[The disclaimer may be found at the start of the story, before the Prologue. It still applies.]
The evening of July 30th found Harry Potter lying on his bed in the Dursley house in Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey, contemplating the future. He was fairly certain that this would be the last summer he would ever spend here, but why and what that meant was a question that haunted him.
In a few hours, he would turn seventeen. He would be a legal adult in the wizarding world, no longer bound by the restrictions that applied to underage magic-users; other restrictions would still apply to him, as they did to all law-abiding wizards, but he would have far greater freedom to use his magical abilities without censure from his peers. There was a downside, too, of course; as an adult, he would have adult responsibilities... and he already had greater responsibilities to cope with than any other wizard or witch in the world, with the possible exception of Professor Dumbledore.
And soon -- in the next year, he was certain -- those responsibilities would come to a head. In just over a month's time, he would start his seventh and final year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the conjunction of that and his adult status could only result in the final battle between himself and the self-styled Lord Voldemort, the most powerful Dark wizard in living memory and one of the most powerful ever.
It was a mystery to Harry why Voldemort hadn't attacked him or Hogwarts in his sixth year there -- or, now that he came to think of it, since... Sirius' death.
He closed his eyes as the familiar pain swept over him. Sirius was gone, and all because of a stupid prophecy that had told no-one anything worth knowing -- not now, not when it had become ever more obvious with every year that he and Voldemort must and would face each other in combat, and that combat could be nothing other than mortal after all the evil the Dark Lord had done and all the suffering he had inflicted on Harry and those close to him -- and the entire wizarding world.
Which thought, though as frustrating and as horrible as ever, brought him back to his earlier question. He knew that Voldemort and his Death Eaters had attacked people and places all over the wizarding world, and that, once Minister Fudge had been forced to admit that the reports of the Dark Lord's return were not the first move in a scare-mongering campaign designed to remove him from office (though, Merlin knew, he deserved to be forced out), the Ministry of Magic and those of other countries had joined with Dumbledore's Order of the Phoenix to defend against the attacks and retaliate as best they could -- but why hadn't Voldemort tried to strike at Harry for over a year now?
It didn't make sense. In Harry's first year, Voldemort had tried to steal the Philosopher's Stone with the aid of Professor Quirrel; in his second year, Lucius Malfoy had planted Tom Riddle's diary in the school, ensnaring Ginny Weasley in a web of malice and violence; in third year, Ron Weasley's pet rat, Scabbers, had been revealed to be Peter Pettigrew, the turncoat ex-Marauder who had betrayed Harry's parents to their murderer; in fourth year, Voldemort had abducted Harry (and Cedric!) from the Tri-Wizard Tournament...
Harry laughed grimly: in his fifth year, the Dark Lord hadn't needed to attack Hogwarts; Fudge's paranoia, and the stupidity and malice of his underlings, had done his work for him until the Death Eaters had invaded the Department of Mysteries of the Ministry of Magic to find that stupid prophecy that had cost Sirius his life...
Harry shook his head angrily in an anguished attempt to keep himself from breaking down. The point was, time and again, the Dark Lord or his minions had infiltrated the school... why not last year? Why had his sixth year been the most peaceful he'd yet known at Hogwarts, while outside the school, the fighting was at its most intense and vicious? And what was going to happen this year, when Harry was finishing his studies and was a legal adult? Surely Voldemort wasn't waiting for him to become a fully qualified wizard? He couldn't be that egotistical, could he -- or was he expecting to crush Harry anyway, so that he could proclaim to the wizarding world that their precious Boy-Who-Lived was dead at his hands, despite being allowed to grow to adulthood and finish his schooling?
Harry had no answers to any of his questions, only a feeling that there had to be answers, a growing conviction that he would find out what they were in the months to come, and an equally strong dread that he wouldn't like them. But all he could do was wait... and on that frustrating thought, Harry drifted off to sleep.
