At first it was just the two of them, that day by the lake. His fingers traced every curve of her face, and her smile was warm under his lips. Her long red hair gleamed as the light of sunset fell upon it.
And then the sun was gone. Where previously a golden hue brightened everything, now cold gray light caused everything to look black and white. The trees had vanished, replaced by old-looking, tall gravestones, and Harry realized where he was. He turned his hand to grab Ginny's, but his fingers closed around air. She had gone away, taking the sun with her.
The gravestones started glowing.
"Is that the best you can do?"
Harry whirled upon hearing his godfather's last words.
"Wands out, d'you reckon?"
His eyes focused on a glowing tomb. He felt his knees shake. The tombstone hummed an eerie tune as it turned whiter, brighter. He felt a hand rest on his shoulder, and turned around immediately. Ginny was in front of him again; he embraced her tightly, closing his eyes, burying his face in her hair and hoping against hope that everything would return to that one perfect day.
A voice rang in the silence once again. "Remember when you have to chose between what is right and what is easy…Remember Cedric Diggory."
Silence reigned again. Harry clutched Ginny and feared the next voice he would hear, terrified of the reason he had ended up where he was. Three words spoken, cold as stone, confirmed his fears.
"Kill the spare."
Harry Potter woke up in Privet Drive screaming. Sweat and tears pouring down his face; he realized it had been a nightmare. Years of instinct moved him to curl up alone, against the headboard, so he could calm down and let a mantra run in his head: "It wasn't real – it wasn't real." Even as he was focusing his eyes on the room around him, recalling his surroundings, two gentle arms wrapped him in a tight hug. He tensed and started to fight against them, not knowing who tried to get him, but then a mane of brown bushy hair obscured his vision. He realized it was Hermione.
He hugged her tightly, letting himself go. For the first time in his life, Harry Potter knew what it felt like to be comforted after a nightmare. He held Hermione closer and let all of his fears wash over him. Tears flooded his eyes and his shoulders heaved as sobs racked his body. After a few moments, he pulled back to look at her only to find Hermione crying too.
"You're my family, did you know that?" he asked her, his voice cracking from emotion.
"I know. Of course I know," she replied, moving to hold him once again. An angry voice made them both turn their heads a second later.
"What's going on here?" snapped Ron. Though his voice was thick from sleep, his expression was an awake, hurt one.
They didn't speak, but both Harry and Hermione motioned for Ron to join them, and he silently approached them to sit on the other side of the bed, next to Harry. He hesitantly put his arms around Hermione, and looked at Harry who was now shivering. Not hesitating, the couple moved towards Harry, including him in the embrace.
"Together," whispered Harry.
"Together," echoed his two best friends.
They stayed like that for hours, until dawn neared and they fell asleep, exhausted from nightmares and tears.
The morning of the 30th day of July found the three teenagers sitting in the smallest room of Number Four Privet Drive. The air inside was heavy with nervousness and anticipation. It was their last day in that house. They had fulfilled Dumbledore's wish to protect Harry until he came of age. Ron and Hermione were more than happy to leave, but Harry's relief and anxiousness to leave was beyond measure. The years of having to tolerate his dreadful relatives and his cousin's abuse would be left behind in just twenty-four hours, but dark times lay ahead of him. Especially the next year, which he knew would be the hardest of his life.
So he sat, in that room, with his things already packed, looking at his two best friends who had insisted on coming with him since the very beginning of the holidays. They sat in his uncle's house, the house in which he had lived for the most part of his seventeen-year-old life. Then he had been just Harry – neglected, friendless Harry, but still just Harry – not the Boy-Who-Lived, not The Chosen One. Still, he was glad to be leaving that place.
He was brought out of his musings by the sound of fluttering wings. Hedwig arrived with a letter clutched between her sharp talons.
Ron got up, retrieved the letter from the snowy owl, and opened it – the letter was addressed to all three of them. He read it aloud a moment later.
Dear Hermione, Ron and Harry,
I hope you are all well and that those awful people are treating you as they have been 'advised'. As it is Harry's birthday, I assume you will be coming straight 'home' tomorrow. Please make certain everything is packed, and that you leave nothing behind.
The twins are doing fine with their business and even provided this new quill I'm writing with.
Be careful. All is well here so don't worry.
Stay safe and constant vigilance.
