Prologue: A Surrey Start
Easter Saturday was pleasantly warm and sunny.
The sky was the almost unreal poster-paint blue of a child’s painting, as bright as an early spring day could be. The few clouds scattered across the firmament appeared to have been stuck onto it by a child; they were high and fluffy wisps of cotton wool white. An almost imperceptible south westerly wind blew softly along the street, barely rustling the leaves of the well-trimmed hedges which ensured that the street lived up to its name.
It was such a nice afternoon that many of the residents of Privet Drive were outside tending to their gardens. There were lawns to be mown, herbaceous borders to be weeded and flowers to be watered. Those who were disinterested in gardening busied themselves in other ways. They had large and expensive cars, which needed to be ostentatiously washed and polished. The street was typically quiet; secateurs snipped and hoses sprayed; the loudest noise was the contented whir of happily grazing lawnmowers.
As they worked in their gardens, some of the residents nodded politely to their neighbours. One or two wives actually spoke to each other, but in the main, the residents of Privet Drive behaved naturally. They stayed within the boundaries of their individual castles, keeping themselves entirely to themselves.
The peaceful suburban idyll was shattered when a large black motorcycle thundered noisily around the corner from Magnolia Crescent. To the annoyance of the locals this unwelcome intruder did not, as expected, roar off down the road. Had it done so, it would have allowed them to shake their collective heads and mutter under their breath about young hooligans on motorbikes. Instead, as the residents watched in abject horror, the bike slowed and rolled to a halt. When the rider switched off the engine, an expectant hush fell across the street. In the silence, everyone took careful note of where this hateful machine had stopped.
It was number four. Of course, where else would it be? The Dursleys had visitors, and those visitors were riding a motorcycle! En masse, the eyes of Privet Drive stared. The tasks they had, until then, been diligently supervising were forgotten as they concentrated their collective gaze on this undesirable invader.
Mr and Mrs Dursley had been the subject of much gossip among their neighbours. Almost four years ago the Dursleys had vanished. Their house had been left empty and untended, their lawn had grown wild, weeds had crept through into the neighbouring gardens, and the privet hedge had remained untrimmed. As the months passed it had steadily transforming itself into a wild, overgrown, and litter-filled tangle. The place had looked untidy. It had brought shame upon the entire street.
Worse, during the Dursley’s absence strangely dressed men had been seen in the neighbourhood. These furtive outsiders were often seen hanging around number four. Some residents were convinced that, for a time, these odd, cloak-wearing individuals had actually been living in the house. It was all very strange and mysterious, and not at all what should be happening on Privet Drive!
Then in May almost three years ago, nine months after their disappearance, the Dursleys had returned. They had unpacked their car and tried to act as though nothing had happened. Vernon Dursley cut his grass and trimmed his hedge, but the other inhabitants were curious. Where had they been? What had they been doing?
Mr Dursley, red faced and spluttering, had told his curious neighbours that they had been on a world cruise. When politely asked for more details he seemed strangely unable to name any of the places they had visited. His gruff answers of “abroad” and “foreign parts” really were not much of an explanation for a nine month holiday, not even for the notoriously bluff and uncommunicative Vernon Dursley.
Eventually, unable—or unwilling—to explain their absence, Mr and Mrs Dursley had simply stopped speaking to the other residents. Now, for the first time in many years, they had visitors; at least visitors other than Vernon Dursley’s sister.
The neighbours were intrigued. Who were the mysterious couple on the motorbike? What could they possibly want with the Dursleys? The hosepipes which had been busily washing cars were turned off. Lawnmowers came to a halt. Gardening gloves were removed; secateurs and trowels were laid on the grass. The curious residents stood and silently watched the arrival of these mysterious strangers.
Both rider and pillion passenger wore black denim jeans and leather jackets. Their jackets seemed to catch the sunlight on their scaly, almost snake-like, black-green surface. The only difference between the riders was their helmets. The rider wore a red helmet, trimmed with yellow and with a yellow image painted on each side. One particularly sharp eyed (and heraldically aware) resident identified the image as a lion rampant. The passenger’s helmet was dark green, and it had a yellow talon painted on the sides.
The pillion passenger was small in stature, and very definitely female. The moment the bike stopped, she stood up from her seat. From her elevated position, standing on the bike’s foot pegs, she had a good view down the street at the staring residents. She pulled off her helmet and shook out a mane of unnecessarily vibrant and blatantly red hair. The face beneath the helmet was that of a pretty, freckle-faced girl who looked to be in her late teens or early twenties. The girl smiled, and waved at the curious onlookers. The scandalised residents of Privet Drive looked away, trying to ignore such ostentatious and uncalled for friendliness.
Shrugging her shoulders dismissively, the girl swung her leg over the bike and stepped down onto the pavement, reducing her height by about a foot. The locals continued to watch, but now they exhibited a little more caution. Their sidelong stares were rewarded when the rider pulled off his helmet to reveal a bespectacled young man with tousled black hair. Several of the residents exchanged knowledgeable glances with each other. They recognised the young hooligan immediately. It was the Potter boy! He was back, and he would be certain to cause trouble. There was no doubt about that!