A few minutes past one o'clock in the morning of the 31st July -- local midnight, for Privet Drive was slightly to the west of the Greenwich Meridian, and the measurement of time that was being used took no account of Daylight Saving -- a pale glow appeared in the centre of Harry's bedroom. At first it was simply a ball of soft white light, but its radiance began to intensify and, as that strengthened, it changed shape slightly, from a sphere to an ovoid.
Harry was asleep -- quite deeply asleep, which, for him, might have been thought unusual, but suited the purposes of the intruder. For several minutes, it hung in the air in the centre of the room, motionless and silent -- but unseen by anyone, though its light was now quite blinding.
Shortly thereafter, Harry stirred. He sat up slowly, shielding his eyes from the glare with one hand for a few seconds before groping for his glasses and putting them on. They didn't help much, for there was only the white light and the familiar sights of his room to see, and most of the latter were hidden or washed out to insignificance by the blazing light, but his vision became that little bit sharper... and that was enough for him to make out something at the centre of the brightness.
At first, it was just a black blob more than half-hidden in a sea of white but, as he watched, it took on a more definite shape and the strength of the light seemed to fade to a more tolerable level -- one at which he could see and examine the object in detail, at least. It was... a helmet of some kind, but unlike any that Harry had ever seen: it wasn't the kind of helmet that was part of a suit of armour, though it did have some similarities; nor was it a crash helmet, or a policeman's helmet, or a "hard hat" or any other kind of headgear that he knew of. And yet, it somehow looked... familiar, though why was a mystery.
A vague memory from years ago stirred in Harry's mind. He remembered having the chance to see some kind of guide-book or something from a museum exhibition that his aunt and uncle had taken Dudley to; he'd been sent to Mrs Figg for the day, of course. When the Dursleys had returned, Dudley had sought him out to gloat over all the toys that Aunt Petunia had bought him, but had thrown away the guide-book as "boring." Harry, who suspected that his cousin's disdain for the book had more to do with the fact that Dudley couldn't read very well, had picked it up after his cousin had left the room and hidden it in his cupboard. Then, after doing his chores, he retired to the cupboard to enjoy a quiet read in some welcome privacy.
The book had described the exhibition and its main attractions -- a number of then-new archaeological finds that were supposedly set to revolutionise current understanding of certain periods in history. Harry found it all extremely interesting, and even useful later at Hogwarts when he studied History of Magic and found out what had really happened, but his memory was concentrated on one particular exhibit: a Saxon warrior's helmet found in the north of England that was considered remarkable for its good condition after lying buried for over a thousand years.
It wasn't that the silvery helmet hovering before him looked much like the Saxon one, though it did have a similar shape. The details were different, however: there was no nose-piece, nor any cheek-plates on this helmet -- in fact, it didn't provide much in the way of protection for the face at all -- but it did have two small fins or wings that sat over where the wearer's ears would be, angled forwards and upwards. It also looked to be made in a single piece, with no seams or adornment save for a small golden sunburst that sat in the middle of the "forehead" area.
The room was utterly silent and, for some time, completely still as Harry stared at the glowing helmet. He held out one hand and it noiselessly floated towards him, coming to rest just above, but not on, his palm. He reached for it and it moved away, returning to its original position. Harry frowned, but the helmet remained where it was.
He got out of bed and approached it carefully; whatever this was, it didn't feel like Dark magic was involved, but it seemed to have some kind of guiding intelligence and Harry remembered what Arthur Weasley had said about being wary of something if you couldn't see where it kept its brains. As he stepped softly towards it, the glow intensified slightly and then began to change, growing, stretching and taking on the shape of...
...a man -- or the shining image of one, for Harry could see that it-- he was slightly translucent; only the helmet, which had risen so that the man now appeared to be wearing it, looked solid but, for all his insubstantial appearance, the figure was impressive -- and Harry had the strangest feeling that he knew him, although he was equally certain that he'd never seen him before.
