Disclaimer: We don't own Harry Potter. If we did, we'd be in the Bahamas, and our kids would have nannies.
Chapter 1- The Road Back 'Home'
Harry stopped his packing and looked at his two closest friends. They had already been through so much, yet he knew that this next adventure would be their most difficult. This time there was no Dumbledore to guide them with mysterious riddles or offers of lemon drops. Harry seethed at the thought of the greasy git responsible for his mentor's death.
"Ron, Mione, you guys talked to your parents and told them that you're not returning to Hogwarts, right?"
"Yes", they replied in unison.
"Mum nearly had kittens when I told her", Ron said. "But Dad helped calm her down. They realize that some things are more important. We're already at the top of You-Know-Who's hit list, just by being friends with you."
"RONALD! Just say his name, for goodness sakes!", reprimanded Hermione.
Ron steadily ignored her. "Well, with Mione and her library of books, we'll be able to keep up with the seventh years. She's the best teacher we've ever had".
Hermione beamed and turned a lovely shade of pink, as she stopped packing to flip to the middle of the new spell book she had purchased. She began to discuss a new defensive spell that she had found the night before. Ron and Harry shared a secret grin at her gleeful face. After all these years, they were finally learning how to avoid arguments with women.
Just then, they heard a light tapping at Ron's bedroom window. There was Hedwig, Harry's white owl. Tied to her leg was a letter and a small pouch.
"Finally, girl", said Harry. "I was starting to get worried".
Harry placed the emergency bag of Floo Powder into his trunk and hurriedly unrolled the parchment.
"Any news from Remus?", Ron asked.
"Nothing about Voldemort, if that's what you mean. McGonagall has taken over as head of the Order, and we're cleared to leave at daybreak." He scanned the rest of the letter. "He said there'll be Order members keeping an eye out for us wherever we go. I used to be so bothered by having people baby sit me. With Dumbledore gone, I'll take all the protection we can get."
Harry's comment was followed by a moment of silence which, no doubt, was filled with thoughts for their fallen Headmaster. It was Hermione who broke the reverie.
"No one knows what we're planning or when exactly we are leaving from Surrey, but they know that we'll be together" added Hermione.
The three locked eyes and apprehension overwhelmed them. Tomorrow would be the day it all began. There was much preparation ahead.
Ginny stood outside the door and listened to them. "I should have known something was coming. They spent the entire wedding whispering in the corner", she thought to herself. She crept back to her room and packed. Whether the 'Golden Trio' liked it or not, when they left in the morning, they would be a foursome.
As the first rays of dawn crept across the Burrow, the soft steps of Harry, Ron and Hermione were unheard. They decided that they would leave to begin their quest the day after Bill's wedding because the family would be sleeping in and it would be easiest to go unnoticed by anyone who shouldn't know their destination. They had said goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley after they had finished packing the night before. It was the Order who had decided that the less people who knew of Harry's whereabouts would be safer for all parties involved.
Except that they had forgotten how determined the youngest Weasley was.
"Damnable" was the first word on Harry's lips as he saw Ginny sitting quietly at the kitchen table waiting for them, a smirk on her face and a bag at her feet.
"I know you didn't believe that you would get out of here without me. Now that you're all finally here, maybe you could explain to me what we are getting into and why", she said, with a devilish grin.
Harry looked at Ginny and flatly said, "You're not coming. It's dangerous and I won't let you get hurt because of me ".
Ginny met his eyes and Harry started back with the fire he saw in them. "There is no way in hell that I will not be a part of this. I now that this has something to do with Riddle, and I've been out for revenge since my first year. I've already left a note for Mum and Dad. They know that I'll be safe with you."
"But--", Ron tried to interject.
"But nothing", seethed his sister. "My OWL'S are completed and I've already memorized Charlie's old sixth and seventh year spell books. I'd be an asset, not a liability".
Harry looked unintentionally impressed at her conviction and Ron's eyes darted around, seemingly in search of a dictionary.
"My mind is already made up. From now on, where you three go, I go. It's simple as that…deal with it, accept it and move on", Ginny said as she faced them.
Ron took one look at his sister and sighed. He took her by the wrist and hissed, "If you're coming with us, move your arse. We don't have time for this".
