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The Switch

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Harry didn't know exactly what made him consider such madness.

Maybe it wasn't just one thing. Maybe it was combination of fate and circumstances mixed with his poor judgment. Or maybe it was a natural consequence of wheels of time preparing for another turn. It was also possible that he projected all of the above on his simple need to finely do something selfish for himself.

If saving a life can be considered selfish.

He had read once, that solitary confinement was considered a war crime because it had long reaching consequences on both physical and psychological health. He started to believe that they were onto something.

Ever since he came back from Hogwarts, he felt like there was a pressure closing on him from all sides, making his already cluttered room feel even smaller. It was clogging his lungs and clinging to his skin like a stale sweat, resulting in endless twitchiness that got him a stinky eye and smug whisper of "withdrawal" that his Aunt sold to their neighbours. The silence stretched for hours till he couldn't hear over the ringing in his ears. Light streaming through the window remained too bright for his straining eyes and going outside started to become a scary thought.

There was also a question of the constant booming noise that came from his cousin's room on the late evenings, and if it could be put under 'music torture' category. What penetrated the walls was drumming echo accompanied by some agonized screeching and sounds of nails on a blackboard. The blinding headaches that fallowed seems to confirm it.

It was awareness that came after three days of barely moving out of bed outside of doing the chores, woken up by nightmares in those moments when he managed to close his eyes, plagued by insomnia, tired without even doing anything strenuous and with mouth so dry that swallowing hurt like he swallowed nails, that if he does not leave anytime soon…anywhere, really, he will only get worse.

He needed out.

Not just outside, watched over like a dog, and if the people that sat outside his house and under his windows thought they were being discreet, they were delusional.

He needed to walk away from this toxic atmosphere, sickly peach walls and his Uncle's twitching eye. (It was twitching more often recently and that didn't mean anything good in Harry's experience.)

Or thoughts that intruded on his mind will get out and be given life.

It was already bad enough that he was ready to climb walls years ago, but after Cedric…

It barely made him sad anymore. No, now he was angry, furious even and it scared the bejeezus out of him. Being constantly torn between impotent rage hidden quietly under thin veneer of control and crippling apathy, realizing that he hadn't had a moment of simple joy in weeks that wasn't accompanied with crushing desolate feeling in his chest…

He felt as if something was eating him alive.

Maybe that's why one day he sat down at his rickety desk, found one roll-on notebook that was barely filled with some scribbles, broken pencil he sharpened with a pocket knife and on the top of the page he wrote 'Shopping List'.

He needed some food, not a lot and nothing that would be missed, finding that won't be hard since it was not a new practice. Dry toasts would keep better then bread. A handful of cornflakes and few spoons of raisins and cranberry. Nuts. Apples from the garden under #10. Jar of peach jam from the basement. Carrots. Cup from the fast food near Kings Cross for free soda refills.

And then, there were other essentials. A sewing needle and threads, glue gun from garage. Tape, bandage, scissors. Whole bag of starch and four balloons. Fishing line, too.

And, as he was feeling somewhat spiteful, (and maybe a little bit like a man on a mission - James Bond style) he put a cracked pocket mirror with rose wood casing next to the page and then rewrote everything… in a code. A simple one...maybe too simple. He needed some research.

Oh, Hermione would be proud.

The list was steadily growing longer as the afternoon passed, sitting innocently in the nondescript notebook, for now, the only mark of the plan cooking in Harry's head.

@

Harry had more then enough experience with scavenger hunts, having spent most of his life under radar on quiet, socked feet, nicking bread by taking one or two pieces from different places and then pushing the pieces together to seal the gaps. Filling juiceboxes with tap water. Stealing away at night through the window in the basement and coming back with pillowcase full of less then legally acquired goods, hiding most of them in garage behind brand new, never used, bike. Plastic bottles full of water from garden hose that dented slightly his already lumpy mattress. Always prepared for a time he would be sealed away in his cupboard for some imaginary slight, smuggling bits and pieces by hiding in plain sight.

It was endlessly stupid of him to not expect trouble, when he came back from Hogwarts for the first time, hiding only few sweets in the pockets sewed on the inside of his too big trousers. Should have know better, that while he has changed and was growing into his own, Dursley's stayed their own cheerful selves, ready to rip into his jubilant mood.

He wondered briefly how well would his friends survive in this suburban hell.

Two days at most for Ron, who was a spoiled brat, even if he didn't quite realized that yet. He would come back to his home, on foot, if needs be, half starved and kissing his mother's feet.

It always somewhat irked him, the way that his friend took his family for granted. The food on his plate. Warm bed. Harry spend his life fighting for every scrap and doing with less, he knew exactly how it is to be overlooked and always the last. Ron didn't know how lucky bastard he was, but as much as it irritated him, Harry would never wish for him to be depraved of those things.

