This was what Aunt Petunia could understand from the sneak-peeks she had taken at the boy during the past two weeks. He had to be reminded to get out of bed, to bathe, to eat …
Heaven knew she didn’t care tuppence for the boy as a rule, but you couldn’t help but notice when another person living under the same roof was slowly wasting away.
Petunia Dursley was a selfish, moreover, a very bitter woman. But she cared for her husband and son in an almost blind, frenzied way. She had trained her mind to twist all the horrors they did into acts of glory.
She also cared for her own skin. That was her prime worry now - how in the name of God was she going to explain to those scary freaks the boy had for friends that…that Harry was missing!?
She was really freaking out. The boy had eaten nothing at breakfast and she had seen him staring at the plate as if in a daze. She hadn’t noticed him going out. He had no ‘normal’ friends…where the hell was she supposed to look for him?
Those freaks had sent her an owl (an OWL!) telling her that they would be coming to visit him in the evening. Now it was already late afternoon- there, the clock just struck two-thirty. ”Where is that BOY?”
She had no idea that she had been muttering continuously under her breath until Dudley asked,”What are you mumbling, mum?”
“Oh nothing!” she snapped.
Slamming the plates in her hand on the counter, she asked her son, “Have you seen Harry since breakfast? That boy keeps disappearing to God-knows-where; I have no clue as to where to look for him.”
“You’re looking for Harry?! What for?” Dudley exclaimed, clearly surprised at the sudden interest his mother had in Harry’s whereabouts. She was the one who had told him to keep away from Harry as much as possible. “That boy is mentally instable” had been her exact words. For once in his life, Dudley had obeyed his mother without question and had stayed as far away as possible from his cousin.
“Those freaky friends of his are coming at five o’clock and he has to be here when they come. Who knows what they will do if they think that we have done something to that boy. Honestly, the way they carry on, one would think that that boy is the saviour of the world!” She pursed her lips.
“They are coming here?!” Dudley clutched his rear in fear. ”I’ve got to go to Tim’s house for tea, mum. Can I go now?” He was determined not to be there when they came. What if they got angry and did something to him? He would lose his macho image in a trice if he had something like a…like a tail! He would become the laughing stock of the town!
“Before you go, check if the boy is somewhere outside, Duddykins,” his mother said fondly, ruffling his hair.
“ Okay!” He ran out, shaking the whole house in the process. ”No one here!” he shouted back and slammed the door shut.
“My baby, he’s grown up so fast,” Petunia sniffed.
She went outside to check with Mrs Figg whether Harry was there. He was not.
She left a very much surprised Mrs Figg behind. It was unusual for the Dursleys to pay a social visit, which was what Petunia told her.
Petunia was a very disgruntled and annoyed woman indeed as she headed back to her house. To be worried about the boy, that too because of his freaky friends, went against the very foundations of her life.
She was terrified at the thought of what “they” would do if the boy was still missing when “they” came!
She thought that she heard a noise coming from the cupboard under the stairs as she entered the house. Armed with a duster in case it was mice, she opened the cupboard door. The sight before her eyes robbed her of speech for almost a minute, which for Petunia Dursley, was a record!
“Stop it, mum!” Ron screamed. Molly and Ginny had been crying over Harry…again.
Ron was tired of it. ”Just leave it, okay?”
His mother and sister exchanged worried glances. Ron had been like this all summer. He spent his time shut up in his room and couldn’t stand anyone mentioning Harry’s name in front of him. It was almost as if the very name of his best friend hurt him.
His family couldn’t understand him.
He had been the one who had been willing to sacrifice his life for Harry in his first year; he had been willing to go to the ends of the earth, through hell and fire, for his best friend who had become his sixth brother and maybe dearer to him than his brothers.
What had happened to make Ron cringe in pain at the very mention of Harry’s name?
Ron could see the anxious expressions on his mother’s and sister’s faces. His heart went out to them, they cared so much about Harry, and how would they be able to bear what he wanted to tell them, but was instructed not to? He turned on his heel and ran up the stairs to the sanctuary of his room.
He lay there staring up at the ceiling when he saw an unfamiliar owl enter through his open window. His heart skipped a beat when he recognised Hermione’s handwriting on the envelope it carried. He quickly paid the owl and as it flew away, sat down on the floor to read her letter.
It contained the usual details of her holiday, but was somewhat subdued. He could sense the enormous effort she took to sound as if nothing was wrong. But to the end of the letter her words turned to Harry.
My heart breaks when I think of him, Ron. How can a boy go through what he has and remain sane? Now this new burden?
Here the ink was smudged by falling tears.
Ron’s trembling hands moved over the dried up tears as a heart-wrenching sigh escaped his lips.
I wish we could be with him, but something tells me that even if we were there, we wouldn’t be able to do anything. Harry would just shut us out. He hasn’t replied to my letters. I just hope the Dursleys are leaving him alone!
The letter ended there.
