THE SINISTER MAN
BOOK TWO IN "THE PRINCE OF SLYTHERIN CHRONICLES"
HARRY POTTER AND THE SECRET ENEMY
Harry Potter and all associated characters and situations are the property of J.K. Rowling. I make no claim to ownership.
HP&TSE CHAPTER 1: The Lessons of Summer
1 July 1992
Harry Potter stared at the telephone on his work desk with a vague distrust. Although technically "Muggle-raised," his time spent with the Dursleys had left him ill-equipped to deal with many aspects of Muggle existence. In this instance, while he (unlike most Purebloods) knew what a telephone was, he had never actually used one in his entire life, and he was now oddly nervous as a result. However, his nervousness was outweighed by his frustration over the fact that not one of his friends had owled him any letters so far, not even to respond to those he'd sent out. It was ... annoying. Finally, the boy took a deep breath and dialed the number in front of him, and after a few rings, a female voice answered.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Granger. My name is Harry Potter, and I'm a school mate of Hermione. By any chance is she available?"
"Harry Potter? You were the young man at the station, weren't you?" For a second, Harry thought the woman's voice seemed to register disapproval. Then, he shook his head. He was just imagining things. "Just a moment," she said. Harry could hear Hermione's mother move away from the phone and then call out to her daughter. Seconds later, there was the sound of running feet and then a squeal that almost made Harry drop the receiver.
"HARRY POTTER! Where have you been?! We've all been worried sick about you!"
Harry was surprised by the unexpected outburst. "You have? And who's 'we'?"
"Neville, Blaise and myself. Oh, and Theo, though I only hear from him second-hand through Blaise. Apparently, he's very paranoid about sending owls to and from Malfoy Manor. Understandable I suppose. But anyway, we've all been sending you owl posts for two weeks now and haven't heard anything from you. Blaise has been threatening to send Gunther to kick in the Dursleys' door and rescue you." She paused. "You didn't actually need rescuing, did you? I'll never hear the end of it if you did and I talked Blaise out of saving you in some dramatic fashion."
Harry laughed. "No, I haven't needed saving. It's just been boring and lonely here. It's rather odd though because I've been sending owls out to you lot as well and never heard back from anyone. Posts to and from my solicitors get through fine, but nothing from any fellow students I've written to. Dumbledore was supposed to have put up some wards here when I was first dropped off. Maybe he included a post owl ward or some such nonsense. Anyway, I'll have Hestia and Artie look into it now that I know that it's an actual thing and not everyone just ignoring me." He laughed at that. "In the meantime, could you owl Blaise and Neville and let them know I'm okay and it's just an issue with owl delivery?"
"Of course," Hermione replied. "Though Neville is out of country at the moment. He and Lady Augusta are in the Amazonian jungle on an expedition to find some rare plant specimens. They won't be back until the 15th, and I doubt an owl could find him before then. Anyway, other than lack of communication, how has your summer been?"
"Not bad. I've finished my homework. I have my own TV for the first time in my life, but there never seems to be anything good on so I don't know that I missed much. I don't have to cook for anyone but myself, although I'm getting a bit tired of cold sandwiches and Ramen noodles cooked in a microwave. On the bright side, I start tutoring tomorrow. I'm a bit excited about that."
"Tutoring? But we can't use our wands during the summer, can we?" Hermione asked.
"Well, as is usually the case, there are loopholes put in place for the benefit of the rich and well-connected that are big enough to drive a lorry through them. There's a license you can apply for from the Ministry that lets you use your wand over the summer for limited times provided you're supervised by an adult who gets Ministry approval. My solicitors got it set up for me. They don't mention it at Hogwarts because it's bloody expensive, and I guess they don't want the less wealthy parents to complain about the inherent unfairness of it all. I wrote you all about it in one of those owl posts that disappeared into the netherworld or whatever."
"How expensive are we talking, Harry? And don't say 'bloody.' It's impolite."
"Ah, I've missed you, Hermione. Anyway, all told, I'm dropping nearly two-thousand Galleons on tutoring this summer. I reckon that's close to £10,000. Not all school-related stuff, though. I'm also learning about politics, etiquette, estate planning and also flying lessons at some point."
