Chapter 1

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.

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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 from between his lips, but he was totally 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 dank bedroom of his relatives' home, he took in all that was around him. 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. Per usual, he had awakened long before the Dursleys. Lately, they had a tendency towards summer lie-ins. Harry found that the easiest way to avoid them was to rise long before them; thanks to his perpetual nightmares, it was not difficult to do. 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 the wrath of his Aunt Petunia and cousin, Dudley, once again. 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 been, by any measure, better than previous ones. Though they were aware of the repercussions that would immediately follow blatant mistreatment, they were no further inclined to treat him any differently than they would a stray dog. It was no mystery how they felt about him; the three malevolent glares that greeted him whenever he entered the room sent a very clear message.

Not that Harry cared, of course. He preferred to be alone.

The shock of Sirius' death had not immediately hit Harry at the beginning of the summer. It had been so sudden that at times, he could almost convince himself it had been a bad dream. He certainly had enough of those to make such an explanation plausible.

However, when he awoke every morning to the same awful feeling of loss, he could not deny that the events of the previous year had truly transpired. Night after night, he was forced to experience it all over again. He repeatedly relived it; watching the spell that had killed his godfather as if in slow motion. Getting dragged away by Lupin, unable to go after the man who had meant so much. Sitting in Dumbledore's office, facing the reality that Sirius was never going to return to him.

The suffocating anger he experienced every time he replayed these events was intolerable. During his waking hours, he did whatever he could to repress the feeling.

Harry wished constantly for an adequate distraction from his misery. He attempted to intercept the post every morning, maintaining hope that he would receive some word that would disrupt the monotony of boredom and self-deprecation. However, he had received only a few letters from his friends, each as uninformative as the last.

Dear Harry,

Things are fine here; hope things are the same for you. I've finished all of my homework, from a Transfiguration essay that I've found to be in need of serious revision. O.W.L. scores arrive two weeks before term starts. Hope you aren't putting things off. See you soon.

With love,

Hermione

That had been the friendliest letter he had received all summer. Then came Ron's.

Dear Harry,

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.

Ron

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.

After checking the post for the morning and finding it empty yet again, Harry quickly made his way out to the garden. He could not go far, he knew, but as long as he was not in the house, the Dursleys would leave him be; this was good enough for him. As usual, he started at the back of the house, spending a short time pulling weeds from the flower beds. It was a simple chore that kept his Aunt happy enough, and it had become somewhat of a morning ritual.

The silence of the garden soothed Harry in a way most activities could not. In the bright sunshine and fresh air, he found that his feelings of depression were not quite so overwhelming. The hours passed quickly with the lack of interruption; Dudley did not much care for spending time outside.

Though Harry normally had an understandable aversion to housework, he found lately that he welcomed the distraction. He was miserable, here, for too many reasons to count. It was rewarding to find activities that required enough concentration to overshadow the dark places to which his mind wandered when left to its own devices.

Sirius' death was not the only trauma Harry had experienced at the end of the year. The prophecy he had discovered also weighed heavily on his mind; it was such a bitter ending, to either be murdered or become the murderer. Death was beginning to seem almost appealing, when Harry considered the impossibilities of defeating Voldemort. He hardly knew where to begin; it seemed that he would always battle this demon, never with a resolution in sight.

At the very least, considered Harry, death could reunite him with Sirius, and his parents. With the likelihood of his demise increasing with every passing year, he tried to remain prepared for such an outcome.

A bitter laugh escaped Harry, and he instantly screwed up his face at the sound of it. Shaking his head, he sat back on his heels and contemplated the flower beds before him. Clearly, after the night of dark dreaming he'd endured, it would take more than a few weeds to keep him occupied.

Harry stood and removed his dirty cloth gloves, tossing them on the ground next to an overgrown patch of lavender. He ran his hands through his already unkempt hair and straightened his wrinkled clothes over his recently shrunken frame. He needed more fresh air than he could get here; he needed a change of scenery.

Harry knew he was to stay close to the Dursleys' house, and he had no plans to violate the terms of his agreement with Dumbledore to stay there. However, he also knew that Dumbledore had assigned members of the Order of the Phoenix to keep an eye on Privet Drive. He would not find himself in the trouble he had the past summer, if he stayed close. He needed a walk.

