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Old July 17th, 2007, 06:12 PM
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2000 words of chapter one

Chapter One



Secrets Unraveled



Harry slowly raised his head and stared morosely at the familiar visage
of number four, Privet Drive. What had already been a horrible day was
rapidly getting worse. Not only did he have to appear unannounced on
the Dursleys’ doorstep (something he knew they’d have no problem
expressing their displeasure over), but he’d also have to tell them
that two other freaks would be joining him this afternoon. The corner
of Harry’s mouth twitched humorlessly as he envisioned how they’d take
the news.



He’d left Ron and Hermione at King’s Cross station a little over an
hour ago. They were each going to make quick stops at their respective
homes before Apparating to Privet Drive. Harry smiled fondly,
remembering their show of solidarity. He hadn’t been expecting it; he’d
thought he’d be going on alone. Although he was desperately worried
about them and the remainder of their quest, he had to admit that the
thought of some support while facing his relatives was quite nice
indeed.




Harry had thought it would be better – or at least less embarrassing –
if he arrived at Privet Drive first and prepared his relatives for
their arrival. He’d wanted to get away from the Hogwarts Express and
the other students as quickly as possible…before he ran into Ginny.



Ginny.



Harry quickly shook his head – he couldn’t afford to think about Ginny.
He still didn’t think his resolve was strong enough to hold.



Since he wasn’t yet of age, he’d quickly slipped away without speaking
to any of the crowd at King’s Cross and taken the train to Privet
Drive. The long, hot journey had left him irritable. It didn’t bode
well for the coming reunion. He’d considered just Apparating back from
Hogsmeade to avoid the Hogwarts Express altogether. So what if the
Ministry chucked him out of Hogwarts now? He wasn’t going back, anyway.



Hermione, always the voice of reason, reminded him that there was no
need to give the Ministry an excuse to break his wand, and Harry had to
admit that she had a point.



Rufus Scrimgeour wanted Harry under his control, and Harry wouldn’t put
it past the man to make life difficult in an effort to force Harry to
comply. Harry had no patience for the man or his politicking. Still,
recklessly using underage magic for the sake of mere convenience was a
risk not worth taking.



He hated when Hermione was right.



So, he’d sat in a compartment with Ron and Hermione and tried to ignore
the hole in his heart that Ginny’s absence created. He hadn’t seen her
the entire journey home and wondered which compartment she’d sat on the
train. Neither Ron nor Hermione had asked him where she was, but he’d
caught Hermione staring at him speculatively on several occasions.


Harry had been steadfast in avoiding her gaze. He’d stared out the
window miserably, his thoughts focused on happier days…



Ginny.



Stuffing his hands in the pockets of his jeans and squaring his
shoulders, Harry trudged across the street towards the immaculately
pruned garden of number four, Privet Drive. He’d promised Dumbledore
that he’d return one more time before his birthday, and he intended to
keep that pledge. Harry’s chest tightened as he thought of his
headmaster, but he blinked the moisture from his eyes and continued
forward. This was what Dumbledore had wanted, and this was what he was
going to do.



Still, knowing what he had to do didn’t make doing it any easier. He
wasn’t in the mood to deal with the Dursleys’ nonsense. He had no
patience for their petty bigotry…he had bigger challenges to face. The
days when Vernon Dursley’s purple face could make him cower were long
past. He wondered what he could expect when they opened the door to
find him standing there after his eventful departure last summer.



All in all, he supposed it could be worse. He’d rather face the
Dursleys’ ire than Molly Weasley’s fury when Ron informed her of his
plans to ditch the Burrow this summer and head straight into the war
that she’d been so adamantly attempting to shield him from.



Oh, no, Harry mused, he got off far easier in only having to face the
Dursleys.



He wondered if Ron would have dropped his little bombshell while still
at King’s Cross, or if he would have waited until arriving at the
Burrow. Harry could picture Ron in the kitchen trying to reason with
his mum, and Ginny would be there…



Ginny.



Harry’s heart constricted at the mere thought of her, and he pressed
his eyelids together as if to squeeze her from his thoughts. Everything
had seemed so simple and straightforward in his mind when he’d made his
decision. He couldn’t put Ginny in danger. He’d never survive if he
lost her, too.



