The trip home from the hospital was carried out in frosty silence, until Harry could keep quiet no longer. 'Is Hedwig okay?'
'How would we know how your dratted owl is?' Uncle Vernon snapped. 'It's your animal to take care of, not ours.'
'I just wondered if you'd left my window open while I've been gone,' Harry said quietly.
'No one's been in your room,' Aunt Petunia squawked, horrified. 'Heaven only knows what we'd find there!' she said, shuddering slightly, as though Harry's room contained a doorway to hell.
Harry relaxed a little at the news; as long as Hedwig had been able to get in and out of his room, she would have been able to find plenty of mice to eat and water to drink. Still, he would feel better once he had seen her for himself.
Things were looking up slightly when they arrived back at Privet Drive; Harry's fear of being put back in the cupboard did not come to pass. Instead Uncle Vernon's downstairs study had been begrudgingly turned into a temporary bedroom of sorts. It seemed as though the threat of Sirius still hung in the air with the Dursleys and they were obviously not about to risk a visit from Harry's enraged godfather, who also happened to be wanted throughout the wizarding world for murder.
After navigating the entrance to the house – with rather more jostling bumps than Harry felt were strictly necessary – Uncle Vernon wheeled him sharply into his new bedroom.
'Thanks,' Harry felt obliged to say and was rewarded with a grunt as his uncle turned straight around and left the room, closing the door firmly behind him.
Once Harry had manoeuvred himself clumsily towards the centre of the study, he had a chance to look around. His aunt and uncle's reluctance to enter his bedroom unfortunately meant none of his belongings had been transferred downstairs. He saw also that a small camp bed had been brought in for him to use, which was rusty and non-too sturdy looking. I'll have to be careful getting in and out of that, he thought, picturing himself trapped on the floor under the mangled wreckage of torn canvas and jagged metal, while the Dursleys circled, laughing cruelly.
Still, all in all, better than he had expected, but certainly not ideal. No belongings meant no Hedwig, and without his school books, he wouldn't be able to do the homework he had been assigned during the holidays, although how he was going to manage that left handed was another problem he had no answer to. Harry edged forward in his wheelchair, testing his weight against the low bed and thinking longingly about how much easier it would all be if underage magic was allowed outside of Hogwarts – a quick summoning spell and all his possessions could be with him in an instant. He pushed the thought aside; he had already been lucky on the two previous occasions the Ministry had found out about magic being performed at Privet Drive and he wasn't about to risk it a third time. In any case, his wand was upstairs with the rest of his stuff so it was pointless even thinking about it.
Harry sighed deeply and eased back into the wheelchair. He was really beginning to feel the effects of the early morning and journey home. What he really wanted to do was climb into a nice soft bed and go back to sleep. Unfortunately the bed was most definitely not going to be comfortable and it was also not going to be easy getting into it either. Anyway, he had no intention of sleeping until he had seen Hedwig and planned on somehow getting upstairs tonight, once the Dursleys were safely in bed and unable to mock his struggles, or even prevent him from trying.
The next few hours passed slowly and his only interruption was when Aunt Petunia called him to dinner. Harry ate his evening meal awkwardly with his left hand, while Dudley smirked maliciously at him. He was incredibly tired by now and was having great difficulty keeping his eyes open. Not only that, he was already missing the hustle and bustle of the hospital ward and most especially all the mothering and attention Lois had given him. He couldn't help but think that the rest of the holidays were going to be very grim indeed in comparison.
Despite his glum mood, he must have dozed off in his wheelchair as soon as he reached his room, because he woke with a start some hours later, shivering in the cold night air. Squinting at his watch he was relieved to see it was almost one o'clock in the morning; the Dursleys would surely be asleep by now, meaning he could head upstairs undisturbed.
