Chapter 1: One Last Time
The smallest bedroom of number four, Privet Drive had never been so tidy, and for an instant, Harry wondered if he wasn't somewhere else. The floor looked strange without the usual hodge-podge of books and clothes covering it—he and Ron had packed that all way in his trunk hours ago. Hermione had even made up the bed. Once they sent his things on to the Burrow, it would look like he had never lived here. That should make my aunt and uncle very happy, he told himself wryly.
A quick glance at his watch told him it was quarter of midnight. They'd been told to expect an Order member to arrive directly at 12:00 to escort them to the Burrow. In just 15 minutes he would leave, and he wasn't coming back. He allowed the thought to soak into his mind, frowning slightly when it didn't bring quite as much joy as expected. Surely I'm not going to miss this place, he thought, furrowing his brow in puzzlement.
His thoughts were interrupted by someone calling his name. Looking up, he saw Hermione standing in the door, her hands on her hips. "It's almost time, Harry," she told him. "Are you ready?"
Pushing the odd feeling away, he grinned and jumped to his feet. "Yeah, I think so," he said, taking one last look for anything they might have missed.
"Well grab Hedwig's cage then, I'll take care of this." With a quick flick of her wand she had his trunk floating down the stairs in front of them. When they reached the entryway, she lowered it to the floor and Harry set the empty cage on top of it.
"What's up with you, Ron?" he asked, catching sight of his friend standing in the living room door. "You look like you just ate a whole box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans."
Ron didn't answer; instead, he just stood aside and gestured for Harry to walk passed him. When he entered the room, he was surprised to see the entire Dursley family sitting on the couch. "What are you still doing up?" he asked, glancing at the clock with a sinking feeling in his gut. 11:50.
Harry had been perfectly fine with the idea of sneaking out in the middle of the night. Truth be told, he had been relieved that his relatives would not be there to make their usual snide remarks to his friends. They'd started in on them their first morning back.
"I can't believe your parents let you go off by yourselves for three weeks," Aunt Petunia had sniffed when Ron and Hermione sat down on either side of Harry at the breakfast table.
Uncle Vernon had replied without looking up from his paper. "What else can you expect from freaks, Petunia?"
Hermione hadn't been bothered by it; she simply informed them that her parents were actually Muggles. They hadn't said much to her since—Harry suspected that meeting a Muggle-born witch had reminded his aunt of his mother.
Ron however had nearly blown a gasket, as he always did when someone insulted his family. The Dursleys had sensed that he would be an easy person to get a rise out of, and they'd seemed to make a sport of it. He had gotten angrier with each nasty comment, and Harry didn't really want to test his friend's restraint.
"Just making sure you get off all right, Boy," Uncle Vernon answered with a fake smile on his face.
"Did you get everything out of the room?" Dudley demanded. "I'll be moving my things back in there tomorrow, and I don't want to find any eye of newt on the shelves."
Ron snarled and Harry looked over quickly to see that Hermione had a firm grip on his wand arm. "You can't hex him Ron," she reminded loudly.
"Come on, Hermione, just let me turn him into a newt!" Ron yelled, glaring at Dudley, who attempted to hide his large mass in the cushions of the couch.
"No Ronald, it's against the law," she said firmly.
For some reason, the whole situation amused Harry—perhaps it was because he finally held the upper hand with his relatives, after years of mistreatment. Hiding the humor in his eyes, he turned back to the Dursleys, who were watching fearfully. "Bad move, Dudders," he said. "You really annoyed Ron this time… Actually, I think being turned into a newt might be an improvement on your looks."
He barely had time to register Aunt Petunia's gasp of indignation when he heard the distinctive pop of someone Apparating into the entryway. Relaxing a bit, he turned slightly and called out, "We're in here!"
He saw Mad-Eye Moody stomp into the room out of the corner of his eye. "What's going on in here?" the Auror growled, taking the scene in. "Put your wand away Weasley, do you want to go to Azkaban for cursing a Muggle?"