"Ten-thousand pounds! Eep! Well, if it's all the same, I think I'll stick to self-study for now. If I can't keep up with you – not to mention all the Purebloods like Malfoy who are probably getting tutoring as well – I'll talk to my parents for next summer. Besides, we've already made plans to go to France for three weeks, so I probably wouldn't have time anyway. So, what's your tutor like?"
"No idea. I haven't actually met her yet. She's a Hufflepuff who graduated near the top of her class. She's got a gap year before she starts at the Auror Academy and wants to make a little spending money. Her name is Tonks."
"Just ... Tonks?"
"Just Tonks. According to Artie, she has a first name but she doesn't like it so she just uses her surname for everything. Not even a 'Miss' in front of it."
"So ... Tonks, then. Like 'Madonna' or 'Cher.'"
"Nope, sorry. No idea who either of them are. Raised in a boot cupboard, remember?"
Hermione sighed. She knew Harry's occasionally shocking black humor masked a lot of pain and bitterness, but phone conferences were not the proper setting to talk to him seriously about it, so she decided not to rise to the bait. "Well from now on, Harry, just leave the television on MTV while you study. You can absorb the entirety of Muggle pop culture through osmosis."
He laughed. "Oh, before I forget. Will you be back in London by the 31st? That's my birthday, and I'd like to do, well, something. I don't want a party, really, but maybe me, you, Neville and Blaise could take in a movie or something."
"I'd love to. I'll forward the invitation to Blaise and Neville." She hesitated. "I should tell you – your parents sent me an invitation to a birthday party for Jim at Potter Manor for the 31st. I haven't responded yet."
"Were you interested in going?"
"Had you not wanted to do something that day, I might have considered it. I mean, he is in my house, so we do need to at least try to get along. And if I can make peace with Draco Malfoy, surely I can do it with Jim Potter. But I'd rather spend the day with you, and I'm sure Neville will feel the same."
Harry was pleased and immediately started counting the days to when he'd see his friends again.
2 July 1992
Late the next afternoon, Harry locked and bolted the main door to his room. Then, he exited out the invisible magic door in his back wall and went down the invisible magic stairs both of which had been installed just weeks before. For about the hundredth time in the last year, he grinned infectiously at the possibilities of magic. Then, he walked around to the front of the house and stopped short, his smile falling away. Petunia was in the front yard wearing a silly-looking broad-brimmed hat and armed with a pair of garden shears that she was using to brutally mutilate an innocent rose bush. For a second, Harry felt a pang of sadness. As much as he'd hated being the Dursleys' slave and whipping boy for so many years, he took justifiable pride in how well he'd maintained Petunia's award-winning flower garden, just as he took pride in how well he'd cooked meals for his three hateful relatives – elaborate, fancy meals which they'd all slurped down without even a single compliment. Briefly, he'd considered the idea of offering to cook meals downstairs on occasion, but only with the understanding that he'd be allowed to eat his fair share and sit at the table like a proper person. No more of this "cook Beef Wellington for the Dursleys while living off burnt toast and tap water" rubbish. He'd mentioned the idea to Hermione on the phone the day before, and she'd rather hotly explained to him about a Muggle concept called Stockholm Syndrome that caused kidnapping victims to feel a desire to please their captors.
Petunia glanced up at him and made a face of undisguised loathing. Then, she went back to Harry's poor roses and attacked them with renewed vigor. With the tiniest amount of regret (for the roses, not their assailant), Harry walked past Petunia to the sidewalk and headed down the street. A few blocks away from 4 Privet Drive, Harry looked around to make sure no one was on the street watching him. Then, he pulled out his wand and held it out in a "thumb's up" gesture, just as Artie had demonstrated. Seconds later, he was startled by the sudden arrival of a bright red triple-decker bus – the Knight Bus. Amused by the bus's appearance and by the nervous introduction of one Stan Shunpike (apparently, it was young Shunpike's first week on the job as bus conductor), Harry announced his destination as the Leaky Cauldron and then settled in for a quick if mildly terrifying ride. Not long after, a somewhat nauseous Harry Potter stepped off the bus and into the Leaky Cauldron, making his way upstairs to Room 13, which was a small but heavily-warded meeting room that Artie Podmore's firm kept permanently rented out for private conferences such as this. Inside, Podmore and two other wizards were waiting for him.
