It had been a month since Harry Potter had said goodbye to his friends at the train station. It had been a month since he'd had a friendly word from anyone. They'd all promised to write to him. Every day since returning to the place he nominally called home, he had waited for a letter from any of his friends. His days were filled with household chores, but he took time every night to stare up at the dark sky with a deep longing.
Stillness filled this night as the stars twinkled down from on high. He turned away from his window with a sigh, trying not to give into despair. He was desperate for some word; Harry was horribly lonely. He had lived for ten years without friends. He'd learned to get along without them. Then Draco, Theo, Tracy, Millie, Pansy, Daphne, Crabbe, and Goyle had burst into his life like a meteor shower and changed it irrevocably. Now Harry missed them terribly. Not one letter-bearing owl had appeared in the sky since he'd returned to his so-called home. Were it not for his own owl, Regal, sitting in his cage, Harry would have sworn that the whole thing had been a fantastic dream.
For you see, Harry was no ordinary boy. He was a wizard and had attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry during the past year. He'd had adventures, excitement, danger, and loads of fun. Harry had grown to love the old castle, with its secret passageways and ghosts, the post arriving via owl at breakfast, and the sumptuous banquets held in the Great Hall. He enjoyed all of his classes (even Transfiguration with the mean old Deputy Headmistress, Professor McGonagall). Harry missed sleeping in his four-poster bed in the dungeon dormitory of Slytherin House and waking to the sunrise shining through the large window set into the cliff face. Most of all, he missed Quidditch, the wizarding world's most popular sport (the rules of which were both complicated and fascinating).
Harry missed Hogwarts so much that it hurt. There was a gnawing ache in his stomach most times that no food could cure. He couldn't even go through his wizarding things and remind himself, because all his worldly possessions had been locked up in the cupboard under the stairs that had been Harry's bedroom for ten years.
Despite his protests to the contrary, Harry had been shipped back to stay the summer holiday with his dead mother's sister and her husband, Petunia and Vernon Dursley, who treated him much like a dog that has rolled in something smelly. They had raised him, if such a term could be applied, since he was one year old, when his parents had been murdered by the most powerful Dark sorcerer of all time, Lord Voldemort, whose name many witches and wizards still feared to speak.
Voldemort had meant to murder Harry as well, but, inexplicably, the curse had rebounded back on Voldemort, and all his great powers had been destroyed. Harry had been left alone in the world, with only a thin scar shaped like a bolt of lightning on his forehead.
That scar marked Harry. He was absolutely famous throughout the wizarding world. Not, of course, that he'd known anything about it. He'd been stuck living with Muggles, what wizards called non-magic folk, for ten years. They had told him his parents had died in a car crash and that his scar was from that accident. Those ten years had been absolute torment for Harry, because he couldn't explain the way he made strange things happen without meaning to. He'd been treated like a freak. Were it not for his letter from Hogwarts, Harry was sure that he'd still be locked in the cupboard under the stairs.
When that letter had arrived, the whole story had come spilling out. Harry still felt a towering resentment towards the Muggles for what they'd done to him, but he'd be satisfied if he could just leave Number Four, Privet Drive and never come back.
Harry rested his elbows on the dresser and stared at his own reflection in the mirror. His jet-black hair was untidy, as it always was. He made some attempt to push it back, but it flopped forward again. Harry leaned forward, looking deep into his own brilliant green eyes.
"I've got to get out of here," he said to the quiet room, "or I shall go mad."
His clock made a single tone, and he looked over to see that the hour was just midnight.
"Happy birthday, Harry," he said to himself. Today was 31 July, Harry's twelfth birthday. Surely today some post would come for him. Surely his friends would not forget his birthday.
Harry went back to the window. He fought back a yawn, determined to stay awake as long as he could. A letter would come, he just knew it. That thought was the last he had as his head drooped further and further, finally coming to rest on his folded arms. He slept at the windowsill, undisturbed by any letter-bearing owls.
The next morning at breakfast, Harry did his best to ignore his relatives. He ate his one fried egg and single piece of toast quickly, for if he lingered, Dudley, his fat, obnoxious cousin, would steal it just for spite, and Harry would certainly not get more.