Opening the study door carefully, Harry wheeled himself silently to the bottom of the stairs and weighed up his options. After some deliberation, he realised the only way this was going to work, was for him to actually sit on the stairs and make his way up them backwards. Decision finally made, Harry manoeuvred himself out of the wheelchair and with much quiet huffing and puffing, began his ascent. By the fourth stair up he was sweating alarmingly and his left arm and right leg were shaking with the effort involved. With the grim determination that had got him through more than one of Wood's endless Quidditch training sessions, he ignored the pain coursing through him, and continued working his way slowly upwards. The worrying thought briefly occurred to him that once he reached the top, he doubted he'd have the energy to get back down again. He pushed the unpleasant image of waking his aunt and uncle to ask for help aside and concentrated on the staircase once more.
Finally, and taking far longer than he had thought it would, he was there. After resting for a minute to catch his breath, he shuffled his way across the landing towards his bedroom. From his sitting position on the floor outside his door, Harry watched, horrified, as the door handle his fingers had been inches from reaching was suddenly wrenched open from the inside, and a large robed figure appeared from within, towering ominously above him.
'Potter,' came a very familiar and very unwelcome voice through the gloom, 'what do you think you are doing?'
'Professor Snape?' Harry gasped, shocked, his mind frozen at this unlikely appearance. 'What are you doing in my room?' he asked stupidly.
'The more relevant question Mr Potter, is why are you not in your room,' Snape answered coldly. With an impatient flick of his wand he muttered, 'Lumos' and a soft glow lit the darkened hallway. 'What on earth…?' he said loudly on seeing Harry's battered appearance for the first time, and then everything happened at once. Dudley's door creaked open and he peered sleepily out into the hallway, only to be met by the horrifying spectacle of a grim-faced Snape, glowing wand held aloft, looming over an apparently collapsed Harry. Dudley's terrified screech and slamming of his bedroom door brought Vernon Dursley shooting from his own room, hurriedly tying a robe around his large waist and brandishing what appeared to be one of Aunt Petunia's high-heeled shoes.
'You!' he shouted furiously, spotting Harry, and completely missing Snape's dark figure in his rage. 'What have you been doing now!'
'That is precisely what I would like to know,' said Snape, his voice quiet, but ominous. The effect on Uncle Vernon was immediate. He froze in position, the shoe still held threateningly in front of him like a weapon, while his face drained of colour and his whole body trembled.
'What has happened to the boy?' Snape asked in what Harry recognized to be his most intimidating voice, although why he would care enough to even ask, was a mystery to him. Perhaps Snape objected to the possibility of anyone but him inflicting harm on Harry, or at the very least at missing out on seeing it happen.
Harry turned his attention back to Uncle Vernon and realised that Snape's cold voice and unwavering stare had somehow had a more terrifying effect on his uncle than even Hagrid had managed when he had given Dudley a tail. His uncle opened his mouth apparently intending to give the angry wizard an answer, but instead only managed a small mewling noise, like a frightened kitten.
'What was that. Dursley?' Snape asked again, moving menacingly towards Uncle Vernon, who shrank back with a soft whimper.
'Ccc..car,' Uncle Vernon stuttered.
'Speak up, you half-witted Muggle,' Snape hissed, still glaring at the terrified man in front of him.
'Car. Harry. He was hit by a car,' Uncle Vernon finally managed.
'And you didn't see fit to inform Professor Dumbledore of this?' Snape asked dangerously.
'Nnn… no. The letter... the letter said I should tell him about anything unusual. The accident was due to the boy's own stupidity, nothing unusual about that!' Uncle Vernon finished more strongly, back now as he was on the more familiar territory of insulting Harry.
'The letter, Dursley, made it very clear that Professor Dumbledore wanted to hear about any problems Potter ran into. I would say this could be considered a problem,' Snape said, indicating Harry's slumped figure on the floor with a flick of his hand. 'Easy enough to identify and act upon, one would think, yet you still failed to accomplish the single basic task you had been entrusted with.'