Usually Hermione’s letters left Ron with a contented feeling in his stomach, but now…he curled up on the floor, unshed tears in his eyes, clutching a photograph taken of the trio after their third year.
Harry’s photographic self who had once had a beaming smile on his face, now had a defeated look, as if he had lost his will to live…which was exactly what Ron and Hermione were afraid of.
Aunt Petunia gasped again at the sight before her eyes. She had an unfamiliar expression on her face, a mixture of compassion, fear and sorrow. What had happened to reduce her normally stoic nephew to this wreck of a human being before her eyes?
She stood there, staring at the sight before her, dumbfounded. How can a person look this bad, she wondered. Then a look of realisation dawned on her face.
Harry was lying there, crumpled up into a fetal position as if trying to draw back into himself. He was pale to the point of looking like a ghost and as limp as a rag doll. She had been staring at him for a few minutes when she realised with a start…Harry wasn’t breathing!
Mrs Figg who had been shuffling by in her carpet slippers was jostled out of her reverie by an anguished, bloodcurdling scream from house number four.
Ginny climbed the stairs slowly after finishing her conversation with her mother. They had decided to ask Ron what the matter was later when he was in a better mood, that is, after Hermione arrived.
It was eating her up, having to hold back from screaming at her brother and having to wait for another two weeks for Hermione to reach here.
As she was climbing up to the attic, she heard a muffled sigh from Ron’s room. She stopped outside his door, listening hard. Nothing, no sound came from the room.
She stood there for a minute, fighting the urge to intrude upon her brother’s privacy, but her concern got the better of her. She gently pushed open the door to see a devastated looking Ron curled up on the floor, clutching a photograph.
Thinking all sorts of terrible things that could have happened she rushed to his side.
She reached him as he looked up, tears threatening to run down his face, finally letting out all that he had been holding inside him for the past two weeks. Ginny was shocked to see the anguish and anger in his face. Finally she realised the pain her brother was going through. Except, she had no idea what was causing it. Her only guess was that it had something to do with Harry.
Feeling decidedly terrified now, she sat down on the floor next to her brother. She could see that he was in no condition to talk about what was troubling him, but she could sense his need for company. Taking a superhuman effort to keep all her questions under check, she pulled her brother closer and wrapped her arms around him, rocking him gently, comforting him with her warmth and love.
Ron and Ginny, being the youngest, had always been very close and the bond they shared was very powerful. Although Ron had never found time to be with his beloved sister since joining Hogwarts, they were still closer to each other than the rest of their brothers.
Ron had always turned to Ginny for comfort in their younger days and oddly, Ginny had often protected her older brother from the twins’ and Bill’s pranks rather than the other way round. The same instinct to turn to Ginny for comfort took over Ron now.
He lay curled up on her lap, his gasps cutting into the silence of the room, feeling comfort and silent understanding radiating from her. He made the decision then and there to tell Ginny everything; maybe she could come up with a way to help Harry deal with his pain and the prophecy.
Mrs Figg dropped her bag in shock and rushed up to the house. She rushed in through the open door looking around frantically but the hallway was empty. She was about to go into the house when she heard a soft murmuring coming from somewhere nearby. It was then that she noticed the open door of the cupboard under the stairs. When she peeped in, the sight that greeted her was the weirdest and the most unimaginable one she had ever seen.
Petunia stood there, surprised at the tenderness slowly enveloping her heart as she looked down at the boy lying near her feet. She had thought that the boy was dead. Then her scream had roused the boy from the trance-like state he had sunk into and he had started breathing, but still hadn’t opened his eyes. She wanted to hold him but was scared of his reaction.
Then, as the next whimper escaped his lips, she threw caution to the winds and slid to the floor, putting her arms around her nephew. She could feel how tense he was and fearing a complete breakdown, she tried to soothe him by murmuring words of comfort. It was then that she heard someone entering the house but didn’t leave Harry’s side. The next thing she saw was the face of a very shocked Mrs Figg looking down at her, her mouth open in a wide ‘O’.
Ginny was staring at Ron with an incredulous look on her face. “Harry is the only one who can kill Tom? And Tom keeps on trying to kill Harry because he knows this?” she asked.
Ron cringed on hearing this; this was exactly what Hermione had asked Dumbledore when he had told them about the prophecy the week before. He nodded without looking up, not wanting to see a tear-stained Ginny. But the next thing she said made him look up, his mouth hanging open.
“Well, we all know that, right?”
“Oh, come on, Ron. We know that Tom has been trying to kill Harry for a long time. And also that it had something to do with Harry being the one who had defeated him sixteen years ago, something which nobody else had been able to do. Now that he is back, naturally everyone expects Harry to be the one to defeat him again. That is what this prophecy also says.”
“Ginny, did you hear it correctly? It says neither can survive while the other lives. Harry is going to die!”
“NO HE IS NOT! Listen to yourself, Ron. You’re as bad as Trelawney!”
