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The sun was setting outside Harry Potter's bedroom window, causing shadowy stripes on the floor where it met the bars in his windows. Harry watched them creep slowly across the sand-colored carpet, feeling more depressed than he could ever remember feeling in his entire life. He had been looking forward more than anything to returning to Hogwarts for his second year of wizard school, but now it looked very much as if he might never go back.
If only Dobby hadn't showed up in his bedroom. If only the house elf hadn't run downstairs and smashed a pudding over his aunt and uncle's dinner guest. If only the Ministry of Magic hadn't sent that stupid owl that caused said guest to run screaming out of the house. He wondered if any other twelve-year-old wizard had to deal with such problems, even if they did live with Muggles. Somehow, he couldn't imagine Hermione ever covering her parents' dinner guests in whipped cream.
In the corner of the room, Hedwig gave a bleak hoot, as she had started doing from time to time during their incarceration. Harry turned his head on the pillow and glanced at the snowy owl; she was looking at him mournfully with her large amber eyes.
"I know, Hedwig," said Harry heavily in a half whisper - his aunt and uncle thought him quite mad enough already without knowing he talked to his owl. Not that he cared what they thought, really. But being ignored, as he was at the moment, was much more preferable than being yelled at for half an hour about how he really should be chucked in the madhouse, so he spoke quietly.
Hedwig hooted again and shuffled on her perch, turning her tail feathers to him. Harry flopped back on the pillow, staring at the ceiling and fuming at his predicament. How was he ever getting back to Hogwarts now, if his aunt and uncle were deaf to everything he said to them? Even the knowledge that Ron and Hermione had, in fact, tried to write him over the summer didn't comfort him. It wasn't as if either of them was going to show up at his bedroom door to break him free; even the thought was laughable.
A timid step outside the door told him Aunt Petunia had come up with his dinner, and he leapt lightly from the bed and rushed to the minuscule cat flap Uncle Vernon had installed there. Her bony and manicured hand appeared for the briefest of moments, pushing a frozen dinner through the opening.
"Aunt Petunia, listen-" Harry began quickly while she still stood outside his door, his voice hoarse from only whispering for the past few days. Aunt Petunia gave a little squeak of shock and all but ran away from the landing, her heels tapping furiously on the wood of the upstairs hall. Harry banged his fist on the door in frustration, but it was no use. She was gone.
Revolted by the consistency of the meat and vegetables contained in his meal, but too hungry to much care, Harry ate slowly, trying to trick his empty belly into feeling full while mulling over his options in his head. He could certainly try and break open the door - hadn't he always been able to use magic without meaning to in the past? But the last thing he needed was a second owl from the Ministry telling him he was expelled. At least in his current state he had hope of returning to school, slim though that hope may be.
Poking a few soggy broccoli pieces and a slice of the strange, grayish meat through the bars of Hedwig's cage, Harry resumed his position on his bed, feeling exhausted, although he'd done nothing else all day but stare at the ceiling. Tomorrow, he said to himself, making the same promise he'd made to himself every night for the past few days, I'm getting out of here. No excuses.
And with this less-than-comforting thought in his mind, he fell into a dreamless sleep.
The following morning, a Friday morning, began quite normally, all things considered. Aunt Petunia's hand appeared again at the cat flap, bearing scrambled eggs this time, and soon the sound of Uncle Vernon's car leaving the driveway could be heard through Harry's window. When the doorbell rang about an hour after this, Harry assumed it was the postman, bringing the day's mail as usual.
What he didn't expect, however, was a rather high-pitched scream that seemed to come from his cousin, Dudley. Hoping maybe Dudley's school marks had finally come in - he certainly wasn't the brightest boy - Harry got up from the bed and crossed to his door, pressing his ear against it in the hopes of hearing what was going on below.
A voice he didn't recognize was speaking in the hall below - a man's voice. It most definitely was not the postman. Frowning slightly, wondering why this man could have caused Dudley to scream, Harry leaned closer to the door, grasping the knob in his fingers.