With that, the four left the Burrow, walked a mile down the road and summoned the Knight Bus for the long journey to Number 4 Privet Drive. Not a moment after they had stowed their wands into their cloaks did the sounds of screeching of tires and bright headlights come into view. The four teens, and even a few trees, jumped out of the way as the Knight Bus came to a sharp stop in front of them. As the door opened, the friends found themselves speechless at the sight before them.
They were not at all surprised to see Ernie, the old, visually impaired driver still behind the wheel. What did shock the hell out of them was the man at the door.
"Welcome to the Knight Bus. Magical transportation for the stranded witch or wizard in -- MR. POTTER!", shouted Cornelius Fudge.
Hermione had enough sense to stop gaping long enough to shush the ex-Minister of Magic.
"So much for secrecy", commented Ron.
"I'm sorry", said Fudge. "I just wasn't expecting to see anyone, least of all you. As you can see, no one has been taking any unnecessary trips."
Sure enough, the Knight Bus was as empty as someone who had been kissed by a Dementor.
"With the Death Eaters on the loose, and the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, most of the wizarding community has taken to staying close to their homes and families. Unfortunate times we live in", Fudge continued, pompously. "Now, come in quickly. What's the destination?"
"Number 4, Privet Drive in Surrey, please", replied Hermione, ushering her still dumbstruck friends further into the bus.
"That'll be one Galleon for each of you", said Fudge, hand outstretched.
"A GALLEON?", Ron cried, snapping out of shock. "Blimey, prices sure have gone up".
"And for good reason", Fudge said, indignantly. "We have added security on this bus". He leaned closer to the group and whispered to them, "There's an Auror wearing an Invisibility Cloak on each level. Just in case…".
Harry handed over the four Galleons, and the group walked toward the back of the bus. The bus began the trip as they started to stow their luggage into the upper compartments.
Ron couldn't help to steal gleeful looks at Fudge every eight seconds. Hermione tried to admonish him, but his mouth wouldn't stay closed for long.
"Serves him right", he cried at last, a little too loudly for Hermione's liking. "No, I won't be quiet. How could you forget all of the horrible things he said about Harry and us? The only thing that could make this day better would be if Ernie would run over Umbridge."
"I'll keep an eye out", shouted Ernie.
At that, Fudge's already crimson ears turned a deep shade of purple. Ginny, Harry and Ron laughed heartily. Even Hermione had a small smile on her face, as if she were daydreaming about the bus squishing the horrible, overgrown frog.
For the rest of the ride, Harry and Ron whispered explanations to Ginny about the blood protection that Lily Potter had placed on Harry. Normally, Hermione would have loved this task, but she was on footstep patrol to make sure that the invisibility-cloaked Auror didn't hear any of this secret information. Also, everyone feared that if Hermione opened her mouth, that she would vomit, as she had turned decidedly green after only ten minutes onboard.
"Five more minutes, kids", called Ernie.
They began to get their trunks together and moved closer to the front of the bus. Just steps from the door, Ginny tripped and would have landed on her face if Harry hadn't caught her in his arms.
"Thanks", she breathed, holding onto him for just a few, not-so-inconspicuous twenty seconds too long. Ginny stared into Harry's eyes and saw a range of emotions cross over them, before abruptly straightening herself up and brushing her clothes off.
"What did you trip over, anyway?", Harry asked a little too loudly, trying to stop Ron and Hermione from giving each other that annoyingly triumphant look of knowing.
They turned quickly, only to see a snoring man dressed in red Auror's robes, now only half-covered by an Invisibility Cloak, sprawled across a row of seats.
"Some protection", Harry seethed, as he glared at Fudge.
"Um…. Yes, well, like I said….. Business has been slow…", Fudge stammered, as he handed two Galleons back to Harry in retribution.
"Wotcher, Harry", a familiar voice whispered in his ear. "More protection than you think".
Harry grinned at hearing Tonk's voice, and was comforted in knowing that more than three people would be on his side at Privet Drive. As the bus came to a screeching halt in front of Number Four, he mentally prepared himself for his final visit to the place which had never quite been a home.
A/N: Please read and review!