An Unexpected Warning
Disclaimer: All the characters and the world they exist in belong solely to JK Rowling. I love this series and write purely for pleasure.
Shadowed images darted back and forth, illuminated only by intermittent streaks of colored light flying past. Voices echoed in the distance, but it was impossible to interpret their meaning. A hazy glow penetrated the back of Harry's mind and he stirred.
Gasps of discomfort escaped him but he was completely unaware of the sounds he emitted. To him, it was an obscure amalgamation of noises that he could not recognize; it was an awful, grating sound.
A hiccup that sounded mysteriously like a sob escaped Harry, and the abruptness of the noise roused him to consciousness. Momentarily unaware of his surroundings, a loud groan escaped him as he thrashed, throwing his arms out to feel the area around him and struggling to understand what was going on.
Slowly gaining awareness, Harry struggled to open his eyes; his lids peeled apart sickeningly, sticky from the residual tears that had been flowing unchecked throughout the night.
As his eyes adjusted to the morning light in the smallest bedroom of Number Four, Privet Drive, he took in his surroundings. It was not much; a desk sat in the corner, the temporary home to the books he had not read throughout the summer. His single, deflated pillow lay on the worn wood floor beneath his bed, a casualty of his nightmares. The window, completely devoid of dressings or decorations, allowed sunlight to stream in unfiltered.
As his vision became focused and clear, Harry reminded himself that the irrational fear he was experiencing was only part of the dream that lingered in his sleepy brain. Eager to shake the feeling, he rolled out of his bed, stripping damp clothes from his body as he registered the uncomfortable feeling of them. The August heat made his poorly ventilated room unbearable; once he had gathered a clean set of clothes, he quickly escaped.
In the hallway, Harry crept quietly down to the lavatory. It was still quite early, and the snoring coming from his Aunt and Uncle's bedroom told him that the Dursleys had not yet woken. A cold shower shocked Harry's brain to attention; when he had finished, he dressed quickly and left the house, relieved to have easily escaped any interaction with his unpleasant muggle relatives. The mornings when he failed to do so had not been easy.
Despite the warning given to the Dursleys at the beginning of the summer, Harry's holidays had not, by any standard of comparison, improved. Mindful of the threat of Wizards blasting through their front door at any moment, they had taken care not to blatantly mistreat Harry. This did not, however, make them any more pleasant; they instead seemed determined to ignore his existence. Harry at first thought he might prefer this to the usual, but as the summer dragged on, he realized that being left to his own thoughts was perhaps the worst thing for him.
The shock of Sirius' death had not immediately hit Harry at the beginning of the summer; he'd felt numb when it was new, able to pretend it hadn't happened. Over time, however, he began to replay the events in his dreams, over and over until he could no longer deny what he knew was true.
Sirius was gone. And if it weren't enough to realize it once, he felt as though he awoke every morning with a new sense of loss, forced to relive the events in his nightmares. It was enough to drive anyone mad, and to add to it the absolute isolation he felt now... he wasn't sure how much longer he could last in this house. He wished every day that the post would arrive with an invitation away from Privet Drive, but none came. He had received only a few letters from his friends, each as uninformative and purposely mundane as the last.
How are you? I hope your relatives are treating you well. I've just returned from a camping trip with my parents; if you need anything don't hesitate to write. I've enclosed some tips that might help with that Transfiguration homework, if it's giving you any trouble. O.W.L. results should be arriving any day! I'm so nervous! Hope to see you soon.
That had been the friendliest letter he had received all summer. Then came Ron's.
Business as usual, Hermione has forced me to finish most of my homework. Mum says to say hello, and told me not to tell you that we'll be coming to rescue you at the first sign of trouble. Can't tell you why now, but hopefully you'll be here before long.
P.S. Chudley Cannons won their game against Birmingham last week. I'm trying to convince Dad to take us, if Mum will allow it. Perhaps you can help me convince her when you get here.
But this had been weeks ago, and still, there had been no rescue attempt in sight. Hedwig sat in her cage, having just returned from a hunt with nothing new in the way of messages.
Opening the usually squeaky back door very slowly as not to rouse his relatives, Harry went out into the back garden. Unable to go far from the house and unwilling to stay in the house where he felt about as welcome as a stray dog, Harry spent most of his time here these days. His aunt had given him a list of chores to keep up on for the summer, and most seemed to involve working outdoors- no doubt in an effort to keep Harry as far away from the family as possible. Harry didn't mind, though. Pulling weeds was a welcome distraction from the darker topics that normally lingered on his mind.
