Jen cleared her throat. “Well, that’s the end of the chapter.”
“I’ll take it.” James said. “I want to know what’s going on.”
Lily cast a worried look at the lightning-bolt mark on Harry’s forehead.
Harry lay flat on his back, breathing hard as though he had been running. He had awoken from a vivid dream with his hands pressed over his face. The old scar on his forehead, which was shaped like a bolt of lightning, was burning beneath his fingers as though someone had just pressed a white-hot wire to his skin.
Mandy gasped. “Isn’t that what happened in first year? But Voldemort isn’t in Privet Drive, is he?”
“No.” Harry answered, but didn’t elaborate.
He sat up, one hand still on his scar, the other reaching out in the darkness for his glasses, which were on the bedside table. He put them on and his bedroom came into clearer focus, lit by a faint, misty orange light that was filtering through the curtains from the street lamp outside the window.
“Harry, it’s too early for you to be awake.” Lily whispered.
Harry smiled. “I can’t sleep after nightmares, Mum.”
Harry ran his fingers over the scar again. It was still painful. He turned on the lamp beside him, scrambled out of bed, crossed the room, opened the wardrobe and peered into the mirror on the inside of the door. A skinny boy of fourteen looked back at him, his bright green eyes puzzled under his untidy black hair. He examined the lightning-bolt scar of his reflection more closely. It looked normal, but it was still stinging.
Harry tried to recall what he had been dreaming about before he had awoken.
“You couldn’t remember?” Jen asked.
“The more I tried, the more I forgot.” Harry explained, rubbing his forehead.
It had seemed so real … there had been two people he knew, and one he didn’t … he concentrated hard, frowning, trying to remember …
The dim picture of a darkened room came to him … there had been a snake on a hearth-rug … a small man called Peter, nicknamed Wormtail … and a cold, high voice … the voice of Lord Voldemort. Harry felt as though an ice cube and slipped down into his stomach at the very thought …
Lily reached out and took Harry’s hand, squeezing softly.
He closed his eyes tightly and tried to remember what Voldemort had looked like, but it was impossible … all Harry knew was at the moment when Voldemort’s chair had swung around, and he, Harry, had seen what was sitting in it, he had felt a spasm of horror, which had awoken him … or had that been the pain in his scar?
“Oh Harry …” Lily whispered.
And who had the old man been? For there had definitely been an old man; Harry had watched him fall to the ground. It was all becoming confused; Harry put his face into his hands, blocking out his bedroom, trying to hold on to the picture of the dimly lit room, but it was like trying to keep water in his cupped hands; the details were now trickling away as fast as he tried to hold on to them … Voldemort and Wormtail had been talking about someone they had killed, though Harry could not remember the name …
“If only I had …” Harry sighed.
“No one would have listened, Harry.” Hermione told him comfortingly. “Maybe Dumbledore, but the search would have continued.”
… and they had been plotting to kill someone else … him …
“Yeah, that didn’t scare me as much as it should have done.” Harry commented.
“Well, it scares me.” Lily retorted.
Harry took his face out of his hands, opened his eyes and stared around his bedroom as though expecting to see something unusual there. As it happened, there were an extraordinary number of unusual things in this room. A large wooden trunk stood open at the foot of his bed, revealing a cauldron, broomstick, black robes and assorted spell-books. Rolls of parchment littered that part of his desk that was not taken up by the large, empty cage in which his snowy owl, Hedwig, usually perched. On the floor beside his bed a book lay open; he had been reading it before he fell asleep the previous night. The pictures in the book were all moving. Men in bright orange robes were zooming in and out of sight on broomsticks, throwing a red ball to each other.
James groaned, looking up from the book. “Tell me you haven’t become a Cannons fan!”
Harry chuckled. “No, I support Puddlemere United, but Ron’s the one who buys me Quidditch stuff.”
“Why Puddlemere?” Lily asked curiously.
Harry grinned. “Oliver’s on the reserve team. Call it Gryffindor loyalty.”
Harry walked over to this book, picked it up and watched one of the wizards score a spectacular goal by putting the ball through a fifty-foot-high hoop.
“Spectacular goal? The Cannons?” Remus sniggered. “Doubtful.”
Then he snapped the book shut. Even Quidditch – in Harry’s opinion, the best sport in the world …
“There’s the Potter genes.” Jen chuckled.
…couldn’t distract him at the moment. He placed Flying with the Cannons on his bedside table, crossed to the window and drew back the curtains to survey the street below.
