I'm leaving ground, stepping into a new world I'm leaving ground, stepping into a new world Now I'm leaving home, leaving everything I step into this new world leaving everything (VNV Nation)
It was ten o'clock at night before Harry's escort party showed up. He was sitting in the living room with all of his things packed, and his trunk next to him. Uncle Vernon was sitting in his favorite chair, dressed in his best suit, which Harry recognized as the same ineffective intimidation technique his uncle had tried with Mr. Weasley two years before. Aunt Petunia was pacing the kitchen nervously, no doubt horrified at the prospect of having a large group of 'Harry's type' of people show up at her house.
Yet the early evening came and went without so much as an owl from Dumbledore or the Weasleys, and Harry was starting to worry. He could read the gloat that had begun to appear on Uncle Vernon's face easily enough, even if Uncle Vernon was too scared to say anything aloud.
Harry was just about to send Hedwig out with a frantic letter to the Weasleys when the clock struck ten and a knock came at the front door. He leapt to his feet as Uncle Vernon slowly stood up and Aunt Petunia came in from the kitchen to stand nervously behind him.
Harry opened the door to the smiling faces of Arthur, Bill, Fred, and George Weasley, and Fleur Delacour.
"Hiya, Harry!" said Fred. "We figured we'd give you an official Weasley escort, minus four."
Bill threw his brother an indignant look. "What about Fleur?"
"Well, she's not officially Weasley yet, but I reckon you'll be changing that soon enough," George chimed in, causingBill's face to turn red and Fleur to smile.
Her smile vanished as she turned back to Harry, a look of concern on her face. "How are you doing?" she asked in English that had definitely improved since they'd last spoken.
Harry gave her a brave smile and tried not to let the pain show in his eyes. "I reckon I'm a little better, thank you. I see you've achieved your goal of improving your English."
"Yes, well, Bill has been a wonderful teacher," Fleur said with a wink. Bill gave Harry a roguish grin.
"Would you like to come in for a moment? I've got my things packed, but I don't think my aunt and uncle will be happy with us chatting on the door step," said Harry.
"They just might have something else to be unhappy about in a few minutes," said Fred in a whisper as they stepped into the front hall.
Harry raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
They walked into the living room, where Uncle Vernon was still standing apprehensively with a nervous-lookingAunt Petunia behind him. Dudley was nowhere in sight. Upon seeing that Mad-Eye Moody wasn't part of this particular group of 'weirdoes', Uncle Vernonseemed to relax a little.
"Hurry up, boy. You, er, don't want to keep your friends waiting, do you?" snapped Uncle Vernon.
Mr. Weasley once again seemed intent on getting Uncle Vernon to be polite to Harry. "Your nephew is going to be leaving for a very long time. I think you owe him a goodbye."
"Yeah," put in George. "And perhaps a 'thank you for putting up with us all these years'?"
Vernon Dursley's skin turned a brilliant shade of purple. "Don't you tell me how to behave in my own house!" he said, poking a meaty finger into George's chest. George looked down at Uncle Vernon's hand. Harry half expected him to haul off and punch his uncle, but instead George smirked and shared a conspiratorial grin with Fred.
"Really now," said Mr. Weasley, and Harry could tell he was a little angry himself. "George may have a bit of an impulse problem but that's no reason to go getting all huffy. And you still haven't said 'goodbye' to Harry."
Harry smirked. "Honestly, Uncle Vernon, you've been wanting to say these words ever since I showed up on your doorstep as a baby."
Uncle Vernon was shaking with rage. "Why you ungrateful little-!" he started.
Fleur stepped forward and fixed Uncle Vernon with her iciest stare, which, combined with the angry glares of all of the assembled Weasleys, made him rethink finishing his sentence.
"I do not see 'ow you think you deserve 'Arry's thanks," said Fleur, her accent much more pronounced in her anger. "If 'e should be grateful of anything, it is that 'e 'as such amazing character after being reared by…" She threw Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia a haughty look and finished her sentence in French.
Uncle Vernon made a sound between a choke and a laugh, and Fleur's wand was out in a second. "'Arry saved my sister's life," she said in a dark, frightening tone that Harry had never heard her use before. "You will not insult 'im in my presence," she finished.
