "ungrateful brats".
Upon entering his room, Harry set Hedwig's cage down on the dresser and opened the lock before reclining down onto the rather uncomfortable bed. A quick glance out the window revealed that the storm had just ended, leaving a slight overcast in its wake. Typical, Harry thought, just when he gets inside, the storm ends. The small twinge of irritation became a large jolt when his thoughts turned to the Prophecy, the fated proclamation that sealed his fate as the one who had to stand against Voldemort in the end.
Of course, he would've fought against the serpentine bastard anyway. Voldemort had taken far too much from Harry. His parents, and his only chance at a normal life. Cedric, and with him Harry's only reasonable chance at a relationship with his first and only crush. Wait, where had THAT come from? Cedric wasn't important in and of himself; his death had only mattered to Harry because it more or less destroyed any chance of Harry having a chance with Cho? No, Harry thought, those thoughts are totally wrong. He couldn't possibly be that callous. Cho herself was another problem. Looking back, Harry knew he really ought to owl her with an apology for how he had acted over the course of the last year. For some reason, though, Harry just didn't care to.
Anyway, Harry mused, again noticing the warm, dull itch between his shoulderblades, back to Voldemort. Most recently, Voldemort had taken away the only real father figure that Harry had ever known. Well, he was indirectly responsible, anyway. The physical culprit was that madwoman Bellatrix. Righteous anger, indeed. Harry cursed himself for his weakness, vowing that next time he would make the bitch suffer for both attempts and then some. Of course, Harry knew that he had a share in the blame as well. Sirius would never have come to the Ministry that night if not for Harry's stupid recklessness. As much as he told himself that, Harry couldn't seem to muster enough guilt to really drive the point home. Strange, he thought, seeing as he could think about nothing else even earlier that same day.
Harry absently fingered his wand, holly and phoenix feather, as his thoughts turned back to the Prophecy, and then to Dumbledore. Harry felt a fresh wave of anger at the thought of the Headmaster. His itch became more pronounced, but his face remained impassive as he continued to twirl the wand around in his hands. Dumbledore should have told him the Prophecy sooner. Should have made him aware of the fate to which he was unfortunately bound. An old man's mistake, bah! Wait, unfortunately? Hadn't he just sworn that he would have taken on Voldemort regardless? Well, yes, he would have, but maybe it would be fun to see those cowardly sheep in the wizarding world sweat about it for a while. Maybe let them think twice before making a scapegoat of him.
Harry was drawn out of these itinerant musings by a soft screech coming from his window. Looking over, he saw a large horned owl perched imperiously on his windowsill, a letter attached to its right leg, which was held out daintily in front of Harry's face. Harry took the note, and the owl flew out the window as quickly as it had come. Wasting little time, Harry opened the note:
Greetings, Mister Potter:
There is a certain matter of great importance that I must discuss with you in person. I do not often deign to meet with any individual, no matter what their station within the outside world, and as such, you may rest assured that this is no trivial matter. I apologize for the lack of detail given in this letter, but the matter in question is of a highly sensitive nature, both from your end and ours. I therefore request that you appear at Gringotts Bank in Diagon Alley, London at noon tomorrow. The attendants at the front desk will be informed that I am expecting you, so please just ask one to escort you to my office.
Grilthauk the Greedy
President, Gringotts Wizard Bank: Diagon Alley Main Branch
"The President of Gringotts...? What would he want with me?"
With that voiced thought, Harry began to ponder the mysterious letter. No details given, just a summons. Awfully presumptuous, but then again, a man...well, whatever a goblin counted as, with the status of the Gringotts Bank President would likely own enough gold to make Malfoy look like a pauper. A bit of arrogance probably went with the territory. What could the letter be about, though? Harry was relatively certain that it had nothing to do with his fame. He hadn't yet met a goblin that gave a single knut about mystique of the Boy-Who-Lived. Did it have something to do with Sirius's estate? Harry doubted that his godfather's death would have been reported officially at this point, even assuming that Harry had been named as the beneficiary. Well, he thought, he wasn't going to know for sure until he got there.
