lundi 11 février 2008

chapter one

Chapter One

Secrets Unraveled

Harry slowly raised his head and stared morosely at the familiar visage
of number four, Privet Drive. What had already been a horrible day was
rapidly getting worse. Not only did he have to appear unannounced on
the Dursleys’ doorstep (something he knew they’d have no problem
expressing their displeasure over), but he’d also have to tell them
that two other freaks would be joining him this afternoon. The corner
of Harry’s mouth twitched humorlessly as he envisioned how they’d take
the news.

He’d left Ron and Hermione at King’s Cross station a little over an
hour ago. They were each going to make quick stops at their respective
homes before Apparating to Privet Drive. Harry smiled fondly,
remembering their show of solidarity. He hadn’t been expecting it; he’d
thought he’d be going on alone. Although he was desperately worried
about them and the remainder of their quest, he had to admit that the
thought of some support while facing his relatives was quite nice

Harry had thought it would be better – or at least less embarrassing –
if he arrived at Privet Drive first and prepared his relatives for
their arrival. He’d wanted to get away from the Hogwarts Express and
the other students as quickly as possible…before he ran into Ginny.


Harry quickly shook his head – he couldn’t afford to think about Ginny.
He still didn’t think his resolve was strong enough to hold.

Since he wasn’t yet of age, he’d quickly slipped away without speaking
to any of the crowd at King’s Cross and taken the train to Privet
Drive. The long, hot journey had left him irritable. It didn’t bode
well for the coming reunion. He’d considered just Apparating back from
Hogsmeade to avoid the Hogwarts Express altogether. So what if the
Ministry chucked him out of Hogwarts now? He wasn’t going back, anyway.

Hermione, always the voice of reason, reminded him that there was no
need to give the Ministry an excuse to break his wand, and Harry had to
admit that she had a point.

Rufus Scrimgeour wanted Harry under his control, and Harry wouldn’t put
it past the man to make life difficult in an effort to force Harry to
comply. Harry had no patience for the man or his politicking. Still,
recklessly using underage magic for the sake of mere convenience was a
risk not worth taking.

He hated when Hermione was right.

So, he’d sat in a compartment with Ron and Hermione and tried to ignore
the hole in his heart that Ginny’s absence created. He hadn’t seen her
the entire journey home and wondered which compartment she’d sat on the
train. Neither Ron nor Hermione had asked him where she was, but he’d
caught Hermione staring at him speculatively on several occasions.
Harry had been steadfast in avoiding her gaze. He’d stared out the
window miserably, his thoughts focused on happier days…


Stuffing his hands in the pockets of his jeans and squaring his
shoulders, Harry trudged across the street towards the immaculately
pruned garden of number four, Privet Drive. He’d promised Dumbledore
that he’d return one more time before his birthday, and he intended to
keep that pledge. Harry’s chest tightened as he thought of his
headmaster, but he blinked the moisture from his eyes and continued
forward. This was what Dumbledore had wanted, and this was what he was
going to do.

Still, knowing what he had to do didn’t make doing it any easier. He
wasn’t in the mood to deal with the Dursleys’ nonsense. He had no
patience for their petty bigotry…he had bigger challenges to face. The
days when Vernon Dursley’s purple face could make him cower were long
past. He wondered what he could expect when they opened the door to
find him standing there after his eventful departure last summer.

All in all, he supposed it could be worse. He’d rather face the
Dursleys’ ire than Molly Weasley’s fury when Ron informed her of his
plans to ditch the Burrow this summer and head straight into the war
that she’d been so adamantly attempting to shield him from.

Oh, no, Harry mused, he got off far easier in only having to face the

He wondered if Ron would have dropped his little bombshell while still
at King’s Cross, or if he would have waited until arriving at the
Burrow. Harry could picture Ron in the kitchen trying to reason with
his mum, and Ginny would be there…


Harry’s heart constricted at the mere thought of her, and he pressed
his eyelids together as if to squeeze her from his thoughts. Everything
had seemed so simple and straightforward in his mind when he’d made his
decision. He couldn’t put Ginny in danger. He’d never survive if he
lost her, too.

But he had something he had to do, and he couldn’t afford any
distractions while he was searching for the Horcruxes. Breaking it off
had been the right thing to do. There was no reason that she should
have to put her life on hold just because he did. It could take years
to find them all.

At the time, it had seemed the perfectly logical thing to do. But now,
away from Hogwarts and facing the unknown…now, nothing was clear. He
didn’t know how he’d be able to function with this pain tearing such a
hole in his heart. He felt as if he were bleeding continually from an
invisible wound.

One thing he did know for certain: she could distract him with a simple
smile, and he couldn’t afford to be distracted. He had too much that he
had to do.
As for what did come next…that’s where Harry faltered. He knew what it
was he had to do, he just wasn’t certain about how to do it. How could
he find the remaining four Horcruxes? Where did he start? And how did
he keep himself – or worse, Ron and Hermione – from suffering the same
fate Dumbledore did when he’d located the last two Horcruxes? Or what
he’d thought was a Horcrux, anyway…

R.A.B. How was he to find R.A.B.? Where did he begin?

The locket, the cup, the snake, and something of Gryffindor or

It seemed hopeless and overwhelming as a whole, so he’d have to start
in pieces and work from there. He fingered the cold, hard metal of the
fake Horcrux that he still kept in his pocket. Harry had found himself
using it as some sort of talisman, holding onto it whenever the stress
started to build. There had to be a way, and he was going to find it.

The first step would be Godric’s Hollow. He wasn’t certain what he
expected to find there, it just seemed important that he go.

Scratch that. The first step would be getting through his last
confinement with the Dursleys, and the sooner he started enduring that,
the sooner he could move forward.

While he’d been lost in thought, Harry’s feet had carried him to the
front door. Taking a deep breath, he tapped the knocker three times.

Here we go.

It took only a few moments before he heard footsteps approaching the
door. It opened slightly, and Aunt Petunia’s horsy face peered through
the crack. He watched as her eyes widened in surprise before the door
swung open wide, and she yanked him inside by the collar of his shirt.

“What are you doing here?” Aunt Petunia demanded, her long neck craning
from side to side to ensure none of the neighbors were out and about
and watching Harry being manhandled by his aunt. “Why are you back here
so soon? Did those freaks at that school of yours finally decide they
didn’t want you either and throw you out? Did you think you could just
show up here unannounced?”

“Hello, Aunt Petunia. It’s nice to see you, too,” Harry said
pleasantly, pulling back from her grip and readjusting his collar. He
spared a quick glance at the parlor, noting that nothing had really
changed, although there were some crumpled sweet wrappers on an end
table, which was unusual for Aunt Petunia.

“Don’t you ‘hello’ me,” his aunt snapped, dragging his attention back
to her aggravated face. “I asked you what you are doing here? Term
still has several weeks remaining.”

Harry shrugged and dropped his gaze to the floor. “We were released
early this year,” he said vaguely, not wanting to discuss Dumbledore’s
death with her quite so soon. He wasn’t ready.
Before she could reply, the kitchen door swung open, and Harry’s cousin
Dudley lumbered into the room. He was even larger than Harry
remembered, and his face looked tired and drawn. His eyes opened wide
with shock upon seeing Harry, and he began gaping like a fish.

“What’s he doing here?” Dudley demanded, pointing a porky finger at
Harry. Harry was pleased to notice the slight tremor in Dudley’s hand.
After years of being the victim of Dudley’s bullying behavior, it was
nice to have the shoe on the other foot, so to speak.

“Hey, Duds,” Harry said, grinning widely. “You’re home from school
early, too. Did they chuck you out?” Harry asked, throwing Aunt
Petunia’s taunt back at his cousin.

Harry was surprised when Dudley ignored Harry completely and turned his
panic-stricken eyes upon his mother. “Thought you’d get him to look me
over, did you? Trying to compare and see if he’s infected me? It’s all
his fault, anyway. You know that. Him and that freak of an old man who
took him the last time – they did this to me. You know they did
something. He threatened you, I heard him.”

“Now, now, Popkin,” Aunt Petunia said soothingly, but Harry couldn’t
help but notice the tremor in her voice. “Don’t get yourself upset. You
know what happens when you get too fussed.”

Dudley’s eyes nearly bulged out of the sockets, and he grasped his
mother’s forearms with enough force to leave red marks. “Mummy! Don’t
let it happen again,” he whimpered.

Aunt Petunia pulled her arm away and began patting Dudley on the back
and cooing softly as she led him into the parlor. Once she sat him on
the couch and calmed him down, she turned back towards Harry. Her eyes
were filled with such intense loathing that Harry found himself taking
a step back involuntarily. What was going on here?

“Sit down and don’t dirty the sofa. I’m going to get Duddy a glass of
lemonade,” she hissed, scurrying from the room. “Don’t upset him.”

Harry looked over at Dudley and furrowed his eyebrows. “What’s got your
knickers in such a twist, Dud?”

“What are you doing here? Did they ask you to come look at me? I won’t
have you or any of your freak friends pawing at me. Don’t think I can’t
get that ruddy thing away from you, and when I do…” Dudley’s face
matched the purple color that Harry usually associated with Uncle

“Take it easy, Dud. You’re going to burst something. Why don’t you tell
me what’s going on here? What is this all about?” Harry asked.

His mind was racing, trying to remember all the details from his last
trip to Privet Drive. It seemed like another lifetime ago. Professor
Dumbledore had been pleasant, even though it was obvious to Harry that
he had been upset by the way that the Dursleys had treated Harry.
Still, he didn’t think that was something the Dursleys would have
picked up. Harry’s comfort and well-being had never been one of their

Dudley appeared to be under the impression that Professor Dumbledore
had threatened them, however. How would Dudley’s mind have formed that
idea? Of course, being the bully he was, Dudley probably assumed
everyone was threatening him, since he spent most of his time
threatening others. Still, Harry tried to recall the conversation from
the previous year to work out what had wound up his relatives so much.

Staring at Dudley sitting crouched into himself on the couch brought
Dumbledore’s words back into Harry’s mind. He had said something about
leaving a note for the Dursleys when he’d dropped Harry on their
doorstep all those years ago.