Harry couldn't help but grin. The statement about saving Fleur's sister's life wasn't exactly true; he'd only brought her to the surface of the lake along with Ron in the Second Task of the Triwizard Tournament, when Fleur herself had run into trouble with Grindylows. But to hear such strong words of support from a person who once regarded him as a 'little boy' meant a lot.
Uncle Vernon stood stockstill in the face of the Frenchwoman's fury. His face was now a peculiar mixture of purple and cream, looking rather like the bottom of a container of yogurt and fruit.
Mr. Weasley opened his mouth once more, perhaps to insist that Uncle Vernon bid Harry farewell, but Fleur stopped him.
"Meester Weeslay, if this peeg opens 'is mouth again, he weel regret it."
"Maybe we'd best be on our way," said Mr. Weasley, stepping reluctantly between Fleur and the terrified Dursleys. Fleur lowered her wand and slipped it back with in her robes.
Bill pointed his wand at Harry's trunk and intoned "Locomotor trunk." Both Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia shut their eyes tightly as Harry's trunk moved towards the door at Bill's command. Fred and George exchanged amused expressions with each other, Fleur raised an eyebrow, and Mr. Weasley gave the Dursleys a puzzled expression, as if he weren't sure whether or not they were completely sane.
Harry, who was used to his aunt and uncle's fear of anything not of a mundane nature, simply picked up his broomstick and Hedwig's cage, and said, "Well, shall we go then?"
Mr. Weasley nodded, throwing the Dursleys one last worried look before joining Harry at the door.
Bill, Fleur, Fred, and George were already on the Dursleys' porch. They had apparently lined their broomsticks up against the wall.
Harry allowed himself another grin at what Aunt Petunia would think of such a thing. Bill's broom had a harness (like Tonks had had the summer before) with which to carry Harry's trunk and Hedwig's cage.
"Well," said Mr. Weasley. "I'm glad that's over with." Fred and George couldn't hold back a quick snicker, which Mr. Weasley caught. He turned, looking at them sternly. "Boys, what have you done?"
Fred and George put on their best 'innocent' expressions. "Us? Honestly, dad, we didn't do a thing," said George.
Mr. Weasley's expression looked doubtful. All of a sudden Vernon Dursley's frustrated yell could be heard from within the house.
"Boys! Out with it, now!" said Mr. Weasley angrily.
Fred grinned. "Oh, that? We put a little delayed-release itching powder on the outside of our robes. Is it our fault Harry's git of an uncle poked George in the stomach?"
To Harry's surprise, Mr. Weasley actually grinned. "No, I suppose not. Well, let's go around back then. The others are waiting."
"What others?" asked Harry.
Mr. Weasley turned to him. "I'm afraid security is just as tight as it was last year. We'll be traveling with a full guard and backup squads waiting at several points. I reckonedthat your aunt and uncle would be a little less shaken up if five wizards showed up at your door than if sixteen did the same."
They walked into the Dursley's back garden, where Kingsley Shacklebolt was standing with a group of men and women Harry had never seen before.
"Hello Harry," said Kingsley with a bow.
Harry returned the bow.
Kingsley gestured towards his ten companions. "Steve Marshall, Pete Nectennis, Alex Stati, Cathbad O'Leary, Deirdre Kinel, Jessica Macmillan, Karl Zorn, Ryan and Yasmeen Ames, and Kim Sinat." Harry nodded towards each of them in turn.
"With the exception of Karl, this was the Rear Guard for last summer's flight," said Yasmeen, a youngish woman whose silky black hair cascaded down her shoulders.
"I spend most of the year at Beauxbatons, but was in the neighborhood this time," explained Karl, a tall, clean-shaven man with short brown hair and striking blue eyes.
"Yes, Professor Zorn is ze Charms instructor there," said Fleur.
"Speaking of which, I've got to Disillusion the lot of you," said Karl, walking amongst the four Weasleys, Fleur, and Harry, and tapping them on the head once each, causing their bodies to take on a chameleon-like appearance.
"Will we be flying straight to Devon?" Harry asked Kingsley doubtfully – he remembered how cold and long the last trip had been, and London was relatively close to Little Whinging, unlike Ottery St.Catchpole.
