Chapter 1: Back to Privet Drive
Harry stifled a sigh as Uncle Vernon's fancy new company car pulled away from the car park at Kings Cross Station and merged onto the highway that would take them to Little Whinging, Surrey. After the events of his fourth year at Hogwarts, the prospect of spending two months in the company of the Dursleys was more unpleasant than ever. Only Dudley and Uncle Vernon were in the car with him; neither offered an explanation for Aunt Petunia's absence and Harry didn't ask.
While he drove, Uncle Vernon grumbled to Dudley about his favourite subject of complaint: Harry. Tuning out his uncle's slights on his appearance (his messy hair again), Harry stared unseeingly out the window. His thoughts unconsciously drifted to the graveyard: the crumbling headstones, the dark cauldron, and Cedric's lifeless eyes staring sightlessly at the sky…
Harry suppressed a shiver. No. Don't think about that, he told himself sternly. Unfortunately, he had whispered these words out loud to himself, catching his cousin's attention. Dudley turned around in his seat (which nearly forced the car off the road) and stared at Harry in cruel amusement.
'Dad! Harry's talking to himself. I think he's trying to do you-know-what!'
Uncle Vernon almost rammed into the car in front. He spun around in his seat and bellowed, 'WHAT HAVE I TOLD YOU ABOUT USING YOUR ABNORMALTY UNDER OUR ROOF?'
Harry was bursting to point out that he technically wasn't under their roof at present, but the sight of his uncle's purple face made him reconsider. But that didn't stop him trying to defend himself.
'I wasn't –'
'ARE YOU CALLING DUDLEY A LIAR?'
The car behind them honked impatiently. Uncle Vernon forgot about his nephew for the moment as he stuck his head out the window to curse at the other driver.
Harry slumped glumly in his seat. He supposed he should know better than to talk back by now, to explain that it wasn't his fault; even nine whole months at Hogwarts weren't enough to make him forget about his abysmal home life. The Dursleys never believed Harry, it had always been that way. He didn't expect it to ever change.
Harry spent the remainder of the trip lost in thoughts of the fourth task, nothing to distract him from his dark memories.
When at long last they pulled into the driveway of Number 4 Privet Drive, they clambered out of the car (Dudley with great difficulty). Vernon slammed the car door and marched up the front walk. Dudley trailed behind him, sending Harry an evil smirk over his shoulder. Harry was left to struggle with his trunk.
Nearly ten minutes later, he was barely halfway up the stairs. Hedwig began to protest at being jostled so Harry quickly moved to open her cage. He doubted Uncle Vernon would be very forgiving of his owl this summer; she certainly hadn't endeared herself to him in summers past.
No sooner had he touched the latch than his uncle stormed into the hall.
'What are you doing?' he demanded angrily, eyes narrowed.
For the life of him, Harry couldn't think what he'd done wrong; Hedwig's complaints hadn't been loud enough to reach the kitchen.
'Put those things in the cupboard,' Uncle Vernon snapped. 'I don't want you getting any funny ideas.'
Harry moved to open his trunk. Madam Pomfrey had given him some salve for the wound he had received from Wormtail.
'What do you think you are doing?' Uncle Vernon thundered. Harry could have sworn the floor trembled a little.
'I hurt my arm a few days ago; the school nurse gave me something to help it heal.'
His uncle sneered nastily before snatching it off him. 'Get upstairs.'
Harry had to grit his teeth to keep from protesting at the unfairness. Seeing no alternative, he reluctantly obeyed.
Pushing his sweaty fringe aside, he collapsed exhausted onto his bed and closed his eyes. From downstairs, he could hear the rumble of voices and chink of cutlery as the Dursleys ate supper. Not feeling remotely hungry, Harry opted to remain in his room. He seriously doubted that the Dursley's would notice – or care about – his absence. He soon found that this alternative was equally as unpleasant, with nothing to distract himself his mind kept dredging up the disturbing memories. With the memories so fresh, it seemed that nothing would ever soothe the guilt, grief and despair he felt. Guilt, that Cedric had died so needlessly; grief, that he, Harry, hadn't been able to save him; despair, that the most feared wizard in history was now at large and as powerful as ever.
Harry half-heartedly considered writing to his godfather, but dismissed the idea almost immediately. He had only just left Hogwarts, surely he could survive another few days before bothering Sirius, who was currently off somewhere on a mission for Dumbledore. Harry didn't want to draw his godfather away from wherever he was safely hidden, probably at Lupin's by now, just because Harry was too weak to overcome a few nightmares. Besides, Harry thought, he didn't really feel like talking about it again; what he really wanted was companionship, a person who didn't glare at him with hatred the minute he walked into a room.