Of course, that raised the real pressing issue: how indeed was he going to get there? Harry had immediately decided that he was going to the meeting. Even if the discussion with the President was of no value to him, he'd at least have the satisfaction of having defied Dumbledore. Not only was he going, mind, he had no intention of returning to Privet Drive at all. If the note was a trap set by Voldemort, Harry wasn't too worried. After all, he had the Prophecy and his own skill to protect him from the Death Eater grunts, most of the Inner Circle was stewing in Azkaban after the botched Ministry raid, and old snakeface himself wasn't about to risk a personal appearance. Still, after the dementor fiasco of the previous summer, Harry was certain that Dumbledore's babysitters would be watching Privet Drive like hawks this time around, most likely with more than one guard on duty at any given time. He has already seen Kingsley, after all. Analyzing the situation, which didn't seem to strike him as odd despite his usual impulsive style, Harry managed to come up with a workable plan relatively quickly. Part of his plan involved inducing Uncle Vernon to cooperate, so he decided to keep the great walrus as happy as possible by not gracing the Dursley family with his presence at supper. He'd go to bed early and make breakfast before the Dursleys awoke, making sure to be around when Vernon inevitably lumbered down for his morning meal. In the mean time, Harry went for his school trunk and got out a good supply of parchment, and his quill and ink. An hour or so later, Harry turned in for bed, still annoyed by that persistent itching.
Harry's dream that particular night could only be described, in a word, as odd. He was accustomed to having his dreams hijacked by Voldemort, containing snippets of the Dark Lord's various tortures and conversations. Tonight, however, was a bit different. Harry thought he could see a hazy outline of Voldemort's serpentine figure, surrounded by several equally hazy, nearly transparent, black-robed figures that would assumedly be Death Eaters. He could hear voices, but they were muffled and generally incomprehensible. Harry thought he saw the hazy Voldemort casting the Cruciatus on some helpless underling (most likely Avery, given the poor sap's history for getting punished). Harry, despite the dream, was able to sound out the thought that Voldemort probably kept Avery around only out of need for a whipping boy. The dream began to phase out more and more, to the point that it aborted just as the nightly muggle torture was getting underway, resulting in Harry's awakening. The normal searing pain in his scar was noticeably absent, save for minor warmth. Odd, Harry mused, before falling back into sleep, this time bereft of Voldemort dreams.
Harry awoke again early the next morning, with several hours to spare before he could expect the Dursleys. He quietly trudged downstairs and headed for the kitchen, taking a moment to scowl as he passed by the cupboard under the stairs. Raiding the refrigerator liberally, he spent nearly two hours whipping up a morning feast the likes of which even Vernon and Dudley would be hard-pressed to devour. Harry had no doubt that the walrus and his blob of a son would somehow manage, though. After making a small plate for himself (though still more food than he was usually allowed at the Dursleys') eating and washing his dishes, Harry set the table and awaited the thunderous stampeding that would signal the morning arrival of his beloved family. He hadn't long to wait, as the elapse of fifteen minutes saw Vernon barreling into the kitchen, quickly followed by his wife and son. Harry's uncle purpled as he saw his nephew in the room, but the sight of the feast set before him quickly placated him.
"You missed supper last night, boy. Worthless freak, can't even show appreciation for the good food Petunia and I so graciously waste on you."
"Sorry, Uncle Vernon. I had a lot on my mind."
Dudley couldn't resist the urge to chime in.
"What would YOU have to think about, freak?"
Harry was ready with his reply.
"I was thinking about how I could get out of your hair for the rest of the summer."
This got Vernon's attention.
"Well, out with it, boy."
"I have some things I need to take care of in London today. I thought that as long as I was leaving, I might as well not bother coming back."
Vernon sputtered, spraying coffee all over the tabletop.
"Are you out of your ruddy mind, boy? You heard what those freakish friends of yours said at the station. If you leave, they'll be barreling down our front lawn within the day. No sir, I'll not have that unnaturalness in my house."
"Don't worry, Uncle Vernon. I've planned for that, see? You heard them say that they'd come calling if they didn't hear from me for a few days. I sat up last night writing up enough notes to last the summer. When I go, I'll leave my owl here. All you have to do is tie one of the notes to her leg every couple of days and let her deliver it. As long as the Order members see my owl leaving the house and delivering notes to them, they'll have no reason to suspect anything. You don't even have to feed her. Just let her out at night and she'll hunt her own food."
This time, Petunia chirped her two knuts in.
"But what if it isn't enough for them? What if they come here looking for you?"
"I don't think that'll be a problem. They have good enough reason to give me my personal space this summer. If they do by chance come, just come clean with them and tell them exactly when I left and how. If it comes to it, tell them that I threatened you with ma...the m-word. They'll be angry with me, of course, but it won't have any impact on you."
Vernon grunted out his decision. Being able to get rid of Harry along with the likely possibility of landing the boy in trouble with the freaks made it an easy decision for the chinless man.
"Very well, boy. You may leave. But don't think that you'll be allowed back here this summer!"
"Thanks, Uncle Vernon. I won't need to come back. However, I will need you to drop me off somewhere between here and Grunnings when you leave for work this morning. If they see me leaving the house by foot, the entire plan is ruined."
"Won't they see you getting into the car? Bet you didn't plan for that, did you, you worthless little freak?"
