Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling does. All writing in bold is from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Good book :D

A/N: Hello, people! I am going to aim for weekly updates with this and if that changes I shall let you know. I am fairly happy with this chapter, but obviously there may be characterisations you don't agree with. Don't hesitate to let me know! Hope you enjoy it. As they say, on with the show!

"I shall start if you don't mind." Dumbledore began to read.

"Dudley Demented,"

Dudley shivered, remembering that night, while Harry looked at him curiously, still wondering what he would have seen.

The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive. Cars that were usually gleaming stood dusty in their drives and lawns that were once emerald green lay parched and yellowing; the use of hosepipes had been banned due to drought. Deprived of their usual car-washing and lawn-mowing pursuits, the inhabitants of Privet Drive had retreated into the shade of their cool houses, windows thrown wide in the hope of tempting in a nonexistent breeze. The only person left outdoors was a teenage boy who was lying flat on his back in a flowerbed outside number four.

"Er, Harry, why are you lying in a flowerbed?" Ron asked.

"Yeah mate, maybe-" Fred began.

"-you really are losing it-" George continued.

"-after all!" They finished together, as usual.

Harry gave them a half annoyed, half amused look. "I'm sure it gets explained."

He was a skinny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who had the pinched, slightly unhealthy look of someone who has grown a lot in a short space of time. His jeans were torn and dirty, his T-shirt baggy and faded, and the soles of his trainers were peeling away from the uppers. Harry Potter's appearance did not endear him to the neighbors, who were the sort of people who thought scruffiness ought to be punishable by law, but as he had hidden himself behind a large hydrangea bush this evening he was quite invisible to passers-by. In fact, the only way he would be spotted was if his Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia stuck their heads out of the living-room window and looked straight down into the flowerbed below.

"Nice hiding place pup, I don't think you'll be found there." Sirius complimented.

On the whole, Harry thought he was to be congratulated on his idea of hiding here.

"CONGRATULATIONS!" The twins yelled.

"Boys, do try to behave yourselves so we can keep reading!" Mrs Weasley admonished exasperatedly.

"What an exciting life you lead, Potter, if this is the highlight of your day." Draco drawled.

"Shut up, Malfoy." Ron said scathingly. Harry merely rolled his eyes.

He was not, perhaps, very comfortable lying on the hot, hard earth but, on the other hand, nobody was glaring at him, grinding their teeth so loudly that he could not hear the news, or shooting nasty questions at him, as had happened every time he had tried sitting down in the living room to watch television with his aunt and uncle.

Snape raised an eyebrow at this. He was under the impression that Potter was a pampered prince at home. It would certainly explain his arrogance.

The Dursleys shifted nervously under the narrowed gazes of the wizards, aware that their treatment of Harry would not be received well by 'his lot'.

Almost as though this thought had fluttered through the open window, Vernon Dursley, Harry's uncle, suddenly spoke.

"Glad to see the boy's stopped trying to butt in. Where is he, anyway?"

"He has a name, you know!" Mrs Weasley said sternly. Vernon didn't know whether to cower or bristle at her tone.

"It's fine, Mrs Weasley, I'm used to it." Harry cut in dully.

Dumbledore frowned at this, while the Weasleys, Sirius, Remus, Tonks and McGonagall were outraged. Snape furrowed his brow as he tried to make sense of this treatment of Potter.

"I don't know," said Aunt Petunia, unconcerned. "Not in the house."

Uncle Vernon grunted.

"Watching the news…" he said scathingly. "I'd like to know what he's really up to. As if a normal boy cares what's on the news - Dudley hasn't got a clue what's going on; doubt he knows who the Prime Minister is! Anyway, it's not as if there'd be anything about his lot on our news–"

Hermione looked at Dudley incredulously. "You don't know who the Prime Minister is?"

Dudley looked down, embarrassed.

"Vernon, shh!" said Aunt Petunia. "The window's open!"

"Oh - yes - sorry, dear."

The Dursleys fell silent. Harry listened to a jingle about Fruit 'n' Bran breakfast cereal while he watched Mrs. Figg, a batty cat-loving old lady from nearby Wisteria Walk, amble slowly past. She was frowning and muttering to herself. Harry was very pleased he was concealed behind the bush, as Mrs. Figg had recently taken to asking him around for tea whenever she met him in the street. She had rounded the corner and vanished from view before Uncle Vernon's voice floated out of the window again.

"Avoiding Figgy, Harry? Where are your manners?" Sirius teased Harry.

"Uh...it's not that I don't like her, it is simply that there are only so many times I can hear about all of her cats. Not to mention I had no idea she knew of our world. I might have had a better time with her then, if we were free to talk." Harry couldn't help the note of accusation in his tone as he thought of yet another thing kept from him by Dumbledore.

"Mrs. Figg? Know of your world? You're talking nonsense boy!" Vernon sputtered angrily. Petunia and Dudley wore matching expressions of disbelief.

"I think you'll find that Harry is being perfectly truthful and I should thank you not to speak to him in such a way." Remus cut in with a shadow of the wolf upon his face.

"Don't bother trying to persuade them. They will see for themselves soon enough." Harry was too exasperated to attempt to convince the Dursleys himself when they were unlikely to ever take only his word for it.

Snape listened to this exchange with a sense of unease as to how similar it seemed to his own past. He did not want a shared anything with Potter and refused to consider him any different from his arrogant father.

"Dudders out for tea?"

"At the Polkisses'," said Aunt Petunia fondly. "He's got so many little friends, he's so popular."

"Ok, I may not know your son well, or even at all, but even I can see through that lie." Tonks was torn between amusement and disbelief that anyone could truly be that clueless. Petunia merely maintained a haughty expression as though she would be proved right in her trust in Dudley. Had she looked in his direction, she might have noticed the telltale sign of his eyes lowered to the floor.

Harry suppressed a snort with difficulty. The Dursleys really were astonishingly stupid about their son, Dudley. They had swallowed all his dim-witted lies about having tea with a different member of his gang every night of the summer holidays. Harry knew perfectly well that Dudley had not been to tea anywhere; he and his gang spent every evening vandalizing the play park, smoking on street corners and throwing stones at passing cars and children.

"Never! Not my Dudders!" Petunia refused to believe her son behaved as a hooligan and pointedly ignored the barely stifled sniggering from the wizards at her nickname for her son.

"Even if he were doing such things, they're a great deal more normal than anything you do boy!" Vernon was outraged that the boy dared talk of his son in what seemed such a disdainful way.

"You believe his behaviour far more acceptable than Harry's, do you?" Mrs Weasley asked, incredulous. Vernon's expression made it quite clear that he did believe this. Mr and Mrs Weasley couldn't believe this – they would never condone their children behaving in such a way!

Harry had seen them at it during his evening walks around Little Whinging; he had spent most of the holidays wandering the streets, scavenging newspapers from bins along the way.

