Chapter Twenty-one - Privet Drive
Exams came and went without any excitement. When he had handed in his parchments to Professor Flitwick, Harry checked his schedule only to find that he had nothing left to sit. He gleefully crossed out Charms from his list, wiped off his quill and tucked it away, crumpled the parchment into a ball, and pitched it in the bin on his way out of the classroom.
"About time," Tracy teased him good-naturedly. Harry had been the last of his gang to finish the exam. Everyone was waiting for him out in the corridor.
"Not everyone's as clever as you, Tracy," Harry retorted, sticking out his tongue. Tracy had walked out first from nearly every exam.
"What took so long?" Draco asked. "I thought you were good at Charms."
"I am. I wrote loads about everything."
"Nuts," Goyle spoke up. "Just say what you need to and be done with it. Why make the prof read through pages of blather?"
"Yeah," Crabbe added. "I'm sure the teachers want to eat lunch at some point. Me too, actually. What do you think, Draco; could we get some food?"
"Are you hungry again? Breakfast was only a few hours ago."
"I'm a growing boy."
"Somebody put a brick on his head," Daphne giggled.
"He's not the only one who's hungry," Harry chimed in.
"Lunch isn't for another hour," Theo reported, checking his watch. "The plates won't be there."
"Maybe we can get the food to appear anyway," Pansy suggested. "With exams and all, students are coming and going at odd times. I think it might just work."
This seemed a most reasonable idea, and the gang of Slytherins trumped down the stairs and seated themselves at their table in the Hall. The food didn't immediately appear, so Theo and Draco fell to discussing how incredibly easy the Astronomy exam had been, while the others watched Harry whump Daphne in a game of Gobstones.
Before too much longer, their new tagalong showed up and put her bag down on the table as well. She unknotted the red and gold tie from around her neck and stuffed it deep into the knapsack with obvious disgust. Ginny had already lost twenty points for Gryffindor through her refusal to wear the thing; the threat of detention had finally induced her to keep it on during classes, but she took every other opportunity to go bare-necked. So far, the rogue Gryffindor's appeals to join Slytherin House had been refused by Professor McGonagall, her current Head of House.
The bell sounded the start of lunch, and food instantly began appearing on the table in front of the waiting Slytherins. They were the only people in the Hall, actually, until the side door opened to admit several of the professors.
"I don't believe it," Draco marvelled. "Theo, what could he be doing back here?"
An unpleasant scowl came over Theo's face. "Dumbledore the Muggle Lover," he sneered. "Wasn't he sacked?"
"He was," Draco agreed, "and now I'm confused."
"Ah, some of our young Slytherin students," the old wizard said with a smile as he sauntered over.
"Professor," about half of them said, with varying degrees of pleasure.
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow as his gaze fell upon their Gryffindor tagalong. "Miss Weasley, I'm surprised to find you sitting here."
Ginny glanced up without much interest on her face. "You can thank those stupid, judgemental chickenhearts who kicked me out of my house," she said with disdain. "They didn't like me just because I was different."
"I'm sure you're exaggerating," Dumbledore remanded her. "House is like family."
"My 'family' sucks," she scorned.
"Well, it's nice to see that you've made some friends. I wish more students weren't afraid to cross house lines."
"I don't understand, sir," Draco said with an artfully confused expression. "Weren't you sacked?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "Oh no, Mister Malfoy. The board of governors only suspended my tenure pending an inquiry. That inquiry is now concluded, and I'm happy to say they found no evidence of negligence on my part."
"That's - good news, sir," Theo finally said.
"What about hiring that imbecile Lockhart?" Draco asked snottily. "How was that not negligent?"
"Gilderoy Lockhart fooled everyone, Mister Malfoy, not just me. He played a dangerous game of deception, and unfortunately we were the ones who got the short end of the stick when he was exposed."
"My father pays good money for my education," Pansy told the Headmaster. "He's very upset about this Lockhart business."
"You may tell your father that the next Defence professor we hire will be subjected to a rigorous test," Dumbledore answered with a firm nod.
"What's to happen to Lockhart?" Harry asked. "His incompetence put us all in danger."
Professor Dumbledore's face grew harder. "When he is found," he said, "he will be brought before the Wizengamot to answer for his crimes."