Harry fought down the brief urge to curse the purple walrus. The effort heralded the return of the itching in his back.
"I'll be able to manage that far, I think. If you don't mind, I'm going to head back upstairs and get ready to leave. Just call when you're heading out for work. Actually, I'll probably be downstairs first anyway. I don't have much to do."
Vernon only grunted his affirmation while returning to his meal, as Harry started back up to his room, hopefully for the last time in his life.
Back in his room, Harry packed a decent-sized bag with everything he'd be needing for the remainder of the summer. First was a small bag containing sixty or so galleons left over from the previous school year. Harry silently thanked himself for being frugal during fifth year, as he'd need the money now to buy a new set of robes for his meeting with the President. He wasn't about to go looking like a street urchin in front of perhaps the wealthiest being in all of the wizarding world. That, along with a few changes of undergarments and Dudley hand-me-downs for emergencies (who could say when Harry might need to pitch a tent somewhere?) had the bag packed and ready. He briefly considered bringing along his photo album, but figured that the Order would get it for him when they eventually caught onto his deception, which he hoped would be later than sooner. Harry tucked his wand into his pocket, grabbed his father's invisibility cloak, and headed over to give Hedwig her final instructions, fully expecting a thorough pecking for leaving the temperamental bird behind.
"I'm off to Gringotts, Hed. You're going to have to stay behind for awhile."
Hedwig gave an impertinent screech.
"Yes, I know, I know. It's important, though. I need to you deliver my notes for the Dursleys. If you don't, the Order will know that I'm not here. You know I wouldn't be asking you to do this if it wasn't necessary. Please, girl?"
Hedwig hooted her acquiescence, but gave Harry an annoyed nip to show her dissatisfaction.
"Thanks, Hedwig. Now, when the game is up, and the Order eventually barges into the house and heads upstairs to look for me, I want you to get out of here as quickly as possible. Fly down to Diagon Alley and find me, but make sure nobody follows you. If you can't find me, go to the Weasleys, okay?"
The snowy owl gave a slight nod to indicate understanding, and Harry ruffled her plumage before heading downstairs to wait for Vernon.
A few minutes later, Vernon came lumbering downstairs dressed in his business attire. Harry thought it made him look even more like a walrus than usual.
"You ready then, boy?"
"Yes, Uncle Vernon."
Without another word, Vernon kissed Petunia on the cheek, ruffled Dudley's hair, and bounded out the door. When Petunia and Dudley turned around, Harry slipped on his father's cloak and followed directly behind Vernon, hoping that invisibility combined with his uncle's girth would effectively hide him, and praying silently that Mad-Eye wasn't on duty at that particular moment. It seemed to go off without a hitch, as Harry clambered into the back seat of Vernon's company car and shut the door. Vernon didn't bother to look back and make sure Harry was in the car before speeding off. After ten minutes or so of fast driving, Vernon came to a stop in one of the worst neighborhoods of Surrey.
"Out with you, then. You're contaminating my car with your freakishness."
Harry complied, and Vernon sped off without looking back. That would be the last time Harry Potter would ever lay eyes upon his boorish uncle. Harry scanned around for a well-hidden area and hailed the Knight Bus, which promptly arrived as he placed his cloak into his bag. Rearranging his hair in order to cover his scar, Harry climbed on board. Thankfully, Stan Shunpike wasn't on duty at this particular time, greatly lessening the chance of Harry being recognized on the bus (not that Stan actually knew Harry as "Harry", but he would rather not be recognized by anybody regardless). The conductor was a surly-looking older man. He didn't even bother to take a glance at Harry as the latter took a seat near the middle of the bus.
"Welcome aboard the Knight Bus. Where can I take ya?"
"The Leaky Cauldron, and please make it quick."
"Yeah, ya people are always in a hurry, aren't ya? Bloody ridiculous, if ya ask me. It'll be eleven sickles and a knut."
Harry mentally sneered that he didn't ask, but said nothing. His back did start itching again, though. He got up and dropped a galleon into the bucket, not really caring about the change, and the bus took off.
About thirty minutes later, the bus stopped in front of the Leaky Cauldron, and Harry got off, bag in hand. He waited until no muggles were looking, and strolled into the dingy tavern. He needed a room, so he'd have to let Tom the Barkeep recognize him, but Harry trusted the toothless old proprietor implicitly. He walked up to the bar and hailed the barkeep, while taking his money pouch out of his main bag.
"Oh, good morning, Harry. What brings you into the Alley today?"
"Some business at Gringotts, Tom. It's nice to see you, as always. Listen, I need to book a room. I'll be staying around for a few days, but I'm not sure exactly how long. Can I just tentatively book the room and pay the boarding fees when I check out?"
"Of course, Harry, that'll be just fine. You want the same room as last time?"
