Escape from Privet Drive
"POTTER! DOWN HERE THIS INSTANT, POTTER!"
The black-haired boy with the unusual scar sighed and backed away from his bedroom window. So much for the peace and goodwill to all he'd hoped against hope to find at 4 Privet Drive this Christmas season, he thought, slumping down the stairs.
By Harry's estimation, he'd only been back at Privet Drive a week or so, but it seemed nightmarishly longer. One agonizing week since Albus Dumbledore had received a howler from the Death Eaters claiming they'd planted dark magical devices inside the school and would activate them unless all the Muggle-borns were immediately expelled. All the students home as a precaution until Hogwarts had been checked for such devices, but Harry could not imagine it possibly taking this long to do that. Given that no news had come through, he was assuming now the whole thing had been a bluff by Voldemort, but to what ends? Of course, that wasn't the only problem concerning the whole affair; during his last trip to Hogsmeade before the students were sent home, he'd overheard an argument in the Hog's Head between Dumbledore and Cornelius Fudge where the latter, still stubbornly convinced Voldemort was gone for good, accused Dumbledore of cooking the whole thing up to make him and the Ministry look bad for apparent inaction, and had refused any Ministry help to check the school. Hopefully he hadn't done anything foolish in the intervening time to undermine efforts to see to the school's safety, Harry hoped...
"A little faster please, boy!" Uncle Vernon half roared at him from the foyer. He'd been in a bad mood all week since Harry had come back, and Harry had since discovered why: he'd been placed on temporary unpaid leave from Grunnings after publicly chewing out a new recruit that could not do anything right at all-a new recruit that was, in fact, his boss's son, on his first day on the job. That fallout, coupled with the stress of unexpectedly having Harry about again had left him constantly simmering in rage all week. "Here," his uncle grumbled darkly once Harry reached him, forcing a shovel into his hands, "There's something wrong with the furnace, so get down there and fix it."
"How can I fix it if I don't know what's wrong!?" Harry had to point out.
"Oh, so sorry, I thought I was in the presence of a wizard here, wasn't I Dudley?" Uncle Vernon turned to the left and smiled at his son, who was watching his favourite holiday film on BBC2-one about a mass murderer in a reindeer suit who took a chainsaw to his victims for no discernible reason, which Harry found quite appalling. "If I were you I'd just look into your crystal ball and figure out what the problem is."
"And you can't do it yourself!?" Harry didn't mean to sound harsh, but the Dursleys had been horrible with him all week, and his patience had grown very thin with them.
"You heard your uncle," Aunt Petunia snapped from the kitchen, "And if there's no tangible results when you come back up, you'll have nothing to eat for the rest of next week." She smiled as she stuck her head out through the door. "More cake, Duddykins?" she asked him with an overly sweet voice that made Harry want to throw up. Dudley clearly didn't need more cake-or anything else for that matter, given the stacks of sweet trays around the armchair he was seated it were at least four feet high. Typically, Aunt Petunia had been babying him since earlier in the week, when Dudley had been given a weeklong suspension from Smeltings for assaulting a teacher who'd failed him in mathematics (no surprise to Harry at all, given that Dudley couldn't count to two without help in the first place). Aunt Petunia had thus spent half the week on the phone with the superintendent at Smeltings, screaming that Dudley was the victim of a teacher too stupid to understand him and calling the man's mother some of the most vilest things imaginable. As Harry reluctantly trudged down the stairs to the basement, he heard her go off on another tirade on this matter, threatening to take the superintendent all the way to Parliament on it.
"Come on, somebody, just get me out of here soon!" he thought to himself. The furnace was completely dead when he reached it. Harry flicked the switch a couple of times, and even gave it a sharp kick, but nothing happened at all. He leaned against the nearest post and tried to weigh his options. With his wand he could easily start the blaze again, but he knew full well the Dursleys would never allow this, and that he'd be cited yet again for underage magic at a time when it definitely would not be right to do so. He was contemplating just telling them it was all right and let them suffer through a freezing night (the temperature had been well below zero the last few nights) when he heard the doorbell ring. His heart soared; could it perhaps be relief, the Order...?"
