Categories > Books > Harry Potter > The Darkest Hour

Lessons and Howlers

by Ham 1 Reviews

Sixth Year!PostOOtp Its Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts and he has to make some hard decisions in order to survive. But will these decisions help him or make him weaker? Martial arts, dueling, anima...

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Romance - Characters: Dumbledore, Ginny, Harry, Hermione, Neville, Ron, Voldemort - Warnings: [!] [V] - Published: 2007/04/13 - Updated: 2007/04/13 - 8364 words

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Title: The Darkest Hour (05)

Author name: Ham

Summary: Harry is back in Privet Drive just a few days after the happenings in the Department of Mysteries. He is struggling to cope with his loss and the immense burden placed on him. He suddenly finds it very hard to go on - To find a reason to live. Will his task break his spirit? After all he is just a sixteen year old...

He knows that he must fight. Knows that he has to win at all costs. But he knows that if he even is to have a slim chance of defeating Voldemort he will need to make some hard decisions. Decisions that would hurt him and those close to him.

But will Harry be able to take the hard road back when he finally realizes that his decisions only made him weaker? That they took away his only reason to live. His only reason to fight.


DISCLAIMER: Harry belongs to J.K. Rowling as do all the Canon characters. Sean, Jack and Alan belong to me, me, me. (Wanna trade?)

Sharon you are the best Britpicker one could ask for. I'm glad you are on board.

Tricia... what can I even begin to say about the help you have given me? All I can say is that if you weren't there, there would be no TDH. Thank you.





~~~*~

Chapter 05 - Lessons and Howlers

~~~*~



The fresh, cold morning air felt wonderful against his hot, damp skin. These early morning runs were still hard on him and he wasn't able to run any great distances yet. Half a mile and back was his best so far.

Harry loved this time of the day. Nobody was up and it was just him alone on the road. For just a little while he forgot all his worries and forgot the damned prophecy as his feet pounded on the hard pavement.

He enjoyed the sheer physicalness of running. He would start running slowly as he allowed his body to relax and his muscles to warm up. As his muscles loosened, he would slowly build up his speed, and as he approached the end of his run he would run flat out, pushing his body to the limits. He enjoyed the testing of his limits and setting new ones.

His heart felt as if it would burst out of his chest, his breaths were short and heaving, rivulets of sweat ran down his body. He had never felt so physically alive, except while flying.

He entered the kitchen, wiping the sweat off his hot face and walked over to the fridge. Bending down, he pulled out a carton of orange juice and poured some into a glass.

He took the glass upstairs with him, taking large gulps of the cold liquid along the way. He usually got back before the Dursley's woke up and today was no exception.

As he showered he thought about what Ron, Hermione and Ginny were up to at the moment. Ron, atleast, would still be sleeping. He hated the fact that he wouldn't be seeing them at all this summer. He missed all of them terribly and again cursed himself for not going to Headquarters when Dumbledore offered him the chance. But he knew that he had to train. What he wanted was not important anymore. What was important was what he needed to do to survive.

He got out of the shower and pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt before he headed over to the dining table. He saw that Dobby had set out a huge breakfast for him - scrambled eggs, sausages, toast, kippers and milk.

He had been advised by Roger to drink plenty of milk. He told him that he would get a lot of calcium from it and it would help him grow stronger bones. Harry hadn't been very pleased with the idea as he didn't particularly care for milk. He drank it nonetheless.

Harry was really thankful for Dobby's presence. He took care of Harry's meals, laundry, and kept his room neat and tidy. But what Harry was most grateful for was that he gave him the feeling that someone who cared for him was nearby at all times.

Dobby would fuss over Harry almost as much as Mrs. Weasley did. He would make sure that he ate right, tempting him with all his favorite foods. Dobby knew that Harry loved Pumpkin juice and he would bring him cool, refreshing goblets of the beverage as he would be studying his books. Harry also always found the tiny creature by him after a particularly horrible nightmare, sponging his forehead with a cool cloth until he fell back asleep.

He had really gotten fond of the tiny, excitable house-elf and knew that he would miss him when he was back at Hogwarts.

Harry usually spent the time after breakfast reading the spell book that Dumbledore had given him. He knew that he had lessons with Dumbledore today after his Aikido training and he wanted to show him that he had been working hard.

He settled down in an armchair and began to read. He always had his wand in his hand when he read the spell book so that he could practice the wand movements of whichever spell he was reading at the time.

Currently he was immersed in reading about a few spells that were meant to be used in duels where you were faced with multiple opponents. There was a whole section on it which listed area affect spells, disillusionment and illusion charms and a few really nasty spells.

Harry read all of them with great interest. This was something that would be really useful against Death Eaters, since they rarely attacked alone. The problem was that most of the spells were very difficult and needed great power behind them.

Harry knew that he had to master them as soon as possible to have any chance of escaping an attack alive.

He was memorizing the wand movements for a particularly tricky illusion charm when his wristwatch began to beep loudly.

He slowly put the book down and shut off the alarm. Then picking up his gym bag he left for the dojo.

