Sitting at dinner, chewing celery and watching his cousin Dudley’s obvious attempts to steal food from his father’s plate, Harry Potter wondered whether life with the Dursleys was really worse than ever or whether he was longing with even more strength than last summer to return to Hogwarts again.
Hogwarts, the school for wizards and witches, had become a sanctuary, a place where he was happy, the one place in the world that no Dursley would dare to set foot, the place where his friends were. As a bonus, it was the place where he learned magic, because Harry Potter was a wizard.
His desperation to return to Hogwarts was stronger than ever, now that Lord Voldemort had returned. He had subscribed to the Daily Prophet, a newspaper from the wizarding world. He received regular letters from his friends Ron and Hermione, his godfather Sirius and, occasionally, from several other wizards and witches he knew. But apart from that, he was isolated.
He stared down at the rather limp salad everyone was eating. Dudley was on a diet, which Harry thought had long been needed. The downside of this, however, was that everyone else had to suffer too.
When everyone had finished, Uncle Vernon stood up. “You,” he snapped, pointing at Harry with one thick finger. He hardly ever said Harry’s name nowadays.
Harry had a bad feeling about this. “Ye-es?” he said slowly.
“Can you explain this?” Mr Dursley rumbled, displaying a parchment envelope bearing the Hogwarts crest.
“It’s addressed to me!” he thundered, when Harry couldn’t explain. “One of those flaming owls dropped it on my newspaper! I told you I would not be involved in anything to do with your abnormality!”
“Do you want me to take it, then?” Harry asked, as calmly as possible.
Uncle Vernon went purple. He clearly wanted nothing to do with this letter, but since it was addressed to him, he certainly didn’t want Harry reading it.
Eventually, he ripped the envelope open and scanned the contents. His eyes bulged, and his face went from purple to mottled red-and-violet. He was obviously confused. Finally, he shoved the letter at Harry.
“Care to elaborate?” he said quietly, his small eyes glittering. Harry, with Dudley peering curiously over his shoulder, read the letter. It said,
Dear Mr Dursley,
As you have probably been told by your nephew, or as you may have heard from other sources, the Dark Lord is back to full strength, although this is being denied by many of our public politicians. He has already killed. As a non-wizard, more commonly known as a Muggle, you are no doubt wondering how you can help us. We politely ask that you attend a meeting at Hogwarts School to find out what you can do. Simply find your nearest Portkey, which will deliver you to Hogwarts instantly. I shall look forward to seeing you there.
Harry looked up at his uncle.
“The Dark Lord?” Uncle Vernon asked, his voice dangerously quiet. “People killed?”
“I...” Harry paused. “Well, do you want me to explain?”
“NO!” Uncle Vernon thundered. “You will write back and tell them they have the wrong address! I won’t be involved in this — this — hocus-pocus gibberish!”
Harry jumped to his feet, suddenly furious. “You can’t keep separate from our world forever, you know!” he yelled. “Lord Voldemort kills Muggles as well as wizards, he doesn’t care! If he turned up at the door, he wouldn’t care that you have nothing to do with wizards! He’d kill all of us. You’re involved whether you like it or not!”
“Lord who?” Dudley demanded.
“Lord Voldemort,” Harry replied, slightly more calmly. “He was the one who killed my parents and made you responsible for me, he gave me this scar which makes me different. He tortures Muggles for fun.”
“And when he comes to get you, you’ll hide behind us!” Aunt Petunia shrieked.
“Better kill him now,” Dudley said spitefully. “Save Lord What’s-His-Name a job.”
“You’re missing the point!” Harry snapped. “It’s Voldemort’s fault that you’re stuck with me in the first place. If he hadn’t killed my parents, we’d all be happy. Don’t you want to help get revenge for that? Maybe if Voldemort is defeated, I can prove that my godfather’s innocent and go and live with him, and you’ll never have to see me again. If you go to this meeting...” What was he doing? Inviting the Dursleys to Hogwarts? “At least you’ll find out a way to get back at Voldemort.”
Uncle Vernon considered this. “All right,” he said finally, to Harry’s astonishment. “I’ll come with you to this ruddy meeting, but only because it might make them leave me alone. And when we’re there, you’ll tell them never to contact me again.”
Harry ground his teeth but said nothing. They didn’t understand at all; he had known they wouldn’t. Still, Uncle Vernon was going, and some of it might actually get through to him.
Harry pushed his plate away and went up to his room, closing the door firmly. His window was wide open, because Hedwig was out. Cool air flowed in. The weather was still warm, but there was the slightest chill in the air. Autumn was coming, and with it, the beginning of Harry’s fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
And then, a great grey owl flew in, landed on the desk and gazed haughtily at Harry with small, glowing eyes. There was a letter tied to its leg.
Harry hopped off his bed and hurried over to see what this was about. He’d never seen this particular owl before. He unrolled the letter, hoping it was from Sirius. When he saw the signature at the bottom, he nearly fell off his chair in surprise.
The letter was brief.
After the meeting, please stay behind.
The owl had flown away, so obviously Harry was not expected to reply to the letter. It was a relief. He wouldn’t have had the faintest idea what to write.
He tried to picture Professor Snape taking the time to write to him, and calling him ‘Harry’, instead of ‘Potter’. He couldn’t, although he could easily imagine Professor Dumbledore telling Snape to write the letter, and Snape scowling mutinously. He supposed that that was probably what had happened.
He sighed, tore the letter up so that the Dursleys wouldn’t find it and got ready for bed. He was just about to turn off the light when a fierce dart of pain flashed over his scar. Sucking air in through his teeth, Harry pressed a hand to his forehead; the lightning-bolt scar was warmer than usual, and it felt swollen...