This seemed to satisfy Harry's friends, and Dumbledore took that opportunity to take his leave. The Slytherins continued with their lunch, arguing over what messy fate awaited Lockhart. Theo was all in favour of a bid in Azkaban, while Draco wanted the fraud's wand snapped to bits and shoved in his ears.
Harry didn't really care, so long as the nitwit was punished, and painfully. He took a bit of his sandwich and flipped open his morning Prophet. With exams, he hadn't been able to read it at breakfast.
HARRY POTTER ACT PASSES!
Harry nearly spit out his pumpkin juice. "Oi, lads! Get a load of this!
"Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge yesterday signed into law the Harry Potter Magical Child Protection Act. The Act provides for the removal of any Muggleborn child from its family and placing that child with an adoptive magical family. Any family that accepts one of these magical children will receive a substantial tax benefit.
"The Act is not retroactive. Only children born as of the first of June will be affected. Adoption records will be sealed by the Ministry, and the adoptive family will choose the child's name.
"Lucius Malfoy, 38, of Wiltshire, primary sponsor of the Act, applauded its passage. 'With this Act, no magical child will need to live in fear of mistreatment at the hands of Muggles who could never understand him. I commend the Ministry for finally passing this most sensible legislation. The Ministry must act to protect children."
"That's excellent," Pansy grinned. "Nice to see the Ministry acting right."
"Are you going to volunteer to take one of these babies?" Daphne snickered.
"We just might," Pansy replied. "I've always wanted a baby sister."
"Adopt me?" Ginny asked hopefully.
The usual decorations were missing from the Great Hall when Harry and his friends entered it for the Leaving Feast. The Hall was normally decorated with the colours of the House that had earned the most points during the school year and won the House Cup. That honour once again belonged to Slytherin, but instead of the green and silver bunting and the great serpent banner hung behind the High Table, the walls were draped in black.
Professor Dumbledore was back in his customary seat, sipping a glass of water as he chatted quietly with Professor McGonagall. He stood up a few moments later when the last students had taken their seats.
"The end," he said solemnly, "of another year."
He paused, and his eyes fell upon the Hufflepuff table. Theirs had been the most subdued table before he had gotten to his feet, and theirs were still the saddest and palest faces in the Hall.
"There is much I would like to say to you tonight, but I must first acknowledge the loss of a very fine person who should be sitting here enjoying our feast with us." He gestured to the Hufflepuff table. "I would like you all, please, to stand and raise your glasses to Hermione Granger."
Most of the Hall stood. Harry hadn't liked the girl, and he gave serious thought to staying in his seat, but a sharp look from Professor Snape encouraged them all to rise.
"Hermione was a person who exemplified many of the qualities of Hufflepuff House. She was a good and loyal friend, a hard worker, and a cheerful spirit. She was a bright girl, first in her classes. We are all made less by her absence."
Everyone drank the toast.
"Hermione was killed, as many of you know, by the Beast of Slytherin, the monster of the Chamber of Secrets, a great basilisk. There is little defence against the king of serpents, and indeed we are fortunate that poor Hermione was the only student lost.
"We can all live without fear now," Dumbledore continued. "The Beast of the Chamber has been slain, and the Chamber of Secrets sealed forever."
Shows what he knows, Harry thought, as widespread applause burst out.
"It has been a trying year on all of us. I hope you will all have a nice leisurely holiday to unwind. Certainly we professors could use the rest," Dumbledore joked with a bit of a twinkle in his eyes. "But before we get to that, we must recognize the winners of the House Cup. Congratulations to Slytherin, with five hundred sixty points."
The House Cup looked very nice, all shiny silver, sitting at the head of the table next to the Quidditch Cup. Slytherin had beaten Ravenclaw in their match. Gryffindor's win over Hufflepuff had not been enough to take the Cup, and Slytherin's colours decorated it once again.
"It's almost too easy," Harry observed.
"Quidditch or the House Cup?" Ginny asked.
"Both!" the gang chorused.
The next day, the Slytherins were up bright and early to pack their trunks and be off in the horseless carriages down to Hogsmeade station to catch the train. Harry couldn't help but feel sad at leaving the old castle for another long holiday. The school was truly the only place he felt qualified as a proper home for him. Had he the choice, he would stay at Hogwarts the year round.
