Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any other character, location, or whatever mentioned in the works of J.K. Rowling.

Chapter 2 - Return to Privet Drive

Saturday, July 1, 1995

Two hours later, Harry was still waiting.

He had counted all the bricks in a column, noted every crack in the wall, knew exactly how many public telephones, drinking fountains, and restrooms were in the immediate area, and was getting so bored that he was considering getting an "abnormal" school book out to read. He didn't even have Hedwig for company anymore. Early on he had decided to take advantage of the charm on her cage. As much as he loved the snowy owl, her presence was attracting unwanted attention from many of the passers by.

Harry had given Hedwig some owl treats and water from the fountain, then released her with instructions to meet him at his uncle's house. Once she was on her way, he gave her cage a cursory cleaning, squashed it flat, and stowed it in his trunk.

He had tried calling the house once, but no one had answered. Harry had taken this as a good sign, though, certain that the Dursleys were en route.

That had been an hour and a half ago.

No, this wasn't "running late" or "stuck in traffic" any more. Uncle Vernon obviously wasn't coming to collect him.

Harry glanced at the large clock to his left, and weighed his options. He had to do something soon. He had been approached a couple of times by well-meaning station personnel, so now he was sitting on his trunk, pressed as close to the wall as possible.

He might be the much vaunted 'Boy-Who-Lived' in the wizarding world but Harry was quite good at blending into the background when the situation demanded it, in spite of his fame and dramatic coloring. It was a defense he had learned in his muggle home...a classic case of "out of sight, out of mind." If the Dursleys didn't notice him, they didn't say cruel things to him. It was one time when being thin and small for his age worked to his advantage.

The number of people traveling through the station was dwindling as time wore on. The Hogwarts crowd had long since gone. There were still some muggle travelers and commuters about, but nowhere near as many as before. Harry took Dr. Granger's business card out of his pocket and looked at it thoughtfully. The temptation to call was very strong, but even as he took note of which public phones were empty, the conversation he'd had with his headmaster just that morning replayed in his head...

"Mr. Potter, a word if you please." Professor Dumbledore had beckoned Harry over as he stood with Ron and Hermione at Hogsmeade Station.

Harry had left his belongings in the care of his friends, and approached his headmaster. "Yes sir?"

"Mr. Weasley's parents have expressed their wishes to have you as a guest over the summer..." Dumbledore began.

Harry's heart had leapt into his throat. Did this mean he could go straight to the Burrow?

"...and I see no reason why that can't be arranged later in the summer," Albus finished, effectively dashing Harry's hopes. "Preparations need to be made beforehand. You and your friends will be safer for now if you return to your aunt and uncle."

Harry had nodded dejectedly. "Okay professor."

"Harry, I must ask you to promise that you will not go to your friends until you are sent word that it is safe," Dumbledore had stated seriously, weighing Harry down with his gaze. "Contact them beforehand only in the most desperate of emergencies." His blue eyes held no twinkle of amusement now, only steely resolve.

Harry had gulped and nodded again, immediately grasping the oblique warning. "I promise, Headmaster," he had replied softly, meeting Dumbledore's gaze with determination.

"I promise..."

Harry heaved a frustrated sigh and stuffed Dr. Granger's card back in his shirt pocket.

Now to most people, being stuck at a train station with no ride in sight might qualify as an emergency. It might even qualify as a "desperate emergency." Harry, however, had slightly skewed ideas about emergencies because of all the danger he had faced in his short life.

Was his situation inconvenient? Yes. Highly annoying? Definitely. A desperate emergency? Nah, not really. He wasn't hurt, nothing was chasing him and nobody was trying to kill him. Life was good.

Besides, Harry was quite used to having to fend for himself. This wasn't the first time his family had shown appalling disregard for his well being. Before his first year at Hogwarts, the Dursleys had dropped him off at King's Cross Station without bothering to see him onto the Hogwarts Express. Harry grimaced a little. He'd had no clue what to do, and would have been in big trouble if he hadn't run into Ron and his family. In his more cynical moments, Harry wondered if his family had been somehow coerced into taking him in. Heaven knows they threatened him with an orphanage often enough.

Deciding he'd waited long enough, Harry hopped off his trunk, opened it, and made a quick survey of his emergency stash. After being caught in the open with no muggle money just before his third year at Hogwarts, and being subjected to his overweight cousin Dudley's diet last summer, Harry now prudently carried some muggle money along with his wizard gold, and enough non-perishable snacks to get him through the first few weeks of summer. If he was lucky maybe he wouldn't have to ask his friends to send him food again.