"I still don't know what you think you were doing, boy! Your lot don't get in our news!" Vernon yelled indignantly. However, even Petunia and Dudley could see where Vernon was obviously wrong as Sirius was about to show.

"Uh, hello? Recognise me? Sirius Black, mad mass murderer as shown on your news?" Sirius gave a very pronounced and flourished wave. Harry watched amusedly as Vernon was finally rendered speechless by his godfather.

The opening notes of the music that heralded the seven o'clock news reached Harry's ears and his stomach turned over. Perhaps tonight - after a month of waiting - would be the night.

Dumbledore sighed as he realised how much he put Harry through by keeping him so out of the loop. But, he thought, it is the only way to keep Voldemort unaware of our closer relationship. Even as he reassured himself, however, he still doubted his actions.

"Record numbers of stranded holiday makers fill air ports as the Spanish baggage-handlers' strike reaches its second week –"

"Wow, Potter, you have such an exciting life to be listening to such important stories on the muggle news during the summer." Draco drawled insultingly. Harry merely glared his annoyance, while the other teenagers pointedly ignored Draco's remark. The adults (save Snape of course) looked on disapprovingly, as yet unwilling to meddle.

"Give 'em a lifelong siesta, I would," snarled Uncle Vernon over the end of the newsreader's sentence, but no matter: outside in the flowerbed, Harry's stomach seemed to unclench. If anything had happened, it would surely have been the first item on the news; death and destruction were more important than stranded holidaymakers.

Percy had a rather gloating attitude as he glanced towards his family, obviously feeling that Harry's apparent need for death and destruction were proof of the Ministry's claim that he is deranged and disturbed.

He let out a long, slow breath and stared up at the brilliant blue sky. Every day this summer had been the same: the tension, the expectation, the temporary relief, and then mounting tension again… and always, growing more insistent all the time, the question of why nothing had happened yet.

"Perhaps, because nothing is going to happen as You-Know-Who is not back!" Percy muttered.

He clearly was not quiet enough as Fred said "Sorry Perce, what was that?"

"Yeah, don't be shy, say what you want to." George continued.

"You always did before!" they finished somewhat forcefully and resentfully.

"Fine! I said that nothing will happen as You-Know-Who is not back! You are deluded fools to believe the boy when he is clearly not of his right mind! Minister Fudge says-"

"Minister Fudge believes and preaches only that which he wants to believe as to acknowledge the truth would make his life that much harder. You, however, should trust in your family which includes Harry." Mr Weasley broke in quietly. Harry was touched once more at the willingness of the Weasleys to accept him as one of their own while Percy shook his head disgustedly at his Father's misguided faith and lack of respect for authority.

Mr and Mrs Weasley merely sighed disappointedly and sadly at their son's blind ambition.

He kept listening, just in case there was some small clue, not recognized for what it really was by the Muggles - an unexplained disappearance, perhaps, or some strange accident… but the baggage-handlers' strike was followed by news about the drought in the Southeast ("I hope he's listening next door!" bellowed Uncle Vernon. "Him with his sprinklers on at three in the morning!"), then a helicopter that had almost crashed in a field in Surrey, then a famous actress's divorce from her famous husband ("As if we're interested in their sordid affairs," sniffed Aunt Petunia, who had followed the case obsessively in every magazine she could lay her bony hands on).

Petunia actually had the good grace to look embarrassed at her own apparent hypocrisy, while the others rolled their eyes.

Harry closed his eyes against the now blazing evening sky as the newsreader said, "-and finally, Bungy the budgie has found a novel way of keeping cool this summer. Bungy, who lives at the Five Feathers in Barnsley, has learned to water ski! Mary Dorkins went to find out more."

Harry opened his eyes. If they had reached water-skiing budgerigars, there would be nothing else worth hearing. He rolled cautiously on to his front and raised himself on to his knees and elbows, preparing to crawl out from under the window.

He had moved about two inches when several things happened in very quick succession.

A loud, echoing crack broke the sleepy silence like a gunshot; a cat streaked out from under a parked car and flew out of sight; a shriek, a bellowed oath and the sound of breaking china came from the Dursleys' living room, and as though this was the signal Harry had been waiting for he jumped to his feet, at the same time pulling from the waistband of his jeans a thin wooden wand as if he were unsheathing a sword

"Well, I must say Mr Potter, you have certainly honed your reflexes well." A few people jumped at the sound of McGonagall's voice as she had not yet spoken and had uncharacteristically blended into the background.

"Thank you, Professor." Harry smiled a small smile, sheepishly accepting the rare compliment from his strict teacher.

Snape raised an eyebrow as he recognised Potter's good reflexes and the unusual lack of arrogance in accepting the compliment for it. He hated the appearance of any redeeming qualities in the boy.

- but before he could draw himself up to full height, the top of his head collided with the Dursleys' open window.

"Ah, perhaps not quite so sharp, there, were you Harry?" Sirius teased.

Harry smiled sheepishly in embarrassment while the Weasley boys sniggered but Draco all out laughed at what e perceived as Potter's dimwittedness.

The resultant crash made Aunt Petunia scream even louder.

Harry felt as though his head had been split in two. Eyes streaming, he swayed, trying to focus on the street to spot the source of the noise, but he had barely staggered upright when two large purple hands reached through the open window and closed tightly around his throat.

"YOU DARED TO STRANGLE MY GODSON?" Sirius roared as he withdrew his wand. Remus looked every bit as terrifying as his inner wolf as he made to copy Sirius. In fact, all the wizards and witches, save Draco and Percy had a measure of outrage upon their face. Even Snape seemed angry as he was reminded far too forcefully of his own father.

The Dursleys cowered as the wrath of so many wizards seemed to focus upon them until Harry jumped in front of them. "Wait! Look, I know they treat me badly but we can't hex them all the time, ok? Like the book says, cursing each other won't help things, only reading this book well. So, as much as we dislike them right now, let's just keep reading, ok?" He pleaded with them with his eyes to just drop it.

As Sirius reluctantly lowered his wand, others who had drawn theirs followed suit. "Fine, Harry, we'll leave it for now. This does need to be addressed at some point, however." Remus said reasonably.

"Ok. I can agree to that. Please, read on, Professor." Harry conceded. The Dursleys looked at Harry rather shocked, not seeing why he would defend them so.

"Put - it-away!" Uncle Vernon snarled into Harry's ear. "Now! Before- anyone - sees!"

"Get - off - me!" Harry gasped. For a few seconds they struggled, Harry pulling at his uncles sausage-like fingers with his left hand, his right maintaining a firm grip on his raised wand; then, as the pain in the top of Harry's head gave a particularly nasty throb, Uncle Vernon yelped and released Harry as though he had received an electric shock. Some invisible force seemed to have surged through his nephew, making him impossible to hold.

