Hoping For a Better Future: BOOK ONE

One day after the end of Harry's third year, he wanders the castle when suddenly a whole package of books falls on his head. Read my version of Reading the Harry Potter Books! =D

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3. II - The Vanishing Glass

 Disclaimer: Everything belongs to JK Rowling I own nothing. Writing in bold comes directly from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

Hoping For a Better Future

BOOK ONE

II – The Vanishing Glass

Nearly ten years had passed since the Dursleys had woken up to find their nephew on the front step, but Privet Drive had hardly changed at all. The sun rose on the same tidy front gardens and lit up the brass number four on the Dursleys' front door; it crept into their living-room, which was almost exactly the same as it had been on the night when Mr Dursley had seen that fateful news report about the owls. Only the photographs on the mantelpiece really showed how much time had passed. Ten years ago, there had been lots of pictures of what looked like a large pink beach ball

"You have such a way with words," Sirius commented sarcastically, while Harry gave a sheepish grin.

wearing different-coloured bobble hats – but Dudley Dursley was no longer a baby, and now the photographs showed a large, blond boy riding his first bicycle, on a roundabout at the fair, playing a computer game with his father, being hugged and kissed by his mother. The room held no sign at all that another boy lived in the house, too.

There was another pause in the reading while the people in the room turned their glares on one, at the moment very uncomfortable, Headmaster.

Yet Harry Potter was still there, asleep at the moment, but not for long. His Aunt Petunia was awake and it was her shrill voice which made the first noise of the day.

"Up! Get up! Now!"

Harry woke with a start. His aunt rapped on the door again.

"Up!" she screeched. Harry heard her walking towards the kitchen and then the sound of the frying pan being put on the cooker. He rolled on to his back and tried to remember the dream he had been having. It had been a good one. There had been a flying motorbike in it. He had a funny feeling he'd had the same dream before.

"Actually, that's a memory," teased Sirius. Harry glared at him mockingly.

"Thank you, Sirius, I had no idea," he replied in kind.

"But it is amazing that you would remember such an early memory," said Hermione quietly. Harry stared at her for a moment, then around the room. Almost everyone looked quite impressed with him. He blushed and ducked his head, making Snape raise his eyebrows. He had expected the boy to become arrogant under such praise, but the boy had – once again – crushed those expectations. The more they read, the more he found himself wondering just who the boy was. Because, obviously he wasn't the carbon copy of his father, like he thought he was. It was quite a bitter potion to swallow, but Snape was good at swallowing bitter potions – literally or not.

His aunt was back outside the door.

"Are you up yet?" she demanded.

"Nearly," said Harry.

"Well, get a move on, I want you to look after the bacon. And don't you dare let it burn, I want everything perfect on Duddy's birthday."

Harry groaned.

"What did you say?" his aunt snapped through the door.

"Nothing, nothing …"

Dudley's birthday – how could he have forgotten? Harry got slowly out of bed and started looking for socks. He found a pair under his bed and, after pulling a spider

Ron shuddered and both Hermione and Harry couldn't stop the bout of chuckles that attacked them at that performance.

off one of them, put them on. Harry was used to spiders, because the cupboard under the stairs was full of them, and that was where he slept.

"Could you read that part again?" Sirius asked slowly. "I think I didn't hear that correctly."

Tonks repeated what she read, without any teasing remarks.

Harry was used to spiders, because the cupboard under the stairs was full of them, and that was where he slept.

Harry was staring at his hands which were squeezing his school trousers, red-faced with shame. He never wanted them to find out about his cupboard, but knew that it would come up sometime.

There was a poisonous silence in the room as everyone tried to calm down before they murdered the Headmaster. Dumbledore himself was sitting in his armchair and looked quite gloomy at the book in Tonks' hands. He knew that the boy wasn't happy with his family, but he didn't expect them to treat him quite so bad.