Privet Drive looked exactly as a respectable suburban street would be expected to look in the early hours of Saturday morning.
“It looks like that all the time.” Harry sighed.
All the curtains were closed. As far as Harry could see through the darkness, there wasn’t a living creature in sight, not even a cat.
And yet … and yet … Harry went restlessly back to his bed and sat down on it, running a finger over his scar again. It wasn’t the pain that bothered him; Harry was no stranger to pain and injury.
Lily tightened her grip at the memory.
He had lost all the bones from his right arm once, and had them painfully regrown in a night. The same arm had been pierced by a venomous foot-long fang not long afterwards.
“That reminds me, Harry,” James said, looking up, “Lockhart? Why would you go to Lockhart?”
Harry blushed lightly. “Wishful thinking.”
Only last year Harry had fallen fifty feet from an airborne broomstick. He was used to bizarre accidents and injuries; they were unavoidable if you attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and had a knack for attracting a lot of trouble.
“I don’t attract trouble!” Harry protested. “Trouble attracts me!”
“That’s even worse.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “At least we both agree on where the trouble seems to gravitate.”
No, the thing that was bothering Harry was that the last time his scar had hurt him, it had been because Voldemort had been close by … but Voldemort couldn’t be here, now … the idea of Voldemort lurking in Privet Drive lurking in Privet Drive was absurd, impossible …
“If the blood wards work, he wouldn’t be able to get there.” David stated.
“And even if they don’t, Dumbledore must have some sort of wards there.” Hermione added. “There’d be aurors all over the place if you were in any danger.”
Harry listened closely to the silence around him. Was he half expecting to hear the creak of a stair, or the swish of a cloak? And then he jumped slightly as he heard his cousin Dudley give a tremendous grunting snore from the next room.
Harry shook himself mentally; he was being stupid; there was no one in the house with him except Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and Dudley, and they were plainly still asleep, their dreams untroubled and painless.
Asleep was the way Harry liked the Dursleys best; it wasn’t as though they were ever any help to him awake.
“You can say that again.” Harry muttered.
Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and Dudley were Harry’s only living relatives. They were Muggles (non-magical people) who hated and despised magic in any form, which meant that Harry was about as welcome in their house as dry rot.
“You’ll like it at Grimmauld Place then, Harry.” Fred said innocently.
“Why?” Harry asked, a wary expression on his face.
“There’s already plenty of dry rot there – the position’s filled.” Fred grinned. “You’ll just have to take the job of scrawny superhero instead.”
Harry laughed. “I’m hardly a superhero, Fred.”
They had explained away Harry’s long absences at Hogwarts over the last three years by telling everyone that he went to St Brutus’s Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys. The only person who knew the truth – and Harry’s only human ally on Privet Drive – was their next door neighbour Jessica, who adored Harry about as much as the Dursleys hated him.
Lily beamed at the book. “I want to meet this woman.”
“She’s the best.” Harry agreed. “She’s … Well, she’s the closest thing I have to a mother.”
Lily’s smile faded slightly and she squeezed his hand.
“She could never replace you though.” Harry added in an undertone. “She never tried.”
His relatives knew perfectly well that, as an underage wizard, Harry wasn’t allowed to use magic outside Hogwarts, but were still apt to blame him for anything that went wrong about the house.
Lily scowled, but said nothing.
Harry had never been able to confide in them, or tell them anything about his life in the wizarding world. The very idea of going to them when they awoke, and telling them about his scar hurting him, and about his worries about Voldemort, was laughable.
“That’s awful, mate.” Neville sympathised. “Gran can be hard to deal with at times, but she’s nowhere near that bad.”
And yet it was because of Voldemort that Harry had come to live with the Dursleys in the first place. If it hadn’t been for Voldemort, Harry would not have had the lightning scar on his forehead. If it hadn’t been for Voldemort, Harry would still have had parents …
“Oh, not again!” Lily sighed.
James’s jaw clenched, and he read as quickly as possible.
Harry had been a year old the night that Voldemort – the most powerful Dark wizard for a century, a wizard who had been steadily for eleven years – arrived at his house and killed his father and mother. Voldemort had then turned his wand on Harry; he had performed the curse that had disposed of so many full-grown wizards and witches in his steady rise to power – and, incredibly, it had not worked. Instead of killing the small boy, the curse had rebounded upon Voldemort. Harry had survived with nothing but a lightning-shaped cut on his forehead, and Voldemort had been reduced to something barely alive. His powers gone, his life almost extinguished, Voldemort had fled; the terror in which the secret community of witches and wizards had lived for so long had lifted, Voldemort’s followers had disbanded, and Harry Potter had become famous.