"Yes, that'll be wonderful. I'll probably be back by for a late lunch, but I have to be going now. Do me a favor, and place my clothing bag up in the room."
"All right, Harry. Good luck with whatever your business is."
Harry departed with a nod, left via the rear exit of the tavern, and entered Diagon Alley as normal. As he walked, he tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible, knowing that if by chance an Order member were patrolling the Alley, chances were he'd be identified regardless. After all, how many wizards had messy jet-black hair and went about in overlarge muggle clothing? Luck remained on Harry's side, as he reached Madame Malkin's Robes for All Occasions without incident. He simply strolled into the rear area of the store and looked around for a formal robe. Had he been a bit more aware of his surroundings, Harry would have seen the cute saleswitch taking sidelong glances at him as he shopped. After about half an hour of browsing, Harry decided on a formal-looking, but not overly extravagant, black silk robe with emerald green trim that matched his eye color, and a new pair of black dress shoes and socks to match. He took his purchases and walked up to the sales counter, only to find that the girl working there was too occupied with gazing dreamily at him to notice his actual approach. Odd, he thought, he most certainly wasn't used to girls acting this way around him. With a small twinge of annoyance that again resulted in that ever-irritating itching in his upper back, he figured that she had probably seen his scar. Enthralled by the myth, not the person behind it.
"Excuse me, I'm ready to purchase if that's alright..."
The young saleswitch, a girl probably in her early twenties, blushed rather profusely at having been caught staring.
"My apologies, sir. My name is Monique, and I'll be serving you this morning.
Probably serving me in a less-than-professional fashion if you get your way, Harry thought wryly. He'd never understand the obsession with his so-called celebrity, but he had no time to pander to a lovestruck fangirl at the moment. Shame, though. She really was good-looking.
"It's alright, no problem at all. Here, these are what I'm interested in."
"Oh, excellent choice, Mr..."
Harry figured that the girl was just trying to act as if she was genuinely interested in him, but saw no need to humor her. He really was going to be late for his meeting with the President if he wasted too much more time.
"Potter, Harry Potter. I mean no offense, ma'am, but I'm rather in a hurry, so if I could just get my total and pay, I'd appreciate it."
The girl, who was genuinely unaware of Harry's identity, flushed fuchsia. Her eyes darted up to his forehead, where Harry had already revealed his scar in order to save himself the annoyance of being asked.
"OH MY GOD! Harry Potter? Oh, I am SO sorry. I would never have acted so unprofessionally had I known it was you, Mr. Potter. The total is thirty-four galleons, seven sickles, and three knuts."
Talk about overacting, Harry inwardly groaned. She was making a complete fool of herself. He was most unpleasantly reminded of Parvati Patil. Harry decided that it really wasn't his problem either way. He removed thirty-five galleons from his pouch, received the appropriate change, and walked back into the changing rooms. Looking back to make sure the blushing saleswitch was keeping her eyes to herself (she was, having embarrassed herself thoroughly enough already), Harry changed into his new formal wear and left the clothier. Confident that his new outfit would fool any Order members that happened to be about, Harry walked toward his actual destination.
A few moments later, Harry walked through the front doors of Gringotts Bank. Looking around, Harry noted that the place looked much the same as every other time he had visited the wizard bank. Small goblins scurried about all over the place, transporting paperwork and currency about the facility. Paying no further heed to the environs, Harry walked up to the front desk and ringed. The goblin in front of him looked up at Harry with a nasty sneer that immediately vanished upon noticing the infamous scar.
"Ah, yes, Mr. Potter. The President is expecting you. Right this way, please."
And so, Harry Potter followed the nameless goblin to the place where his meeting with the President of Gringotts Bank would take place. This meeting that would change Harry's entire outlook on both himself the world around him, and set his destiny on a course that he never would have imagined possible...
(End Chapter One)
Author's Note: Well, here it is, my official first attempt at writing a piece of fanfiction. Some of you may have seen me around as a reviewer, particularly on exotic pairing stories. I've gotten some small commendations from various authors on that particular front. On the story itself, I know that it may seem like pretty standard fare at the moment, but I guarantee that the action and drama will begin to pick up starting with the next chapter. I realize that Harry may seem a bit out of character at the moment, particularly concerning his somewhat disjointed thoughts, lessened amount of grief about Sirius, et cetera. I promise you that I have a reason for his change in attitude, as will be seen in the upcoming two or three chapters. Please, read and review. I'd particularly like to see some thoughts and ideas about the story's direction. Simple praise is fine as well, of course. On the other hand, if anybody feels the need to flame, by all means, do so. I won't pay you any mind, but vent all you like. Chapter two should be out in two or three days, barring any unexpected setbacks.