Severus on the other hand was experiencing a paradigm shift. Everything that he thought of the boy – being a spoiled prince, being arrogant like his father – everything slipped away at the sentence that was just read. He did the only thing that he could think of at the moment – he put his elbows on his knees and leaned his head on his palms with a deep sigh. Harry (when did he become Harry and not Potter, anyway?) was more like him than Snape thought possible. While his father did not stick him into a cupboard, he did have to live in a small attic room where it was cold most of the time. He wouldn't be surprised if in the books to come there would be some mention of physical abuse as well.

However, it was the mental abuse that Harry had to suffer from for all these years. It was no wonder he had so little self-preservation and such a big hero complex. And yes, now that he thought about it – the boy never stood up for himself when Draco had a go at him, but he always stood up for his friends. Snape realized that Harry probably never had friends before coming to Hogwarts. It was a bitter realization that Snape's own childhood was better than Harry's in him having a friend, his Lily.

While this monologue was going on in his head, the others were shouting at the Headmaster.

"Could we please continue reading the book?" Harry finally said with a quiet voice – that was heard nonetheless.

"We'll talk about this later, you old fool," Sirius said to the Headmaster before Tonks continued reading.

When he was dressed he went down the hall into the kitchen. The table was almost hidden beneath all Dudley's birthday presents. It looked as though Dudley had got the new computer he wanted, not to mention the second television and the racing bike.

"Why would he want a racing bike?" asked Sirius in confusion. Everyone turned to stare at him.

"What?" he asked them when they didn't say anything.

"We just had no idea that you knew what a racing bike is," explained Tonks with a grin.

"I'll have you know I took Muggle Studies when I was in school," replied Sirius indignantly.

Exactly why Dudley wanted a racing bike was a mystery to Harry, as Dudley was very fat and hated exercise – unless of course it involved punching somebody. Dudley's favourite punch-bag was Harry, but he couldn't often catch him. Harry didn't look it, but he was very fast.

Perhaps it had something to do with living in a dark cupboard, but Harry had always been small and skinny for his age.

"Sorry, Bambi, that's all your father's genes - he was a scrawny little git when he was eleven too," said Sirius with a small smile on his face. Harry smiled back at him. It was nice to hear more about his father than the fact that he looked just like him.

He looked even smaller and skinnier than he really was because all he had to wear were old clothes of Dudley's and Dudley was about four times bigger than he was. Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black hair and bright-green eyes. He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Sellotape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose. The only thing Harry liked about his own appearance was a very thin scar on his forehead which was shaped like a bolt of lightning.

"You actually liked your scar?" said Ron in shock. Everyone who knew Harry knew that he hated his scar with a passion.

Harry shrugged, feeling a little uncomfortable with everyone staring at him. Again.

"I didn't know what the scar represented then. I had no reason to hate it."

He had had it as long as he could remember and the first question he could ever remember asking his Aunt Petunia was how he had got it.

"In the car crash when your parents died," she had said. "And don't ask questions."

"They told you your parents died in a car crash?" asked a dangerously calm Remus. Harry looked a bit weary as he turned his head to look at his favourite professor.

"They didn't want me to know about magic," he explained, hoping to calm the professor down. "And they probably couldn't come up with a better explanation."

"What I don't get is why you're defending them," Sirius ground out with a glare. "They locked you in a boot cupboard and treated you like you were trash."

Harry once again went red with shame and embarrassment and looked down at his fingers.

Sirius immediately looked contrite and pulled Harry into a one-armed hug.

"I'm sorry, Harry," he whispered. "I don't want to make you uncomfortable – but we will talk about it... later."

Sirius' eyes held promise and Harry knew he wasn't going to get out of this one. He nodded, still a bit embarrassed. He did feel quite warm though – no one has ever treated him like this before – it felt nice.

Don't ask questions – that was the first rule for a quiet life with the Dursleys.

Uncle Vernon entered the kitchen as Harry was turning over the bacon.