More credit should be given to Hermione. She would probably last a whole week with increasing complains, before she would start to question the validity of her staying put in place that was hazardous to her health and then informing everyone of her plight. Of course, she would be promptly ignored.

Harry knew how things worked.

He spend fourteen years of his life in rags, munching on shamrock when his stomach was glued to his back. Sucking on icicles, not even entertaining a thought of a warm tea, when winter made him doubt about his continued survival. Glasses probably hurt his sight even more, even when they helped to see anything more then blob shapes. Trainers were always too big, filled with paper and feet with two pairs of thick socks on, taped and colored with markers to cover the stains. Nearly everything he owned was mismatched and unwanted by others, usually too big or broken.

It all screamed child abuse.

Adults were blind. And deaf, too, putting everything into 'kids those days' category. Or maybe Harry was just too good at lying. He would rather not let people know that most of the time he was caught at it, it was because he didn't want them to dug deeper.

It didn't matter now. All that mattered was digging up all old habits and leaving as fast as he can without jeopardizing himself.

That led him to write a letter.

The loopy handwriting was hard to copy, it took just over an hour to even get a hang of a strangely embellished 'j' and sloppy 'h' that had more then passing resemblance to 'n'. Maybe it was futile to try so hard, it's not like people that the final product was meant for would go on their way to check if the message is genuine. You have to both care and have IQ higher then room temperature for that, and Dursley's were not the brightest Lumos in the room. But then, Harry didn't want them to entertain even one thought about possible deception. This was the first plan conceived since he was ten that couldn't be summed up by 'everyone on one, two, three', it needed to work.

In the end, three different copies were made, left with suitably open spaces to fill with dates and hours once he figures out how much time would be needed for all preparations to be done with.

It would be easy to nick Dudley's phone. Maybe not that easy to operate with it, it was some time since he held one and smartphones were so needlessly complicated, but his lump of a cousin had a stupid habit of leaving that thing in the strangest of places, completely uncaring of how expensive it was.

He would also hesitate to inform his father if said phone would suddenly went missing, since they had some sort of a deal (as it was fourth phone in less then two years) that if he looses or break this one, the next would arrive on Christmas. With thirty pound limit. Dudley was suitably cowed by this threat. Far more then the risk of heart attack and aneurysm from his unhealthy eating habits.

Harry's cousin came back from school looking like a beach ball.

It wouldn't be a problem per se, there were plenty of people in the world that would never be called skinny, but were healthy and rocked the boat in sports and modeling and whenever they damn pleased. They lived their lives happily, not even considering cutting themselves in pieces to match some unreachable standard.

And, in Harry's personal experience, eating more hurt less then not eating at all. Which is why he never understood why people would willingly starve themselves.

But problem was, Big D was no longer just big, and school physician stated firmly that if he won't start eat differently, he could say goodbye to boxing, because nobody in their right mind would let him out in the ring with a possibility, that he would be knocked out by his own failing heart.

It was a big downside for Dudley. But it was also a good thing for Harry. For the last two weeks, on Monday and Thursday like a clockwork, the Dursley family left home and headed out for the doctors, dietitians, and some sort of every day rehabilitation program. Which probably translated as gym, because every time they came back, Dudley looked like a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on a pavement.

And Harry, of course, was left alone, locked up in his room like a hairy princess in dreary tower. If the dragon keeping him from his freedom actually had razor sharp teeth, claws and atrocious morning breath, it would have rated only as minor inconvenience. Naturally, getting out was no longer a problem, his lock-picks and a knife from Sirius worked, well, like a charm.

All that meant, that most things he needed could be gathered as soon as tomorrow.

He looked at the letters, list, and the rest of his claustrophobic room and sighed. There was still so much to do. But for that to work he needed to forget how it is to be a wizard Harry Potter and remember the person he was before he choose Gryffindor over Slytherin.

As for the wizards… Harry spend last four years observing them in their natural habitat the same way they paid attention to him.

He found a curious thing, something that even the most hardcore muggle lovers shared with blood purists - a conviction of superiority of magical world over muggle. It was affliction that even few muggleborn students started to share. Harry loved magic and he had very few reasons to feel the same about all the non magical people he knew, but he would be first to point out that different doesn't mean better. Or worse. It just means different.

But because of this groundless belief, he would remain free for far longer, trapping his unaware stalkers with the power as invisible as shy Demiguise. The power of perception.

He was going muggle.

@

The days came and went and Harry took careful notion of all the new additions hidden all around his room.

Notebook filled with nonsensical jumble, rows of numbers and doodles. Only about half of it was useful.