“Unfortunately.” Harry muttered.
It had been enough of a shock for Harry to discover, on his eleventh birthday, that he was a wizard; it had been even more disconcerting to find out that everyone in the hidden wizarding world knew his name. Harry had arrived at Hogwarts to find that heads turned and whispers followed him wherever he went. But he was used to it now: at the end of this summer, he would be starting his fourth year at Hogwarts; and he was already counting the days until he would be back at the castle again.
But there was still a fortnight to go before he went back to school. He looked hopelessly around his room again, and his eye paused on the birthday cards his two best friends had sent him at the end of July.
“Oh, that reminds me.” Sirius commented. “Happy birthday, Neville.”
“It’s your birthday?” Alice asked. “You never mentioned that.”
Neville blushed. “I turned fifteen yesterday. Oh, happy birthday, Harry. Slipped my mind.”
Harry grinned. “Don’t worry about it. I didn’t know your birthday was the day before mine.”
Sirius chuckled. “Alice and Lily were in the same ward. Of course, Harry was early.”
“I was early?” Harry asked.
Sirius nodded. “You were due mid-August. James and Jen were at work and Lily had gone to Diagon Alley with me and … Peter. We were in the middle of the Alley when her waters broke. Peter was panicking. “Not now! Not now! You’re too early! Quick, close your legs and hold him in!” Lily nearly murdered him.”
Despite the freshness of the wound, no one could help laughing, especially the Marauders, since Sirius’s impersonation had been extremely accurate.
“I got there in time, right?” James asked once everyone had calmed down.
“Yeah, of course.” Sirius assured him. “Well in time. Enough for you to irritate Lily so much that she kicked you out until it was actually time and for you to pace a hole in the corridor until we threatened to kick you out.”
Lily giggled. “He was nervous?”
“Terrified.” Sirius confirmed. “I ended up giving him a shot of firewhiskey-laced tea. Jen told me in no uncertain terms that I’d better have enough to share with the rest of the class. But, yes, I distinctly remember Frank sniggering at us from the next room, and inviting us all in to see Neville while we were waiting.”
Everyone wished Neville a belated happy birthday and James continued reading.
What would they say if he wrote to them and told them about his scar hurting?
At once, Hermione Granger’s voice filled his head, shrill and panicky.
“Excuse me?” Hermione raised an eyebrow.
“I mean that in a nice way.” Harry smiled weakly. “You know, you always look after me and worry about me. That’s what I meant.”
“Whatever.” Hermione huffed, but she was smiling.
“Your scar hurt? Harry, that’s really serious … Write to Professor Dumbledore! And I’ll go and check Common Magical Ailments and Afflictions … Maybe there’s something in there about curse scars …”
Hermione smile turned to laughter. “You know me too well, Harry.”
Yes, that would be Hermione’s advice: go straight to the Headmaster of Hogwarts, and in the meantime, consult a book. Harry stared out of the window at the inky, blue-black sky. He doubted very much whether a book could help him now.
“Honestly so do I.” Hermione frowned. “But you’re the only person to survive a curse like that, so I doubt I’d have suggested Common Magical Ailments and Afflictions. How did you think of that book anyway?”
Harry shrugged. “Read it in second year. Wanted to learn how to mend broken bones – didn’t want another Lockhart disaster.”
“Harry, you can’t mend your own bones.” Hermione told him.
“I know now.” Harry rolled his eyes. “I did read the book.”
As far as he knew, he was the only living person to have survived a curse like Voldemort’s; it was highly unlikely, therefore, that he would find his symptoms listed in Common Magical Ailments and Afflictions. As for informing the Headmaster, Harry had no idea where Dumbledore went during the summer holidays. He amused himself for a moment, picturing Dumbledore, with his long silver beard, full-length wizard’s robes and pointed hat, stretched out on a beach somewhere, rubbing suntan lotion into his long crooked nose.
Sirius laughed. “I love your imagination, Harry.”
Wherever Dumbledore was, though Harry was sure Hedwig would be able to find him …
“Hedwig can find anyone anywhere.” Harry said proudly.
… Harry’s owl – his other ally, this time of the feathered variety – had never yet failed to a letter to anyone, even without an address. But what would he write?
Dear Professor Dumbledore, Sorry to bother you, but my scar hurt this morning. Yours sincerely, Harry Potter.
Jen rolled her eyes. “You have to write to someone, Harry, but I hope you’re a little more detailed than that.”