Ten minutes later he entered the changing rooms and saw Sean and Jack getting into their uniforms in a corner. He slowly made his way to them.

"Hi Jack, Hi Sean," Harry said pleasantly, as he put his gym bag down next to theirs.

"Hi Harry," said Sean. "Hey! You look really nice in some clothes that actually fit you. Been shopping yesterday?"

"Um... yeah," Harry said distractedly as he stripped off his shirt.

"I see you aren't wearing your glasses. You get contacts then?" Jack asked.

"No not con... Oh, yeah, I got contacts. Roger advised me to get them," Harry said catching himself. He had almost revealed that he had got his eyes fixed magically. "He said I might break my glasses during practice."

"Brilliant. I told you that you could look nice if you got some decent clothes on. All you need to do now is gain some weight and you'll be ready to make the dating scene," Sean said with a grin, his deep blue eyes alight with mischief.

"Yeah, whatever," Harry muttered.

"Hey listen, Harry, we are hanging at Sean's house today. I'll pick you up about six, all right?" Jack said slapping Harry on the back.

Harry looked hesitant. Would it be right of him to put them in danger? He knew that if he was seen with them they would be potential targets. Should he even dare to think of taking such a risk? After all if they were attacked they wouldn't even be able to defend themselves, since they couldn't do any magic.

"Just be ready, Harry," Sean said impatiently, annoyed at Harry's hesitation. "Now, come on, and get dressed fast. We have to practice throws today."

"Ok, ok, I'm coming. No need to get pushy," Harry said exasperatedly. He was rapidly learning that Sean was not someone who you could argue with.

Harry was getting quite good at rolling and didn't end up getting as sore as usual. His throwing was an entirely different matter and he had poor Sean in all sorts of trouble.

"Damn it, Harry, concentrate," Sean said, getting up shakily from an awkward throw.

"I'm really sorry, Sean," Harry said remorsefully, as he rushed to help him up.

"Don't be sorry," Sean groaned, rubbing his injured elbow gingerly. "Just get it right before you put me in the hospital."

They finished practicing and went to do their wrist exercises, pushups and crunches.

By the end of it Harry was in agony. Sean had made him do thirty pushups and fifty crunches. He was hardly able to stand and his stomach was sore. But he couldn't help feeling pleased with himself. He was improving.

This feeling didn't last long though, as Sean told him firmly that he expected him to be able to do a hundred pushups and two hundred crunches before the end of the month.

Harry stared at him, and in his tiredness an insane thought crossed his mind. Maybe Voldemort sent him here to work me to death!

He shook his head at the absurd thought and slowly headed for the showers.

Harry was thoroughly tired as he reached home, and though he knew he had to cut down on using it he took another rejuvenation potion. He immediately felt loads better.

"Make sure I don't take too many of these will you, Dobby?" Harry said.

"Yes, Harry Potter. Dobby will make sure that Harry Potter does not take any more," Dobby said nodding his head vigorously, his hats looking in danger of falling off as his ears flapped energetically.

Harry saw the time in his watch and he realized that he had another few minutes before the Portkey activated.

He was pulling on a pair of training robes when a madly twittering, fluffy object, the size of a tennis ball, flew in through the open window. Harry recognized it as Pigwidgeon.

"Hi, Pig, what have you got for..." His eyes suddenly went wide as he noticed what the tiny owl was carrying. It was a bright red envelope that Harry recognized only too well.

"Pig, come down here, NOW!!" Harry said urgently, as he made a lunge for the owl and missed.

Pigwidgeon flew hither and thither in his happiness of successfully delivering a letter and led poor Harry a merry chase.

Harry finally managed to catch the tiny owl and took the letter from it. He noticed in horror that it was already smoking.

He frantically looked around trying to find a way of disposing the Howler quickly. Who had sent him the Howler? Obviously it was the Weasleys, but which one? He dismissed Ron and the twins. Mr. Weasley wouldn't send him one and neither would Bill or Charlie. That left - Mrs. Weasley.

Godric's Ghost! He was in a soup now. If the Howler opened up here Aunt Petunia would roast him alive over the spit - very, very slowly.

He suddenly had a brilliant idea, or so he thought. A lot later he realized that a silencing charm would have been the best and most obvious solution.

"Dobby, Dobby, come here quickly," Harry yelled.

Dobby appeared with a loud crack. "Yes, Harry Potter? Does..."

Harry shoved the envelope in his hands. "Take this and go... anywhere... Fast!!!"

But it was too late. The envelope suddenly burst open and nearly deafened the two of them.

HARRY POTTER!!! a female voice screamed.

Harry's eyes went wide. This wasn't Mrs. Weasley! This was - Ginny?!?


OF ALL THE PRATS IN THE WORLD YOU ARE THE BIGGEST. WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN YOU AREN'T COMING OVER?

ALL OF US SHIFTED HERE JUST FOR YOU. HERMIONE DIDN'T GO ON HOLIDAY WITH HER PARENTS SO THAT SHE COULD BE HERE WITH YOU. AND WHAT DO YOU DO? YOU WRITE US A BLOODY LETTER SAYING YOU AREN'T COMING AT ALL. A LETTER, WHICH I MIGHT ADD, DOESN'T EVEN SAY WHY.

