Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoat Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
A/N: Starts in the fifth book and splits from the canon after Harry exits Dumbledore's office at the end of the school year. In case you don't remember, Dumbledore gives a Portkey to Harry while they're still at the Ministry. It takes Harry to the Headmaster's office, where he is to wait for Dumbledore to follow. When Dumbledore arrives a little while later, Harry rages at him with his adolescent bravado and even breaks a bunch of the headmaster's possessions. After Harry has run out of steam, Dumbledore convinces (this is where my versions differs, since in the canon it's assumed that Dumbledore has succeeded in reassuring Harry) him that he was not responsible for his godfather's death. They also discuss the prophecy.
*The prophecy was from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, obviously.
Chapter One: Animals
Harry was sure he was about to lose his mind. If Ron or Hermione said one more thing about Sirius, he wasn't sure if he would be able to control himself. He was currently trying to make himself as small as humanly possible, leaning against the window of their shared compartment. His goal was to make himself disappear, so his friends would have no one left to badger and be forced to abandon whinging at him.
Whilst the Hogwarts Express bumped steadily along, Harry rolled his forehead against the cool, damp glass. He stared out blindly, not taking in the scenery. His thoughts became increasingly introspective. Not for the first time that day, he found his mind wandering back to the events at the Ministry. The vision of Sirius falling through the Veil swam behind his eyes and he was forced to squeeze his lids shut to stop tears from spilling over. It's all my fault kept repeating itself like a mantra in his head. It's all my fault.
Harry dug his nails into his palms reflexively, his breath fogging up window and hiding his haunted face from view. After the revealing conversation with the headmaster, Harry had not been able to repress the feeling that he was still partially responsible for death of Sirius Black. Despite all his attempts otherwise, the interminable guilt overwhelmed him.
As if the universe was conspiring against him, Hermione chose that moment to speak up again.
"Harry, please," she pleaded a tone of worry lacing her voice. "Come on, please get up. We're about to pull into the station." She looked up at him nervously, then back down in trepidation. "Harry," she implored, "Ron and I are just concerned for you. I mean, honestly, you haven't said a word to us all week! We can't let you go back to the Dursley's when you're so miserable." Hermione continued hastily, "You should go home with Ron, or you can even come to Prague with me and my parents. We just don't want you to be alo—"
Harry had finally had more than enough. It had been the same thing all week. Both of his friends had told him that he wasn't acting normally and that they wouldn't be good friends if they left alone in this state. This had frustrated him to no end. Ron and Hermione had been following him everywhere, even neglecting their prefect duties to "babysit" him. Consequently, he had had none of the alone time that he so desperately craved. He needed time to sort out all his thoughts. Their stifling presence did nothing to aid his composure; the breaking point had finally been reached and his temper boiled over, resulting in a long-overdue explosion of pent-up emotional turmoil.
"Hermione, SHUT THE HELL UP! I am fine!" Harry yelled, "Or I would be if you and Ron would just lay the fuck off! And I've already told you that I can't go to the Burrow or on holiday with you. Dumbledore said I had to go back to the Dursley's, at least for the beginning of the summer. And I'm glad, because I'll finally get some peace and quiet without your constant nagging!"
Even while he shouted these words, Hermione's eyes were filling up with tears and Ron's face was steadily becoming a vivid shade of red. But Harry just kept yelling, finding it oddly therapeutic, until Ron interrupted in Hermione's defense.
"Mate! Stop talking to her like that. She's just trying to help," Ron interjected, making himself heard over Harry's tirade. "Harry," he continued in a lower voice, no longer competing with the now-silent wizard. "We're just worried about you—"
"Why can't you two just understand that I need to be alone sometimes?" Harry snapped hotly. "Especially after…" he trailed off. Harry looked away angrily, upset with himself. At some point during his outburst, he had risen to his feet. The need to be away from these people—his friends—suddenly overcame him. Acting quickly, he grabbed his trunk and Hedwig. Then, with a final hurried glare at his clearly wounded friends, he stormed out of the compartment, leaving a tearful Hermione and a crimson-faced Ron in his wake.
