A Long Way Home

Prologue

The drive home from King's Cross was extraordinary for the black-haired youth in the back seat, mostly because, to an outsider, it would seem thoroughly unremarkable. The large man behind the wheel wasn't saying anything rude, he wasn't belittling that self same young man, and he wasn't fuming verbally at the "unnaturalness" of the send-off that Harry Potter had gotten from his friends, or the barely veiled threat that he had received. It was only by the striking puce color of his uncle's neck that Harry Potter could tell that the conversation had not gone over at all well with Uncle Vernon.

Aunt Petunia seemed rattled, as well: she peered through the wind screen with an intensity that ought to have melted the glass, darting nervous looks back toward her nephew every few moments. And Harry's cousin Dudley seemed completely cowed – he had shrunken into the other side of their shared seat (at least as much as his bulk would allow), leaving fully half the rear space for Harry – a first ever!

Harry felt grateful for those parting moments and the genuine concern, and love, he had felt. He knew that he was going into his annual exile without any real hope of a kind word or touch or expression until he was rescued from his suburban prison by members of the Order of the Phoenix. His sadness at the loss of Sirius, his beloved godfather, lingered, together with guilt for having led the ill-fated expedition into the Department of Mysteries and anger with the Headmaster of his school, the vaunted Albus Dumbledore, for having left him in the situation that led to that foolish endeavour.

Harry stared morosely out the window of the car, paying little attention to his relatives, and less still to the passing scenery, eventually drifting off into a fitful slumber. He was roused only by the bump and sway of the automobile as it turned into the drive in front of Number 4, Privet Drive. Pulling himself out of the new BMW and moving to the boot at the rear of the car, which his Uncle had sprung from the remote latch in the interior, he pulled his trunk and his owl's cage out. Closing the boot, he turned and carried the items to the front door, which had been left ajar by the other former occupants of the car. He nudged the door shut and dragged his possessions up the stairs and into the smallest bedroom, his cell for the first part of summer holidays.

Molly Weasley was in a snit. Her children had been hurt in the foray into the Ministry, but she had only just extracted the full story out of them. They had been reluctant to tell her any of the details, but she had finally told them they wouldn't be going anywhere, or doing anything other than chores, until she knew the truth.

Although Ron and Ginny had gone off with Harry willingly, and had, in fact, insisted on going with him, Harry should have known better. He should not have left Hogwarts and should not have risked her children's lives. Though she really cared for the boy, Harry had just gone too far and had to understand that he had to act more responsibly. And so Molly did what she normally did when angry: she shouted. In this case, via Owl post, through a "howler," but it was unmistakably shouting. At the last moment, though, Molly almost didn't send the missive on its way, worrying about how he would take it. Finally, though, she shoved her doubts aside and sent the message on its way.

The first few days at Privet Drive had been, for want of a better word, boring. Harry had dutifully trudged down the stairs and gone to the kitchen when called for meals. He had sent a letter three days after arriving, informing the Order that he was being treated well, something which was, surprisingly, true.

The day before, he had grown sufficiently restless that, when not presented with a list of chores, he mowed and trimmed and raked the front and the back yards, spiffing them up nicely. In fact, his Aunt Petunia, upon seeing him willingly working, had brought a glass of lemonade as he finished up with some mowing, and he had actually been grateful when he had thanked her!

The work had actually been a blessing, as it took his mind off of the trip to the Ministry, the battle in the Department of Mysteries. During those hours, he didn't think of Ron screaming with the brain-thing attacking him, or Hermione lying there unresponsive after that horrible curse, or of the shouts and spell fire, or of being possessed by Voldemort, or most especially of Sirius falling through the veil to his death. No, those thoughts were reserved now for the quiet hours after dark when he would try, and fail, to secure more than a couple of fitful hours sleep.

This morning, though, had not gone nearly as well as the preceding ones. Only four days into his sojourn at Number Four, he had received a howler from, of all people, Mrs. Weasley. To Harry, Mrs. Weasley was the epitome of what a true Mum ought to be – caring, loving and fiercely protective of her children. And she had, on more than one occasion, gone so far as to tell Harry that he was as good as a member of their family – that she thought of him as if he were one of her own.

He was entirely dissuaded from that opinion, however, when he heard the contents of her howler. She had shrieked at him for being foolish enough to run off to the Ministry, for endangering her children, for not leaving things in the hands of the adults who had the responsibility of taking care of him and the other children. She had blamed all of the injuries suffered by Harry's friends on Harry, and intimated that Sirus' death was on Harry's head as well. Vernon's comment, of course, that Harry's friends had finally seen the truth about him being "nothing but trouble" didn't help and even, unfortunately, rang quite true in Harry's mind.

Harry was accustomed to being yelled at. And although he didn't really believe it, he couldn't help but feel that he deserved it – that he really was a worthless freak, wholly undeserving of being loved or cared about. He already knew that he was to blame for his friends' injuries and his Godfather's death, and the overwhelming guilt he had been fighting off washed over him. He flew (almost literally) up the stairs and into his room, burying his head beneath his pillow, and sobbed himself into an exhausted sleep.

After Harry had run out of the kitchen after that absolutely horrible, shouting letter, Vernon looked at Petunia and said firmly, "I told you he is nothing but trouble and will only bring more trouble to us! We must rid ourselves of him – you said so yourself before he returned. It doesn't matter that he's been less of a bother for the last couple of days. We have to do it!"

Petunia looked down at the table top in front of her, closed her eyes and muttered a silent prayer that her sister would forgive her. And then she nodded her head slightly to her husband, signaling agreement.