Welcome to the first chapter of The Search For Life and Death. This story is an alternate-universe version of Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts, beginning the summer before it starts. You will find many things in this fic similar to Harry's fifth year, but there will also be many differences, not the least of which is the inclusion of some magical creatures that will alter the way the war goes.

I would like to state now that this is not a Super Harry fic. They can be fun to read on occasion, but there are plenty of them around. This is a story about Harry finding people who are there to help him learn and grow, friends who stand beside him and lend their strength, and magic in its many forms finding its way into this world.

I'm very much looking forward to this story and its sequels, and I look forward to your enjoyment of it. This version of the story is Rated T, due to language, violence, and dark themes. There is no sex in this version of the story - we fade to black or skip scenes when a sexual interaction is coming up. This is the censored version of this story.

The full version, which is Not Rated and contains sex, extreme violence, and everything that this story contains, is located on Archive of Our Own, another fanfiction site. You can find a link to my work there on my profile.

Whichever version you choose to read, I hope that you enjoy it. I also hope you will be kind and leave a review. Not only does it make a difference in letting me know that there are people out there who are reading and enjoying the story, but it also allows other readers to look at the fic and see that it is read and enjoyed.

As a final note, I do not own the Harry Potter franchise. I will not waste time repeating it every chapter. We all know I'm not JK Rowling.

Enjoy the story.

- Umbrae Calamitas

Live long. Live well. Write. Read. Dream.


THE SEARCH FOR LIFE AND DEATH

I

The Nightmare


In a normal-looking neighborhood, on a normal-looking street, there sat an eerily-normal-looking house. In fact, the house was so normal in appearance that most who glanced at it might assume that the suffocating normalness was put on.

They would have been right.

Within this façade of a house, there lived a family of four. Vernon Dursley was a large beefy man, who vaguely resembled an obese gorilla, minus the neck. Petunia Dursley, once Petunia Evans, seemed to have somehow gained the neck that Vernon lacked, thereby making her reminiscent of a giraffe, or a very thin-framed horse. Their son, Dudley Dursley, greatly resembled his father, but might be likened to the magicked-hybrid of a pig and a whale.

That is, of course, if the Dursleys tolerated anything of the abnormal sort, which they did not. No, the Dursleys of Number 4 Privet Drive were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

Except where the fourth member of the household was concerned.

Those of you reading this may be of the Wizarding sort, and so you would not find the fourth resident of this small, innocent, normal house in Little Whinging, Surrey, to be of any vast difference from yourself. If you, however, happen to be a Muggle – well then, you may be of the same mind as the Dursleys.

The boy was nothing more than a freak.

Utterly abnormal and of the sort that no one would want to associate with or, worse, be seen with in public! No, that would not do; not at all.

This was why the fourth resident of the Dursley household remained a secretive party to most. In fact, only one other person on Privet Drive knew the true identity of the second child in the care of Vernon and Petunia Dursley.

This boy was almost the same age as Dudley – a few months younger. That, however, is where the similarities end.

Harry James Potter was Petunia's nephew, and therefore Vernon's nephew by marriage, as well as Dudley's cousin. Despite their blood relation, however, there was no bond of love between Harry and his relatives. At one point in time, he may have offered them the love and trust that only children can give to another, but their constant disregard for his needs, both physical and emotional, destroyed that bond long ago. Harry James Potter didn't like staying under the care of his relatives, though he never objected.

The Dursleys hated Harry Potter, and they made sure he knew it.

Harry was a small boy; smaller even than his father had been at his age. This is, in part, due to the fact that Harry inherited his mother's lithe frame, even though most people see only his father in him, except for his vivid green eyes. His small form, however, was also partially due to the fact that Harry was given just enough food that he wouldn't starve to death, and he shared part of this with his pet owl, Hedwig.

Hedwig was a snowy owl, and one of the most beautiful creatures in the world, in Harry's opinion. Although he would never say so in front of the phoenix, Harry thought that Hedwig's beauty might even rival that of Dumbledore's own companion, Fawkes.

This was probably because Hedwig was only the second present that Harry had ever received in his life, since coming to live with the Dursleys. The first present had been a cake baked by the kind half-giant, Hagrid, who was also the person who bought Harry his owl.

Pure white, with flecks of black across her feathers, Hedwig blended in spectacularly with the snowy grounds of Hogwarts during the winter season. Over the Christmas holiday, when Harry remained at the school in order to further avoid returning to Privet Drive, Harry liked to stand outside and watch his beautiful pet fly carelessly across the sky, wishing he could do the same.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was where Harry spent most of the year. On his eleventh birthday, Hagrid had given Harry the letter that had been kept from him for weeks prior, compliments of his magic-hating relatives. When Harry had finally received his letter, life seemed to have finally taken a turn for the better.

Even when he was home over the summer, Harry was always able to look forward to going back to school come September. It made the summer just bearable enough to survive.

Well, it had.

But Harry wasn't sure that returning to Hogwarts was a good idea.