NOW ALL OF US ARE STUCK AT HEADQUARTERS FOR THE ENTIRE SUMMER WHILE YOU ARE DOING GOODNESS KNOWS WHAT.

MUM IS CRAZY WITH WORRY ABOUT YOU AND I CONSTANTLY FIND HER CRYING WHEN SHE THINKS NO ONE IS LOOKING. IT DOESN'T HELP THAT NONE OF US HAVE ANY IDEA HOW YOU REALLY ARE AS YOU NEVER BOTHER TO WRITE TO US. ONE LOUSY LETTER! THAT'S ALL YOU SENT US SO FAR. WHAT'S THE MATTER? THE FAMOUS HARRY POTTER TOO BUSY TO WRITE TO US ANYMORE?

YOU HAD BETTER HAVE A BLOODY GOOD REASON FOR NOT COMING, POTTER. I SWEAR IF IT IS SOME STUPID, SILLY REASON I'M GOING TO BAT BOGEY HEX YOU INTO THE NEXT WEEK.

LISTEN UP, POTTER, AND LISTEN GOOD. YOU HAD BETTER SIT THAT ARSE OF YOURS DOWN AND WRITE MUM A NICE LONG LETTER. I HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF YOUR BROODING.



Harry was shell shocked as Ginny's voice faded away. He was sure the entire street had heard that. He was sooo dead!

Ginny Weasley had sent him a Howler. A Howler! Here, to Privet Drive!

Right on cue an outraged screech came from outside his door. "You freak! Entire street heard... Oh, my God! What will they think? You are going to pay for that..."

Aunt Petunia had evidently raced up the steps in record speed and was gasping as she tried to catch her breath and scream at the same time.

Harry suddenly felt the ring on his finger warm up and as he saw his bedroom door open he grabbed his wand and hastily yelled, "Activate, Activate!"

