Disclaimer: I own zilch
Author's Notes: This is my first story, so feel free to be as harsh as you want. And if you do see any spelling or grammatical mistakes, please tell me.
Looking at the calendar had become something of a habit. It was only the second week into the holiday and already Harry was looking forward to returning to Hogwarts. Not exactly the view expected of a teenager, but Harry wasn't exactly a normal boy and Hogwarts wasn't exactly a normal school.
Noting that lunch time – one o'clock precisely in the Dursley household – was fast approaching, Harry started to make his way downstairs as quietly as possible; he had learnt from a young age that the Victorian view of children – that they should be seen and not heard – was the best approach with his only remaining relatives. Even now, years later, the endeavour to be as unnoticeable as possible still remained; conditioning from childhood, Harry supposed.
His aunt frowned at him as he took his usual seat but said nothing. She had hardly spoken to him at all since his return from Hogwarts. Harry wasn't too bothered about the silence, though, since it meant less chores being handed out. Looking back with hindsight, blowing up one's aunt wasn't a bad idea. It also helped to have a serial-killer for a godfather.
It wasn't long before Dudley waddled in and took the seat furthest from his cousin. It seemed the incident with Aunt Marge the summer before had resurrected memories of a certain curly tail and Dudley had decided that it wasn't worth antagonising his freakish cousin. Harry personally thought the diet Dudley had been forced onto had led to a lack of the energy needed to continue the game of Harry Hunting.
Uncle Vernon, no doubt the most volatile member of the Dursley family (though maybe that should be altered considering Marge Dursley's exploding properties), would not be joining them. He was working over the summer and was most likely indulging in a larger and no doubt unhealthier option for lunch. He was only subjected to the same diet that the whole family was on – to boast Dudley's moral, you understand – for dinner and at the weekend.
As it was, lunch, much as it was the day before and the day before that, consisted solely of vegetables. "My favourite," lied Harry as he noticed Dudley's dismayed face as Aunt Petunia passed him his salad (which was noticeably bigger in size than Harry's). It was actually the highlight of Harry's day seeing Dudley's downcast expression every time he was served food. It was something that Harry conveyed in detail to his two best friends from school through letters.
Eating in stilted silence, Harry wondered whether Ron would ever get back to him about visiting the Burrow again. Despite the amusement of seeing Dudley in misery over his healthy diet, Harry would infinitely prefer to be as far away from the Dursleys as possible. Looking between his aunt's piercing gaze and what Dudley no doubt thought were subtle glances, Harry was pretty sure that the sentiment was returned fully. If there was anyone who hated him being back at the number four more than himself, it had to be a member of the Dursleys. Harry was secretly curious as to why they had put up with his presence as long as they had, especially after the Aunt Marge incident, not that he'd ever ask (another thing deeply ingrained from his childhood).
It was when Dudley had finished his last radish that Harry decided to take action. After so many years of being chased and, if caught, beaten up by his only cousin, Harry felt it only fair to pay Dudley back for the misery that was his childhood in any way possible.
"I'm stuffed," he informed the silent room, pushing away from the table and stretching in a slightly exaggerated fashion. He then made a point of looking at his plate where a single piece of lettuce remained. He frowned deliberately, as though in thought, before looking at his cousin who was following the proceedings – specifically the lettuce - with a close eye.
Aunt Petunia frowned at him once again, obviously realising what her nephew was doing, but unable to think of a way of stopping him. She could hardly give her dear Dudders extra food when that was exactly what she was trying to cut down on.
Hiding a grin at the way Dudley's eyes were greedily fastened on the last remaining bit of leafy green vegetable, Harry continued on. "Do you want it, Dudley? Please, help yourself."
Harry tried to remember in detail how Dudley's eyes flickered between him and the lettuce, obviously torn. The mind verses the stomach was how Harry liked to view it. From the way Dudley's eyes rested more on the pale green vegetable, it was clear that the stomach was winning.