'I'm not sending up bloody smoke signals in my back garden because Harry hasn't got enough sense to look left and right when he crosses the road! What would the neighbours think!' Uncle Vernon cried, incensed at the idea of being even peripherally involved in anything as sordid as magic.
'I believe you were sent a piece of charmed notepaper that you simply had to write on and then set fire to in order to pass any information on to the Headmaster, hardly smoke signals.'
Correctly realising the danger in Snape's seemingly quiet tone, Uncle Vernon backed down swiftly. 'No, no of course not, I... I just didn't think this warranted worrying the fellow. My mistake of course, I see that now,' he muttered ingratiatingly.
'Be that as it may,' Snape snapped. 'Why is Mr Potter to be found out of bed, crawling on the ground, with two broken limbs at half past one in the morning, Dursley? Hardly the type of activity any half-way decent guardian would allow to happen surely?'
'I don't know what he's doing here,' Uncle Vernon rushed to say. 'I haven't seen the boy since after dinner - he went straight to bed in the room we made up for him downstairs. Heaven only knows what he gets up to when we're asleep,' he continued, suddenly looking extremely worried by that thought.
'You mean you haven't seen Mr Potter, since you assisted him with his preparations for bed?'
'Well, no,' Uncle Vernon said cautiously, sensing a trap. 'He's not a child after all. Perfectly capable of getting himself off to bed by himself, I'm sure.'
'And I am equally sure,' Snape said in an icy voice, 'that even a worm like you must realise that would be nigh on impossible given his current condition.' He turned suddenly from Mr Dursley's panicking agreement and fixed Harry with an evil stare. 'Well, Potter, perhaps you can enlighten me, why are you roaming the halls in the middle of the night?'
'Erm well, you see, I just got discharged from hospital today,' Harry said and watched as Snape's mouth tightened further if that was possible. 'And I've been worried about Hedwig while I was away, so I wanted to come up and see if she was okay.'
'I see,' was Snape's only comment.
Harry was beginning to ache uncomfortably from his long trek up the stairs and his awkward position on the floor, which Snape seemed to realise at the same moment as he did.
'I suppose as you have made it this far Mr Potter, you may as well finish the journey,' he said, pushing open Harry's door fully to reveal Hedwig perched inside her cage. When she saw Harry she swooped across the room down onto his shoulder and nipped his ear affectionately. Uncle Vernon made a horrified sound and backed away from the large owl hurriedly. 'Well Dursley,' Snape barked turning back towards the large man again. 'As you so far appear to have been no help whatsoever to your nephew, I am extremely doubtful that you are about to astound us all at this late stage. You may go back to bed, I will deal with this.'
Uncle Vernon looked torn between ordering this bullying stranger out of his home, or disappearing to the safety of his bedroom. He chose the latter and seconds later his muffled voice could be heard answering Aunt Petunia's panicked questions.
Snape looked over at an ashen-faced Harry, who had by now dragged himself over to lean heavily against the doorframe of his bedroom, absently stroking Hedwig who had settled on his lap.
'Where are you planning to sleep tonight, Mr Potter?' he asked sarcastically, his left eyebrow raised in haughty enquiry. 'Is this room suitable, or will you be crawling around the house until you find something more to your liking?'
'No, this is fine,' Harry replied, too tired to even be annoyed at Snape's constant mockery.
With a few muttered words Harry felt himself floating off the ground and over on to his bed. 'You never said,' Harry mumbled, already half-asleep. 'What are you doing here? And what letter did Professor Dumbledore send to Uncle Vernon?'
'It will wait till morning Potter,' Snape said impatiently and with another quiet spell, Harry's shoes and glasses had been removed and the bed covers drawn over him.
'All right.' Harry managed through a yawn and was asleep practically before the words had left his mouth, missing the almost-concerned look Snape spared his pale face and heavy eyes -- a sight which, to Harry, would have been the most surprising thing that had happened all evening.