The last thing he saw was the livid face of his Aunt, who was angrily swinging a large frying pan at his head, before he felt the pull behind his navel and was whisked away to Hogwarts.


~~~*~


Harry landed in Dumbledore's office awkwardly and just managed to gain his balance by grabbing onto a chair. He looked up to find Dumbledore regarding him worriedly.

He realized he must look quite the sight. Robes half on... hair disheveled and a stunned look on his face.

"Is something wrong, Harry?" Dumbledore asked finally.

Harry gaped at Dumbledore like a goldfish. He was still trying to get over what had happened in such a short span of time.

"I...they...she sent... erm... no, nothing," Harry said with a weak, watery smile. He might be angry at Ginny but he wasn't going to tell on her to Dumbledore. Though, he planned on writing her a very scathing letter when he got back. If Aunt Petunia left him alive to do so.

He hastily pulled his robes on right and ran a hand through his hair. It didn't help much, but his hair was usually in this state anyway.

Dumbledore smiled at him, his eyes twinkling. Harry wondered whether he had guessed something. You could never tell with Dumbledore. He always seemed to know everything.

"Right, Harry, as you know, your first lesson is Occlumency."

Harry nodded unhappily. 'Great, first the Howler and now Snape! Kill me now, please.' The morning was steadily going down the drain.

"Ok, let's begin," Dumbledore said motioning Harry to a chair.

"Begin?" Harry said blankly. "But where is Snape?"

"Professor Snape, Harry, and he will not be teaching you. You will be learning it from me."

Harry's bad mood immediately vanished. "Really? But I thought... last year you said that Voldemort could use me to get to you. You said it was too risky for you to teach me."

"Yes, Harry, but I have realized that it is a risk that I have to take. You learning Occlumency quickly is of the highest priority and you are obviously finding it difficult to learn from Professor Snape," Dumbledore explained. "You see, now that you know the prophecy your mind must be protected from invasion at all cost. Voldemort will try his best to gain the knowledge."

Harry nodded. "Thank you, Professor. I will try my best to learn quickly."

"All right, Harry, now do you know what Occlumency is?" Dumbledore asked.

"Err... It's the mental defenses you put up to prevent anybody from invading your mind?" Harry said hesitantly.

"Very good, Harry," Dumbledore beamed. "But putting up mental defenses is only part of Occlumency. A master Leglimens will be able to enter your mind without you even realizing it. If you do not realize that your mind is being invaded you cannot possibly put up any defenses."

Harry nodded dazed. Why had Snape never told him all of this? It was true that he hadn't even realized that Voldemort had been in his mind and planting images all of last year.

"Also, you will need to organize your mind." At Harry's blank look Dumbledore explained.

"You see, Harry, think of your mind as a filing cabinet for a moment. If you have everything organized you can easily find what file you want. Also you will be able to fit in many more files than if the files were disorganized. It is similar with your mind. When your mind is organized you think more clearly. For instance supposing I were to use a jelly-legs jinx on you. You would be able to recall the counter curse much more easily if you knew where the memory of the counter curse was stored. In duels where you need to think on your feet, and react instantly to a spell thrown at you, it is vital that you recall all this knowledge almost instantly."

Harry ran his fingers through his hair trying to grasp what Dumbledore was saying. It seemed simple enough but he had a feeling that putting it to practice would be another matter entirely.

"Also, when you get your thoughts organized, you will find it easier to realize an alien thought or presence in your mind, as it will immediately stand out. But getting your thoughts organized is only part of the task. The next part would be separating the thoughts and memories that you want to hide from possible intruders into your mind from everyday, normal thoughts."

Dumbledore paused to take a breath before he continued.

"This next part is where it gets tricky. Many people aren't able to achieve it, but I am certain that you will be able to do so. You see, it is possible to wall off a tiny part of your mind where you can store the thoughts that you really need to keep secret, sort of a wall within a wall. So supposing I were to invade your mind looking for some knowledge that I wanted, you could either block me outright or let me in through the outer walls and feed me false information, leading me to believe that I have found what I have been looking for, and was successful in breaching your mind," Dumbledore went on.

Harry's eyes went wide. It seemed quite difficult. He had thought that all there was to Occlumency was clearing your mind and blocking a person out with mental shields.

"Where do we start, Professor?" Harry finally asked. It seemed a lot to learn in so short a time. He felt that it would be very unlikely for him to achieve all of this in just the summer holidays.

"We will start, Harry, with you learning to recognize when your mind is being invaded," Dumbledore said gently. He could see that Harry was overwhelmed at the amount of work ahead of him if he wanted to master this skill.

Harry nodded and they began. A moment later Dumbledore waved his wand and whispered 'Leglimens.'

The incantation was done more for Harry's benefit as Dumbledore could do it equally well silently and wandlessly.

Harry didn't feel anything. A second later he found that Dumbledore was past his mental shields and had access to all his memories. He immediately withdrew.

Harry realized that he had only felt Dumbledore when he did because he had wanted Harry to feel him. He could just as well have taken the information he wanted and left without him ever realizing it.

"I didn't even feel that, Professor," Harry said in dismay. "How will I be able to block it?"

Dumbledore smiled. "Patience, Harry. Atlantis wasn't built in a day. At first it will be difficult. You must learn to relax and attune all your senses. Also it will be better when you sort your memories and begin to build your mental defenses."

Harry nodded warily. Somehow he didn't share Dumbledore's optimism. Occlumency had been difficult for him from the start. But perhaps with Dumbledore teaching him...

"Ok, now close your eyes."

Harry obediently closed his eyes.

"Now relax, don't listen to my voice, and just concentrate on clearing your mind."

Harry relaxed his mind using the exercise that Roger had taught him. He slowly began to block out all his senses until he could feel his mind clear.

He suddenly felt the faintest of tickling sensations in his head and opened his eyes in a flash.

"I felt it," Harry said excitedly. "It was very faint, and I probably would never have felt it if it wasn't for the meditation, but I definitely felt it."

Dumbledore smiled. "Very good, Harry, you are progressing faster than even I had expected."

The next half an hour was spent in repeating the same exercise and by the end of it the faint sensation of Dumbledore invading his mind was increased slightly so that Harry could sense him a bit better. But it was still very difficult.

Dumbledore was a master Leglimens. Probably one of the best, if not the best in the world. His presence in Harry's mind was unbelievably gentle - like a light caress. It was almost impossible to detect him. He had a feeling that Voldemort would be the same. Snape on the other hand had made it feel like he had been using a tank to ram down Harry's mental defenses.

The more Harry thought of it the more certain he became that Snape had not really taught him properly. He had just given Harry the vaguest idea about Occlumency and used the sessions to try and put him down and abuse his mind. He had relished Harry's discomfort and embarrassment.

"You should be proud of yourself, Harry. You made a lot of progress today," Dumbledore beamed at him. "Now just remember to try and clear your mind and increase your awareness of things around you. It will help you develop your sensing ability."

"I will, Professor," Harry said with a satisfied smile. He had leant more in a single session with Dumbledore than all the lessons he had with Snape the past year. Maybe, just maybe, he could master Occlumency after all.

"Ok, Harry, I believe that your next lesson is Transfiguration with Prof. McGonagall. She will be waiting for you in her office. Run along now, she hates to be kept waiting."

Harry got up quickly. "Thank you, Professor. I'll see you later," Harry said as he exited Dumbledore's office.



~~~*~



Ginny Weasley was sitting on her bed looking morose. Why had she done it? She had actually gone and sent a Howler to Harry without ever thinking of the consequences.

She knew that he wasn't to blame and it must have been something important for him not to come over to spend the summer. She also knew how much he hated his muggle relatives and he wouldn't be having a very good time staying there the entire summer. But she had let her anger at seeing her Mum cry and disappointment at being stuck at Headquarters and not seeing him get the better of her, and now she knew that she was in all kinds of trouble.

She wondered what Harry would have made of the Howler. Would he be angry? She knew that it must have definitely shocked him and suddenly, even though she was sorry she had sent it, she couldn't help giggling while thinking of a shell shocked Harry receiving the Howler.