"Comb your hair!" he barked, by way of a morning greeting.

"Not gonna work," Ron singsonged, trying to lift the mood in the room. Harry and Hermione snorted and the faces of the adults in the room cleared up a bit.

About once a week, Uncle Vernon looked over the top of his newspaper and shouted that Harry needed a haircut. Harry must have had more haircuts than the rest of the boys in his class put together, but it made no difference, his hair simply grew that way – all over the place.

"Just like your dad," Sirius grinned and tussled Harry's hair.

Harry was frying eggs by the time Dudley arrived in the kitchen with his mother. Dudley looked a lot like Uncle Vernon. He had a large, pink face, not much neck, small, watery blue eyes and thick, blond hair that lay smoothly on his thick, fat head. Aunt Petunia often said that Dudley looked like a baby angel – Harry often said that Dudley looked like a pig in a wig.

"Again, such a way with words," Sirius commented with a roll of his eyes.

Harry put the plates of egg and bacon on the table, which was difficult as there wasn't much room. Dudley, meanwhile, was counting his presents. His face fell.

"Thirty-six," he said, looking up at his mother and father. "That's two less than last year."

"Do they really get him so much presents for his birthday," asked Hermione, appalled.

Harry nodded quietly, looking at her warily. When Hermione got mad, he was always scared – although it seemed as if Ron thrived on getting her mad. He almost snorted at that thought.

"Darling, you haven't counted Auntie Marge's present, see, it's here under this big one from Mummy and Daddy."

"All right, thirty-seven then," said Dudley, going red in the face. Harry, who could see a huge Dudley tantrum coming on, began wolfing down his bacon as fast as possible in case Dudley turned the table over.

Aunt Petunia obviously scented danger too, because she said quickly, "And we'll buy you another two presents while we're out today. How's that, popkin? Two more presents. Is that all right?"

Dudley thought for a moment. It looked like hard work. Finally he said slowly,

"So I'll have thirty … thirty …"

"Merlin, he can't even count!" exclaimed Tonks. Harry grimaced at her, then blushed when he caught professor Lupin staring at him from the corner of his eye.

"Did he make you write his homework for him?" asked Lupin with a peculiar expression on his face. Harry flushed again and nodded, staring at his trousers again. Then, trying to lighten the tense atmosphere, he quipped, "But I quite liked Maths, so it was no problem."

This time it was Hermione who was looking at him with a peculiar expression.

"Then why didn't you sign up for Arithmancy classes? They're similar to Math," she asked.

Harry shrugged. He wasn't about to tell her what he really thought, after all. They would be angry with him if he did. He was confused by the expression on Snape's face when he turned his black eyes to look at him. It was like he was trying to figure him out. Like he was a Potions experiment. Snape's lips quirked a bit, before his eyes turned away.

Now, that was confusing.

"Thirty-nine, sweetums," said Aunt Petunia.

"Oh." Dudley sat down heavily and grabbed the nearest parcel. "All right then."

Uncle Vernon chuckled.

"Little tyke wants his money's worth, just like his father. Atta boy, Dudley!" He ruffled Dudley's hair.

"No, that just means that he's a spoiled brat," said Sirius into the silent room. Harry rolled his eyes. Sirius seemed to comment on almost everything they read – but Harry wasn't angry with him – it was nice to see Sirius become livelier with every comment he made. His eyes still held the dark shadows that Azkaban left, but his face was becoming more and more animated.

At that moment the telephone rang and Aunt Petunia went to answer it while Harry and Uncle Vernon watched Dudley unwrap the racing bike, a cine-camera, a remote-control aeroplane, sixteen new computer games and a video recorder. He was ripping the paper off a gold wristwatch when Aunt Petunia came back from the telephone, looking both angry and worried.

"Bad news, Vernon," she said. "Mrs Figg's broken her leg. She can't take him." She jerked her head in Harry's direction.