After a few seconds of blindly charging down the train's narrow corridor, Harry realized he had frustrated tears coursing down his cheeks. Coming to the very definite conclusion that he didn't want to be found in this state by any of the train's occupants, Harry hastily made his way to the back of the Hogwarts Express, where there was always an empty cabin or two. Upon finding one and closing the compartment door with a little more force than necessary and locking it with a silent Colloportus, he slumped against the cushions and tried to calm his erratic breathing.
Once his breathing had returned to normal and the angry tears had been wiped away, Harry blew out an agitated breath. He really hated losing his temper. He knew that he was being completely irrational, and that Hermione was just looking out for him like she always did, but he couldn't seem to tolerate her fussing recently. All he wanted was some time alone to collect his thoughts and attempt to come to terms with the reality that he was never going to see his godfather again. Not to mention the life-altering prophecy that Dumbledore had only recently told him about. Out of spite, Harry hadn't told Ron or Hermione about it, but knew he would have to eventually.
As he sat there wallowing in self-pity, the calamitous words rattled to the forefront of his mind for the first time since leaving the Headmaster's office:
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… And the Dark Lord will mark him as equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives… The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…"
Harry shuddered at the thought of having to kill anyone, but was even more frightened of dying himself. Fortunately, before those morose thoughts could consume him, there was a sudden knock on his compartment door. Cursing his declining luck, Harry stood up, rubbing his face to get rid of any stray tears, and unlocked the compartment door. Without even looking at the figure in the doorway, he turned back around. "You might as well come in and sit down, Ron."
Harry could practically feel his friend's embarrassment as he entered the compartment and sat down across from Harry on the cushions. Ron cleared his throat and averted his eyes awkwardly as Harry closed and relocked the compartment door with a flick of his wand.
Impatient to be alone again, Harry hissed, "Spit it out, Ron." Despite Harry's already-short temper, he was actually relieved that Ron had come looking for him alone. Hermione was currently too overbearing for him to coexist with her at the moment.
"Look, mate, sorry for Hermione being so stubborn, but she really is just worried about you. We both are." Holding up a hand to Harry's sardonic expression, a determined-looking Ron quickly continued, "I know you need to be on your own for a bit, but you can still come over to the Burrow any time this summer. Hermione's going to be there the second week of August." They sat in silence for a bit. "Hermione and I are still your friends even when it seems like we're purposefully trying to annoy the piss out of you."
For the first time in a while, Harry smiled. "Thanks Ron…for understanding. I'll think about visiting in August. It depends on how horrible the Dursley's are this summer," Harry grimaced. "Hopefully they'll not be too bad."
Harry considered entrusting the prophecy to Ron, but when he looked up, Ron had a smile on his face. He didn't want to burden his carefree friend with the devastating information, especially directly after the first cordial exchange they had shared since the night at the Ministry. It could wait.
Ron smiled. "No problem, mate. Oh, and Hermione made me promise to tell you to send her your O.W.L. scores as soon as you get them."
"Sure," was the only reply Harry could manage; he began feeling melancholy again—a response triggered by any mention of the O.W.L.'s. They were just another reminder of the day he lost his godfather.
Ron, upon seeing Harry's discomfort, stood and made to leave the compartment. He paused in the doorway and then turned back to Harry. "See you in August," he said before sliding the door shut behind him.
"Maybe…" was Harry's inaudible reply.
Little time had passed before the whistle blew, signaling that they were rapidly approaching the station. Harry began preparing himself for what promised to be a very long summer. He grabbed Hedwig's cage and lugged his school trunk off the shelf above his head. Then he waited until the train came to stop before slowly making his way off with his possessions, dreading what he knew would be a miserable holiday.
Upon exiting the train, Harry's eyes automatically roved the crowd in search of his friends. However, upon making brief eye contact with them and receiving only pitying expressions in return, he abruptly spun around and hurried away in the opposite direction. After he had created a fair distance between him and his friends, Harry quickly made his way to the exit of Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. Taking a deep breath in order to steel himself for the ill-fated reunion with his relatives, Harry set off for the parking lot where he knew his uncle would be waiting for him.
Too soon for his liking, Harry could see the familiar beefy, purple face above the crowds by the front entrance to King's Cross Station. Gathering himself, Harry adopted a careful, neutral expression as he approached his uncle. "You're late, boy," Vernon sneered. "You know what that means? Double the chores!"