She sighed. It was just so boring staying here. At the Burrow at least one could go out and take a walk or play a bit of Quidditch or even take a dip in the pond. There was absolutely nothing to do here except worry about Harry.

And they were worried. She, Ron and Hermione had endless discussions about how Harry must be faring. Whether he was still blaming himself... Whether he was eating properly... Were the nightmares bothering him? What was this training that he was doing? Why the hell wasn't he writing more letters to them?

All three of them knew that it was a bad situation. Leaving Harry to brood alone for the entire holiday was suicidal. Goodness knows what frame of mind he would be in when they finally met him.

Last year, when they had left him alone and without news for the few weeks that he was at the Dursleys he had gotten all surly and angry, something that all of them had to bear for the entire year.

But they knew that the hardest hit was always Harry. He might be angry and moody but that was just because he was hurting like hell and he just didn't know how to deal with it. She guessed that if she had his burdens and Voldemort was after her she would be pretty angry and moody too. It didn't help that he was treated like this kid who didn't need to know anything.

She privately thought that Dumbledore and the Order were all barmy. Harry was anything but a kid. And since it was him Voldemort was after the least they could do was tell him what the hell was going on.

Was there any one year where his life wasn't in danger? All his years at Hogwarts had been pretty bad. He had been pit against everything from Basilisks and Dragons to Acromantulas and Blast-ended skrewts. And, of course, You-know-who made frequent entrances in the whole picture.

She knew that Sirius' death had been a terrible blow to Harry. It had almost been like losing his parents all over again. It seemed like the fates themselves were against him.

She could probably understand what Harry was going through better than most people. After her first year she had been constantly plagued with nightmares, horrible nightmares. They had gradually gone away but she could still feel the terror that they had inspired in her. She had acutely felt the guilt of being responsible for the many students that had been petrified. She had known that it wasn't really her fault, that she had been used by You-know-who. But the guilt had still been there, eating away at her and nothing could take it away.

The experience had scarred her badly and she had been slow to heal. She still couldn't bring herself to keep a diary. She could only imagine what it must be like for Harry. How did he cope with it? How did he manage to keep from breaking under the pressure?

She felt even worse now for sending the Howler. It had to be the worst possible timing to do something so stupid.

She got up slowly and walked to the tiny desk and pulled a parchment and quill towards her. She had better write to Harry to apologize.

It was going to be a loooong summer!



~~~*~



Harry knocked on the door to McGonagall's office and waited.

"Come in, Potter," McGonagall's voice drifted out.

Harry opened the door and entered. "Good morning, Professor," Harry said smiling at his Head of House. "Are you feeling better yet?"

"Good morning, Potter, and yes, I'm perfectly fine now."

Harry nodded. "I want to thank you for taking the time to teach me during the summer, Professor. I really appreciate it and I will try my best for you."

"I will expect no less from you, Potter," Prof McGonagall said giving him a rare smile.

"Take a seat, Potter. We have a lot to accomplish this summer and you will need to really apply yourself to learn. You aren't very adept in Transfiguration as yet, and you will need to change that. We will be attempting Conjuration and Animagus transformations later on in the summer and both of them are very difficult and you will need to be NEWT level in proficiency before we can even attempt to try them."

Harry nodded. "I will apply myself," he said firmly.

"Very well, Harry, let's start then."

They spent the rest of the lesson reviewing all they had learnt during the previous five years. Then McGonagall conjured him a large rock and asked him to transfigure it into a dog. Harry didn't have any luck at first and was only able to make it grow a tail and a little fur.

He grew frustrated at his inability to transfigure it.

'Think, Potter, think. You must be doing something wrong. You can do this... just concentrate.'

He closed his eyes and reviewed all that McGonagall had taught him. It was a particularly difficult task as he had to transfigure an inanimate object into a living creature. Also a dog was a fairly large creature, and it would take more concentration and power than say a toad or a mouse.

Harry looked at the rock and slowly blocked out all his other senses leaving him immune to distractions. He looked at the rock, visualizing a dog in its place. The details slowly fell into place as he concentrated. When he was sure he had got everything covered he waved his wand and said the incantation.

A second later he found a black Labrador looking up at him, its pink tongue hanging out of its mouth.

Harry grinned. He had done it!

"That was excellent, Potter. It is obvious that you can do better when you put your mind to it," McGonagall said, vanishing the dog with a flick of her wrist. "I think we can conclude our lesson for today with that. I expect you to practice and read your textbooks before your next lesson. Also I want a three foot long essay on the theory of Transfigurating objects into live creatures to be handed in to me before our next lesson."

Harry groaned inwardly. "All right, Professor."

"Ok, now tell me, Potter, are you still serious about becoming an Auror?" McGonagall asked.

Harry nodded. "Yes, but I don't know if I will make it into Potions."

McGonagall looked at him thoughtfully. "I had promised to help you become an Auror, Potter. And I shall do so. I will talk to Professor Snape into letting you into Potions and if he refuses I will teach you myself. But that is only if you study during the summer. I expect you to be able to make all the potions that you learnt last year perfectly if I am to even consider doing this for you. Is that understood?"

"Yes, Professor, I have brought a few books to study during the summer and I had planned on improving my Potion making skills anyway," Harry offered hesitantly.

"Hmm...very well. I will make a list of what I wish you to accomplish before the end of summer in Potions and give it to you during our next lesson. Now off with you, Professor Flitwick is waiting for you in the Charms classroom."

As Harry left McGonagall's office he suddenly felt that it was going to be a very busy summer.



