They stumbled as they appeared in the grubby square that held headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix. The others were all standing near the door; Moody was looking to make sure that everyone had indeed made it.
“Hurry, get in,” he growled, more urgently than Harry had ever heard. The ten of them piled in.
The entrance hall was as dark and dismal as it had been the last time Harry had been there. He looked around despondently. Nothing here seemed to scream out with Sirius’s presence. Before coming, Harry would have thought not having reminders of Sirius would be a relief, but now he was here it bothered him that he didn’t feel more connected with his godfather.
“There.” Moody’s voice cut right through Harry’s thoughts. “We’re all locked up. Now let’s get out of here.”
“Molly’s in the kitchen, no doubt she’s made a feast,” Lupin said, a small smile playing across his face, which still carried a worried expression.
The crowd was so large that Harry, much to his surprise, had momentarily forgotten that the Dursleys were there.
“Where are we?” Aunt Petunia spoke first, staring around with revulsion on her face. Though her reaction was justified (the house was still filthy) Harry was a little annoyed at her for it..
“This is Harry’s house, and headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. The Anti-Voldemort group.” Hermione explained, adding the latter part upon seeing the Dursleys blank expressions. Ron and Charlie shuddered at the name.
“Your house?” Uncle Vernon asked looking around interestedly. “The one your godfather left you?”
Harry nodded glumly.
“It’s horrible,” Uncle Vernon said cheerfully. A gleeful look was spreading across his face. “But what else would you expect from an escaped murdering freak?”
“Excuse me?” asked Charlie fiercely. He was wearing a revolted look similar to Aunt Petunia, but Harry could see his revulsion was for the Dursleys, not the house. “Not a very smart thing to say in a house full of wizards and witches, especially ones that have just saved your sorry asses.”
“Yeah, Charlie, well you should know he’s not that brilliant,” said Ron.
“I think something to eat would be a good idea,” Lupin interrupted loudly. “Let’s go. And remember to be quiet in the hall.”
The group moved to the kitchen, the Dursleys going with not much fuss, much to Harry’s surprise.
Mrs. Weasley was indeed cooking up a feast to feed an army. When the ten people entered she shrieked her delight and ran to give Harry one of her huge bone-crushing hugs.
“Thank goodness you’re all safe,” she said, tears falling freely. “When we heard we were worried that we’d be too late,”
“Heard what exactly?” Harry asked. Now they were safe at Grimmauld Place he wanted to know what was going on. “I thought that the wards Dumbledore –” he stopped again. Even now, saying the name of his former headmaster was a little hard. “I thought that the wards would make Privet Drive safe for at least another month.”
“So Dumbledore – and we – believed,” said Lupin, sitting down at the table and motioning for the others to do the same.
“Well, what changed?” Harry asked. He was sure that Dumbledore hadn’t made a mistake. Although the great wizard had admitted that he was not infallible, he surely would have known if the protection around Little Whinging had some glaring hole in it. But maybe, Harry thought rapidly, Dumbledore had been doing something to the wards when he was alive to keep them up, strengthening them somehow.
“Well, we don’t know anything for certain,” Lupin started. “But it seems that there were a few things that kept the wards up. And there are things that cause their strength to decay.” With this utterance Lupin glanced from Ron and Hermione to the Dursleys. “Dumbledore knew about these of course, but it seems he either miscalculated on the decay, or Voldemort is stronger than we thought.” Again there was a collective shudder at the mention of the Dark Lord’s name. Harry was about to ask what he meant when Lupin continued.
“The wards were set up to work in conjunction with the protection Lily left in you when she died. And they were there until you turned seventeen.”
“Yes, and?” Harry knew all this already. He didn’t want to be bored with repeat explanations.
“Well certain things can cause the protection to weaken. They slowly degrade over time anyway. But having other adult wizards around lessens their strength.” Lupin explained. Harry looked at Ron and Hermione. They were both looking rather ashamed and guilty.
