Chapter 1 - Coming of Age
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The July sun was burning down, subdued somewhat by a thin layer of clouds that promised a thunder storm for the evening. In the mid-day quiet of Privet Drive the voices of children playing, usually quickly hushed by their apprehensive mothers, grew completely silent and the muffled sound of cutlery and dishes came from some of the longingly opened windows.
In number four, a neat little house which differed from the neighbouring houses by no more than perhaps a greener lawn and flowers precisely lined up in their beds, Petunia Dursley raised her voice in a call to lunch.
Pounding steps on the stairs made clear that at least one resident was following this call immediately. A few seconds later, red faced and out of breath, Dudley Dursley slumped on his chair in the dining room.
"Celery sticks and dip again?" he moaned.
Petunia, who was as thin as her seventeen year old son was fat, screwed up her face.
"Dear, you have to keep your diet! Colin Fortescue more or less forced me to take this action. He said he could no longer coach you otherwise."
Dudley grunted while taking a piece of celery with his fleshy hand and ignoring his mother.
Petunia, who was looking pale and rat-faced this summer, stood in the kitchen door irresolute, in an inner fight for some reason. Then she went into the hall and again called, "Lunch is ready!"
"Then don't complain later, Harry!"
As she sat down at the table, Dudley stared at her dubiously. He even stopped chewing for a moment.
"You should be happy if he stays upstairs!"
With a finicky gesture Petunia took a few bits of raw vegetables and picked at the food listlessly without really eating. The silence on the upper floor was weighing on her nerves. She didn't understand her own discomfort: Now the day was soon to come that all of them had longed for so many years, the day her nephew would move out for good and the Dursleys could lead a normal life all year round – now she was finding herself getting more restless every day.
Upstairs, in Dudley's old room, surrounded by Dudley's discarded belongings, a boy lay on a bed, a worn out mattress. His pale and emaciated appearance, for the first time gave him a slight resemblance to his aunt Petunia. He lay, his arms folded under his head and was staring at the ceiling.
Harry Potter had spent most of his first weeks of holiday this way. His big trunk, which bore everything that belonged to him, was neglectfully placed in the middle of the room, dirty socks heedlessly stuck under the nearly closed lid. He hadn't bothered to unpack. The two shelves which had borne some of his books in the past years were now empty except for a layer of dust.
Harry hardly noticed the room anyway. The scenes that were going around in his head over and over again were so glaring and wild that they left no room for boredom. Ever since he left the Hogwarts Express in the usual flock of clamorous fellow students three weeks ago and returned to the Muggle world alongside his aunt Petunia, who was the only one to meet him at the station, everything around him seemed strangely unreal. To his impression he was looking at the world through a thick, frosted window pane; people's voices, traffic noise in the streets – everything appeared muffled and distant. Even the sunlight and the ground beneath his feet didn't seem to have anything to do with him. A few times he even had the upsetting sense that his feet could not feel the pavement underneath, and wanting to catch his breath, found that there was no air to breathe.
It was easier to lay on his old bed with the worn out blanket and leave his thoughts to the scenes that continuously played in his brain without his intention.
He kept thinking – Mum, Dad, Sirius, Dumbledore.
And when he heard the voices of aunt Petunia, Dudley and uncle Vernon – "Petunia, I'm telling you, that boy is taking drugs!" had rumbled through the house the day before – it all seemed so harmless to him. Had he really spent all these years in a continuous scrap with these people, feeling pestered and bullied? Had he really taken their narrow mindedness seriously or their fear of attracting the neighbours attention because of their nephew being a wizard? Vernon's outbursts of bad temper, Dudley's skirmishing, Petunia's bickering – was any of that worth bothering about? They were dim and even mean at times. But hate them because of that? At least they didn't kill anybody.
And then it started again: Mum, Dad, Sirius, Dumbledore …
The first thunder pealed over the roofs. A gust of wind blew something through the open window and Harry first erroneously took it for a leaf. But as it started to buzz about the room he sat up with a start.
He jumped to his feet and the tiny grey owl landed on his head. It took a few painful seconds until he was able to untangle himself from his hair, an undignified spectacle that made Harry's snow owl Hedwig, sitting in her cage at the window, turn away pointedly.
But Harry's heart was beating faster, happy to see the little envoy from his friend Ron. The content of the letter tied to Pig's leg was nearly insignificant.
Hastily he unrolled the parchment to read it.
We're inviting you to a surprise party this Thursday. We will pick you up at half past eight tomorrow. Don't let the Dursleys annoy you!"