"You still perform accidental magic Harry?" Hermione asked, rather bemusedly.

"Yeah, doesn't anyone else?"

"Nah, mate, for me, and usually everyone else, it stopped when I got to Hogwarts." Ron clarified.

Harry was surprised and also a little annoyed that yet another thing about him was different. "Oh...but then why is it different for me?" he asked of no one in particular.

Dumbledore, as usual, provided an idea of why. "It could be, I believe, one of two things. It may be you are a powerful wizard and this is you channelling excess power or it could simply be your rather keen survival skills and sense of self preservation kinking in." Everyone seemed to accept this as an answer as no other one was forthcoming.

Panting, Harry fell forwards over the hydrangea bush, straightened up and stared around. There was no sign of what had caused the loud cracking noise, but there were several faces peering through various nearby windows. Harry stuffed his wand hastily back into his jeans and tried to look innocent.

The teenagers snorted with laughter. "Have you ever seen your 'innocent' look, Harry?" Ginny giggled.

"Yeah, it's not very convincing, mate." Neville agreed. He seemed to start to come out of his shell a bit as he became more comfortable with, well, most of the group.

Harry merely affected a mock-outraged look in response, causing a good few of the adults to join in chuckling too.

"Lovely evening!" shouted Uncle Vernon, waving at Mrs. Number Seven, who was glaring from behind her net curtains. "Did you hear that car backfire just now? Gave Petunia and me quite a turn!"

He continued to grin in a horrible, manic way until all the curious neighbors had disappeared from their various windows, then the grin became a grimace of rage as he beckoned Harry back towards him.

Many eyes became narrowed at this, but they all refrained from saying anything at the look on Harry's face.

Harry moved a few steps closer, taking care to stop just short of the point at which Uncle Vernon's outstretched hands could resume their strangling.

"What the devil do you mean by it, boy?" asked Uncle Vernon in a croaky voice that trembled with fury.

"What do I mean by what?" said Harry coldly. He kept looking left and right up the street, still hoping to see the person who had made the cracking noise.

"Making a racket like a starting pistol right outside our –"

"Oh, now, come on, you can't blame that on him!" Tonks was incredulous at the apparent stupidity of this muggle.

"They can, and will. Let's just leave it at that." Harry sighed exasperatedly.

"It seems to me, the Wrackspurts have come and made their brains all fuzzy." Everyone jumped at Luna's dreamy voice which seemed to alleviate some of the tension as a few nervously chuckled unsure if she was serious or not. The Dursleys stared at her, unnerved by her dreamy countenance.

"I didn't make that noise," said Harry firmly.

Aunt Petunia's thin, horsy face now appeared beside Uncle Vernon's wide, purple one. She looked livid.

Petunia looked to be about to object at the description of 'horsy', but thought better of it as she remembered the wizards rather hostile feelings towards her family at the moment.

"Why were you lurking under our window?"

"Yes - yes, good point, Petunia! What were you doing under our window, boy?"

"Listening to the news," said Harry in a resigned voice.

His aunt and uncle exchanged looks of outrage.

"Why, exactly," began Hermione, unusually icily, "is it so outrageous for him to be interested in the news?"

Vernon mumbled something quietly that sounded like "not normal".

"Do you honestly believe that everything your son does is what 'normal' should be defined as? Your son is not perfect or the pinnacle of 'normal' and everyone should be recognised as individuals as that is their right." McGonagall used her stern voice and gaze in an attempt to impress this upon the Dursleys who flinched but kept steadfastly silent.

"Listening to the news! Again?"

"Well, it changes every day, you see," said Harry.

This caused a fresh round of laughter.

"Nice one, Harry." Said George.

"There may be hope for you yet!" Fred chuckled.

"Don't you be clever with me, boy! I want to know what you're really up to - and don't give me any more of this listening to the news tosh! You know perfectly well that your lot -"

"Careful, Vernon!" breathed Aunt Petunia, and Uncle Vernon lowered his voice so that Harry could barely hear him, "-that your lot don't get on our news!"

"That's all you know," said Harry.

"My, Harry, we have a temper this summer!" Sirius chuckled, while Harry scowled half-heartedly.

Snape, however, let this soothe him a little. Yes, he thought, that's more like the ignorant, arrogant boy I know he is.

The Dursleys goggled at him for a few seconds, then Aunt Petunia said, "You're a nasty little liar. What are all those -" she, too, lowered her voice so that Harry had to lip-read the next word, "- owls doing if they're not bringing you news?"

"Aha!" said Uncle Vernon in a triumphant whisper. "Get out of that one, boy! As if we didn't know you get all your news from those pestilential birds!"

Harry hesitated for a moment. It cost him something to tell the truth this time, even though his aunt and uncle could not possibly know how bad he felt at admitting it.

"The owls… aren't bringing me news," he said tonelessly.

"Sorry, Harry." Hermione whispered while the others looked down guiltily.

"Its fine, you already explained." Harry tried to smile acceptingly but it looked more like a grimace as he remembered the reason for his lack of news.

"I don't believe it," said Aunt Petunia at once.

"No more do I," said Uncle Vernon forcefully.

"We know you're up to something funny," said Aunt Petunia.

"We're not stupid, you know," said Uncle Vernon.

No one bothered to hide their derisive snorts at this.

"Well, that's news to me," said Harry,

"Blimey, Harry, we'll make a Marauder of you yet." Sirius said proudly as there was another outbreak of laughter at this. Vernon and Petunia were not impressed with being mocked but they wisely refrained from complaining while Dudley privately admitted his amusement at his cousin's comebacks.

his temper rising, and before the Dursleys could call him back, he had wheeled about, crossed the front lawn, stepped over the low garden wall and was striding off up the street.

He was in trouble now and he knew it. He would have to face his aunt and uncle later and pay the price for his rudeness, but he did not care very much just at the moment; he had much more pressing matters on his mind.

Harry was sure the cracking noise had been made by someone Apparating or Disapparating. It was exactly the sound Dobby the house-elf made when he vanished into thin air. Was it possible that Dobby was here in Privet Drive?

"Nah, Harry-" began Gred.

"-it was Mundungus!" finished Forge.

Could Dobby be following him right at this very moment?

"Honestly, Harry, we told you it was Mundungus!" exclaimed the twins in stereo, apparently exasperated.

There was outright laughter at their antics, even the Dursleys were privately amused at their joking ways.

As this thought occurred he wheeled around and stared back down Privet Drive, but it appeared to be completely deserted and Harry was sure that Dobby did not know how to become invisible.

"Whilst you are mostly cautious, I would advise you not to let your guard down so easily Harry." Remus advised while the other adults nodded.

He walked on, hardly aware of the route he was taking, for he had pounded these streets so often lately that his feet carried him to his favorite haunts automatically.

"Should you really be walking around alone, Harry?" Hermione asked, concernedly.