“Harry we’re really sorry. We didn’t know,” Hermione said, near tears.
“Don’t worry,” he told her. Just then something occurred to him. “Is that why he always had Mrs. Figg watching out for me?” Before anyone could answer though he realized something else; two summers ago it hadn’t been only Mrs. Figg watching him. “But after the graveyard . . . ” he trailed off.
“The wards aren’t significantly reduced by having other adult wizards there, which is why we gave the go ahead for Ron and Hermione to come with you. Two summers ago the wards were sufficiently strong enough for several adult wizards or witches to be around you. But now . . . ” Lupin was quiet for a moment before continuing, “if it were just the small weakening because of others we wouldn’t be concerned. But that’s not all. There are other things,” he said, glancing at the Dursleys now. He tried to keep his face impassive but a small frown crossed it.
“What?” Harry asked. This had something to do with his Aunt and Uncle? They weren’t magical, how could anything they do affect magical barriers around Privet Drive?
“Well . . . ” Lupin seemed to be choosing his words very carefully. “The wards are strengthened by love. That is, familial love,” he paused. Every set of eyes in the kitchen now turned on the Dursleys. Harry was sure he knew what was coming next. “While Petunia accepting you allowed the wards to work, the less than loving feelings they had for you didn’t allow the protection to be as strong as it should have been. And as these feelings increased in their negativity that further decreased the protection surrounding Privet Drive,” Lupin finished quietly.
“That’s why You-Know-Who was able to force his way into Privet Drive tonight.” Tonks said.
“Why would Dumbledore not have told me about this when he told me about everything else?’ Harry asked, more to himself than the others.
“Honestly, we don’t know Harry,” Lupin said. “We think he just may not have taken into account the rate at which the wards would decay. Or maybe they felt more animosity towards you than he realized. Or maybe he didn’t count on so many fully qualified wizards entering Privet Drive. Maybe it was a combination of all of these things. We may never –”
“Rubbish,” said Uncle Vernon. “Absolute nonsense. I still agree with Marge. We should have sent you straight to an orphanage. You’ve been more trouble than you’re worth.”
“He probably would have been much happier there too,” Ginny spoke up for the first time, her voice trembling with rage. Harry jumped; he hadn’t realized she was standing beside him. The expression on her face was one of pure hatred.
“Ginny,” Mrs. Weasley reprimanded her daughter. “That’s not the way you talk to-”
“What my elders?” Ginny rounded on her mother. “Because they certainly aren’t my betters.” When her mother made to speak again Ginny moved in front of Harry and shot out, “Really mum, you know how bad they treated Harry. After all those years of bad treatment and now they’re still causing problems.”
“Enough,” Mrs. Weasley said sharply.
‘It’s OK,” Harry said, putting a hand on each of her shoulders in case she needed to be held back.
“It isn’t. If we hadn’t heard about this you could have died tonight.” Ginny rounded on Harry, stamping her foot in frustration. Her voice was both angry and upset.
“But I didn’t.” Harry smiled weakly at her. They looked at each other for a minute. They each were trying to bring the other over to their point of view, without saying a word. After Harry gave her a pleading look to drop it, Ginny finally gave in. They hadn’t noticed that everyone in the room was watching them.
To avoid being asked questions he didn’t have the answers to, Harry quickly cast around for something to say.
“How – how did you hear about Voldemort coming to Privet Drive anyway?” he asked realized he hadn’t got an answer.
“Snape.” Ginny answered.
All eyes were on Harry again. He was angry in an instant. Before he could speak, Ginny added, “He didn’t tell us about Voldemort coming specifically, but about the Death Eaters.”
“He told you that did he?” he asked through clenched teeth. Voldemort would have come himself because Harry was like an irksome fly that he wanted to squash. He didn’t spend much time on this thought, but Harry knew it was right.
“Yes. And its good he did otherwise all hell could have broke loose,” Charlie said.