It was not only Sirius' death that haunted Harry. The prophecy Dumbledore revealed weighed heavily on his mind, and having told no one else, it was his burden alone to contemplate. It was a bitter fate: murder, or be murdered. There was no in between. And yet, if Harry was being honest, death was sometimes seemed an appealing escape. When Harry considered the impossibility of defeating Voldemort, he thought it might be simpler... At the very least, death could reunite him with Sirius, and his parents. He snorted at the thought, then shook his head, as though to physically shake the dark thoughts that were overtaking him.
In his heart, Harry knew that he could never take the easy way out. He could never allow Voldemort to win so easily. Yet, he feared the eventual outcome...
Harry sat back on his heels and contemplated the flower beds before him. Clearly, he thought bitterly, it was going to take more than a few weeds to keep him occupied today.
Perhaps a walk, thought Harry, to clear his mind. He knew he couldn't go far, but surely a jaunt down the block would do him some good. It wasn't healthy, staying in the same miserable place every day, and though Dumbledore had told him he must return to the Dursleys, he hadn't said that he must stay in the house at all times.
Perched like an awkward bird that had not yet learned to fly, Severus Snape sat in the very same tree that he had seen a young Harry chased up into by a dog during their Occlumency lessons the past year.
Truthfully, there were many forms of torture that Severus thought might be more favorable than playing watchdog over the boy-who-lived. He considered the task to be a bit beneath his usual caliber of work for the Order, but as a favor to Dumbledore, he had agreed to cover Lupin's post following a particularly rough night of the full moon. The Headmaster had promised to send someone else along shortly.
Severus snorted to himself. When one had lived a century and a half, he reflected, 'shortly' appeared to be a relative term. It had been hours since he had climbed onto a low branch of the tree, hoping to finish some reading. He hadn't expected to be here so long, and he certainly hadn't expected Potter to be up and about in the back garden at such an early hour. He shifted uncomfortably, wishing for the boy to return to the house.
Almost as though the boy had heard his thoughts (impossible, thought Snape sardonically, owed to the fact that the boy was quite unaccomplished in the area of Legilimency) he rose and exited the garden. Severus lifted his eyes to the sky and shook his head. Why couldn't Potter just have a lie in like normal teenage boys? With a low growl, Severus descended from the tree and gave pursuit.
Harry walked slowly as he left the Dursleys' house; he had no particular goal in mind, only to distract himself from the particularly dark train of thought his mind kept taking. As he walked along, he found his thoughts drifting to the coming year at Hogwarts.
Harry never dreaded the start of term, even if homework and classes were not his favorite pastimes. He looked forward, every summer, to leaving the Dursleys and starting his life at what he considered his true home. Though his years were always filled with various tribulations, he found himself highly anticipating the arrival of September. Nothing could be worse than the summer of boredom and misery he had endured here.
Nothing, of course, Harry quipped to himself, except Potions with Professor Snape. He had completed his O.W.L.s the prior year, and though Potions was not his best subject, he held out hope that he had passed his test with standards high enough for even his hated Professor. Hermione had spent weeks upon weeks preparing him for the exam, and though he would have relished the opportunity to dodge Snape for the rest of his career at Hogwarts, he knew he had to do his best if he were to eventually become an Auror.
Though Harry hated to admit that Snape could affect him so easily, the thought of him made Harry so angry that his stomach burned like a furnace housing a bed of hot coals. Harry had made many changes in his attitude since the death of Sirius, but he had not yet let go of his contempt for the vindictive Potions master.
Snape. Perpetually bitter, he was an old man with no one to care for in the world. Harry was not naïve. He could see the pettiness of the man's behavior towards him; all due to a grudge against James Potter, he had treated Harry like scum on the bottom of his shoe since he'd started at Hogwarts, a mere child, then.
Even worse, he reflected, was the way he had allowed Sirius to die due to the grudge. Certainly, the man had made it seem as though he had made the greatest effort to save him. He had allowed Harry to take the blame for everything. What he hadn't admitted to was his own role in Sirius' demise; if he had only listened to Harry, given him a sign that he would find help, everything might have been different.
It was as though he had wanted Sirius to die.
He certainly wasn't sorry. He didn't quite seem upset about it. If anything, he was gloating.
The injustice was almost too much to bear. Dumbledore should have canned the man long ago; the fact that he hadn't yet only spoke to Snape's powers of manipulation.
