Forlorn Hope

Summer's Ticking Time

2: Summer's Ticking Time

The boy did not scream, the events of the early summer had taught him at least that. The dream and the pain were just as horrific as always, the images burnt deep into his mind. Every time the Death Eater raids and 'parties' got more and more disturbing, forcing him to watch the worst of the worst each time. Harry sat upright in his bed, clutching his scar with stinging force. He bit his lip as the last of the Cruciatus wore off slowly. three a.m… screaming would have just got his uncle mad, and that would have been worse. He had been having the dreams almost every day lately; either them, or his own mind's taunting about Cedric's death… no matter what anyone said, though few did, he still felt the blame ought be set on him… it was his fault Cedric died, all his fault. Experience had taught him sleep would not return, no matter how hard he tried. Pulling himself out of bed, Harry searched the loose floorboard for his books and quill, at least something good came from the frequent insomnia attacks… Charms, DADA, Transfiguration, and Care of Magical Creatures were already complete, only Divination and Potions were left, and he had only been home for a few weeks.

"At this rate, I'll have to memorize all of next year's books by the start of term…" Harry mused softly, looking over the Divination assignment. Remus had bought him all his books already, hiding them in his secret hiding place while they were still returning from King's Cross. Harry wondered how he had gotten the list this early, but was too grateful to worry over it too much. The new books would provide a welcome distraction in the pre-dawn hours that seemed to haunt him so.

Soon it would be time to make breakfast. A quick glance at the alarm clock confirmed it; it was 6:25. He quickly put away his school things, not wanting to risk having his Aunt or Uncle see his 'Freakish Nonsense' in their 'respectable and ordinary abode'. The morning, midmorning and noon continued without any further problems. By now, Harry had the efficiency of a house elf, able to do what used to take him all day by dinnertime. His Aunt and Uncle didn't know that- Harry made sure of it. Though he was unsure how it happened, the once-backbreaking chores now felt like some Quidditch training Wood may have assigned … he never actually gained any visible muscle, but his strength undoubtedly improved. Harry had wondered why this was so, too, but simply brushed it off as the still-childish appearance of his frame. Seekers ought not to have strong builds anyway… muscle weight and bulk only slow down the broom. All he was concerned with at the moment was the fact that the seemingly endless carpet-scrubbing sessions and yard-work had paid off.

After finishing his chores, Harry decided to risk a little 'light' reading. His aunt and uncle usually did not bother him until supper needed cooking, figuring he was still doing something. He would not risk any of his books for next year, or doing any homework now, but perhaps re-reading his old charms book would be good… he could remind himself of a few good charms (and curses) he had forgotten. On his bed lay a strange brown package, note-less and owl –less. Curiosity taking over, Harry carefully opened the package, revealing a rather old-looking book. The Animal Within shone beneath the layers of dirt, only hinting at the possibilities the thick, two-ton volume held inside. Once again forsaking caution, Harry started to slowly flip through the pages, filled with seemingly endless notes and recipes. Whatever this was for, it was complicated. About halfway through his flipping, Harry found a repeatedly folded parchment with what seemed like notes.

I Solemnly Swear I Am Up To No Good was written at the very top of the piece, instantly making Harry think of the map and its founders.

Behind closed doors, beyond the eyes,

Beneath their ears the potion lies.

Use the key and use it quick,

In the map we put our trick.

Hiding that revealing this,

If you're us, you shalln't miss.

But you only get one try,

Winners win and losers fry!

What potion they meant was beyond him, though he did want to try to find it. Either way, he at least knew this book had belonged to the marauders, not some stranger, though who delivered it was still a mystery. This book would need at least a half-dozen owls to carry it, more if it was a longer flight. For now, he would have to put the book away with his other things (though this would be a rather tight fit). Supper was fast approaching, and the last thing he wanted was to get a book like this confiscated before he had a chance to check it out better. Almost instantly, his aunt's barking filled his ears, calling him to prepare their meal.

The days of summer ticked by surprisingly faster than what Harry would have expected. By the time his birthday came, he had completed all his homework and read most of his books for next year. He merely skimmed the texts, actually reading only Potent and Powerful Potions for the Advanced intently (to help him with whatever that strange 'Marauder potion' turned out to be). Most of his time had been spent reading that animal book, which strangely enough turned out to be a collection of various other books that had been combined magically. Harry figured he would be done with the book by the start of term, taking into account that a large portion of the latter part of the book was practical recipes and step-by-step processes. The book, Harry had learned soon after he started to read the background part of it, was a guide to Animagus transformations…

Pushing the husky book aside, Harry allowed the morning owls to deliver their packages. The first he opened was from Hermione, containing a beautiful, leather-bound edition of The Greatest Quidditch Maneuvers, a book he had drooled over on their last venture to Hogsmeade. Placing the book aside, Harry opened Ron's present, a large assortment of candy and a box-full of prank items from the twins. Remus had also sent Harry some new Seeker gloves, along with a 'Snuffles is safe' note. Sirius had sent a rather tropical bird to bring Harry a reassuring note along with a key to a vault in Gringotts, saying that his present was 'not fit to send by owl.' Harry wondered what it was, but could only put the key onto the same ringlet as his other one, and place the two back into the safety of his trunk. Hagrid's present was missing.