Ron started looking confused after reading the first line of the letter. When he finished, he looked as perplexed as ever. Hermione had approached him while listening and now stood beside him as she read the letter again.
"Looks really odd for Mum's writing," said Ron, glancing at the letter once more before handing it to Hermione.
"New quill?" muttered Hermione, grabbing the letter. Her eyes ran over the lines of the letter and Harry could have sworn he could hear the wheels in her mind being set in motion.
"That's what it says," Ron shrugged it off dismissively.
Hermione glanced quickly at Harry and nodded. At that Harry stood. Taking out his wand, he tapped his wand while muttering, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
"Do you think they hid it that way? Wormtail knows…" trailed off Hermione, but the letter provided her with an answer. It remained as it was, an ordinary letter. Harry scowled at it, then looked at his friends questioningly.
"It can't be just a letter," muttered Hermione, moving to sit on the bed once again, taking the letter with her. The boys sat on either side of her and looked at the parchment.
"They could have used another password," said Ron.
"Yeah, but what is it?" wondered Harry out loud.
"It can't be just anything. They must have used something they know we would be able to figure out. Your mother mentioned the twins…" trailed off Hermione.
"Look! That's the twins' writing!" cried Ron suddenly.
Harry looked down at the parchment only to find a few scribbled words under Mrs. Weasley's signature: ' Brilliant train of thought, our dearest Know-It-All.'
"It's helping us. It must be something the twins know…and we know too. Something we have in common."
"Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes?" asked Ron.
"No. That would be too obvious…" muttered Harry absent-mindedly.
Hermione produced her wand then and tapped the parchment. "Dumbledore's Army," she exclaimed with a smug smile. The three Gryffindors watched as the twins' previous comment faded, replaced slowly by new words: 'A fine guess. We have thrown parties with that theme, our dear future sister.'
Ron's ears turned a perfect Weasley red that matched the color on Hermione's cheeks. Harry tried to hide his smirk by pretending to cough, but went unnoticed. Hermione tapped the paper once again with her wand.
"Dumbledore's Army Goes On!"
The twins' writing appeared once again, 'Very close, we must say.'
With a triumphant motion, Harry grabbed the paper, tapped it one last time and with an almost happy grin, he stated, 'Dumbledore's Army Reunited.'
Most of Mrs. Weasley's writing started disappearing, leaving seemingly-random letters and words strewn sporadically on the paper.
' Moony will be at Arabella's tomorrow, ten a.m.'
The next morning, before the clock struck 7, the three friends were already up and ready to leave Number Four Privet Drive forever. Harry felt like a bird in a cage, waiting to be set free.
Ron and Hermione were sitting on the additional beds that had been put there for them by Mr. Weasley on their first day in the Muggle house. Ron's father had magically enlarged the room that day. The Order had decided that Harry's safety was a priority, so they had made sure that security was in place, and that Harry's family would behave civilly towards the three teenagers. All in all, it was a gratifying thing to see Uncle Vernon and Mad-Eye Moody's second encounter. The couple watched their best friend pace up and down, across the room.
Every so often, he stood in front of the window and stared outside, lost in thought. Sometimes he glanced at his watch or even looked in places he thought he might have forgotten something.
The big hand in Harry's watch moved slowly towards number eight, and when they heard the living room clock striking eight times, they all left the room in search of breakfast. They had heard the whole Dursley family wake up and head down to the kitchen an hour before, but they refrained from joining them downstairs until they knew it was safe – meaning, until Vernon Dursley had left for work.
Pushing the kitchen door open, though, Harry was welcomed by an unpleasant surprise. Uncle Vernon was still at home, looking happy as ever with Dudley on his left – who was wolfing down his eggs – and Aunt Petunia on his right – sipping her tea primly.
Harry stopped, causing Ron and Hermione to bump on his back, but then finding his good mood once again, he took a seat next to his cousin with Ron and Hermione following his lead. For a long time, none of the Dursleys spoke beyond requests to pass plates, or – to Harry's great surprise – polite questions asked by Aunt Petunia.
"It's a wonderful day today, isn't it?" asked Uncle Vernon suddenly, making Ron choke on his toast. Hermione looked outside; the street was deserted due to the abnormally hot sun.
"Um…Yes, Mr. Dursley. It is," answered Hermione, not wanting to contradict Harry's uncle on their last day there.