Harry knew what would happen should he respond. So he maintained his vacant countenance and remained silent as he followed his uncle to the vehicle. Harry slid into the back seat while Vernon stuffed his possessions haphazardly into the boot of the car. He winced when he heard Hedwig hooting indignantly as her cage was wedged in beside his trunk.
Thirty minutes later, Harry was sure that anymore of this torture would turn his brains to mush. From the moment his uncle had entered the vehicle, Harry had been on the receiving end of a constant stream of verbal abuse. Even though he was used to this treatment from his relatives, his current temperament didn't coincide well with Uncle Vernon's continuous name-calling. Even worse was how Vernon was nowhere close to being out of steam.
"Are you listening to me? Your kind is so useless. And YOU, you're the worst of them, always daydreaming about nothing. Your good-for-nothing father was the same; I bet he drank himself into a stupor daily. You're all complete faggots! You're not fit to live in my house. With all the trouble you and your freaky friends cause, I wouldn't trust you not burn the place down."
Harry just glared out the window, no longer able to sustain his disinterested expression. He would have liked to completely disregard every malicious thing his uncle was saying about him, but some of it was hitting very close to home.
It was true that Harry was a troublemaker in that he was constantly ruining everything set before him. One only needed to look at the events that took place in the Department of Mysteries to see the truth; he did have a rather unfortunate tendency to destroy things he cared about. Anger boiled up within him as he continued his attempt at ignoring his uncle. Aggravation towards himself, not Vernon, turned his thoughts once again inward and replayed every little thing he had done wrong the night his godfather had been murdered.
These were the thoughts that occupied his mind for the remainder of the drive.
"BOY! Come here, you good-for-nothing little freak," sneered Uncle Vernon, who seemed now, to be the cat that had swallowed the canary. "No, boy, leave that shit there and come along!"
Harry stopped his unsuccessful attempt at retrieving his school trunks from the boot of the car and unhappily trotted after a very self-satisfied Vernon. To Harry's surprise and apprehension, instead of leading him into the house, Uncle Vernon strode around the side of the residence and entered the back garden. Upon rounding the bend, Harry stopped in his tracks, suddenly hesitant at what he saw. Any passerby would have thought nothing of the sight that now lay before him, but after spending an hour in the company of a ranting Vernon Dursley, he was suddenly filled with an intense foreboding. This irrational sensation screamed for him to take flight, sensing danger. But before Harry could bolt, Vernon had grabbed ahold of his upper arm and was dragging him towards the source of his uncertainty.
The Dursley's back garden had been invaded by a small, wooden doghouse. He knew instinctually it did not foretell a pleasant summer. Vernon's face split into a broad smirk as Harry took in the metal dog tin and the length of chain fixed to a grounded stake. Whatever the significance of these objects, they meant nothing beneficial for him.
"Do you know what this is?" Vernon taunted, gesturing towards the dog house.
For a moment Harry thought it was a rhetorical question, but upon considering the likelihood of his uncle knowing what "rhetorical" meant, promptly said, albeit a bit mockingly, "That's a dog house, sir."
His cheek earned him a firm clout to the back of the head, making him stumble slightly.
"BOY, stop being so disrespectful!"
"Yes, Uncle Vernon," Harry mumbled in a decidedly careful monotone, as to not encourage any more blows to his head.
"Good, it seems you can identify common objects. Now, boy, what is that, there?" Vernon demanded with no little amount of smug satisfaction.
"That's a dog bowl, Uncle Vernon," Harry replied, already not looking forward to picking up after whatever new pet Dudley had convinced his parents to buy him.
"Correct again, boy. Can you tell me what those two things are?" a red-faced Vernon asked him. The uncontained glee was so evident that Harry thought his uncle would explode at any moment.
"A post and chain, Uncle Vernon," Harry recited. He was imagining all the extra days of work he would have to do to preserve the gardens with a dog roaming around. His enthusiasm for the summer ahead was dwindling by the moment and Ron's offer kept flashing through his mind like a steak to a starving wolf.
"And what, boy, do you think would live in a dog house?"
Harry had never had to fight so hard in his life not to roll his eyes. Gritting his teeth, Harry replied in an overly-calm voice, "A dog, Uncle Vernon."