He took perverse joy in the fact, that whoever would feel like deciphering his carefully arranged clusterfuck, would have to go through three recipes for cupcakes, six pages long monologue about how much president of United States reminded him of Voldemort - only more orange and less polite, whole page of anagrams of Tom Riddle's and his own names (his personal favorite was Mild Doormat Lover, sue him), notes on DADA summer homework, increasingly more ridiculous ways to kill someone (that will give them a pause) and one fat, big, gargantuan, half a page large question with inadvisable amount of exclamation marks : 'If Voldiebear used my blood to resurrect his age old pasty ass, and it is my blood that adds to 'protections ' around this shithole, then why the ever loving fuck I am still here?'

It was a good question. One that occurred him when he prickled his finger (again) with the tip of a sewing needle.

The half an hour freakout that fallowed would have caused Hermione to rip her hair out in the sheer stress level, but Harry, the soul of discretion and tact clenched his teeth, marched around the house making sure it was empty and then screamed in the bathroom for a while, afterwards cheerfully murdering his pillow with Dudley's Smelting stick.

He didn't feel better exactly, but calm enough to not just pack his things and then do something as stupid as taking his Firebolt and invisibility cloak and throwing himself out of the window this very moment. He had a feeling that his bid for freedom in that case would last less time then it does take for Ron to decimate chicken leg and trouble will only multiple. Murphy would have a ball.

An idle mind is the devil's playground and whatnot. Sitting around certainly doesn't help with anxious feeling that nestled itself in his chest not a long time ago, and liked to make his heart flutter and breath speed up at seemingly random times. Staying in one place is not good for the soul, especially where safety is dubious at most.

So, firmly telling himself to calm his tits, prepare and stop procrastinating, he got busy once again. (Not that it stopped him from fretting.)

In the end he was ready far sooner then he thought he would be. Picking out the forged letter he took a deep breath and with a taste of impending freedom on his tongue, eagle feather traveled across the parchment. Done.

He decided, that while Vernon would probably be overjoyed at his leaving, it was far safer to approach only his darling aunt and let her deal with her lump of a husband.

"Hedwig?" Two large yellow eyes blinked open, white wings moved slightly, settling along the back. Harry moved his hand through the soft plumage. "Hello love, do something for me? It's a bit complicated so listen closely. Those three are for Ron, Hermione and Ginny. This for anybody who is with them. But this, this is special." Harry raised very thin scroll circled with light blue ribbon preferred by Ginny. Owl eyed it curiously, fallowing his hand.

"You will fly away with all of them, leave this one somewhere close but safe, deliver the rest and come back. Then, I will give you a note, small enough that you will hide it in your talons and you will drop it off in a trash somewhere, and bring back the one with a ribbon."

"Hoot?"

"Yes, I know it's convoluted, but they sit under the window and I think they monitor how many times you come and go, so feel free to come with dinner, too. And Petunia will be here waiting for that," Harry tapped the scroll, "but she can't know I wrote it."

"Hoot?"

"Quite sure."

"Hoot."

"I know that, I am talking to you. Not exactly paragon of sanity."

Hedwig nipped at his fingers, letting him tie the letters to her legs.

"You sure you can do it?"

"Hoot." She ruffled her feathers looking quite insulted by his insinuations. He nuzzled lightly the top of her soft head, cajoling her to climb on his forearm.

"You are the best girl."

And if the look she send him before she spread her wings didn't say 'and don't you forget it' ,he was going to eat his hat.

Well, that's it.

He suddenly felt more then little grateful to Hagrid. For more then one thing, but his wonderful owl was topping on that list.

The next move was so sudden, that anybody watching would be convinced, that Harry was ducking out of the way, but in fact, he landed on his knees close to the bookcase quite willingly.

All the books there were cracked at least once but only by one occupant of Privet Drive 4. Harry always had a special talent for sneaking about, that's why he knew that among all those volumes were two that someone like Hagrid might like. He didn't have any literature about magical animals, but muggle world was not devoid of dangerous creatures. That's why he sighed in relief when he found what he was looking for. He learned to read using those two, his half-giant friend will probably appreciate the sentiment. 'Animal Planet Wild Animals. Animal Bites' was his favorite child book for a long time and, the other, far more complicated, 'Wild Animals of Britain and Europe'. Dark brown doe looked at him from the picture on hardcover. Now he knew why he always liked deers so much.

Harry stood up, rummaging through the piles of old newspapers and then he gently put the books on an open page, creating crude and bit lumpy package. Well, you couldn't be talented at everything.

And because he had no intention of ever coming back and books in Dursley household were considered a waste, he decided to get wild.

After all, he still had a pile of convenient paper and more then enough tape for that.

@

Hedwig came back not even an hour later, bearing letters from his friends. Along with deliciously smelling piece of treacle tart and chicken sandwich.