~~~*~



Charms was much easier for Harry than Occlumency and Transfiguration as he was pretty decent in the subject. After half an hour, where they spent reviewing all that Harry had learnt over the years in Charms, Flitwick taught Harry a few of the hexes and curses that he had read about in the book Dumbledore had sent him.

These needed a lot of concentration and power behind them and Harry had to push himself to cast many of them. But bar a few really difficult ones he managed to cast most of them successfully. Flitwick was most pleased with him.

By the end of the lesson Harry was very satisfied with the progress he had made during the day.

As he got ready to take the Portkey back to Privet drive he started feeling anxious as to what sort of reception he would get from Aunt Petunia. It wasn't something he was looking forward to, and just thinking of the scene she was going to make and all the screaming and insults he would have to endure from her gave him a headache.

Sure enough he had hardly landed back in his bedroom when he heard a loud squeal.

"Mum, Dad, he's back. The freak's back!"

There were loud footsteps of two people thundering up the steps.

Harry sighed as he saw his Uncle Vernon come galumphing into the room, mustache all quivering and face purple with anger. He was followed by his Aunt Petunia whose mouth was pursed in anger, her eyes flashing angrily.

"BOY, I told you I don't want any of your freakish behavior in this house. What have you done to this room? And what was that creature in the room? I WILL NOT HAVE SUCH FREAKISH CREATURES IN MY HOUSE," Uncle Vernon roared.

"You hooligan! Do you know that the entire street was talking about the screaming in your room today? They were all looking at us and... and whispering," Aunt Petunia snarled.

Dudley was standing behind his parents, a pleased grin on his fat face at seeing get Harry yelled at.

"You will pay for this boy. I'm going to lock you in that cupboard for the rest of the summer. Or until your freakish friends come to get you," Uncle Vernon said moving forward menacingly.

He was halted by Harry's wand pointing straight between his eyes.

Uncle Vernon stopped a moment, his eyes widening and fear showing in his mean little eyes.

"You can't fool me boy, I know you aren't allowed to do that stuff in here," Uncle Vernon said with a nasty grin as he advanced forward. "And just for that you are going to go without any food for a week."

Harry sighed. He didn't want to do this, but it couldn't be helped.

"Petrificus Totalus."

The spell hit Uncle Vernon and his hands and feet snapped together and he toppled over, a look of shock on his face.

"Listen, and listen well, because I am not going to repeat this," Harry snarled. "As you can see, I can do magic."

At the word 'magic' both Aunt Petunia and Dudley flinched. Both were already shocked at him petrifying Uncle Vernon.

"Now, I did not do this to the room, my Headmaster, Prof. Dumbledore did it. The 'creature', as you call him, is a house elf and he is here on Prof. Dumbledore's orders and so he will stay."

He looked at his Aunt for a second and went on. "You, Aunt Petunia, know very well that the Howler which arrived today could not have been stopped by me. I will make sure it doesn't happen again, though. But if you think that you are going to keep me locked in a cupboard because of it you can think again."

Petunia Dursley shook her head in anger as if denying that she knew any such thing.

"Oh, get off it," Harry snarled. "Just because you choose to ignore things doesn't mean that they don't exist. I suspect you know more than you let on about the magical world."

Aunt Petunia looked at him like he had uttered a swear word at his saying 'magical world.'

Harry gritted his teeth. "MAGIC, MAGICAL, BROOMSTICK, WITCH, WIZARD, WAND," he roared enjoying the look of horror on Aunt Petunia's face.

"You ungrateful monster!" Aunt Petunia screeched. "We raised you, fed you, clothed you and you dare stand there and attack us and talk to us like that."

"Clothed me? Fed me?" Harry said coldly. "You fed me only enough so that I could survive without dying of hunger. And as for clothes, all my clothes were either those that Dudley grew out of or ones that he would refuse to wear. You made me sleep in a filthy cupboard under the stairs for ten years. For ten years you made me do all the work around the house. So don't you dare tell me you did me any favour. I earned my keep in this house."

He flicked his wand at his prone Uncle and lifted the spell off him.

Uncle Vernon scrambled to his feet and moved back from his wand wielding nephew.

"Don't you ever dare to try and hit me again. Next time I won't just use a petrifying spell," Harry said warningly.

"That's it, boy," Uncle Vernon said furiously. He looked like he was going to explode with anger. "Take your stuff and get out of this house now. Don't ever darken our doorstep again."