"I think I'd explode if I ate any more."The words were spoken with a casual offhandedness but the effect was instantaneous. Dudley's eyes, a moment before glued on the one remnant of the salad lunch, lifted to meet Harry's. Dudley was pale now and his hands were reaching downwards and out of view, though Harry had a good idea where they were heading.
He waited for a few seconds before carefully sculpting a face of polite questioning. "Well? Do you want it or not?"
His pale cousin shook his head quickly in response.
Harry shrugged nonchalantly. "Your loss," he muttered softly and picked up the last thing on his plate. "Guess I'll have to eat it, then," and he munched down on the crunchy vegetable, devouring it in a few bites.
"S'pose I could fit in a bit more," he said, closely watching his cousin's eyes cloud with slight despair as he realised that he'd missed out on a bit of extra food.
Ignoring Aunt Petunia's icy glare, Harry placed his now clean plate in the sink and sauntered towards the kitchen doorway. Turning just before he left, he smirked at his overweight relative. "Maybe next time it might be too much for me; I hear death through explosion is becoming a more common problem nowadays."
And walking up the stairs to his room where a stockpile of food was hidden, Harry thought that maybe the Sorting Hat, much as he hated to admit it, had a point.
The rest of the summer seemed to drag on indefinitely. Days went by with hardly any contact between Harry and his sole remaining family, which suited everyone just fine.
Occasionally Harry would accidently mention something outside of the Dursleys' boundaries of normality, but the mention of Sirius Black, escaped convict and Harry's godfather, usually soothed over any difficulties. It also helped when Sirius held up to his promise from the end of the school year and made an appearance in Kent that the BBC news quickly leaped on and broadcasted nationwide.
While finding it extremely handy having a well-known murdered to name-drop, Harry wasn't exactly sure what to write to his falsely convicted godfather. It didn't help that Harry had only met the man in person once, and half of that time had been taken up with accusations. What could he possibly say to the man who he should have known his whole life but hadn't? It was an awkward subject to think on and one Harry usually dismissed, excusing himself with the justification that Sirius was on the run and Hedwig was rather distinctive.
Of course, that wasn't to say that he hadn't been in contact with his father's best friend. Sirius had sent him two letters and a birthday card along with a much appreciated birthday cake. The letters had distinctly informed Harry that if he ever needed help then Sirius was always there. But the young wizard couldn't really justify questions about his parents as needing help and had instead replied with assurances of his safety, hopes that Sirius was safe wherever he was and a detailed account of Dudley's failed attempts of sneaking in extra food.
It was much easier writing to his two best friends. Hearing from Ron and Hermione made life less boring and allowed him to imagine for a moment that he was there with them instead of being stuck with his muggle relatives.
The summer was so boring, in fact, that Harry had actually finished most of his homework within the first week of returning home. Only a History of Magic assignment on how the Vampire Purges of 1348 had affected the goblin rebellion of that same year had remained undone until Harry could think of no other way to avoid doing it. With all his school work out of the way, the only thing left to do was read his textbooks and then it was only to casually flick through, searching for interesting spells that the teachers had skipped over in class. Apart from that, he had wasted time trying to think up tragic and dire predictions that he could use in his Divination homework.
But soon he would be free from number four, Privet Drive and free from the Dursleys for another year. In only one more hour the Weasleys would be picking him up, though how Harry wasn't entirely sure on. All Harry cared about was escaping Privet Drive and getting to watch the Quidditch World Cup which was being hosted in Britain.
Deciding after one final check that everything was packed safely away in his trunk, he made his way downstairs where his only remaining family were tensely waiting for the Weasleys' arrival.
Aunt Petunia was constantly peeking out at the road from behind the pastel curtains with greater frequency than normal, while Dudley seemed to be hiding upstairs, no doubt afraid of any interaction with the magical world after the encounter with Hagrid's umbrella three years previous. Uncle Vernon, home for the weekend, was dressed up in his best suit. He kept pacing around the living room, obviously agitated from the idea that some freakish beings were coming to his house before collapsing with a heavy lurch onto the sofa and flicking through the Sunday edition of the Daily Mail without bothering to actually read it.
