Note: All characters belong to J.K. Rowling, except for Dr. Reader and Miss Stellanova, both of whom are, under other names, the creations of Thomas Harris. I've edited this story, to make Harry's motivations much clearer.)

Uncle Vernon was acting rather strangely that day.

Truth be told, he'd been acting strangely ever since he picked Harry up from King's Cross earlier that week. His fear of Harry had been replaced by a certain fierce smugness, which caused him to lock Harry up in the cupboard most of the time. This didn't inconvenience Harry as much as it could have, since Harry had long ago learned the Muggle method of lock-picking from Fred and George Weasley. What really bothered Harry about it was the fact that Uncle Vernon dared to do it at all.

Vernon Dursley was by nature an officious bully, which meant that depending upon who you were, he was either at your feet or at your throat. He never would feel this secure about treating Harry this way unless he was absolutely dead certain sure that Harry was powerless to resist him. Harry had the sickening feeling that Uncle Vernon had plotted a way to get him out of the way, legally and safely, once and for all. He had managed, very carefully and at night, to use Hedwig to send messages to both Sirius and Hermione, telling them of his fears, and also warning them to inform Dumbledore that he might be forced to use magic to defend himself.

Worst of all, Harry's scar was hurting him again, almost on a daily basis now. He knew what that meant.

He wasn't sure which was worse: Life with the Dursleys, or constantly dreading the attack from Voldemort -- the returned, newly regenerated Voldemort -- that he knew was coming.

That morning, the scar was particularly painful, so much so that Harry actually winced in the Dursleys' presence, something he usually tried very hard not to do.

"Your head wound, is it, Harry?" purred Uncle Vernon at breakfast over his paper, attempting to sound solicitous. Harry could hear both Aunt Petunia and Dudley suddenly suck in their breaths. "You know, you really should have a doctor give you something for it."

"It's nothing, really, Uncle Vernon --"

"No, no, I insist," said Dursley, setting down the paper. His eyes shone with malicious glee. "Come with me, I was planning to go to London anyway today. We'll take you to a Harley Street specialist I know. This fits into my plans just perfectly."

Harry trudged listlessly behind Uncle Vernon as they left the house. After all the holiday rulebreaking he'd done in his four Hogwarts terms, and what with the way Cornelius Fudge now felt about him for contradicting Fudge's belief that Voldemort was dead, he knew better than to resist Uncle Vernon magically without express permission from Dumbledore to do so -- and neither Sirius nor Hermione had apparently been able to reach him yet. Fudge would love nothing better than an excuse to put Harry in Azkaban. Or St. Mungo's. Harry wasn't sure which would be worse. At the very, very least, he'd be kicked out of Hogwarts forever: Fudge would force Dumbledore to expel him.

But then again, it might well be preferable to whatever Uncle Vernon had in store for him.

Uncle Vernon said nothing on the drive to London. Harry knew better than to try to talk to him. Besides, his empty stomach was making noise enough for the two of them.

Sitting in the back of the car, Harry tried to puzzle out just what Uncle Vernon might be up to. Prison? Psychiatric ward? Some combination of the two? Probably. Almost certainly, he decided.

Well, if that's the case, he thought, I might as well save my strength and be ready to resist him magically. No sense wasting energy. And with that, he calmed himself down and convinced himself to take a cat nap, much to Dursley's barely-suppressed anger.

Harry woke up just as they were entering Middlesex and the outer suburbs.

Apprehensive as he was, he wasn't so scared that the sights of London didn't fail to mesmerize him; during the summer months, the Dursleys never let him so much as stray a foot outside of number four Privet Drive if they could manage it, so the city was a grand and wonderful mystery to him.

They traveled into Marylebone, going up to Baker Street -- Harry remembered that as the street where Sherlock Holmes was said to have lived -- then down Baker Street to Paddington Street, at which point Uncle Vernon must have realized he had got lost somehow, since he grumpily backtracked to Baker Street and continued down to Wigmore Street, turning east on Wigmore until he at last found the street he wanted.

Uncle Vernon pulled the car up in front of a respectable-looking Georgian facade on Harley Street. Dursley got out, motioned Harry to follow. On the door was a brass plaque that read: Marcus Reader, M.D.