“Why is he even still out there?” Harry roared. “You obviously saw him. How could you let him get away after her murdered Dumbledore?”
“He explained that. It was a long standing arrangement between them,” Lupin said calmly.
“Yeah right,” Harry snorted in disbelief. “You don’t really believe his rubbish?” he shot at Lupin, and the rest. “What else was he going to say?” He started stomping around the room furiously. “I don’t want him here.” He said finally.
“Harry –” started Lupin again.
“No, this is my house –” he flinched at the words, it was the first time he could recall saying them. ” – and if I don’t want him here that’s my choice.”
Harry was still fuming and he felt that if they stayed on the topic of that greasy–haired git he just might start breaking things.
“So why are they here anyway?” Harry alighted upon his aunt and uncle. A more important and perplexing question occurred to him. How had they even got to Grimmauld Place? The only people that could find this place were ones that had been told of its location by the secret keeper. Dumbledore was dead there was no way that he could have told them. Unless . . .
Several thoughts occurred to Harry. Maybe Aunt Petunia was in contact with Dumbledore. Perhaps the headmaster had kept in contact with her after the Dementor attack. Wait, Harry thought to himself, the day Dumbledore had come to get him from Privet Drive he had mentioned the location of this house. How could Harry not have realized how odd this was? He supposed that he had been paying much more attention to the conversation that was going on and how the Dursleys were reacting to being rapped smartly on the head by floating glasses of mead. They were able to see number twelve, Grimmauld Place because the secret keeper had revealed its location to them.
Aunt Petunia was fidgeting, Harry was sure it was still her revulsion due to the state of the place.
“We couldn’t leave them. If Voldemort showed up and you were gone do you think he would have left them alone? Would you really want to subject even them to Voldemort?” Lupin asked . Harry glowered at Lupin for a moment wanting to contradict him, but as the words sunk in he realized that he wouldn’t wish Voldemort’s wrath on anyone . . . except maybe Snape.
“No, I guess not,” he said in a dull defeated voice as he sank into a chair at the table.
“I should think not,” said his uncle. “We kept you for sixteen years, you should be grateful –”
“So what about Dudley?” Harry interrupted. “He’s supposed to be coming home tomorrow, there’s not going to be anyone to get him.”
Aunt Petunia gave a horrified gasp. She seemed to have come out of her stupor. This explained why she hadn’t mentioned her precious son before now. She was gazing dumbstruck at her own forgetfulness.
“Arthur and Kingsley are getting him as we speak,” said Mrs. Weasley. “In fact, I’d rather have thought they’d be here . . . ” she lapsed into silence, staring nervously at the clock over the fireplace.
“I’m sure they’re fine, mum,” said Charlie who had sat down in the chair to Harry’s left, while Ginny took the chair to his right.
“D – D – Dudders, alone with you lot,” Uncle Vernon shivered involuntarily. “What damage will be done when he gets here? A tail, that tongue, those demember things . . . ” As he recalled each encounter his son had with the wizarding word, Uncle Vernon started to swell, getting more and more red in the face. He was going to start yelling again, soon.
“Nothing is going to happen to him. He’s in very safe hands,” Mrs. Weasley reassured. The effect was a little diminished because she was still glancing at the clock.
“Just what I’d expect from a load of weirdos,” Uncle Vernon mumbled though they all heard it.
“Shut up,” Ron and Ginny both moaned, rolling their eyes in unison.
“That’s very stupid of you to say those things in a house full of wizards and witches,” growled Moody’s voice. He had dispensed with his bowler hat and his magical eye was whizzing around the room.
“Stupid – that’s the word I was looking for to describe them.” Ron slapped his forehead in mock recollection.
“Ronald,” snapped Mrs. Weasley. “I don’t want to hear talk like that from you.”
“But it’s true. They’re -”
“NO,” she snapped again, looking at him sternly. She was still standing and, though much shorter than Ron, was causing him to cower.