Maybe it was because he was reminiscent of people Harry did know. The man was in his late twenties or early thirties as far as Harry could tell, and was tall, fit and well-built with orange-red hair like that of the Weasleys; indeed, he could have been another of Ron's brothers -- a fraternal twin for Bill, say, but one who combined Ron's height with the solid build of Fred and George.
His eyes were hard to pin down as to their colour; as he watched, Harry thought that they changed from green to blue to even red... but, regardless of their colour, they examined everything that they saw with a searching intensity, probing its deepest extent to find the truth of what it was. The examination was not unfriendly or threatening; it just was, and the recipient knew that he or she had been inspected and assessed, though the results of that evaluation, if any, remained to be revealed. The expression on the rugged face, which was not unhandsome but might, rather, have been called striking, matched the eyes -- calm, dispassionate and firm.
Harry broke eye contact with the man to do his own inspection. As well as the helmet, the visitor was wearing a short-sleeved tunic and matching trousers that seemed to be made from a slightly shiny, dark red fabric -- or was that dragonhide? His belt certainly was, as were his boots, which reached to just below the knee; all were black, with that deep gloss that spoke of the highest quality leather. He had wide, thick, metal bands on his wrists, and over everything was a long, dark cloak that was even harder to make out and describe than his eyes. It hung nearly to the floor in heavy folds and hid what it covered in a disconcerting fashion; its edges were difficult to perceive, even against a contrasting background -- actually, there didn't seem to be much contrast between it and anything it was next to, and Harry found that trying to see it clearly was making his eyes water.
He raised his eyes to meet those of the figure again, and they both stood motionless for some time, saying nothing but communicating in a way which might have been incomprehensible to anyone else. At one point, Harry paled slightly, but nodded after a few seconds and the silent "conversation" continued.
Eventually, the man in the cloak reached up and removed the helmet, holding it out to Harry. Harry swallowed nervously and picked up his wand to quickly cast a Silencing Charm; then, he reached out to accept the helmet, finally touching it. It wasn't heavy, but it felt substantial and yet somehow light, if that made sense -- and, above all, it felt... right. Harry was reminded of the trouble he had had in finding a wand at Ollivander's, six years earlier; the comfortable feeling, the feeling of rightness that he'd had when he'd finally found his wand was very similar to the way the helmet felt. For whatever reason, he and this unusual piece of headgear seemed to be well matched.
He hoped so; what happened next was likely to be painful... Harry raised the helmet to eye level and spent a second or two regarding it before slowly lowering it onto his head.
The watching figure of the cloaked man frowned slightly, the first sign of any emotion that it had shown since appearing. Harry had gone rigid, frozen in the position of donning the helmet... except for his mouth. That was open, and he was silently screaming in apparent agony.
His suffering didn't last long -- though Harry might have disagreed with that statement -- but he gasped and staggered slightly as it ended and he came back to himself. It took him a moment or two to regain both his balance and some form of composure, and in that moment, the helmet slowly faded away. He raised his head to meet the now smiling gaze of the visitor and returned the smile, albeit a somewhat drained, tired one.
The glow about the cloaked figure brightened and he lost the translucency that Harry had seen earlier. In fact, he became completely solid, for the man stepped over to Harry and the two grasped each other's forearms in a firm, comradely grip. The visitor reached up to place his other arm on Harry's shoulder and smiled broadly; Harry nodded in response. The glow intensified even further, becoming brighter and brighter until it was stronger than it had been when Harry awoke and hid both men from view; and then it died, suddenly, revealing Harry Potter standing alone in his unlit bedroom... wearing the garb of the man who'd just vanished.
Harry looked around the room in some perplexity before taking off his glasses and setting them down beside his bed. He cast a second glance around himself, his brows raised in surprise until a half-smile quirked one side of his mouth. He shrugged, and then moved into the nearest corner of the room, where the shadows from the lights of Privet Drive were deepest...
...and the room was empty.