“You did not do as I asked. You have never treated Harry as a son. He
has known nothing but neglect and often cruelty at your hands. The best
that can be said is that he has at least escaped the appalling damage
you have inflicted upon the unfortunate boy sitting between you.”

Was that what Dudley thought was a threat? How could it be, though?
Another memory arose in Harry’s mind of a Howler sent to Aunt Petunia
after the Dementor attack on Harry and Dudley in the alley before his
fifth year.

“Remember my last.”

The last must have been this same letter. Harry was burning with
curiosity to know exactly what the letter had said. He held little hope
that Aunt Petunia would tell him, however. Why is she so worried about
Dudley being upset, anyway? Not that she ever likes to see her little
popkin upset, Harry thought with a grimace.

Only one thing to do for it, then.

“So what’s this about Professor Dumbledore doing something to you last
time, Duds? Are you sprouting a tail again? I didn’t even see him do
it. Of course, he has no problem with non-verbal spells, so you never
know what he could have been up to,” Harry said casually, forcing down
the painful lump that lodged itself in his throat when speaking as if
Professor Dumbledore were still alive.

Dudley cowered away from Harry and scrambled off the couch faster than
his bulk should have allowed. His hands instinctively searching his
massive behind for, Harry assumed, the return of a pig’s tail. “Stay
away from me! I mean it…you stay away!”

Harry stood up and began walking towards Dudley with a determined
stride. “What’s wrong, Dud? Why are you so skittish all of a sudden?
Lost your nerve, have you? Is this what’s got you acting like such a
little girl?” Harry asked, drawing his wand from his sleeve.

“Put it away,” Dudley screeched, backing into a corner. Harry would
have laughed if it weren’t so pathetic. This was the great git of a
bully who had regularly made Harry’s life a living hell when he was

“I mean it, Potter, put that thing away,” Dudley growled.
“Or what, Dud? What are you going to do?” Harry couldn’t help his
morbid fascination, wondering how far he could push before Dudley would
strike back.

Before Dudley could answer him, however, the vase on the table next to
him started shaking violently. It rattled on the table as it moved
closer to the edge. Harry stared at it in surprise. He really wasn’t
that upset, not about this, anyway. Why was his magic reacting so

“Oh, no,” Dudley moaned before the vase flew from the table and went
careening towards Harry’s head.

Harry was so shocked that he never had time to move. The heavy ceramic
vase slammed into the side of his face with enough force to knock him
from his feet. The vase and Harry both landed on the floor with a heavy
thud, the vase shattering in several large chunks.

Alerted by the noise, Aunt Petunia hurried back into the room and
screeched at the destruction. “What have you done?” she spat, stepping
over Harry to retrieve the broken pieces of her vase.

“It happened again, Mummy,” Dudley wailed. “He did it! I know he did.”

Aunt Petunia leapt to her feet and hurried over to Dudley. “There,
there, now, sweetums. Mummy’s here. Everything will be all right. Come
into the kitchen, and I’ll make you a nice snack. I’ll take care of

As she ushered Dudley from the room, she turned back towards Harry, who
was still struggling to rise from the floor. “Stay here. I’ll be right
back. I warned you not to upset him,” she hissed, her eyes nearly
glowing with a burning intensity.

Harry groaned as he sat up and put a hand to his throbbing cheekbone.
What is going on here? He pulled himself to his feet unsteadily and
shook his head in an attempt to clear it.

Bad idea.

The entire room swam before his eyes, and he had to grasp the arm of
the couch to remain upright. He tentatively moved his jaw from side to
side, testing how much damage had been done to his face. He didn’t
think anything was broken, but the pain was enough to make him wish for
one of Madam Pomfrey’s potions.

This would be no ordinary stay at Privet Drive.

He’d done accidental magic before, but not in a long time. He didn’t
remember ever hurting himself with it before, either. Something wasn’t
right. He glanced out the window apprehensively, wondering if he’d be
receiving a reprimand from the Ministry.

Great. That’s all I need.
Still, he’d never got them when it had happened when he was younger, so
maybe he’d get by this time, as well. Nothing to do for it; he’d have
to wait and see.

The more pressing matter was what was going on with Dudley. He’d acted
almost as if he’d known what was going to happen. Almost as if…

Aunt Petunia strode back into the room at that moment and sat down
stiffly, glaring at Harry all the while. Harry wasn’t certain what she
expected of him, but followed her lead and sat down at the other end of
the couch, waiting. After a few moments spent in silence, Harry
couldn’t take it anymore.

“What’s happening here, Aunt Petunia?” he asked quietly. “I don’t think
I did that. I think Dudley did. How is that possible?”

“Of course my Dudley didn’t do it. You’re the freak here, not him,” she
snapped, before her face crumpled, and she put her head in her hands.

Harry was thunderstruck and at a loss for what to do. In all the years
that Harry had spent with the Dursleys, she’d never once offered him a
bit of comfort over anything, and he found it strange that he wanted to
comfort her now.

Tentatively, he raised his hand and gradually moved it towards her
before quickly pulling it back again. Twice more he struggled with the
urge to lay his hand on her back in an attempt to calm her. She’d never
taken kindly to his touch before, and he was afraid that anything he
might do would stop her from talking. He wanted answers more than he
wanted to comfort her, so he clenched his fists and fought to remain in
his spot.

Aunt Petunia finally raised her head, and, although her lower lip
trembled, she began to speak. “After you and your headmaster left here
last year, odd things started to happen. These incidents grew more and
more frequent until Dudley was finally asked to leave school. They
suggested he needed counseling. As if we’d ever be able to talk about
any of this. They thought he was acting out and being destructive on
purpose. The nerve of some people.”

Harry’s head was swimming with questions, but he was afraid she’d clam
up if he interrupted, so he just let her continue to ramble.

“What did your headmaster do?” she asked, her eyes narrowing. “He
removed the protection, didn’t he? He said we didn’t live up to our end
of the bargain by not caring for you. We gave you food and shelter for
all these years out of the goodness of our hearts. What more did he

“He wanted us to love you like our own. You’re not our own! You’re just
a reminder of the sister I wished I’d never had. We gave you shelter,
and that has supposedly kept you alive and safe all this time. That
should have counted for something. We could have just chucked you in an
orphanage like Vernon wanted to do. Sometimes, I think we all would
have been better off if we had.”
Harry had long ago stopped caring about or looking for the Dursleys’
approval, yet the coldness of the words stung.

“What do you mean by remove the protection?” he asked stoically,
refusing to give her the satisfaction of knowing her words had hurt
him. “The blood protection from my mother remains as long as I can call
this house my home…at least until my birthday. He told you I’d be
returning one more time.”

“Not the blood protection for you,” Aunt Petunia snapped. “This isn’t
about you. I don’t care what happens to you or any of your freak world.
As far as I’m concerned, we’d all be better off if you all just killed
each other off. I want to know about the protections on Dudley.
Dumbledore withdrew his part of the agreement, didn’t he?”

Harry blinked, nonplussed. “What are you on about?” he asked coldly.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, you never were very bright, were you? The spell
he cast on Dudley. It’s obviously not working, because he keeps making
these freakish things happen.”

“Dudley is a wizard?” Harry asked incredulously, the pieces all finally
clicking into place. He felt as if the room was spinning, and he didn’t
think it had anything to do with his throbbing temple. He knew magic
ran in families – the Creevey brothers proved that. They were
Muggleborn, and yet both were wizards…but Dudley. How could this have

“Of course he’s not a wi…a.wi… He’s not a freak,” Aunt Petunia snapped,
her voice nothing more than a high-pitched whisper. “I made a deal with
your headmaster. He would block this unnaturalness from Duddydums, and
I would take you in. It was all arranged. Then, after last year,
whatever it was he did stopped working, because Dudley started having
instances of these oddities every few days, and I can’t stop them. I
want you to fix it. You do whatever it was he had done before. You can
fix this, and you owe us that much.”

Harry’s mind was racing. How could this be? Would Dumbledore really
have suppressed Dudley’s magic for all these years? It didn’t seem like
something he would ever do. It didn’t make any sense.

As if from a fog, Harry’s mind recalled the way Aunt Petunia had always
catered to Dudley’s every whim. How she’d acted as if the world
revolved around keeping him calm and not letting him get upset. Harry’s
worst punishments always came as a direct result of Dudley getting
upset. He wondered if Petunia’s obsessive need to clean was only a
byproduct of her anxiety over cleaning up what she considered a huge

His mind continued to pick out little instances of times when Dudley
had been upset. His thoughts again drifted to the night the Dementors
had attacked, and Dudley had cowered in fear. Harry had wondered what
Dudley could have been remembering. Could it have been some unexplained
bits of magic that Dudley had fought to suppress? When Harry had found
Dudley in the darkness, he’d had his hands clamped over his mouth.
Harry had told him not to open his mouth, but when did Dudley ever
listen to Harry? Could Dudley have actually seen the Dementors?
Harry felt as if his world had just spun completely out of his control
yet again.

“Why would Dumbledore agree to hide Dudley’s magic? It doesn’t sound at
all like Dumbledore,” he said slowly, his gaze boring into his aunt’s.

“He didn’t want to do it. We argued for quite some time about it. I’d
seen the strange things that happened from the time my Dudley was still
in his cot. I knew what it meant; I remembered it from Lily. There was
no way I would allow it to happen again, not after I’d worked so hard
to make a normal life for my family.

“It was the only way I would allow you to stay, and he was desperate
for that to happen. I told him there was no way he’d ever get his hands
on Dudley, anyway. Vernon and I would never allow him to go to that
freak school. We raised him with a healthy loathing of all things so
unnatural. Dudley is a good boy,” Aunt Petunia said, crossing her arms

Harry rolled his eyes. It all made sense. Certainly the Dursleys
wouldn’t have allowed Dudley to attend Hogwarts, and Harry knew from
Dudley’s reaction a moment ago that he never would have wanted to go,

“So, what did Professor Dumbledore do, exactly?” Harry asked, unable to
contain his curiosity. Aunt Petunia had never willingly told him
anything in the past. Don’t ask questions had always been her standard

“How am I supposed to know how all your nonsense works?” Aunt Petunia
snapped. “We took you in, and he did something to take Dudley’s name
off of a register or some such thing. For a time, Dudley stopped making
strange things happen. The only time anything abnormal happened was
when Dudley would get upset, and I could easily blame that on you so
Vernon never had to know.”