The previous year, his school had been host to two other schools – Beauxbatons and Durmstrang – and the TriWizard Tournament. The school had also, unwittingly, been host to a Death Eater spy, who had made certain that Harry Potter was entered into the tournament, despite the restrictions, and that he made it through to the end and grasped the trophy within his fingers; the trophy-turned-Portkey, which transported him to a graveyard far from Hogwarts. There, he was forced to play a part in the resurrection of the half-alive dark wizard, Voldemort.

And watch Cedric Diggory die.

Harry and Cedric hadn't been friends, but they had gotten to know each other a little throughout the tournament. Harry had also known Cedric from Quidditch, as he had been the Seeker for Hufflepuff, while Harry was Seeker for Gryffindor, his House Team.

But now Cedric was dead, and it was all Harry's fault.

"It's all your fault, Harry. All your fault…"

Those words plagued his dreams and now, more recently, his waking moments. Spoken in the voice of his dead classmate as Harry witnessed, over and over, the life being sucked from Cedric eyes as he suffered the very curse that had orphaned Harry all those years ago…

"It's all your fault, Harry. All your fault…"

"Stop it…" Harry cried weakly, but his voice was barely perceptible to his own ears. During previous summers, Harry was given a massive chore list to accomplish, and was expected to have everything thoroughly completed. Naturally, the list was far too extensive for anyone to complete, and so when the Dursleys came home, Harry was severely punished for whatever chores weren't done (this led to Harry trying to do all that he could within the limited amount of time, in order to evoke a lesser degree of punishment). Whatever was done to him wasn't enough to keep him down, because the Dursleys didn't want to lose their slave and, therefore, be forced to work themselves.

This year, however, things had changed. Vernon had been promoted during the time that Harry was away at school, and had also received a rather substantial raise. The majority of his money went, of course, toward his perfect, can-do-no-wrong son, but Vernon had used some of his paycheck to have a contractor come and tear out the wall of Harry's bedroom, replacing it, minus one window.

So this summer, instead of spending his time outside weeding the garden, or downstairs cooking breakfast and filching food when he had the rare chance, Harry was confined to his bedroom. Surprisingly, the broken, battered, and all-but-forgotten mass of unused toys belonging to Dudley had been removed from the room, because you don't deserve the chance to play with such nice things, according to his aunt.

At least Harry wouldn't fall over something and break his leg during the night.

Not that he could get up.

No, right now, Harry was lying on a worthless mattress on the floor, the bed frame having been removed because freaks don't deserve to have nice things. His uncle had come in early today – or was it yesterday? – and punished Harry, because nothing around the house had been done at all.

He had, of course, ignored the fact that there were five locks on Harry's door, keeping him safe and secure inside of his room.

Harry coughed suddenly, bringing his legs up and trying to curl into a ball to ward off the pain. The spasms caused his ribs to ache unbearably, bringing tears to Harry's eyes and occasionally causing him to cry out. He tried very hard not to call out, especially in nightmares, because it often woke Vernon and he would come in and punish Harry severely.

After a few minutes, the coughing subsided, and Harry weakly stretched out again, clenching his teeth to keep from crying out. But Gods, it hurt so bad!

Groaning softly, he swallowed with some difficultly, his dry throat and parched lips a testament to the fact that he hadn't had anything to drink in some time. He had no clock with which to go by and could no longer see outside to note whether it was day or night, but he was pretty sure that he hadn't eaten in at least three days.

Harry shivered, his hands twisting in the frayed and barely-existent blanket, struggling to pull it up to his shoulders and ward off the chill. The cold seemed to have settled inside of him, as though he had swallowed a Dementor that was even now slowly – agonizingly – devouring his pathetic soul. No matter what he did, he couldn't seem to get warm.

"Harry… Harry…"

"Go away," Harry demanded the voices, though his weak tone barely penetrated the air. His constant screaming had shredded his throat and now it stung constantly. His eyes felt as though they had been severely burned, perhaps with a hot poker. He had been crying a lot lately, waking from nightmares and letting the tears fall silently so that he could keep from crying out or sobbing uncontrollably. He couldn't imagine how he had water enough left in his body for tears. He was so thirsty…

"Harry…"

Sometimes, the voices sounded so soothing, so peaceful, he just wanted to fall away into their depths. He wanted to be consumed by darkness and the sound of someone calling his name, as though they wanted him. But no… no one could want him. He was a freak.

More than a freak. He was a murderer.

No! No, no, no, no, no! Don't let them get to you, Potter!

Despite the pain that rippled through his back and down his spine, Harry shook his head vehemently in an attempt to drive the thought away. He would not let his relatives get to him. He was stronger than that. He was not a murderer. He hadn't cast the Killing Curse at Cedric – Voldemort had. And Voldemort would do it to anyone else who got in his way, no matter who they were. Harry couldn't control the maniac. He could only hope he had strength enough to stop him.