"Good afternoon, Harry," said Artie. "Any problems getting here?"
"None at all, Artie. Thanks." Harry looked expectantly towards the other two men, both of whom seemed to be defined by how incredibly nondescript and average-looking they were.
"Harry, let me introduce... Well, I suppose 'introduce' isn't the right word. Harry, this is Mr. X and this is Mr. Y." Harry crooked an eyebrow. "They are here under glamours and Anonymity Charms to conceal their identities, but both of them have sworn oaths to me that they are the individuals with whom the firm has contracted in this matter as well as secrecy oaths that they will not reveal the mere fact that you're studying Occlumency to anyone else. Likewise, I have sworn an oath not to reveal either of their identities to you or anyone else. While their actions today are not illegal, they are sufficiently ... sketchy in the eyes of the Ministry that neither wishes to use his real identity. I assure you that this is quite common where Occlumency training is concerned."
He gestured towards each man in turn. "Mr. X is a seventh-level adept at both Occlumency and Legilimency. Mr. Y is a fifth-level Occlumens and also a licensed and bonded Obliviator who normally works for the Ministry but is acting today in a freelance capacity. In just a minute, Mr. Y will use the first part of the Memory Lock Charm on Mr. X and then leave the room, along with myself. Mr. X will then spend the next hour examining your mind and your memories with Legilimency in order to determine the strength of your Occlumency shields, and then he'll provide you with a course of mental exercises designed to improve those shields and to develop other psychic protections. During your session, you will also give Mr. X a password of some kind that will allow him to remember this session in the future. Even if you don't want him to ever remember this session, the nature of the spell requires that a password exist. It doesn't have to be anything complicated, but it should be something that won't come up in casual conversation. At the end of the session, Mr. Y will come back in and use the second part of the Memory Lock spell on Mr. X to complete the memory block."
Harry was rather impressed by the level of secrecy involved in this endeavor. "Memory Lock Charm? I've never heard of that."
Mr. Y explained in a slightly foreign accent. "The original versions of the Memory Charm and the False Memory Charm are both three hundred years old, and they can both be overcome relatively easy through things like Legilimency and Rememberalls. The Ministry banned all further private research into memory-altering charms but later developed improved versions of the original two for official government use. You have to be licensed by the Ministry to learn them, and you have to swear magical oaths limiting your ability to use them and making it nearly impossible for you to teach others who are not licensed. The Memory Lock Charm cannot be broken by any known means except by knowing the password. And pursuant to the oath I swore when I learned it, I cannot use that Charm against any other wizard or witch unless they consent or else pursuant to a judicial decree from the Wizengamot. Otherwise, the spell fails to complete itself. Mr. X here has already consented to Obliviation after this session, but for your benefit, he'll repeat the oath before we start."
Harry blinked. "Does this sort of thing happen often?"
"You'd be surprised," said Mr. X in a silky voice. "In the wizarding world, it's quite common to learn something you shouldn't and then have the memory erased for your own protection or that of others. The Unspeakables are all well-trained in self-Obliviation for that purpose."
Harry shuddered a bit at that. Once again, he was reminded of what a strange world he had entered, one where people sometimes felt the need to give themselves amnesia in order to forget dangerous truths.
Mr. Y nodded at Mr. X who held out his wand and said "I freely consent to the Obliviation of my memories of all events that occur, all statements made, and all memories observed in this room for the next hour. So mote it be." Mr. X's wand glowed softly for a second. Mr. Y then moved behind Mr. X so that neither Harry nor Artie could see his wand movements, and he said an incantation too soft for Harry to hear. A violet light briefly shown from Mr. X's eyes, and Mr. Y nodded to Artie that the spell had taken hold properly.
"Okay, Harry. If you get done early, pull that cord on the wall to ring the bell downstairs. Otherwise, we'll be back in an hour." The two men left, and Mr. X gestured for Harry to sit at the table across from him.
"Before we begin, Mr. Potter, what training have you had? A tutor? Or just books?"
"Um, just books. I've read all of Moste Hidden Arte and the first few chapters of Pathways of the Mind. That one's, um, kind of hard to understand."
"It's also kind of illegal to own, so don't get caught with it. There are no criminal penalties, but the fine is several thousand Galleons and you'll be on a Ministry watch list for the rest of your life."
