Author's Note: This is for Shane who has waited patiently for a follow up story to Red is the Heart since September! I hope this story will round out the ending a bit more for all of you who felt the scene at King's Cross Station was just too abrupt.
"I love you, D."
"I love you more, sweetums."
Harry couldn't believe it. Dudley and his skinny, blonde girlfriend, Deirdre, were starting their snogging session at ten in the morning. Ever since he had returned to Privet Drive, he had been subjected to this nauseating sight. The settee in the sitting room was their usual spot, but when Aunt Petunia took to Hoovering the carpet right under their feet, they usually retreated to the back garden.
Once, Harry wandered upstairs, only to rapidly descend again – the sounds of moaning echoing in his ears. He turned the radio up as loud as it would go to try to cast that sound out of his ears. Since Aunt Petunia rarely left the house these days, big D and little D didn't have much of chance for that activity.
He sighed and opened the front door to check if the grass was dry enough to cut. He didn't have a job this summer since the Dursleys knew he would be leaving for good on his seventeenth birthday. That was only a day away. He couldn't believe it really – tomorrow he would be of age and leaving this place forever. And tomorrow it would be one year to the day that Ginny had surprised him on his birthday and had stayed to help him wallpaper.
He smiled, just thinking of her. The last thing she had said to him at King's Cross Station was, "I love you." Perhaps that's why it rankled to hear Dudley and his snogging mate bandying it about like it meant nothing. Could they possible know what love meant?
The slurping sounds of wet kissing cut through his thoughts. Honestly. Then he grinned, knowing he had just channeled Hermione.
"Harry, come into the kitchen," Aunt Petunia called.
Shutting the front door, he hoped Aunt Petunia didn't have any more chores planned for him today. He had a lot of packing to do.
Aunt Petunia was seated at the kitchen table with a roll of parchment in front of her. "You're inheriting something at a bank tomorrow," she announced.
Harry quickly scooped up the letter and noticed that it was addressed to him. "You read my mail," he said, trying to keep his temper under control. He was also trying to hide his confusion. He already had his inheritance – it was in vault number six hundred and eighty-seven at Gringotts, and he had been dipping into it for the past six years to pay for his schooling.
"I'll read anything I want in this house," Aunt Petunia retorted, her nostrils flaring. "Tell me," she said, half-standing over the table to bring her face inches from Harry's. "Tell me where this money is."
He couldn't believe it. Well, he could believe it. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon loved money and would be willing to overlook any taint of magic if it came in the form of gold and silver. He glanced at the letter again. "It just says here that I am to report to Gringotts on July thirty-first to sign the papers confirming my inheritance." He stared stonily at his aunt's flushed face. "Inheritance doesn't mean money. It could mean land or a house…"
He rather thought it was just land, since Hagrid had said his parents' house in Godric's Hollow had been flattened by Voldemort's curse.
"You are to give it to us," Aunt Petunia demanded. "It's a small recompense for the amount of money and trouble you've caused us in the past sixteen years."
Harry's eyes narrowed. "I think twenty pounds ought to cover it."
She sat down with a thump and crossed her arms over her chest. "I can't believe your ingratitude!" A sly look crossed her face. "Give it to us and we'll sell it and split the proceeds. Why would a teenager want a piece of rubbish land anyway? "
He didn't know the answer to that either – except that whatever it was, it was his and had been his parents' before that. Those two facts made it valuable. "Even if I did sign it over to you," he began, in what he hoped was a reasonable tone of voice, "wizard land and houses come with charms that make them Unplottable. A Muggle like you would never find it to begin with."
Aunt Petunia closed her eyes at hearing the details of magic. Suddenly she looked old and defeated. There was no way she could force Harry to hand over his inheritance and they both knew it.
"Tomorrow can't come soon enough," she said fiercely, standing so quickly the chair almost tipped over.
As the sound of her heels clicked over the linoleum and then up the stairs, Harry folded his letter from Gringotts and thought that, for once, he and Aunt Petunia were in perfect accord.
"Out in the street tomorrow, are you?" Dudley sneered from the doorway of Harry's bedroom. His trunk was open and all his belongings were strewn about. There didn't seem to be a way to pack everything into the trunk without magic. And he didn't want to violate the underage magic restrictions with – he looked at his watch – two hours to go until he turned seventeen.
"That's right," he said, not bothering to look up.
"I'm sure you can get a job with the circus. They're always looking for freaks," Dudley continued.
Harry wondered how long it had taken for Dudley to work out that line. He continued to sort things, discarding a pile of school robes that were too short for him.