Harry did his best not to think about what would happen when they arrived in London. No other arrangements had been made and no permission given, so Harry was positive that he would be stuck going to the Dursleys again. He would have to remedy that situation - soon.
All he really wanted from them was the letter that Dumbledore had given them so long ago, explaining who Harry was and how his parents had died. It was one clue he had to his past, and Harry wanted it. Once he had it, well, they wouldn't be pushing him around this summer!
Too soon the train was pulling into the station. There was a big jumble and fuss as students picked up trunks and pets and exited the train in a disorganized mob. All around him were parents hugging and kissing their children and joyous smiles and laughter.
"Father!" Draco pushed through the crowd to where his father and mother stood waiting. Mr. Malfoy, looking as distinguished as always, shook Harry's hand.
"Harry, you look taller," he said by way of greeting.
"He's a growing boy," Draco's mother gushed, bending down to wrap her arms around him. "You'll grow even more this summer if I can get you to the manor and feed you properly."
"Those Muggles had better not starve you," Draco said heatedly. "I'll send Elan to terrorize them again."
"That won't be necessary, Draco," Mr. Malfoy smiled. "I've got a few choice words for these - Dursleys." The name sounded downright dirty the way he said it.
"Where are they?" Harry asked rhetorically. "Not that I want to see them, but-"
"How dare they make you wait?" Draco chimed in. "As if they were more important."
"They don't know who I am," Harry pointed out, "and they wouldn't care if they did."
"They ought to care."
Harry couldn't see the Muggles approaching yet. Just as well; he could spend a few more minutes with his own kind.
"We'll be going back to the manor to deposit your things, Draco," Mr. Malfoy was saying. "From there, we'll be off to the IFloo to meet your brother."
Elan Malfoy was getting home from his first year at Durmstrang Academy. Greeting him would be a much better way to spend the afternoon than going back to Privet Drive. Harry kicked at an unoffending pillar with impotent frustration. It just wasn't fair; the law named for him took all Muggleborns away, but he was stuck going back to Privet Drive.
Time slowly passed. The platform rapidly grew empty as students and their families departed. Muggle trains boarded and departed. Mr. Malfoy continually glanced at his watch and, at half past the hour, finally cleared his throat.
"Harry, we really must be going."
Harry, who had been growing angrier by the minute, nodded his head. "I understand, sir. Please tell Elan I said hello."
"When you get this business with the Muggles straightened out, please come visit us. Our home is always open to you."
"I know. Thank you, Missus Malfoy."
"I wanted to see Father scare those Dursleys something good," Draco said regretfully. "Don't let them get away with these shenanigans."
"I won't," Harry promised.
"Harry, be well."
"Thank you, sir."
Draco offered his hand; Harry shook it. The Malfoy family left the platform, and Harry was alone.
A train boarded at Platform 9 and departed. The hour came and went. Several times, a passing guard asked if everything was well. Finally, Harry had to admit the reality of his situation.
"They're not coming," he said incredulously. Of all the cheek.
Harry pushed aside his outrage, for now. He obviously couldn't stay on the platform all day. What was he to do? With a grim expression on his face, he picked up Regal's cage, grabbed the handle on his trunk, and walked out to the street.
Muggle London was a noisy place, he realized. He hurried down the street to Puddlemucker's Sweet Shoppe. His luck was holding, because the door was still open.
"Good afternoon, young master," the proprietor greeted him. "We weren't expecting any more today."
"Change in plans," Harry said. "I need to get to Diagon Alley."
"Certainly, young sir. That will be one Galleon for the powder and the service."
Harry handed him the gold coin and received his Floo powder. He tossed it into the roaring flame. When they turned emerald green, he stepped into the fireplace. Holding tight to his trunk and his owl, he called out, "Diagon Alley!"
When the spinning stopped, Harry opened his eyes. Amazingly enough, he didn't have the urge to empty his stomach onto the floor. Though a bit dizzy, he was able to walk unaided. Ignoring Old Tom the barkeep, he made his way to the back alley. Drawing his wand, he tapped on the three bricks and marvelled as the wall opened up to admit him to Diagon Alley.
It was just coming up on early evening, and business was booming. Harry pushed past the potions supply, Madam Malkin's, the cauldron store, and even past Quality Quidditch Supplies. He wrestled his trunk up the steps to Gringotts and took his place in the queue.