Harry gulped and nodded at the other man. "What the hell kind of Christmas present did Blaise give me?" he thought to himself.
"Now then, having read Moste Hidden Arte, I assume you understand the basic principle of clearing the mind."
"In the abstract, but none of the examples in the book really seem to get the point across."
"Unsurprising, I suppose. It is a very old and traditional text. Aegis Mentalis explains the principles involved in a more approachable manner if you can find a copy of that, but it too is banned by the Ministry. To greatly oversimplify things, clearing your mind means achieving a state in which you have no conscious thoughts at all so that an intruding Legilimens has nothing to hang onto and use as a frame of reference for further intrusion. A true thoughtless state is extremely difficult to maintain unless you undertake an intensive study of Zen meditation or something similar. But such is not truly necessary to maintain reliable Occlumency shields capable of resisting Legilmency. All that is required is that you be able to sense an intruding mind and then reflexively suppress all thought, thus expelling the intruder. Now, let's try a simple approach. Can you think of any repetitive activity you have engaged in for long periods of time? Neither a pleasant one nor an unpleasant one, but merely one where you are likely to lose track of time?"
Harry thought for a moment and recalled seeing Petunia's pitiful attempts at gardening earlier. "My relatives used to make me do all their gardening all summer long. Weeding is like that. Boring but not unpleasant. A few times I was surprised at how long I'd spent pulling weeds out from among the rose bushes after zoning out."
Mr. X nodded. "Good. Let us start with that. I will attempt to read your memories. You will hopefully recognize my efforts when you start to think about things that are not germane to our present circumstance. Understand that I will, for the time being, be extremely obvious in my efforts. A skilled Legilimens can subtly guide your thoughts so that you will recall the memories he wishes to see without you noticing anything is amiss. Our goal for future sessions is for you to become able to sense intrusions with increasing subtlety. Also, I will be using both wand and incantation today. Be advised that a fifth level adept at Legilimency can work the magic both wandlessly and wordlessly, so you must ever be on your guard whenever someone you do not trust makes eye contact with you."
Harry nodded. Privately, he wondered how long it would take him to become insanely paranoid and whether that was, in fact, the natural state of an Occlumens.
"Now, as soon as you realize that you are thinking of things you do not wish to think about, focus your mind on that sensation of thoughtlessness you feel when deeply immersed in your gardening. I apologize in advance, but in order to most effectively evaluate you, I most focus on the memories that you find most traumatic, most painful, or most private. It is for that reason that I have agreed to Obliviation at the conclusion of this session. Now, LEGILIMENS! "
Harry was startled by Mr. X's tone of voice when he barked out the incantation. For some reason, it reminded him of how Vernon Dursley shouted at him when he'd been six years old and had accidentally spilled bacon grease on Vernon's shirt. The wretched Muggle had been furious. He'd grabbed Harry by the arm and yanked him towards his cupboard so forcefully that there was a loud snap, followed by a scream of agony from the boy. To this day, he could still clearly recall the pain of a broken arm. Vernon and Petunia argued for several minutes about whether it was necessary to take Harry to the Emergency Room or not, with Vernon inclined to just throw him in the cupboard and see how he looked after a few days. Petunia, however ...
Harry inhaled sharply. "Why am I thinking about that?" As he continued to look into Mr. X's eyes, he was astonished and frightened to realize how powerful Legilimency was when he didn't have the option of just avoiding eye contact. He took a slower breath and then focused his mind on the peace and serenity he felt when he was immersed in his gardening. It took him a minute or so to reliably focus on the gardening sensation, during which time he faltered repeatedly as Mr. X caused him to remember painful or unpleasant memories of Petunia shouting at him over his gardening efforts, memories which then led inexorably to even worse memories before Harry realized what was happening and redoubled his efforts to keep Mr. X out. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was actually less than ten minutes, Mr. X waved his wand in front of Harry's face and ended the spell.
"Alright, first the good news. While it took you several minutes to realize that I was actively drawing out the memory of when your uncle broke your arm, on my subsequent attempts, you reacted much more readily. You were able to establish a clear mind relatively quickly and by the end were able to maintain it for a full minute, resisting all my attempts to read you during that time."
"And the bad news?"