“Uncle Vernon doesn’t know his son is a wizard?” Harry asked, secretly
appreciating the humor in that statement.

“Of course he doesn’t know. And Dudley is NOT one of you. Your
headmaster did something to control it, and I want you to do the same
thing now,” Aunt Petunia said, crossing her bony arms across her chest.

“I don’t even know how he could have done such a thing, never mind how
do it,” Harry said, aghast.

“Well, if you want to stay here, you’d better think of something,” she

Harry’s mind clicked on a way to make this work to his advantage. “All
right. I’ll try and find something. I’m going to need some help with
it, though,” he said, rapidly changing gears.

“What do you mean help?” she asked suspiciously.
“My friends, Ron and Hermione – they’re brilliant with stuff like this
I’ll ask them to come and help me put it together. They’ll have to sta
here for a while, though – while we research the correct spells to use
I’m certain it’s very complicated magic if Professor Dumbledore did
it,” Harry said, his mind already plotting.

Aunt Petunia frowned with disapproval. “I don’t know.”

“All right, well…I can’t do it alone, so I suppose I’ll just be going,
he said, going so far as to turn around, rising and taking a step
towards the door.

“No!” Aunt Petunia screeched. “All right… Your friend can bunk in with
you, and the girl can stay in the guestroom. I won’t have any funny
business under my roof.”

Harry smirked, envisioning the color Ron’s ears would have turned had
he heard that remark. This was turning out better than he could have
hoped. “All right, then.”

“You have to promise me you’ll all stay out of Vernon and Dudley’s way
When Vernon is home, you must stay up in your room, and I want this
done as quickly as possible.”

“We’re agreed on that, then,” Harry mumbled.

“Oh, and another thing. Your friends will have to provide their own
food. I’m not feeding any extra of your freaky friends. Vernon would
never have it. They can bring their own or you can share your portion,
but I won’t be responsible for them,” Aunt Petunia said, her haughty
demeanor returning.

Harry had no choice but to agree. He hadn’t really thought about how
they would eat. He could only hope that Hermione would be better
prepared. She was certainly familiar enough with the Dursleys’ penchan
for withholding nourishment. They’d just have to figure something out.
Maybe if Mrs. Weasley wasn’t too upset with them she’d send something,
or maybe Ginny would help…


On second thought, Harry decided that she couldn’t be involved with
this in any way. It wasn’t fair to her, and he didn’t think he could
stand to have her so close and yet so far. They’d have to come up with
something else.

But her presence here would certainly be a nice contrast to Aunt
Petunia, his mind said, betraying him.

Stop it, he told himself firmly. Ginny would not be involved.

“I’m going to send an owl. I’m certain they’ll be able to arrive
shortly – they’re both of age,” Harry said, watching the panic fill
Aunt Petunia’s eyes once again.
“What does that mean? They’re able to do…to…to use their things? I
won’t have it in this house. You said they were coming here for
research,” she said, a whine in her voice.

“Aunt Petunia, they’re coming here to work out how to do a spell that
you asked me to do. Are you telling me that they can’t use magic to do
it?” Harry asked, thoroughly enjoying his aunt’s conundrum.

Aunt Petunia’s lips thinned into a tiny sliver of a line. “One time and
one time only. You owe me that much. You’re to help your cousin, and
then you and your friends are to get out. I want nothing more to do
with you or your kind. Vernon can see nothing unusual – he’s unhappy
enough with you as it is.”

“So what’s new about that?” Harry mumbled.

“He’s been muttering about the fact that you came into an inheritance
and didn’t bother to make us aware of that situation,” Aunt Petunia
said with obvious disapproval. “We’ve provided you with house and board
for sixteen years; certainly, if you’ve come into a house of your own,
we deserve something for our trouble.”

“You won’t get anything that belonged to Sirius,” Harry said hotly. He
might not want anything to do with Grimmauld Place either, but he
certainly wasn’t about to let them get their grubby paws on it. He owed
Sirius that much. Taking a deep breath to control his temper, he said
through gritted teeth, “It wouldn’t do you any good, anyway. It’s a
wizarding house – Muggles can’t see it. Although I suppose Dudley might
be able to see it, actually…”

Aunt Petunia’s eyes widened with panic. “Enough. Diddyums most
certainly will not be seeing any of your unnaturalness. Go and send
your letter…and tell them to bring their own food,” she snapped before
storming from the room.

Harry smiled grimly. Whenever it was that he’d be leaving this house to
start the search for the Horcruxes couldn’t be soon enough.

The ringing of the doorbell startled Harry from his deep thoughts. He’d
been up in his room, unpacking his few meager belongings from his
school trunk. He reckoned that he and Ron would be quite cramped in his
small bedroom, so a little organization couldn’t hurt. He wanted to be
done with it before Hermione arrived and saw him doing it, however.
There was no sense in letting her think she’d had any influence over
him, or he’d never hear the end of it.

He glanced at the clock and was relieved to note they still had a half-
hour before Uncle Vernon was due home. That should be just enough time
to get settled and give Aunt Petunia some space to let him know they
would be here. Even if they stayed confined for the most part to
Harry’s room, there was no way for Uncle Vernon not to notice three
extra people using the bathroom.

Hopefully, Aunt Petunia would think of something to placate him, and
then Harry, Ron, and Hermione could just stay out of his way. It would
be best for all of them to avoid a confrontation. Of course, having Ron
attempting to live as a Muggle ought to be a task worthy of the
TriWizard tournament itself, Harry thought with a chuckle.

He was nearly gleeful with anticipation and was amused to realize that
he’d never once before eagerly anticipated anything to do with the
Dursleys as much as he was Ron’s presence in their very ordered life.
It would be worth a few good telling-offs, actually.

He shut the door to his bedroom and hurried down the stairs, quietly
noting Aunt Petunia straining her neck in order to peer out from the
kitchen. Dudley was nowhere in sight.

Harry swung the door open wide just as the bell rang again.

“…you know anyone heard it the first time?” Ron was asking.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Hi, Harry,” she said brightly before
releasing a horrified gasp. “Harry! What happened to your face?”

Harry put a hand to his cheek, wincing at the deep bruising. He’d been
so lost in his musings that he hadn’t even paid attention. “Long story.
I’ve got loads to tell you.”

Hermione looked dubious. “Is everything settled?”

“’Course it is,” Ron said, taking Hermione by the arm and firmly
ushering her inside. He obviously wasn’t about to take any of the
Dursleys’ excuses. “Just stop talking for a minute and let him tell us
what’s happening…then we can decide what to do about it.”

Harry stepped back, grinning, and allowed them to enter. “Everything’s
fine, Hermione. Come on upstairs, and we can talk privately.”

Neither Ron nor Hermione made any effort to move. They both stood in
the hallway, looking around the house. He saw Hermione frowning at the
abundance of pictures of Dudley adorning the walls and every spare bit
of surface space in the parlor. Harry was amused to notice that there
was now a new picture perched on top of the table that only hours ago
had sported the broken vase.

Ron grunted his displeasure, while Hermione’s brows knitted as she
scowled. Harry couldn’t blame them; Dudley wasn’t much to look at, that
was for certain. Harry was keen to get them out of the parlor and away
from Aunt Petunia’s prying eyes before her nosiness might allow her to
learn anything he didn’t want her to know.

“Uncle Vernon will be home soon, so it’s better if we go upstairs. I’ve
got loads to tell you,” Harry said, trying to steer his friends toward
the stairway.

Hermione, however, was peering over his shoulder with interest.

“You must be Harry’s Aunt Petunia,” she said. “I’m Hermione Granger.
You’ve probably heard Harry mention me. We’ve been friends since our
first year.”

Harry groaned inwardly. Too late.

“Can you do it? Can you help my Dudley?” Aunt Petunia asked, ignoring
Hermione’s outstretched hand and peering intently at her face.

“Help him to do what?” she asked, startled.

Aunt Petunia whirled on Harry. “I thought you said they’d know what to
do,” she hissed. “I allowed them to come here, because you said they
could help him. They’re in your year…why do they know how to do it if
you can’t?” She pointed her bony finger at Ron disapprovingly. “I
recognize that one from that family who came to collect you and
destroyed our parlor a few years back.”

“I said I’d need some assistance, and they’re it,” Harry said trying to
placate her. “Unlike me, neither is underage. I only had time to tell
them I needed some help – they don’t know all the details yet. Just
give us a little time, and we’ll get it all set to rights.”

“What’s going on here, Harry?” Ron asked, his eyes darting back and
forth between Harry and Aunt Petunia.

“Not now, Ron,” Harry said, glaring.

“How long will all this take?” Aunt Petunia demanded. “I can only
appease your uncle for so long. I want this done and you out of this
house as quickly as possible.”

“Nothing will please me more,” Harry said through clenched teeth. “Give
us a fortnight, and we’ll never have to see each other again.”

“Mrs. Dursley…” Hermione said, her eyes wide.

“A fortnight? That long? Do you really expect me to keep you here that
long?” Aunt Petunia screeched.

“I assume you want it done right without any mistakes that might affect
Dudley?” Harry asked.

Aunt Petunia paled. “You better not do anything to hurt my Dudley. That
would be just like you, wouldn’t it? I don’t know why I’m trusting the
likes of you with this. You’ve always been jealous of Dudley, because
you could never be like him.”

“Now, wait a moment, Mrs. Dursley…” Hermione tried again, shocked.

Neither Harry nor his aunt paused to look at her.

Harry rolled his eyes. “That’s just what I’ve always wanted – to be
more like Diddydinkums. You’re trusting it to me, because you really
don’t have any choice, do you? Of course, if you’d rather we just leave

Aunt Petunia glared at him for several moments before her shoulders
sagged in defeat. “Get upstairs and keep quiet until I can talk to your
uncle. Under no circumstances are you to upset Dudley.”
Before the words were even completely out of Aunt Petunia’s mouth, the
front door swung open, revealing the startled face of Vernon Dursley.
He stopped in his tracks and looked with confusion at the faces staring
back at him.

