Epilogue "The Return of the Dursleys"

The rain hung on through the rest of Sunday but thankfully by evening the grey clouds had given way to sunshine and the dampness had begun to leave the air. The house on Privet Drive in Little Whinging, Surrey was unnaturally quiet. No one would guess that the house was currently occupied by two teenage boys, each with his own propensity for trouble.

Dudley Dursley, the larger and louder of the two boys, was presently sleeping off a hangover which he had incurred after having drowned his sorrows in Vodka and other spirits immediately after his cousin's strange guests had departed.

The other sat brooding in his room, he pondered his most recent troubling dream…

He and Ginny were flying, chasing each other on their brooms and laughing. Harry could feel the cool wind whipping through his hair and the thrill of being in the air with the freedom it gave him. He looked over, watching her red hair streaming behind in the wind. The dream was so real; it felt as if she were really there.

Harry looked over at Ginny's face, which was flushed and glowing from excitement and anticipation. They were racing - seeing who could reach the Snitch first. He called out to her, teasing her.

For a moment she responded by smiling, but then her smile became a sneer, and the sneer turned into a laugh. This was not Ginny's laugh, however, full of life and mischief. It was a cold, high-pitched laugh. The sort of laugh that sends shivers down one's spine, and makes a person want to run and hide. It was the laugh Harry heard whenever the Dementors got too close.

Suddenly, Harry wasn't chasing the Snitch any more. He was the Snitch, and Voldemort was chasing him. Harry felt the rising panic as he flew through the air on his beloved Firebolt, trying to outrun his fear. All the while, Voldemort, with his red eyes and piercing, mocking laugh was gaining on him.

Suddenly Harry's keen eyes spotted something. A glint of gold up ahead! Could it be the Snitch? Daring to hope, he focused all his attention on the elusive ball. Voldemort had not yet noticed it, so intent was he on catching Harry. Flattening himself on his broom, Harry willed himself to go faster... to gain that little bit of distance he needed to catch it. If he could only catch it, he could end this game once and for all.

The glowing object grew bigger, its brightness probably reflecting off the setting sun. It almost seemed to be the sun, it was so bright.

It was right in front of him, now! Just a little further! He squinted his eyes to keep from being blinded, suddenly wishing he had the sort of glasses that changed to block out the glare. Maybe Hermione knew some sort of charm – he'd have to remember to ask her later.

Harry stretched out his hand. He was so close, and there was no way Voldemort could stop him now! Triumphantly he looked back, only to realise in horror that it was Ginny he had been running from all along, and not Voldemort. He pulled up suddenly, blinking his eyes in confusion.

The person in front of him seemed to flicker and change with every blink. First it was Ginny, then Voldemort, then Ginny again. Frustrated, Harry didn't know what to do. The Snitch was right in front of him. All he had to do was reach out and take it and victory would be his.

Looking up, he saw Ginny again. She was smiling. "You won," she said happily.

"Not yet," he answered. "I haven't caught it yet."

"Yes, you have," she laughed. "Look!"

Looking down at his palm in amazement, he realised she was right. The Snitch lay docilely in his hand. But, no...that wasn't right! Snitches aren't docile. They're fast and their wings flutter madly as they struggle to escape.

With a sinking feeling, he realised it was a Portkey. He looked up just in time to see Ginny change back into Voldemort. His red eyes were piercing and his laugh cold and harsh. Harry had fallen into his trap. The real Snitch was still out there, and Harry had lost. Harry felt himself falling into darkness as the Portkey activated, his whole body filled with fear and panic.

He had lain awake for some time after that, settling his breathing, expecting to hear the cold laugh fill his head – mocking him for his weakness. When it never came, Harry almost felt disappointed because any distraction at this point was better than none. Harry knew he should have felt relieved that Voldemort was gone from his head for now, but somehow that thought didn't comfort him. The question was,how had the Dark Lord come to have that much control over him in the first place and why was he quiet now? Harry had no certain answers, but his instincts told him the mind-link had somehow sealed itself, but for how long, he couldn't be sure.

An insane thought entered his head that he actually wished he could talk to Voldemort right now. He had loads of questions to ask, and since Dumbledore couldn't orwouldn't give him the answers he needed, maybe he could trick Voldemort into telling him.

These thoughts intensified his restlessness and anger. Here he was, lying in the dark alone in a house he despised, and he was actuallydisappointed that the most evil Dark Lord on the planet was not taunting him inside his head! How deplorable was that? Maybe he should be in St. Mungo's after all.

A tiny truth niggled its way into his consciousness. Voldemort may not be good company, Harry thought, but he made him feel alive – like he had a purpose in life – something to fight against. Right now, he felt dead inside. He suspected his feelings had more to do with his friends' departures, rather than the fact that his enemy was keeping quiet for now.