"I couldn't stay trapped inside Hermione, I would've lost it." Harry sighed. Sirius gave him a sympathetic look, knowing what that was like.

Every few steps he glanced back over his shoulder. Someone magical had been near him as he lay among Aunt Petunia's dying begonias, he was sure of it. Why hadn't they spoken to him, why hadn't they made contact, why were they hiding now?

Draco snorted scornfully. "Oh, yes, Saint Potter, because they absolutely must be there to talk to you."

"Actually, that would have made sense, wouldn't it, as I am the only magical person in the area?" Harry bit back, triumphantly. Draco merely glared at him for outsmarting him.

And then, as his feeling of frustration peaked, his certainty leaked away.

Perhaps it hadn't been a magical sound after all. Perhaps he was so desperate for the tiniest sign of contact from the world to which he belonged that he was simply overreacting to perfectly ordinary noises. Could he be sure it hadn't been the sound of something breaking inside a neighbor's house?

Dumbledore felt a need to give the boy a little reassurance. "Do not doubt yourself so much, Harry, you usually have very good instincts."

Harry felt a dull, sinking sensation in his stomach and before he knew it the feeling of hopelessness that had plagued him all summer rolled over him once again.

Sirius glanced at his Godson concernedly, knowing from experience that this was not a good frame of mind to be in.

Tomorrow morning he would be woken by the alarm at five o'clock so he could pay the owl that delivered the Daily Prophet - but was there any point continuing to take it? Harry merely glanced at the front page before throwing it aside these days; when the idiots who ran the paper finally realized that Voldemort was back it would be headline news, and that was the only kind Harry cared about.

"It really is no wonder you didn't know what they were printing about you." Hermione sighed.

"Yeah, mate, I wasn't exactly thrilled either when I realised we had to tell you about that." Ron gave a wry smile.

"It was probably better for me to find out from you guys though, rather than brood on it alone all summer." Harry reasoned.

If he was lucky, there would also be owls carrying letters from his best friends Ron and Hermione, though any expectation he'd had that their letters would bring him news had long since been dashed. We can't say much about you-know-what, obviously… We've been told not to say anything important in case our letters go astray… We're quite busy but I can't give you details here…There's a fair amount going on, we'll tell you everything when we see you…

"Well when put like that, I can see how that must have been frustrating." Hermione sympathised.

But when were they going to see him? Nobody seemed too bothered with a precise date.

Harry tried not to glare at Dumbledore when this was read.

Hermione had scribbled I expect we'll be seeing you quite soon inside his birthday card, but how soon was soon? As far as Harry could tell from the vague hints in their letters, Hermione and Ron were in the same place, presumably at Ron's parents' house.

He could hardly bear to think of the pair of them having fun at The Burrow when he was stuck in Privet Drive. In fact, he was so angry with them he had thrown away, unopened, the two boxes of Honeydukes chocolates they'd sent him for his birthday. He'd regretted it later, after the wilted salad Aunt Petunia had provided for dinner that night.

"Well, Harry, that's what happens when you throw away the chocolate!" Remus said teasingly.

"Pay him no mind, Harry, he's always been a tad on the obsessive side about chocolate." Sirius whispered.

Many in the room smiled softly at this exchange, heartened by this return to Marauder form by the once broken men.

And what were Ron and Hermione busy with? Why wasn't he, Harry, busy? Hadn't he proved himself capable of handling much more than them? Had they all forgotten what he had done?

"Arrogant as ever, Potter." Snape sneered.

"I was angry and frustrated. It sounds arrogant, yes, I admit that, but it was a heat of the moment thing. I don't truly believe myself better than them. They have stuck by me through so many difficult times. I am nothing but grateful for that." Harry defended defiantly. Ron and Hermione sent him grateful smiles at his proud words for them. Snape merely glared on.

Hadn't it been he who had entered that graveyard and watched Cedric being murdered, and been tied to that tombstone and nearly killed?

"W-what?" Petunia stuttered. The Dursleys were completely shocked at this insight into Harry's life. They couldn't imagine being witness to such a thing.

"It's true." Was all Harry could whisper as he was once more assaulted by the memories.

"How, though? How could you have seen this?" Dudley was surprised to find himself so curious and concerned for his cousin's ordeal but he reasoned that everyone would feel some modicum of sympathy in this situation.

Seeing that Harry was in no state to explain, Hermione stepped in. "The wizard who attacked Harry as a baby formed a plot to return to power. At the end of the school year, he got Harry to a graveyard via magical means. However, another student was accidentally taken too. The wizard didn't need him and Harry saw as he...disposed of him." Hermione's voice was a shaky whisper by the end of the explanation.

The Dursleys were speechless and a sombre silence seemed to engulf the room.

Don't think about that, Harry told himself sternly for the hundredth time that summer. It was bad enough that he kept revisiting the graveyard in his nightmares, without dwelling on it in his waking moments too.

Harry hated the number of sympathetic glances thrown his way and was definitely feeling irritated and embarrassed that his thoughts here on display this way.

He turned a corner into Magnolia Crescent; halfway along he passed the narrow alleyway down the side of a garage where he had first clapped eyes on his godfather. Sirius, at least, seemed to understand how Harry was feeling. Admittedly, his letters were just as empty of proper news as Ron and Hermione's, but at least they contained words of caution and consolation instead of tantalizing hints:

I know this must be frustrating for you… Keep your nose clean and everything will be okay… Be careful and don't do anything rash…

Remus and Tonks snortes while the teens sniggered.

"Okay, okay, so maybe it's slightly ironic coming from me." Sirius conceded.

Well, thought Harry, as he crossed Magnolia Crescent, turned into Magnolia Road and headed towards the darkening play park, he had (by and large) done as Sirius advised. He had at least resisted the temptation to tie his trunk to his broomstick and set off for The Burrow by himself.

"Well, that would not have been a good idea, mate, seeing as we weren't there!" Ron chuckled.

In fact, Harry thought his behavior had been very good considering how frustrated and angry he felt at being stuck in Privet Drive so long, reduced to hiding in flowerbeds in the hope of hearing something that might point to what Lord Voldemort was doing. Nevertheless, it was quite galling to be told not to be rash by a man who had served twelve years in the wizard prison, Azkaban, escaped, attempted to commit the murder he had been convicted for in the first place, then gone on the run with a stolen Hippogriff.

There was much renewed laughter at this, while the Dursleys were shocked once more and were so still they seemed Petrified.

Sirius, chuckling, feigned annoyance as he seemingly spoke to the book. "Alright, Harry! Point well made!"

Neville, Percy and Draco, who were not aware of Sirius' full and true story, were a little uneasy during this exchange. Luna seemed as unaffected and dreamy as ever.