The tension was high enough to be cut with a knife and Harry quickly moved into the hallway. Sitting on the stairs he waited about with frequent eager glances at his watch, wishing that time would speed up.
Five o'clock finally came about with no sign from the Weasleys. Uncle Vernon, sweating heavily in his confining suit, came into the hallway. He quickly opened the door and peered out before swiftly shutting it with a quiet thump. Having seen no approaching cars he glared at his nephew. "They're late!" he snarled.
"I know," Harry acknowledged. "Perhaps it's bad traffic or something," he suggested, more to soothe his own nerves than those of his uncle.
The minutes drifted by. Five past... then quarter past. Harry was starting to worry now. "Come on, Ron, where are you," he muttered to himself.
He even spotted Dudley sneak a quick look down the stairs as though he, too, wondered where Harry's friend was. Glimpsing Harry waiting on the bottom step Dudley couldn't help but taunt him. "Sure you've actually got a friend?" He mocked, his piggy eyes lighting up with malicious delight as he hopped down the stairs with all the grace of a rhinoceros. "Sure you didn't just imagine you have a friend. After all, who'd be friends with a pathetic little wimp like you."
Harry jumped up from his step and faced his cousin. "My my Dudley, did you think up all that by yourself? Is that what you've been doing up in your room all this time? And here was me thinking you were hiding from the big bad wizards."
Dudley's podgy face screwed itself up into what Harry interpreted as a scowl. He looked like he was stretching his mind to think up a reply.
But fortunately for Dudley his brain cells were saved from having to tax themselves into forming a suitable retort by the cry of outrage emanating from the living room. It was closely followed by Aunt Petunia's high-pitched shrieking.
Dudley, taking this as a cue to leave, high-toed it back upstairs, his hands firmly clasped over his buttocks.
Scarcely paying any mind to his fleeing cousin, Harry rushed into the living room to see what was going on.
"What is it?" gasped Aunt Petunia as she moved backwards on shaky legs. "What is it, Vernon?" Her terrified eyes stared unblinking at the fire as she leaned against the nearest wall as a support.
Uncle Vernon made no response. It was voices from within the blocked up fireplace that answered Petunia's query.
"Ouch! Fred, no – go back, go back, there's been some sort of mistake – tell George not to – OUCH! George, no, there's no room, go back quickly and tell Ron-" Harry easily recognised the pained voice of Mr Weasley.
It was quickly followed by another voice – this time one of the twins. "Maybe Harry can hear us, Dad – maybe he'll be able to let us out-"
Aunt Petunia let out a shrill "Eep" as a loud hammering of fists resounded from the fireplace. Her pale blue eyes widened in fright.
"Harry? Harry, can you hear us?"
Both his aunt and his uncle rounded on him in horrified outrage. It was obvious to Harry that they blamed him for all of this.
But Harry didn't care what they thought of him. He wouldn't have to see them for another year and it wasn't like they wanted him around for the next fortnight.
He approached the fireplace unflinchingly. "Mr Weasley? Can you hear me?"
The hammering stopped immediately. There was the quick sound of someone shushing another.
"Mr Weasley, it's Harry." He paused, wondering how to explain. "The fireplace has been blocked up. You won't be able to get through."
"Damn!" cursed Mr Weasley. There was a silence and Harry wondered what exactly the Weasley patriarch was planning. "Well, I suppose it's the only way... stand back, Harry."
Harry heeded the advice and retreated behind the sofa. Uncle Vernon, on the other hand, edged forward.
"Wait a minute!" he bellowed at the fire. "What exactly are you going to-?"
Uncle Vernon was cut off as a small explosion tore through the fireplace to reveal three red-heads covered in bits of plaster and chipping. The rest of the room had also suffered with the broken remains of the electric fire scattered around the floor and a cloud of rubble dancing in the air.