Harry considered calling the Dursleys one last time, but quickly discarded the idea. Another glance at the station clock told him it was now well into the Dursley's regular dinner hour, and a call of any kind would not be well received.

He ran his fingers lightly over the pouch which contained his wizarding money. I could just go to the Leaky Cauldron... Harry thought with a flash of rebellion. He had stayed at the wizard pub/inn for a while the summer before his third year. He almost picked up the money pouch, then stopped and shook his head firmly. A promise is a promise, Potter, he scolded himself. Besides, Harry thought as he grabbed a snack and his muggle money, Hedwig is waiting. Cheered by the fact that at least one living creature on Privet Drive would be happy to see him, Harry quickly secured his trunk and walked purposefully to the ticket counter.

A while later, Harry found himself on a train heading south. He had missed the worst of the commuter traffic, so the train he was riding on was nearly empty and very quiet–-quite different from the Hogwarts Express!

Slouching down in his seat, Harry grimaced as he imagined the "welcome" in store for him when he reached Privet Drive. He didn't reckon Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia would be pleased when he showed up needing new glasses. I just hope they've gotten over the Ton-Tongue Toffee incident-–ah. Harry trailed off as a realization struck him. Of course. It made sense.

Vernon wasn't doing him any favors because in all likelihood the whole family was probably still furious about Fred and George's prank last summer. Knowing Dudley was on a diet, they had planted one of their joke toffees for him to find. Dudley had eaten it, of course, and the results had been spectacular. According to Ron's father, Arthur Weasley, Dudley's tongue grew four feet before Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had let him shrink it. The blown up fireplace probably hadn't helped, either.

Smashing, Harry thought sourly. I wonder how many days I can go without getting thrown back in the cupboard.

By the time Harry arrived at the station in Little Whinging, it was getting on into the evening.

He considered taking a cab to Privet Drive, then hesitated. The ticket home had eaten up more of his emergency funds than he would have liked. He wasn't even certain he had enough for cab fare, come to think of it. Imagining the row that would occur, if he arrived at number four Privet Drive and had to ask for a few pounds, Harry opted to go it on foot instead. The station, if not convenient, was at least within manageable walking distance to his uncle's house.

Harry picked up his charmed trunk, and looked around warily. The uneasy feeling that had started at King's Cross had not abated. If anything, it had increased. Strange. Maybe he was just feeling the pressure of his situation. Everyone from Dumbledore to his classmates had warned him to be careful, and here he was, alone on the street, after dark. Stop it, Potter, or you'll be jumping at your own shadow, Harry chided himself irritably. And if you want to get there before the Dursleys go to bed, you'd better start walking.

So Harry walked.

And walked.

And walked.

It took longer than he thought it would. The station hadn't seemed that far away from home when he'd traveled there by car, and the trunk was definitely slowing him down.

Resisting the urge to stop and rest, Harry focused on his task, and doggedly made his way up the street. "Almost there," he muttered, urging himself on. "Come on. You can do it."

After what seemed like forever, Harry's goal was finally in sight. The charm Mrs. Weasley put on his trunk had helped immeasurably. It was still awkward to carry, but he would have collapsed in exhaustion long ago if it had been at its normal weight.

To make matters worse, Harry had been coping with generalized body aches for several days now. He assumed they were souvenirs of either the TriWizard Tournament, or Voldemort holding him under the Cruciatus Curse. They weren't that bad, really, just annoying. Harry reckoned they would fade completely given time, and hadn't made an issue of them. Now, after carrying his trunk all this way, his arms, shoulders, and back were aching relentlessly.

"Just a few more houses. Not much longer now," he puffed, keeping an eye on the sky. It looked like a storm was brewing. Maybe if his luck held out, he could get indoors before the rain hit.

There it is. Thank goodness. Harry smiled in spite of himself when he reached number four. He hesitated a moment, bracing himself, before entering the fray. Idly, he let his gaze roam over the yard and flowerbeds, then he lifted an eyebrow in confusion.

Aunt Petunia, always conscious of appearances, took great pride in her neat household and immaculate yard. Harry didn't know if she did the work herself while he was away, or if Vernon hired someone to help, but always before when he'd arrived for the summer holidays, the yard was neatly trimmed and edged, and the flowerbeds were a riot of color, without a weed in sight.

Now, however, the yard was beginning to show signs of needing to be cut, and the usually pristine flowerbeds were looking...well, they were looking a bit ragged, really. Like they hadn't been properly tended in a while.

The sight was so unexpected, and so completely out of character for the Dursley family, Harry could only gape in dismay. His exhausted brain searched for a reasonable explanation, even as his heart rate and breathing sped up. Something's wrong! Harry thought wildly, dropping his trunk. Someone must be sick...or hurt...