Harry looked at his Aunt for her reaction and when she didn't say anything he looked at his Uncle calmly. "Very well, my new friends told me I could stay with them if anything like this ever happened," Harry said casually. "I guess I will have to stay with them for the rest of the summer."

"New friends? What new friends?" Uncle Vernon asked in panic.

"You don't mean to say you're going to stay with those three boys that came to meet you," Aunt Petunia squeaked.

"Why, yes, I had forgotten you had met them," Harry said hiding his grin.

"But... but... they aren't your kind. They're /normal,/like us," Aunt Petunia protested.

"Yes, I do believe they are," Harry said going over to his trunk and making a show of packing. "But they seem reasonable enough and I'm sure they will understand if I tell them the truth."

"Boy, you are not to go to them. Go and stay with those red headed freaks that come to get you every summer," Uncle Vernon said angrily. "We will not have anybody living nearby know about your freakishness."

Harry looked at him coldly, his eyebrow arched. "I was under the impression that you threw me out of the house. What I do now is none of your business."

"Of all the ungrateful..."Petunia Dursley began.

"Save it," Harry said cutting her off. "I don't want to hear any of it. One more insult from any of you and I'll put silencing charms on all of you."

Harry went back to his packing while keeping an ear on the hasty discussion taking place between the Dursleys.

"Listen here, boy, we have changed our mind..." Uncle Vernon said finally. He spoke through gritted teeth and Harry knew that he was making a gigantic effort to keep his temper in check.
"You can stay here provided you change the room back to the way it was and make sure that the creature doesn't come back and /nothing /like today morning's incident ever happens again."

"I'll make sure that this morning's incident is never repeated," Harry said slowly, as if considering his offer. "As for the room and the house-elf, I can't make it go away. As I told you my Headmaster is responsible for both of them and only he can undo it. But I will make sure that Dobby won't be seen by anyone. Also, I will make sure that I stay in my room when I am in the house so that we won't have to tolerate each other. You don't even have to feed me."

Uncle Vernon considered this and finally nodded his head. "And listen up boy, if you ever use that thing of yours in my house, or on any of my family members again, I will take my rifle and shoot you. I have had just about enough of your nonsense."

Harry nodded. "Very well, I'll keep that in mind Uncle Vernon," he said wearily.

After the Dursleys left Harry looked around and softly called. "Dobby, are you here?"

Dobby appeared with a crack. "Dobby is here, Harry Potter," he said looking up at Harry through wide eyes.

"Sorry for leaving you like that in the morning, Dobby," Harry said guiltily. "I guess you heard everything they said?"

"Dobby heard everything. Harry Potter did well to escape this morning. The bad woman looked very angry and would have harmed him."

"I know, but I was worried that she would harm you," Harry said, still feeling bad that he had left Dobby to face his angry Aunt while he had escaped.

"Dobby was in no danger, Harry Potter," Dobby said, as if this was perfectly obvious. "Dobby made himself invisible as soon as Harry Potter left. The bad woman couldn't find Dobby."

Harry grinned. "That's good to hear, Dobby. Now could you get me some Pumpkin juice while I write a write a letter to a friend of mine?"

"Yes, Harry Potter, Dobby will get it right away," Dobby said as he vanished with a crack.

Harry headed over to his desk and pulling a piece of parchment out began to write to Ginny.


Ginny,

I can't tell you how pleased I was to receive your letter this morning. It was just what I needed. But it was a bit understated. It was only heard by the whole street. Next time why don't you send one that is heard all the way to London? Maybe then instead of a frying pan, my Aunt would have come after me with a machine gun. Ah! You really know how to put my Relatives, who love me sooo much, by the way, in a good mood.

I am inferring from your pleasant letter that you seem to think that I am having a roaring great time over here. Yeah, it's all one big party. Why would I ever want to come and visit with you'll at Headquarters when it is obviously so good for me here?

Ok, I'm done being sarcastic. Please don't ever do that again, Ginny. Next time you are angry at me just send me some Bubouter Pus or one of the twin's nastier pranks. I have a very good reason for not coming to visit. The reason I haven't told you guys anything is because I wanted to tell you in person and I didn't want the information to fall in the wrong hands if the owls are being intercepted.

As for your Mother, I have a very good idea that she knows everything, as Dumbledore has had a chat with her about my not coming over. So I thought that there wasn't any need to tell her anything in a letter.

I know I haven't been answering letters but I was just a bit preoccupied. I will try and write more often. And I think at least you would understand, Ginny, that me being famous had nothing to do with me not writing to you all. Is that really what you think of me? That I have let fame get to my head?

I am sorry that you guys are stuck at the Headquarters for the summer. Tell Hermione I'm really sorry about her missing out her holiday. Look, I didn't really plan any of this, OK? It's not like anybody told me what was planned for me. They just tell me that I am due to leave a day before they arrive to pick me up. How am I supposed to plan any of this?

Maybe you can try talking to Dumbledore into letting you all shift back to the Burrow. But please, if it is unsafe, don't go back. It is not worth it to risk your lives just so that you can ease your boredom.