"What you just experienced was my absolute lowest level of mental power, and I was deliberately targeting memories that you would normally suppress which only made it easier to resist me. Had I applied my full power, you would not have been able to block me at all, and had I exercised any degree of discretion, you would likely never have even noticed my presence."
"Oh," said Harry somewhat dejectedly.
"Do not give up though, Mr. Potter. I am, after all, a seventh-level adept at Legilimency, and you are not likely to encounter many Legilimens with my skill. I definitely think you have potential as an Occlumens. Unfortunately, save for the rare prodigy, Occlumency is simply something that takes time and effort, usually years of both. To have come as far as you have before reaching the age of twelve is quite an achievement and a testament to your dedication. Now, let us try again. LEGILIMENS!"
With that, the lesson continued for another forty minutes, at the end of which, Mr. X provided Harry with a Headache-Relief Potion. He then went over a number of mental exercises that he wanted Harry to practice several times a day for the next two weeks, after which they would meet again.
"Two final matters, Mr. Potter. First, are you aware of the fact that you have several gaps in your memory? Not Obliviations, as I suspect you still retain access to the memories in question. Rather, they are all very high level memory blocks designed to obscure the memories from Legilimency. All of them seem to start when you enter a particular corridor in your dormitory and which end as you exit it into the Common Room."
Harry stiffened. Mr. X was talking about the Prince's Lair. "Yes, Mr. X. I am aware of those blocks. They're not something you need to worry about."
"I see. Very well. Secondly ... I have a favor to ask." Mr. X suddenly looked down at his hands which were tightly folded on the table. It was the first bit of real emotion the man had shown all afternoon. "From your memories ... I now know that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named survived to some extent the events of 1981 and that he seeks to become fully resurrected."
Harry was quite shocked at Mr. X's words. He hadn't even noticed when those memories were drawn forth. "In a few moments," Mr. X continued, "that knowledge will be taken from me until such time as you use the restoration phrase to restore my memories, if you ever choose to do so. I ask you..." The man suddenly looked up at Harry with an anguished expression. "No, I beg you – if you ever learn that he is close to bodily resurrection, please restore my memories of your encounter with him. I have a family. A wife and two children. With enough warning, I can get them out of the country if ..."
Harry interrupted. "How do I set the restoration phrase?"
"... You say Celaverimus and then whatever word or phrase you wish to use, Mr. Potter. Once set, you can relay it verbally or even in writing, provided you make it clear the message is from you."
"Celaverimus: Voldemort is back."
Mr. X stiffened as the magic settled over him. "Thank you, Mr. Potter."
"Thank you, Mr. X."
Moments later, Artie and Mr. Y reentered and Mr. X rose. "My work here is done. We will meet again in two weeks time." He nodded at Mr. Y who pulled out his wand and cast the second part of the Memory Block Charm. Mr. X looked around in confusion for a few seconds. Then, he pulled out a pocket watch and checked the time. He shook his head. "That will never not be disturbing to me. Until next time, gentlemen."
With that, Mr. X and Mr. Y left. Harry sat back down with a thoughtful look on his face.
"Any problems, Harry?" asked Artie.
"Not with the lesson, Artie." He hesitated. "Are you an Occlumens? One good enough to keep my secrets?"
"I've had Occlumency training. I'm probably close to being a fourth-level adept. But it doesn't matter for your secrets, because I swore the solicitor's oath to you. I can't help you conceal a crime and am duty bound to inform the authorities if you tell me you're planning to commit one. Other than that, anything you tell me is covered by magical client confidentiality and can't be revealed by Legilimency or Veritaserum. So what's on your mind?"
Harry considered whether to reveal to the man that Voldemort lived. Finally, he decided that he was not ready to reveal that, not even to his solicitor. But there were other steps he could take. "How much is a pensieve, Artie? I have some personal memories that I'd like to leave with you. Memories I want locked away unless I tell you to review them or ... unless something happens to me. Can we do that?"
Artie's eyes shot up in surprise. "Of course. And you don't even need to buy a pensieve. The goblins came through with the asset list and you already own one. A good one, complete with a shrinking enchantment so it's easy to transport. I'll get it from the vault and have it for you by next week. You can copy the memories you want then and I'll put them in a safe place."
