"Vernon?" Petunia called, her voice trembling nearly as much as her hands. "Vernon, can you come here a minute?"
"What is it, dear?" answered a gruff voice as its overly large owner stepped into the master bedroom of Number Four, Privet Drive.
"Take a look at this," Petunia said, handing her husband a piece of paper as her heart beat fast in anticipation. She waited on pins and needles for her husband to finish reading it.
"Does this mean…?"
"Yes!" she nearly shrieked, nodding frantically. "Finally!"
Vernon grinned widely, a look of gleeful anticipation on his face. "Where is the freak anyway?"
"Tending the garden," Petunia said, stuffing the faded cards, letters, and photos back into the shoebox she'd found at the back of her closet. She'd been looking for baby pictures of Dudley when she stumbled upon the forgotten box of unanswered and mostly unread letters from her long dead sister.
"And you know where this, this guardian lives, do you?"
"I assume he lives in the same house he grew up in. Two houses down from ours in that wretched, old neighbourhood," Petunia said, shuddering at the memory of her childhood home.
"Well, pack his things, love." Vernon said, rubbing his meaty hands together in glee. "There's no time to waste! Set his cases by the front door and I'll put them in the boot. Then we'll call him in from the garden and drop him off straight away."
Petunia looked up adoringly at her husband. "Dudders will be so happy to have his second bedroom back."
Vernon Dursley puffed up with pride at the mention of his son. Bouncing on the balls of his feet, he replied, "Of course he will. And he deserves it after all he's had to put up with."
Petunia watched her husband stride away, his fading words echoing her own thoughts: "Why we ever agreed to take that boy in, I'll never know."
"Where are we going?" Harry asked.
"Never you mind," his aunt replied curtly. "Just get into the car and be quiet." His uncle was already at the wheel, humming along to an upbeat tune on the radio.
As the houses streamed past, Harry settled back into the seat and looked out the car window, trying to ignore his cousin Dudley who sat stuffing his face with potato crisps while watching some violent movie on his portable DVD player. Dudley hadn't bothered to put in headphones, so the sounds of people shooting each other and their victims' tortured screams echoed through the backseat.
As Harry stared sullenly out the car window, he couldn't help but notice the festive mood of his relatives, nor could he imagine the cause of it or why he'd been brought along. While his relatives were dressed in their finest, he'd been dragged in from his chores in the garden. His hair was matted with sweat and plant debris, his face and hands were caked with dirt, and his clothes—aside from being three sizes too large—were covered with mud and grass stains. His relatives didn't like to be seen with Harry in public in the best of circumstances; he couldn't imagine where they were taking him now.
As he watched the scenery speed by, he noticed a gradual shift in the feel of the neighbourhoods. They'd gone from clearly well-kempt, to progressively more run down and economically challenged. Gone were the manicured lawns and meticulously tended rose bushes. In their place pouted increasingly tired old brick houses, with shutters hanging off their hinges, garbage strewn lawns, and broken down cars on blocks. What bushes there were hid broken or boarded up windows. The dodgier the neighbourhoods became, the more suspicious and anxious Harry grew. Where were they going? Or rather, since he couldn't imagine the Dursleys willingly coming to place like this, where were they taking him?
"Turn right here, Vernon," Petunia said.
Harry looked around dubiously. A large, ominous chimney loomed in the tdistance. It belonged to a factory that seemed to have gone out of business years ago. Most of the building's windows were broken, and its large parking lot sat empty. A chain link fence surrounded the property, with faded and peeling Keep Out signs plastered to it at various intervals. Turning away from the eyesore, Harry focused his attention on the dead-end street they'd just turned onto. A sign hung limply over the road. It read "Spinner's End." Harry swallowed. Whatever was going on, it couldn't bode well for him. The malevolent smile his uncle shot him through the rear-view mirror made his stomach turn over in apprehension.
"Where are you taking me?"
"You'll see soon enough," Vernon replied.
"Right there," Petunia said, pointing with a long, pale finger. "It's the one with the green shutters."
Harry looked around frantically as the car drove past dilapidated and deserted houses. He wondered if anyone lived here at all. Finally, they came to a halt in front of the very last house on the street.
"Get out," Vernon commanded, a triumphant sneer on his face.
Harry looked at him agog. "Here?" he asked. "Where are we?"
"Don't ask questions," snapped Aunt Petunia.
"This'll teach you to complain about how good you've had it," Vernon snarled.
Harry looked at his relatives, unable to believe they were ditching him in some strange, rundown neighbourhood. His uncle merely grinned wickedly at him. His aunt's eyes were riveted straight ahead, her lips pursed, hands clenched, as if she couldn't wait to be away from this place. His cousin Dudley sat watching his movie, supremely oblivious to everything around him.
"But…" Harry began.
"Get out now, boy, or I'll drag you out by your ear," Vernon bellowed.
"And take this with you," Petunia said, shoving a manila envelope at him.
Reluctantly, Harry took the sealed envelope and turned it over in his hands. There was nothing written on the outside. Stunned by the unexpected turn of events, Harry's mind reeled. What was he going to do?
His door was jerked open and his uncle roughly grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and dragged him from the car. Unable to get his feet under himself in time, Harry stumbled to his knees on the uneven cobblestones.
"Get up!" his uncle commanded. "And give that letter to the freak who answers the door."
Harry got to his feet, picking up the mystery envelope as he did so. Vernon shut the car door and leaned against it, preventing Harry from climbing back in.
Slowly, Harry walked up the overgrown path to the house. A sickly, rancid smell assaulted his senses, and from the sound of rushing water nearby, he assumed the stench arose from the dirty river they'd driven over a few minutes earlier. He looked back once to see his uncle still leaning against the car door, arms crossed smugly over his chest.
Harry turned back to face the unknown house and took a deep breath. He had no idea where he was or who lived here, if anyone did at all. His hand repeatedly went to his jeans pocket where his wand should have been—but wasn't. He had left it on his bedside table while he'd worked outside in the garden. In hindsight that had been a mistake, but he hadn't expected to be ferreted away without even being allowed in the house to clean up first, much less grab his wand and pack his meagre belongings. His aunt and uncle had long ago forbade him from keeping it on his person, though he did so as often as he could.
He felt his legs tremble as he took the last few steps to the door. What if his uncle had been paid to deliver him to the home of Death Eaters? He looked quickly around the neighbourhood and saw no immediate signs of life. It both looked and felt empty and deserted. No one would ever know what had happened to him.
He jumped when he heard a loud click. Whirling around, he saw that it was only his uncle, opening the boot of the car. His heart racing, he turned back and stared at the heavy wooden door. Small, curtained windows framed it on either side. He raised a hand and knocked, softly at first, and then a bit harder. His palms were sweaty. Restlessly, he passed the envelope from hand to hand.
Harry heard some thumps in the distance, but as he'd just seen the curtains flutter, he didn't turn around to see what had caused the noise. He held his breath as the door was unlocked and cracked open a fraction of an inch to reveal part of a suspicious dark eye framed in a pale face.
"What do you wa…"
The deep, familiar voice—which had cut off quite abruptly at the sight of him—sliced the air, sending a rushing wave of icy dread through Harry's veins. His head swam and he reached out to grasp the door frame for support. Just as the door to the small house was flung open, he heard a car door slam. He turned around in time to see his relatives speed away, his belongings in a pile on the cobblestones near the curb.
Dread and anger battled one another as he turned back to face the one man he hated more than any other: the man that had made his life a living hell since he'd first stepped foot in Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. And from the looks of it, the man his relatives had just foisted him upon.