Jan Ffolliot knew she'd been stupid, but she'd had little choice; a broken-down car and a flat battery in her mobile phone had left her with no option but to look for somewhere with a payphone so that she could call the RAC. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any late-night convenience stores or even a petrol station in this village -- but there was the local youth, and five of them had spotted her and were closing in.
They were only teenagers, but they were big; one in particular was a huge, fat lout, the size of a small elephant -- or a large pig, which he even resembled a little. And all of them had lewd grins on their ugly faces and were calling out crude insults as they walked towards-- stalked her. She made to leave, but they were quicker than she was, both physically and on the uptake. Damn these heels, she thought as two of them hurried to cut her off from escape. Now she was in the centre of the pack and they were almost within reach.
Jan recoiled as the big, fat one went to grab her but, before he could actually touch her, a strange, deep, hollow voice called out from down the street:
"GET BACK DURSLEY. LEAV THE WOMAN ALONE."
The pig-like brute whirled around in surprise. "What the hell--?"
"I SAID GET AWAY FROM HER, YOU MORONIC THING. I WON'T WARN YOU AGAIN."
The words were said with such force that Jan shrank away instinctively -- but so did the big, fat boy, and, even in the yellow glow of the street-light, she could see that he'd gone pale, as if in fright. She couldn't imagine what he was frightened of, unless it was something about the odd echo that the voice of the newcomer had... which contrasted vividly with the half-strangled whisper that came from her would-be attacker:
"Potter? Is that you?
There was no answer, which only seemed to make him more nervous; whatever it was that was worrying him didn't seem to have affected the other youths, though, and they were jeering and encouraging the fat one, who must have been their leader, to "get him."
"Go on, Big D. Hammer him!" called one, and the others took up that exhortation and made it into a chant: "Hammer him! Hammer him! Hammer him!"
"Big D" lost his fear, now that he had this support -- or perhaps he was simply more afraid to betray his anxiety about the other man to his followers -- and a loathsome grin spread across his fat face, making him look even more like a pig -- but an angry, evil one.
"Yeah..." he grunted as he stomped heavily towards his intended victim, "Hear that, Potter, you freak? I'm gonna hammer you into the ground, get rid of you for good, like the useless piece of--"
His rant stopped suddenly as a flat, unemotional reply cut through his bluster like a knife: "AS YOU WISH BUT REMEMBER, YOU WERE WARNED."
Jan couldn't see the man with the strange voice, because he was standing in the shadow of a high garden wall, and hadn't moved since he first spoke. "Big D" also moved out of the light of the street-lamp, so she couldn't really see what happened next. She could hear, though, with a clarity that surprised her -- the dull footsteps of the huge gang-leader breaking into a run; his harsh, grunt-like breaths at the extra effort; a few seconds of silence and then a swoosh that sounded like fine silk moving against itself; a sharp crack and a high-pitched scream; the beginning of a moan, cut short by a dull thud and the explosive sound of violently-expelled air; another muffled impact, followed by a cry that was half scream, half moan, and completely anguished; a sound that could only have been flesh striking flesh -- hard -- and a final soft thud as one of the combatants fell to the ground.
The other youths began to cheer, certain that their leader had "hammered" the stupid prat who had tried to tell them what to do, and began to turn their attention back to Jan. She began to tremble, berating herself for not running while they were distracted by the beating of her unfortunate would-be rescuer. The four of them started to close in on her again, their ugly expressions a sure sign of her impending fate...
...until a large, heavy object came sailing out of the darkness to crash into one of them, knocking him to the ground. The other three stared in horrified amazement at the figure of the fat youth, lying on top of their comrade; he was unconscious, curled in around himself as though in great pain, and Jan was fairly sure that his right arm wasn't supposed to bend like that...
That echoing voice spoke again, now with a certain grim amusement colouring its tone:
"SO MUCH FOR ‘BIG D.' NOW, ARE THE REST OF YOU GOING TO GET LOST OR WOULD YOU PREFER THE SAME TREATMENT?"