"Thanks, Artie." Harry looked at his watch. "It's late. I'd better get home."
"You and me both, Harry. Elizabeth always has a fit when I work through dinner. She'd be even worse if she knew 'work' consisted of sitting downstairs having a few pints with Mr. Y while we waited for you to finish your session."
Harry laughed. "So I'm starting wand training with this ... Tonks person on Saturday morning, right? Where are we meeting?" Artie pulled out some parchment and jotted down the address to a building further down Diagon Alley which was home to a local dueling club. There was a large room with magically reinforced walls that could resist damaging spellfire. Harry smiled. "Damaging spellfire" was one of his favorite phrases.
4 July 1992
By three o'clock on Saturday afternoon, Harry had changed his mind and decided that "damaging spellfire" was actually one of his least favorite phrases, a conclusion he reached while lying flat on his back in the dueling room and wondering if any parts of him were still on fire. He'd arrived at that morning at 10:00 as per Artie's arrangements. Tonks seemed very serious at first, mainly because it was her first teaching experience and, like most Hufflepuffs, she was earnest and conscientious to a fault. Accordingly, the first two hours were spent on nothing but healing and shielding spells, with a particular emphasis on Renervate, Episkey and Protego. This was after she presented Harry with an emergency portkey to St. Mungo's that she'd insisted Artie provide "in case anything went really bad."
At noon, Harry treated Tonks to lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, and she began to loosen up a bit. She admitted to being a bit nervous around Harry due to more than her lack of teaching experience. Although she knew Harry was "on the outs" with his family, he was still the eldest son of James Potter, who was a senior auror and would likely be supervising her at some point. She had been a little leery of getting caught up in the "Potter Family Drama," but she also wanted income of her own as she was a Hogwarts graduate and felt uncomfortable still relying on her parents for spending money. Harry assured her that all of his tutoring was kept confidential and that James Potter would never find out from him that she was his tutor. By dessert, she'd even admitted two personal secrets to him. First, she was a Metamorphmagus with the power to change her own appearance at will, a talent she'd manifested since early childhood. She even showed off for Harry by briefly turning her hair bubblegum pink. That was what clinched her position at the Auror Academy. She'd wanted to be an auror anyway, but there was an unofficial government policy that all but required known Metamorphmagi to work for the government in some capacity. The other secret was that she and Harry were distant relatives. Her mother was a private healer named Andromeda Tonks nee Black and Harry's late grandmother Dorea Black was Andromeda's great-aunt. She admitted when asked that she was a cousin to Sirius Black but claimed that she never knew him as she'd only been a small child when he went to prison. She indicated that her mother had been on the outs with the Black family due to marrying a Muggleborn, and she didn't think Andromeda had seen Sirius in years at the time of his arrest.
After lunch, the two finally got down to combat magic, which was what Harry most wanted to learn. She gave him the usual lectures about how he shouldn't be dueling in the Hogwarts corridors, and he reassured her that he merely had a strong interest in dueling competitively and the DADA teachers at Hogwarts were traditionally of poor quality to which she could only agree. He did not mention that the last one had been an agent for a still-living Voldemort.
And so, the two spent the next three hours covering a variety of Second and Third Year combat charms and hexes. Expelliarmus, Diffindo, and Immobilus were obviously useful, but Harry was intrigued by the possibilities of Depulso and Oppugno. The former was the Knockback Jinx, which could fling the target back a good ten to twenty feet with considerable force. The Oppugno Hex was combined with targeting words and would cause the target to attack an enemy of the wizard's choice. For example, Avis could be used to summon a flock of birds, but Avis Oppugno would cause those birds to swarm against an enemy. But best of all, Tonks taught Harry how to perform Serpentsortia, the Snake-Summoning Charm.
"I figured as a Slytherin, this might be a useful Charm to know," she said with a wink.
"Indeed," Harry said mildly while itching to see how the conjured snake reacted to Parseltongue. As with Avis, combining Serpentsortia with Oppugno would cause the conjured serpent to attack Harry's enemy without further direction from him, but he suspected that any snakes he conjured could to a lot more than that.