Harry laughed. Again, he couldn’t help feeling that she reminded him of someone. Not physically – although she did remind him of Sirius (being his sister would do that though) – but there was something else … her sense of humour, the way she held herself … it wasn’t exactly the same, but he knew it was familiar …
Even inside his head the words sounded stupid.
And so he tried to imagine his other best friend Ron Weasley’s reaction, and in a moment, Ron’s long-nosed, freckled face seemed to swim before Harry, wearing a bemused expression.
“Your scar hurt? But … but You-Know-Who can’t be near you now, can he? I mean … you’d know, wouldn’t you?
“Probably.” Harry agreed sarcastically. “He’d be trying to do me in for one.”
“Harry, you do realise that not only are you talking to a book, but you’re talking to your own imagination.” Fred smirked.
Harry flushed. “Shut up.”
He’d be trying to do you in again, wouldn’t he?
“So, Harry, did you remember or do you and Ron just think alike?” Ginny teased, dodging with a laugh as he poked her side.
I dunno, Harry, maybe curse scars always twinge a bit … I’ll ask Dad …”
Mr Weasley was a fully qualified wizard who worked in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office at the Ministry of Magic, but he didn’t have any particular expertise in the matter of curses, as far as Harry knew.
“No, Dad has quite a bit of experience.” Fred told him. “The curses some people put on Muggle stuff – it’s unbelievable. Don’t know how much help he’d be with a curse scar though.”
In any case, Harry didn’t like the idea of the whole Weasley family knowing that he, Harry, was getting jumpy about a few moments’ pain. Mrs Weasley would fuss worse than Hermione, and Fred and George, Ron’s sixteen-year-old twin brothers, might think Harry was losing his nerve.
Fred smacked Harry upside the head. “Don’t be a berk, Harry. If you’d just explain why it’s concerning – you’re our brother, why would we think that?”
The Weasleys were Harry’s favourite family in the world …
Fred and Ginny cheered.
… he was hoping that they might invite him to stay any time now (Ron had mentioned something about the Quidditch World Cup), and he somehow didn’t want his visit punctuated with anxious enquiries about his scar.
This time, it was Ginny who smacked him. “Prat.” She muttered.
Harry kneaded his forehead with his knuckles. What he really wanted (and it felt almost shameful to admit it to himself) was someone like – someone like a parent …
“Harry, you shouldn’t be ashamed of that.” Lily said quietly. “Everyone has the right to a parent.”
“James is seventeen now, he still comes to me for advice.” David agreed.
… an adult wizard whose advice he could ask without feeling stupid, someone who cared about him, who had experience of Dark Magic …
“Should I be insulted that it’s taking you so long?” Sirius asked lightly.
Harry chuckled. “No, I’m not good when I’ve just woken up.”
He could – and probably would – talk to Jessica about the dream at some point. Jess had strange dreams of her own, knew his experiences with Voldemort, and could be counted on to deliver some comfort, without being overly stifling.
“I’ll give you that about Mum.” Fred conceded. “She wouldn’t have let you breathe.”
However, she was a Muggle and had never encountered Dark Magic …
And then the solution came to him. It was so simple, and so obvious, that he couldn’t believe it had taken so long – Sirius.
“Took you long enough.” Sirius muttered good-naturedly.
Harry leapt up from the bed, hurried across the room and sat down at his desk; he pulled a piece of parchment towards him, loaded his eagle-feather quill with ink, wrote Dear Sirius, then paused, wondering how best to phrase his problem, and still marvelling at the fact that he hadn’t thought of Sirius straight away. But then, perhaps it wasn’t so surprising – after all, he had only found out that Sirius was his godfather two months ago.
“He’s got a point.” Addie noted.
There was a simple reason for Sirius’s complete absence from Harry’s life until then …
“Oh, here we go.” Sirius sighed.
… Sirius had been in Azkaban, the terrifying wizard gaol guarded by creatures called Dementors, sightless, soul-sucking fiends who had come to search for Sirius at Hogwarts when he had escaped.
“See, I’m not the only one who can bring down a mood.” Hermione smirked.
Yet Sirius had been innocent – the murders for which he had been convicted had been committed by Wormtail, Voldemort’s supporter, whom nearly everybody now believed dead. Harry, Ron and Hermione knew otherwise, however; they had come face to face with Wormtail the previous year, though only Professor Dumbledore believed their story.
“But did nothing.” Jen scowled.