Harry vaulted over the locked park gate and set off across the parched grass. The park was as empty as the surrounding streets. When he reached the swings he sank on to the only one that Dudley and his friends had not yet managed to break, coiled one arm around the chain and stared moodily at the ground. He would not be able to hide in the Dursleys' flowerbed again.

Tomorrow, he would have to think of some fresh way of listening to the news. In the meantime, he had nothing to look forward to but another restless, disturbed night, because even when he escaped the nightmares about Cedric he had unsettling dreams about long dark corridors, all finishing in dead ends and locked doors, which he supposed had something to do with the trapped feeling he had when he was awake. Often the old scar on his forehead prickled uncomfortably, but he did not fool himself that Ron or Hermione or Sirius would find that very interesting any more. In the past, his scar hurting had warned that Voldemort was getting stronger again, but now that Voldemort was back they would probably remind him that its regular irritation was only to be expected… nothing to worry about… old news…

Harry couldn't help but notice that even as these words were read, Dumbledore and Snape both had slightly troubled frowns on their faces. Once again, he had that familiar feeling of frustration as he was out of the loop once more.

The injustice of it all welled up inside him so that he wanted to yell with fury. If it hadn't been for him, nobody would even have known Voldemort was back! And his reward was to be stuck in Little Whinging for four solid weeks, completely cut off from the magical world, reduced to squatting among dying begonias so that he could hear about water-skiing budgerigars! How could Dumbledore have forgotten him so easily? Why had Ron and Hermione got together without inviting him along, too?

"You really don't do well when left alone do you?" Ginny asked. At Harry's slight scowl she elaborated. "I'm not saying I would do any better, necessarily, but dwelling really won't help you in this situation. Believe me."

Something about Ginny's tone seemed to soothe Harry's emotions, and he offered her a small smile, which she returned.

How much longer was he supposed to endure Sirius telling him to sit tight and be a good boy; or resist the temptation to write to the stupid Daily Prophet and point out that Voldemort had returned? These furious thoughts whirled around in Harry's head, and his insides writhed with anger as a sultry, velvety night fell around him, the air full of the smell of warm, dry grass, and the only sound that of the low grumble of traffic on the road beyond the park railings.

He did not know how long he had sat on the swing before the sound of voices interrupted his musings and he looked up. The streetlamps from the surrounding roads were casting a misty glow strong enough to silhouette a group of people making their way across the park. One of them was singing a loud, crude song. The others were laughing. A soft ticking noise came from several expensive racing bikes that they were wheeling along.

Petunia had a disapproving face as she heard this description of what she would term 'hooligans'. Dudley shrank back slightly at seeing this, and braced himself for her coming reaction.

Harry knew who those people were. The figure in front was unmistakably his cousin, Dudley Dursley, wending his way home, accompanied by his faithful gang.

"D-dudders?" Petunia stuttered out in her shock. "Surely, you wouldn't behave in such a way?"

Dudley felt at this point, it would be best for him to be honest with his mother for once. "It's me Mum." He mumbled, disgruntled.

Petunia couldn't seem to move for shock, while Vernon watched the exchange warily. Dumbledore, after a protracted silence, simply continued to read.

Dudley was as vast as ever, but a year's hard dieting and the discovery of a new talent had wrought quite a change in his physique. As Uncle Vernon delightedly told anyone who would listen, Dudley had recently become the Junior Heavyweight Inter-School Boxing Champion of the Southeast. 'The noble sport', as Uncle Vernon called it, had made Dudley even more formidable than he had seemed to Harry in their primary school days when he had served as Dudley's first punching bag. Harry was not remotely afraid of his cousin any more but he still didn't think that Dudley learning to punch harder and more accurately was cause for celebration.

"No, I should think not! What kind of good would this do, for a child?" McGonagall asked, outraged.

"I was wondering the same thing, Minerva!" Mrs Weasley agreed, incredulous.

"My Dudley, is very talented at the sport and I see no reason not to further his success in it!" Vernon declared defiantly.

The others simply shook their heads in frustration, aware that they could not really change his mind or make him see sense.

Neighborhood children all around were terrified of him - even more terrified than they were of 'that Potter boy' who, they had been warned, was a hardened hooligan and attended St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys.

The Dursleys once again found themselves the focus of many glares, but the people responsible for them were surprised to see a hint of shame touch the Dursleys at the revelation of their lie. Perhaps there was hope for them yet.

Harry found himself thinking as he watched them. Come on… look round… I'm sitting here all alone… come and have a go…

"Oh, don't look for a fight, Harry dear." Mrs Weasley fussed maternally.

If Dudley's friends saw him sitting here, they would be sure to make a beeline for him and what would Dudley do then? He wouldn't want to lose face in front of the gang, but he'd be terrified of provoking Harry… it would be really fun to watch Dudley's dilemma, to taunt him, watch him, with him powerless to respond… and if any of the others tried hitting Harry, he was ready - he had his wand. Let them try… he'd love to vent some of his frustration on the boys who had once made his life hell.

Dudley who seemed about to open his mouth in anger at his cousin's blatant wish to humiliate him, closed it once more at the reminder of the torture he put his cousin through.

But they didn't turn around, they didn't see him, they were almost at the railings. Harry mastered the impulse to call after them… seeking a fight was not a smart move… he must not use magic… he would be risking expulsion again. The voices of Dudley's gang died away; they were out of sight, heading along Magnolia Road.

"Well, I daresay you fared better than I would have." Sirius said consolingly with a touch of pride. Harry couldn't hide a chuckle as he remembered his next thought while the others regarded him curiously.

There you go, Sirius, Harry thought dully. Nothing rash. Kept my nose clean. Exactly the opposite of what you'd have done.

There were a few more chuckles as everyone understood Harry's earlier mirth.

He got to his feet and stretched. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon seemed to feel that whenever Dudley turned up was the right time to be home, and any time after that was much too late.

"How, exactly, is that fair?" Tonks asked, rather severely for her, as she was a former Hufflepuff who believed rather steadfastly in fairness.

This question was met by yet more uncomfortable silence by the Dursleys as they knew they could not honestly defend themselves.

Uncle Vernon had threatened to lock Harry in the shed if he came home after Dudley ever again, so, stifling a yawn, and still scowling, Harry set off towards the park gate.

Magnolia Road, like Privet Drive, was full of large, square houses with perfectly manicured lawns, all owned by large, square owners who drove very clean cars similar to Uncle Vernon's.

Harry preferred Little Whinging by night, when the curtained windows made patches of jewel bright color in the darkness and he ran no danger of hearing disapproving mutters about his 'delinquent' appearance when he passed the householders. He walked quickly, so that halfway along Magnolia Road Dudley's gang came into view again; they were saying their farewells at the entrance to Magnolia Crescent. Harry stepped into the shadow of a large lilac tree and waited.

"… squealed like a pig, didn't he?" Malcolm was saying, to guffaws from the others.

"Nice right hook, Big D," said Piers.