The three on their feet merely stood and gaped while the fourth one struggled to get out from under the limp, dead weight of "Big D." Once he got to his feet, they appeared to come to a silent agreement and suddenly sprinted towards the voice, bellowing obscenities and wordless screams at the man in the dark.
This time, Jan was alert enough to move, but something kept her from turning and running. She knew that it was the only sensible thing to do, but she somehow couldn't bring herself to abandon the man who was trying to save her, even though she knew nothing about him and, for all she could tell, he could be a greater danger than the four thugs.
She finally summoned the resolve to attempt to escape but, in an irony that later convinced her that something had had it in for her that night, after a few hesitant steps, she stumbled and tripped over her own feet, hitting her head on the trunk of a nearby tree as she fell.
As she lay there, temporarily dazed, the sounds of the fighting behind her grew louder and more distinct -- uncannily so, as they had done earlier, resounding unnaturally clearly. Though her head hurt and she couldn't see straight, the cacophony of shouts, curses, blows, screams and crashes -- and, every so often, that unusual swoosh -- told its own story. To her befuddled mind, this was more frightening than anything that had yet happened, and she was shaking with a sudden surge of terror when the noise of battle suddenly died away and a dreadful silence took its place.
After a few moments, she could hear footsteps slowly approaching her. There was only one set -- but whose? And she couldn't get away -- could barely move -- and they were getting closer and closer...
Whoever it was stopped next to her, and she could barely breathe for panic, though her fear somehow forced enough air from her lungs to whimper, "Don't hurt me..."
"I won't," was the quiet reply -- a normal voice, full of warmth and sympathy, not lewd taunts or echoing challenges, though it was recognisably the same voice that had boomed out warnings and commands earlier. Jan gasped in surprise and relief and nervously opened her eyes, but all she could see was the silhouette of the speaker, who was crouching down next to her. He looked to be wearing some kind of long, flowing coat, because she couldn't make out anything but its outline and that of his head until a hand came out of the darkness of his shape to gently clasp hers.
"How's your head? That was quite a tumble you took," said that same kind voice, and she found, much to her surprise, that she was feeling a little better -- not good by any means, but less frightened and more able to cope; even her head and the few scratches and bruises she had weren't hurting quite so much.
He stood up, not letting her hand go, and firmly but carefully pulled her onto her feet. Once she regained her balance, he released her and stepped back. She still couldn't see him properly, but she was certain that he was looking at her -- and she was right, for he said calmly, "You'll be all right now. The police will be here in a couple of minutes... and these idiots aren't going anywhere."
The last phrase was said with that same overtone of grim humour, and only now did she notice the sprawled, moaning forms lying on the ground, and hear their low groans -- those of them who were making any sort of sound at all. She also saw that there were two broken knives and a bike chain lying on the road next to one or other of the thugs. She stared at the scene before her, bewildered.
"What... what happened to them?"
"I did." And these words definitely were full of an amusement that she didn't understand, except to realise in some unknown fashion that she was invited to share in it as much as she could.
She smiled despite herself; and then, curious, she asked, "One of them... the big one..." She vaguely indicated the unmoving lump that had been the first of her attackers to fall. "He... he seemed to know you... He called you... ‘Potter'?"
"No," her rescuer said flatly -- not unpleasantly, but in such a way that there was no room for argument. "He doesn't know me -- and I don't care to know him." He looked down the street, giving her for the first time a glimpse of his profile; it was unremarkable, except that he had rather messy hair that stuck out in odd directions. She still couldn't see him as anything other than a black shape, though.
"Here come the police. Make sure you press charges -- and don't forget to mention their weapons; I don't want Dursley and his thugs getting off. Oh, and when they ask you who helped you deal with these scum... you can call me Hunter." He turned and strode off, out of the light of the street-lamp.
"Wait!" she called, finally gathering enough nerve to make herself move from where she had stood since he had helped her up and made to follow him, but only for a few steps -- for he was gone.