Slowly, his color turned a deeper and deeper shade of red before he
started spluttering. “You! What the devil are you doing here? What is
the meaning of this?” His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What have you
done to my family this time, boy?”

“Hello, Uncle Vernon,” Harry said dryly.

“Don’t you take that tone with me. You are no longer welcome here – not
that you ever were. Get out and take your damn friends with you,”
Vernon snarled.

Harry smirked. “I think Aunt Petunia might disagree with you.”

Aunt Petunia glared at him viciously.

Uncle Vernon turned an enraged expression from Harry towards Aunt
Petunia, but seemed to whither a bit under her scrutiny. “Petunia?” he

“They need to stay, Vernon. They won’t be here long, and when they
leave, we’ll be rid of him for good,” she said, waving her hand in
Harry’s general direction.

“But...but…but,” Vernon said, spluttering.

“I’m not any happier about it than you are, Vernon, but this is how
it’s going to be,” she said firmly.

Uncle Vernon’s shoulders slumped momentarily before he turned back on
Harry. “I won’t stand for any of your funny business, boy, and I want
to talk to you about this inheritance you so neatly forgot to mention
last summer. What was it? Your dead convict of a godfather leaving you
a house. Thought you’d hoard that information all to yourself, did

Harry’s face remained impassive.

“It won’t do us any good, Vernon. It’s a…a…unnatural house. We wouldn’t
even be able to see it, and it’s full of freakish things,” Aunt Petunia
said with a shudder. She turned on Harry. “Go upstairs and settle in
for the night. You’ll have to provide for yourselves, as we’re going
out to eat.”

Harry turned towards his friends, who were staring at him in stunned
silence. “Up the stairs, first door on the right,” he said, jerking his
head toward the stairs.

Ron and Hermione hurried up without another word.

As Harry lay in his bed that night feeling much older than his sixteen
years, he wished his mind was as tired as his body. He had filled Ron
and Hermione in about everything that had happened with Dudley and Aunt
Petunia’s explanations for it. He had to admit, he’d enjoyed listening
to Ron and Hermione’s outraged indignation to the way Harry’s relatives
spoke to him.

Ron kept coming up with more and more names of the twins’ inventions to
use on them, and even Hermione had suggested a curse or two. It warmed
Harry’s heart to hear them, even if he would never allow them to get
into trouble for doing something to the Dursleys. He enjoyed plotting
it, nonetheless.

Hermione’s parents hadn’t wanted to let her go – they’d only seen her
once during the whole year, at Christmastime – but Hermione had
insisted that she was considered an adult in the Wizarding world now,
and this was something she had to do.

Ron had been much less forthcoming about how his big revelation went at
the Burrow. After much needling and cajoling from Harry and Hermione,
Ron had finally admitted that he’d only told his mum that he was
staying at Privet Drive with Harry, not that he wasn’t planning on
returning to school at all come September. Hermione had scowled her
disapproval and uttered something that sounded distinctly like coward.

They’d talked much more about Dudley and what Dumbledore could have
done to mask Dudley’s magic. Harry still had trouble reconciling
himself with the idea that Dudley was a wizard. It was mind-boggling.
In the end, Hermione had promised to look into it while they were
staying on Privet Drive. It would be something to pass the time, and if
worse came to worse, she could simply cast a Cheering Charm before they
left. That would keep Dudley happy for while.

It had been very late when they’d finally crawled into bed. Harry had
shown Hermione to the guestroom and suggested she add a lock to her
door. Ron hadn’t wanted to leave her alone, but shut up quickly after
Harry suggested he stay in there with her. Harry smiled in the
darkness, remembering the expression on Ron’s face. Hermione had
transfigured Harry’s desk into another bed for the night, with the
promise to make some changes to Harry’s room in the morning.

Harry hadn’t asked Ron or Hermione about Ginny, and neither had brought
her up. He couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or not. He knew he
should just let her go, but he’d never expected how hard that was going
to be. He was doing the right thing…wasn’t he? He had to keep her safe
at all costs. If anything happened to her because of him…Harry didn’t
think he’d ever be able to survive it.

When he’d been with her these past weeks, it had felt like, for one
brief shining moment in his life, he’d been normal. Nothing else had
mattered. Not Voldemort, not the Horcruxes, not a prophecy. He was just
Harry Potter, a sixteen-year old wizard falling in love with a
beautiful, red-haired witch.

Falling in love?

Wait a minute… Where had that thought come from? Harry didn’t know
whether he loved Ginny or not – he hadn’t even considered it before
now. How was he supposed to know what love was? All he knew was the way
she made him feel – so alive. She made him feel like he could do

Being with Ginny had made him want more out of life.

He knew what the prophecy said, and half of him had always suspected
that he was going to die, anyway. He’d just hoped he could take
Voldemort with him. But she had to go and make him want more. She’d
made him see the possibility of what life could be like, and, damn it,
he wanted more.

Harry groaned and rolled over, viciously punching his pillow.

“Harry,” Ron’s voice called sleepily.

Harry froze; he’d forgotten Ron was there.


“You okay?”


Ron was quiet for a moment, and Harry thought he’d gone back to sleep
when Ron suddenly spoke again. “Ginny didn’t seem pleased that I was
coming here with you,” he said, in a voice that was much too casual to
be natural.

Harry felt as if all the air had been compressed from his lungs. “Oh,”
he replied in a choked voice.

Ron fell silent again, as if waiting for Harry to say something more.
When Harry didn’t respond, he said, “You broke up with her, didn’t

Harry took a deep shuddering breath. “Yeah,” he replied, bracing
himself in case Ron leaped upon him.

Ron sighed heavily. “I think you made the right choice,” he said. “It
would be too dangerous for her to come with us. You’ll have a lot to
make up to her when this is over, though.”

To say he was surprised was a massive understatement. Still, he steeled
himself for what he was about to say. “I didn’t ask her to wait for me,
Ron. We have no idea how long this is going to take, or if I’ll even be
around when it’s finished.”

“Don’t talk like that, Harry,” Ron said fiercely. “Of course you will.
And she’ll wait.”

Ron fell silent again, and this time it was Harry who waited for him to
say more. Finally, realizing that Ron wasn’t going to add anything to
that statement, Harry couldn’t contain his curiosity. He wished he
could control that hope that flared within his heart, but he couldn’t.
He didn’t even know how to begin to try.
“How do you know?” he asked tentatively.

“She told me to take care of you,” Ron said. “As if that isn’t what I
always do,” he added with a snort.

Harry hastily swiped his eyes with the back of his hand. She does care.

“Thanks, Ron,” he said, hating how gruff his voice sounded. He rolled
back over on his side and listened to the sounds of insects flying
outside the open window, his mind running over pleasant memories of the
all-too-brief time he’d spent with Ginny.

Ron’s voice once again broke the silence of the room.

“Of course, after this is all over, if you ever break her heart again,
I’ll have to beat you senseless.”

Harry grinned into his pillow. “You could try.”

“Don’t think I won’t.”

“Night, Ron.”

“Night, Harry.”
Chapter Two

When One Door Closes…

The next morning, Harry was awakened by the sound of Ron’s snoring,
which was causing the entire room to shake. Combined with Dudley’s
snores coming from the room next door, it sounded as if a battle of the
bands was taking place.

Harry sniggered.

Uncle Vernon must be loving this. Of course, he snored fairly loudly
himself, so maybe he was missing it. The door to Harry’s bedroom
creaked open, and a disgruntled Hermione stuck her face inside.

“Does he always snore that loudly?” she asked testily.

“Pretty much,” Harry replied, grinning. He pulled the covers up
closely to his bare chest, suddenly becoming aware of his state of
undress. “Er, what are you doing in here, Hermione?”

Hermione’s cheeks turned pink, as if she just realized what she’d done.
He noticed her gaze remained fixed on Ron’s bare chest as he lay
uncovered on his bed, his arms flung open wide.

“Hermione,” Harry repeated.

She started. “Oh! I mean, erm…I just couldn’t sleep with all that
racket. I’m going to Apparate into Diagon Alley and pick up some books
at Flourish and Blotts that might help us with our search. I’ll get
some breakfast while I’m out. Try and wake Sleeping Beauty there;
we’ve got loads to do when I get back.”
Hermione had, thankfully, thought to bring sandwiches and snacks with
her when she’d arrived yesterday, and they’d feasted in Harry’s room.
He was grateful that she’d offered to get breakfast and relieved him of
the duty of having to explain that the Dursleys wouldn’t be feeding

“All right. Be careful,” Harry said.

“Honestly, Harry. I’m only going to Diagon Alley. I’ll be back before
you know it. What do the Dursleys like to eat? I could pick something
up for them while I’m out, too.”

Harry just stared at her, mouth agape. “You…you…you want to get
breakfast for the Dursleys?” he asked, unable to wrap his mind around
the idea.

“Well, if I’m getting something for us, it would be the polite thing to
do. I think that if we just made an effort you all could come to an
understanding. You’re her nephew, after all, and she’s raised you
since you were a baby. She came to you for help, and I think you have
the chance to really build a relationship here, Harry.”

Harry’s mouth opened and closed wordlessly. Had his friend finally
gone mad? He knew exactly what would happen if Hermione brought back
food to the Dursleys – they’d sooner let it knock into their heads than
touch it. They did as much last year with the wine Professor
Dumbledore had offered them. He also knew Hermione well enough to
understand that nothing he could say would dissuade her from her

“Why don’t you just get a variety of pastries,” he said. He was amused
with the idea that Hermione’s latest crusade appeared to be to
enlighten the Dursleys. Harry knew she stood a better chance with the
house-elves. In fact, he’d spent most of his life being treated like a
house-elf by the Dursleys. Between Ron trying to live like a Muggle
and Hermione trying to civilize the Dursleys, this would be the most
entertainment he’d had on Privet Drive in his entire life

After Hermione had left, Harry took a shower – a very long shower once
he got distracted with thoughts of Ginny again – and then went to
awaken Ron. He tried calling his friend’s name several times, and when
that didn’t work, he lobbed a pillow at his head.

“What the… Bloody hell, Harry. What’d you do that for?” Ron asked
grumpily, throwing the offending pillow back at Harry and pulling the
covers over his head.