The wait wasn't long, and Harry peered over the counter where a goblin named Snagglefang smiled horribly at him.
"I'd like to change for Muggle money," Harry said.
"Exchange rate is one Galleon to five pounds," the goblin told him in a squeaky voice. "Minus a one pound exchange fee."
"What?" That was almost extortion, but Harry needed the money. "All right," he grumbled. "Give it to me." He pulled out his money pouch and laid his Galleons on the counter. Sweeping up the paper bills the goblin laid down, he counted them carefully. It was all there; they weren't trying to cheat him twice.
His business concluded, Harry left the bank, still smarting about the exchange rate. Regretfully, he passed Quality Quidditch Supplies again. He just didn't have the time; he had Muggles to deal with.
Harry made his way out through the Leaky Cauldron and back into the streets of Muggle London. It was still noisy, still dirty. He wheeled his trunk down the lane and to the entrance to the Underground. London Bridge station was where he could catch the train he needed, and he took a fast ride on the Tube to get there.
"One ticket to Little Whinging, please," he requested of the ticket agent.
Ignoring everyone who was gawking at Regal, Harry passed the time by working out what he planned to say to the Muggles. The past two years of observing Professor Snape, and even moreso Professor McGonagall, had given him very stern lessons in attitude, and Harry intended to put the Dursleys in their place.
Uncle Vernon's company car was in the driveway when Harry finally got his trunk down to Privet Drive. He was very tired from all the pushing and pulling; he was sweaty and dirty. Thank Merlin that Mr. Malfoy had added wheels to the thing, or Harry never would have made it this far.
The front door was unlocked, so Harry just strolled right in. Three very surprised Muggles waited for him in the sitting room.
"Oh, it's you," Dudley said with loathing.
"Thanks for the ride from the station," Harry said sarcastically to his uncle.
"I sent a letter that we would be unable to be there," the fat man shot back.
"None of your concern!"
Probably for no good reason. It really didn't matter.
"I only came back for one thing," Harry declared. "Do you still have the letter that the old man left with me on the doorstep? I want it."
Uncle Vernon looked askance at Aunt Petunia. "Petunia? Did I burn that load of rubbish?"
Harry's mother's sister shook her head. "It's in the attic."
"I want it, and anything else having to do with my mum and dad."
"There was nothing else," Aunt Petunia told him. She left the room and ascended the staircase.
Harry didn't fill the air with empty conversation. He kept his best glare riveted on Dudley, who was trying his best to avoid eye contact. After some time, Aunt Petunia came back down the stairs and handed Harry an envelope.
"Now then," he said, "I'm tired, sweaty, and dirty. I'm going to bathe, get some sleep, and then I'm leaving. Leave me alone, and I won't turn you all into frogs."
Somehow he summoned up the strength to haul his trunk up the short flight of stairs. He pulled it right into the bathroom as he locked the door behind him. Though they feared magic, he didn't want to risk the Dursleys going through his stuff.
Nominally safe, Harry luxuriated under the hot shower spray as he washed the filth and grime from his body. He kept the shower curtain partially open, just so he could see if they tried to open the door.
"Miserable Muggles," he ranted, as the suds washed down the drain.
Harry couldn't leave yet; his knees shook just thinking about it. He needed to get some sleep before he did anything else. He towelled off, put on his pyjamas, and dragged his trunk into what had been Dudley's second bedroom.
Yawning so hard he felt his jaw crack, Harry made sure his wand was on the bedside table in case he needed to defend himself in the middle of the night.
"One night," he said to himself. "That's all it is. I'm going to Wiltshire in the morning."
Regal hooted softly at him, and Harry lay down. Almost instantly it seemed as though he were staring up at the morning sun. It was strangely pretty as it streamed through his barred window and shone on his ceiling. Harry sat up and felt his entire body protest. With some effort, he got to his feet and shuffled off to brush his teeth.
The door wouldn't open. Harry turned the knob and pulled, but the door refused to budge. He yanked and tugged at it, but it merely rattled in its casing.
The Muggles! Harry pounded on the door with his fist. "Let me out of here! You have no right to keep me locked up! I'm going to make you pay for this!