Wasn't that what he had been doing all his life?

The Killing Curse cast on him when he was a baby rebounded back and hit Voldemort. The only reason the monster didn't die was because he was just that – a monster. There wasn't enough humanity left in him to die, according to Hagrid, and Harry had to agree.

During his first year at Hogwarts, Voldemort had somehow manifested himself – or his face, at least – on the back of their Defense Against the Dark Arts professor's head. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had gone off to stop Quirell, but it had been Harry alone in the end, facing the madman that had killed his parents. Once again, Voldemort escaped – a bodiless shadow, but nevertheless a threat.

Second year, an old diary had been passed to Harry's best friend's little sister, Ginny, who had just started at Hogwarts. Thanks to Lucius Malfoy, stuck-up Pureblood and Death Eater extraordinaire, Ginny had nearly died. Ron would have been devastated if that had happened, and it had been Harry, again, who had gone off to defeat the reforming memory of Tom Marvolo Riddle – a younger version of Lord Voldemort, as the man called himself. Ron had been left along the way, unable to continue, but Harry was glad, as he wasn't sure his friend would have survived the battle. Harry had very nearly died himself, having been bitten by the Basilisk in his efforts to slay it. Only quick thinking and great kindness from the phoenix, Fawkes, had saved Harry from a swift-approaching death.

Harry's third year, surprisingly, had been the least-dangerous, even though a mass-murderer and escaped convict was supposedly after him. As it turns out, there had been a mass-murderer and Death Eater in his presence since his first year, but Scabbers the rat – Peter Pettigrew or Wormtail, all masks aside – was too much of a coward to attack Harry without assurances of protection from a greater power. From what he had heard, Pettigrew wasn't that efficient with a wand, anyway. He had, however, escaped, thereby ruining Harry's chances at living with his godfather, Sirius Black.

Sirius.

Harry missed his godfather. He thought about him a lot, when the pain wasn't so excruciating and he was able to concentrate. Sometimes, Harry was lucky enough that Uncle Vernon's punishments knocked him unconscious. This usually led to two things: one, Harry got a decent amount of sleep without waking up screaming from nightmares; and two, Harry dreamed of happier times at school with his friends, or of Sirius coming to get him and taking him away from this awful place. But they always ended the same way.

He woke up.

Sighing, Harry tilted his head so that he could see the door out of the corner of his eye. It was dark in the room, but his eyes had adjusted after a couple of days enclosed within the shadows. He searched the floor for any bowls of food or water that might have been pushed through the cat-flap. He couldn't remember if he had fallen asleep or if consciousness had been holding him this entire time, but he was desperately hoping for something to eat. His stomach hurt and it made it hard to concentrate on much of anything.

Vivid green eyes, reminiscent of emeralds but lacking the shine that had once filled them with earnest, traveled to the cage hanging in the corner of the room. While Harry was desperately hungry, he knew that any food he gained would be offered first to Hedwig. Harry adored her; she was his first true friend (except for Hagrid), and she dealt with so much. He didn't know how she had managed to survive this long, but he had a suspicion that she had done so with sheer stubborn will and out of reluctance to leave him on his own.

Sometimes he wished Hagrid had never bought her for him. At least then, she'd be safe.

His eyes traveled back to the door, searching the floor in front of it. There was no food or water in sight; just a single object that had lain in the same spot since he'd returned.

It was a large knife – one used predominantly for dicing. The blade was newly-bought, never-used, and it glittered almost invitingly in the meager light coming from the crack under the door. If Harry didn't know about the Dursleys' vicious hatred of anything out of the ordinary, he might have suggested that it was magic. Instead, he rather thought the glitter could be likened to the hatred that often existed within Vernon's beady eyes, just before he struck.

Vernon Dursley had set it there the day after Harry had reluctantly returned from the Hogwarts Express. He'd proceeded to insult Harry profusely for the following hour and then explained that if he wanted to do his "freaky friends" a favor, he should just kill himself and get it over with.

Harry wasn't that far gone, yet.

No, not "yet," Harry corrected. I'm not that far gone, period! Nor will I ever be!

He tore his eyes away from the knife. The day that it began to look enticing and like an escape, Harry would know that he had finally been driven mad.

Still, he had his doubts that he was entirely sane. Vernon had spent the last two weeks brutally beating Harry with every blunt instrument he could find. His head had been slammed into the wall so many times that the he suffered from an endless, biting headache that often forbid him from what little sleep he might have gained otherwise. He did have to admit, though, that his constant migraine might be in part due to the fact that his scar hadn't stopped burning since Voldemort had risen back from the ugly and half-dead. Now he was ugly and alive. Wonderful.

After every beating session, as Harry waited for the darkness to claim him, he made a checklist of every part of his body that hurt and what he thought was injured and how. He'd had enough experience in the Hospital Wing that he thought he was at least partially qualified to diagnose himself.