He shuffled hard up the stairs and listened to the crack on the door. The voice that he heard was surprisingly familiar...but not that of a witch or wizard. "Mr. Dursley," it cracked, sounding very weak, "Please, I have to ask, can I have just one piece of food for tonight? I'll try not to inconvenience you."
Harry couldn't believe it. He looked through the crack. Yes, it was indeed Derek Whitesell...just barely, for he looked famished beyond belief, and there was so much dirt in his hair that it looked black like his own instead of the natural red Harry remembered. Derek, whom Harry had figured he'd never see again. Derek, perhaps the one and only person from his former school who would risk the wrath of Dudley's gang to show some tenderness and concern for Dudley's scraggly cousin. Derek, who had to drop out of school after his parents had died unexpectedly, and from what Harry had heard from the neighbours while listening in several times when he'd had nothing to do when he'd been at Privet Drive had fallen into homelessness and despair. And pure despair for a meal was plastered over the face of the boy who had been the closest thing to a friend Harry had had before he'd gotten his letter from Hogwarts. "Anything, anything at all..." he continued his pleading.
"I have nothing to give you, you filthy urchin!" Uncle Vernon snarled coldly at the desperate boy before him, "Now get off my property before I have you taken in by the law!"
"But Mr. Dursley, it's Christmas, I don't...!" Derek's cries were silenced as Uncle Vernon slammed the door in his face. "Filthy tramps and beggars, Petunia," he grumbled to his wife as she hung up the phone, "Always trying to freeload off decent people like us."
"Always," she nodded firmly, "Do you want me to call the bobbies on him right now, Vernon?"
Harry was overcome with deep rage at how terribly his old classmate was being treated. Without really thinking, he flung the shovel to the ground and shoved the basement door open. "No, you're not calling the bobbies!" he shouted at them, "You're going to get him a full course meal and some nice warm blankets!"
"You watch your tongue!" Aunt Petunia barked harshly at him, "You're on very thin ice with us as it is! And if you think that little tramp deserves anything other than prison, you've got another thing coming!"
"But he could die out there with no food!" Harry was appalled at how his aunt and uncle saw the situation.
"Die?" Uncle Vernon snorted contemptuously, "Well then, I say let him ruddy well go ahead and do it; it'll go a long way to decreasing the surplus population as it is."
Harry couldn't control himself anymore. "YOU!" he thundered as hard as he could, "And YOU, and YOU!" he pointed at his aunt and cousin, "Are lowlife, arrogant, coldhearted, GITS!"
Carnal rage exploded on Uncle Vernon's face, making Harry wish he hadn't said it. "All right, boy," he roared, seizing his cane from the stand behind the door and ignoring the neighbour next door shouting, "Keep it down, Dursley, we're trying to eat in peace here!" "Now you've gone too far!" the fat man bellowed, raising the cane high and advancing towards Harry, "This time you've crossed the line, and you're going to pay bloody hard for it like you can't possibly...!"
Suddenly the doorbell rang again. "NOW WHAT!?" Uncle Vernon bellowed, "Can no one bloody leave us alone for five minutes now!?" He flung the door open. "I thought I told you to get...!?"
"Good evening, Mr. Dursley, is it?" came another voice Harry recognized, "My name is Dr. Wendell Granger..."
"I DON'T WANT ANY!" Uncle Vernon slammed the door in his face as well. Mr. Granger, however, continued knocking. "Mr. Dursley, my daughter informs me that her friend Harry in fact lives at this address," he called, forcing his head in through the door. Harry's heart leaped. He ran to the side window and looked out. Sure enough, there was Hermione standing behind her parents on the front steps. She caught a glimpse of him in the window and waved excitedly. Until Harry was pulled away from the window by his aunt. "Let go of me!" he shouted.