Dudley's mouth fell open in horror but Harry's heart gave a leap. Every year on Dudley's birthday his parents took him and a friend out for the day, to adventure parks, hamburger bars or the cinema. Every year, Harry was left behind with Mrs Figg, a mad old lady who lived two streets away. Harry hated it there. The whole house smelled of cabbage and Mrs Figg made him look at photographs of all the cats she'd ever owned.

"Now what?" said Aunt Petunia, looking furiously at Harry as though he'd planned this. Harry knew he ought to feel sorry that Mrs Figg had broken her leg, but it wasn't easy when he reminded himself it would be a whole year before he had to look at Tibbles, Snowy, Mr Paws and Tufty again.

"Harry, how could you..." Ron mocked and everyone let out a chuckle. Harry rolled his eyes at his best friend and ignored him.

"We could phone Marge," Uncle Vernon suggested.

"Don't be silly, Vernon, she hates the boy."

The Dursleys often spoke about Harry like this, as though he wasn't there – or rather, as though he was something very nasty that couldn't understand them, like a slug.

"What about what's-her-name, your friend – Yvonne?"

"On holiday in Majorca," snapped Aunt Petunia.

"You could just leave me here," Harry put in hopefully (he'd be able to watch what he wanted on television for a change and maybe even have a go on Dudley's computer).

"I don't think that's gonna work, Bambi," Sirius said with a mocking grin.

"I know that," Harry replied. "I can always hope."

"Yeah, hope is good," replied Sirius.

Harry rolled his eyes again.

Aunt Petunia looked as though she'd just swallowed a lemon.

"She always looks like that though," Harry felt the need to explain.

"And come back and find the house in ruins?" she snarled.

"I won't blow up the house," said Harry, but they weren't listening.

"I suppose we could take him to the zoo," said Aunt Petunia slowly, "… and leave him in the car …"

"That car's new, he's not sitting in it alone …"

Sirius got angry at that.

"He's treating you like a dog!" he exclaimed.

"You would know," Remus quipped. Harry snorted into his hand. He had no idea his Defence Against the Dark Arts professor could be so funny.

"Hey!" complained Sirius, but everyone ignored him as Tonks continued to read, not letting him get another complaint in.

Dudley began to cry loudly. In fact, he wasn't really crying, it had been years since he'd really cried, but he knew that if he screwed up his face and wailed, his mother would give him anything he wanted.

"Dinky Duddydums,

"Dinky Duddydums?" said Ron with a funny expression on his face. "She calls him Dinky Duddydums? She's even worse than mum!"

"Yeah, at least she doesn't call you Won Won," Harry teased back.

"Eww, Harry... just eww!" Ron retorted with a grimace.

don't cry, Mummy won't let him spoil your special day!" she cried, flinging her arms around him.

"I … don't … want … him … t-t-to come!" Dudley yelled between huge pretend sobs. "He always sp-spoils everything!" He shot Harry a nasty grin through the gap in his mother's arms.

Just then, the doorbell rang – "Oh, Good Lord, they're here!" said Aunt Petunia frantically – and a moment later, Dudley's best friend, Piers Polkiss, walked in with his mother. Piers was a scrawny boy with a face like a rat. He was usually the one who held people's arms behind their backs while Dudley hit them. Dudley stopped pretending to cry at once.

Half an hour later, Harry, who couldn't believe his luck, was sitting in the back of the Dursleys' car with Piers and Dudley, on the way to the zoo for the first time in his life. His aunt and uncle hadn't been able to think of anything else to do with him, but before they'd left, Uncle Vernon had taken Harry aside.

"I'm warning you," he had said, putting his large purple face right up close to Harry's, "I'm warning you now, boy – any funny business, anything at all – and you'll be in that cupboard from now until Christmas."

"I'm not going to do anything," said Harry, "honestly…"

But Uncle Vernon didn't believe him. No one ever did.