There was some sniggering from the teens at this nickname.

"Yeah, 'Big D'" Fred mocked.

"You rock, 'Big D'" George finished.

"Same time tomorrow?" said Dudley.

"Round at my place, my parents will be out," said Gordon.

"See you then," said Dudley.

"You will not! There will be no more staying with friends unless parents are there, young man!" Petunia commanded sternly.

"Uh, Mum, it already happened anyway." Dudley pointed out quietly and nervously. He knew he wasn't getting out of anything this time.

"Well, it won't happen in the future, am I clear?" she demanded. Dudley nodded his head compliantly. Harry was rather stunned that his Aunt was finally treating his cousin with more discipline.

"Bye, Dud!"

"See ya, Big D!"

Harry waited for the rest of the gang to move on before setting off again. When their voices had faded once more he headed around the corner into Magnolia Crescent and by walking very quickly he soon came within hailing distance of Dudley, who was strolling along at his ease, humming tunelessly.

"Hey, Big D!"

Dudley turned.

"Oh," he grunted. "It's you."

"How long have you been 'Big D' then?" said Harry.

"Shut it," snarled Dudley, turning away.

Malfoy was rather surprised at the animosity Potter seemed to receive from all of his family as he assumed he would be treated like the Prince so many deluded Wizards had believed him to be. He was even more surprised to feel the slightest bit of sympathy for Potter's situation. Snape seemed to be feeling much the same way, to his own private horror.

"Cool name," said Harry, grinning and falling into step beside his cousin. "But you'll always be 'Ickle Diddykins' to me."

There was much renewed snickering at this, and Aunt Petunia and Dudley couldn't help but glare a little at Harry's mocking use of this 'endearment'.

"I said, SHUT IT!" said Dudley, whose ham-like hands had curled into fists.

"Don't the boys know that's what your mum calls you?"

"Shut your face."

"You don't tell her to shut her face. What about 'Popkin' and 'Dinky Diddydums', can I use them then?"

"Ah, Harrikins," George chortled.

"When did you become so funny?" Fred said proudly.

Dudley said nothing. The effort of keeping himself from hitting Harry seemed to demand all his self-control.

"You'd better not hit him." Sirius growled while Dudley cowered back.

"So who've you been beating up tonight?" Harry asked, his grin fading. "Another ten-year-old? I know you did Mark Evans two nights ago -"

"He was asking for it," snarled Dudley.

"There is no reason for physically harming a young, defenceless child!" Mrs Weasley said it in such a disapproving, stern way that Dudley actually bowed his head in shame.

"Oh yeah?"

"He cheeked me."

"Yeah? Did he say you look like a pig that's been taught to walk on its hind legs? Cause that's not cheek, Dud, that's true."

There was full out laughter here from the teens, Sirius, Remus and Tonks. Even some of the other adults cracked small smiles while the Dursleys bristled slightly at the insult.

A muscle was twitching in Dudley's jaw. It gave Harry enormous satisfaction to know how furious he was making Dudley; he felt as though he was siphoning off his own frustration into his cousin, the only outlet he had.

"Harry, even though there is such tormented history between you and Dudley, doesn't mean you should take out your frustrations on other people." Hermione chided softly.

"I know. It's just I really couldn't control anything I was doing then, Hermione." Harry sighed.

They turned right down the narrow alleyway where Harry had first seen Sirius and which formed a short cut between Magnolia Crescent and Wisteria Walk. It was empty and much darker than the streets it linked because there were no streetlamps. Their footsteps were muffled between garage walls on one side and a high fence on the other.

"Think you're a big man carrying that thing, don't you?" Dudley said after a few seconds.

"Not so sure I wanna hear this conversation, do you Fred?" George asked his twin, feigning disgust.

"Not really wanting to hear about Harry's 'thing' either, George." Fred agreed solemnly.

"Oh, shut up." Harry grumbled, as they and several others collapsed into laughter.

"What thing?"

"That - that thing you are hiding."

Harry grinned again.

"Not as stupid as you look, are you, Dud? But I s'pose, if you were, you wouldn't be able to walk and talk at the same time."

The laughter merely increased at this comment while Dudley began to redden as he was being embarrassed so thoroughly.

Harry pulled out his wand. He saw Dudley look sideways at it.

"You're not allowed," Dudley said at once. "I know you're not. You'd get expelled from that freak school you go to."

"How d'you know they haven't changed the rules, Big D?"

"They haven't," said Dudley, though he didn't sound completely convinced.

Harry laughed softly.

"Ooooh, that's not a good laugh." Ron commented. Harry glanced at him in fond amusement.

"You haven't got the guts to take me on without that thing, have you?" Dudley snarled.

"Whereas you just need four mates behind you before you can beat up a ten year old.

Snape was rather surprised at Potter's apparent disgust at his cousin's tactic of ganging up on people. He would have thought the arrogant brat approved of his father's old methods. He felt a twinge of unease at the unbidden thought that he could be wrong about the insufferable child.

Meanwhile, Harry saw as his cousin bowed his head at this sentence and wondered if perhaps his bullying ways had something to do with what the Dementor showed him that seems to have changed him so. He also noticed curiously, the shadow of shame that passed over Sirius' and Remus' faces. He did not question them however, as he knew what was coming up so very soon.

You know that boxing title you keep banging on about? How old was your opponent? Seven? Eight?"

"He was sixteen, for your information," snarled Dudley, "and he was out cold for twenty minutes after I'd finished with him and he was twice as heavy as you. You just wait till I tell Dad you had that thing out –"

"Running to Daddy now, are you? Is his ickle boxing champ frightened of nasty Harry's wand?"

"Don't you talk to my son that way! You should treat him with respect after he earned that title! What've you done, eh?" Vernon roared, quite forgetting the company he kept at present when jumping to the defence of his 'champ'.

Harry, for his part, was incredulous. He knew, as well as they did, that Dudley really did face a younger opponent and as such Harry did not feel he owed him an ounce of recognition or respect.

"How could you not know what he's done for everyone? You really are a clueless idiot aren't you?" Ginny shot back, incensed, as she particularly remembered what Harry had done for her in the Chamber.

"Don't worry, Gin, these books will show them what they are too stupid to realise." Ron said hotly. He knew how Harry felt about his relatives, but he had never thought them to be this callous and blind towards Harry.

"Not this brave at night, are you?" sneered Dudley.

"This is night, Diddykins. That's what we call it when it goes all dark like this."

"That's right, pup, you show him." Sirius mumbled, still angered by Vernon's outburst and clearly not noticing he was talking to a book.

"I mean when you're in bed!" Dudley snarled.

He had stopped walking. Harry stopped too, staring at his cousin.

From the little he could see of Dudley's large face, he was wearing a strangely triumphant look.