From what he had gathered from his own ability (or rather, inability) to interact with his surroundings, Harry determined that he had any number of cracked ribs, a sprained ankle, a dislocated shoulder, one black-eye (possibly two, he didn't have a mirror with which to look, but his face hurt to the touch), and numerous cuts all over his body. He had to fight to remove his shirt, as the blood would clot around the cloth and removing the fabric would rip open old wounds. Harry was also certain there were still strangulation marks around his neck from the week before, as his flesh there was extremely tender. There was something wrong with his left wrist, as it hurt like hell every time he moved it, much less tried to pick something up. Currently, he was having difficulty moving at all, but he was pretty sure it had only been a few hours since Uncle Vernon had last visited him, so that made sense.

All in all, Harry thought that he was worse off than all of his Quidditch screw-ups combined. He had a bit of a laugh at the irony of that, but it had made his chest hurt, so he stopped.

Harry shut his eyes tightly as a wave of pain rolled over him. Though it hurt even to breathe, the sudden onslaughts were agony in comparison and had been going on for what Harry assumed had been a few days now, followed closely by a deathly chill. Harry knew he was sick. How could he not be? - he hadn't slept more than two hours at a time since he returned to the Dursleys' (except when he was knocked unconscious), he hadn't eaten in half a week (give or take a few days), and he'd run out of what water he had rationed... he didn't remember how long ago.

Harry flinched involuntarily, as he heard the front door slam open, and regretted the movement immediately, as pain lanced through him. Uncle Vernon was home, and from the sound of it, his day hadn't gone well. He would be up to visit Harry soon, no doubt.

With that thought in mind, Harry began the slow, agonizing task of rising to his feet. The action took far too long, but Harry dared not complain. He did his best to keep from crying out whenever Uncle Vernon beat him, because his cries would only be interpreted as a request for pity and would serve only to anger his uncle further. Luckily, his screams over the last few beatings had rendered his voice almost non-existent, so he didn't have to struggle so hard to remain silent.

Harry desperately wished he had some way to contact the Wizarding World. He needed help; he would be the first to admit it. The summer wasn't half over yet and he knew that if he didn't get out of here soon, he was going to die. He wouldn't be surprised if Uncle Vernon tried to starve him to death pretty soon (perhaps they had started already?). He had no doubt that the man was capable of executing a teenage boy. He had certainly threatened enough times, hadn't he?

"BOY!"

Harry felt his breath quicken, a sharp pain in his chest making him gasp as a feeling of dread passed over him. He could hear Uncle Vernon's footsteps as he came up the staircase. He was coming closer… he'd be here any minute…

Not for the first time that summer, Harry thought of Hermione. Her parents were both Muggles. She had a phone. Harry didn't know her number, but he knew that if he called the Operator, he could have his call transferred to her phone. Then he could talk to her, have her call for help, and someone could come and get him out of there, away from the Dursleys!

Even without the padlock on the door, Harry was fairly certain he didn't have the physical strength to overcome four bolt locks. Uncle Vernon had thrown all of his "freaky shit" into the cupboard under the stairs. Harry didn't even have his wand. He knew he would have risked being expelled from Hogwarts just to escape this Hell.

The thought of the phone in the kitchen – so close but so far – made Harry ache inside. It was a pain deeper and more noticeable than the dull throb that had begun to consume his every waking moment. If only he could somehow get to the phone, he could call for help.

He needed help.

But he was trapped in this room, a burden on the darkness. His only visitors were the nightmares that stole his only chance at peace, and Uncle Vernon, as he walked through the door with a brand new baseball bat in his hand.

Batter up.


Hermione Granger awoke in an icy sweat, her thick, frizzy brown hair slicked to her face with the remnants of terror – at what, she did not know. Her chest felt constricted and her breath came in shallow gasps of fear, which alerted Hermione to how terrifying her dream – nightmare – must have been, because she knew that one's breathing slowed down when they were in a state of sleep. She had read about it in one of father's psychology texts.

Shivering, still feeling that fearful chill inside, Hermione kicked the covers off and crawled out of bed. She grimaced as she felt the sweat-drenched blankets peel from her skin and knew that she would have to wash them later that day.

For a moment, she simply stood in the center of her bedroom, taking everything in. Nothing was out of place but for the blankets cascading to the floor. Her textbooks were all back in her trunk, organized by last year's class schedule, and all her homework was neatly tucked away and completed. Her desk was bare but for the bit of parchment she had out to remind herself to write Ron and Harry each a letter (and perhaps one to Viktor Krum in Bulgaria, as well). Not a space was left open on any of the three bookcases in her room, and she nodded absently at them, as though they might respond like the one near Madam Pince's desk in the Hogwarts library.

She shivered again, and her mind came back to the present.

Pulling a crimson housecoat over her light blue nightgown, Hermione slipped into a pair of fuzzy red socks with golden puffballs she had received from an aunt for Christmas last year. Satisfied at her barriers against the cold, she descended the stairs to the first floor, and made her way into the kitchen.