"Is that bacon ready yet, boy?" Uncle Vernon asked him in an unfriendly tone of voice.
Inwardly sighing, Harry swallowed his last bite and got to his feet. As he brought the frying pan to the table from the cooker, he was quick enough to snatch two pieces of bacon, which he shoved into his mouth, ignoring the sting of the hot grease. He'd learned to live with such minor discomforts if he wanted to sneak food.
Dudley emptied the pan, piling bacon on his plate. "Harry stole some bacon!" he shouted.
Harry jumped. "What?"
Uncle Vernon's face was growing red, the veins at his temples beginning to throb. "Dudley, what are you saying?"
"There's only six pieces here! He's got grease on his mouth!" Dudley howled. "He stole my bacon!"
"Boy!" Uncle Vernon cried, reaching for Harry's arm. Startled, the heavy frying pan slipped from his grasp, clattering to the floor and flinging hot grease everywhere. Dudley began to cry, and Aunt Petunia shrieked as she was burned.
Harry cracked his head on the door frame as Uncle Vernon flung him away. Dizzy and seeing stars, he stumbled out of the kitchen and towards his bedroom. Wistfully, he let one hand linger on the locked door of his old cupboard, wishing he could get at his things and just leave this awful place.
He was assisted into his room by Uncle Vernon, who came thundering up the stairs after him. "You are not to leave this room unless we have work for you to do!" the red-faced man bellowed at him. "You mark my words, there will be a lot!" He raised his meaty fist in the air and held the pose for a moment. Then, having made his point, he turned and slammed the door on his way out.
Harry's head was spinning, but his anger was burning. Tonight, he vowed, he would break the lock on the cupboard and take back his prized racing broom, his wand, and the invisibility cloak that had belonged to his father. All the rest of his possessions he could leave behind. The Dursleys could light them on fire for all he cared. He would leave and never look back. He didn't have to put up with this treatment. He shouldn't have to live in fear of a beating for just eating some bacon. Uncle Vernon hadn't hit him tonight, and in truth, he seldom did, but there was always the chance. There was always the question.
"Boy!" Vernon shouted through the door. "Get out here!"
Was he back already? Harry got to his feet and stumbled for the door. His head was throbbing, though the dizziness appeared to have passed. "What?" he asked, opening the door.
"Today is a very important day," Uncle Vernon began, and Harry couldn't help but perk up a bit. Could it be that they'd actually remembered his birthday?
"This could be the day I make the biggest deal of my life," the big man continued. Harry's heart fell. He should have known better. The Dursleys didn't care about him at all. Why should they have remembered his birthday? Only something that concerned them would be "important".
"The Masons will be here promptly at eight o'clock." Uncle Vernon had talked of little else besides the stupid dinner party he was having to woo some rich builder into buying a lot of drills from Grunnings, Uncle Vernon's company.
"You will have eaten beforehand and will be here in your room, making absolutely no noise, and pretending you don't exist. Got that?"
"I'll be sitting in my room, making no noise, and pretending I'm not here," Harry said dutifully. While not precisely what Uncle Vernon meant, every word Harry had said was true.
"Too right you will," Uncle Vernon said ominously. "The Masons don't know anything about you, and it's going to stay that way. If they do find out about you, you won't eat for a week, I promise you that."
"Yes, sir," Harry said, tired of the fat man's threats. All he had to do was make it through tonight. What a wonderful birthday present to himself it would be to finally leave this odious place.
"I'm going into town to pick up the dinner jackets. Get your lazy self outside and wash the windows. Once you're done with that, mow the lawn. Your aunt will have more work for you if you're done before I get back. Move it!"
Harry took himself listlessly outside. As he retrieved the bucket, he thought about where he would go. By the time the first window was soaped, he'd determined to fly north. He'd find Hogsmeade Village somehow, get a message to- to- someone. He moved on to the next window.
Professor Snape! Head of Slytherin House, he'd always been good to Harry. If anyone could help, it would be Professor Snape. Hadn't he told the first year Slytherins that his door was always open to them?
Maybe he could break Regal out of his cage, send his letter, and then follow the owl on his broom. Regal was a smart owl; he would lead Harry right where he wanted to go. Harry mused on that for a bit as he finished up with the windows. Actually, he didn't need to plan much more. Professor Snape would know what he should do.