But he had something he had to do, and he couldn’t afford any
distractions while he was searching for the Horcruxes. Breaking it off
had been the right thing to do. There was no reason that she should
have to put her life on hold just because he did. It could take years
to find them all.



At the time, it had seemed the perfectly logical thing to do. But now,
away from Hogwarts and facing the unknown…now, nothing was clear. He
didn’t know how he’d be able to function with this pain tearing such a
hole in his heart. He felt as if he were bleeding continually from an
invisible wound.



One thing he did know for certain: she could distract him with a simple
smile, and he couldn’t afford to be distracted. He had too much that he
had to do.




As for what did come next…that’s where Harry faltered. He knew what it
was he had to do, he just wasn’t certain about how to do it. How could
he find the remaining four Horcruxes? Where did he start? And how did
he keep himself – or worse, Ron and Hermione – from suffering the same
fate Dumbledore did when he’d located the last two Horcruxes? Or what
he’d thought was a Horcrux, anyway…



R.A.B. How was he to find R.A.B.? Where did he begin?



The locket, the cup, the snake, and something of Gryffindor or
Ravenclaw…



It seemed hopeless and overwhelming as a whole, so he’d have to start
in pieces and work from there. He fingered the cold, hard metal of the
fake Horcrux that he still kept in his pocket. Harry had found himself
using it as some sort of talisman, holding onto it whenever the stress
started to build. There had to be a way, and he was going to find it.



The first step would be Godric’s Hollow. He wasn’t certain what he
expected to find there, it just seemed important that he go.



Scratch that. The first step would be getting through his last
confinement with the Dursleys, and the sooner he started enduring that,
the sooner he could move forward.



While he’d been lost in thought, Harry’s feet had carried him to the
front door. Taking a deep breath, he tapped the knocker three times.



Here we go.



It took only a few moments before he heard footsteps approaching the
door. It opened slightly, and Aunt Petunia’s horsy face peered through
the crack. He watched as her eyes widened in surprise before the door
swung open wide, and she yanked him inside by the collar of his shirt.



“What are you doing here?” Aunt Petunia demanded, her long neck craning
from side to side to ensure none of the neighbors were out and about
and watching Harry being manhandled by his aunt. “Why are you back here
so soon? Did those freaks at that school of yours finally decide they
didn’t want you either and throw you out? Did you think you could just
show up here unannounced?”



“Hello, Aunt Petunia. It’s nice to see you, too,” Harry said
pleasantly, pulling back from her grip and readjusting his collar. He
spared a quick glance at the parlor, noting that nothing had really
changed, although there were some crumpled sweet wrappers on an end
table, which was unusual for Aunt Petunia.



“Don’t you ‘hello’ me,” his aunt snapped, dragging his attention back
to her aggravated face. “I asked you what you are doing here? Term
still has several weeks remaining.”



Harry shrugged and dropped his gaze to the floor. “We were released
early this year,” he said vaguely, not wanting to discuss Dumbledore’s
death with her quite so soon. He wasn’t ready.




Before she could reply, the kitchen door swung open, and Harry’s cousin
Dudley lumbered into the room. He was even larger than Harry
remembered, and his face looked tired and drawn. His eyes opened wide
with shock upon seeing Harry, and he began gaping like a fish.



“What’s he doing here?” Dudley demanded, pointing a porky finger at
Harry. Harry was pleased to notice the slight tremor in Dudley’s hand.
After years of being the victim of Dudley’s bullying behavior, it was
nice to have the shoe on the other foot, so to speak.



“Hey, Duds,” Harry said, grinning widely. “You’re home from school
early, too. Did they chuck you out?” Harry asked, throwing Aunt
Petunia’s taunt back at his cousin.



Harry was surprised when Dudley ignored Harry completely and turned his
panic-stricken eyes upon his mother. “Thought you’d get him to look me
over, did you? Trying to compare and see if he’s infected me? It’s all
his fault, anyway. You know that. Him and that freak of an old man who
took him the last time – they did this to me. You know they did
something. He threatened you, I heard him.”