"Exactly! And can you tell me why I would have bought this dog house if we don't own a dog?" Vernon asked giddily.
Harry hesitated. They didn't have a dog? Vernon would do something like this, buying a doghouse before the dog. By now Dudley's probably changed his mind about a dog anyway. But for some reason he was not reassured. A strange foreboding, one quite similar to the feeling he had the night that Sirius had died. But that was impossible…nothing so horrible could become of a doghouse, unless there was a tiny, feral breed of dragon that now inhabited Little Whinging.
And so Harry responded with a measured, "I don't know, sir," praying that nothing was about to charge out and take a bite out of him.
However, the probability of his wish coming true greatly diminished as Vernon began to cackle. The sinister chuckle brought the memory of Lucius Malfoy to the forefront of his mind; Harry recalled the same smug happiness from the night at the Ministry. He stiffened reflexively. But he reassured himself there was no danger. After a quick scan of the garden, and finding it free of dragons and Death Eaters, he still felt ill-at-ease. He decided it would not be wise to be out in the open and began to shuffle backwards towards the house.
But suddenly there was beefy hand squeezing Harry around the neck, forcefully halting his retreat. The fingers constricted and he was lifted off the ground. His ears were ringing with that malicious laughter while his hands scrambled in a futile attempt for release from his uncle's fat fist. Harry's eyes were focused on the doghouse. He used it as an anchor, keeping his thoughts as organized and rational as possible, while his body was a mess of convulsing jolts and shudders. The pounding of his heart drowned out all other noises as lightheadedness overwhelmed him, muddling his consciousness and making the world twirl around sickeningly. He couldn't focus properly; his vision started to blur, fading into a gray fog around the edges.
Suddenly, everything clicked: Vernon's incessant ramblings about his inadequacy as a human being, his insisting that Harry leave his belongings in the car, and the seemingly-random appearance of a doghouse in the back garden. Horrified, Harry increased his struggling. Thankfully, this prompted Vernon to ease the pressure on his undoubtedly already-bruised neck. However, it also brought with it the return of the ominous cackling.
After Vernon had stopped his obnoxious guffawing and caught his breath, he leered down at Harry. "I see you've finally figured it out, boy. It's about time, too. I would have started wondering if they taught you anything at all at that rubbish school of yours." Harry couldn't recall a time his uncle had looked so pleased, not since the time he'd had freed the snake at the zoo (thus giving Vernon an excuse to lock him in his cupboard for weeks). "How do you like your new home, boy? Bet you'll feel right at home in there."
This was accentuated by Vernon shoving Harry's head down towards the post. Faster than he thought a man that size could move, Vernon had wrapped the chain around Harry's neck. He could hear a padlock click shut a few inches below his ear, fastening, Harry imagined, the end of the chain to a middle link. It was just tight enough around his throat to be considered uncomfortable.
Harry, never one to stand by and take it, lunged to grab hold of Vernon's shirt with both fists despite being awkwardly bent over, due to the unsatisfactory length of chain. But before he could take advantage of the little leverage he had, he found himself flat on his back. He could feel the blood gushing from his nose and could already feel his left eye beginning to swell. His glasses, from what he glimpsed before Vernon pocketed them, were mangled and cracked. When he tried to sit up, the world spun; his head felt heavy and he felt the need to close his eyes. His face throbbed painfully.
Before he could adequately recover, his uncle had swooped down and dragged him up to eye-level. Even with hazed vision and ringing ears, Harry managed to understand everything Vernon hissed at him.
"Don't you dare touch me, boy! I shouldn't have to be contaminated by the likes of you! In fact, do you know what I'm going to do? Hmmm? I'm going to go burn all that rubbish; don't want that filth in my house. Especially that goddamned bird! I've been waiting years to shut that thing up…do you think I should burn it, too? Or just break its little neck? Don't look so upset. Dogs don't need books anyway," and with that Vernon released Harry, who fell to the ground limply.
The last thing Harry saw before his vision faded to black was his uncle waddling away towards the house.
He awoke to the smell of burning parchment and the sight of a mutilated snowy owl that now only vaguely resembled his old pet. The first day of Harry Potter's summer holiday began with a sob.
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