Seeing his uncle's blustering face quickly turning a particular shade of magenta, Harry was happy to let Mr Weasley sort out the entire mess. He was also greatly relieved to be able to escape the Dursleys' household a while later when Mr Weasley lit up a fire and told Harry to go while he sorted out fixing the fireplace and Dudley's engorged tongue (he had foolishly eaten a sweet one of the twins had 'accidently' dropped while upstairs collecting Harry's trunk).
It was only once the spinning began that Harry remembered why he hated travelling by Floo. It was disorientating at best and nauseating at worst. He briefly wondered as blurred fireplaces whirled past him why wizards, for all their magic, hadn't made a more comfortable method of transport.
Only the quick action of throwing up his hands allowed Harry to retain some appearance of balance and stopped him from falling flat on his face. He hoped he might be getting the hang of flooing.
After a brief interrogation from the twins on the effectiveness of their Ton-Tongue Toffee and a quick introduction to Ron's two eldest brothers, Harry was quickly shuffled along upstairs by Ron and Hermione to avoid the erupting argument beginning between Mrs Weasley and the twins. Ginny, Ron's youngest sibling and the only girl, trailed after them.
Before long Harry was caught up on all the news. It seemed nothing much had changed in the Weasley family except for Percy and his new obsession with his boss, Mr Crouch, and standardised cauldron thickness. Other topics, like Sirius were left for another time with the presence of Ginny.
It was only when they could no longer hear Mrs Weasley's yelling that they felt it safe to venture downstairs once again. Dinner was nearly ready and Harry and Ron were quickly charged with helping to set up the table outside; with so many people staying at the Burrow it was necessary to eat outdoors. It wasn't long before panoplies of food lined the table.
"So how's good old Hogwarts?" Ron's oldest brother, Bill, had taken up the seat next to Harry, while Hermione sat to his left. "I'm always hearing about you, Ron and Hermione and your adventures."
"Hogwarts is good. It probably hasn't changed much since you were there: McGonagall's still strict, Flitwick's still short and Snape's still a git towards the Gryffindors." Harry hoped that his answer was alright; it was a bit intimidating talking to someone as cool as Bill Weasley seemed to be. Harry didn't even consider that Bill might feel a little strange talking to the Boy Who Lived, the legend from his childhood.
"Good to know some things never change," grinned Bill.
Wondering what he ought to say next, Harry leaned over the table to grab some more salad, grinning as he thought of Dudley's reaction to so much food on offer.
"What about curse-breaking?" One of the things Harry had picked up from his uncle was that people loved to talk about themselves. Subjects most open for discussion included family and work.
"Best job in the world," Bill enthused. "I'm on a retainer with Gringotts. They point us in a certain direction, provide all the necessary equipment and provisions and we get to remove any latent curses. It's usually on ancient tombs; that's why most of the work's in Egypt. The ancient Egyptians came up with some really nasty curses and it's a case of putting your mind against the mind of someone who died thousands of years ago.
"It's also a great way of collecting curses. Every time you 'break' a curse, so to speak, you get to copy it down in your own, well, I'd guess you'd call it a grimoire." Harry nodded along despite having no idea what a grimoire was. "Sometimes you have families of curse-breakers. One of my friends, Archie, comes from a family with five generations of Curse-Breakers. His repertoire of curses is massive since they've been passed down."
"So what actually is a curse? Isn't it just a spell?" Harry wasn't quite sure how it was possible for a curse to last centuries.
"I'm guessing you don't do Ancient Runes."
Harry shook his head. "Divination and Magical Creatures, I'm afraid."
Bill sighed. "The youth of today. Divination's a load of bollocks and Creatures is useless unless you're planning to run off to Romania to get burnt by a bunch of dragons." He smirked at a disgruntle Charlie sitting opposite. "I did Muggle Studies and Runes. To be honest Runes is the only optional subject that actually helps in the real world unless you're an arithmatic genius.