Harry's heart sank. His worst fears were confirmed.

He started going over the spells he would need to use in order to escape this trap. But he knew that he couldn't make a break for it out in the open, not with so many witnesses who'd need Obliviating. If only he'd had his wand -- but he didn't, because Uncle Vernon had locked it in his school trunk. He'd have to wait until they were inside, and Uncle Vernon was distracted, and hope for the best.

"Here we are," said Uncle Vernon in a falsely casual voice, and rang the doorbell.

A sudden click, then a female voice sounded from the intercom box on the door-jamb. "One moment, please." Then the humming sound and snick of an electronic door-lock being turned off. "Please come in."

The anteroom was bright and cheery, painted in pastel shades of orange with white accents. Dr. Reader apparently specialized in treating children, for there were numerous stuffed animals and other toys stored neatly in a wooden bin, and children's magazines were stacked with equal neatness in a matching wooden rack next to a nicely overstuffed sofa. A short, extremely attractive woman with confident blue eyes and honey-blond hair stood up from behind a desk. The dress and matching jacket she wore looked to be made out of silk, in just the right shade of blue to match her eyes. She took in Harry and Uncle Vernon in one brief glance, then smiled.

"Good morning, Mr. Dursley. Dr. Reader is ready and waiting for you." Her accent was odd; Harry thought she must be American. She turned to smile at Harry. "You must be Harry Potter, Mr. Dursley's nephew. My name is Miss Stellanova, and I'm Dr. Reader's assistant."

Somehow it was hard to be afraid when Miss Stellanova was smiling at you. "Good morning, Miss Stellanova," said Harry. He didn't like the thought of having to hex her.

"Enough of that, Harry," Uncle Vernon said crossly. Then, turning to Miss Stellanova, he motioned towards Dr. Reader's office door. "I don't have all day, now. Let us see the doctor."

"Certainly, Mr. Dursley. Come this way." Miss Stellanova's smile was undimmed as she led them into Dr. Reader's office. Good for her, Harry thought. She doesn't let him get to her. Maybe... But he shut off that train of thought. There was no hope for him right now, save in a magical escape.

The first thing Harry noticed was that the office was dark and softly, yet brightly lit. Dr. Reader rose from his desk, his hands filled with books and other materials; Harry guessed that he did so as a way to avoid having to shake hands with Uncle Vernon. His dark sleek hair was combed back from his forehead, much the way Harry saw it in Muggle movies featuring French or Italian characters. His suit coat was dark and quietly, yet elegantly, tailored. Instead of a tie, he wore a black turtleneck under the suit coat.

Dr. Reader was as short for a man as Miss Stellanova was for a woman, but like Miss Stellanova, he had a way of holding himself so that he seemed taller. Like Miss Stellanova, he also gave off the impression of hidden, wiry strength. Unlike Miss Stellanova, he was a forbidding, distant figure, and Harry's dread strengthed.

"Good morning, Mr. Dursley," Dr. Reader said in a soft voice. Dr. Reader did not need to shout to command his audience's full attention. Uncle Vernon gave him a curt nod in reply. Dr. Reader then turned to face Harry, and Harry could have sworn he saw Dr. Reader's eyes glow redly, like an animal's, as he met Harry's gaze.

"Good morning, Mr. Potter," said the doctor in that same soft voice.

"Good morning, Dr. Reader," replied Harry in kind, and saw a slight gleam flash in the doctor's eyes by way of response.

Dr. Reader motioned for his guests to sit, sitting down at his desk as he did so. He steepled his fingertips together, pressing them against his chin, as he addressed Uncle Vernon: "So what seems to be the trouble, Mr. Dursley?"

Uncle Vernon smiled evilly, and Harry, with a queasy feeling in his empty stomach, knew what his uncle was about to say:

"The trouble, dear Doctor Reader, is that Harry here is as mad as a hatter and needs to committed."

Dr. Reader's face registered nothing. "Hmmmm," he murmured quietly, his eyes never leaving Vernon Dursley's face.

"And if you don't commit him," continued Uncle Vernon nastily, "I'll go round to the authorities and tell everyone who you really are."

Harry glanced swiftly at Dr. Reader. Blackmail, he thought. So that's why he's so sure he can get this doctor to put me away.