Without having decided to, Harry uttered in a low growl, "Snape." In anger, he aimed a swift kick at a nearby stone, glaring at it as it skidded away.
Severus stalked slowly along, maintaining several paces behind Harry Potter. He could hear the boy mumbling to himself as he went, but could not make out the few words he'd uttered. Just as well, he considered. As though he wished to listen to Potter's insipid ramblings any more now than in his classroom. He was here simply as a service to Dumbledore and hoped he would be relinquished of that responsibility very soon.
It didn't take long for Severus to realize he was being followed. When he did, his hand was instantly in his robe pocket, clutching his wand, as he glanced over his shoulder.
He was surprised to see, however, that it was no enemy following him as he trailed Harry Potter. It was a set of three muggles; one, he recognized from Harry's Occlumency lessons as his cousin. The other two, well, they were of no consequence.
Severus was surprised when the three boys rushed past him, apparently attempting to catch up to Harry. He did not act right away, but his eyes narrowed in suspicion as he watched them approach. He knew he was supposed to protect Potter from ill-intending Wizards or Witches, but what was he to do about a wayward muggle or two?
Harry had been walking for a short while when the sound of heavy footsteps drew him out of his reverie. His eyes slanted to the side as he turned his head, and he caught sight of his cousin and friends. He huffed, returning his gaze to the ground in front of him and turned the next corner into a secluded alleyway. Here, at least, he could defend himself without too many muggles seeing... if it came to that.
This couldn't mean anything good for Harry. It never did. His hand tightened around his wand in his pocket, but he tried to remember his resolution not to do anything impulsive. He couldn't risk expulsion from Hogwarts... not now that his magical education might mean the difference between life and-
"Oy!" shouted one of Dudley's gang from behind him, and Harry stopped walking. "Where do you think you're off to so early, Potter? Haven't seen you since your return from St. Brutus's... Not trying to avoid us, perhaps?"
Harry turned around slowly and faced them with a mingled expression of boredom and annoyance. "And why would I want to do that? You're such a pleasure to be around, after all..." His eyes flickered up and down Dudley's thick form. The boy was glowering at him resentfully, but did not appear brave enough to challenge him when Harry was clearly clutching his wand within his pocket. "You ought to call off your dogs, Dud."
"You gonna let him speak to us like that, Big D?"
Dudley fidgeted uncomfortably; he looked to be thinking up something to say, but his brain wasn't working all that fast. "Let's go boys, we can do him later-"
"You know what I think?" Malcolm started as he moved slowly towards Harry, "I think you've been dodging us all summer."
"Not that hard to dodge," retorted Harry. "Don't move that fast, do you? Besides, you don't want to see what I've been learning at St. Brutus's... turns out, shoelaces make a fine weapon..."
But this, it turned out, Malcolm and Piers moved much more quickly than Harry had expected and next thing he knew, Malcolm had him held up by the neck of his shirt, and Piers was laughing in his face.
"What have you got planned now, huh?" he mocked Harry. "Going to bleed me with your sock?"
"Thanks for the idea," Harry gasped, the fabric of his shirt tightening restrictively around his neck. He began pulling his wand from his pocket, unnoticed by the other two boys; Dudley, however, instantly recognized the maneuver.
"Boys, I said it's time to go. There's more important things to attend to than him." Dudley instructed with a bit more authority, glancing nervously at Harry. After a moment of begrudging hesitation, Malcolm set Harry back on the ground, and Piers backed away slowly, glaring malevolently.
"Next time, Potter," they promised, before following Dudley down the street where they turned a corner.
Harry watched them leave, straightening his clothes and patting his wand to be sure it was safely back in his pocket. He turned to head back to the safety of the house, but at the moment he turned, a cold, familiar voice drawled from behind, "Lovely display, Potter, really."
Harry would have known that voice anywhere. "Malfoy?" he questioned, feeling instantly alarmed. He drew his wand quickly from his pocket, but was abruptly jolted forward by an unknown impact with the back of his head. He whirled around frantically, vision spinning; he didn't like this. Malfoy was playing with him, and that couldn't be a good sign.
"Stop fooling around, Malfoy, and show yourself!" Harry demanded, backing away from where he thought the other boy must be standing.
Harry whirled around, looking for any sign of the boy. expecting to see empty space. Instead, he jumped back as he found himself standing nearly nose to nose Draco Malfoy. The boy was holding a stone; he tossed it up into the air and caught it again in an obvious display of bravado.