Kingsley shook his head. "We won't be on brooms the whole way, but more on that later. We'd best get in the air," he said. With that, the lot of them climbed onto their brooms and kicked off fromthe ground.
An hour later, the party of seventeen was still moving just under cloud cover, with no sign of stopping. "We couldn't have just taken a Port Key?" Harry asked the closest person, Bill Weasley, shouting to be heard over the rush of wind.
Bill shook his head. "We don't want You-Know-Who to know that you've left your aunt and uncle's. We don't know who to trust in the Ministry. If word of a known Order member having a Port Key authorized reached the ears of one of You-Know-Who's spies, he might know something is up."
Off on Harry's left, Kingsley appeared to be issuing orders to the guard, using a complex system of hand signals. Karl, Pete, and Yasmeen peeled off from the group and descended. Harry turned to Bill, who motioned for him to stay on course.
"What's going on?" asked Harry.
"They need to make sure the coast is clear for our landing zone. We've a team down there; they'll be sending a signal up, but we didn't want to make it too blatant – we needed to have people descend a bit to see it," Bill said.
"Why not just have all of us go?" said Harry a little indignantly.
"We're not taking any chances on this one, Harry. You-Know-Who has no reason not to move in the open now."
Kingsley called the group to a halt. Harry found that it was twice as cold hovering below the clouds than it was when they were moving.
Everyone was shivering nearly uncontrollably when Yasmeen returned a few minutes later. "All clear!" she shouted.
Kingsley flew over to Harry. "We're over a forest right now; we'll be descending into a small clearing. Pete and Karl are patrolling the treetops, and there is a team on the ground waiting for us. We descend in formation; I'll give you more details on the ground."
Harry nodded. "Okay."
Kingsley moved back into formation and they were in motion once again, following Yasmeen through the sky towards the pitch black of the ground below. Harry could see lights in the distance, but he lost sight of these as they got closer to the ground. A few minutes later they touched down in a moonlit clearing. Mad-Eye Moody, Tonks, Lupin, Mundungus Fletcher, and Dumbledore himself stood there with wands drawn.
"Safe journey, I trust?" Dumbledore asked Kingsley.
Kingsley nodded, rubbing his hands together and blowing on them to get the feeling back.
The aging Headmaster raised his wand and pointed it to his left. Something silver shot from it and moved at high speed into the trees, disappearing from sight. Harry remembered him casting something similar to summon Hagrid during fourth year, when Barty Crouch Senior had turned up on the Hogwarts grounds only to disappear, leaving an unconscious Viktor Krum in his wake.
There came the sound of a pairof heavy booted feet coming from the general direction that Dumbledore had released hissignal. Moody turned and pointed his wand in the direction of the sound, but everyone else seemed confident as to what it was. Hagrid burst into the clearing a few seconds later, loaded crossbow in his hands. Reaching into one of his many pockets, he pulled out a large piece of bloody meat and threw it to the ground. "Thestrals are on their way, Professor. All righ', there, Harry?"
Harry could see the concern on Hagrid's face and immediately felt a pang of guilt for being short- tempered with him when they'd last visited. "Fine, Hagrid. We're going to be traveling by Thestral?"
"Not all of us," growled Moody, who looked a little disgruntled by the fact.
"You will be traveling with the Weasleys and Miss Delacour. Alastor and the Ames' will provide a guard for you until the Thestrals reach top speed, whereupon that will no longer be necessary."
Mad-Eye looked doubtful about this but said nothing.
"Hagrid and I will return presently to Hogwarts," continued Dumbledore "And the remaining members will Apparate to the Burrow and set up a guard there."
At that moment the reptilian, skeletal head of a Thestral appeared, moving through the brush and into the clearing, wings flapping slightly as it bent to tear a hunk of flesh from the meat Hagrid had left on the ground. Presently, five more Thestrals arrived.
"Come on, Potter," growled Mad-Eye. "Let's get a move on."
"Oh…er, right," said Harry, trying to ignore the flashes of memory he got from seeing Thestrals again. He climbed atop the closest beast, then watched Hagrid, Kingsley, and Mr. Weasley help the other four onto the Thestrals, which, Harry was glad to see, were invisible to them. As Mr. Weasley climbed atop the last Thestral, Harry leaned forward and said "the Burrow" into his mount's ear, and they were off.