“That’s right.” Uncle Vernon was wearing a smug grin on his face. “That’s the smartest thing any of you have said all night.”
“Don’t you dare start,” Mrs. Weasley spun to glare at him. “This is not your house; you cannot get away with your rubbish here.”
“I beg your pardon,” Uncle Vernon said fiercely, getting to his feet, his girth filling a significant portion of his side of the table.
“You heard me. You’ve done enough horrible things to Harry to warrant a lot more unpleasantness than staying here would bring you.” Mrs. Weasley’s tone was verging on fury. Harry was reminded of the way she would yell at Fred and George when they had done something wrong, like flying Mr. Weasley’s Ford Anglia to come and get him from Privet Drive.
“You don’t believe what he tells you?” scoffed Aunt Petunia, “He’s a nasty liar.”
“No he isn’t,” Ginny spoke up again, glaring daggers at the Dursleys.
“Yes he is. What would a little girl like you know about it?” Aunt Petunia shrieked.
“A hell of a lot more than you,” Ginny half-shouted, getting to her feet.
“GINEVRA WATCH YOUR MOUTH,” Mrs. Weasley yelled at her daughter.
“I always knew that we were wrong to get mixed up in anything you were involved in boy,” Uncle Vernon said. “But now you’re almost an adult – what is it now, four weeks – you can stay out of our lives, and we will be more than happy to do the same. Once Dudley gets here we can go back to our nice normal lives.” He stood up, reaching for Aunt Petunia’s hand. When she too had got to her feet they started to edge their way to the door.
“I’m sorry but you can’t leave,” Lupin said kindly, but firmly. “It’s –”
“We are going home,” Uncle Vernon said, not ceasing his movement to the kitchen door, Aunt Petunia in tow.
“I don’t think so.” Moody and Charlie moved to block the door. When Uncle Vernon seemed ready to ram them like a bull they pointed their wands at him. This did the trick. He stepped away wearing an expression akin to having a gun pointed at him.
“It’s no longer safe for you at Privet Drive,” Lupin continued, as though an altercation had not almost occurred.
“Voldemort is not one to sit idly by and let people go about their daily lives. He is sure to have Death Eaters stationed around Little Whinging now –”
“WHAT EATERS?” Uncle Vernon’s eyes were narrowed suspiciously, as though he thought Lupin was having him on.
“Voldemort’s followers,” Harry said dully.
‘Yes exactly. And if there is even the slightest sign of life at Privet Drive you can bet they are going to act. Maybe it would be for pure sport, or because Voldemort thinks he can get to Harry that way, but in any case we would be signing your death warrant if we let you go back.” Lupin finished.
“Ridiculous,” Uncle Vernon muttered. “Even if we believed this codswallop, which I’m not saying we do mind, where would we stay, eh?”
“The safest place would naturally be here,” Lupin said. “That is, if Harry consents to it, of course.” He turned to look at Harry as he made this proclamation. Harry had never seen such an expression on his former professor’s face, but it was one that would be very befitting of a former marauder.
Harry didn’t say anything at first. He was experiencing a myriad of things. He could say no, and let them feel how it was to be without a proper home. Or he could say yes and hold it over their heads for the rest of their lives. Or he could be the bigger person and say yes, with no strings attached.
“Yes, they can stay,” He consented finally.
“Well there you go. That was really nice and generous –” Lupin emphasized this word ” – of your nephew.”
“We’re not staying here?” cried Aunt Petunia shrilly. “Look at this place . . . it’s abhorrent. Whatever will Dudley do in this . . . .this . . . ” she searched for the right word to describe Grimmauld Place. “This place?” Aunt Petunia said the last two words in a tone filled with disgust.
“Well . . . maybe not sit on his fat ass all day,” Ron said quietly. “He can help with the cleaning or something.”
“What? And be your slave. NEVER,” roared Uncle Vernon.
“Oh right because we forgot. You are the supreme ruler of Muggles and can solely dole out slavery as you see fit,” Ron said sarcastically.