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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, Severus would have preferred to attend a private meeting with the Dark Lord as opposed to playing watchdog over the boy-who-lived. He did not attempt to conceal his disdain for the boy; it was a well known fact that the only feelings between the two were those of malevolence. Yet, Dumbledore had insisted that no one else was available to guard Privet Drive on this particular morning. Dumbledore, as Severus knew very well, was difficult to refuse. He had promised that someone would be along to relieve Snape of his duties 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 while on this relatively useless mission. He had assumed he would not need to move, nor would he need to hide, during the short time he was meant to keep watch. When the object of his disdain had moved into the back garden at a very early hour, however, he had realized the flaw in his plan. He hadn't counted on needing to move discreetly, and there was certainly nothing discreet about a thirty-something year old man climbing down from a tree. Even under a disillusionment charm, he could not maintain his cover if he was falling through the branches.

It was therefore very gratifying when the Potter boy eventually decided to give up his post on the garden. Though Severus did not especially relish the idea of following the boy like a watch dog, he did want to move from the position that had become so uncomfortable over the past hour.

Once the boy had exited through the side gate, Severus climbed down from the tree. He was not accustomed to the duty of protecting Harry Potter; at a loss for what to do if the boy left the house, he decided he had best follow him, before the boy got himself into the trouble he was famous for.

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Harry walked slowly as he left the Dursleys' house; he had no particular goal in mind, only to calm his mind before he returned again. 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. A man who was perpetually bitter, 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.

xxx

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. He didn't have any true interest in the Potter boy anyway. He was here simply as a service to Dumbledore; if the man hadn't kept him out of Azkaban multiple times, he might have been able to refuse this favor. However, he recognized how much he owed to him. No matter how tedious the task, Severus supposed he could sacrifice a few hours of the day for the good of the Order.

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?

xxx

Harry had been walking only a few minutes 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, increasing his pace.

This couldn't mean anything good for Harry. It never did.

Harry's first thought was to pull out his wand. He would have loved a reason to hurt them after everything they had done to him, and he wasn't even sure if he would get in trouble for it.

He tried to remember his resolution not to do anything impulsive. If he did any more illegal magic, he would surely be expelled from Hogwarts. He couldn't risk such a thing; he needed to finish his schooling, and if he was forced to remain with the Dursleys for the duration of the year, he feared it would be the end of him… or them. The hand that was slowly making its way towards his wand pocket pulled back to his side.

He decided his best option was simply to keep them talking long enough for Dudley to get cold feet and lead them off somewhere else.

Unexpectedly, Harry whirled around and stopped in his tracks. Immediately, the other boys followed suit. Harry resisted the urge to grin at their surprised expressions; they apparently thought themselves quite sly. He was proud of himself as he realized he looked far more threatening than he really was.

"Ah, Dudley," he greeted his cousin as nonchalantly as possible, leveling him with a strong stare. "I suppose you ran out of fun hunting chocolate biscuits. Looks as though it was a successful endeavor though." 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.

The other two boys, however, did not realize the danger Harry presented.

"Actually," Malcolm started complacently, "we were thinking it's been far too long since our last… play date. Don't suppose you remember the old days… before you were sent off to St. Brutus's, that is."

"I do remember, actually," retorted Harry. "Back before the centre for incurably criminal boys. Lucky I was released this summer…on a technicality, anyway. Turns out, shoelaces don't really qualify as weapons if no one can prove you used them as such… and it's rather hard to prove."

The boys looked slightly fazed, but they quickly recovered. Then Malcolm grabbed Harry by the back of his shirt before he could bolt and pulled him closer. Piers stepped around him and stared into 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.

"Set him down, boys. That Robert kid's left his new bicycle outside unguarded. We can come back later," Dudley instructed, glancing at Harry. After a moment of hesitation, the two boys released Harry, giving him one more disgusted look, before reluctantly following Dudley out of the backyard and down the street.

