Harry Potter stood on the front stoop of Number 4, Privet Drive, and rang the bell. He heaved a big sigh, not looking forward to the task ahead of him. Ron Weasley laid a hand on his shoulder as encouragement, and Hermione Granger did the same. Harry felt better, knowing that this time, the last time, he would not face his wizard-hating relatives alone. They had slipped past the aurors guarding Kings Crossing and Platform 9 and ¾, and had managed to find a muggle taxi to take them to Little Whinging, Surrey. This had to be done before anything else.
Aunt Petunia answered the door in her apron and rubber gloves, and looked down her nose at Harry.
"What's this, just showing up at the doorstep! At least we didn't have to take the trouble of picking you up at the station. And who are these ruffians?" She glared at Ron and Hermione. "That professor person of yours told us you had to stay here, but we're not taking in any more strays of your kind!"
Harry clenched his eyes shut, and heaved another sigh. He opened his eyes and glared back at Petunia. "We won't we staying very long, Aunt. But I have to talk to you, all of you, before we go. Is Uncle Vernon home yet?"
"He'll be home shortly. If they must come in the house, make sure they don't track any dirt in." She swept off down the hall, heading for the sitting room. Harry glanced at his cupboard under the stairs and shivered. Never again. After today, he was his own man, whether he was of age or not. They held no power over him. Maybe they never really did.
They followed Aunt Petunia into the sitting room, which now had every piece of furniture covered with think plastic covers. After the incidents of destruction which had taken place in the room, especially those involving fireplaces and soot, she was taking no chances on a repeat performance. She gestured imperiously to the smaller of the couches available, and disappeared into the hall again calling, "Dudley, you stay up in your room for a while dear, we have…" she paused, "unexpected guests."
Harry sat down gingerly on an armchair, leaving the couch for Ron and Hermione, who sat down and instantly held hands. He doubted they even realized they did it. He had found them snogging in their compartment on the Hogwarts' Express on his return from the lavatory, their arms wrapped around each other. They had obviously improved on their communications skills some what, death could do that to one. He stared at the floor, and wished for the thousandth time that they would go away, leave him to get on with his fate alone, and stay out of danger. But they refused, Ron had even managed to snag his invisibility cloak and set a Weasley Wizard Wheezes' loop de loop charm on his broom so that he couldn't run off. But they stuck with him. He felt stronger for the company, but dreaded what could happen.
His reverie was interrupted by clomping, heavy footsteps on the stairs. Apparently, Petunia's announcement had had the opposite effect that she intended, and Dudley was coming down to inspect the guests. His round, pink face popped around the corner, and as he noticed Harry, he swaggered into the room.
"Back again, eh? Couldn't find anyone else to take you…." He stopped as her finally noticed Ron and Hermione, both of whom had taken their wands out and cradled them on their laps.
Dudley backed slowly toward the door, then stopped as an idea made it's way through his thick skull. "Uh…you're not supposed to use those, are you? Outside of that school of yours. Who are you anyway?"
"Friends of Harry." Replied Hermione. "And you really ought to be careful what you say. Harry might not be able to do magic yet, but we're just a bit older. Old enough to use these." She raised her wand. Dudley turned a terrible shade of green and shuffled backward, his ample rear knocking over a potted plant, which tipped over a vase, which spilled water on the floor, which Dudley then slipped on.
Petunia came running in at the noise, "What have you done to my boy, you wretched freaks!"
"Nothing ma'am, the fat prat did it all on his own." Ron sneered. Harry started to laugh, the first genuine laugh he'd had in weeks.
"I think I might actually miss you after all Duddems. You ought to try going in for stand-up, I mean fall-down comedy."
A door slammed, and Uncle Vernon strode in, and dropped his briefcase when he saw his son bawling like a toddler on the floor, and his wife red-faced and puffing, with three teenagers sitting calmly in his sitting room.
"Out, out! How dare you come back here and attack my son, you miscreants!"
Hermione stood, "We did no such thing. Dudley's own cowardice attacked him. Harry is here for your protection!"
"I don't need anything from that little, no-good…" Vernon exploded, but Ron and Hermione raised their wands with a simultanious, "Silencio!"
Vernon continued to rant, but no sound came out.
"Sit down and be quiet, all of you," Harry said, standing. Ron and Hermione moved to flank him as he stood in front of the restored electric fireplace. Red-faced Vernon and Petunia, along with the still green and shaking Dudley sat.
"I'm staying just long enough for the charms protecting this house to be renewed for you. You fed me, barely, and clothed me, so I suppose I owe you that much. Voldemort can't come here to attack you. You can back to your miserably little lives, and I'll never darken your doorstep again."
"You ungrateful little wretch," Petunia stood and sneered at him. "You and your kind are worthless, you…" Ron and Hermione raised their wands again, but Harry held up a hand.
"Why do you hate me so? You always have, Uncle Vernon and Dudley just feed on that."
Petunia looked stricken. She turned pale and sat down abruptly. "You…your kind…your father took my Lily from me…she got everything, and I lost…." Petunia started to cry. "I was the one who dreamed of unicorns and spells and magic all the time. I had the castle and the magical princesses…Lily always wanted to play with me, but they were mine first. We would make up all the great stories together…and then her letter came, and she really had magic, and I, I had nothing. I hate it all now, I can't have any of it." She wept uncontrollably.
Harry sighed. "Be happy Aunt Petunia….you are safe, you don't have to try and save the world." Harry walked of the room, followed by Ron and Hermione. Petunia ran up to him, and gave him a hug. "I'm sorry. Good luck." He smiled at her, and spoke only, "Goodbye," and turned out to face his fate, his friends at his side.