After a restless night filled with images of Voldemort, Death Eaters and Cedric, Harry spent the next day in his bedroom, leaving it only for meals or to go to the bathroom. The Dursleys kept well clear of his bedroom; Harry couldn't see the point of forcing his company on them; seeing them would only make him more depressed.
And so it continued for two whole days. Alternatively, Harry was consumed with a restless energy that made him unable to settle to anything, during which time he paced his bedroom, furious at Dumbledore for sending him back after all he had experienced; other times the thoughts of Cedric left him so emotionally drained he could lie on his bed for hours at a time.
On the third day back, Harry was pacing around his room in agitation, having just woken up in a cold sweat. This dream was not like those before; in this one, Voldemort's victims were blaming him for their deaths. Cedric's angry voice still echoed in his head, yelling at him for leading him into a trap, but worse by far was the sound of disappointment in his parents' voices.
Harry paused mid-step as the sound of heavy footsteps thudded up the staircase, announcing his uncle's approach. He remained in that position, staring out the window, as Uncle Vernon opened his bedroom door; it was clear that he'd rather be anywhere else but in that precise spot.
'Your aunt and I are going out.'
'We'll be back in about two hours.'
'Dudley is in charge.'
'You are to help him look after Laura as he tells you.'
'Of course – what? Who's Laura?' Harry asked in bewilderment.
Uncle Vernon visibly bristled at this display of ignorance. 'Our daughter. We adopted her last spring. You'd have known about her if you hadn't spent all this time moping about the goings on at that freak place.'
Harry's mouth opened and closed repeatedly as he tried to comprehend how anyone could possibly deem his uncle and aunt suitable adoptive parents. But that wasn't the only thing that was mind-boggling.
'How would you know about any 'goings on' at my school?'
Uncle Vernon snorted. 'Your incompetent fool of a headmaster wrote us a letter explaining how you caused the death of another student.' He sneered horribly. 'I guess the student was the 'Cedric' you yell about at night.'
Feeling as though he had just walked through a ghost, Harry didn't answer. He stared blankly ahead as if he could see Cedric's death play out in front of him once again. He was brought back to present with a jolt as his Uncle raised his voice menacingly.
'… and don't even think about corrupting our dear little angel.'
'Of course,' Harry murmured distractedly, still feeling dazed.
Uncle Vernon stared at him suspiciously before marching out of the room and down the stairs, causing the floor to tremble under his enormous weight.
Resuming his pacing, Harry was dimly aware of the sounds of the car starting up and reversing out the driveway. The car was barely out of hearing when the front door slammed shut and Dudley ambled down the path and across the street, probably to meet with his friends against his parents' wishes.
Several minutes passed. Harry stopped pacing to sit on his bed. Somehow, the silence was harder to bear than the sickening comments about 'dear little Diddykins' and Uncle Vernon's dull jokes. Unable to stand the quiet, Harry slid off his bed and put his wand in his pocket, half-heartedly thinking of going for a walk.
As he reached the landing, a piercing cry almost sent him tumbling down the staircase in shock. Recovering quickly, he followed the noise to the spare bedroom. He stopped short in the doorway. The room had undergone a huge transformation since he'd been in here last; two summers had passed since he had been forced to lug Aunt Marge's suitcases up here. The polished oak bed and the matching bedside cupboards were gone; in their place by a cot, a change table and an assortment of expensive toys.
Sitting in the cot was a very upset little girl; her small hands clung to a pink blanket as her body shook with her sobs. She stopped crying when she saw him. They stared at each other for several moments, then her lower lip began to tremble.
'No, no, no! Don't cry,' Harry spluttered frantically, wishing desperately for Hermione or Mrs Weasley, who would no doubt know what to do.
Laura remained silent except for a single sniff. Her eyes watched him closely as he tentatively approached the cot. He awkwardly patted her on the head, unsure what to do next. Laura solved this problem; she put her arms around his leg through the bars. After fumbling with the cot for a moment he discovered the side could be lowered. He carefully picked her up; her snuffles lessened as he held her; she eventually pulled back and beamed at him before reaching up to grab his glasses.
He pulled them gently out of her grasp. He had always wondered what it would have been like to have a brother or sister. The Weasley children and Hermione were the closest he would ever have to siblings – until now.
Grinning like an idiot, he let her lead him across the room and carefully sat down beside the toys. She snatched up a rattle and plonked herself on his lap as though she'd known him all her life. It wasn't much longer until she began chattering to him in indecipherable babbling noises.