"Shut up or no food for a month!" she ordered, dragging him towards the unbearable cupboard under the stairs. At the door, Uncle Vernon was hastily pushing Mr. Granger outside. "I assure you, your daughter made a sizeable error, whoever you are, no one named Harry has ever lived here," he said to him quickly, "Now if you won't mind, just remove yourselves from my property..."
"OK Ron, tell Hagrid to go in," Hermione's voice called out behind them, "Harry's uncle's being impossible."
"What the blazes are...!" Uncle Vernon was cut off by several loud thumps on the roof. His family's eyes shot upwards towards it. "Oh no," Aunt Petunia whimpered softly, "No, no, not...!"
And with that there was a huge explosion as the plug over the fireplace popped out, sending debris flying everywhere. Out of the mess stepped a giant of a man wearing a much-too-small Father Christmas suit...
"Hagrid!" Harry was ecstatic to see the Hogwarts gamekeeper again. Dudley screeched in terror and bolted for the cupboard under the stairs, while his parents scattered in fright. "Ho, ho, ho, Father Hagrid's come to town," he echoed loudly, giving Harry a big hug, "Didn't think yer ol' buddy'd forgetcha, did ya Harry?"
"I sure hoped not," Harry rushed to the front door and opened it for the Grangers. "This is amazing, I mean..." he gave Hermione a friendly hug, "What brings you all here?"
"We were vacationing out by Bristol when the word came in: Hogwarts reopens tomorrow," she told him with a warm smile, "It hasn't been too bad for you here, has it Harry?"
"Please, don't ask," he had no intention of telling her the full details, "Where's Ron; I heard you call...?"
There was a sliding sound from the chimney, and moments later Ron popped into sight dressed in a tacky elf suit. Right behind him were Fred and George, each carrying sacks. Harry couldn't help laughing. "So, I guess the Weasley family is now officially Father Christmas's little helpers this year?" he asked them.
"Tonight we are, Harry," Ron gave him a warm handshake, "I guess Hermione told you by now; it'll be so good to be back. It's been hard without you the last few..."
There came a smashing noise from behind them. Harry's heart jumped to see Uncle Vernon barreling into the room with a very large rocket launcher in his hand. Harry had noticed a suspicious stack covered with a sheet in the attic when he'd returned to Privet Drive earlier in the week, but had no clue what it had been until now. "ALL RIGHT, ALL OF YOU OUT!" his uncle bellowed, ignoring the neighbour's "SHUT UP OVER THERE, DURSLEY, OR I'M CALLING THE BOBBIES!" echoing from next door. He took dead aim at the Weasleys in the fireplace. "I WANT ALL OF YOU LOT OUT OF HERE IN FIVE SECONDS, OR YOU'LL ALL...!"
"Ah, cork it Dursley you overcooked goose!" Hagrid seized the launcher's barrel and twisted it backwards as Uncle Vernon fired, causing a loud explosion as the Dursleys' china cabinet completely shattered. There was a high pitched moan. Apparently the sight of her prized Waterford china-some of which had cost close to a hundred thousand pounds-lying in fragments was too much for Aunt Petunia. She keeled backwards into the nearest armchair, whimpering softly with her eyes and mouth wide open. Undaunted, Uncle Vernon swung the launcher at Hagrid, but succeeded only in denting it against his back. "Time I give you a present, Dursley," Hagrid told him firmly. He seized Uncle Vernon by the collar as he tried to run, and, ever so gently, rammed the fat man's head through the ceiling. "There, you like lookin' down on people, try that for a change," he snorted.
"GET ME DOWN FROM HERE YOU FAT OAF!" Uncle Vernon's shout was heavily muffled through the ceiling. Harry couldn't help but burst into laughter. "Ya like that, do ya, Harry?" Hagrid nodded, "Well, I'd say it was his time anyway. Speakin' of which, better get your stuff together; we've got a long trip to Bristol ahead of us."
"Tell me, how exactly did you get here?" Harry had to know.