The house was silent, telling Hermione a number of things. For starters, both of her parents were gone, because her mother would have been singing as she fulfilled whatever task she had yet to accomplish, and her father would likely have been trying to invent some new form of toothbrush that was quieter than all of others (therefore meaning that all of the prototypes would have to be extremely loud).

The second thing that this told Hermione was that it was past nine o'clock in the morning, as that was when her father left the house (her mother left at eight o'clock to go and open the Dentist Practice).

The third thing that this informed Hermione was that she was late waking up, which was very unlike her.

Generally, Hermione awoke around six o'clock (the same time as her parents) and would be up and talking to her mother as the woman made breakfast, or humoring her father by testing his prototype electric toothbrushes. She would eat breakfast with her parents, before saying good-bye to them as they both left at their own times, and then she would either do her homework or, seeing as that was complete, read a book.

Hermione released a violent sneeze, shocking herself so suddenly that she could only blink for a moment. The sound seemed to hang in the air of the silent house and she sniffled in annoyance once she had regained her thoughts. Hugging her housecoat tighter around her body and pouting in a stroke of immaturity that she would not have let her friends see her indulge, she was reminded of the cold that she had acquired the previous day. She had gone to the dental office to visit her parents and one of the patients just had to cough on her. That was all it took.

I hope you enjoy your root canal today, Mr. Porter, Hermione thought somewhat sadistically. She sniffled again and released a small growl. There was little she hated more than getting sick.

She had been attempting to sleep off the worst of the cold, but so far it had failed to leave her, as demonstrated by her violent sneeze a moment before. Conceding to the fact that she wasn't really tired and would probably not be able to go back to sleep (not that she hadn't slept enough, goodness knows), Hermione began to search for some breakfast.

She had been pulling her mother's homemade lasagna from the refrigerator when she felt a cold chill pass over her. It wasn't like the chills she had been getting all day from her insufferable cold. It seemed icier... more vicious. Almost like a Dementor…

Oh, what was she thinking? Dementors? Here? Hermione had to smile at that. Even in a Wizarding village, it would be unlikely to see the abysmal creatures, not so much clothed in ragged cloaks, as being made of palpable shadows. The horrid demons (for how could they be anything less?) were assigned to guard Azkaban, the horrible island-prison that Hermione personally thought had no right to exist. The isolation of imprisonment on an island in the sea might have been punishment enough, but to add to the prisoners' misery the presence of creatures that drained from you every sliver of happiness and left, in its place, your every horrible thought and memory… Years ago, Hermione would have thought that adults could never have been crueler than the children she went to school with who had teased her for her love of books.

She knew better, now. It seemed that as a child grew out of innocence, they were sadly capable of growing into cruelty.

Hermione shook her head, banishing the thought. No, there would be no Dementors here. Ignoring the fact that it was a Muggle neighborhood, the Dementors were far away at Azkaban, leisurely draining all happiness from the poor prisoners of that foreboding stone fortress. Hermione didn't need to see the prison to know it would be cold. She thought that she could feel the very chill of its existence at the calling of its name.

Azkaban… she shivered, annoyed with herself, but unable to shake off the terror that came unbidden with the cold spell.

She just hoped that there weren't fellow innocent people trapped within the walls of the prison, as Sirius Black had been. True, Hermione thought that the existence of such a cruel place was barbaric, but if it must exist, then she at least prayed that it no longer existed to cause sufferance to those who had committed no crime.

Still, the Aurors that work there…

Damn her shivering.

Hermione paused from taking the foil off of the dish. Her thoughts were dancing around various ideas, but continued to return to the chills that periodically raced through her body. True, she wasn't feeling well, and yes, she was thinking on less-than-desirable topics, but this seemed to be more than that. This was colder still than mortal sickness and cruel contemplations. This was… this was…

Dread.

The revelation struck her hard and though Hermione had never been weak, she could not find strength enough within her soul to banish the idea. The chills that swept through her were sensations of utter dread, of fear. No, no, not fear – terror. Absolute, blinding terror.

Something was horribly, horribly wrong.

Hermione's mind was suddenly called back to a few days after she had returned from Hogwarts. Over a late-night cup of tea, Hermione had succumbed to her mother's request and told her of the TriWizard Tournament and her own participation within the second task. She had been placed in a magical-coma by Professor Dumbledore, and secured on the outskirts of the Merpeople City, at the depths of the lake. There, she had been safe as she waited in comfortable unconsciousness to be "rescued" by her respective TriWizard Champion. Viktor Krum, the Bulgarian champion, had also been her date to the Yule Ball, so he had been the one meant to rescue her.

To her surprise, confusion, perhaps even a little fear, her mother had offered up the exact date and time of the second task.

At Hermione's characteristic curiosity, her mother had explained that whenever Hermione was in any sort of danger, she simply felt a cold feeling of dread, which lasted until the danger had passed.

Hermione felt that cruel, icy hand finger her heart with sadistic glee.