Harry hurried through mowing the lawn. With luck, he could have a few minutes to himself before he got put back to work. What a miserable birthday. No cards, no presents, and he would be spending the evening pretending to not even exist. He kicked irritably at the hedge, slumping on the garden bench.
Something shiny in the hedge caught his attention. He leaned closer, peering into the shadows. Maybe he'd be lucky and it would be some Muggle money and he could go get a sweet from the little shoppe on the corner.
"I know what day it is," came Dudley's jeering voice. Harry jumped, looking away from the hedge. If Dudley knew there might be money in there, he'd steal it in a second.
"What?" Harry asked, trying to remain calm.
"I said, 'I know what day it is,'" Dudley repeated, waddling right up to Harry.
"Congratulations," Harry said, clapping his hands mockingly. "You've finally learned the days of the week, have you?"
"You shut up," Dudley ordered him. "Today's your birthday ," he sneered. "How come you haven't got any cards? Got no friends at that freak school either?"
"Better not let your mum catch you talking about my school," Harry replied coolly.
Dudley hitched up his trousers, which were slipping down his fat bottom. "Don't you have some work to do?" he asked nastily. "What are you doing to the hedge?"
"I'm about ready to set it on fire," Harry smirked. "Want to watch?"
Dudley stumbled backwards at once, a look of fear coming onto his face.
"You c-can't! Dad told you you're not to do that-that stuff . You'll be tossed out of the house." Dudley was stammering with panic.
Tossed out of the house? Oh to dream , Harry thought.
"Then where will you go? You've got nothing and nobody--"
"Umma gumma!" Harry said in a fierce voice, taking a step towards his cousin. "Abara kadabra! Presto chango!" Dudley ran for his life, howling for his mummy. Harry allowed himself a brief smile.
Harry paid dearly for his bit of fun, though. Despite the fact that neither Dudley nor the hedge was harmed in any way, Aunt Petunia still took a swipe at him with the soapy frying pan and put him to work.
"You'll not eat again until the flowerbeds have been weeded, the rose bushes pruned and watered, the garden bench painted, and the car washed. Hop to it," she snapped at him.
Dudley made it worse for Harry by lounging around in plain sight and eating ice cream. The sun burned brightly in the cloudless sky, and Harry could feel his skin cooking. He wasn't at all regretful for scaring Dudley like he had. In all likelihood, they would have made him do this work anyway.
Hours later, his back aching, his neck burning, and sweat running down his face, he was finally called into eat his supper.
"Walk on the newspapers!" Aunt Petunia harped at him. Harry ground his teeth together, fiercely resisting the urge to stomp all over the sparkling floor. Washing his hands, he sat down at the table to eat the two slices of bread and small lump of cheese that had been laid out for him.
He could smell the pork roast sizzling in the oven. Tonight's pudding was up on top of the refrigerator, a huge mound of whipped cream and sugared violets. Trying not to let his mouth water too much, Harry took a bite of the bread. This was a pathetic dinner, even compared to what he normally got to eat.
Aunt Petunia whisked his plate away before he even put his last bite in his mouth. Though he was already moving towards the stairs, she hurried him along, looking downright silly in the salmon-pink cocktail dress she wore. As he passed the door to the living room, Harry caught a glimpse of Uncle Vernon and Dudley in bow ties and dinner jackets looking even sillier. He had only just reached the upstairs landing when the doorbell rang and Uncle Vernon's furious face appeared at the foot of the stairs.
"That will be the Masons. Remember, boy, if I hear one sound out of you..." He trailed off, leaving the threat unspecified. Harry ignored him. He wouldn't be around to suffer whatever punishment was sure to be his anyway.
He stepped into his room and closed the door. Looking out into the evening sky, the first stars were just beginning to appear. Harry sat at the window. Surely a letter would come. He wasn't forgotten.
Perhaps an hour had gone by when Harry sighed deeply. No owl had appeared bearing a message from one of his friends. He sniffed back a tear.
Something down on the street was moving. Harry peered at it, certain it was more interesting than his room, whatever it was.
It was a person, he could see, wearing a hooded jacket. There was nothing particularly unusual about that, but then a breeze came by and caught at the person's clothing. He wasn't wearing a jacket at all! He was wearing a hooded black robe!