"It's a surprise, Harry," Fred told him with a sly smile, "You'll appreciate it though. Dudley, old chap," he waved at Dudley, who'd dared to sneak out of the closet, thinking the worst was over. The boy quickly slammed the door shut again in terror. "Oh no need to be scared, chum," George knocked on the door, "In fact, Fred and me's got some presents for you, we've been working on them all autumn. Here, try this," he shoved a wrapped package under the door, "It's a patented Weasley Fireworks Filament. One bite and you'll have a real blast. Go on, try it."
"George, later," Ron put a hand on his shoulder, "Mum told us to be back with Harry no later than nine."
"Yes, we'd better move fast; even the slowest Muggle would have heard that explosion," Harry reasoned. "So, I guess they found nothing in the school, then?" he asked as they all tramped upstairs, eager for any wizarding news that he'd been sorely lacking of lately.
"If so, they didn't say anything openly," Hermione joined them, "We've been staying at a hotel on the coast that has wizard businesses operating inside; they sell the Prophet at several stands there, and they said nothing about it."
"Well we know that means absolutely nothing," Harry rolled his eyes, "So your parents came along too this time?"
"It did get a little lonely the last couple of years away from them at the holidays," she admitted, "Plus, Ron's family invited them."
"Yeah, Dad's really interested in how Muggles celebrate the holidays," Ron couldn't suppress a laugh, "He told them to bring a Christmas tree with them so he could take it apart and see how it works."
Harry snorted with laughter himself; that was Mr. Weasley all over. Within minutes his school supplies and Hedwig's cage were all in order and piled outside Number Four. Harry had to stop and look back at the scene behind him in the foyer. He wanted to savor the image of Uncle Vernon's legs kicking frantically in the air as he tried to extricate himself from the ceiling.
"OK Hagrid, we're sending them up," he heard Fred call. He turned to see the twins levitating his items into the air-not the most inconspicuous way of doing it, he supposed, but given that inconspicuous was not a word the twins knew, not all that surprising. He glanced up and saw exactly how Hagrid had gotten everyone to Privet Drive without any Muggles noticing. "So Hagrid, you've taken to riding a sleigh this time of year too?" he called up. For sitting right on the roof was a large sleigh with eight thestrals hooked up to it.
"Dumbledore's orders were to keep out o'the Muggles' way," the gamekeeper called down to him, "Climb on up the drainpipe once this is..."
But Harry was no longer listening. His gaze was diverted down the street, where six doors down another door was being slammed in Derek's face. Even from the distance they were at, Harry couldn't mistake the great sadness in the boy's face as he trudged away into an alley, clearly without any food since Uncle Vernon had denied it to him. He knew immediately what he had to do. "Hold on a minute," he called up to the roof, "I've got something I have to do."
He dashed back inside before anyone could say anything. Dudley had once again dared to exit the closet and was shaking his mother, who was still in complete shock from the destruction of her previously spotless living room. "What do you think you're doing!?" he demanded as Harry grabbed the trays of sweets next to the armchair, "Those are mine!"
"Not anymore, Dudleykins," Harry held them out of his cousin's reach, "These are going to someone who needs it more."
"It's MINE!" Dudley grabbed for them.
"Oh Fred, George, Dudley's hungry," Harry called out. The twins appeared in the doorway, prompting Dudley to rush back to the closet and slam the door. "Here, help me with these," he handed them the trays.
"You put those back, boy!" Uncle Vernon shouted from the ceiling.
"Oh shut up, you fat cow!" Harry found great pleasure in telling his uncle off and getting away with it. He hefted two trays of his own and followed the twins outside. "What's those for, Harry?" Ron asked him.
"That boy," Harry gestured towards the alley Derek was in with his elbow, "I used to know him well. He's homeless now; he needs..."
He suddenly felt a sharp blast of pain from his scar. He grimaced, dropping the trays to the ground. "Harry, Harry, what's going on!?" Hermione steadied him.
"I don't..." Harry abruptly got the answer to his question as he saw two figures pop out of thin air and start trudging into the alley Derek was in. Two hooded and masked figures to be precise. "Oh no," he breathed, drawing his wand in a flash and taking off towards the alley. If only he wasn't too late...