"What d'you mean, I'm not brave when I'm in bed?" said Harry, completely nonplussed. "What am I supposed to be frightened of, pillows or something?"

There was another outbreak of laughter at Harry's 'newfound' humour. A few, however, such as Remus and Hermione, had a slight unease about them, as they considered where this conversation might be going.

"I heard you last night," said Dudley breathlessly. "Talking in your sleep. Moaning."

"Don't you dare." Hermione growled out toward Dudley, and a few, namely the twins, looked at her in surprise, clearly not catching on yet.

"What d'you mean?" Harry said again, but there was a cold, plunging sensation in his stomach.

He had revisited the graveyard last night in his dreams.

There was certainly no laughter remaining from their earlier humour, at this point.

Dudley gave a harsh bark of laughter, then adopted a high-pitched whimpering voice.

"'Don't kill Cedric! Don't kill Cedric!' Who's Cedric - your boyfriend?"

"HOW DARE YOU?" Sirius roared.

"You think that's funny do you?" Ron asked, enraged.

"How could you ever be so callous, so cruel, young man?" Mrs Weasley demanded, beside herself with anger.

Dudley, to his credit, looked stricken about this. "I honestly didn't know, ok? It's not like I ever know what goes on at that school of his, I didn't know what I was talking about, I swear!" This didn't exactly extinguish their anger but they at least stopped threateningly pointing their wands.

Harry, however, quietly pointed out, "You never asked, though, did you? You never cared to find out." This rendered all the Dursleys speechless and all looked guilty to a certain degree.

"I - you're lying," said Harry automatically.

But his mouth had gone dry. He knew Dudley wasn't lying - how else would he know about Cedric?

"Dad! Help me, Dad! He's going to kill me, Dad! Boo hoo!"

Sirius and Remus had both tensed up with balled fists, and were beyond words with rage at this comment. Harry simply kept his morose gaze trained on the ground in front of him.

"Shut up," said Harry quietly. "Shut up, Dudley, I'm warning you!"

"Come and help me, Dad! Mum, come and help me! He's killed Cedric! Dad, help me! He's going to - don't you point that thing at me!"

There were some sinister smiles on display as a few within the room couldn't help but revel in the idea that Harry was threatening this vile boy.

Dudley backed into the alley wall. Harry was pointing the wand directly at Dudley's heart. Harry could feel fourteen years' hatred of Dudley pounding in his veins - what wouldn't he give to strike now, to jinx Dudley so thoroughly he'd have to crawl home like an insect, struck dumb, sprouting feelers…

Hermione wanted to caution Harry on getting so swept up in his temper but found that even she couldn't muster the conviction for it in this situation.

"Don't ever talk about that again," Harry snarled. "D'you understand me?"

"Point that thing somewhere else!"

"I said, do you understand me?"

"Point it somewhere else!"

"DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?"

"GET THAT THING AWAY FROM -"

Dudley gave an odd, shuddering gasp, as though he had been doused in icy water.

Everyone tensed up as they knew what was coming now.

Something had happened to the night. The star-strewn indigo sky was suddenly pitch black and lightless - the stars, the moon, the misty streetlamps at either end of the alley had vanished. The distant rumble of cars and the whisper of trees had gone. The balmy evening was suddenly piercingly, bitingly cold. They were surrounded by total, impenetrable, silent darkness, as though some giant hand had dropped a thick, icy mantle over the entire alleyway, blinding them.

Dudley shivered violently at the reminder of this horrific experience and started to rock slightly back and forth in remembered fear. This did garner him some sympathetic glances, despite the earlier infuriating conversation.

For a split second Harry thought he had done magic without meaning to, despite the fact that he'd been resisting as hard as he could - then his reason caught up with his senses - he didn't have the power to turn off the stars. He turned his head this way and that, trying to see something, but the darkness pressed on his eyes like a weightless veil.

Neville, who didn't exactly know what was coming, started to tremble slightly in fear of what was coming. He really didn't know how Harry dealt with all these awful things happening to him.

Dudley's terrified voice broke in Harry's ear.

"W-what are you d-doing? St-stop it!"

"I'm not doing anything! Shut up and don't move!"

"I c-can't see! I've g-gone blind! I -"

"I said shut up!"

Harry stood stock still, turning his sightless eyes left and right. The cold was so intense he was shivering all over; goose bumps had erupted up his arms and the hairs on the back of his neck were standing up - he opened his eyes to their fullest extent, staring blankly around, unseeing.

It was impossible… they couldn't be here… not in Little Whinging… he strained his ears… he would hear them before he saw them…

"I hate that you know so much of those terrible things, that you know so instinctively to look for this." Mrs Weasley said, hushed and somewhat tearfully.

"I'm not sorry for the experience I have with them. It meant that I knew how to fight them, and I was prepared. Better that than the alternative." Harry said firmly and rather reassuringly. A few of the adults could at least take comfort in the fact that, even though he had been made to grow up too fast, he at least knew how to defend himself, as he so often needed to.

"I'll t-tell Dad!" Dudley whimpered. "W-where are you? What are you d-do—?"

"Will you shut up?" Harry hissed, "I'm trying to lis —"

But he fell silent. He had heard just the thing he had been dreading.

There was something in the alleyway apart from themselves, something that was drawing long, hoarse, rattling breaths. Harry felt a horrible jolt of dread as he stood trembling in the freezing air.

"C-cut it out! Stop doing it! I'll h-hit you, I swear I will!"

"Dudley, shut—"

WHAM.

"Whilst I am not exactly against the idea of you hitting Potter, that really was an astoundingly idiotic thing to do." Draco drawled, condescendingly, at Dudley.

Several of the teenagers looked like they wanted to agree, albeit not with the first part, but seeing as they were agreeing with Malfoy, decided not to voice it.

A fist made contact with the side of Harry's head, lifting him off his feet. Small white lights popped in front of his eyes. For the second time in an hour Harry felt as though his head had been cleaved in two; next moment, he had landed hard on the ground and his wand had flown out of his hand.

Neville, nervously, started chanting under his breath "Not good, not good, not good..."

Luna, dreamy as ever, said "You must get followed by a lot of Galpies, they give you bad luck you know."

Several looked at her, astonished she could keep so detached and airy hearing of such a situation, whilst Hermione looked astonished that she could come out with such ridiculous things.

"You moron, Dudley!" Harry yelled, his eyes watering with pain as he scrambled to his hands and knees, feeling around frantically in the blackness. He heard Dudley blundering away, hitting the alley fence, stumbling.

"DUDLEY, COME BACK! YOU'RE RUNNING RIGHT AT IT!"

There was a horrible squealing yell and Dudley's footsteps stopped. At the same moment, Harry felt a creeping chill behind him that could mean only one thing. There was more than one.

Dudley's eyes widened as he gasped loudly, he had not realised there had been two of those horrific things in the alley that night.