“Honestly Ron, think about it. Until now we all just hoped that Harry would be able to defeat Tom. This prophecy assures us that he definitely can, that he has the power to do it. It is not a death warrant for Harry, Ron; it’s a death warrant for Tom.”
Ron looked shocked when he heard this; he hadn’t looked at the prophecy from this angle. It made sense. He let out a deep sigh, suddenly feeling happier than he had felt in the past two weeks. Ginny was watching him, a tender expression on her face as she finally realised just how deep Ron’s affection for his best friend ran. Far from feeling jealous, she was feeling proud of her brother. She leant forward, wrapping her arms around Ron in a warm hug.
Arabella Figg stood there, staring at Petunia. Petunia shook her head, silently asking her not to speak. She nodded to the living room, telling her to wait there. Mrs Figg walked over to the living room in a daze, amazed at what she had seen.
Ginny slowly made her way back downstairs. It had taken a long time to soothe Ron. Saying that he had been upset would be the understatement of the year. He had been devastated.
She pushed open the door to her room and closed it silently behind her, resisting the urge to slam it shut. She took a deep breath to calm herself. Her hands were shaking. Even though she had put up a brave front for the sake of Ron, she was literally stunned by the news. Having your life dictated by a prophecy was just too much to ask of anyone, let alone a teenage boy who had already suffered so much in his young life.
She got into her bed and pulled the sheets over her in the form of a tent. It was an old habit of hers, shutting herself up in a cocoon when troubled. The rest of the family, especially Fred, George and Charlie had learned the hard way not to disturb her when she was in her ‘cocoon’.
As she curled up on her bed, her mind was working furiously, trying to think of a way to let Harry know that she knew about the prophecy too and that Harry would never have to face the evil alone; she, Ron and Hermione would be with him every step of the way until the end.
Harry felt himself falling through space. He saw glimpses of familiar faces swimming in front of his eyes- Cedric, his parents, Sirius, and a number of other faces. He tried to grab at Sirius’ face to keep it from disappearing, but it receded farther…and farther….
Suddenly he started hearing his name being called. It sounded as if coming from a long way away and then started coming nearer. It sounded similar to that of Hermione’s, with the same tone of urgency. Yet it was different, more mature and sterner. It sounded oddly familiar, as if he had been hearing it ever since he could remember…”Aunt Petunia,” Harry gasped.
The hoarse whisper of her name sounded like music to Petunia’s ears. She had been on the verge of getting hysterical with worry when Harry said her name. His eyes fluttered open. After all, he had grown up in her house. He knew that when she called, he had better respond. Her voice had reached even the depths of his semi-conscious mind.
His eyes slowly came into focus and then a puzzled expression came into his face as he realised that his aunt was holding him close; she had never done that before. He let out a yelp of shock as she hugged him. He looked up to see tears streaming down her face.
“Harry, are you okay?”
He nodded, still too weak to talk. Having not eaten anything in the past few days and the constant misery had really worn him out.
Easing him down on to the floor, she went out and Harry heard her talking to Mrs Figg. She told her that Harry had just had a bad dream and that he was okay now. Apparently, this satisfied the old lady and she left promising to come back the next day.
Petunia came back and sat down next to Harry. She gave him a glass of milk and motioned to him to drink it. Harry drank awkwardly as he wasn’t accustomed to having his aunt feed him anything. She took the glass and kept it away.
“Harry, there are a few things I’ve got to tell you. But first, I need to know what it is that is bothering you so much.”
Seeing that Harry wasn’t going to reply, she asked him a question that startled him out of his wits. “Is it what happened to Sirius?”
Harry finally found his voice and stammered, “How do you know that? How do you know him?”
“He used to come with your father to visit Lily. He used to make fun of me a lot; he disliked me. As for your first question, Dumbledore told me what happened in the Ministry. His letter came the day before you arrived.”
Harry was again left speechless when he heard his aunt talking about the magical world in a perfectly normal way.
“Harry, I’m really sorry for what you had to go through and I promise you, we will not disturb you any more. At least, I’ll try to hold back Vernon and as for Dudley, he’s too scared to trouble you. Now go up to your room and get some rest.”
It was a very much shaken Harry Potter who was led up to his room by his aunt- a boy who for the first time realised that his aunt actually cared for him.
He woke up an hour later to the sound of Hedwig’s disgruntled hooting. Looking up he saw Pig repeatedly bumping on the window glass.
He got up wearily and opened the window. Pig raced in, dropped the letter he had been clutching and flew off to Hedwig’s side. Harry grinned when he saw the mollified expression on her face as the tiny owl snuggled up next to her.
Then his grin turned into a puzzled frown when he saw an unfamiliar handwriting on the envelope. Curious, he tore it open, his expression changing from surprise to shock to anger and then to a grim smile. Ginny had told him exactly what she had told Ron and added that she would see him soon; Lupin was coming to collect him.
Sighing, Harry started packing...this was going to be a very long year for all of them.