“Come on and get up. Hermione told me to have you up and dressed by the
time she returned,” Harry said, grinning at Ron for jumping to
attention at the mention of Hermione’s name.

“What? Returns from where? Where is she?” Ron asked.

“She went to Flourish and Blotts to get us some research material and
also to pick us up some breakfast,” Harry replied, tossing Ron’s
dressing gown at him.

“The shower gets wonky with the hot water sometimes. If it gets too
hot, just jiggle the handle, and it resets itself,” Harry said.

“Jiggle the handle,” Ron repeated blankly.

“Yeah,” Harry said absently, opening the window to let in the owl
delivering the Daily Prophet. He paid for the paper and turned back to
find Ron still sitting there.


“I can’t just tell the shower how hot I want it to be?” Ron asked,
although it sounded more like a whine.

Harry remembered his first summer at the Burrow, when he was twelve and
standing naked in Ron’s shower, completely perplexed over the lack of a
handle to turn the water off and on. He’d broken out in goose bumps
before it had finally occurred to him simply to ask the water to begin

Taking pity on his friend, he grinned and said, “Come on. I’ll show
you how the common folk live.”

By the time Ron had finished with his shower and returned to Harry’s
room (with the echo of Aunt Petunia huffing over the waste of water),
Hermione had returned from her visit to Diagon Alley.

She burst into the room in a foul temper, angrily swiping the hair from
her face. She dropped a heavy load of books onto Harry’s rickety old
desk and plopped a box full of more pastries than even Ron could eat
onto the bed.

“Your relatives weren’t hungry, so there’s plenty to eat,” she said

Harry really tried his best not to grin. Really.

“What did they do? Throw them at you?” he asked.

“They’re under the impression that I did something to the pastries.
Honestly, Harry, I can’t believe that you ever tried to poison them, so
I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” she sniffed.

“They hate anything – and anyone – associated with magic. It has
nothing to do with you, Hermione. It’s just how they are,” Harry
replied, shrugging his shoulders.

Hermione’s eyes narrowed. “Well, that’s just as bigoted and narrow-
minded as the Malfoys’ view of Muggles.”

Harry supposed she was right. “Yeah. Now that you mention it, I think
Dudley and Malfoy could have actually been mates.”
“There’s an unpleasant thought,” said Ron with a grimace. He’d already
opened the box of pastries and held one in each hand. He took a bite
of one, causing jam to squirt up on the side of his face. He slowly
licked it off. “Mmmm, this is brilliant. I love you, Hermione.”

Hermione’s cheeks turned pink as she hurriedly looked away and selected
her own pastry.

Harry wasn’t certain what was happening between his two best friends.
He’d thought that maybe they’d come to some sort of an understanding at
Dumbledore’s funeral, but they hadn’t said anything to him. In fact,
they were acting pretty much the same as they always did – except for a
lot more blushing.

He didn’t know how he felt about it. He wanted his friends to be
happy, but the idea of sitting on the sidelines and watching them fall
in love while his own heart was aching was more than he could bear.


Things were different for Ron and Hermione, though. They were together
on this quest for the Horcruxes. They were a team and worked much
better with each other than apart. Harry watched his friends out of
the corner of his eye as he ate his own pastry. Ron was doing a good
job on both of his, but Harry noticed him pausing every once in a while
to sneak a glance at Hermione. For her part, Hermione was much more
discreet, but she was also copping her fair share of peeks at Ron.
Harry thought there must be some powerful feelings between them if
Hermione could distract Ron from food.

It was different for Ginny and him, though, wasn’t it? He had to
protect her…she was better off far away from him. Still, the battle
raged within his mind. For those few weeks that they’d shared
together, he’d felt as if he could conquer anything. He’d felt so much
stronger when she’d been by his side.

No! Stop!

He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t even allow his traitorous heart to
think it. Ginny shouldn’t be anywhere near him.

He had to be the one to do this thing. Even if Ron and Hermione were
with him on the hunt for the Horcruxes, he had absolutely no intention
whatsoever of letting them get anywhere near Voldemort when the final
battle raged. He’d take Voldemort out, and maybe die in the process,
but he’d be certain that neither of his friends was anywhere near him
when that happened. He could never allow any of them to become another
spare. Especially Ginny.

An image rose unbidden in his mind of Cedric’s lifeless eyes staring
from his crumpled body in a graveyard. Harry shuddered as his mind
played a trick and warped the body into Ginny. Her warm, brown eyes –
eyes that could melt an iceberg – stared blankly, almost accusingly,
through him. He couldn’t let that happen. He wouldn’t.

He glanced up at Ron and Hermione in time to see Hermione use a napkin
to wipe away the jam that still remained on the corner of Ron’s mouth.
It would be wrong of Harry to begrudge them this happiness, no matter
how much his heart ached to see it. Hadn’t Professor McGonagall said
that Professor Dumbledore would have been happier than anybody to think
there was a little more love in the world?

He’d personally told Harry that love was his greatest strength, so why
was he pushing it away?


It was different for Ginny and him. Everything was always different
for him, and he’d only end up getting her killed, or forcing her to
watch as he died. No. It was better for her own sake to keep her
away. He’d never want her to have to suffer the kind of horror and
pain that he’d felt when he’d watched Sirius slip through that Veil.

Harry shook his head, steeling his resolve. This was the way it had to

“Okay.” Hermione’s voice dragged Harry out of his thoughts. “Let’s
start with this room. It definitely needs some improvements.” She
scowled as her gaze roamed around the stacks of broken toys cluttered
in the corner and the rundown condition of Harry’s small bed. She
withdrew her wand from her sleeve.

“We can’t use magic,” Harry said quickly. “The Ministry can’t detect
who is doing the magic, only that it’s being done here, and I’ll get
another reprimand. Dumbledore told me that’s why I got the letter when
Dobby levitated my aunt’s pudding.”

“Not to worry, mate,” Ron said, his mouth still full of pastry. “My
dad said he’d inform Matilda Hopkirk at the Ministry that Hermione and
I were staying here this summer, and we’re both of age.”

“So…then…they won’t do anything if I use my wand, either. Right?”
Harry asked, furrowing his brow.

“No, Harry,” Hermione said firmly. “You’re still underage, and we have
to play by the rules if we want to avoid any trouble from the Ministry.
They could still use a Priori Incantatum to see if your wand has been
used. Let Ron and me handle the spells while we’re here.”

Harry scowled, feeling that old, familiar resentment arise within his
heart. Dumbledore had always tried to shield him, and look at how well
that turned out in the end. “Yeah. I’ll just sit back and be a good
little boy – like I always do.”

“Right,” Ron said, choking slightly on a piece of his pastry. “You’re
so good at staying out of trouble. It’s not our fault you’re such a
young ‘un.”

A reluctant smile spread across Harry’s face. “Shut it,” he mumbled,
but it was no use. It was impossible to stay in a foul mood when he
had Ron and Hermione here with him on Privet Drive.

“So…what kind of changes do you have in mind?” he asked, looking back
at Hermione.

“Oh, something like this,” Hermione said much too casually, as if she’d
been thinking of nothing else since she’d arrived. She waved her wand
toward the mess of Dudley’s old things in the corner and vanished them

She turned towards Harry’s desk, and, with a brief flick of her wand,
the chipped, sagging old wood transfigured into a polished cherry and
doubled in size. Shiny brass knobs appeared on the drawers, and a
small bookshelf formed on the top.

Harry’s jaw dropped in amazement. “Nice transfiguration, Hermione.”

She wasn’t finished. She turned her wand towards his bed – really, just
a threadbare old mattress on top of a box spring that sagged in the
middle. It immediately transformed into a replica of his beloved four-
poster bed at Hogwarts, complete with a fluffy red duvet.

Harry felt as if his face would burst from smiling so wildly.
“Wicked,” he said.

Hermione aimed her wand at the window. The bolts that had once held
bars in place disappeared, and the window adjusted itself so the panes
could swing outward, letting in a nice summer breeze. Heavy curtains
in a shade of red that matched his bed linens appeared, tied back with
gold braids.

Harry had never had curtains in his room before, and honestly, he’d
never really even noticed. He was stunned at the difference it made.

“Oh, I know what I want to do with that,” Ron said, sounding disgusted.

Harry turned to see him pointing towards the cat flap on the door.

“What is it?” Hermione asked.

Ron answered before Harry could change the subject. “They used to
shove his food through there when they locked him up after first year.”

Hermione’s lips thinned into slivers. “What did you have in mind,
Ron?” she asked, her voice sounding extremely shrill.

“Remember that drive-through place your parents took us to yesterday?”
Ron asked, grinning.

Hermione’s face lit up with a memory. “I know exactly what you have in
mind,” she said.

Harry frowned. He did want them together, but he wasn’t certain that
he liked this secret language that only they appeared to understand.

Hermione flicked her wand again, but the cat flap appeared unchanged.

“Did it work?” asked Ron.
“Try it,” replied Hermione.

Ron lay down on his belly in front of the door.

“What are you doing?” Harry asked, perplexed.

“I’d like three cheeseburgers and some crisps, please,” Ron said,
speaking to the cat flap.

Before Harry even had the chance to ask Ron if he’d gone mad, the food
Ron had requested slid from the flap on the door. Harry blinked in

“Have a nice day,” a voice echoed from the cat flap.

Hermione grinned, and Ron looked as if he’d died and went to heaven.
He unwrapped a cheeseburger and took a bite. “Mmmm.”

“What do you think, Harry?” Hermione asked.

Harry had yet to remove his eyes from the cat flap. Slowly, a
delighted grin spread across his face. “I think the smell of that food
alone will drive Dudley mad.”

“It’s cold down here on the floor, though,” Ron said, his voice muffled
with burger. “Can you do something about that, Hermione?”

Hermione flicked her wand yet again, and a lush soft carpet covered the
floor. “It’s going to be a bit crowded in here, though,” Hermione said
thoughtfully before closing her eyes.

Harry’s eyes widened as the walls began to shift outward, enlarging the
room to nearly double its original size. Quickly, Hermione
transfigured Ron’s conjured camp bed into a duplicate of his bed at
Hogwarts. “There,” Hermione said with an air of satisfaction.