Harry's breath caught in his throat. A wizard! He was coming up the front walk! Harry hardly dared to believe his eyes. The tall wizard knocked on the front door with a heavy fist. Harry ran out of his room and stood at the top of the stairs. Someone had come to rescue him, just like Hagrid had last year!
"Who the devil could that be at this time of night?" Uncle Vernon said in the kitchen. "Excuse me, please."
As he passed the stairs, he looked up and scowled at Harry. "Room!" he mouthed. Harry didn't move.
"Yes?" Uncle Vernon said, opening the door.
He gasped in horror and fell back instantly, very nearly tripping over his own feet. A tall figure stood in the doorway, arms folded across his chest imposingly. The wizard wore a long, black robe, just as Harry had seen through his window, and the hood was pulled up. Swathed in shadow, a blank white mask covered the stranger's face. The wizard ignored Uncle Vernon and looked up the stairs directly at Harry.
"Harry Potter, gather your things," came a hollow voice. "You are coming with me."
"See here," squeaked Uncle Vernon in a tone much removed from his normal voice. "You are not welcome here. I insist you leave at once! You can't just come barging into my home and take the boy away; I'll not have it."
The wizard dropped his face to stare at Uncle Vernon. "Silence, Muggle," he ordered. "Do not speak to me again." He looked back up at Harry in an expectant manner.
This wasn't one of his professors. Of that much, Harry was certain. The strange wizard wasn't tall enough to be any of the adults at Hogwarts (and too tall to be Professor Flitwick!). Of the wizards he knew, only his friends knew where he lived. This wizard was too tall to be any of his friends, but some of them had older siblings.
Harry ran into his room and grabbed Regal's cage. He hurried down the stairs, not caring that he was making more noise than Dudley. He snatched Uncle Vernon's keys out of the basket on the hall table and unlocked the cupboard.
"Vernon? What's going on out here? We have guests , remember?" demanded Aunt Petunia as she came out of the kitchen. The wizard glared in her direction. She shrieked in terror, rushing to her husband's side and latching onto his arm.
Harry dragged his school trunk to the door. In it were all his clothes, school books, and his broomstick. He had nothing else in the world. The wizard stepped aside, and Harry escaped out into the night.
Back in the house, he could hear Uncle Vernon blustering and protesting. Quite clearly, Harry's rescuer told the red-faced man, "Do not threaten me, Muggle."
The door slammed, and the unknown wizard was lifting one handle of Harry's heavy trunk. Harry said nothing. He didn't know who this wizard was or where he was being taken, but it would certainly be better than Number Four, Privet Drive.
As they turned the corner, his unexpected saviour chuckled. "Cat got your tongue, Harry?" The voice was still hollow, but now Harry could hear tones of amusement and a barely concealed laughter.
Harry turned his brain. There was only one person who the wizard could be.
"Elan?" he asked hesitantly.
The wizard threw back his hood and removed his white mask to reveal the smiling face of Elan Octavio Malfoy. "None other."
"Hullo, Harry!" came a voice from the hedge.
"Draco?" Harry said in astonishment. "What are you doing here?"
The blond-haired boy with a pointed chin stepped onto the walk. He too was wearing a hooded robe. "Rescuing you, of course," was his friend's cheeky answer. "Unless you'd rather stay."
Harry shook his head emphatically. "Absolutely not!" he exclaimed. He extended his hand, and Draco shook it firmly. "It's absolutely smashing to see you again, Draco. Your timing is perfect. How are we getting out of here?"
"On broom, naturally," Elan replied, taking his broom from his younger brother.
Harry opened his trunk and retrieved his prized Nimbus 2000. Elan was fiddling with something he'd taken from his pocket. He tapped Harry's trunk with it, and to Harry's amazement, it began to shrink. When it reached the size of a bar of chocolate, Elan picked it up and put it in his pocket.
"Ready to go?" he asked.
"More than ready," Harry agreed.
They kicked off into the night sky. No one saw the pair of eyes peering out through the dirty window of the house with the cracked and peeling paint.