The problem was, strange things often happened around Harry and it was just no good telling the Dursleys he didn't make them happen.

"That's just your accidental magic, Harry," Sirius teased again, then groaned when Harry drove his elbow in his ribs to shut him up.

Once, Aunt Petunia, tired of Harry coming back from the barber's looking as though he hadn't been at all, had taken a pair of kitchen scissors and cut his hair so short he was almost bald except for his fringe, which she left "to hide that horrible scar". Dudley had laughed himself silly at Harry, who spent a sleepless night imagining school the next day, where he was already laughed at for his baggy clothes and Sellotaped glasses. Next morning, however, he had got up to find his hair exactly as it had been before Aunt Petunia had sheared it off. He had been given a week in his cupboard for this, even though he had tried to explain that he couldn't explain how it had grown back so quickly.

"Hmm, that could be a latent Metamorphmagus ability," Tonks mused when she read the paragraph.

"What's a Metamorphmagus?" Harry asked curiously.

"A Metamorphmagus is a witch or a wizard that can change their appearance at will," Hermione explained.

"That's correct, Hermione," Tonks praised the girl. "I'm a Metamorphmagus myself."

She proved it by changing her bubble-gum pink hair to an exact replica of Harry's hairdo.

"Wicked!" was Ron's only comment as he watched her with an impressed expression.

"We'll talk about it later," Tonks promised when she caught the impatience on Moody's face.

Another time, Aunt Petunia had been trying to force him into a revolting old jumper of Dudley's (brown with orange bobbles). The harder she tried to pull it over his head, the smaller it seemed to become, until finally it might have fitted a glove puppet, but certainly wouldn't fit Harry. Aunt Petunia had decided it must have shrunk in the wash and, to his great relief, Harry wasn't punished.

On the other hand, he'd got into terrible trouble for being found on the roof of the school kitchens. Dudley's gang had been chasing him as usual when, as much to Harry's surprise as anyone else's, there he was sitting on the chimney.

"You apparated?" Lupin asked with wide eyes. Harry looked at his face then at the face of the others. Everyone was looking at him with wide eyes.

"What's wrong?" he asked, becoming worried.

"Nothing is wrong really," Sirius explained slowly. "It's just that you're more powerful than I thought."

"Even I couldn't apparate when I was your age," Dumbledore added quietly. "Even accidentally."

Everything grew quiet again, each trying to come to terms with how powerful of a wizard Harry really was.

"But then, why do you suck at magic so much," Ron asked the most pertinent question. Hermione couldn't agree more.

Harry remained quiet. He didn't want everyone to know...

"It's because of the expectations that everyone's putting on him, combined with how the Dursleys treated him," Snape said quietly, trying not to look like he swallowed an extremely sour lemon. It was another thing that he had to swallow – he thought that Harry was stupid. Another thing he was wrong about. The boy was probably more intelligent than anyone gave him credit for. If he was able to hold his power back so much to barely scrape by in his classes, then how powerful was he really?

That thought gave him a scare.

Sirius started to glare at him, but stopped when he realized that he was probably telling the truth. He turned, instead, to Harry and watched as he tried to grow as small as possible.

"Harry-" he tried to say, but Harry interrupted him. He knew that they would nag him until he caved, so he caved earlier.

"It's because everyone's expecting this Golden Boy that defeated Voldemort. The only thing he's good for is for defeating the Dark. They don't expect anything else from me. And if I try to be something else, they condemn me – like in second year when they thought I was the heir of Slytherin. Everyone turned on me like I was the next Dark Lord or something..." the words rushed out of Harry.

Everyone was quiet. Dumbledore looked a bit guilty – Snape thought that what Harry was feeling probably came to bite the Headmaster in the arse – for he was as much to blame for the boy feeling like that as everyone in this room.

"And if I did as well as I know I could, then Ron and Hermione would be angry with me," Harry kept going. It was all out of the bag now anyway.