“My aunt is going to flip,” Harry said with glee.

“The house won’t appear any different from the outside, so it’s only if
they come in here that they’ll notice,” Hermione said.

“Oh, believe me, Aunt Petunia will be sticking her head in. I’m
certain the curiosity over what we’re doing up here is killing her,”
Harry said grimly.

Hermione bit her lip. “She won’t be angry, will she?”

“Of course she will,” Harry said happily. “Not only did we perform
magic, but now my room is nicer than Dudley’s. She’ll despise it.”

Hermione frowned. “That certainly can’t be a reason, Harry. She
doesn’t like the magic, but she’s coming around now because of Dudley.”

“Okay,” he replied. He knew Hermione was only setting herself up for
disappointment. He only hoped his relatives wouldn’t be too hard on
her. He didn’t want to see them hurt her; she was truly trying to
help. He could handle the snubs – he’d had loads of practice – but he
wasn’t about to let them take out their prejudice on her.

Their days at Privet Drive passed slowly, and Harry felt the stirrings
of restlessness growing within him as they approached the day they
would leave forever. He felt as if he were wound tight as a drum and
plunged himself into the books that Hermione had brought back from
Diagon Alley in an attempt at distraction.

He’d been having trouble sleeping, and dark circles had appeared
beneath his eyes. Each night when he’d try to settle down to sleep,
thoughts and vague memories would churn in his head, and he couldn’t
turn them off.

The locket, the cup, the snake, and something of Gryffindor or

At times, he felt confident and ready to rush out and begin the hunt.
The forced confinement grated on his nerves, and he was certain he’d
worn a layer off his teeth from grinding them. At other times, the
task at hand appeared so overwhelming that he felt hopeless and full of
despair. The fake Horcrux that he always kept in his pocket seemed to
mock him.

It was at these times that he’d retreat into himself, growing distant
and increasingly quiet. He could see the concerned glances shared
between Ron and Hermione when they thought he wasn’t looking, but he
pretended not to notice and continued with his research.

Hermione had set him the task of writing down everything he could
remember from the Pensieve memories that Professor Dumbledore had shown
him, in addition to any comments that the headmaster might have made
about Tom Riddle. They hoped for some clues that could help them
narrow their search. He’d placed a charm on his notes similar to the
Marauders map so that no one else would be able to read back what he’d
written. The phrase he’d chosen as his password: I solemnly swear I’m
up to some kick-arse good.

Actually, the kick-arse part had been Ron’s idea, and the two boys had
chuckled over it for so long that Hermione had left the room in a huff.
Ron’s task had been to scour old Hogwarts lists in an attempt to locate
the mysterious RAB, but he claimed it was hopeless.

Hermione spent her time looking for references of Horcruxes, which thus
far had proved futile. It seemed no one in the wizarding world wanted
to discuss them. Harry had started referring to them as The-Items-
That-Can’t-Be-Named, causing Ron to snort his fizzy soda. He’d been
nicking it from Dudley’s stash since he’d arrived on Privet Drive.
Harry had begun to wonder if maybe the library at Grimmuald Place would
be a good place to find something on Horcruxes – it had been full of
dark magic items – but he wasn’t certain if it had been completely
cleaned out or not. He still didn’t have the heart to go there, so he
pushed that thought to the back of his mind for the moment.

Ron’s complete and utter cluelessness about normal Muggle life was
comical, and Harry enjoyed having the shoe on the other foot. He
remembered all too well the blunders he’d made when he’d first entered
the wizarding world, and how Ron had enjoyed taking the mickey out of
him for most of his mistakes. Payback was sweet.

For several days, their paths and Dudley’s hadn’t crossed, but on a
sunny afternoon when the trio had abandoned Harry’s room to sit in the
back garden that all changed.

“What’s this?” Ron asked, holding up a statue of a funny little man
with a scrunched up face.

“It’s a garden gnome,” Harry answered absently as he scribbled in his

“No. It isn’t,” Ron said with disgust. “Don’t be stupid.”

“It’s what Muggles call gnomes, Ron,” Hermione answered patiently,
giving his book a gentle shove back in his direction. Ron had grown
increasingly bored with all their revising and constantly looked for

“Hey, Harry, think fast,” Ron said, tossing the ugly gnome towards
Harry, who managed to catch it before it splattered dirt all over his

Harry tossed it back without comment, and it sailed over Ron’s head,
just missing his reach. “I can see you’re out of practice. Good thing
we’re not going back to school, or I’d probably have to throw you off
the team,” Harry said, managing to keep a straight face. He, too, was
feeling restless, and winding Ron up seemed like as good idea as any.

“Throw me off the team, is it now?” Ron asked, drawing himself up to
his full height. “Then who exactly would warn you about all those
Bludgers that seem to follow you around all the time, Chosen Boy?”

With that, Ron launched himself at Harry and pinned him to the ground.
The two boys rolled on the ground, wrestling with each other for a few
moments and ignoring Hermione’s huffs until Ron finally had Harry
pinned with his forearm across Harry’s throat.

“Yeah, you’ve got it right. The little runt never could stand to have
anyone’s hands on his neck,” Dudley’s voice sounded from the corner of
the garden. None of the three had noticed him standing there watching

Harry froze at the sound of Dudley’s voice, his mouth forming a slight
“O”. Dudley had avoided them as if his life depended on it since their
arrival, and he hadn’t so much as spoken to Harry since the incident
with the vase.

“What are you on about?” Ron asked, a hard edge to his voice.

“That’s what he always used to hate the most when me and my mates used
to chase him, too,” Dudley said, nodding his approval.

Ron rolled off of Harry and stood up quickly, his ears growing redder
by the minute. Harry raised himself up on his elbows, curious to see
how Dudley and Ron interacted, yet ready to pounce if things got out of

“I always wondered why you red-haired lot put up with him and had him
come to stay at your house for summers. I can see now that he’s your
target practice. I always used him for that, too. He always gives a
good chase, but you can get him if you use your mates,” Dudley said
with a self-satisfied smirk.

“We don’t all gang up on Harry,” Ron said indignantly. He reached
down and pulled Harry to his feet, as if trying to prove there were no
hard feelings. “He’s our friend.”

“Friend,” Dudley said, scoffing. “Who’d want to be friends with him?”

“I do,” Ron said vehemently. “Just like my brothers, my sister, and
anyone else who knows him. He’s the best friend anyone could ask for,
and we’d all do anything for him. Could you say the same for your
mates, Dudley?”

Dudley appeared taken aback by Ron’s fierce loyalty. He stared back
and forth between Ron and Harry several times, as if unable to wrap his
small mind around the fact that someone would actually like Harry.
“He…he knows how to do stuff with his stick-thing…but without that,
he’s nothing but a pathetic little runt who messes up everything. He
doesn’t have any real mates. My mates stick with me, because they know
I’m the strongest.”

“Dudley,” Hermione said gently, “Ron and Harry were just playing
around. Certainly at some point while you were growing up you and
Harry must have gotten on…once in a while.”

“I’d never do anything with that freak,” Dudley said.

“Freak,” Ron said in disgust. “You don’t even know him, do you?”

“He is a lot like Malfoy, isn’t he? I’ve never noticed it before now,
but Ron’s right. He never did much on his own, either – always had to
have his little gang behind him. You should have come to Hogwarts when
I went, Duds. Maybe you could have been one of Malfoy’s goons, too.
I’m certain they would have placed you in Slytherin,” Harry said,
unable to resist taunting his cousin back any longer.

“I’m telling mum you said the name of that school of yours,” Dudley
said, backing towards the door, apparently very confused over the
loyalty amongst the trio.

“What? Hogwarts? But Dudley, you should have gone there, too. You’re
a wizard, after all,” Harry said.

“Harry,” Hermione said, grabbing his arm, but Harry ignored her.

“I never should have gone there. I’m not a freak like you lot,” Dudley
said, taking a step towards them.

“He’d have never been able to handle it, anyway, Harry,” Ron said.
“He’d be just another Crabbe or Goyle, fumbling his way through.”

“I’m not a wizard,” Dudley shouted, growing ever more enraged. His
piggy eyes were flashing as he clenched and unclenched his massive

“I’m surprised you haven’t taken full advantage of it, though,” Ron
mused casually, leaning back against a tree and crossing his arms over
his chest. “I mean…being able to use magic and all. From what Harry
tells me, your favorite pasttime is picking on little kids. I’m
certain you could have really scared some little Muggle kids by using
magic…or frighten your mates into doing whatever you wanted. That’s
the way you work, right?”

“What do you mean?” Dudley asked, his eyes narrowing.

“Ron! Ignore him, Dudley. He knows you can’t use magic on Muggles
without getting into trouble, and besides, you wouldn’t want to
intimidate any of your friends. That’s not what magic is all about,”
Hermione said, glaring at Ron.

Dudley’s eyes gleamed, as if a light switch had just been turned. “I
could make them do anything I wanted, couldn’t I?”

Harry shivered. Dudley’s reaction had eerily reminded him of the
memories he’d seen of a young Tom Riddle. “Stop it. You’ll never have
the chance to go to Hogwarts now, so it’s a moot point. Aunt Petunia
saw to that.”

“I don’t need your stupid school, anyway. I can make this stuff happen
just by getting angry. Things always happen when I’m angry…and you
can’t do anything about it. She said it herself. You’re not allowed to
use magic against Mubbles,” Dudley said, pointing at Hermione with a
victorious glint in his eye.

“Just one problem with that, Duds,” Harry replied. “You’re not a
Muggle; you’re a wizard.”

“Enough of this,” Aunt Petunia hissed, entering the back garden in a
towering rage. “You were warned not to upset him and to stay away from
him. I won’t have you corrupting him with your vile ways.” As she
spoke, Aunt Petunia stood in front of Harry, with one hand on her hip and the other flicking a dishtowel at him.
Harry get told off. “He said I was one of them, Mummy…that I could

“Don’t say it!” Aunt Petunia yelped, whipping around and slamming her
hand over Dudley’s mouth. “Don’t even listen to them, popkin.”

“But Mummy, if you’d have allowed me to go to that school, I could have
got a thing, too. I would have been able to keep him in line around
here,” Dudley whined.