A few weeks earlier, Harry was required to watch Dudley open his truckload of presents; 72 to be exact – Dudley had laboriously counted each and every one of them. Among his more interesting gifts were a new game system, a laptop computer he could bring to Smeltings and, ironically, a magic set. Not a real magic set, one of the Muggle 'the hand is quicker then the eye' things that relied on illusions. Harry had once wanted one of them when he was about nine, but the chaos it produced made him never want to utter the word 'magic' again… until he turned eleven that is. Right then, Harry was simply thankful that Dudley was not keen on trying out real magic via Harry's wand. Magic tricks were apparently quite popular at his school (and required little physical strain), making Dudley insistent on learning the illusions. Actually, Harry quite enjoyed the other boy's attempts to make things appear to vanish or come out of nowhere (he was really bad), with Harry silently taunting him with his smug look. He never voiced his thoughts, but his mere presence suddenly seemed to intimidate Dudley. Something Harry found quite appealing.

Today was his birthday. As soon as he finished making breakfast, he ran to his room, indulged in some delicious black forest, triple layer cake (courtesy of Mrs. Weasley), and once again started reading his birthday letters and the monstrous book. He was about to do something he never actually attempted before… never had the guts… but somehow, some part of his mind figured it was long overdue. He had suffered the Cruciatus, the most painful of curses, too many times to count this summer… nothing some Muggles could do to him could match that.

"BOY!" Harry stayed silent, trying to appear to be reading. The door burst open with more force than the disarmament spell, "I SAID…What in hell do you think you're doing?" The sudden forced calmness unnerved Harry more than the yelling- he was used to that.

"Reading." Harry said, surprising himself with the lack of fear in his voice. "My godfather wrote me that I am to take a break on my birthday Uncle Vernon… you don't want to upset my godfather- do you?" Harry asked a taunting quality now in his voice. It was a risk- a huge one, but he had not used his 'godfather card' all summer, and he did feel like a small break was in order. Harry scared himself with the glare he fixed on his uncle… where was all this coming from? Apparently, his uncle saw the odd change as well. Choosing to back down while salvaging some of his dignity, he agreed, stating that any work not done today would be added to tomorrow's agenda and practically slamming the door.

Anything Harry had won that day he lost the following morning. At three, he awoke from another horrific dream, followed by a similarly cruel yelling about being a useless, good-for-nothing pest that leeched their resources and ailed their family. This was followed by a gigantic list of chores that Harry knew would hurt his leisure time for the rest of the summer. If he did it all, they would know they could add more to his workload on a regular basis… if he did not… well… he didn't really want to think about that. He would just have to suffer. He figured he could still read the book by the first of September, even with the extra work. He had summed-up somewhat of a book in notes alone, feeling that he was becoming far too much like Hermione in that respect. His uncle graciously agreed to take him to Diagon Alley (after a few hours of pleading, begging and using the godfather card). This time, he would not be meeting any of his friends or shopping for any real things, just potion ingredients, parchment, ink, a few quills, and new robes. Everything else he could still salvage from the previous year.

The hardest part by far had been coping with the loss of his one true companion- Hedwig. His lovable snowy owl had vanished while on a trip to send a letter to Sirius, wherever he was. She had never taken this long to deliver anything, though Harry still bluntly refused to even consider the idea that anything could have happened to her. Still, he could not help but grimace as he looked longingly at her now-empty cage, set in a lone corner of his room. Even harder, it seemed, was walking past the pet store in the alley. Not only did the happy hooting stir up all his sullen feelings, the speed guarantee signs above several owls only stirred up more uncertainties. Could something actually have happened to her? Had they found out she was delivering something to Sirius? Did Voldemort do this? Did he now want to hurt him so much after how Harry had humiliated him after the third task that he was willing to shoot anything, even a bird, as long as it is even remotely connected to Harry? That was the hardest notion to push out of his mind… Voldemort was well known for his cruelty and savage brutality, his ability to place fear, pain and torment into any heart… was he trying to break him? No…

"She's fine." Harry muttered faintly, looking away from the shop, trying to convince himself of his words.

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