Disclaimer: I can only hope to attain the creative brilliance of J. K Rowling.
AN: Please review. This is my first Harry Potter fanfic, so be kind.Chapter One: Don't Shoot the Messenger
Harry Potter languished in the grudging shelter offered him by his only living relatives, the Dursleys, just as he did every summer between terms. He lay on his flimsy bed in his tiny room ("that he should be bloody well grateful for!" according to Uncle Vernon), and stared longingly out the narrow window.
Hedwig would have been welcome company, but she was on an errand, having flown to the Burrow that morning. Harry was hoping that his snowy owl would return with good news tied around her ankle: a missive from the Weasleys, extending an invitation for him to spend the remainder of the summer with them at their snug and homey little cottage.
He missed Ron. He missed the comforting lopsided smile of his red-headed best friend, the knowing that there would always be someone who accepted him, no matter what. He missed the happy chaos of the Weasley family, the constant clatter of people moving about and scattering belongings everywhere.
He missed Hermione. Now this was a little more difficult. She was a study in contrasts, a colossal intellect, yet insecure socially, a heart of gold, but a snappish temper. Quite frankly, she baffled him, but he couldn't imagine life without her. He had even baffled himself, toward the end of last term, by suddenly noticing that she twiddled with her necklace while she was thinking, and that her eyes sparkled when she laughed… He imagined the three of them, strolling around the corridors of Hogwarts…
He missed Hogwarts. From the misery and deprivation of the only home he'd ever known, Hogwarts had been like Shangri-La. He hadn't known places like this existed. If only he had been just a normal wizard, not the Boy Who Lived, he could've been completely happy. But he was that Boy, and it made him feel isolated, separate, someone who had been set apart, someone with a "destiny", someone who would forever be on the outside looking in. Nothing had brought on that feeling more than the events at the Ministry of Magic… and the loss of Sirius.
Harry rolled over on his back, and stared unhappily at the ceiling. After the emotional upheaval he had undergone during fifth year, he had been far too jumpy and volatile, and was trying to counsel himself to not be so easily antagonized by people.
"Not by Draco, not by Uncle Vernon, not by Dudley," he murmured out loud. Although at this point, he would have loved to have been antagonized by Draco Malfoy, because it would mean that he was back among his wizarding friends. "They aren't worth it, they aren't worth it, they aren't worth it." It had almost become a mantra to him, and he had kept his temper surprisingly well so far that summer.
His cool head had not come without a price. Annoyed by his nephew's placidity, Vernon Dursley seemed determined to find new and imaginative ways to make his life miserable. Dudley mostly avoided him, and it was painfully obvious that Harry scared the bejeebers out of his oversized, dull cousin. Although at times, Dudley's mere presence tried Harry's patience, and his fingers itched to pick up his wand and hex Dudley into next week.
He shifted position again, sitting up slightly to lean back against his headboard. His eyes fell on his school trunk. His mind idly sifted through its contents… wand, schoolbooks, invisibility cloak, the other half of Sirius's mirror. His few prized possessions would be found in that trunk, with the key to its lock safely hidden underneath a loose floorboard. Except for one. A picture of him, Ron, and Hermione on the Hogwarts Express was propped against the lamp near his bed. They were laughing and waving and acting like fools. Every now and then, Harry had noticed his photo self sneaking quick glances at Hermione, who would blush and look away. Watching the picture and missing his friends was not improving Harry's mood, so he tucked the picture back under his mattress, where it generally resided.
He sighed. He was bored, bored, bored. His relatives hated and feared him. He was trapped here by whatever mystical protection they somehow offered. He couldn't do magic. He was --
There was a scratching at his window.
Hullo, what's this? Harry thought, sitting up with interest. He heard the scraping again, and leaned over to unlatch the window.
Hedwig scrambled in, barely able to fly. Her feathers were ruffled and tattered, and areas were matted with blood. She was holding one talon up close to her body, and tried not to land on it with all her weight.
"Hedwig, what happened?" he gasped. Hedwig let out a pitiful chirp. Harry took her over to the bed, and began probing her with careful fingers. "Nothing's broken," he said. She was bleeding from several gashes that looked like they were from…
"Talons," Harry said dully. Hedwig looked at him with knowing eyes. "Who attacked you?" Hedwig squawked. "It looks like it was big. Like an eagle." Harry speculated aloud.
He only knew one family who was ostentatious enough to use an eagle as a courier.