The flight to Wilton passed without incident. The moon was hidden behind the clouds, and the three boys likewise hid above the cloud cover. The night air was chilly, and Harry wished he had dressed more warmly. When they set down on the grassy courtyard, Harry was shivering violently.
Elan had produced his strange device again and restored Harry's trunk. Harry dug into his belongings feverishly, pulling out his heavy cloak. Wrapping it tightly around his shoulders, he yearned to draw his wand and cast the Self-Warming Charm that Professor Snape taught to all first-year Slytherins.
"Leave the trunk," Elan said as Harry went to grab the handle. "The house elves will take care of it."
"What's a house elf?" Harry inquired.
"Servants," Draco answered. "They exist to serve wizarding families. They cook, clean, and carry."
"Do they earn a good living?" Harry asked. He knew what it was like to have to cook, clean, and carry for a family.
Draco laughed. "You've got to stop thinking like a Muggle," he said. "Elves are creatures of magic. Their whole reason for being is to serve. It makes them tremendously happy."
Harry had his doubts. "You're sure?"
"Positive," Elan said. "It breaks their little hearts when they can't do anything for you. Some of them will get tears in their eyes."
The flight had lasted only an hour, and Harry was wide awake, despite it being close to half ten o'clock. His eyes were bright as he took in all the sights. Out in the dim of the courtyard he could see the outline of statues and trees. The patio adjoining the courtyard was home to a burbling fountain, shaped like some giant snake.
"Leviathan," Elan told him, noting his interest. "A sea serpent or water dragon. According to the Bible, it's a creature of chaos and later becomes a symbol of evil which will be destroyed on Judgement Day."
"It's beautiful," Harry said, half-mesmerized.
"Of course the Bible is all wrong," Draco said. "It's hardly a myth. The leviathan was a very large beast, ruthless and fearless, that ruled over all the creatures of the sea. Its skin was like a double coat of mail, with huge overlapping scales all over its body. Swords and harpoons simply bounced off. It could breathe fire and had hundreds of teeth in its mouth. The fins could also radiate a brilliant light."
"You talk about it like it's extinct," Harry noted, still staring at the intricate statue.
"They are," Elan said. "The last known leviathan died in the year seventy-seven anno Domini."
That made Harry feel very sad for some reason. He was quiet as Elan picked up a lantern and led the way through the large double doors into a grand hallway. Portraits of witches and wizards decorated the walls, though not nearly as many as at Hogwarts. Harry saw pointed chins, pale complexions, grey eyes, and silver-blonde hair on many of the people. These could only be ancestors of the Malfoy Clan.
Other corridors branched off from the main hall, but Elan paid them no mind, heading up the polished wooden staircase in the foyer. At the top, he halted and gestured for Harry to look down. What he saw took his breath away.
The floor of the foyer had been done in a very tasteful grey marble. In the centre, crafted in a manner Harry couldn't even begin to speculate on, was the Malfoy family crest. The shield was done in black and green with a silver letter M in the centre. Black dragon-looking serpents flanked the shield, and green snakes twined around the shafts of three spears that emerged behind. The words of Malfoy stood out in seeming sharp relief: Sanctimonia Vincet Semper.
As Draco opened the first door on the left, he turned and clasped Harry's hand. "I'll show you all around the Manor tomorrow," he promised.
"Good night, Draco," Harry replied, "and thanks."
Draco grinned at him. "It was smashing good fun."
"Good night, Draco."
"Good night, Elan."
Harry followed Elan a few doors down the hall. "That's the master bedroom," Elan said in a low voice, pointing to the door at the end of the corridor. "Not to worry, they went to bed early. This," he said, opening the door, "is my room."
It was a modest room, at least in terms of what Harry had seen of the Manor so far. A fire was burning cheerfully in the fireplace. A telescope rested on a tripod out on the balcony, a much nicer telescope than Harry's poor brass one. A walk-in closet took up half of one wall; the rest of the wall space was divided equally between tapestries, bookshelves, and Quidditch posters of the Appleby Arrows. One poster was not Quidditch-related; it featured a very pretty young witch not wearing very many clothes. Harry felt his ears burning and quickly looked away. Elan's desk was neat and tidy. There was a very nice writing set with two raven feather quills, a device that looked almost, but not quite, like a Muggle radio, and a picture of Tracy Davis's older sister Jamie.