Trying not to panic, Harry flicked off the light and went to his bedroom window to gaze down at Privet Drive, glowing orange under the street lamps. With a thrill of horror, he realised that there was a shadow hulking beside the Dursleys’ neatly trimmed hedge. He stared until his eyes stung, sinking his fingernails into the windowsill. Then his perception seemed to change; the shadow suddenly appeared much smaller, and before he could mould the shape into something recognisable, it had scuttled along the garden path and vanished into a small rose bush.
With his nerves still quivering, Harry stepped slowly away from the window and retrieved his wand from under the pillow. He didn’t want to leave the window open, but he didn’t know when Hedwig would return. The best he could do was hold on to his wand and hope he wouldn’t have to use it. As he climbed slowly into bed, a horrible thought crossed his mind.
Could the smaller, scuttling shadow have been a rat? And if so, could it have been Peter Pettigrew, the unwilling but faithful supporter of Lord Voldemort?
Harry shivered and hoped that Hedwig would return soon. He wanted to write to Sirius.
In the morning, Harry woke to find Hedwig watching him disapprovingly from the dresser. She had a letter attached to her leg.
Jamming his glasses onto his nose, Harry vaulted out of his bed and untied the letter from the leg she offered. Impatient as he was to read it, he poured Hedwig some water and gave her some food before allowing himself to read the letter.
Thanks for your letter. You might as well call me Remus, now I’m not a professor any more. Padfoot had already told me that you did exceptionally well in the Triwizard Tournament, but he didn’t have many details, so it was good to hear about it from you. I can say with utter certainty that your father would have been very proud, not least of your courage afterwards.
I’m pretty sure you’ll be seeing more of me this term. Professor Dumbledore wants me at Hogwarts again, although not as a teacher — wait and see.
Padfoot says, and I agree, that you must inform us of anything suspicious, and if your scar so much as twinges, you must write immediately.
Take care, Harry, and try to endure your holiday — I know the Muggles are insufferable. Hope to see you soon,
Harry eyed Hedwig. She was fast asleep, so he decided not to disturb her until later, but he started on his reply straight away.
I’m really glad you’re going to be at Hogwarts again. Too bad you’re not teaching, we’ve never had such a good Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. I can’t wait to get back to school.
You said to write if anything weird happened, or if my scar hurt. Well, last night, it stung a bit and felt swollen, and when I went to the window, I saw a shadow running away. I might be wrong, it was dark, but I thought it could be a rat. I was a bit worried, but now I think about it, it was quite big for a rat, it might have been a squirrel or something.
Did you see that report in the Prophet, the one about Fudge? He’s denying all the claims that Voldemort’s back and refusing to take precautions — I don’t think he’s taking anyone in, but could you or Padfoot do a bit of spying up your end, seeing what everyone thinks? I’m doing my best over here, but I don’t have much contact with our world. It’d be really helpful.
Will you be at the Muggle meeting? I somehow convinced Uncle Vernon to go, so I might see you there. Snape wants me to stay behind afterwards — any idea what that’s all about?
Anyway, I hope you’re okay, and Padfoot, too. If he’s still there, tell him ‘hi’ from me, and that I’ll probably be going to Ron’s for the last couple of weeks before school, so he could probably come and visit, now they know he’s innocent.
See you soon,
When he had made his bed and got dressed, Harry went downstairs, suddenly aware of how quiet the house was. No sound of Dudley watching television... no sound of Aunt Petunia cooking or cleaning or gossiping... no sound of Uncle Vernon stampeding around or yelling at employees on the telephone... and the car was still in the drive. Although the Dursleys occasionally risked going out and leaving Harry by himself, without telling him, they always took the car.
There was the smallest sound in the kitchen.
Apprehensive now, Harry reached for his wand, which he had taken to carrying around with him — just in case. He had reasoned that expulsion from Hogwarts for casting spells in the holidays was (marginally) better than dying in the same fashion as his parents.
Gripping the rather battered wand tightly, he strode into the kitchen, trying to look brave.
It was empty, and yet...
“Morsmordre parvus!” a voice hissed from behind the stove.
Harry’s eyes went wide as a fist-sized green skull with a snake for a tongue erupted from Aunt Petunia’s gleaming cooker. The Dark Mark, in the place he least expected to see it.
“Who’s there?” Harry yelled, furious and more than a bit frightened. The Dark Mark was the sign of Voldemort or one of his Death Eaters, and it was in his house!
Still clutching his wand, Harry advanced on the cooker.
“Come out or I’ll hex you!” he warned, hoping that he wouldn’t be forced to carry out his threat. The only hexes he knew would be useless against a fully-grown Dark Wizard.
“Expelliarmus!” a woman’s voice said coldly. Harry tried to hold on to his wand, but it flew from his grip.
“Petrificus totalus!” the voice said.
Harry felt his legs snapping together, his arms glueing themselves to his sides. He couldn’t move anything except his eyes, and he had never been so furious in his life.
A woman stepped out calmly from the space beside the cooker and dusted off her dark green robes. She was very pretty, with long, wavy blonde hair and big, blue eyes — blue eyes that Harry recognised.
The woman looked at him and sneered, showing off lots of shiny white teeth, another feature Harry recognised.
“The Muggles have been taken,” she said calmly. “We don’t expect you to rescue them or anything, as you are somewhat... indisposed.” She pushed Harry lightly in the chest and he toppled over. “We won’t kill them. They’ll be returned to you eventually. But you know that you mustn’t attend the meeting, don’t you?”
Harry’s eyes blazed up at her.
“You recognise me, I see,” she remarked icily. “Too bad there’s no one to tell. Stupefy!”
Everything faded to a tiny pinpoint, and then even that was gone.
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