"Malfoy." He spoke the name calmly, but rage simmered underneath the surface. Fear accompanied it as well. What possible motive could the Malfoys have for ordering Hedwig watched and attacked? To intercept his mail? To keep tabs on his whereabouts? To trap him?
Harry paused to consider this last idea, for he was now trapped, unable and unwilling to use Hedwig to communicate, unable to do magic while out of school. He was as surely cut off, as if he were thousands of miles away.
He snuck to the bathroom, hoping to avoid confrontation, knowing he would be unable to elicit sympathy for Hedwig's condition. When he returned, he proceeded to clean Hedwig's wounds, and she meekly submitted to his ministrations.
His mind was racing, and he kept looking nervously out of his window, as if he expected Death Eaters to be converging on Privet Drive.
"Ohhh, bloody hell!" He finally ground out, coming this close to wringing his hands, but he caught himself and clenched his fists instead.
"Did you get to the Burrow, Hedwig?" he asked. She squawked, and held up a leg in response. The sheath used to carry messages was shredded and empty. "They took the letter then?" Hedwig looked at him mournfully. "Then the Burrow's not safe either. If they read the letter, then the Weasleys are being watched too. If they try to send me a message, or try to come pick me up, they could be stopped. But who's watching? Is it Malfoy? His father? Or are they acting under orders?"
He stopped talking when he realized he was pacing in the meager space his room offered.
"If only I could send a message to Dumbledore!" Hedwig made a chirp of apology. "It's not your fault. I'm only sorry you got hurt." Hedwig hopped gingerly up to the windowsill, and scratched at it with her good talon.
Harry shook his head. "Hedwig, I'm not sending you out. You're hurt, and anyway, it's too dangerous. Whoever's watching will --" Harry stopped, as Hedwig squawked more insistently and scratched at the window again. She peered intently out, and Harry stepped toward the window, with some trepidation, to see what.. or who… she was looking at.
There was nothing there, but rows of tidy, cookie-cutter houses lining the neat little streets of the neighborhood. There was the sound of a lawnmower somewhere far off, but not much else moved.
Hedwig looked at Harry pleadingly, and then looked back out at the houses.
The houses… the neighborhood…. Muggle London spread out like a panorama.
Hermione lived in Muggle London. If he could get to Hermione undetected, perhaps she could send a message. He wasn't sure how – she generally used school owls to send any mail – but his mind was whirling too quickly for him to think straight.
When he forced himself to sit down and breathe, he found all he could think about was Hermione. He had to see Hermione. She would know what to do. That thought spun stupidly through his mind, as he unlocked his school trunk and pulled a few essentials from it.. Hermione always knows what to do. He removed his wand, the mirror, and the invisibility cloak, and stood for a moment, looking uncertainly at the meager pile of possessions on his bed, debating what to do.
Money…I need money. He had galleons and sickles in abundance, but muggle money he had none. Aunt Petunia kept some in the flour jar though, he remembered suddenly, spending money that she didn't want Uncle Vernon to know about. Would it be enough to call a cab?
He picked up the invisibility cloak, and swirled it around, his eyes dark and solemn, his face brooding and older than his years.
"I'll be right back," he whispered to Hedwig, and threw the cloak over his head, vanishing from sight. The bedroom door opened and closed, moved by an unseen hand.
Harry crept noiselessly down the stairs. Uncle Vernon was asleep, sprawled out in an overstuffed chair, snoring loudly. He could hear the faint clack of Aunt Petunia's shears in the garden. Dudley was nowhere to be seen, probably out with some of those thugs he called friends. He slinked into the kitchen, and leaned across the counter, reaching for the tin of flour.
The kitchen door clattered open and hit the wall. Harry hit the floor.
"'Ere now, be quiet!" came Dudley's voice. Then, more quietly, "Mum keeps a few quid in here. She won't mind if I borrow it." There were some ghastly hushed giggles from two doughy boys that had accompanied him. He reached for the flour tin, and Harry made himself as small as possible. Dudley was now angled directly over him, and one toe of Dudley's boot was planted firmly in his ribcage, although Dudley appeared not to notice.
Harry didn't move. Didn't breathe.
He saw a fistful of powdery money float over his head, clenched in Dudley's fat fist. A sprinkling of flour sifted down and landed on Harry's head. The goons in the kitchen did not seem to see the fine granules apparently sitting in mid-air.