"A little payback for third year, you understand," Malfoy said, smirking and tossing the rock again. He then paused to sneer at Harry's overlarge clothes, which he'd apparently only just noticed. "My, my, those muggles really must hate you... You almost look worse than Weasley."
"What do you want, Malfoy?" Harry said, jaws locked and clear green eyes focused warily on his potential opponent. He raised his wand, expecting Malfoy to counter. Malfoy, however, hadn't so much as drawn his. Harry stared around; he had been so certain Dumbledore would have someone watching him, but then where were they now?
"Calm yourself, Potter,' Malfoy said, folding his hands in front of him, "If I wanted to seriously hurt you, I could have already. Actually, I came to do something for you."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "What could you possibly do for me?"
"I came to deliver a warning," Malfoy said ominously, clearly savoring Harry's confusion. "You want to get out of here, Potter."
"Are you deaf, or just stupid?" inquired Malfoy. "You need to find a way out of this…place… as soon as possible."
"Why?" he asked suspiciously.
"Does it matter why?" Malfoy asked, eyebrows raised. "It should serve to tell you that if you don't leave, you and your…" he paused and wrinkled his nose, "…muggle relatives are in danger you could barely comprehend. So hop on your broom, hail the knight bus, it really doesn't matter… just make sure you're gone by this weekend." He smirked at Harry for a second. "If it will make you feel more receptive, I should tell you that I am acting purely out of self interest, here."
"Oh, yes, how comforting," Harry replied disdainfully.
"Listen, Potter," Malfoy said, stepping much closer than Harry felt comfortable with. "Believe me; I, more than anyone, want to see you fail. And yet, as I've watched my Father waste away in Azkaban this summer, I can't help but feel that perhaps he's on the losing side. The Dark Lord could set him free at any moment, and yet he rots... while I am expected to loyally take the Dark Mark when I come of age and serve the same master that punishes my entire family for my Father's failings. There must be some reason for the Dark Lord's obsession with you, and if you want my theory, I think you must be some sort of... well, I'm not certain, but the Dark Lord must see some threat in you that he hasn't in anyone else. And I, personally, would like to be remembered if he falls..."
"If you think I'm going to be your ticket out of Azkaban when all is said and done, you can think again Malfoy."
His voice almost a whisper, Malfoy responded through gritted teeth, "Potter, you idiot, I'm trying to tell you that I am being forced into servitude that I never chose for myself- simply because of my family, whom the Dark Lord has forsaken at a moments notice! I have more reason than any to hate you, but even through that, I can see that even a world where you are some hero" -Malfoy spat the word as though it were poison- "is better than one where the Dark Lord has won."
Harry did not respond for a moment, uncertain what to say and somewhat shocked by Malfoy's words. Impatiently, Malfoy glanced around as though worried that they were being watched, and said hurriedly, "You can take my warning or leave it. I hope you make the right choice, but I'm not going to beg to save your pathetic life. I just hope I'm making the right choice here, Potter."
He considered Harry for a moment, lip curled, before bringing his hand up to the necklace strung around his neck. Harry quickly realized that it was a Portkey. "Well… until the start of term, Potter… if you can make it that long."
With these parting words, Malfoy gave Harry a solemn nod and clutched the charm on the end of the necklace, disappearing from sight… and leaving Harry to decipher what he had just been told.
AN: My greatest wish is firstly that you will finish this story; secondly, that you will review at some point. I do plan to complete the story; I will never abandon it until that is finished. This has been a 10 year endeavor; I started as a 15 year old high school sophomore and am now a 25 year old high school English teacher :) Oh how the times have changed!
July 21, 2015: I can't say the exact date of my next update, but I wanted to let you know if you are starting this story that I am currently working on a new chapter to this story. In addition to this, I have (at this moment in time) revised the first 20 chapters of the story. I would greatly appreciate your reviews on the earlier chapters if you are new to the story, as I feel like I've just written them! At this point, the level of writing from the earlier chapters was just too different from the later ones, and it physically hurt me to read through them- they were in need of heavy revising. For the sake of the story, I've tried to keep it as close to the original as possible, but I have fixed some characterization and plot issues throughout. If you've read the story before, you'll find that it is the same plot even if the way it is written is a updated. I hope, regardless of whether you are new or a long-time reader of this story, you will enjoy it :)
A special thanks to all of those who have over the years dedicated their time and energy to being my sound boards and betas at one point or another: Rlmess, Cithara, Redtoe33, DawnDemersca, AllisonCaroll, and MakalaniAstral. I couldn't have done it without you!
Thank you for reading :)