“Don’t speak of such things. I won’t have it. I’m not going through
all that again. You are normal, Dudley. Never forget that,” Aunt
Petunia said fervently. She’d grown increasingly paler as he spoke,
and now appeared ready to faint away on the spot.

“But that was my decision to make, not yours,” Dudley said, surprising
Harry so much his jaw fell open. He’d never seen Dudley openly defy
Aunt Petunia before; he usually only did it behind her back. Aunt
Petunia was just as stunned, and she glared at Harry as if it were
entirely his fault.

“I won’t speak of it again, Dudley. You’re to have nothing to do with
that hellhole of a school,” Aunt Petunia said, with that no-nonsense
demeanor that Harry remembered so well.

A sick, nauseous feeling arose within him as he fully realized the
extent of Aunt Petunia’s hatred of the magical world – and everyone it.
“You really hated her, didn’t you?” he asked quietly.

He hadn’t expected her to answer; she never did when it pertained to
his mother. He was shocked when she turned to face him, her eyes
blazing. “I never hated her; I hated what she became. I thought when
she was done with that devil of a school that she’d come to her senses
and return to her family, but no. Your cretin of a father had her by
then, and look how they ended up. Then you arrived on our doorstep,
looking just like him. I had to look into her eyes and see his face.

“I won’t have my Dudley meet the same end; I won’t have it.”

Harry was stunned. He opened and closed his mouth several times but
couldn’t form the words.

“But, mum…I could be powerful,” Dudley said.

Harry couldn’t contain his disbelief any longer. “Powerful? You’ve
already had them jumping through hoops since you were born. What more
did you want?” Harry’s mind was racing. Had magic played a part in
the dominance that Dudley had always appeared to hold over his parents?
Had he somehow influenced their decisions? Had he unintentionally been
prodding them along to buy just one more gift all this time?

As usual, the Dursleys ignored Harry’s outburst.

“Popkin,” Aunt Petunia said, putting a hand to Dudley’s face. “Of
course you don’t want anything to do with all his foul nonsense.
You’re better than that. He’s just trying to bring you down to his

Dudley shuddered. “You’re right. I don’t want any of this touching
me. I’m normal.” Dudley stormed over to Harry and poked his porky
finger at Harry’s chest repeatedly. “I’m normal. You hear that,
Potter? I’m normal.”

“Could have fooled me,” Harry replied, finally recovering the use of
his voice.

Ron moved next to Harry and shoved Dudley’s hand away. “Keep your
grubby, normal hands off him.”
“I warned you to stay away from him,” Aunt Petunia hissed at Harry.

“We were out here working on the project that you asked us to do. He
was the one who came out here with us,” Harry replied.

“Well, stay in your room, then,” Aunt Petunia snapped. “Heavens, if
the neighbors have heard any of this you’ll be in for it. Do you hear
me? Get inside and stay away from Dudley.”

After Dudley and Aunt Petunia stormed inside the house, Ron turned
towards Hermione. “Can you honestly think of any reason why Harry
would want to continue a relationship with those people?”

“Because they’re his family,” Hermione said stubbornly.

“No, they’re not,” Harry said, shaking his head. “We share my mother’s
blood, that’s all. You two have been my only family for a long time
now.” Harry quickly picked up his books and headed inside without
looking back at Ron and Hermione.

Hermione’s attempts at striking up a friendship with Aunt Petunia had
continued, but they had – of course – been futile. Harry had kept
trying to tell her, but she wouldn’t listen. He’d wondered if his aunt
might actually enjoy some female company for a change, but Aunt Petunia
made it perfectly clear that she wanted nothing to do with Hermione.
Oh, she’d let her help with chores – Aunt Petunia could never resist
having someone else to boss around – but when it came to any kind of
conversation, Hermione was rudely rebuffed.

At first, Aunt Petunia had merely been snippy, but as the days wore on
and Hermione’s persistence refused to wane, Aunt Petunia’s comments had
become increasingly rude and more biting. For Harry, it was basically
what he’d expected to happen, but he was caught unprepared for Ron’s

Ron had always been quick to stand up for Hermione; from a very early
age, he’d always taken exception to anyone other than him giving her a
hard time. But his fury over the Dursleys’ comments to Hermione
appeared extreme – even for Ron standards. He’d already threatened
them several times, and once Harry had even had to step in before Ron
drew his wand on Uncle Vernon. He wouldn’t have much cared if Uncle
Vernon got hexed, but he was afraid Ron would get in trouble for

The night before they were due to leave, Harry found his Aunt Petunia
doing her nightly wipe-down in the kitchen. They hadn’t found any kind
of spell that would subdue Dudley’s magic, although they hadn’t really
had the time to look very hard. They’d decided simply to use
Hermione’s original idea of a Cheering Charm. Harry wished someone had
thought of that idea when he and Dudley were younger; it might have
made Harry’s childhood a lot more pleasant.

“Aunt Petunia,” Harry said quietly, hoping his uncle, who was watching
the telly in the parlor, wouldn’t overhear him.

“What?” snapped Aunt Petunia.
“We’ve found something that should help Dudley. We’ll perform the
spell tomorrow before we leave,” he said.

Aunt Petunia froze, her hand shaking slightly as it held a sponge over
the kitchen counter. “You’re certain this won’t hurt Dudley?”

“Yeah. He won’t even be aware when it’s done,” Harry said.

Aunt Petunia nodded and went back to her scrubbing.

“I think we’re going to go to Godric’s Hollow. I want to see my
parents’ graves,” Harry said, uncertain why he’d chosen to share this
bit of information with her. There was something about knowing that he
was leaving forever that felt strange. He certainly felt nothing for
the Dursleys and knew they didn’t want him any more than he wanted
them. Still, they were all he’d known for nearly sixteen years, his
only living family; he couldn’t help but feel he should say something.

Aunt Petunia hesitated again, although so briefly that Harry thought he
must have imagined it. “Don’t leave a mess behind and take all your
belongings with you – I won’t be handling anything strange to forward.
And be certain not to take any of Dudley’s things.”

Harry’s shoulders sagged. “Yes, Aunt Petunia,” he said softly, already
regretting his efforts. As he turned around, he came face to face with
a pale Hermione and a positively livid Ron standing in the entryway of
the kitchen.

“Hey,” Harry said uncertainly. “We’re all set for tomorrow. Let’s
just go back upstairs and finish our packing. We’ll leave in the

“What is the meaning of this?” Uncle Vernon asked loudly as he stomped
into the kitchen, glaring at finding Harry, Ron and Hermione there.

Before Harry could respond, Ron bit out, “I believe Harry just said
that we’ll be leaving tomorrow.”

“Good riddance to bad rubbish is what I always say,” Uncle Vernon
muttered, his countenance visibly brightening.

“Aren’t you even going to say goodbye and good luck to your nephew?”
Ron asked, nearly snarling. “That’s certainly the very least you can

Uncle Vernon narrowed his piggy eyes at Harry. “That doddering old
fool who was with you last year said you’d come of age this year. That
means this is the last time we have to put up with all your nonsense,

“That’s right,” Harry said, smiling humorlessly. “I’ll be of age in a
few weeks and a fully qualified wizard. I’m no longer in need of your
services.” Harry enjoyed the shudder of revulsion the word wizard
caused amongst all his relatives. He just wanted to be done with all
of this. It was time to move onward.
“Harry,” Hermione said pleadingly. Her eyes darted to and fro between
Harry and his uncle. “You want to leave here on good-”

“I don’t bloody well believe you lot,” Ron said, his ears flaming.
“What is wrong with you people? Do you know that I always felt a bit
embarrassed about my house after the first time I saw this place, even
with the bars on Harry’s window? I was stupid enough to feel ashamed
of my house, thinking that Harry was coming from something better.
What an idiot! I really can’t believe how stupid I was. It’s only now,
watching your behavior, that I understand why Harry always seemed over
the moon to arrive at my house. It’s no wonder. You lot are pathetic.”

Harry stared at Ron with wide eyes, visibly reminded of Mr. Weasley and
a similar reaction when he’d come to collect Harry for the Quidditch
Cup. Harry had never been so proud to have Ron for a friend.

And Ron wasn’t done with Uncle Vernon. “My mum…my mum can holler with
the best of them. She could probably even give a banshee a run for her
money. But I know damn well that if I had been born a Squib, it would
have changed nothing. She might have been disappointed, but she would
have treated me the same, and expected the same from me as she did the
rest of my siblings. And no matter how hard she was on me, she’d never
allow anyone else to be.

“That’s what families are supposed do. You pathetic wankers don’t even
know Harry. How could you? You don’t even know the kind of person
you’ve had here all the time and the lengths he would go for you if you
asked. The sad part is that I don’t think you’ll realize it even after
he’s gone.”

Harry looked up sharply in time to see a grimace cross Ron’s face after
he’d said the words, and Harry felt a chill run down his spine. Aunt
Petunia’s face had paled slightly, glancing quickly at Harry before
returning her eyes to the floor.

Ron had withdrawn his wand and was waving it jerkily beneath the
Dursleys’ noses, causing them to cringe back against the counters. Ron
didn’t make any indication that he was going to curse them, and Harry
was enjoying the tongue-lashing they were receiving, so he didn’t make
any move to stop it.

“Damn it, if the Death Eaters only knew about you lot they’d have the
best recruiting tool they’d ever come across, because I’ve never wanted
to curse a Muggle as bad as I want to curse you. You know why I don’t?
Because he—,” Ron jammed his finger at Harry, “he won’t let me. Why,
I’ll never know. He certainly has never done anything to deserve the
likes of you as family.

“The funny thing is, those same Death Eaters who could use you wouldn’t
do it because of the fact that you’re Muggles. And the only thing
standing between you and them right now is him. So stick that in your
pipe and smoke it.

“Come on, Harry; we’re getting out of here,” Ron said, turning to leave
the room. Hermione beamed at him, her eyes glowing with pride as she
watched his retreating back.
Uncle Vernon’s face had gone from red to maroon and now displayed a
nearly purple hue. He became much braver as soon as Ron moved his wand
away. “I will not be spoken to with such disrespect in my own home by
the likes of…of…of someone like you. You will all take all of your
belongings and get out of my house in the morning,” he raged, as if it
had been his idea all along.