"But getting back to Runes, at NEWT level you learn how to manipulate different runes and charge them up. They're considered the best way of storing magic; that's how wards are created. Different combinations of runes lead to different results. I suppose you could also say that runes form the language of spells."
"So it's like a code." Harry wondered why no one had ever mentioned runes before. All he could remember about them is that Hermione liked the subject and was constantly writing out translations for homework. He'd never paid much attention to her long monologues about what she actually did in her other classes.
"Exactly. And curses are really just wards set up for the sole purpose of harming. If you want I'll show you a ward construct after dinner."
Harry smiled. "Yeah, that'd be great. I think I'm starting to regret choosing Divination now." The truth was Harry had regretted signing up for Divination after the very first lesson; especially when Trelawney had started making her death predictions.
"You should have abandoned the Divination tower like me, Harry," commented Hermione pompously on his other side. "Ancient Runes is far more useful."
"Yeah, well, at least with me sticking around no one else gets to suffer hearing about how their future is marked with the Grim."
"Making wards is the easy bit," Bill told them as he quickly retied his ponytail. "It's breaking them that takes real skill."
A small crowd consisting of Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny had gathered out in the garden once again to see Bill's demonstration. Charlie was also present on the other side of his older brother, though he seemed more indifferent than interested having dropped Ancient Runes after receiving a D in his OWLs.
"Most wards are constructed from blueprints designed years, usually centuries, ago. Occasionally you get professional Warders creating their own wards or modifying known ones. Most people usually only want the normal, boring wards like the Trespasser Ward. It's only really on old buildings like Hogwarts and public places like Diagon Alley that you get really intricate wards that have been set up over the years."
"It's mostly on buildings built over a century ago," Hermione interjected loftily, ignoring Harry and Ron's roll of the eyes as Hermione provided evidence of textbook regurgitation. "Professor Babbling was telling us how some of the greatest wards are found on the seats of the old Pureblood aristocracy. Apparently the Le Fay seat of Avalon was so heavily warded that no one can find it, and Azkaban was made into a prison because of the number of wards the Dukes of Azwell placed on it before the line died out."
Bill took advantage of Hermione's brief pause to continue. "Anyway, getting back to the practical side of warding, I'm just going to show you one of the easiest ward constructs; it's actually the first ward I ever set up way back in sixth year."
"When you were still young and beautiful," chipped in Charlie, grinning as his older brother shot him a glare.
Bill slid his hand into the back pocket of his jeans and drew out a small wooden box. A flick of the wand later and the small box was enlarged to the size of a shoe box. It was completely plain with the lid attached by some brass hinges.
"Anyone want to volunteer something they don't particularly want anymore?" Bill asked, glancing among the group.
There was a bit of shuffling as the crowd of Gryffindors searched around for something to donate. Not really finding anything that they wanted to part with, they stared at Bill.
He sighed. "Right, then," he muttered and pulled out his hair band. He quickly showed it to each of them, even the head-shaking Charlie. "As you can see, the band's black." Harry wondered whether Bill had ever been to see a Muggle magician. The Curse-Breaker then placed the black hair band into the wooden box.
"Right, now Ginny, pick a colour."
The youngest Weasley shrugged. "I dunno... red."
"Spoken like a true Gryffindor," commented Bill as he crouched down by the wooden box. All the others with the exception of Charlie followed suit.
Bill then grasped his wand tightly. He pointed it at one of the corners of the lid, focusing intently as a jet of white light sprung from the wand's tip. After a few seconds the light faded and the wand was removed. On the corner of the box where the light had hit glowed the outline of a rune ("Quenz," according to Hermione) before if faded, leaving the wood surface unmarked.
The process was then repeated another seven times, marking the rest of the corners of the lid as well as the four corners on the bottom of the box. Each time the rune glowed brightly before fading completely. Every time Hermione pointed out which rune was which, not noticing Bill's unimpressed gaze.