I hope this letter will make you a little bit less angry at me. I am very sorry to cause such problems for you and it was not my intention at all.

Harry.




He tied the letter to Hedwig's leg and sighed in frustration as he watched her take off. What a mess.



~~~*~



Jack arrived promptly at six and Harry went down to meet him. The Dursleys shot him nasty looks and it looked for a second like Uncle Vernon was about to prevent him from going out.

"Wow!" Jack exclaimed when Harry followed him to the car. "If looks could kill we both would be dead by now. Were they giving you a hard time again?"

"It's the usual," Harry said waving it away. "What would worry me is if they weren't behaving like this."

Jack grimaced. "Damn! It makes me have a whole new appreciation of my family."

Harry shook his head sadly. "Yeah, sometimes I think I would sell my soul itself, to just have a few months with my parents. To be able to live like a normal person."

Jack slapped him on his back. "Cheer up, mate. It won't last forever, you know. Soon you'll be able to leave here and one day you'll have your own family who will care for you."

"I would like to believe that, Jack. It is the only thought that keeps me sane," Harry replied quietly.

They soon reached Sean's house which was only a few streets away.

Sean met them at the door and led both of them up to his room where Alan was already sitting.

Sean's room was a typical boy's room. Clothes and comics and magazines were strewn all around messily. There was a large stereo system blaring in a corner and a video game was plugged into a small television. There was a sleek computer in a corner of the room and currently Alan was currently browsing some web sites on the net on it.

"Hi Harry," Alan said over his shoulder before he went back to his browsing.

"Um... Hello," Harry said bemusedly as he took in his surroundings.

"It's a bit messy right now," Sean said with a grin.

"Right now?" Alan snorted. "It always looks like that."

Harry grinned. "It's brilliant."

"Hey, Harry, what would you like to drink?" Sean asked ignoring Alan.

"Nothing, you don't need to go to any trouble..."

"Oh put a lid on it, Harry. You're too formal. It's no trouble at all," Sean said impatiently.

"Well, all right," Harry said. "Anything would do, I guess."

Sean nodded and disappeared downstairs to get his drink.

"Have a seat, Harry," Jack said sitting down by Sean's bed and flipping on the television.

Harry walked over and sat down by him and watched Jack flip through the channels.

"Arghhh! Nothing's on," Jack exclaimed switching off the TV. "Do you want to watch something, Harry?"

Harry shook his head. "No, not really."

"Maybe we can watch a film later on. Sean has a good selection," Alan said as he switched off the computer.

"Yeah, that's a good idea. Do you have any particular favorites, Harry?" Jack asked lazily.

"Erm... not really... the thing is... I haven't ever actually seen any film. My Aunt and Uncle always thought that they might put weird ideas in my head. But I'm sure anything you pick will be fine," Harry finished awkwardly.

Jack and Alan stared at him.

"Well, what do you like to do in your free time then?" Alan asked finally.

Harry considered it for a second. He couldn't tell them about Quidditch or Exploding Snap or even Gobstones. "Well, I like to play chess," he offered.

"Really?" Alan said excitedly. "That's great. I love playing chess too, but I can never find anyone to play with. These two gits don't like to play."

Harry smiled. "Well, I'll play with you if you want. But I'm not too good at it."

They were interrupted by Sean coming in with a glass of coke which he handed to Harry.

"So, what's the plan, guys?" he asked as he threw himself on his bed.

"Hmm... we thought of seeing a movie," Jack said.

"All right, which one?" Sean asked.

"Dunno, just pick one," Jack replied with a yawn.

"Hey, Pat is coming back tomorrow, isn't she?" Alan suddenly asked.

"Yeah, she'll meet us in Jack's house. Should be good fun," Sean replied.

They spent the rest of the evening watching Fists of Fury and had a great time seeing Bruce Lee in action.

"Maaaan... This guy is something else. Look at the way he moves," Jack said admiringly as the central character beat up a whole bunch of bad guys all by himself.

"Yeah, he almost reminds me of a cat. His moves just flow from him," Sean said in awe.

Harry watched the film with great interest. It wasn't a very good story but it was fun watching a mindless action flick with three other male friends. It gave him a great sense of pleasure to pretend for a few hours that he was just another sixteen year old having fun with his friends. Jack, Sean and Alan treated him very casually. To them he wasn't Harry Potter, the Boy-who-lived, defeater of Dark Lords and slayer of Basilisks. He was just plain Harry, an average teenager.

They couldn't ever replace Ron, Hermione and Ginny, or even Neville and Luna. But they gave him something that his other friends could not.

They gave him normalcy.

It wasn't that Ron and Hermione did not treat him like a normal person, or that they were his friends because of his fame or what he had done.

It was just that they had gone through so much with him and they knew him so well that they could read him like an open book. They would be constantly trying to cheer him up or try to get him to talk. And he didn't want that. He just wanted to be left alone to try and sort it out himself. He just wanted to be distracted for sometime and be able to pretend that everything was fine.

Yes, he was glad to have met Sean, Jack and Alan. They gave him a bit of distraction that he desperately craved.



~~~*~
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