Thank Merlin for Molly Weasley.

Even knowing that the letters contained nothing but platitudes and general small talk, Harry was glad that he wasn't just forgotten and even when they couldn't tell him anything, he was still missed. It fed that small part of him that needed to be assured every now and then that he was not abandoned.

Was he mad? Yes. Maybe. There was that voice in his head who wanted to scream at them and ask why they would treat him like a Faberge egg. He was not a fragile flower petal nor a delicate glass figurine. He would not break.

Another part was just tired. Too tired to always fight for every bit of information this way. Like he had to tear the answer from the cold dead fingers of some ancient king after going for year long quest. Would it be so hard to just say things? 'Hello, can't tell you everything over the letter, but here is my phone number, call me. And see you soon.' 'Hi, I gave this message to people who guard you, it's like super secure post office just under your window, here is everything you need to know. Hope that clears it up for you.'

No, Harry wasn't sore about that. At all.

Maybe magic and common sense just don't mix well.

Harry knew, that most people think he likes to tap danger on the back until it looks him in the eyes, but he was nowhere near as stupid as that. He thrives under duress, where it breaks many others, but that didn't mean that he would put down his neck under cutting spell just for shit and giggles. And that meant, that coming downstairs and facing the woman, who he fantasized about sending somewhere far away packed in a box with holes and ten pounds of glitter, required tactics. Underhanded, dirty, completely under the belt tactics.

First, he waited.

He knew, that the best time to approach his dear Aunt, was the time just after the end of Desperate Housewives summer re-runs. She was usually more relaxed after watching so much spite and drama. Harry was pretty sure that would he look up 'Schadenfreude' in dictionary it would have Dursley's phone number.

Secondly, he made tea.

Inconspicuously.

Added just that little bit too much water when filling the kettle. Left the teabox next to his elbow. Filled the sugarbowl. Washed the lone plate that lay on the counter.
And then, he attacked.

"Do you want some tea, Aunt Petunia?"

And...strike one.

It was the combination of free tea and Harry doing manual labor that usually hit the spot. Dursley's were petty people, but nobody said that handling them needed to be complicated affair. It's only, that any manipulation's done, needed to be spaced and repeated sparsely, as even the dumbest animal could feel that it was led to a slaughter when not handled carefully.

He watched her take the first sip. Then poured the rest of the water from the kettle out. Wiped the counter to get rid of sugar and circles left by cups. Hanged the towel. His prey was placid and unsuspecting.

Next.

He sighed into his cup. Loudly.

"What?!" And there is nothing, that could catch her attention more, then Harry being miserable. "Spill it boy."

Hook.

"I got a letter from... them. I will be leaving on Monday."

Here it is, the suspicious frown climbing on her forehead. Every time she did that, Harry had before his eyes Grinch and his fluffy green eyebrows.

"You were supposed to stay for a month, that man said so, otherwise we wouldn't be safe once they take you."

"He explained it too, but he also told me that I have to be gone sooner, because they don't have people to babysit me and that if I try to move later, everybody will know." Harry had done everything in his power to sound petulant. Honestly, he didn't need to try all that hard, but Petunia's expression cleared somewhat, still some suspicion lingered. Now, for the main event."I can get you the letter, if you want?"

"Bring it."

.Line..

So there he was, breathing deeply, looking miserable on the prospect of traveling alone, without escort or so called 'special treatment', watching his aunt holding the parchment like its existence personally offended her. But the contents must have been very pleasing, indeed.

"Write to your friends."

"Now?"

"No, next year! Of course now you idiot boy! Here!" She slapped a piece of paper and ballpen on the table before him, looking over his shoulder. "Where is that damned owl of yours?"

Harry tried very hard not to show satisfaction at her shriek, when Hedwig suddenly appeared like a Swooping Death, taking the letter in her claw and zipping out of the kitchen and into the morning light outside. They sat in the tense silence, slurping their cooling tea, waiting for the message that would change both of their lives forever. Minutes slugged by till a loud bark made both of them jump. For just a second Aunt Petunia's face reminded Harry of Narcissa Malfoy with how much her nose scrunched in distaste, face going a little bit more green at the large rodent hanging from Hedwig's beak. Small note tied with blue ribbon landed on the table. Harry waited for one nerve wracking second while the letter was unrolled.

"You will be gone by the time we are home."

And sinker.

Harry nodded at this simple statement, pursing his lips and reaching his hand for letters and being gleefully denied.

"I need to show it to Vernon. Go upstairs and pack."

Harry turned, Hedwig comforting weight on his shoulder, trudging upstairs with heavy gait, closed the door behind himself with soft click and... smiled.

Sharp.

Full of teeth.

Now, to the other things.