Dudley was still standing in the doorway, which was odd. Usually Dudley liked to deliver his insult and then move on.
Harry looked up. Dudley was wearing a frown. "What are you going to do after that school of yours?" He shifted uncomfortably, like he was saying a rude word, "I mean – what do – er – wizards do for a living?"
"I'm going to be an Auror."
Dudley face cleared as if he were grateful that Harry said something incomprehensible. "What's that?" he asked in a condescending tone.
"It's like Scotland Yard," Harry answered briefly. Let Dudley think like he wanted.
Dudley had no answer to that. His small eyes fell on Harry's bed and the photos scattered there. "Hello, who is this?" He snatched up the Chocolate Frog photo of Ginny before Harry could reach him. It was the picture of her smiling at the viewer with the wind in her hair. "Nice," Dudley said appraisingly, "but she's no page three girl."
"Shut up!" Harry said, pointing his wand at his cousin. If he was going to break the underage restriction, defending Ginny from Dudley's insinuations was worth it.
Dudley eyed the wand and flicked the card back onto the bed. "Sorry, didn't realize she was one of your paper girlfriends."
"Out," Harry said, never lowering his wand.
"Good luck with the freaks. Just remember you're not welcome back here – we want no more ties to your world."
"You know what, Dudley? Don't think you're so safe. Your own child could turn up magical. What would you do then?"
Dudley blanched. It had obviously never occurred to him that magic – or some sort of freakish gene – did run in his family. "I –"
Harry had a good idea that Dudley never saw the correlation between his activities with Deirdre and children, either.
"No one would ever know," Dudley blurted.
Harry thought of the thousands of letters from Hogwarts pouring into the house the summer of his first year.
"Wizards always know," Harry said with a triumphant grin.
At five after midnight, Harry used magic to pack his trunk. He waited the extra minutes because he wanted to be sure that it was well into his birthday before he used magic. Watching his things fly neatly into the trunk was as satisfying as catching the Snitch. He had done it – he had survived the Dursleys.
There was a sharp rap at the window. Hedwig hooted softly at the disembodied hand tapping on the glass. Harry looked out to see that the all the streetlights were dim. Straining to see past the hand, Harry made out a large, dark shape that could only be…
"Hagrid," he breathed.
He Apparated to Hagrid's side and was astonished to see Professor Dumbledore and – of all people – Professor McGonagall.
"'appy Birthday, Harry," Hagrid said immediately. "Seems jus' like yesterday when I was deliver'n your Hogwarts letter to that ruddy hut." He sniffed loudly.
"Yes, Happy Birthday, Potter," Professor McGonagall said with a rare smile. "I trust you're glad to be leaving?"
"Wh – yeah." Harry stuttered, raking his hand through his hair. "I'm just surprised to see –"
"We was here the first night – when you was a baby," Hagrid said sentimentally. "Didn't know how it was all goin' to turn out then."
"As you can see, it turned out fine," Professor McGonagall said, unsentimentally. She locked eyes with Harry. "Don't ever forget that you are a survivor."
Harry was so surprised to hear his thoughts spoken aloud by Professor McGonagall that he stood there speechless. He finally nodded a little, wondering why Professor McGonagall had come to Privet Drive sixteen years ago.
Professor Dumbledore then spoke, "I think that Harry should be settled into his new quarters before the night is through." He looked at Harry. "Do you wish to say your good-byes to your aunt and uncle?"
Harry shuffled uncomfortably. "We've already said them."
"Very well. then. We shall Apparate to the entrance of number twelve Grimmauld Place."
Harry looked up at hearing that address.
"I know it will be difficult to enter Sirius's home again, Harry," Dumbledore said kindly. "But I do think you will find it rather changed."
"Why can't I stay at the Burrow?" Disappointment seized him in a way he hadn't expected. He should be grateful that he was leaving Privet Drive permanently, and here he was whining about it.
"Mrs. Weasley would have liked nothing better," Dumbledore said with a twinkle in his eye. "But we feel you are safer at number twelve. Mr. Nott is there, of course."
Harry would have preferred Ron – or Neville, or Seamus, or Dean. But at least he wasn't going to be alone. Knowing he had no choice, he nodded.
"We'll take care of your trunk and your owl, Harry," Hagrid said.
The first thing Harry noticed when they entered Grimmauld Place was the strong scent of paint and what smelled suspiciously like wallpaper paste. Sure enough, the walls of the entrance hall were painted a soft spring green, and the threadbare carpet had been pulled up to reveal shiny wood floors.
"Who's been decorating?" Harry asked, thinking that he never would have recognized the place except for the serpent door handles, which were now polished to a bright sheen.