Harry watched them leave, straightening his clothes and stowing his wand back in his pocket. He would attempt to make it look as though nothing had happened to him, in order to retain some semblance of pride. He shook his head and turned back towards the house, intent on flopping down on his bed and resuming the daily activity of staring at his ceiling when he returned. As he walked, however, he couldn't ignore the distinct feeling of anxiety building up in his chest and raising the little hairs on the back of his neck. He stopped where he was and turned around slowly, gripping his wand and glancing around with narrowed eyes.

A cold laugh alerted him to someone else's assured presence as he reached his back garden.

"Lovely display, Potter, really."

Harry knew that voice. He'd been subjected to its drawling, sneering tones since his first year at Hogwarts. "Malfoy?" he questioned, suspiciously, looking around. His wand was instantly drawn again.

Within seconds of speaking, Harry jolted forward at the impact of a clump of dirt colliding with the back of his head. He whirled around frantically; 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.

"Stop walking, Potter, or you'll back right into me."

Harry whirled around, expecting to see empty space. Instead, he jumped back as he found himself standing not a metre away from Draco Malfoy. The boy held a stone the size of his fist; 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.

"What do you want, Malfoy?" Harry said, jaws locked and clear green eyes focused warily on his potential opponent. Abandoning rationalization, he raised his wand. Malfoy, however, hadn't so much as drawn his.

"What do any of us want, Potter?" asked Draco with a sneer.

"You tell me," Harry demanded.

"Actually, Potter,' Malfoy said, dropping the mock attitude and folding his hands in front of him, "I came to do something for you."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "You had better start talking sense, Malfoy, or-"

"You want to get out of here, Potter," Malfoy said abruptly, cutting him off. It wasn't at all a question.

"What?"

"Are you deaf?" inquired Malfoy drolly. "You need to find a way out of this…house… as soon as possible."

Harry held his wand warily in front of him. "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. "You think this is a trap," he assessed coolly, amused but unsurprised by the notion.

"Am I wrong?" Harry said, knowing full well that Malfoy wouldn't tell him, even if he was.

Malfoy shrugged. "What do you think? How would it benefit me to lead you into a trap?" He paused to smirk, and started again before Harry could answer. "I'm just giving you a warning, Potter, you can take it or leave it."

"How does it benefit you to warn me?" Harry said, growing frustrated at Malfoy's cool front. "You never have before."

"It's never seemed as important, before," said Malfoy simply.

"What does that mean?" Harry asked incredulously. "Why?"

Malfoy rolled his eyes and gave a heaving sigh. "You really are thick, you know that, Potter? I'm sure you understand the position I am in, knowing what you know about my father."

"No, not really," Harry said, shaking his head.

Malfoy raised his eyebrows. "I am expected to take the Dark Mark this year. I turn seventeen early in December. I have very little time to set my affairs in order. Before you ask how you are involved in my affairs, allow me to explain.

"There is obviously a reason for the Dark Lord's obsession with you. If you want to know my theory, I think you're the only person who can eliminate him… you already came close once. Now, while my father and others are convinced that if they are on the Dark Lord's side, they will prevail, I don't see the point in living a life of servitude. I'd really prefer to make a little more of myself than a common minion."

"Oh, so you're turning your back on the whole 'evil' thing?"

"Now, I never said that," Malfoy said slyly, smirking. "But I don't much like the idea of being in league with him. I'm not doing this because I like you, Potter, so don't get any funny little ideas in that big head of yours. But if my theory is correct… then you need to live… and I stand to gain nothing by your death. You need to leave."

"But-"

"I'll give you no more information on the subject, Potter. Do you honestly think that I want your escape traced back to me? Take my warning or leave it; those are your choices, so I suggest you choose… and quickly, if you possess the mental capacity to do so."

"I thought you hated me," Harry said, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Oh, I do," Malfoy said reassuringly, nodding. "I hate you firstly because you are a Gryffindor, secondly because you are a self-obsessed prat, and thirdly, because no one," he paused and narrowed his eyes, "is fool enough to mess with a Malfoy. Believe me, I meant it when I told you that I would make you pay for putting my father in Azkaban, but it's not going to be in the way you think."

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.

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AN: Edited since original chapter posting.

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.

I am in the process of editing chapters from the beginning, so your input will be well received if you choose to give it.

Thank you for reading :)