Under these lines Hermione had added:
"We understand that you don't feel like having a party. It's the same with us. Look forward to the surprise anyway!"
Harry turned the parchment over in wild hope of finding a note from Ginny, but the back was blank, and while he sank back on his bed, it became clear to him that she was only doing what he had asked her to do.
Surprise party! Sure, you only come of age once. Thursday was going to be his seventeenth birthday – this Thursday already?
He jumped up again. Pigwidgeon flew away screeching. Until then Pig had been pecking at him violently in the attempt of drawing Harry's attention to the fact that he would at least deserve water and a few owl biscuits. Hedwig closed her eyes in disgust.
But Harry seemed as though he had woken up after a long nightmare. Outside the wind tousled the treetops; the first rain drops hit the window sill.
As a wizard he would be a man at the age of seventeen. His birthday would free him. Free him of the Dursleys. Free him from the requirement of spending time in the Muggle world. He would be free to live and perform magic in the wizarding world whenever he wanted. He would be free to go wherever he wanted. He had longed for this moment. What plans had he hatched for the immediate future, some months ago! And now –
In his mind he pictured an hour glass with the last grains of sand falling faster and faster.
Down stairs the front door fell into the lock, seconds later the car engine roared. Dudley was off to his training. Then, as he heard someone on the stairs, he remembered Pigwidgeon, sitting on his trunk and nagging. He hoped that aunt Petunia hadn't seen him fly in!
"Come on Pig!" he called at a low voice and opened the door of Hedwig's cage. “Get in here and be nice and quiet!"
He put another hand full of owl biscuits in the cage and the little grey owl followed. Hedwig budged indignantly to the other end of her perch, and as Harry then reached for an old pullover and threw it over the birdcage, she clearly looked offended.
At the moment he had hidden his visitor, the door to his room was opened. Harry turned around with a start and there stood aunt Petunia.
"I – I have to talk to you –," she said.
Harry was so baffled that he remained silent. At no time in the nearly sixteen years he was now living with the Dursleys had his aunt wanted to have a conversation with him. But now she came in, carefully shut the door and turned to Harry, obviously feeling uncomfortable, as this situation was clearly as unusual to her as it was to Harry.
"You badly hurt Vernon's and my feelings last year as you caused this horrible scene with your teacher," Petunia started, referring to last summer when Dumbledore came to pick him up at the Dursley's and had taken the opportunity, to more or less reprimand them for not looking after Harry as well as they should have. "Despite that we gave you harbour once more. On Thursday though, being your birthday, and provided that we correctly understood your teacher, you will come of age – in your world."
Apparently an answer was expected at this point, and Harry nodded.
"He said something like – ehm, we would be able to provide you with some kind of protection but that this would end with your majority."
Harry nodded again.
"That supposedly means that from then on we would be in danger as well, if we continued to be linked to you. Some kind of peril that you must have incurred at that – that school – to which we never wanted to send you, and I hope you didn't forget that."
"Mmh," said Harry.
"You can't stay living here from then on. Uncle Vernon expects that you will have moved out by the time we return from our vacation, in two weeks time."
Petunia looked at him sternly.
"My friends will pick me up on Thursday." Harry said in a low voice. "I will take my things along and – ehm, won't be back."
Petunia nodded in relief.
"I do hope they will behave inconspicuously! This is a respectable neighbourhood and, in the end, I don't want us to be talked about because of you."
But she hadn't finished yet; the really difficult part still seemed to be coming.
"We won't have a further occasion –," she began and didn't look as though she quite knew how to carry on.
Harry understood. The day after tomorrow all three would depart for a holiday to Majorca, and it was unlikely that Dudley and uncle Vernon would both be out at the same time once more. Aunt Petunia didn't want witnesses for this strange conversation and the reason became clear to Harry with her following words.
"I have something for you that Dumbledore – that was his name, wasn't it – gave to me after Lily died. It must be something like an heirloom that I was to give to you on your seventeenth birthday."
She pulled a small package from the pocket of her apron and hesitantly gave it to him.
"For a long time I wasn't sure I should really hand this over to you. But I suppose it's yours."
Harry took the package, and while he was reading what was written on it in Dumbledore's handwriting – "For Harry, on his seventeenth birthday, not earlier and not later!" – Petunia continued.
"I suppose that you are really in danger. What had happened to my sister was terrible. And it was all due to this senseless wizard's thing. My parents should never have allowed her to get into that."
She paused for a moment and then looked at him.