...or dead, a little voice whispered nastily in the back of his mind. Dead like Cedric.

Harry clenched his fists and dropped into an instinctive crouch. Even as he told himself to stop being so stupid, his eyes flickered randomly from the uncut grass–

There's nothing there.

–to the unswept walk–

Nothing, absolutely nothing! It's so quiet I can hear the street light humming!

–to the small picket sign–

It's getting late. They're probably in bed.

–to the neglected flowerbeds–

Nope. No Death Eaters here...


Back up.

A sign?!

Harry frowned through his glasses as he moved closer to investigate. He saw the sign all right, but couldn't quite make out the writing in the dark. As he grew near, the moon peeked out from behind a cloud and lent a little more light to the scene. When Harry was near enough to see, he blinked at the sign in surprise.

Number four Privet Drive was for sale.

Harry stared at the sign for a moment before giving himself a little shake. We're moving! he thought, not entirely sure how he felt about this turn of events. Deciding the Dursley's would likely continue to treat him as they always had, regardless of location, Harry shrugged, and went to fetch his trunk.

You're lucky Ron and Fred and George can't see you right now, Harry grumbled to himself. They'd be laughing themselves sick over the 'Great Harry Potter' acting like a paranoid git.

I reckon they got busy packing and cleaning, Harry mused, then wrinkled his nose. Most likely left all the really nasty jobs for me.

Still, he was cheered in a weird sort of way. Moving was no small task. Perhaps the Dursleys hadn't deliberately left him to make his own way home after all. Harry froze in the act of lifting his trunk. That is so pathetic, he thought ruefully. Most people would be insulted to have been forgotten at all. I'm happy because at least I wasn't forgotten on purpose. Well, I hope I wasn't, anyway.

Harry started toward the house, wishing he could lose the sense of foreboding that had been with him since King's Cross. He wasn't sure if it was just nerves, or if there was really something amiss. All he knew was his senses were on high alert in spite of his peaceful surroundings. It was quite irritating, really. The porch light flared to life as he approached the front door. Here we go, Harry thought somewhat resignedly. Time to get on your game, he counseled himself. Don't let them get to you.

The young wizard waited a few seconds for the door to be thrown open. It would most likely be Vernon. Harry would be yanked unceremoniously into the house, then Uncle Vernon would probably launch into a long speech about how worthless and rude and ungrateful Harry was, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam.

The porch light died, startling Harry out of his thoughts.

"Oh, really now," the boy tutted in annoyance. "How childish can one family be?" he fumed, setting down his trunk and raising his hand to knock on the door.

The light clicked back on.

Harry raised his eyebrow again. Are they trying to drive me mad? he wondered as he knocked on the door. Out loud he called, "Uncle Vernon? Aunt Petunia? It's Harry. May I come in?"

Several more seconds ticked by. The door remained firmly shut.

Harry clenched his teeth together and slowly counted to ten when the light clicked off again. He was tired, and he hurt, and he was certainly in no mood for stupid games. With a supreme effort, he refrained from screaming, "Just open the bloody door!" and instead rubbed weary hands under his glasses.

The light clicked on.

Dudley. It has to be Dudley, Harry thought, throwing the porch light a sizzling glare. Colossal prat. He was getting ready to knock again when something occurred to him.

The porch light was new. Upon closer inspection, he saw it was the type with a motion sensor. Harry absently remembered Vernon admiring a similar model at one of the neighbors' houses last summer. There was a small switch on the side that was currently set to "Test." The light flipped off again as the boy studied the switch.

Harry gulped and felt the fine hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Experimentally, he waved a hand in front of the light, and was rewarded when it flared to life.

Realization hit then. Harry closed his eyes, and leaned against the door as he finally figured out what had been bothering him since he first set foot on the property. Except for the porch light the house was completely dark and still.

No night lights.

No telly.

No voices.


Trying to ignore the horrible sinking feeling in his stomach, Harry gathered his nerve, and walked over to the living room window. As he neared, he noticed that the curtains were missing.

Aunt Petunia could be washing... Harry tried before letting the thought die uncompleted. He knew he was grasping at straws. Petunia regularly laundered her window treatments, true, but she always had them back in place before nightfall.

The prickles of alarm on the back of Harry's neck were spreading up to his scalp, and down his spine and arms.

He didn't want to look in that window.

He really didn't want to look in that window.

He wouldn't.

He couldn't.

He had to.

Screwing his courage up one last notch, Harry peered through the glass.

The house was dark and completely empty. The only things in the living room were patches of moonlight on the walls and floor.