“Now, now, Popkin,” Aunt Petunia said soothingly, but Harry couldn’t
help but notice the tremor in her voice. “Don’t get yourself upset. You
know what happens when you get too fussed.”



Dudley’s eyes nearly bulged out of the sockets, and he grasped his
mother’s forearms with enough force to leave red marks. “Mummy! Don’t
let it happen again,” he whimpered.



Aunt Petunia pulled her arm away and began patting Dudley on the back
and cooing softly as she led him into the parlor. Once she sat him on
the couch and calmed him down, she turned back towards Harry. Her eyes
were filled with such intense loathing that Harry found himself taking
a step back involuntarily. What was going on here?



“Sit down and don’t dirty the sofa. I’m going to get Duddy a glass of
lemonade,” she hissed, scurrying from the room. “Don’t upset him.”



Harry looked over at Dudley and furrowed his eyebrows. “What’s got your
knickers in such a twist, Dud?”



“What are you doing here? Did they ask you to come look at me? I won’t
have you or any of your freak friends pawing at me. Don’t think I can’t
get that ruddy thing away from you, and when I do…” Dudley’s face
matched the purple color that Harry usually associated with Uncle
Vernon.



“Take it easy, Dud. You’re going to burst something. Why don’t you tell
me what’s going on here? What is this all about?” Harry asked.



His mind was racing, trying to remember all the details from his last
trip to Privet Drive. It seemed like another lifetime ago. Professor
Dumbledore had been pleasant, even though it was obvious to Harry that
he had been upset by the way that the Dursleys had treated Harry.
Still, he didn’t think that was something the Dursleys would have
picked up. Harry’s comfort and well-being had never been one of their
considerations.




Dudley appeared to be under the impression that Professor Dumbledore
had threatened them, however. How would Dudley’s mind have formed that
idea? Of course, being the bully he was, Dudley probably assumed
everyone was threatening him, since he spent most of his time
threatening others. Still, Harry tried to recall the conversation from
the previous year to work out what had wound up his relatives so much.



Staring at Dudley sitting crouched into himself on the couch brought
Dumbledore’s words back into Harry’s mind. He had said something about
leaving a note for the Dursleys when he’d dropped Harry on their
doorstep all those years ago.



“You did not do as I asked. You have never treated Harry as a son. He
has known nothing but neglect and often cruelty at your hands. The best
that can be said is that he has at least escaped the appalling damage
you have inflicted upon the unfortunate boy sitting between you.”



Was that what Dudley thought was a threat? How could it be, though?
Another memory arose in Harry’s mind of a Howler sent to Aunt Petunia
after the Dementor attack on Harry and Dudley in the alley before his
fifth year.



“Remember my last.”



The last must have been this same letter. Harry was burning with
curiosity to know exactly what the letter had said. He held little hope
that Aunt Petunia would tell him, however. Why is she so worried about
Dudley being upset, anyway? Not that she ever likes to see her little
popkin upset, Harry thought with a grimace.



Only one thing to do for it, then.



“So what’s this about Professor Dumbledore doing something to you last
time, Duds? Are you sprouting a tail again? I didn’t even see him do
it. Of course, he has no problem with non-verbal spells, so you never
know what he could have been up to,” Harry said casually, forcing down
the painful lump that lodged itself in his throat when speaking as if
Professor Dumbledore were still alive.



Dudley cowered away from Harry and scrambled off the couch faster than
his bulk should have allowed. His hands instinctively searching his
massive behind for, Harry assumed, the return of a pig’s tail. “Stay
away from me! I mean it…you stay away!”



Harry stood up and began walking towards Dudley with a determined
stride. “What’s wrong, Dud? Why are you so skittish all of a sudden?
Lost your nerve, have you? Is this what’s got you acting like such a
little girl?” Harry asked, drawing his wand from his sleeve.



“Put it away,” Dudley screeched, backing into a corner. Harry would
have laughed if it weren’t so pathetic. This was the great git of a
bully who had regularly made Harry’s life a living hell when he was
small?



“I mean it, Potter, put that thing away,” Dudley growled.