Astonished, and feeling a cold touch of renewed fear climb her spine, she searched the street and those nearby gardens that she could see into for a glimpse of him, but he had vanished as unexpectedly as he had arrived. A police car pulled up and two uniformed men got out; Jan cast one last confused, nervous glance around herself, but there was no sign of her mysterious saviour and she gave up, stumbling over to meet the approaching police. She hoped they'd believe her when she told them what had happened...
Harry woke for the second time on the morning of his birthday to see bright sunshine streaming through his window. It was a beautiful day, made all the better by his impending departure -- for good! -- from Privet Drive, from Little Whinging and from the Dursleys. In a few short hours, he would be with his friends back in the wizarding world, and it couldn't come soon enough for him. First, though, he was going to enjoy himself a little; he'd been looking forward to this day for a long time...
He climbed out of bed and picked up his glasses; he went to put them on, but stopped halfway and shook his head at his forgetfulness. He put them down again and took out his wand; a quick wave and a muttered Charm and they were altered as he wanted them to be; he put them on, smiling at how much easier his life had become now that he could use his magic legally.
Further examples of that came shortly when he packed his trunk in less than five minutes and Transfigured the revolting cast-off clothes that he was expected to wear into something of considerably better quality -- which wasn't hard -- and which actually fit. Soon, he was attired smartly in a dark green shirt, black trousers and black trainers, and was almost ready to leave. He quickly scribbled notes to Ron and Mr and Mrs Weasley and gave them to Hedwig to take to the Burrow.
"Off you go, girl," he said, carrying her over to the window. "Just think: neither of us will ever have to come back here again -- isn't that great?" The owl seemed to agree and tweaked his ear gently. "You stay at the Burrow unless someone needs you to take a message for them, okay? I'll see you there this afternoon."
Hedwig flew off and Harry watched her until she was a mere speck in the distance. A Shrinking Charm on her cage reduced it to a comfortable size to put in his trunk, and that was that: everything he owned was packed, the room was tidy -- as tidy as it could be with all of Dudley's junk in it, and even that was in a neatish heap over in one corner -- and he was ready to go. Now all he had to do was to take leave of his aunt and uncle; he was sorely tempted to just go and not even leave them so much as a note, but there were one or two things he wanted to say to them -- and besides, he had some news for them... This was going to be fun -- nasty, but fun.
Concealing his wand in his sleeve, he strolled downstairs; as usual, that part of the house was deserted, and he snickered at the thought that it was even more deserted than usual this morning. He began to make a large breakfast -- for one -- and waited for the havoc to start.
It began, as he had expected, when his aunt got up and went to wake her precious Diddums... and he wasn't there. Her shriek was loud enough to shatter the windows -- just not sufficiently pure in tone. Nor were her panicked cries as she ran to tell her husband any more tuneful, but they were music to Harry's ears.
Now he could hear his uncle grumbling about "idle, disrespectful wastrels" and his brows rose in surprise even as he fought to hold in a snicker -- Uncle Vernon calling Dudley idle? Disrespectful? A wastrel? That was one for the books; usually, Harry was the one being accused of all that, generally after he'd spent the entire day working his guts out in the garden while Dudley played video games and stuffed his face. The grumbles died down as Petunia's wails rose, and when they faded into an oddly-pitched sobbing, Vernon's gruff voice could be heard comforting her as they slowly came down the stairs.
"There, there, dear... I'm sure he's all right. He's probably just been having a bit of fun, the way lads do, but we'll ring the police and get them to look for him. They'll find him..."
"They already have," Harry said quietly as his aunt and uncle came into the kitchen, a small smile showing his enjoyment of the bombshell he was dropping.
"What?" his uncle roared. "What are you talking about, boy? Stop jabbering and get your aunt a cup of tea. Your cousin's gone missing and she's worried about him!"