Nevertheless, Sirius had been of some help to Harry, even if he couldn’t be with him. It was due to Sirius that Harry now had all his school things in his bedroom with him. The Dursleys had never allowed this before; their general wish of keeping Harry as miserable as possible …
Lily frowned, but said nothing, settling for squeezing Harry’s hand.
… coupled with their fear of his powers, had led them to lock his school trunk in the cupboard under the stairs every summer prior to this. But their attitude had changed since they had found out that Harry had a dangerous murderer for a godfather – Harry had conveniently forgotten to tell them that Sirius was innocent.
Harry had received two letters from Sirius since he had been back at Privet Drive. Both had been delivered, not by owls (as was usual with wizards) but by large, brightly coloured tropical birds. Hedwig had not approved of these flashy intruders; she had been most reluctant to allow them to drink from her water tray before flying off again. Harry, on the other hand, had liked them; they put him in mind of palm trees and white sand, and he hoped that wherever Sirius was (Sirius never said, in case the letters were intercepted) he was enjoying himself.
Addie chuckled. “Sneaky.”
“What?” Harry asked, obliviously.
Addie smiled at him. “Your godfather, Harry, is rather gifted in the art of misdirection. Even if he was somewhere tropical, they still use owls. He used those birds to distract you from the fact that he was still on the run. And it worked, didn’t it?”
Sirius rolled his eyes. “Give away all my tricks, why don’t you?”
Somehow, Harry found it hard to imagine Dementors surviving for long in bright sunlight; perhaps that was why Sirius had gone south. Sirius’s letters, which were now hidden beneath the highly useful loose floorboard under Harry’s bed, sounded cheerful, and in both of them he had reminded Harry to call on him if Harry ever needed to. Well, he needed to now, all right …
Hermione nudged him. “About time you actually asked for help.”
Harry’s lamp seemed to grow dimmer as the cold grey light that precedes sunrise slowly crept into the room. Finally, when the sun had risen, when his bedroom walls had turned gold and when sounds of movement could be heard from Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia’s room, Harry cleared his desk of crumpled pieces of parchment, and re-read his finished letter.
Thanks for your last letter, that bird was enormous, it could hardly get through my window.
Things are the same as usual here. Dudley’s diet isn’t going too well.
“Well, it’s about time!” Lily stated. “Wait, she’s not making you follow it as well, is she?” She added, eyeing Harry. “You’re already skinny enough as it is!”
Harry shrugged. “Why do you think I asked for food?”
My aunt found him smuggling doughnuts into his room yesterday. They told him they’d have to cut his pocket money if he keeps doing it, so he got really angry and chucked his PlayStation out of the window.
“PlayStation?” James repeated.
Lily frowned. “No idea. Harry?”
“It’s a computer thing that you hook up to a television and you can play games on it.” Harry explained. “Difficult to explain without one in front of me.
That’s a sort of computer thing you can play games on. Bit stupid really, now he hasn’t even got Mega-Mutilation Part Three to take his mind off things.
“Well, Dudley’s never been intelligent.” Harry sniggered.
Lily looked disapproving. “That sounds like a horrible game for a fourteen-year-old.”
“Yeah, it’s aimed at older teens and adults.” Harry agreed. “But Dudley wailed, so they caved.”
I’m okay, mainly because the Dursleys are terrified you might turn up and turn them into bats if I ask you to.
Sirius sniggered. “Just say the word, Harry.”
A weird thing happened this morning, though. My scar hurt again. Last time that happened it was because Voldemort was at Hogwarts. But I don’t reckon he can be anywhere near me now, can he? Do you know if curse scars sometimes hurt years afterwards?
I’ll send this …
“Hang on.” Jen frowned. “What about the dream?”
Harry blushed and muttered something under his breath.
… with Hedwig when she gets back, she’s off hunting at the moment. Say hello to Buckbeak for me.
“Sweet of you to remember.” Lily smiled.
Yes, thought Harry, that looked all right. There was no point putting in the dream, he didn’t want it to look as though he was too worried.
Sirius sighed. “Harry, things like that are important. Very important.”
Harry nodded. “Sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologise.” Sirius told him quietly. “Just trust me in future, alright?”
He folded the parchment up and laid it aside on his desk, ready for when Hedwig returned. Then he got to his feet, stretched and opened his wardrobe once more. Without glancing at his reflection …
“Nothing like Jamie then.” Alice sniggered.
James rolled his eyes. “Allie, don’t call me that.”
“I’m allowed to call you that, you’re my god-brother.” Alice smirked. “So there.”
… he started to get dressed before going down to breakfast.
“And that’s the end of the chapter.” James finished, marking his place.