Harry, who had until that moment been silent and indifferent towards his relatives, surprised everyone. "We'll be leaving today. For good," he stated and while Uncle Vernon beamed, Petunia lowered her eyes to her cup of tea. Harry watched her persistently.
"Have you packed?" asked Petunia indifferently, still not meeting Harry's eyes.
"Of course they've packed, haven't you, boy? I hope you didn't take any of our belongings…" Vernon interrupted Harry's reply, losing his smile and suddenly adopting his usual dismayed, suspicious expression towards Harry and his friends.
"Should we search their trunks?" asked Dudley, surfacing for the first time from his eggs.
Ron, his ears turning red, and Hermione made to protest. Harry shook his head, resigned, when unexpectedly a reply came to Dudley's offensive question.
"No, we will not," stated Aunt Petunia. For the first time, she raised her head and met Harry's eyes. At that moment, Harry noticed for the second time in his life that Petunia Dursley was Lily Evans' sister. It did not last long though, for the next moment Aunt Petunia had turned to her husband and reasoned with him. He was looking at her oddly. "I don't want to touch any of those weird objects they have in their bags."
"Yes, of course, m'dear," muttered Vernon and returned to his newspaper, making an unsuccessful attempt to hide behind it.
Harry continued looking at his aunt until she gathered the plates. She worked, acting as if Harry and his friends weren't in the room. Harry only stopped watching her when Ron nudged him to get up and return to their room again. Before they could climb the first step, the front door banged open, then closed right away, as if pushed by strong wind.
The three of them froze and took out their wands, immediately looking around for signs of someone entering unseen. After a few seconds of tense silence, Harry stepped forward in the hall. He moved with his hands stretched in front of him, feeling the air around the room. After motioning to Ron that he should stay where he was, Hermione imitated him. After a few minutes of searching like that, a loud roar from the kitchen startled them.
"Put those things away," roared Uncle Vernon. Before his face became a full, rich shade of magenta, a rustle of fabric sounded in the silent hall. Uncle Vernon paled. Even before he shouted again, three wands pointed at the intruder. "Haven't I told you people –"
"And haven't we replied, Dursley?" growled Mad-Eye, eyeing the three wands with a distorted smile on his face.
"– would fill several books," stated Mad-Eye, staring unblinkingly at Hermione. She lowered her wand. Though Ron and Harry looked thoughtful, they followed her example.
"I'm guard today so I'll take you to Figgy's. Get your things down. We have to leave in 12 minutes."
Harry followed Ron and Hermione upstairs, leaving his uncle alone with Mad-Eye, the latter having an odd glint in his eyes. They got their trunks and made to return downstairs, but Harry didn't hurry. He stood in the middle of the room and looked around to the walls and the small bed he had slept in for the last time. He felt a strange sort of melancholy grip him, but turned to leave before he could dwell on it much.
After facing the door, he froze. Aunt Petunia was watching him from the door. She glanced for half a second in Harry's eyes, and then turned her gaze to the window, seeing nothing specifically. "Stay safe," she whispered, and disappeared down the hall.
He stayed there, looking where his aunt stood moments ago. Then he shrugged off his thoughts and walked out the door and downstairs. Mad-Eye was pinning Uncle Vernon with his normal eye while the magical one whirled wildly in its socket in search of potential dangers. The old Auror noticed Harry standing now next to his friends, ready to leave. He turned his back to Vernon only to open the front door and peer up and down at the street.
"Let's go," grunted Moody, "Goodbye, Dursley."
Hermione and Ron followed Mad-Eye outside, carrying their bags with them, muttering a half-hearted 'goodbye' and 'thanks'. Harry lingered on the doorstep to savor the moment, that exact moment when he knew a chapter in his life, a very painful chapter, was closing.
"Bye," he said to his uncle who stared at him defiantly, straight in the eyes, smiling. Without waiting for an answer, Harry turned his back and didn't even close the door. He followed his friends, his family, out into the world. He let the happiness of his escape wash over him just long enough. He would have to face so many difficulties soon, but not yet. He turned and smiled brightly at Ron. The latter smiled back, and soon they all found themselves beaming at each other. Even Mad-Eye smiled – a terrifying sight – but it was the first real smile they had shared in weeks.
Little did they know about a shadowy figure under a Disillusionment Charm down the street, watching them and smiling in a way unlike any Weasley.