Dr. Reader, however, didn't show any signs of having been alarmed at Uncle Vernon's threat. "And why do you say that Harry Potter is mad, Mr. Dursley?" he asked calmly.

"Because he believes in magic, that's why," retorted Uncle Vernon. "Ever since he got this forehead injury as a baby. Thinks he can fly through the air on broomsticks and rubbish like that. He pretends for during the better part of the year that he goes to this imaginary school for wizards called Hogwarts, even spends half his time doing make-believe 'homework' from the place. Here's an example of what he does," he said, pulling out from his briefcase a half-finished essay for Harry's History of Magic class and waving it triumphantly around. "Of course, when he's actually called upon to do that magic, he can't -- "

"That's a lie!" shouted Harry hotly, rising from his chair. "The only reason I don't do magic around the house is that we're not allowed to perform it over the school holidays --"

"SHUT UP, BOY!" roared Uncle Vernon, and moved to hit Harry on the jaw.

But his fist never quite made it.

Dr. Reader, moving with speed Harry had never before seen in a Muggle, had risen from his desk and intercepted Vernon Dursley's hand, holding it in place as firmly as if it belonged to an especially weak toddler.

After a few seconds, Uncle Vernon realized he was beaten. He let his arms drop to his sides, glaring murderously at the doctor.

"I'm going to leave you two for a bit, Reader," he snarled. "Don't you forget our agreement. I can ruin you!" And with that, he spun on his heel and stormed out of Dr. Reader's office, slamming the door as he went.

Dr. Reader chuckled softly. "Your Uncle Vernon is a very angry man, isn't he, Harry?" He sat back down behind his desk. "Excuse me a moment." He paged Miss Stellanova on the phone and gave her some brief instructions in what sounded like Italian, then replaced the handset. "However, he overestimates his own abilities."

The doctor swiveled to face Harry, who had reclaimed the essay Uncle Vernon had left behind in his rage. "So, Harry. Do you believe in magic?"

"Yes, Doctor." It was too late to deny it anyway.

"Yet your uncle says that you cannot perform any magic when called upon to do so?"

"We're not allowed to do magic at home, sir. School rules expressly forbid it during the holidays. And even if I could, Uncle Vernon keeps my wand and all my school supplies locked in a trunk."

"I see." The doctor's tone was unchanged; Harry couldn't tell if the doctor believed him or not. "Can you still perform magic, even without your wand and other supplies?"

Harry thought hard for a moment. The situation was suddenly changing.

"I could, but I'd probably get expelled from Hogwarts if I did, Doctor. They don't like us to use magic at all when we're in the Muggle world."

"The Muggle world? Is that the term used by magicians for the non-magical world?"

"Yes, sir."

Dr. Reader sat in silence for a moment. Then he leaned forward and said, "Harry, I give you special dispensation to attempt an act of magic in my presence. If anyone from your school comes to punish you, I will speak with them on your behalf."

Harry stared in astonishment at the doctor. "Are you sure, Dr. Reader? They're very strict about this sort of thing."

The doctor smiled. "I'm quite sure, Harry. Now, perform for me a simple spell, if you could."

Harry thought for a moment, then pointed at a paperweight on the doctor's desk. "Wingardium Leviosa!", he shouted concentrating with all his might.

The paperweight rose slowly into the air.

Harry then performed the counter-charm, and the paperweight settled slowly back onto the desk, landing with a soft thump.

Dr. Reader was silent for a moment. A very long moment.

Then he said, "Harry, would you like to be shot of the Dursleys forever?"

Harry could hardly contain himself. Dr. Reader was going to help him! "Would I?! Yes, definitely!"

"Have you ever been in an XJR Jaguar supercharged sedan moving at one hundred and fifty kilometers an hour on city streets?"

"No, sir," replied Harry, in a voice shaky with relief.

"That's about to change. We're going to get back to your uncle's house before him and get your magical things before he can get to them." He paged Miss Stellanova once more on the intercom, gave her a brief message in that language Harry guessed was Italian, then turned back to Harry, his hand extended.

"Come with me, Harry."

He rose swiftly to his feet, Harry following behind, as he led Harry out the back way, into an alley where Dr. Reader's car was waiting.