"Why would you think that?" Hermione asked stupefied.

"Oh, come on!" Harry raised his voice. "You were put out by me outperforming you in the Defence Against the Dark Arts exam not two weeks ago. You don't expect me to believe that if I did better than you in other subjects that you wouldn't be even more put out!"

Hermione was quiet.

"And Ron would feel left out – why do you think I signed up for the same classes he did! I didn't want to create an even bigger rift between us than it already is! You know how put out he is by me having all this fame and money!" Harry continued to rant, not caring if he hurt his friends or not. He couldn't stop the words gushing out of his mouth any more.

"As if I need any of that! He's already struggling with seeing me as Harry and not as Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived! And no one else sees me as just Harry! They all expect me to be something – and I provide!"

"I don't see you as Harry Potter," said Neville quietly. It was the first time he said something and Harry realized that he forgot he was in the room. He immediately felt guilty about that. What kind of a friend was he?

"Neither do I," said Remus. Sirius just hugged the small boy to his side and whispered, "You're my godson, I don't care about anything else!"

Harry tried to swallow the lump in his throat, but to no avail. Instead he turned his head and hid his face in Sirius' chest as he did his best not to cry. Sirius gently patted his back and just held him closer.

Everyone was quiet, letting the boy calm down. Hermione and Ron had a sour pill to swallow themselves, because everything Harry said was true to an extent.

When Harry was calm, he turned around and quickly glanced at everyone in the room. Hermione was crying silently, Ron was watching her gloomily, Neville was watching him, Remus and Sirius were in a quiet conversation between themselves, Dumbledore had his head in his hands, while McGonagall was trying to comfort him; Moody was expressionless as always, but he did have a strange look in his eye as he gazed at the wall, while his other eye was firmly on his face; Snape was also looking at Harry with an indescribable expression.

Tonks cleared her throat and continued reading after making sure that Harry was okay. Harry knew that everyone would talk to him about it once the books were finished. He sighed, resigned.

The Dursleys had received a very angry letter from Harry's headmistress telling them Harry had been climbing school buildings. But all he'd tried to do (as he shouted at Uncle Vernon through the locked door of his cupboard) was jump behind the big bins outside the kitchen doors. Harry supposed that the wind must have caught him in mid-jump.

But today, nothing was going to go wrong. It was even worth being with Dudley and Piers to be spending the day somewhere that wasn't school, his cupboard or Mrs Figg's cabbage-smelling living-room.

While he drove, Uncle Vernon complained to Aunt Petunia. He liked to complain about things: people at work, Harry, the council, Harry, the bank and Harry were just a few of his favourite subjects. This morning, it was motorbikes.

"I guess he likes to complain about you a lot," Sirius tried to joke, but fell silent when everyone glared at him.

"… roaring along like maniacs, the young hoodlums," he said, as a motorbike overtook them.

"I had a dream about a motorbike," said Harry, remembering suddenly. "It was flying."

Uncle Vernon nearly crashed into the car in front. He turned right around in his seat and yelled at Harry, his face like a gigantic beetroot with a moustache, "MOTORBIKES DON'T FLY!"

Dudley and Piers sniggered.

"I know they don't," said Harry. "It was only a dream."

But he wished he hadn't said anything. If there was one thing the Dursleys hated even more than his asking questions, it was his talking about anything acting in a way it shouldn't, no matter if it was in a dream or even a cartoon – they seemed to think he might get dangerous ideas.

It was a very sunny Saturday and the zoo was crowded with families. The Dursleys bought Dudley and Piers large chocolate ice-creams at the entrance and then, because the smiling lady in the van had asked Harry what he wanted before they could hurry him away, they bought him a cheap lemon ice lolly. It wasn't bad either, Harry thought, licking it as they watched a gorilla scratching its head and looking remarkably like Dudley, except that it wasn't blond.