She didn't like the implications her mind was offering. She didn't like the idea that one of her friends was in terrible danger. However, Hermione was not the kind of person to ignore the facts. True, she was never one to solely base her ideas on either emotions or hunches, but this… she couldn't disregard this. Besides, when she got a feeling, it usually led to some way of finding the facts, so why should she ignore it?

She shouldn't, of course.

True, she would feel like a fool if she was wrong. But, she theorized, at risk of sounding vain, she was rarely wrong.

Running into her laundry room, Hermione blindly grabbed a pair of pants and scrounged for the rest of an outfit, before coming up with something that would cover her. Glancing down at herself, she noted with some distaste that she didn't match, but if she was right – and she feared she was – there were far more important matters to consider.

Pulling on a coat, Hermione slipped into her sneakers and barely remembered to grab her keys before she locked the door. As she climbed onto her bicycle, she ran her mind over the prospect of getting her own owl this year, or at least talking to her parents about hooking their fireplace up to the Floo network. Conversations with Ron would be a lot easier if she didn't have to wait for someone else's owl to fly her way.

Conversations with Ron. No, not conversations with Harry, because Harry was no longer permitted to let his beautiful owl, Hedwig, out to fly. She remembered Ron saying that the Dursleys had caged both Hedwig and Harry up in second year, and Hermione and Ron had discussed, at the beginning of this summer, that Harry was likely unable to receive letters, or send any, when Pigwidgeon kept coming back with undelivered mail.

That was why her mind turned to Harry now, instead of Ron. If someone was in dire need of help, it was more than likely Harry. Ron had his mother and father, as well as Fred, George, Percy, and Ginny to watch over him.

Harry didn't have anyone. Not there at the Dursleys. Privet Drive, Hermione reasoned, was probably more a prison than a home.

Hermione was grateful that she only lived two miles from the busy side of town (not that the busy side of town was busy, at all). Shelly's Tavern was located in the center of the commercial area, and it was the only place within twenty miles that had a fireplace hooked up to the Floo. There were only three or four witches or wizards living anywhere near the tavern, but Hermione didn't personally know any of them, so she couldn't ask to use their Floo and save herself the ride. She did wonder how the bar managed to stay in business, and she hoped they didn't make their money by charging people to use their fireplace.

She grimaced as the cold wind buffeted her and she felt the tingling in her throat that hinted she would regret not wearing a scarf later. She'd be lucky if she didn't end up with strep throat or bronchitis. Perfect for the holiday, she thought, as she coasted down a steep hill.

Hermione had been thinking of who to contact about this feeling. Her first thought had been the Weasleys, but their image was immediately overshadowed by that of Sirius Black. He was, after all, Harry's godfather. If he hadn't been framed for the death of thirteen muggles and Peter Pettigrew, and sent to Azkaban for the murder of Lily and James Potter, Harry would have grown up loved and cared for. As it was, however, Sirius had escaped Azkaban only two years previous and the Wizarding World still thought he was guilty of killing that horrible little rat, Pettigrew, who was likely groveling at the feet of Voldemort this very moment.

Hermione ground her teeth, a habit her parents admonished her for regularly. Though not many people knew it, Hermione had a nasty temper, and right now it was rearing its ugly head. Peter Pettigrew had cost Harry the happiness he could have had as a child, and it enraged Hermione that she had been there when Pettigrew escaped. She should have been able to stop him!

Lay blame later, Hermione. Right now, you have a job to do. The voice in her head sounded suspiciously like her mother. Hermione took a deep breath and forced herself to remain calm. She was almost to Shelly's Tavern. When she got there, she would Floo to Hogwarts. She wished that she could contact Sirius, but she had no idea where the man was and she couldn't risk breaking his cover, even if she had a way of contacting him. She knew Dumbledore had sent him and Professor Lupin on a mission at the end of last year, and she wondered if they had completed it yet or if they were still searching. At any rate, contacting either Professor Lupin or Sirius was out of the question, so the obvious choice was to turn to Professor Dumbledore.

She hoped the headmaster would still be at Hogwarts. Although it was the summer holidays, Hermione had her suspicions that part of the duties of a headmaster was to remain on Hogwarts grounds throughout the year. She was certain that the Headmaster himself was bound by the wards that surrounded the school, and that they were passed to the succeeding Headmaster (or Headmistress, respectively) when they rose to take their place.

Granted, Hermione hadn't read such a thing in Hogwarts: A History, and this was all nothing more than speculation and theoretical contemplation, but there was just something about how Dumbledore knew nearly everything that happened in the school; nothing seemed a surprise to him. He wasn't omniscient, but being linked directly to Hogwarts would certainly explain a lot.