“Why you little bas –” Uncle Vernon bellowed lunging at Ron.
In the sudden cacophony of noise that erupted, Uncle Vernon’s statement went partially unheard.
When Vernon had projected himself towards Ron, the tall red-head was surrounded quickly by Charlie, Ginny and Mrs. Weasley. Moody rushed forward, wand aloft, and Harry was sure he had a stunning spell at the ready. Lupin and Tonks had situated themselves between the Dursleys and the Weasleys, in case things got physical. Hermione had retreated into a corner, looking scared.
“ENOUGH.” Harry had to scream more than once to be heard over all the other shouting voices. After three attempts he was finally able to make himself heard. The noise died as quickly as it had arisen.
Everyone was again looking at Harry. The silence stretched on for what felt like tem minutes, but was more like twenty seconds. No one turned their eyes from him.
Finally he spoke, in a weary voice.
“Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, I don’t like being here anymore than you do, believe me. But its like Lupin says it is the safest place to be right now,” he sighed. “I’m not going to force you to stay, but I’ve seen Voldemort and his followers in action. It’s not pleasant. They would just as soon torture and murder you as look at you. If you want to go out there and risk that kind of end, well . . . ” he sighed again. “It’s your choice I guess. But how would you feel if the same thing that happened to my mum and dad happened to you, and Dudley was left without parents?”
The horror of this idea was clearly discernible on their faces. As though they were open books everyone was able to read their decision long before they spoke a word.
“Fine . . . we’ll stay,” Uncle Vernon said in a meek voice, quite unlike his own.
There was another tense moment of silence as everyone reclaimed their seats.
Mrs. Weasley glanced at the clock again.
“They’re really late. You don’t think that You-know-who –”
“Molly I’m sure they’re fine,” Lupin reassured her again, though he seemed less sure himself, “How about we eat something?”
“Yes, of course.” Mrs. Weasley got up, and with Ron, Hermione and Ginny’s help (she steadfastly refused Harry’s) they began serving dinner. The Dursleys refused anything.
“Fine, more for us.” Ron’s words were a little muffled because his mouth was already full of steak and kidney pie.
They had all just settled down to eat when Moody spoke up.
“They’ve just arrived in the entrance.”
“Oh thank goodness,” Mrs. Weasley cried in relief. Her fork clattered onto her plate as she hurriedly dashed from the room. The others were quick to follow.
When they reached the entrance they were greeted by Mr. Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt, who were both slightly out of breath. They had their arms positioned as if holding someone up, but at first Harry couldn’t see anyone. Then he realized they must have placed the Disillusionment charm on Dudley. He was right. Kingsley tapped his wand on something solid that didn’t seem to be there and Dudley’s listless form came into view.
Aunt Petunia screamed when she glanced at her son, and next moment Mrs. Black’s voice could be heard screaming out her usual diatribe of “Half-bloods, filth, scum of the earth . . . ” causing Aunt Petunia to scream again.
“Will you shut up,” Charlie said irritably as he pushed past her to help Mr. Weasley and Kingsley while Lupin and Moody went to deal with the portrait.
“There we go,” said Kingsley’s deep voice a moment later, when they had deposited Dudley on a moth eaten couch in the drawing room that held the Black Family Tree.
“Yes that was unexpectedly difficult,” said Mr. Weasley, as he cleaned his glasses on his robes.
“Why’s that Arthur dear?” asked his wife. It was Kingsley who answered.
“Why didn’t you tell us Potter?”
“What?” Harry asked perplexed. How was he supposed to know how difficult it would be to abduct Dudley from Smeltings?
“We’d’ve been more prepared if we knew. He put up a much bigger fight than we had counted on. Nasty stinging hex this one laid on me. It was after that we had to stun him.”
“Stinging hex?” Harry asked, his confusion growing. He looked at Dudley blankly for a minute and then it him.
Dudley was a wizard.