Harry made no move to get up, concentrating instead on finishing his breakfast. "He's not missing," he said between mouthfuls. "And the police know where Dudley is. I don't think they know who he is yet, which is why they haven't come to tell you about him, but he should wake up soon, or one of his mates will grass on him, so they should be along some time today."
Vernon's face began to take on a familiar scarlet hue and he was about to launch into a tirade, but Petunia beat him to it.
"Wake up?" she half-screamed. "Police? What's happened to my poor boy? Is he all right? Has he been hurt? Is he-- is he...?" She broke down into huge, heaving sobs at the awful possibility of Dudley being injured or worse and her husband hastened to comfort her, murmuring meaningless platitudes while glaring at Harry.
Little does she know, Harry thought to himself, shaking his head slightly at yet another demonstration of his aunt's boundless adoration of her brainless offspring. Still, considering what his mother had done for him, he could only attribute it to a strong maternal streak in the Evans sisters; it was a shame that, in Petunia's case, it had confined itself solely to her own whale-- er, boy, and not been able to overcome her distaste for her "unnatural" sister and nephew.
"Answer her, boy!" yelled Vernon in a fury. "What's happened to my son? And where did you get those clothes? If you've been dragging our family name through the mud by stealing as well as with your unnatural--"
Harry laughed bitterly; he hadn't intended to, but his uncle's accusation of theft was just the last straw. For nearly sixteen years, he'd had to put up with that sort of treatment, but now he didn't, and the worm was about to turn.
"These clothes are the same filthy, worn-out, ill-fitting cast-offs from that tub of lard you call a son that you threw at me two years ago," he said, standing up and pushing his chair back but making no further move. "I've just changed them into something fit to wear. It's called Transfiguration, and I've got quite good at it after studying it for six years."
Vernon went purple, began to sputter his usual diatribe about "unnatural" acts in his house, and lunged at Harry -- who was ready for him. He took a single step backwards out of reach and slid his wand out of his sleeve; then, a quick Full-Body Bind and a Silencing Charm sent his uncle crashing to the floor like the proverbial pole-axed ox -- but quietly. Petunia was equally silent and stared at Harry with wide, frightened eyes, her tears and fears for Dudley temporarily forgotten in her terror.
"You should have remembered what day it is," Harry said, smiling sardonically, "but I suppose that it wouldn't have meant anything to you unless you knew that a wizard is no longer considered under age when he turns seventeen. That's right, the restrictions on underage magic, which are the only things that have kept me from making your life hell, the way you have for me ever since my parents were murdered--" He emphasised the word "murdered" because the Dursleys had lied to him, and to everyone else, about his parents' deaths, slandering them with implications of drunk driving or worse. He also knew that he could never have treated them the way that they had him, but they would automatically believe the worst of him anyway, so he found it hard not to want to scare them just a little before leaving them behind forever.
"Those restrictions don't apply to me any more," he said lightly, his smile now thin and malicious -- or so he was sure the Dursleys would think. "I can use magic for just about anything now... legally." As if to illustrate this, he flicked his wand at his used plate and cutlery and muttered a Banishing Charm, sending them floating into the kitchen sink. Petunia gave a small scream behind the handkerchief that she had half-stuffed into her mouth in fear, and scrambled over to her husband, who could only glare helplessly at Harry.
"Oh, but you needn't worry too much. You're not worth the effort or the prison sentence that I'd get if I did what I always told myself I would do once I left here for good -- blow up your precious house..."
Petunia squeaked again and Vernon would have cowered if he could have.
"When I leave this... hell-hole in a few minutes," Harry went on, "I don't expect to see either of you, or that imbecile Dudley, ever again." Vernon recovered enough from his fright to attempt to bluster at the insult to his home and son, even though no-one could hear him, but he quickly gave up on receiving a glare from Harry, who snapped, in a voice as cold as ice, "Pray to whatever small-minded, bigoted god you believe in that I don't!
