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. Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley were
Harry's only living relatives. They were Muggles who hated and despised magic
in any form, which meant that Harry was about as welcome in their house as dry
rot. 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 Center for
Incurably Criminal Boys. They knew perfectly well that, as an underage wizard,
Harry wasn't allowed to use magic outside Hogwarts, but they were still apt
to blame him for anything that went wrong about the house. 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.
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...
Harry had been a year old the night that Voldemort—the most powerful Dark
wizard for a century, a wizard who had been gaining power 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 many
full-grown witches and wizards 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.
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 Harry 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. What would they say if Harry
wrote to them and told them about his scar hurting?
At once, Hermione Granger's voice seemed to fill his head, shrill and panicky.
“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...”
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. 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 onto his long crooked nose. Wherever Dumbledore was, though, Harry
was sure that Hedwig would be able to find him; Harry's owl had never yet failed
to deliver 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.
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 red hair and 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? He'd be trying to do you in again, wouldn't
be? 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
Artifacts Office at the Ministry of Magic, but he didn't have any particular
expertise in the matter of curses, as far as Harry knew. 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 sixteenyear-old twin brothers, might think
Harry was losing his nerve. The Weasleys were Harry's favorite family in the
world; 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 inquiries about his scar.
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: an adult wizard whose advice he could ask without feeling stupid,
someone who cared about him, who had had experience with 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.
Harry leapt up from the bed, hurried across the room, and sat down at his
desk; he pulled a piece of parchment toward him, loaded his eagle-feather quill
with ink, wrote Dear Sirius, then paused, wondering how best to phrase his problem,
still marveling 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.
There was a simple reason for Sirius's complete absence from Harry's life
until then—Sirius had been in Azkaban, the terrifying wizard jail guarded by
creatures called dementors, sightless, soul-sucking fiends who had come to search
for Sirius at Hogwarts when he had escaped. 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 only the previous
year, though only Professor Dumbledore had believed their story.
For one glorious hour, Harry had believed that he was leaving the Dursleys
at last, because Sirius had offered him a home once his name had been cleared.
But the chance had been snatched away from him—Wormtail had escaped before they
could take him to the Ministry of Magic, and Sirius had had to flee for his
life. Harry had helped him escape on the back of a hippogriff called Buckbeak,
and since then, Sirius had been on the run. The home Harry might have had if
Wormtail had not escaped had been haunting him all summer. It had been doubly
hard to return to the Dursleys knowing that he had so nearly escaped them forever.
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, 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—for 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 colored 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. Somehow, Harry found it hard to imaging dementors surviving
for long in bright sunlight, perhapse that was why Sirius had gone South. Sirius's
letters, which were now hidden beneath the highly useful loose floorboards under
Harry's bed, sounded chearful, and in both of them he had reminded Harry to
call on him if ever Harry needed to. Well, he needed to right now, all right...
Harry's lamp seemed to grow dimmer as the cold gray 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 reread 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. 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. 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.
I'm okay, mainly because the Dursleys are terrified you might turn up and
turn them all into bats if I ask you to.
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
I'll send this with Hedwig when she gets back; she's off hunting at the moment.
Say hello to Buckbeak for me. Harry
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. He folded
up the parchment 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 he started to get dressed before going down to breakfast.
By the time Harry arrived in the kitchen, the three Dursleys were already
seated around the table. None of them looked up as he entered or sat down. Uncle
Vernon's large red face was hidden behind the morning's Daily Mail, and Aunt
Petunia was cutting a grapefruit into quarters, her lips pursed over her horselike
Dudley looked furious and sulky, and somehow seemed to be taking up even
more space than usual. This was saying something, as he always took up an entire
side of the square table by himself. When Aunt Petunia put a quarter of unsweetened
grapefruit onto Dudley's plate with a tremulous “There you are, Diddy darling,”
Dudley glowered at her. His life had taken a most unpleasant turn since he had
come home for the summer with his end-of-year report.
Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had managed to find excuses for his bad marks
as usual: Aunt Petunia always insisted that Dudley was a very gifted boy whose
teachers didn't understand him, while Uncle Vernon maintained that “he didn't
want some swotty little nancy boy for a son anyway.” They also skated over the
accusations of bullying in the report—”He's a boisterous little boy, but he
wouldn't hurt a fly!” Aunt Petunia had said tearfully.
However, at the bottom of the report there were a few well-chosen comments
from the school nurse that not even Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia could explain
away. No matter how much Aunt Petunia wailed that Dudley was big-boned, and
that his poundage was really puppy fat, and that he was a growing boy who needed
plenty of food, the fact remained that the school outfitters didn't stock knickerbockers
big enough for him anymore. The school nurse had seen what Aunt Petunia's eyes—so
sharp when it came to spotting fingerprints on her gleaming walls, and in observing
the comings and goings of the neighbors—simply refused to see: that far from
needing extra nourishment, Dudley had reached roughly the size and weight of
a young killer whale.
So—after many tantrums, after arguments that shook Harry's bedroom floor,
and many tears from Aunt Petunia—the new regime had begun. The diet sheet that
had been sent by the Smeltings school nurse had been taped to the fridge, which
had been emptied of all Dudley's favorite things—fizzy drinks and cakes, chocolate
bars and burgers and filled instead with fruit and vegetables and the sorts
of things that Uncle Vernon called “rabbit food.” To make Dudley feel better
about it all, Aunt Petunia had insisted that the whole family follow the diet
too. She now passed a grapefruit quarter to Harry. He noticed that it was a
lot smaller than Dudley's. Aunt Petunia seemed to feet that the best way to
keep up Dudley's morale was to make sure that he did, at least, get more to
eat than Harry.
But Aunt Petunia didn't know what was hidden under the loose floorboard upstairs.
She had no idea that Harry was not following the diet at all. The moment he
had got wind of the fact that he was expected to survive the summer on carrot
sticks, Harry had sent Hedwig to his friends with pleas for help, and they had
risen to the occasion magnificently. Hedwig had returned from Hermione's house
with a large box stuffed full of sugar-free snacks. (Hermione's parents were
dentists.) Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper, had obliged with a sack full of
his own homemade rock cakes. (Harry hadn't touched these; he had had too much
experience of Hagrid's cooking.) Mrs. Weasley, however, had sent the family
owl, Errol, with an enormous fruitcake and assorted meat pies. Poor Errol, who
was elderly and feeble, had needed a full five days to recover from the journey.
And then on Harry's birthday (which the Dursleys had completely ignored) he
had received four superb birthday cakes, one each from Ron, Hermione, Hagrid,
and Sirius. Harry still had two of them left, and so, looking forward to a real
breakfast when he got back upstairs, he ate his grapefruit without complaint.