As a finale, Bill – with a fake drum roll provided by Charlie – removed the wooden lid and retrieved his hair band. It was now red.
"Cool," remarked Ron. "Wish I'd done Runes; it looks way better than Divination."
"I did tell you to, if you remember," reminded Bill and Harry immediately knew why Ron hadn't picked it.
Harry, though, was more interested in the ward construct than in bemoaning his bad choice of subject. "So do the runes form some sort of pattern that leads to everything inside the construct turning red?" he asked, wanting some clarification.
Before Bill could respond, Hermione jumped in to answer. "Yes, that's basically what it does, though the theory behind it is a bit more technical, thus why we don't get to start on warding until sixth year. Each rune specifies an effect and you've got to include all the right runes if you want the ward to work. As Sterling put it: 'A single rune can make or break a ward'. It's actually rather complex when it comes down to it."
Bill, seeming rather miffed about Hermione's interruption, spoke up. "Well I'm a Curse-Breaker and frankly warding isn't that complex, whatever you might have read. It's more about ingenuity than theory, though that's only if you're creating a ward from scratch. Most Warders that I know are lazy gits who know about ten ward schemes off by heart and are content with that. And curse breaking is even more complex since you're constantly faced with ward schemes that haven't been used in centuries and have no blueprints so it's all about using your initiative."
Hermione didn't look happy about being contradicted, but Harry was intrigued. The way Bill described it was far more appealing than Hermione's dampening speech.
"I'm guessing the effects only extend to the things remaining in the box," Harry speculated.
Bill confirmed the hypothesis. "Localised effect is the posh term. How did you guess?"
"The hair band's gone back to being black." He pointed to the band.
"Sharp eyes," Bill congratulated, grinning at Harry. "There are all sorts of things which determine how long the effect can last outside of the construct, but that's all arithmancy which I never really bothered much with. You need to know that theory more if you're thinking of becoming a Warder," he explained. "I only know the basics since I'm tearing down wards." He paused for a moment. "And because Arithmancy is the most boring subject known to mankind."
A shout from the Burrow distracted the group. "Bill, you better start packing up now. The kids have to get to bed soon. It's going to be an early morning for them tomorrow, even if you get to lie in," reminded Mrs Weasley.
"OK, kids, you heard what Mum said," said Charlie, shooing them towards the house. "You suckers have to get up at three."
Harry tuned out Ron's whining about tomorrow's early start and turned to Bill who was reducing the wooden box back to its normal size. "Thanks for the demonstration," he said. "I really wish I'd taken up Ancient Runes now."
Bill's face took on a look of consideration. "You know, if you're serious about runes, then you could study it on your own. Up to OWL level all you're learning is what different runes mean and how to translate them. It's NEWT level when you really need some guidance. You're only a year behind, so it's not too much to catch up on.
"One of my friends in Egypt learnt runes on her own. A lot of purebloods get their kids to memorise runes when they're young as a matter of course. Learning runes is the easy part; it's applying them that's tough."
"That's probably why Hermione gets such good marks; she's great at memorising stuff. I remember when I first met her on the Hogwarts Express; she'd memorised all the textbooks. As Ron puts it, she's scarily brilliant." Harry, while proud of his smart friend, couldn't help but be a little bit annoyed at how Hermione managed to flaunt her knowledge, and consequently everyone else's ignorance, at every occasion.
Bill looked Harry in the eyes then. "She wouldn't last a day as a Curse-Breaker, Harry," he told the younger wizard honestly. "I've seen others like her: brilliant minds who know the theory inside out and back to front, but when he comes to the practical side, well, they don't have a clue and just fall apart. Books can only tell you so much and, as far as I'm concerned, I'd rate imagination and ingenuity above being clever any day."
The older Weasley then turned and walked back to the house leaving behind a thoughtful Harry. It looked like he'd have more on his mind tonight than just the excitement of the Quidditch World Cup.