They left again, and Harry exhaled the air that had been burning in his lungs. He sighed in despair. Had Dudley left any money? He lifted the lid off of the tin, and saw, with some surprise, that Dudley had had the forethought to leave some money behind, to make the theft more likely to go unnoticed.
Harry did not care about such niceties. He removed all of the money, hoping it would be enough for him to hire transportation to Hermione's.
He snuck back upstairs, unnoticed, and went into Dudley's room. After filching a small leather duffel bag from Dudley's closet, he went back to his room. He thrust his belongings into the bag, except for his wand, which he stuck in the pocket of his jeans. He picked up Hedwig carefully, and she gave a protesting chirp that described her dislike of being placed in said bag.
"There's plenty of room, Hedwig. Don't worry. You certainly can't be seen, and I can't leave you here." Hedwig squawked with resignation, and Harry carefully lowered her into the bag. He had discarded the idea of using the invisibility cloak, knowing that there were some people, and maybe some of them unsavory, who could see through invisibility cloaks. He had a better chance trying to blend in to the Muggle world. He shouldered the bag, and, as an afterthought, grabbed the picture from underneath his mattress, and stuffed it in his other pocket. He jammed a battered blue baseball cap low onto his head, and left his room behind.
Harry took long strides down the sidewalk lining Privet Drive, and tried to act nonchalant. He had trouble restraining himself from looking nervously over his shoulder, seeing danger hiding in every hedgerow. A sad half-smile slipped across his face, and just as quickly disappeared, as he thought of Padfoot peering at him from the bushes. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
He had no clear plan in his head. Mrs. Figg had crossed his mind, but he did not want to put the kindly Squib in danger. He could go to Grimmauld Place, but if someone were keeping an eye on him, he didn't want them anywhere near the headquarters of the Order. Hermione. Hermione. Hermione. It thrummed in his head like a pulsebeat.
He turned in a large circle, while still walking, holding the satchel onto one shoulder. He saw nothing. There were shrieks of laughter from children, and somewhere, a sprinkler chuffed water onto a green square of lawn.
Well, what do you bloody expect? He thought angrily. The bloody Dark Lord himself? A great ruddy eagle diving at you from the sky? Lucius Malfoy with a pitchfork and a flaming brand?
He lengthened and loosened his gait, which had become tense and choppy. He was just a teenager, a carefree teenager out for a stroll. A bitter chuckle escaped him, as he wondered if he was really fooling anybody. Had he ever been one of those?
But Hermione…. Hermione had always understood him, even while giving him no quarter for his self-pity. Coming from Muggle society herself, she knew and had grappled with the selfsame demons that he had. She understood, as no one else really did, that being the Boy Who Lived was not an enviable position, despite his celebrity, but was, in fact, a burden. And one that had become that much more cumbersome since he had found out about the prophecy.
He wanted to tell someone about the prophecy. Once again, his isolation seemed complete and absolute. He wanted to tell Hermione.
He had a vague idea of where Hermione's house was, and began to work out a circuitous route in his head, including hopping on and off various forms of Muggle transportation. He rolled his eyes at the thought of acting like some hero from a Muggle spy movie.
He boarded a train that took him into downtown London, where he rambled around for blocks, trying to stay in the most crowded areas, often ducking in and out of shops. He no longer felt the oppressive fear of being watched, but instead an urgency had filled him, a feeling that an unseen hourglass was dripping sand somewhere, and he was running out of time.
Out of time for what?
He didn't know.
He got on the Tube, and took it back and forth on several crisscrossing routes, keeping a careful eye on his dwindling supply of money, and trying to work his way closer to Hermione's neighborhood.
Panic was pressing on his chest. His heart was jackhammering against his ribs. His lungs were in a vise. He felt like he couldn't get enough air with the harsh noisy gasps he was taking. Hermione. Hermione. Hermione. It pounded in his ears.
Was he under some kind of spell?
He swallowed hard, and tried to calm himself down, but the feeling of dread would not be squelched.
He was up on surface streets again, and the urban chaos of London had faded into a more quiet, orderly residential neighborhood… Hermione's neighborhood.
Haaaarrrrryyyyyy! It was a wailing shriek in his head, in Hermione's voice. He quickened his stride, forgoing all attempts to look casual, even though his heart was beating so rapidly that he could barely think.
He had just started to wonder how he was going to determine which house was hers, when he saw it. He could identify his best friend's house from over a block away with no trouble at all.
The Dark Mark floated above it.TBC