Their lesson ended at four, at which point Tonks cast the notification spell that informed the Ministry that Harry was once more forbidden to use magic. She also took back the portkey as Harry was not old enough to possess it without Ministry approval (which Hestia was currently trying to get). Then, Tonks headed home while Harry spent some time exploring Diagon Alley. He made a brief foray into Flourish & Botts and ordered some books on dueling and defense training that would be owl-delivered the following week. He also took in an early supper at the Leaky Cauldron before heading home on the Knight Bus, which dropped him off at a petrol station about three blocks from the Dursley residence. Harry was quite pleased with how the day had gone and was looking forward to an hour or so of television followed by an early bedtime. Naturally, that was when things went pear-shaped.
Just as Harry was about to turn off the sidewalk and into the Dursley's driveway, there was a sudden flash of light accompanied by a loud "pop," and the boy was knocked flat on his back. He blinked his eyes for a few seconds and was surprised to realize that there was now a small creature sitting on his stomach, a pitiful goggle-eyed thing with long droopy ears and a filthy tea towel worn as a tunic. Harry recognized the creature as a house elf from the descriptions Blaise and Theo had made of their own family servants. Immediately, the elf began to shriek at him.
"THE POTTER CHILD MUST NOT RETURN TO HOGGYWARTS!"
"What?!" exclaimed Harry in confusion. "What is this? Who are you?"
"NEVER MIND WHO I IS! THE POTTER CHILD MUST NOT RETURN TO HOGGYWARTS! GREAT EVIL IS COMING THERE! WANTS TO KILL POTTER CHILD!"
"Kill?!" Harry suddenly looked around in confusion. "We're on a public street! You can't be seen here! It violates the Statute of Secrecy! And anyway, what is this evil and who wants to kill me? If it's Voldemort, I already know about him and I plan to kill him right back if I get the chance!"
"OOOOO!" wailed the elf piteously. "THE POTTER CHILD MUST NOT SAY THAT NAME!"
"STOP SHOUTING!" yelled Harry.
The elf's mouth snapped shut, and he grabbed his ears and pulled them down into a makeshift gag.
"Look," said Harry, who sat up as the elf jumped down to the sidewalk. "Let's start over. What's your name?" As he spoke, the boy looked around but saw no signs that any Muggles had noticed his confrontation with the elf.
"Oooooo!" wailed the elf more quietly. "Dobby cannot tell the Potter child his name! If it got back to Dobby's masters that Dobby had warned the Potter child of danger, Dobby's head would be mounted on the Wall of Shame!"
Harry considered that mental image for a second. "Well, then, I guess it's a good thing I don't know Dobby's name," he said drily. "Look, can you at least tell me more about this ... evil that wants to kill me?"
"No, no! Dobby can give no details! Dobby will already have to iron his ears for doing this much! Besides, why would Potter child want to go back to cold drafty castle where his friends don't even write him letters!"
Harry focused past the gruesome vision of the poor elf ironing its own ears as a self-inflicted punishment to the second part of that outburst. "You're the reason that my owl posts haven't been getting here!" he accused.
With that, Dobby began to hop up and down in agitation before finally reaching into his tunic and pulling out a stack of letters wrapped up in twine. "Dobby thought if Potter child thought Potter child's friends didn't care enough to write, he might not go back to Hoggywarts? But Potter child talked to his girl-child friend with Mugglesy speaking gourd so that did not work." Dobby looked at Harry with what he no doubt thought was a cunning expression. "If Dobby gives Potter child his letters, will he promise not to go back to Hoggywarts?"
"No, I will do no such thing. And stop calling me 'Potter child.' I'm nearly twelve. Call me Harry."
"Dobby knows this Potter child is called Harry. But Dobby does not know which Potter child is in danger and so must protect both!"
Harry closed his eyes and rubbed his temples for a few seconds. "You know that there is some ... evil coming to Hogwarts that will try to kill one of the Potter children but you don't even know which one? You do know that my brother Jim is the Boy-Who-Lived, right? People have been trying to kill him since he was a baby. I'm sure he's the one you should be bothering now instead of me."
Dobby shrugged earnestly. "Better safe than sorry?"
Harry sighed. "Dobby, listen carefully. I have to go to Hogwarts. If I don't, I can't get educated and become a wizard. If I don't become a wizard, my birth father will cheat me out of my inheritance, and if I'm lucky, I'll end up living in a cardboard box under an overpass."