"... wondering if we might have a word with you about your nephew?" the man was saying in a pleasant voice. Harry's heart jumped into his mouth. Who might be wanting to speak with his aunt about him? Was freedom too much to hope for?
"I - my nephew doesn't live here," said Aunt Petunia waspishly, sounding very flustered. "You must have the wrong house."
"I'm terribly sorry," said a different voice, a woman's this time. "Are you not Mrs. Petunia Dursley? Albus Dumbledore said Harry Potter lived here." Harry was now so close to the door his ear was hurting, but he didn't dare back away. He knew that second voice from somewhere, but where?
Aunt Petunia hesitated a fraction of a second too long. Harry could almost see her in his mind's eye, gaping at whomever she was talking to. Heavy footsteps that seemed to be running past the spare bedroom told Harry that his cousin was fleeing the scene for the sanctity of his own bedroom. The visitors must have terrified him beyond belief; they were almost surely a witch and wizard. This thought caused Harry's heart to pound excitedly from where it was still lodged in his throat.
"We have a letter here from Professor Dumbledore," said the man's voice now, and there was a pause as he evidently withdrew a letter to give to Aunt Petunia. Harry waited breathlessly on the other side of the door, now clinging to the handle so hard his knuckles had turned white.
"I don't know who you're talking about," Aunt Petunia finally snapped at the visitors, a note of rising panic evident in her voice. There was silence again, and desperately thinking he might be in danger of losing his only way out of here, Harry banged hard on the door with his fist. From the room next door came another high-pitched scream; Dudley evidently thought someone was trying to break down the doors.
There was an absolute and total silence from the hall below, and Harry worried whoever was down there might not have heard him properly. "I'm up here!" he called, his voice still hoarse. He didn't know who might be down there, but he would much rather take his chances with the mysterious witch and wizard than stay another day at the Dursleys'.
To his intense relief, he presently heard footsteps climbing the stairs. The latch on his door clicked, and he backed away hurriedly as it swung open to admit the first person besides his relatives and their friends that Harry had seen all summer. With a delightful swoop in his stomach, he noted the unfamiliar wizard's vivid red hair surrounding his bald patch. This must be Ron's dad.
Sure enough, once the man had spotted Harry, he stuck out his hand; Harry shook it, almost numb with disbelief. "Hello, Harry," he said jovially. "I'm Arthur Weasley. Ron's my son, but of course you knew that - it's a delight to meet you."
"Hello," beamed Harry, not able to keep the huge grin from his face. Mr. Weasley glanced interestedly around Harry's bedroom, observing the makeshift calendar above the bed's headboard and the cage where Hedwig sat alert with particular interest. His eyes then fell on the bars on the window, and he looked round at Harry, shock etched on his face.
"Yeah," said Harry quickly, "that can be explained - well, sort of, but it's kind of a long story." He looked hopefully at Mr. Weasley, who was still at a loss for words about the bars. "Erm - not to be rude, but are you - I mean -?" He broke off, not knowing what to say next.
"Ah. Yes," said Mr. Weasley, fiddling with his horn-rimmed glasses. "Well, as Ron's not received any replies from any of the letters he's sent you, he asked his mother and me to look in - all civilized, you understand," he added earnestly, but Harry nodded, silently thanking Ron.
"In addition," Mr. Weasley continued, "we've received Professor Dumbledore's permission to bring you back to our home for the remainder of the summer - that is, if you don't mind leaving your, ah, home here." His eyes flickered once more to the window.
"Not at all," said Harry firmly, already crossing to Hedwig's cage and hefting it under his arm.
"Gracious!" said Mr. Weasley suddenly, and Harry looked around quickly, half-expecting to see someone outside the window. But instead, Mr. Weasley crossed the room and knelt down by Harry's nightstand, examining the plug for his lamp.
"Is this... do you use electricity?" Mr. Weasley said excitedly, poking the plug hesitantly with his index finger.