“Or what, Dud? What are you going to do?” Harry couldn’t help his
morbid fascination, wondering how far he could push before Dudley would
strike back.



Before Dudley could answer him, however, the vase on the table next to
him started shaking violently. It rattled on the table as it moved
closer to the edge. Harry stared at it in surprise. He really wasn’t
that upset, not about this, anyway. Why was his magic reacting so
strongly?



“Oh, no,” Dudley moaned before the vase flew from the table and went
careening towards Harry’s head.



Harry was so shocked that he never had time to move. The heavy ceramic
vase slammed into the side of his face with enough force to knock him
from his feet. The vase and Harry both landed on the floor with a heavy
thud, the vase shattering in several large chunks.



Alerted by the noise, Aunt Petunia hurried back into the room and
screeched at the destruction. “What have you done?” she spat, stepping
over Harry to retrieve the broken pieces of her vase.



“It happened again, Mummy,” Dudley wailed. “He did it! I know he did.”



Aunt Petunia leapt to her feet and hurried over to Dudley. “There,
there, now, sweetums. Mummy’s here. Everything will be all right. Come
into the kitchen, and I’ll make you a nice snack. I’ll take care of
everything.”



As she ushered Dudley from the room, she turned back towards Harry, who
was still struggling to rise from the floor. “Stay here. I’ll be right
back. I warned you not to upset him,” she hissed, her eyes nearly
glowing with a burning intensity.



Harry groaned as he sat up and put a hand to his throbbing cheekbone.
What is going on here? He pulled himself to his feet unsteadily and
shook his head in an attempt to clear it.



Bad idea.



The entire room swam before his eyes, and he had to grasp the arm of
the couch to remain upright. He tentatively moved his jaw from side to
side, testing how much damage had been done to his face. He didn’t
think anything was broken, but the pain was enough to make him wish for
one of Madam Pomfrey’s potions.



This would be no ordinary stay at Privet Drive.



He’d done accidental magic before, but not in a long time. He didn’t
remember ever hurting himself with it before, either. Something wasn’t
right. He glanced out the window apprehensively, wondering if he’d be
receiving a reprimand from the Ministry.



Great. That’s all I need.




Still, he’d never got them when it had happened when he was younger, so
maybe he’d get by this time, as well. Nothing to do for it; he’d have
to wait and see.



The more pressing matter was what was going on with Dudley. He’d acted
almost as if he’d known what was going to happen. Almost as if…



Aunt Petunia strode back into the room at that moment and sat down
stiffly, glaring at Harry all the while. Harry wasn’t certain what she
expected of him, but followed her lead and sat down at the other end of
the couch, waiting. After a few moments spent in silence, Harry
couldn’t take it anymore.



“What’s happening here, Aunt Petunia?” he asked quietly. “I don’t think
I did that. I think Dudley did. How is that possible?”



“Of course my Dudley didn’t do it. You’re the freak here, not him,” she
snapped, before her face crumpled, and she put her head in her hands.



Harry was thunderstruck and at a loss for what to do. In all the years
that Harry had spent with the Dursleys, she’d never once offered him a
bit of comfort over anything, and he found it strange that he wanted to
comfort her now.



Tentatively, he raised his hand and gradually moved it towards her
before quickly pulling it back again. Twice more he struggled with the
urge to lay his hand on her back in an attempt to calm her. She’d never
taken kindly to his touch before, and he was afraid that anything he
might do would stop her from talking. He wanted answers more than he
wanted to comfort her, so he clenched his fists and fought to remain in
his spot.



Aunt Petunia finally raised her head, and, although her lower lip
trembled, she began to speak. “After you and your headmaster left here
last year, odd things started to happen. These incidents grew more and
more frequent until Dudley was finally asked to leave school. They
suggested he needed counseling. As if we’d ever be able to talk about
any of this. They thought he was acting out and being destructive on
purpose. The nerve of some people.”



Harry’s head was swimming with questions, but he was afraid she’d clam
up if he interrupted, so he just let her continue to ramble.






H




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Last edited by CyberKitten; July 17th, 2007 at 06:15 PM.
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