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Chapter 1: The End of an Era
Harry woke up and for the first time since last June, the feeling of comfort and elation did not fade away moments after he regained consciousness. He was momentarily confused about what had erased the all too familiar feelings of hopelessness and misery.
Today was his last day with the Dursley's! Today marked the end of more than one and a half decades of abuse and disinterest. He leaped out of bed and began gathering his things together.
It was also Harry’s seventeenth birthday and with a smile he countered that his long awaited release was probably the nicest gift the Dursley’s had ever given him. Then again, coming of age was a huge celebration in the wizarding world he laughed, imagining their looks of horror if they knew that they were helping him to celebrate.
This summer with the Dursley’s had not been nearly as bad as those in the past. When they had heard of Dumbledore’s passing, even they had seemed a little bit sad and Aunt Petunia had acted absolutely shocked. Dudley’s confidence seemed to have taken a dip in the past year when he realised that most girls were not particularly attracted to extremely out-of-shape buffoons and as a result he was experiencing difficulty landing himself dates. As far as Harry could tell, he was compensating for his lack of female “company” by going out to the pubs and drinking himself silly every night. The consequences of his late-night escapades were so obvious every morning that it was hard for Harry to believe that even Petunia was oblivious to the cause of Dudley’s headaches, nausea and exhaustion no matter how much she feigned naivety. Dudley’s constant hangovers kept him from tormenting Harry too much, so he was not about to give his cousin away.
The sun shone through his window and he saw the Hedwig’s outline soaring towards him, a piece of rolled parchment in her beak. Undoubtedly she was carrying the Weasly’s reply to the letter that he had sent them four days ago. His suspicions were confirmed when he unrolled the sheet of yellow-brown paper.
“Dear Harry,” it read, “ We can’t wait to see you later on today! I will meet you at the location already discussed, at the agreed time. I hope to be home long before nightfall, or else Molly will worry, so please have all your things packed ahead of time. Remember that you might be of age but you still cannot pack with magic among the Muggles! Tell them ahead of time not to worry about preparing me anything to eat – there will be no time. I hope to bring you to the ministry after picking you up, so that you can take your apparition test. Ron will be coming along so that he can be re-tested at the same time. I have clearance to apparate to pick you up, so prepare your aunt and uncle. We will apparate over, with me guiding of course and with any luck, we’ll all be able to travel home by ourselves! Much love, Arthur.”
He knew that Mr. Weasly’s vagueness in some details was due to the possibility of their mail being read by Voldemort’s supporters, but not even this reality check could dim Harry’s cheer. He smiled in anticipation of the day’s events and chuckled to himself at the idea of the Dursley’s willingly preparing food for such unwanted guests. His smile broadened when he thought of their inevitable reaction to Mr. Weasly and Ron, whom they associated only with an unfortunate hex on Dudley, appearing out of thin air into their home.
He went downstairs, where Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia were sitting at the table, speaking in hushed voices. The daily newspaper was open to the finance section in front of Vernon and Aunt Petunia was eating white toast with butter and jam. Harry knew that Dudley was, like usual, still asleep in his room where he would be until at least noon. An uneasy silence fell over the room as Harry approached.
“I’ll be leaving around noon hour”, he said happily, “Mr. Weasly will be coming to pick me up. Oh, and he says not to worry about making him lunch!” Harry added with a laugh.
“That should be fine,” said Uncle Vernon, his tone surprisingly calm although his voice was rather stiff, “Petunia will make you something to take along”.
Harry couldn’t understand the uncharacteristic tolerance of Harry’s wizarding lifestyle. “Err…thanks,” he replied awkwardly.
“Will you need any money?” asked Petunia
“No thank you,” said Harry, “and why this interest in me all of a sudden. You neglect me for 16 years and the day that I’m leaving, you suddenly decide to care? You can’t do that!”
Uncle Vernon’s face turned it’s usually shade of purple as he stood up and yelled, “You ungrateful little urchin, from the very-”
“Vernon!” shouted Petunia. “Harry, we don’t hate you, we just don’t approve of the lifestyle that your parents, and you, have chosen. I blame it for Lily’s death, which would have been preventable if she had just chosen the normal lifestyle that I have come to embrace. But oh, no! Not Lily, she thought that she was something special, that she had something that the rest of us didn’t, just because she came home every holiday with owls, and silly pranks and tales of spells and potions. We had to break you of that – make you see that you are no better than the rest of us, maybe not even as good! And even more than that, I had to make certain that you would not pass any of your Hogwart’s idiocy on to our precious Dudley. I seemed to have achieved some of what I wanted to, and now that you are leaving, you are no longer a threat to our beliefs. You are the last living reminder of my sister, and although I didn’t always like the things that she did, I loved her for who she was. Out of respect for her, I don’t want you to walk away from your last living family members hating them.”
Harry was unsure how to respond to Petunia’s admission. On one hand, he thought that it was a little bit late to be mending the ties that had been broken for years. But on the other hand, he knew that Dumbledore would not have trusted truly bad people to his upbringing. He decided that he would be civil, if only because that was what Dumbledore would have wanted.
“Err… ok, thanks,” mumbled Harry, “I’ll send you letters from time to time…let you know how things are going…”
“Now hand on there just one minute, young man,” snapped Vernon, “I don’t want any of those ruddy owls showing up at my doorstep!”
“Vernon…”said Petunia warningly, giving Harry the feeling that Uncle Vernon had been on the receiving end of a lecture while Harry had been upstairs.
“Don’t worry, I know how to use the post,” said Harry smiling fondly at the memory of Mr. Weasly’s encounter with Muggle post three years ago. Those days seemed so far away, while he was still happy and carefree, competing with Cedric… writing to Sirius…going to Dumbledore for guidance…Harry shook his head, trying to clear the unhappy thoughts and send them to the back of his memory. Today was not a day to dwell on the past; he’d been doing that for the past month.
“Well, I’m heading upstairs to finish my packing,” Harry called as he walked out of the room, remember only once he’d left that he’d forgotten to eat breakfast.
He spent the rest of the morning packing his things and playing with Hedwig. He managed, with great difficulty to cram all of his books in his trunk and he checked all over to make sure that nothing had been overlooked. At around noon, he felt two thuds in the main hall and heard Petunia cry out. He grinned to himself, took one last look around the room and raced down the stairs. Mr Weasly and Ron had arrived.