"DUDLEY, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT! WHATEVER YOU DO, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT! Wand!" Harry muttered frantically, his hands flying over the ground like spiders.

Ron shivered and muttered what sounded like "just had to mention spiders, Harry..."

"Where's - wand -come on -lumos!"

"Not gonna work Harry." Remus spoke anxiously.

Harry couldn't help but smirk a little.

He said the spell automatically, desperate for light to help him in his search - and to his disbelieving relief, light flared inches from his right hand - the wand tip had ignited.

"What?" asked Remus, incredulous. "That's not meant to happen. Not that I'm not glad it did, but...what?" He was hardly ever this inarticulate and that just emphasised his shock.

"I believe, the same explanation applies, as before." Dumbledore answered, calmly, but there was some interest in his eyes as he wondered at Harry's magic and what fuelled these curious happenings.

Harry snatched it up, scrambled to his feet and turned around.

His stomach turned over.

A towering, hooded figure was gliding smoothly towards him, hovering over the ground, no feet or face visible beneath its robes, sucking on the night as it came.

Stumbling backwards, Harry raised his wand.

"Expecto patronum!"

A silvery wisp of vapour shot from the tip of the wand and the Dementor slowed, but the spell hadn't worked properly; tripping over his own feet, Harry retreated further as the Dementor bore down upon him, panic fogging his brain -concentrate–A pair of grey, slimy, scabbed hands slid from inside the Dementor's robes, reaching for him. A rushing noise filled Harry's ears.

"I don't understand Harry, you're so good at this spell." Hermione said, confused.

"I was just so shocked the attack was even happening, not to mention getting hit on the head hardly did me any favours." Harry replied, wryly.

"Expecto patronum!"

His voice sounded dim and distant. Another wisp of silver smoke, feebler than the last, drifted from the wand - he couldn't do it anymore, he couldn't work the spell.

There was laughter inside his own head, shrill, high-pitched laughter… he could smell the Dementor's putrid, death-cold breath filling his own lungs, drowning him - think… something happy…

Sirius shivered violently, remembering his long imprisonment and nearly losing his soul if it weren't for Harry not so long ago.

Everyone was deathly silent, realising how close both boys had come to losing their souls.

But there was no happiness in him… the Dementor's icy fingers were closing on his throat – the high-pitched laughter was growing louder and louder, and a voice spoke inside his head: "Bow to death, Harry… it might even be painless… I would not know… I have never died…" He was never going to see Ron and Hermione again –

And their faces burst clearly into his mind as he fought for breath.

"Us? You thought of us?" Hermione asked, touched by this.

"Well, yeah. You were my first and best friends, I will always be grateful and extremely happy at the thought of you guys." Harry said, slightly embarrassed.

"Wow, mate, I don't know what to say." Ron was stunned.

There was an embarrassed but emotional silence between them, which Dumbledore saved them from by beginning to read once more.

"EXPECTO PATRONUM!"

An enormous silver stag erupted from the tip of Harry's wand; its antlers caught the Dementor in the place where the heart should have been; it was thrown backwards, weightless as darkness, and as the stag charged, the Dementor swooped away, bat-like and defeated.

Despite the fact that Harry was clearly okay, there were still a fair few sighs of relief. Sirius and Remus smiled at this reminder of Prongs and the idea that he was still, in some way, protecting his son.

"THIS WAY!" Harry shouted at the stag. Wheeling around, he sprinted down the alleyway, holding the lit wand aloft. "DUDLEY? DUDLEY!"

He had run barely a dozen steps when he reached them: Dudley was curled up on the ground, his arms clamped over his face. A second Dementor was crouching low over him, gripping his wrists in its slimy hands, prizing them slowly almost lovingly apart, lowering its hooded head towards Dudley's face as though about to kiss him.

Dudley was shivering violently now, and was getting many horrified and sympathetic looks at the realization of how close he was to the worst kind of fate. His mother was gripping him tightly as if to reassure herself that he was there.

"GET IT!" Harry bellowed, and with a rushing, roaring sound, the silver stag he had conjured came galloping past him. The Dementor's eyeless face was barely an inch from Dudley's when the silver antlers caught it; the thing was thrown up into the air and, like its fellow, it soared away and was absorbed into the darkness; the stag cantered to the end of the alleyway and dissolved into silver mist.

"You really did nothing but save him?" Petunia asked in a tremulous voice.

"Yes. Like I told you, I didn't do anything to him, I just saved him from the Dementors." Harry sighed a tad exasperated that he had to go over this again. Then, something unexpected came from his Aunt.

"Thank you." She whispered, quiet and unsure, but genuine nonetheless. Vernon even had gratitude on his face, though he couldn't seem to bring himself to voice it to the boy. It did seem as though, finally, they were regarding Harry with something other than contemptuous feeling for once. Harry was shocked, but didn't know if he could trust it to last.

Moon, stars and streetlamps burst back into life. A warm breeze swept the alleyway. Trees rustled in neighboring gardens and the mundane rumble of cars in Magnolia Crescent filled the air again.

Harry stood quite still, all his senses vibrating, taking in the abrupt return to normality. After a moment, he became aware that his T-shirt was sticking to him; he was drenched in sweat.

He could not believe what had just happened. Dementors here, in Little Whinging.

"Hopefully, the book will tell us exactly who was responsible for this." Mr Weasley pointed out.

"Yes, then we can make sure they get what they deserve." McGonagall agreed, her usual stern demeanour in full effect. There were many murmurs of agreement at this, even form the Dursleys, as they wanted justice for this horrific incident.

Dudley lay curled up on the ground, whimpering and shaking. Harry bent down to see whether he was in a fit state to stand up, but then he heard loud, running footsteps behind him.

Instinctively raising his wand again, he span on his heel to face the newcomer.

"Oh my, what could it possibly be now?" Mrs Weasley moaned weakly.

"Don't worry, Mrs Weasley, it's nothing bad." Harry gave her a reassuring smile.

Mrs. Figg, their batty old neighbor, came panting into sight. Her grizzled grey hair was escaping from its hairnet, a clanking string shopping bag was swinging from her wrist and her feet were halfway out of her tartan carpet slippers. Harry made to stow his wand hurriedly out of sight, but-

"Don't put it away idiot boy!" she shrieked. "What if there are more of them around? Oh, I'm going to kill Mundungus Fletcher!"

Those who weren't in the order or weren't there that night were completely shocked, none more so than Vernon and Petunia, who sat there with their mouths gaping rather unattractively.

"There we are then." said Dumbledore, seemingly oblivious and smiling as serenely as ever. "Who shall read next?"


A/N 2: Now, not all characters are as prominent as others in this chapter, but they will all have their moments to shine in this story. I want to make sure they are commenting because they have reason to, not because I just want them talking. I want there to be gradual character development too and for Harry's relationships to change as naturally as possible. Hope it works for you :) xxx