Harry had the best morning he'd had in a long time. He was careful to walk a little way apart from the Dursleys so that Dudley and Piers, who were starting to get bored with the animals by lunch-time, wouldn't fall back on their favourite hobby of hitting him. They ate in the zoo restaurant and when Dudley had a tantrum because his knickerbocker glory wasn't big enough, Uncle Vernon bought him another one and Harry was allowed to finish the first.

Harry felt, afterwards, that he should have known it was all too good to last.

After lunch they went to the reptile house. It was cool and dark in here, with lit windows all along the walls. Behind the glass, all sorts of lizards and snakes were crawling and slithering over bits of wood and stone. Dudley and Piers wanted to see huge, poisonous cobras and thick, man-crushing pythons. Dudley quickly found the largest snake in the place. It could have wrapped its body twice around Uncle Vernon's car and crushed it into a dustbin – but at the moment it didn't look in the mood. In fact, it was fast asleep.

Dudley stood with his nose pressed against the glass, staring at the glistening brown coils.

"Make it move," he whined at his father. Uncle Vernon tapped on the glass, but the snake didn't budge.

"Do it again," Dudley ordered. Uncle Vernon rapped the glass smartly with his knuckles, but the snake just snoozed on.

"This is boring," Dudley moaned. He shuffled away.

Harry moved in front of the tank and looked intently at the snake. He wouldn't have been surprised if it had died of boredom itself – no company except stupid people drumming their fingers on the glass trying to disturb it all day long. It was worse than having a cupboard as a bedroom, where the only visitor was Aunt Petunia hammering on the door to wake you up – at least he got to visit the rest of the house.

The snake suddenly opened its beady eyes. Slowly, very slowly, it raised its head until its eyes were on a level with Harry's.

It winked.

Sirius started to say something, but Remus shook his head – motioning for Sirius to take a look at Harry's face. Sirius did so and was shocked to see the miserable look on his godson's face. Instead of saying something, he hugged his godson to himself again, trying to comfort him.

Harry stared. Then he looked quickly around to see if anyone was watching. They weren't. He looked back at the snake and winked, too.

The snake jerked its head towards Uncle Vernon and Dudley, then raised its eyes to the ceiling. It gave Harry a look that said quite plainly:

"I get that all the time."

"I know," Harry murmured through the glass, though he wasn't sure the snake could hear him. "It must be really annoying."

The snake nodded vigorously.

"Where do you come from, anyway?" Harry asked.

The snake jabbed its tail at a little sign next to the glass. Harry peered at it.

Boa Constrictor, Brazil.

"Was it nice there?"

The boa constrictor jabbed its tail at the sign again and Harry read on: This specimen was bred in the zoo. "Oh, I see – so you've never been to Brazil?"

As the snake shook its head, a deafening shout behind Harry made both of them jump.

"DUDLEY! MR DURSLEY! COME AND LOOK AT THIS SNAKE! YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHAT IT'S DOING!"

Dudley came waddling towards them as fast as he could.

"Out of the way, you," he said, punching Harry in the ribs. Caught by surprise, Harry fell hard on the concrete floor. What came next happened so fast no one saw how it happened – one second, Piers and Dudley were leaning right up close to the glass, the next, they had leapt back with howls of horror.

Harry sat up and gasped; the glass front of the boa constrictor's tank had vanished.

"Wow, Harry," said Tonks smiling. "Another amazing feat of magic!"

Harry looked at her cautiously, trying to discern if she meant it, but could see no deceit.

"Thanks," he mumbled.

The great snake was uncoiling itself rapidly, slithering out on to the floor – people throughout the reptile house screamed and started running for the exits.

As the snake slid swiftly past him, Harry could have sworn a low, hissing voice said, "Brazil, here I come … Thanksss, amigo."