"Better a cardboard box under overpass than a wooden box under ground, Harry Potter!"
Harry's eyes narrowed. "Not to me, Dobby. I'll die before I let James Potter beat me."
"Ooooo!" Dobby moaned once more. Then, the house elf suddenly froze, the way a small woodland creature animal might freeze upon detecting a nearby a predator. Slowly, Dobby turned his head to the right to stare off into the distance.
"Harry Potter must go into his mean family's house, right now!" Dobby suddenly hissed.
"What? What is it?" Harry asked suddenly concerned.
"Dobby must go! Dobby cannot be found here! Run home, Harry Potter! Run for your life!"
With that, the strange house elf popped away leaving behind the bound letters. Quickly, Harry scrambled to his feet and looked around, but he saw nothing out of the ordinary. He picked up his letters and then carefully made his way onto the grounds of 4 Privet Drive. Just then, he heard an unfamiliar noise from behind him. He looked back and realized it was a faint buzzing, but one growing louder every second. Suddenly, in the dim twilight, he saw a cloud of small winged figures, each no larger than a man's hand, rise up over the house across the street and head in his direction, buzzing angrily as they drew nearer. Harry's heart skipped a beat. Doxies – small venomous faerie-like creatures. One on one, they were a minor pest. The dozens heading his way? That was enough to eat the boy alive.
Knowing that he wouldn't have time to make it around the house to his stairway entrance, Harry ran to the front door as fast as he could, but it was already locked. He turned around and saw that the swarm was nearly upon him.
"There had better be some sort of 'emergency exception' to the Underage Magic prohibitions," Harry thought as his wand popped out of its wrist holster. "ALOHOMORA!" The door unlocked itself, and Harry dashed inside, slamming and locking the door behind him. Inside, the Dursleys were all sitting in front of the TV. The three looked at Harry with a mixture of surprise and disgust. Then, before Harry could explain, Petunia screamed and pointed at the window. Harry looked over and saw that there was a pile of doxies clawing at the glass. He moved over to check the window.
"It's alright. The wards on the house are holding. They can't get inside." Harry exhaled, relieved to feel safe.
"What ARE those?!" shrieked Petunia.
"Doxies. Normally, they're just pests, but someone decided to send a whole swarm of them after me. They're venomous meat-eaters, but they can't get inside."
"You brought these things to our house," Vernon said quietly.
"I didn't bring them anywhere," said Harry irritably, his attention still on the doxies clawing at the window. "Someone sent them after me and they followed me here. We need to send a message to the Ministry. They have people who deal with this sort of..."
"You brought these things to our house," Vernon said even more quietly. Harry froze. Vernon Dursley never did anything quietly. The boy turned towards his uncle just in time to see the big meaty fist a second before it smashed into his face. He dropped to the ground, dazed, his wand falling out of his grasp and rolling under the couch. Then, Vernon picked Harry up by the front of his shirt and shook him violently.
"YOU BROUGHT THESE THINGS TO OUR HOUSE!" he screamed in an absolute fury. Harry shook his head to clear it and glimpsed something in Vernon's eyes that had never been there before in any of his past rages. It was like some sort of fuse had blown in Dursley's mind. Vernon looked towards the window which was still covered in doxies. Then, with a sick grin, he picked up Harry limp body and carried him, past a hysterical Petunia and a terrified Dudley, to the back door. With a free hand, the Muggle jerked the door open. Then, he hurled Harry out into the backyard as far as he could. "SUPPERTIME!" he bellowed as loudly as he could before slamming the door shut and locking it.
Harry scrambled to his feet and then staggered towards the door, nearly falling as he did. He pounded on the back door in terror, begging to be let in. Then, he heard the buzzing and skittering of the doxie swarm as it rolled over the house towards his location. In the distance, he saw an owl heading his way clutching an official-looking letter of some kind in its talons. The poor creature tried unsuccessfully to change direction and escape before a quartet of doxies fell upon it and ripped it apart. The rest of the swarm had a bigger quarry – Harry.
The boy pounded once more on the back door and begged for the Dursleys to let him inside. Through the window, he could see the Dursleys staring at him with what looked like quiet satisfaction. Then, he screamed as the first set of tiny vicious talons dug into his back of his neck.