All of the remaining Weasleys had come up and knocked on Harry's locked door, but Harry had refused to answer. First Fred and George had come, attempting to cheer him up with lame jokes, coupled with sincere encouragement. Harry found himself smiling on more than one occasion, but refused to open the door. For once, the twins had respected his privacy and not barged in uninvited, even though they were more than capable of doing so.

Next Mr. Weasley had come, rapping softly. He had not lingered long, but stated that he and the other Order members would be around if Harry changed his mind and needed to talk. He told Harry that, even though he knew Harry resented it, they were there to help him. Everyone cared about him and only had his best interest and safety in mind. Harry fought his annoyance and tried to recognise this gesture for what it was – a peace offering. 'At least Mr. Weasley doesn't hate me for what I did downstairs,' Harry thought gratefully.

Finally, Ginny herself had come. Having been on edge waiting for her to appear, he wasn't surprised when he head her soft footsteps pause outside the door. He remembered the scene clearly. Instinctively, he had walked over to the closed door and stood in front of it, having an internal debate as to what he would do if she asked him to open it. She didn't.

Ginny could feel the waves of emotion rolling off him, and knew he was there, just beyond the threshold. Further, she sensed his conflict and the reasons behind it, as clearly as if the feelings belonged to her. Maybe they did – it was hard to tell these days.

Knowing that words were not needed in this instance, Ginny raised a hand to the door and placed her palm against it, imagining that she were comforting Harry. Silently, she poured her emotions into the boy standing just beyond reach, hoping against hope that he could feel the depth of them.

She wanted him to know that she forgave him – that she knew he wasn't responsible for his behaviour last night or this morning. 'I don't hate you,' her mind screamed. Concentrating hard, she willed him to feel her solidarity and commitment, her friendship and faith. Somewhere, deep inside, she also hoped he'd feel her love.

She had no way of knowing that Harry's hand was directly opposite hers. Only the cold, hard wood separated the two extended palms. Without knowing he was doing it, Harry was absorbing the emotions she was sending him and – without knowing why – he suddenly felt significantly better.

Again, he waited for her to say something, but was disappointed when he felt her pull away and retreat down the stairs. The loss was like moving away from a warm fire on a chilly winter evening, and he felt every inch of it. Unconsciously, he reached out his emotions, and enveloped her sad, retreating form in a kind of magical equivalent to a hug.

The emotions swathed around her, reflecting the same sort of feelings she had just poured into him, making her feel wanted, needed, and loved. The impact of the emotions caused her eyes to well up and a few tears to escape her eyes. Deftly, she pushed them away and willed her feet to keep moving. If she stopped now, she knew she might run back upstairs and fling herself into Harry's arms. That would do neither of them any good. Their parting was inevitable, no matter how much they regretted it.

Even though Harry's act hadn't lasted long, Ginny knew that it would take her a lifetime before she would forget the profound effect that single moment had on her very soul. She would recall it to comfort herself in the coming weeks, when Harry's absence became too much to bear. Likewise, Harry's dreams were haunted by the presence of Ginny Weasley, and the gift she had given to him before she departed.

Soon after everyone, save for the two boys who resided there, had left the Dursley home on Privet Drive. Now both, in their own way, were trying to come to terms with what had transpired, all over the course of one unforgettable, hot summer night.

At half past five on Sunday evening, the door burst open with a bang. Vernon Dursley's booming voice could be heard even in the furthest corners of the immaculate home.

"POTTER!" his uncle bellowed. "This house had better be in order, boy, or you'll spend the rest of the summer putting it to rights!"

From the smallest bedroom, Harry breathed a sigh of relief, and thanked his lucky stars he had friends who cared enough about his welfare to put the house to rights. In fact, before they had left, everyone had pitched in. As a result, everything that had been broken or damaged was repaired, and all evidence of the party was removed from the house. Someone had even found the list Aunt Petunia had left, and finished that off as well. Really, the house had never looked better.

Harry smirked, thinking to himself that even Aunt Petunia, with her critical attitude and freakish neatness, would have a difficult time finding fault with the cleanliness of the house.

Of course, he hadn't counted on one thing, as he realised half an hour later...

"POTTER! GET DOWN HERE, BOY! I know you've been touching my chess set. It's too bloody clean!" the voice roared.

'Well,' Harry thought ruefully as he silently trudged down the steps to face his aunt and uncle. 'Even Wizards aren't perfect. Do they even make a spell to put dust back on things, anyway?' Maybe Hermione would know.


A/N: Thanks so much to Arnel for her beta work and advice. You're the best! And thanks also to Melindaleo for your unwavering support and encouragement. What would I do without you?

A big thank you to everyone who reviewed, especially those who wrote to remind me that people are actually reading my stuff. Your encouragement kept me motivated to continue through some very rough and stressful times in my life (i.e. two major moves and a very busy schedule).

Thanks also must go to JKR for inventing such wonderfully rich characters and imagery. It's amazing that she's tolerant enough to let us play around with them and not sue us!

Now... on to the sequel, "Shadow of the Serpent!"