"Aunt Petunia, because you kept your bargain and didn't abandon me -- though, if it hadn't been for the threat of Voldemort, I might have preferred life on the streets to being your slave and scapegoat -- your family will stay hidden and protected, as you were promised. And I will do my best to forget that you all exist, though you can tell Dudley that if he keeps up his hobbies of assault and rape, he'd better watch his back! I'll also ignore the treatment I've received from you over the years -- the beatings, the bullying, being told every single day how I was a worthless, unnatural freak while that great fat slob Dudley was treated like royalty... not to mention the slurs you and your relatives cast on my parents. But when next I see you -- any of you -- I'll deal with you as you deserve! Be warned..."
Both Dursleys' eyes had widened in horror when Harry mentioned Dudley's "hobbies", and Harry noticed this.
"Yes, that's right," he assured them, "Your precious Dudley is under arrest, though he'll have to get out of hospital before he can stand trial for common assault and indecent assault."
Petunia fainted. Vernon simply stared; there was nothing else he could do.
"You see, last night," Harry said after a moment, his tone bitingly sarcastic, "your darling boy and four of his equally thick friends thought they'd have a ‘bit of fun' -- you know, ‘the way lads do' -- with a young woman whose car had broken down. Unfortunately for them, she wasn't alone, and I'm afraid they took a bit of a beating when they attacked the man with her -- all five of them. He must have been ex-SAS or something..." Or something...
"Dudley was knocked unconscious and has a broken arm, but he should recover--" And if he's really lucky, and the rest of us aren't, he may even still be able to breed, Harry thought, suppressing a snicker. "--and I read somewhere -- maybe it was in one of those Juvenile Detention Centre pamphlets you used to threaten me with -- that prison hospitals have quite good medical care... but I wouldn't count on him coming home for some time.
"Oh, and if you're wondering how I know all this..." Harry twirled his wand in his fingers. "...let's just say that I've learned a trick or two."
Vernon was now utterly white, though whether with shock or rage, Harry didn't care to notice. Stepping over to the stairwell, Harry waved his wand and called out, "Locomotor trunk!" His trunk came floating down the stairs and into the kitchen, and Harry took care to have it pass over the immobile figure of his uncle, who looked at the heavy luggage floating above him in mixed fear and rage.
"Goodbye, Uncle Vernon," Harry told him quietly as he sent the trunk through the living room and into the hall. "Your unnatural nephew is leaving, and won't be coming back. I'm off to finish my education and become a fully-qualified wizard, and then... I'm not sure what I'll do. I might become an Auror (that's a magical policeman), or I might play Quidditch professionally; there's a lot of money in that sport -- I could earn almost as much as a Muggle football player. Or I might just live for a year or two on my large inheritance while I make up my mind..."
Vernon's eyes bulged.
"Oh, didn't you know?" Harry said sweetly, "My father was quite wealthy -- but, of course, his money would have been ‘unnatural', too, so I suppose you wouldn't have been interested. Too bad -- for you."
That was too much for Vernon; either from the effect of one unpleasant surprise too many or in an attack of apoplexy, his eyes rolled up into his skull and he joined his wife in unconsciousness. Harry looked down at the pair of them, half a dozen ways that he could humiliate them running through his mind but, in the end, he decided that such a petty revenge would be just that -- petty -- and he didn't want to descend to their level. He couldn't repress a chuckle, though, at the thought of liberally dousing both of them with his uncle's treasured single malt whiskey, then calling an ambulance on the pretext that they'd done something "rash" when they heard the news of Dudley's disgrace. That would really get the Dursleys where it hurt, for how could they ever hold up their heads amongst their precious neighbours after news went around of their failed "suicide pact?"
Grinning, Harry shut the door of number 4, Privet Drive, behind him for the last time, muttered, "Finite Incantatem," to release his uncle from the hexes he'd put on him, picked up his trunk and walked away from the house and family that he'd come to loathe so deeply, feeling more content with life than he had for years.