Hermione ignored the strange looks as she ran into the tavern in a bright yellow jacket and an otherwise quite colorful outfit. She noticed distantly that a number of the patrons appeared to be Muggles, and she made her way through an archway and into another room, where she found the fireplace. Not waiting to ask for permission and figuring that she would deal with whatever payments might be required on her return trip, Hermione grabbed a handful of Floo powder and threw it into the fire. Stepping into the fireplace with only a moment's hesitation, she didn't even think of restrictions that might have prevented fireplaces outside of Hogwarts from linking to the school, she gasped, "Hogwarts… Dumbledore's office," before being whisked away in a flare of blue flames.


Ronald Weasley woke up screaming.

The moment his brain took in the delayed fact that he was awake, he rolled over onto his stomach and lost whatever was left of the supper he'd had the night before. He heard running footsteps and then his door opening, before someone's hand gently touched his back. He continued coughing for a few more moments, heaving in attempts to regurgitate the contents of both his stomach and his mind.

He couldn't quite remember what he had been dreaming about, but he knew it had been horrible. Even when he had dreams about spiders, he never woke up screaming. He also had a very strong stomach and rarely vomited, excluding the incidents in second year. The slug-regurgitation curse was unavoidable, and Ron had a perfectly good reason for wanting to hurl after they drank the Polyjuice Potion. There was nothing more horrid that Essence de Goyle. Blegh…

The hand that was gently rubbing circles on his back finally brought his mind back to the present, and whoever was nearest him helped to pull him back on the bed. He heard a muttered cleaning spell and the scent of puke vanished, leaving Ron leaning back against his propped-up pillows with his eyes closed, catching his breath.

"Ron?"

His name grabbing his attention, and from a source he hadn't expected, Ron opened his eyes to see not only his mother (as he had anticipated), but also his father, as well as the twins. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ginny peeking in through the doorway, curious and worried, as always.

"Geez, Ron," George finally piped up, obviously deeming it safe to whip out the humor, "we know you like to eat-"

"-but you really shouldn't stuff yourself to burst," Fred finished for his brother, grinning from ear to ear.

"Of course," George said, his face falling into a mock frown, "perhaps that's just what he wants us to think."

"Now, now, Ickle Ronniekins," Fred said babyishly, "Mum's cooking isn't that bad."

"I have to say, though, that was done with spectacular force, wouldn't you agree, Gred?"

"Indeed, Forge," Fred replied, nodding. "Our ickle brother is a regular cannon for vomit."

"Do you suppose we could use that?"

"Have him puking on the Slytherins?"

"Sounds like a plan, doesn't it?"

"Enough, boys," Molly Weasley demanded, her stern voice unable to hide her concern for her youngest son.

The twins regarded each other with curious looks, wondering why they hadn't been told to leave the room. They looked back at their little brother. In their own way, they had been showing their concern. Ron knew that, which was why he hadn't told them to stuff it.

His eyes returned to his father and he caught that gaze almost reluctantly. As he calmed, the nightmare was coming back to his memory, though half of him wished it wouldn't. He closed his eyes for a moment and felt his mother run her fingers over his forehead, smoothing back the red bangs that were drenched in sweat and stuck to his skin. Swallowing, he forced himself to think of what the dream had entailed, and the repercussions.

"Dad," he muttered weakly.

"Yes, son?" Arthur asked, stepping closer to his son's side. There was concern etched deep within his eyes. The Weasleys were well-trained in the art of child-raising, but it was an almost null occurrence, one of his children waking up like this. The only other time he could recall it occurring was the summer after Ginny's first year. The events in the Chamber of Secrets, with that damn diary and Tom Riddle's memory… he thought his daughter would never recover. Now his son had woken up in a similar fashion, and Arthur couldn't begin to imagine what had brought on those kinds of screams. He kept his voice calm as he waited for his son to speak, but he was certain his eyes betrayed his concern.

"Could you… go to Professor Dumbledore?"

"Aww… ickle Ronniekins misses school," George teased.

"More like he misses a certain girl he goes to school with," Fred corrected, grinning.

"Ah, yes," George said, tapping his chin with a forefinger. "Now, what was her name again? Harley?"

"Mindy?"

"Mandy?"

"Hermandy?

"Oh, I remember," George declared triumphantly. "It's Hermione!"

"Quiet, you two," Arthur demanded sternly, immediately silencing the twins. Arthur Weasley rarely raised his voice in any fashion, and to hear him do so now must have meant that some was wrong.

Fred and George glanced at each other, and then turned back to the scene before them, uncharacteristically silent.

"Why, Ron?" Arthur asked his son in curiosity. Oddly enough, another feeling had begun to fill him, and he glanced over at his wife to see the concern less-restrained in her eyes. She was always more in-tune with Ron than he had ever been.

"Something's happened…" Ron whispered, but then abruptly broke off. Opening his eyes, he looked to the twins, whose silence had turned into seriousness upon those spoken words. They seemed now to be waiting for an explanation as eagerly as their parents. Ron's eyes traveled to Ginny, still peering in through the doorway, gripping the frame tightly in worry, her eyes locked on her youngest brother.