“No problem, Uncle Vernon. We’ll be gone come morning. You can even
redecorate my old room,” Harry said cheerfully, slapping the door to
the cupboard under the stairs on his way past.

Hermione, who was walking directly in front of him, stopped sharply,
causing him to bump into her.


“What did you just say?” she asked, her eyes narrowing.

Harry’s eyes widened, realizing his blunder. He’d never shared that
particular story with Ron and Hermione. He’d always been a little
embarrassed by it.

“Er, nothing. Just forget about it,” Harry said, trying to hurry them
along. Ron had now stopped, too, and was staring with curiosity at the
series of locks and door jams along the cupboard entry.

Hermione shoved Harry’s arm out of the way and forcefully opened the
door, gasping at what she found inside.

Harry’s eyes wandered over his old, familiar, cramped quarters. A
lumpy old mattress with several springs poking out still rested on a
wire camp bed. Several toy soldiers and broken chess pieces were
scattered on a shelf. Spider webs had covered the slanted ceiling
completely, and a heavy layer of dust covered everything inside. Harry
vaguely wondered why Aunt Petunia hadn’t sanitized this spot like she
did everywhere else. It was almost as if all the things that
frightened her were hidden inside that cupboard.

Harry recognized his childlike writing on the walls. Just scribbles,
really, beside his name. He’d once confiscated some of Dudley’s
crayons and made a habit of nicking more whenever he’d got the chance.
He could see a crude drawing of a birthday cake with candles drawn in
different colors with gradual improvement in the drawing. He
remembered adding to it each year on his birthday.

To say that Hermione exploded would be an understatement. She whirled
toward the Dursleys, whipping Harry in the face with her hair as she
spun around.

“How could you?” she screeched, baring her teeth like a wild animal.

Aunt Petunia averted her eyes to the floor, but Uncle Vernon puffed out
his chest as if to defend himself. Hermione never gave him the chance.

“What?” Ron asked blankly.
“You loathsome, despicable cretins. To think I tried to tell him to be
nicer to you. You actually kept him locked in a cupboard when he was
just a little boy?” Hermione raged.

“They what?” Ron exploded, his head swinging wildly from Hermione to
the cupboard to the Dursleys and back to Harry again.

Hermione ignored him. “You ought to be ashamed of yourselves,” she
hissed, raising her wand.

Harry grabbed her hand and pulled it away from Uncle Vernon just as she
gave it an upward flick. Unfortunately, as he’d pulled it away he’d
pulled it towards himself. He suddenly found himself hanging upside
down by his ankle in the entry hall of Privet Drive.

Aunt Petunia shrieked and covered her eyes. Uncle Vernon shielded her
with his body and pushed her back into the kitchen. The slamming of
the kitchen door echoed in the silent hall for a moment.

“Er, Hermione…can you let me down?” Harry asked with amusement.

Hermione gasped and gently released Harry from the spell.

“You used Levicorpus. I can’t believe you used one of the Half-Blood
Prince’s spells,” Ron said in amazement. Harry could hear the delight
in his voice.

“Never mind trying to use it on a Muggle. Are you trying to get
yourself arrested, Hermione?” Harry asked, beaming at his friend.

“Ready to start living on the wild side?” Ron asked, grinning.

“Oh, shut it, you two. I was just so angry with them. I can’t believe
you never told us about this, Harry,” Hermione said, trying to maintain
her dignity in the face of her laughing friends.

Harry shrugged. “It doesn’t matter now; let’s get some sleep.
Tomorrow will be a busy day.”

He could tell Hermione wanted to argue, but Harry didn’t give her the
chance. He bolted up the stairs in front of them, leaving them to
follow in his wake. Still, settling down in his bed that night, it was
a very long time before he finally drifted off to sleep.
Chapter Three

…And Another Door Opens

The next morning, Harry awoke feeling groggy and disoriented. He
blinked several times, trying to clear his head, but he just couldn’t
manage to raise it from his pillow. He could hear raised voices coming
from downstairs, and he dragged his pillow over his head in an attempt
to drown out the noise. It had taken a long time for him finally to
fall asleep the night before, and it felt as if he’d only dosed off a
few moments ago. Vague recollections of a dream started to come back to
He’d been on his Firebolt, racing through some dark tunnels in search
of something. He’d felt a desperate panic rising within him that took
nearly all his strength to clamp down.

He’d kept hitting dead ends, no matter which way he turned.

Dudley was there, stirring a potion, and he’d locked Harry in his
cupboard where Harry soon fell asleep. His hair had kept growing while
he slept and eventually grew so long it crept outside the cupboard

Ginny had used his hair to find him and had to slay a dragon in order
to reach him. He’d climbed behind Ginny on the Firebolt, and the two of
them had sped off into the sunset.

"Great," Harry mumbled into his pillow. "Now I’m dreaming about fairy
tales, only I’m the damn Damsel in Distress." Harry knew he would never
tell another living soul about that dream as long as he lived.

His bedroom door banged open, and Ron and Hermione entered — wide-awake
and already dressed. They both looked entirely too upbeat to suit his

"Come on, Harry. Get up; we’re leaving," Hermione said bossily.

Still feeling groggy, Harry wiped his eyes. "What time is it?"

"Time to go; Ron and I have taken care of everything. I’ve already
shrunken our trunks and have them here in my bag. Let’s go," Hermione
said, trying to pull his covers back. "You’ve been anxious to leave
forever, and we’ve got loads to do."

"Hermione, let me get dressed," Harry said, grabbing his bedcovers and
feeling slightly panicked. He was only wearing boxers, after all. What
was her hurry, anyway?

"I’ve left your clothes right there," Hermione said, pointing to a pair
of jeans and a T-shirt already laid out for him.

"Thanks, Mum," he said, smirking.

"Don’t get smart," Hermione said, frowning.

"We’ll meet you downstairs, mate," Ron said, dragging a protesting
Hermione from the room. He gave her a slight shove to walk in front of
him and leaned back to say, "Just think; you’re finally free of this
place. Mum will be going spare if we don’t arrive in time for her to
feed you this morning. Hermione thinks there must be something going on
with the Order, since she hasn’t noticed them keeping watch and no one
is here to escort us to the Burrow."

Harry hadn’t noticed any of the Order keeping watch at Privet Drive,
either, but he knew that didn’t mean anything. With Ron and Hermione
there to distract him, he hadn’t spent all his free time looking for
Order members as he had in the past.
As Harry dressed, he glanced at his nightstand and saw a folded piece
of paper that he didn’t remember placing there. He picked it up and
read the few words printed on the inside in Aunt Petunia’s small, tidy,

Godric’s Hollow

16 Hillside Lane

Godre’r-graig, South Wales

Harry swallowed heavily and stuffed the note in his pocket. This was
it: a real and tangible address of where his parents had lived — where
he had lived, once upon a time. Why was Aunt Petunia giving this to him
now? Was it her way of saying goodbye?

He’d have to think about it later. He stood up and took one long last
look around his bedroom on Privet Drive. It felt strange, knowing he’d
never see this room again. Not that he wanted to see it, but it felt
strange, nonetheless. Although he hadn’t felt like a child in a very
long time, this somehow felt as if he were really leaving his childhood
behind. He was truly an adult and on his own now.

Smiling slightly, he turned on his heel and followed his friends

"We have to put the charm on Dudley," he said as he came down the last
few steps to meet Ron and Hermione, who were standing by the front

"It’s already done," Hermione said briskly.

"You did it already?" Harry asked, furrowing his brow. How long had
they been awake?

"Yes," Ron replied quickly, turning to open the door. Hermione shifted
her eyes as Ron pushed Harry and her out the door ahead of him.

Harry stopped walking. "What did you do?" he asked, narrowing his eyes
at the two of them.

"Nothing to worry about, mate; we took care of everything," Ron said,
and something about the way he was smiling reminded Harry eerily of the

Harry decided that he really didn’t want to know. One task down — now
it was time to face Ginny. That thought caused a slight shiver to run
down his spine. Whether it was a thrill of dread or excitement, he
wasn’t certain. Maybe it was a little of both.

As Hermione continued to steer him towards a spot just outside the
wards where they would be able to Apparate, he turned to glance back at
the house one last time. For a moment, he thought he saw Aunt Petunia’s
face in the doorway, watching their departure. When he looked again,
the doorway was empty, and he was certain he must have imagined it. If
she’d been there at all, she was most likely checking to be certain
they left, rather than feeling any sorrow over his departure.

They crossed the street in silence, Hermione nearly bouncing on the
balls of her feet in her eagerness. "All right. Harry, hold on to my
arm, and we’ll be at the Burrow in no time."

Harry smiled and averted his eyes. Taking a deep, shuddering breath
(refusing to admit that he was nervous to anyone), he grasped
Hermione’s arm and felt the uncomfortable constriction in his chest as
he was sped forward towards the Burrow…and towards Ginny.

Harry opened his eyes and was met with the sight of the ramshackle home
he loved above all others. Although somewhat the worse for wear, it was
still there and still offering a bit of normalcy against the rising
storm. Harry didn’t think he’d ever been so happy to be anywhere in his
life. Despite his apprehension about seeing Ginny, being at the Burrow
somehow warmed him from the inside.

Chickens ran haphazardly around the coop, and Harry could see more than
a handful of garden gnomes peeking out from behind a variety of lush
green bushes, all of which were in full bloom. He inhaled deeply,
savoring the aroma of baking scones mixed with the heady scent of

A sudden urge for treacle tart and a warm greeting from Mrs. Weasley
filled Harry’s mind. He had to fight to control his instinct to sprint
for the front door and hurl himself inside. Gritting his teeth, he
stepped in behind Ron and forced himself to walk at the slower pace. He
had no idea what he’d say to Ginny when he saw her, but just the
thought of seeing her filled him with such hope that nothing else

In his mind’s eye, he could picture her hair all windblown from a
morning fly in the meadow and a spot of flour on her otherwise flawless
face from helping her mother bake the scones that Harry was now certain
were awaiting their arrival.

He forced down the uncomfortable thought that she might not even want
to see him and wouldn’t be anywhere near him when his presence became known. He wasn’t certain which would be worse — her rejection or her

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