"You should try to get out of the whole thing. Go and get yourself a job, there must be something you're capable of doing, although you squandered your school time with this nonsense."
Harry had just realized the unbelievable. She was really worried about him.
And he realized another thing: If there ever was a chance for him to get information with regard to his mother's family, this was it. Wary not to alarm her with too great eagerness, he asked, "What were they like, my grandparents? And when – when did they die?"
Petunia was still squirmy and uncomfortable, her bony hands kneading the hem of her apron.
"They have been – we never got to know details. They were archaeologists and vanished at an excavation in the Iraq. That is twenty years ago now."
Harry forced himself down. No wrong move now, maybe she will continue to talk.
"They didn't have a jot of common sense, got involved in the craziest things and didn't care a bit about the normal things in everyday life!" Petunia burst out. “Always brooding over some potsherd and old scripts, disappearing to obscure countries, excavating for months at a time – no wonder Lily would have it her way. She would have needed parents who would have curbed her odd notions. But no, not Persephone and Edward Evans!" she snorted.
With her such restriction obviously never seemed necessary. Harry though was too enchanted by the sudden outburst of loquacity, as that he could have been annoyed at Petunia's disapproval.
"Where did you live those days?"
"They had a house in London and lucky to them it was in the near vicinity of the British Museum. Whenever they happened to be in England, they could drop in at the museum for five minutes every now and then. The house was sold after their death. I was already married at the time and lived here, and in the same year Lily married this unpleasant young man she had met at her school."
Petunia eyed Harry sullenly.
"Regretfully you have come after him."
"Did you get to know him – I mean, my father?"
"He attended the funeral service that the museum had arranged as it seemed evident that our parents would remain missing. A vain and scoffing guy. But Lily had gotten totally stuck. Vernon and I tried to talk to her, tried to advise her against marrying this man, especially seeing he was hardly older than she was. But she only laughed at us. Well, you know the outcome of that."
"Yes, me," Harry could not restrain himself from saying.
But Petunia wasn't listening. Apparently all of this had been seething in her for a long time, and seeing the Dursleys didn't talk about her family, it all came tumbling out now.
"If only Lily never had started this wizarding stuff, then she would still be alive today."
"Did your parents agree to it? I mean, they were mug- ehm, weren't magical people!"
"Agree? They were completely enthusiastic as Lily started with her antics. She was still a child then. They actually believed she could do – magic. And when she was accepted at this school, they had already found out all kinds of things about this and were fascinated, as they were by anything that had nothing to do with the normal life of normal English people. And I had to stand around at this station with them all those years, to wait for her to come."
Harry was awkwardly touched by these details. That she had already been waiting for her mother at this station – and then later for him.
"Have you possibly got any photos of her? And of your parents?"
Petunia deliberated on this. Again this hesitation Harry had not noticed before, then a strained look to the stairs.
"Stay here. I'll be back in a moment."
She left the room and Harry heard her rummaging around in her bedroom at the other end of the corridor. She was back soon and Harry hardly dared to breathe as he saw the dark green photo album she was holding.
"Well, I wanted to get rid of it for a long time already. I don't want to keep anything from this part of the family. You can take it."
Harry opened the old album immediately. Photos, stuck on black cardboard pages, neatly dated and commented in white ink. Now and then a newspaper clipping. For a short moment he wondered why the people all seemed so immobile, and then it occurred to him that these were Muggle photos. A line inside the cover, tightly written in a tall and vertical child's handwriting, said "This Album belongs to Petunia Evans. January 14th 1968."
"I got that for my tenth birthday." she commented stiffly. "From Nanna Dora, my great-grandmother. That's the reason why it's such an old-fashioned thing with black pages. I don't need it any more."
Harry turned a page and stared in total fascination at the first photos he had ever seen of his family. The photo album Hagrid had given him years ago only held – though precious enough – photographs which had been taken of his parents by their school mates.
"I have to go downstairs and prepare supper. Vernon will be back soon. I hope you will be careful about your decision, what to do from now on, Harry. Don't make the same mistake my sister made. And for heaven’s sake don't let Vernon see this old album!"
Finished speaking, she rushed out. Harry just sat there, holding the photo album and the small package, and couldn't believe that it was aunt Petunia, of all people, to give him his most significant birthday presents.
Eagerly he leafed through the album studying the faces.
Of course the photos often showed aunt Petunia, at her school-leaving celebrations, at a ball with an awfully unnatural perm and wearing a frilly dress, finally at her wedding, dated May 27th 1976. And there, that must be them: Harry's grandparents, next to a tense looking bride in a white dress with a veil and the plump groom, facing the camera with a dour look. Persephone and Edward Evans, who looked quite young, both sun tanned and dressed rather carelessly. The picture was taken at the moment when he bent toward her, obviously wanting to whisper something. Or did he want to kiss her?