The only ones in the room that were surprised by the revelation that Harry was a parselmouth were Moody and Tonks – Remus and Sirius already knew (or at least they suspected from what Harry was yelling a few minutes ago). Sirius quickly kissed Harry on his forehead and grinned at him when Harry looked up at him in surprise.

"What? You expect me to be all shocked and angry and go saying 'Merlin, you're a parselmouth'? Well, if so – you're going to be disappointed. I think it's cool!" he said stubbornly. Harry just shook his head in disbelief. Looking around the room, he saw that no one looked like they were disgusted. Everyone looked at him with understanding on their faces. Well, not Snape. He only looked like he always did. But Harry somehow knew that he understood him too.

Suddenly he realized that Snape knew exactly how Harry felt. He was discriminated against as well and Harry was guilty of doing the same to him as he didn't want people doing to him. It was a hard pill to swallow, but Harry was nothing but good at swallowing hard pills.

"I'm sorry," he whispered as he looked at Snape with an apologetic expression.

Snape did nothing but blink. In fact, behind the mask, Severus was nothing but shocked at the apology he received. He did not expect that. But then again, Harry did nothing but what was expected of him – and he was expected to hate him, not counting that Snape wanted Harry to hate him so that he could hate him too. That of course, fizzled out of his brain as soon as he thought it.

It shocked him.

He didn't hate Potter any more. He couldn't. Not after what he learned about him in the short span of time that they spent reading the books.

The keeper of the reptile house was in shock.

"But the glass," he kept saying, "where did the glass go?"

The zoo director himself made Aunt Petunia a cup of strong sweet tea while he apologised over and over again. Piers and Dudley could only gibber. As far as Harry had seen, the snake hadn't done anything except snap playfully at their heels as it passed, but by the time they were all back in Uncle Vernon's car, Dudley was telling them how it had nearly bitten off his leg, while Piers was swearing it had tried to squeeze him to death. But worst of all, for Harry at least, was Piers calming down enough to say, "Harry was talking to it, weren't you, Harry?"

Uncle Vernon waited until Piers was safely out of the house before starting on Harry. He was so angry he could hardly speak. He managed to say, "Go – cupboard – stay – no meals," before he collapsed into a chair and Aunt Petunia had to run and get him a large brandy.

Harry lay in his dark cupboard much later, wishing he had a watch. He didn't know what time it was and he couldn't be sure the Dursleys were asleep yet. Until they were, he couldn't risk sneaking to the kitchen for some food.

He'd lived with the Dursleys almost ten years, ten miserable years, as long as he could remember, ever since he'd been a baby and his parents had died in that car crash. He couldn't remember being in the car when his parents had died. Sometimes, when he strained his memory during long hours in his cupboard, he came up with a strange vision: a blinding flash of green light and a burning pain on his forehead.

Everyone paled again. Harry could remember the night his parents were killed? Sirius swallowed and pulled Harry even closer.

This, he supposed, was the crash, though he couldn't imagine where all the green light came from. He couldn't remember his parents at all. His aunt and uncle never spoke about them, and of course he was forbidden to ask questions. There were no photographs of them in the house.

When he had been younger, Harry had dreamed and dreamed of some unknown relation coming to take him away, but it had never happened; the Dursleys were his only family. Yet sometimes he thought (or maybe hoped) that strangers in the street seemed to know him. Very strange strangers they were, too. A tiny man in a violet top hat had bowed to him once while out shopping with Aunt Petunia and Dudley. After asking Harry furiously if he knew the man, Aunt Petunia had rushed them out of the shop without buying anything. A wild-looking old woman dressed all in green had waved merrily at him once on a bus. A bald man in a very long purple coat had actually shaken his hand in the street the other day and then walked away without a word. The weirdest thing about all these people was the way they seemed to vanish the second Harry tried to get a closer look.

At school, Harry had no one. Everybody knew that Dudley's gang hated that odd Harry Potter in his baggy old clothes and broken glasses, and nobody liked to disagree with Dudley's gang.

 

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