In an act of maturity that they rarely exhibited for fearing of looking too much like adults, Fred and George Weasley, pranksters extraordinaire, looked at each other, looked back at Ron, and then left the room. They ushered Ginny back into the hall and then shut the door behind them, leaving Ron in the presence of his parents. No doubt they would want some answers later, but Ron would gladly give them up. He wasn't sure that Ginny, however, would be able to take it. Though her crush on Harry had lessened in degree over the years, from what he had overheard his mother saying, she still cared about Harry and worried about him as much as Ron and Hermione did. He didn't know how she would react to what he was about to tell his parents.

He didn't know how they would react, either.

That thought in mind, Ron returned his gaze somewhat reluctantly to his father's face.

"Something's… happened to Harry," he said hesitantly. He felt the bed shift almost imperceptibly as his mother stiffened. He heard her take in a sharp breath, and he watched as his father's eyes narrowed searchingly, studying Ron's face, trying to read the answer to his question before Ron gave it. Before he even asked it.

You would have made a great Auror, Dad.

"What's happened?" Arthur asked, his voice all business, expression stoic.

Swallowing with minor difficulty at the memory, Ron began to recount the nightmare. It had started in a dark room, him lying on an uncomfortable bed that seemed familiar, though he knew he had never even been in the room before. The slamming of a door had called his attention, before a man that he recognized as Vernon Dursley came in with a baseball bat, and began to beat him viciously with the bat, as well as his fists.

Ron had been thrown from his body, only to land on the floor in the corner and look up to see that it was Harry who was being beaten by Dursley, and Ron was now nothing more than a witness. He had been forced to watch the events play out, the nightmare-vision finally releasing him only when Dursley swung the bat at Harry's head, calling darkness.

Ron's voice finally cracked and he drew his knees up to his chest weakly, shivering despite the warmth of the room. Ron knew that Harry's home life hadn't been wonderful, but he had never thought…

And somehow, he knew this wasn't just a dream. Somehow…

His mum had tears in her eyes, he noticed, but he focused his gaze on his father's face. "Dad?" he whispered pleadingly to the tense man. "Please? Will you go to Professor Dumbledore?"

Arthur met his son's eyes, feeling somehow outside of himself, before Ron's question finally penetrated his shock-induced stupor, bringing him back. Nodding to assure the boy of his intentions, he looked to his wife, taking in her red eyes and the tears on her face, and instantly knowing that she believed everything that Ron had dreamt was true. He couldn't deny that he felt the same. Ron wasn't exactly the most creative person in the world, and he would be hard pressed to come up with a fantastical thought, but to imagine this? No… no, this was no mere dream, he was sure of that.

Nodding at his wife in assurance, he said softly, "I'll be back soon," before swiftly leaving the room. He made his way into the sitting room, slightly surprised to see Ginny on the couch, her eyes focused on the open book in front of her, while Fred and George barely managed to entertain themselves, their minds obviously not centered on mischief at the moment. What a rare occurrence…

All three of them leapt to their feet the moment he stepped into the room. There were questions on their faces, but Arthur knew he didn't have the time to answer them, or the answers, for that matter.

When he turned to his daughter again, he found her eyes focused intently upon him, and he saw again that look within their depths that he had considered many times before. It was almost disturbing, in a way, the intelligence visible within her eyes. She always appeared as though she wasn't looking at you, so much as through you. He'd only known Albus Dumbledore capable of eliciting such a feeling before his daughter had been brought into the world.

"It's Harry… isn't it?" Her voice was quiet, gentle. It didn't hold a stammer or even fear, but rather a conviction and deep understanding that gave him pause. It wasn't so much of a question, really. She knew already that it was Harry who was in trouble. She was merely telling him that she knew.

Knowing he didn't have the time to go into it now or to contemplate the depths of his daughter's mind, he placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder and gazed deep into her expressive irises. "Put the kettle on and make some tea, would you, Gingersnap?" he asked, using the nickname he'd given her long ago to try and ease the mood.

He didn't know if it worked or not. He certainly didn't feel anymore reassured, but Ginny merely nodded in understanding and obediently went into the kitchen to do as he asked.

Arthur turned back to his twin sons. He was prepared to stave off any questions they had ready to barrel at him, finishing each others sentences in a dizzy interrogation. Unexpectedly, however, they were silent, simply watching him and, he realized, waiting for him to give them something to do. He'd worry about the oddities of the day later, however.

"I don't have time to explain now," he said, though he was certain that they already assumed this. They were hardly unintelligent; they simply found other activities more… rewarding than schoolwork. He couldn't deny that he had once felt the same. "I have to go and speak with the headmaster. Take care of your mum and Ron. I'll be back as soon as I can."

He saw them nod as he passed them, but his mind was already on its way to Hogwarts, and his body followed. Taking a pinch of floo powder, he tossed it into the fire, and, thankful that his Floo had been hooked up to Dumbledore's office for emergencies (though I doubt they ever expected this), called out, "Hogwarts: Dumbledore's Office," before being swept away in a burst of green flames.