With a final glare at Dudley, Ron pocketed his wand. Harry waited for a reprimand on proper wand handling and buttocks being blown off, but Mad-Eye's attention was fixed firmly on the Dursleys. "What are you lot doing up?"
"We wanted to say good-bye to Harry," Aunt Petunia said, her voice trembling slightly.
"Hah!" Mad-Eye snorted, his magical eye spinning wildly as he looked at them. "Wanted to make sure he really left is more like it."
From the looks on their faces, Harry knew he'd hit the mark. However, he also saw fear and knew there was no way they'd ever agree, or say anything else they might be thinking. He bit back another grin. Apparently, they still remembered Moody's threats from the previous year.
"Right then," Hermione said briskly. "We'll just send our things on ahead and then we'll be out of your hair." With a wave of her wand, all three trunks and Hedwig's cage disappeared, leaving only their brooms behind.
"You won't be needing those either," Mad-Eye said, sending them ahead as well.
Ron and Harry exchanged a puzzled glance, both thinking the same thing: Doesn't he know we can't Apparate yet? Just in case he didn't, Harry cleared his throat and said, "How are Ron and I getting to the Burrow? We don't have our Apparition licenses yet."
"I know that, Potter!" Moody retorted, rolling his good eye in exasperation. " But did you really believe we'd let you go flying cross-country on a broomstick tonight of all nights, when Voldemort knows he could strike?" Harry nodded, chagrined; Moody had a good point. Voldemort knew better than anyone that the magical protection provided by his relatives had just expired. "But you're right, we can't Apparate—although I think you've proven yourself more than capable, even at Side-Along Apparition."
Harry was in whole hearted agreement, but he knew with his current tense relationship with the Ministry there was no way he could get around the test. He'd have to do everything exactly by the book. "When can we take the test?" he asked, anxious to get it over with.
"That's where we're going now," Moody told him, pulling a spoon out of his pocket. "Port-key to the Leaky Cauldron, set to activate in five minutes. We'll get a room there for the night, and then you two can take your test in the morning, and get some gold out of Gringotts. You can't very well traipse around the country without money."
"Ahem." Harry swung around, almost surprised to see his relatives still sitting there. "Were you taking off then?" Uncle Vernon asked, looking significantly at the clock.
"Don't worry Dursley, we're on our way," Mad-Eye grunted, opening the door.
Harry was quiet as he walked out of the house; that not quite pleasant feeling he'd had earlier was back with a vengeance. "You all right Harry?" Ron asked as they reached the end of Privet Drive.
"Why are we out here?" Harry asked, avoiding the question.
"Couldn't stand looking at that lot anymore," Moody stated. "We'll wait right here for the Port-key to activate, it won't be long now."
The question hadn't distracted Ron though, and Harry shifted uneasily under his gaze. His friend picked the worst times to be insightful. "What's wrong?" Ron asked bluntly.
He sighed, knowing he'd have to answer the question. "I dunno," he said slowly. "It feels weird to be leaving… I've lived here my entire life, and I'll most likely never see it again.
"You're mental," Ron snorted. "You hate this place, remember? Now you almost sound like you're going to miss it. Come on, you've got a room waiting for you at the Burrow and you know Mum is dying to see you."
Harry stared back at number four, watching as the lights went out. "Maybe that's it," he whispered, almost to himself. "I hated it here so much, all the time I lived here, I was never homesick. I didn't mind not being home for holidays, because there was no one who wanted me to be home. I will miss the Burrow though, and I guess that scares me a bit. My only experience with missing home was wanting to get back to Hogwarts every summer."
Ron stared at him for a moment then said, "It's scary, but in some bizarre way, that almost makes sense."
"If social hour is over," Mad-Eye glowered, "the Port-key is almost ready to activate."
Duly chastened, both boys touched the spoon Moody was holding, putting their fingers on either side of Hermione's. "Right then," Harry said with a determined glint in his eye. "First stop London, second… home."