Disclaimer: Nothing related to Harry Potter belongs to me. It belongs to J.K. Rowling.

Chapter One: Birthday Wishes

Harry Potter stretched tiredly as he woke up from that night's Voldemort-induced vision. He winced as he sat up, reaching for his glasses and listening warily for any sounds indicating that his Uncle Vernon had awoken. When he heard nothing but the familiar creaking of the house around him, he relaxed. Apparently, he had successfully managed to avoid screaming this time.

Relaxing back into his pillows and slowly working out the tenseness his muscles had developed from the aftereffects of the Cruciatus curse that the Dark Lord had cast that night, he glanced over at the clock on his bedside table. Five thirty in the morning. Sighing, he rose from bed and got himself dressed in some of Dudley's old hand-me-downs. He used a bit of old rope to secure the pants around his emaciated form.

Harry had always been small for his age, as a result of hard physical labor and very little food, but ever since Sirius' death a few months ago, he had all but refused to eat. He ate enough to keep himself alive, but no more, and his work load was still as heavy as ever.

Once he was dressed, he reached under his bed for his school things. The Dursleys had locked all of his homework and school stuff in the closet at the beginning of the summer, but Harry had expected this and committed his homework to memory. Before he got off the Hogwarts Express at the train station, he hid some things within the overly large clothes he was wearing—some quills, ink, and parchment, his wand, invisibility cloak and picture album.

Of course, unable to actually do research, he knew full well that his work would be below par, but hopefully it would be a great deal improved from previous years. After Sirius had died, Harry had thrown himself into his studies, a fact which delighted Hermione to no end. And now that summer was here, he spent a lot of time revising everything he had learned. Every now and then, when the Dursleys went out, Harry was able to pick the locks on his door and the cupboard and retrieve some of his school books for research, but it wasn't often that he was able to do so.

He had already been told that he could not go to the Weasleys this year, but that he would be able to go with them to Diagon Alley a week before school started for his new supplies. He also planned on picking up a few other items while he was there as well. Harry vowed to himself that he would never again cause somebody else's death by his own stupidity and misplaced sense of Gryffindor bravery.

As always seemed to happen in the early morning hours, when he was incapable of falling back to sleep, usually after being subjected to several rounds of the Cruciatus curse, courtesy of Voldemort, his thoughts strayed again to the Department of Mysteries and Sirius' death behind the veil. He knew that it was his fault that his godfather was dead and had accepted it long ago. At first, he blamed others—Dumbledore and Snape mostly—but he knew now that had he actually listened to the adults around him and studied Occlumency, Sirius' death might have never happened.

He vowed on the first day back to practice Occlumency every night. When he got back to school, he planned to make a formal apology to Professor Snape for violating his pensieve last year, and to do as others had suggested and ask the Potions Master to resume teaching him Occlumency. He had enough death on his hands—he didn't need any more.

Sighing, he stretched and stood up, moving to the door just as the locks clicked open and Petunia banged on the door, calling him downstairs to fix breakfast. She and Dudley were going out to London today to do some shopping after breakfast, while Uncle Vernon was at work, and Harry would have a long list of chores to be completed before they returned.

Of course, Harry thought darkly as he prepared breakfast for the Dursleys, Vernon was most likely to make it back first. Frowning, Harry tried to recall if there was anything special going on at work today that might keep Vernon a bit later. He didn't much care for any of his family, but Petunia and Dudley were always preferable over his uncle…mostly because they didn't have such high intimidation factors.

Harry scowled as he realized that today was his birthday. Well, tonight, but that didn't make any difference. As much as he loved receiving gifts from his friends, he didn't want to cause trouble…which was exactly what a horde of owls arriving at midnight caused.

Dammit! His birthday should be the one day of the year when he didn't have to worry about his own family turning him out for causing them all sorts of grief. Still, the acknowledgment from his friends would make his list of chores easier to get through.

The Dursleys came in just as he finished setting the table and he waited patiently in a corner for them to be done so he could do the dishes. Aunt Petunia shot a glare at him and set a list on the counter—at a glance, it appeared to be about two pages long. Dudley proceeded to stuff his face—they had given up on the diet idea completely, as it didn't appear to be doing any good—while Uncle Vernon read the newspaper.

Petunia and Dudley were the first to leave, after Harry's whale of a cousin smacked him a few times with his Smeltings stick for practice and entertainment. As Harry washed the dishes, Vernon prepared for work. Before leaving, he stuck his head in the kitchen and hissed, "You'd better write a note to your freaky friends today. I'll read it when I get back." Harry just nodded, and his uncle walked out the door, heading for work.

As soon as dishes were done, Harry picked up the list Aunt Petunia had left, starting with the outside jobs. He'd do the inside during the hottest part of the day so he didn't burn or become dehydrated. He watered the plants and painted the fence. He planted several more rosebushes in Aunt Petunia's garden, and cleaned out the garage. He mowed the grass, and trimmed the low branches off the trees. He really didn't see how he was supposed to wash the cars before the Dursleys got home since they weren't there, and suspected that it had been done that way on purpose.

Having the outside jobs done, he moved swiftly to the inside. He only had about an hour left before Vernon came home. He swept, vacuumed, dusted, and did the laundry. Before he could clean out the fridge, rearrange the cabinets or change the sheets, he heard Uncle Vernon's car in the driveway. He kept working, knowing full well that even if Vernon didn't show it, he was well aware of today's significance. Harry just hoped that maybe the sight of him working would please Vernon enough for him to conveniently 'ignore' a flock of owls that night...provided, of course, that the neighbors didn't see.

Sure enough, the first words out of Uncle Vernon's mouth were "Boy, did you get all your chores done?"

The mocking tone in his voice told Harry that he already knew the answer full well, but he answered anyhow, lest the man think he was being impertinent. "No, sir." He didn't bother to clarify, as it wouldn't have done him any good.

Vernon came into the living room and smirked at Harry, who was down on his hands and knees sweeping up under the couch. "No? And you expect me to allow a bunch of ruddy owls to enter this house, contaminating the place and scaring Petunia?" Harry didn't respond, biting his lip on a sarcastic comment and waiting to see what happened next.

What happened was that Vernon changed the topic. "Where is the letter to your freaky friends, boy? Let me see it." Harry felt his eyes widen. Oh, shit! He had forgotten completely about writing that letter to the members of the Order, assuring them that he was fine. He was supposed to write every three days, and Vernon made sure he did so.

He must have made some sort of noise, because next thing he knew, and hand was tightly gripping his hair and Vernon's purple face was filling his vision. "What was that? Did you forget to write to them? Trying to get them to come here, boy? So lonely now that you'll all but invite those…those…freaks into this nice, normal house? Well, you can forget about it right now, boy! I won't let them step foot in this place. Do you hear me?" he demanded, glaring fiercely at Harry, though he had at least relinquished the raven locks.

Harry bowed his head and lowered his eyes to the ground. This posture had two purposes; it satisfied Vernon that 'the boy knew his place', and it allowed Harry to hide the defiance he knew was in his expression. "I'm sorry, Uncle Vernon. I'll get that letter written right away."

Vernon sneered at him—though it didn't hold a candle to Snape—and walked away. "It had better, boy. You have fifteen minutes." The last thing Harry saw before his uncle left the room was a smug, self-satisfied smirk, as Vernon muttered something about, "Tonight."