And there was his mother, whom he recognized instantly although she could have been no more that sixteen years old at the time. She wore a silvery grey dress that went well with her put-up red hair and to Harry she looked very beautiful. She wore no jewellery except for filigree silver ear-pendants. She had a cheeky grin on her face, standing next to Vernon, and Harry could hardly imagine her being his mother. After all, she was younger then than he was now.
On one of the first pages he found a photo showing both sisters together – the only one, as he came to notice. Two little girls, obviously in their Sunday's bests, were standing next to a short and vigorous looking older woman. Although the photo was somewhat faded, her green eyes looked at Harry challengingly. Her hair was white but Harry would have taken a bet that it once was as red as his mother's hair. Under this photo Petunia had written: "June 1968, two weeks before Nanna died".
Harry turned back the few pages to the beginning, hoping to find more pictures of her, who looked so strikingly similar to his mother. But it was the only one.
The last photo dated July 1978 and was rather blurred. It was taken at his grandparent's funeral, as the comment stated. He only spotted his mother on this picture because the tall, lean man, standing next to her, had turned around and seemed to be looking at Harry. It was James Potter, wearing a black Muggle suit, holding his arm tightly around the girl next to him.
Harry swallowed hard and slowly closed the album. He remembered looking into the mirror Erised during his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
He remembered a problem he had been pondering on for some time: He had seen his parents and his ancestors in the mirror; many of them had green eyes and evidently originated from his mother's family. His Muggle mother. How could the mirror have shown him a Muggle? He had thought about it a lot but had always missed putting this question to Dumbledore. Had the mirror shown him the family he so much longed for or had he seen his true ancestors?
Now the question seemed a little hypothetic. He reached for the package from Dumbledore and again swallowed hard at seeing the familiar hand writing. Not earlier and not later – did that mean that he was to wait another two days before opening it? He thoughtfully weighed it in his hand; it didn't weigh much at all. Finally he got up and put it into his trunk together with the album. The trunk was in the usual mess but he decided to ignore that.
A piercing shriek from Pigwidgeon, who obviously didn't have any biscuits left or who was simply fed up with being buried under Harry's pullover, got him back to the present. He picked his pullover off the birdcage and dropped in a few more biscuits. And then Ron and Hermione were to get an answer.
While sitting in front of the blank parchment, he started pondering. Of course he would go to his surprise party; at least he didn't want to spoil the fun for his friends. Nonsense. It became clear to him that he missed them badly. Where had he spent the past weeks?
There were so many decisions to be taken!
And there it was again, this breath-taking burden.
He chewed on his quill and looked outside at the dark thunder clouds. As Petunia had so precisely put it, he is endangering everyone concerned with him. And he intended to no-longer submit those who were close to him to this threat. Ron, Hermione. And Ginny, Ginny –
He could feel it with every fibre of his body, the time that he would have to face Voldemort, the Dark Lord, was drawing close. Some years ago he had thought it absurd to think of Voldemort while staying at Privet Drive. But since he had been attacked by a Dementor a few streets along, two years ago, he had realized that Voldemort was real in the Muggle world as well.
No matter what, he would be leaving Privet Drive the day after tomorrow; this had been his intention all along. Then why not go to a birthday party, accompanied by his best friends, Ron and Hermione? After that he could still decide on how to continue.
"Hi Ron, Hermione,
thanks for the invitation. I would like to come; by the way, I'm bringing my entire luggage along. I hope you can solve that problem. I am not allowed to apparate yet, just in case you forgot.
See you on Thursday!
He had had a vague idea of depositing all his belongings at the house in London, the house he had inherited from his godfather Sirius Black and where the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix was located. He could make his way to London, coming from the Burroughs, Ron's home, where the party would doubtlessly be. After that – he wanted to go to Godric's Hollow, where he had lived with his parents until Voldemort murdered them nearly sixteen years ago.
Harry stood up and went over to the owls' cage.
"Hedwig, I've got a job for you! Come on now, you'll be rid of Pig also then!"
Finally the big white owl hopped out of the cage and allowed the parchment to be tied to her leg.
"You have to fly to Ron and Hermione. I suppose they'll be at the Burroughs but I'm not completely sure. You will find them."
Hedwig proudly spread her wings and glided out of the window into the still grumbling thunder storm.