Chapter One

Summer vacation, Harry leaned back against the grass and closed his eyes. Second year, again, his stomach made an audible growl. He pushed the hunger aside. How things change and how some things stay the same.

As Harry had hoped, Dudley's second bedroom had been given to Harry when he had returned to the Dursley household, much to Dudley's displeasure. His cousin was intent to dole out the punishment for this act via Harry's skin – Harry had had a black eye from his cousin's fist by the end of the first week home. Harry should have known better, should have threatened them with magic sooner, but what was done, was done, he supposed.

What was new, however, were the locks on the doors and the cat flap at the bottom of the door. Last time that hadn't happened until after the disastrous dinner party. This time they had been installed before Harry had even gotten to the house.

He might have guessed the continual stream of owls may have had something to do with the Dursley's increased fear. That was another change from the first time – no one was stopping his mail. Instead Aunt Petunia or Uncle Vernon intercepted it and burned the letters in front of Harry, laughing the entire time.

The one time Harry had tried to stop them, Uncle Vernon had exploded – but that might also have been from Harry's unwise decision to try and scare them with made up magic words. Uncle Vernon's cuff to Harry's ear had made him dizzy for hours and a nasty bruise to pop up along his cheekbone. Miserable man, Harry pushed up his glasses to rub at his eyes. Miserable, sodding prat of a man. I cannot wait until I can use my magic without getting hauled in front of the Wizengamot. Merlin, that's all I need. They'd dose me up with truth serum and then everything would be so cocked up I might as well Obliviate myself and save the world the trouble. He made a face and pushed the unpleasant thoughts aside.

So the months had dragged on. The letters for Harry had slowed from a near constant stream to one every week, if that. Harry had recognized a few of the owls – and one letter even came in the regular post – Hermione's. Aunt Petunia almost let Harry have it by accident, but Dudley's piggish hands had ripped the letter away from Aunt Petunia and run to burn it straight away.

Needless to say, Harry was reminded daily of just how miserable his life had once been. And now was, again. The things I do to save the world, he rolled his eyes at his melodramatic thoughts. Next I'll take to draping myself with scarves and acting as batty as Trelawney. Buck up, kid. You've got at least four more years to go.

Harry had finished his chores for the day and was trudging inside when he heard the telephone ring. He was scraping off his shoes on the porch when he heard his aunt's voice change pitch.

"Who is this? How did you get this number? Boy! Boy, come here!"

Harry scrambled into the house. Aunt Petunia had taken up Uncle Vernon's name for him since the start of the holidays – Harry hated it, which, he supposed, was why she kept calling him 'boy'.

Aunt Petunia swiped the phone at him as he got close. "Who have you been giving this number to?"

"I haven't given it to anyone."

"Don't lie, you miserable brat!" Petunia screeched. "A girl – a girl – is on the line asking for you, just how –"

"Hermione?" Harry reached for the phone – and then yelped as his Aunt Petunia smacked his hand with the receiver.

"So you do know her – I bet she's a freak, just like you," Petunia seethed. Harry cradled his throbbing hand to his chest. "You tell her we don't speak to freaks in this house. You tell her that and you tell all your little freak friends that they are not to call or send post to us anymore! I am tired of burning your rubbish!" She thrust the phone at him. "Tell her that right now!"

Harry took the phone with his uninjured hand. "Hello?" He kept his eyes on his seething aunt.

"Harry?" Hermione's voice sounded strange.

"Yeah, it's me."

"Oh, Harry…"

"Look," Harry winced at his aunt's deepening scowl. "It's – you should probably not call again, okay? I – I'm sorry I haven't returned anyone's letters, but tell them I'm okay, and I'll see them all in September."

"Harry – Harry, wait, Theo's here, and we were –"

"Theodore Nott is at your house?" Harry blinked in shock.

"Well, he was in the neighborhood and we were both worried when you didn't return our letters and –"

"Boy," Aunt Petunia snapped.

"Look," Harry cut Hermione off. "I'm sorry, okay? Please just – tell everyone that and that I'm all right –," he broke off with a yelp as Aunt Petunia swatted at him, causing Harry to skitter back and bang into the table.

"Harry? Harry!"

"Hermione, please don't call again," Harry saw Uncle Vernon's large frame enter into the kitchen. "I have to go."


Harry smashed the receiver down as Uncle Vernon thundered along. Vernon's threats were mostly words, but his yelling played havoc on Harry's already taut nerves.

After the disastrous phone call, Harry made sure to be right on time to start dinner. He had taken over the cooking for Aunt Petunia that summer, along with the gardening. He was glad for it, since it meant he could sneak more bits and pieces when his relatives weren't looking. His usual dinner was two pieces of buttered bread – with salt, he always made a face at his aunt's weirdness – and a glass of water. He would have preferred milk – Merlin knew he needed it – but his aunt was stubborn. Harry could drink all he wanted from the garden hose, but inside he got one glass of water at dinner and that was all. He got a bit of cheese and a slice of toast in the mornings. Anything else he had to steal.

I'll be even smaller than I was at this rate, Harry threw himself onto his bed as his aunt locked him in for the night. He had never been tall, but Harry could have sworn he was taller than this the last time around at his age. It had been a constant source of teasing at the Auror division. Harry had learned to deal with the taunts – none of them had half the malice of Dudley's jeers, so they had been easy to ignore – and in the end, a lot of times his smaller frame had been his advantage in the firefights and skirmishes he'd been in.

There's a silver lining in everything, he remembered Molly Weasley saying. He felt his smile die. The Weasleys. Ginny. Merlin, what was he going to do?

Harry rubbed at his eyes and tried to push the worry to the back of his mind. Things were already different, eh? He tried to calm the panic gathering in his gut. Maybe Lucius Malfoy won't slip Ginny the diary this year. Maybe Draco's found out about the plan – or – or

He forced his mind to quiet and tried to sleep. He had a long list of chores to finish the next day and he needed all the rest he could get.