"Erm, yes?" Harry said tentatively, still standing in the middle of the room with Hedwig's cage tucked under his arm. This was certainly one of the weirdest things he'd ever had happen in his life, he thought, watching Mr. Weasley plug and unplug the lamp.
Finally, Mr. Weasley seemed to realize what he was doing, and looked back at Harry sheepishly. "Sorry," he said quickly, standing up and brushing off his pant legs. "Molly hates it when I do that, but the things these Muggles think up..." He shook his head wonderingly, and then motioned to Harry's door. "Shall we?"
Ron's mother was standing in the hall, next to Aunt Petunia, who looked as if she might have swallowed an entire grapefruit, so pursed were her lips. Mrs. Weasley beamed widely when she saw Harry descending the steps.
"Hello, Harry dear, so wonderful to see you again," she said, crossing and wrapping Harry in a huge hug, made a little awkward by the bulk of Hedwig's cage. "I'm sure Arthur's explained everything to you, so we'll be off. Have you got all your things?" She glanced behind Harry at her husband, who looked around in turn, as though expecting to see Harry's trunk following him down the stairs.
"Erm - no, my trunk and things are in the stair cupboard," Harry said, fighting a laugh at the expression on Aunt Petunia's face; she had gone very white, and looked as though she might faint. Choosing not to elaborate on this particular issue, Mr. Weasley crossed to the little closet, removed his wand, and pointed it at the door; it sprung open at once.
Harry helped Ron's dad carry his trunk, cauldron, and broomstick to a turquoise Ford Anglia waiting outside, while Mrs. Weasley bid Harry's aunt a very strained good-bye. Harry thought that it was rather brave of her, knowing as he did his aunt's opinion of the magical world. Finally, everything was packed away, and Mr. Weasley drove away from Privet Drive. Harry could hardly believe his good fortune.
Halfway to the village of Ottery St. Catchpole, which was near where the Weasley family lived, Harry (who had lulled to sleep by the movement of the car almost immediately) woke briefly enough to catch on to an argument that the Weasleys were currently having in the front seat, and it piqued his curiosity at once.
"Look, Molly, we could be there in half an hour," Mr. Weasley was saying agitatedly as they inched forward through the traffic jam on the highway. "I could just turn off that little side road there - look, this here's an invisibility booster, no one would see-"
"No, Arthur!" said Mrs. Weasley sharply, glancing into the backseat; Harry quickly pretended to be asleep again. "There's too many Muggles around, someone would be sure to spot a flying car," she added in a slightly softer voice.
Mr. Weasley said nothing in response, but Harry grew very excited. Was he sitting in a flying car, right at this very moment? He tried to stay awake, wanting to see the car in action if Mrs. Weasley gave in to her husband, but he already knew that was a losing battle. Too bad, he thought sleepily as drowsiness overtook him again. It really would have been something to have escaped the Dursleys in a flying car...
He awoke again just as the Ford Anglia was turning into a narrow, rutted lane. At the end of this drive stood a massive and very crooked house, stretching to the perfectly blue sky above it. Chickens pecked their way around rusty cauldrons and Wellington boots strewn across the yard. Harry felt himself smile as he surveyed the scene, and then realized Mrs. Weasley was watching him anxiously from the front seat.
"This is brilliant," he said enthusiastically, and Mrs. Weasley blushed.
"Aren't you a dear," she murmured, and then hastily pretended to look for something in her handbag. Harry climbed out of the car, and his grin widened; his best friend in the world, Ron Weasley, had just run out from the house excitedly.
Harry was free.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed my version of how Harry might have escaped Privet Drive! This was just a quick little one-shot I put together for a challege, and I'm pretty pleased with the way it turned out. Just a silly little thing, really. So, what do YOU think of it? I'd love to know! Leave me a review and I'll love you forever. Thanks for reading "Leaving Privet Drive"!
Edit 9-4-2011: As you may have been able to tell, I also recorded this story and submitted it on the Harry Potter Podcast website! If you're curious as to how it might hear, pop over and give it a listen, won't you? Thanks for all the support!