"Nice room," Harry said.
Elan chuckled. "It's cosy," he said deprecatingly. He guided Harry a bit further down the hall. "This is the guest room. One of them anyway," he said wryly. "You should be quite comfortable here." He opened the door and placed his hand on a metal bump on the wall. The candles in the room burst into flame.
Harry's trunk was already sitting at the foot of the grand bed. He looked around the room and saw bookshelves built into the walls. Candelabrum were spaced regularly between the shelves. No portraits hung here, for which Harry was thankful. Having strange paintings watching him would keep him awake all night.
"It's very nice," he said sincerely.
Elan nodded. "Well, see you in the morning. The candles will put themselves out if you just touch the metal circle on the bedside table there."
"Thank you, Elan. Good night."
"Good night, Harry."
Elan closed the door behind him, and Harry was alone. He took a few moments to admire the splendour of the room before he began pulling off the oversized shirt he was wearing. He'd worn Dudley's cast-offs back at Privet Drive because he didn't care to have the Dursleys know how well off he was. He chucked them in the corner vehemently. First thing in the morning, he'd make sure to burn every scrap of it.
He quickly pulled on the green cotton pyjamas that had been a Christmas gift from the Davises and the Bulstrodes, along with a dozen other boxes of clothes. He slid between the cool sheets and lay his head down on the pillow. Lacing his fingers together behind his head, he stared up at the patterns of shadow on the ceiling.
What a strange day, he reflected. Maybe the weird twist of fate that had brought him to Malfoy Manor lent some weight to the idea that someone was watching over him. Wondering what new events the morning would bring, Harry turned on his side, pulled the covers up to his ear, and slept.
Harry's dreams were disturbing, and he hadn't had a disturbing dream since leaving school. (Maybe it was because his reality was such a nightmare.) He was fighting against a smothering blackness; he couldn't breathe. He wanted to raise his wand and cast a light spell. He reached for it, but his hand was moving so very slow . He was shaking now, and he came half-awake to see Elan's concerned face. The older boy stopped shaking his shoulders.
"All right, Harry?" Elan said softly.
Harry drew his knees up to his chin. "Bad dream," he said just as softly.
"Yeah, I figured as much," Elan answered. "That's why I had Dobby watch over you."
"What's a Dobby?" Harry asked.
Elan snapped his fingers. A little creature with large, bat-like ears and bulging green eyes the size of tennis balls stepped over. It gazed up at Harry with an unreadable expression. The creature's nose was very long and thin. It was wearing an old pillowcase.
"That's Dobby. He's one of the house elves. I remembered that you sometimes have nightmares, so I told Dobby to watch you and to wake me if your sleep was troubled. It wouldn't do for you to wake up Father."
"He doesn't like being woken?" Harry said, turning back to Elan.
"Oh it's not that," Elan said airily. "He just doesn't know you're here yet, but that's what breakfast is for." Despite himself, Harry chuckled. Elan seemed to have Draco's same sense of not letting things bother him. "So can you go back to sleep now?" he asked.
Harry nodded. "Yeah, I'll be fine," he said, a bit too quickly.
Elan narrowed his gaze. "Are you sure? Maybe I should spend the night in here."
Harry flushed. "I don't want to be any trouble."
"Nonsense," Elan scoffed. "We prefects are used to dealing with ickle firsties."
"I'm not a firstie," Harry protested.
"You are until the new firsties arrive," Elan answered flippantly, "but since you're being so insistent on being brave, I suppose you can stay by yourself."
Harry nodded as Elan stood up and headed for the door. "Elan?" he asked.
"Yeah?" the blond young man asked, facing Harry from the doorway.
"Thanks for looking out for me," Harry said seriously, "and thanks for coming to get me. It means a lot."
"No trouble," Elan replied. "G'nite."
Harry was not long in falling asleep again, and his last thought before a now dreamless sleep claimed him was that his faith in his friends had been justified. They hadn't forgotten him. They had cared enough to come looking for him when they hadn't gotten any letters. They had cared enough to set a watch over him in case of bad dreams. "'Or perhaps in Slytherin, you'll make your real friends,'" he mumbled. Then he was asleep.