The Sugar Quill
Author: Angua (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Harry Potter and the Fifth Year from Hell  Chapter: Chapter Two: An Unexpected Party
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Chapter 2 – An Unexpected Party

Chapter 2 – An Unexpected Party

 

 

Yet another unusual thing about Harry was how little he looked forward to his birthdays.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Ch. 1

 

*  *  *

 

 

Harry wasn’t smiling any more when his alarm shrilled at 6 AM.  His aunt required him to get up early enough to make breakfast for her and his Uncle Vernon before Uncle Vernon left for work.  Three hours of sleep…  Harry dragged his protesting body from the bed and stumbled into his clothes.  He wished he could take a shower to help him wake up, but he wasn’t allowed into the upstairs bathroom until his aunt and uncle were completely done with it. 

 

Harry went down to the kitchen and began pulling out pots and pans with practiced ease.  He’d been made to do some cooking for years, but this summer he was doing almost all of it.  Harry got out eggs and tomatoes, sausage, bacon, and toast.  Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia liked a hearty breakfast, because it was the only meal of the day not ruined by their son Dudley’s diet.  Even Dudley’s greed for food wasn’t enough to get him up before ten after staying out late committing who-knew-what acts of juvenile delinquency each night with his hoodlum friends.  Harry rather appreciated the one decent meal, too, since he was forced to serve lean chicken and fish, raw celery and carrots, and grapefruit for the other two meals.  As if it’s doing any good, considering Dudley’s walking around with unlimited pocket money.  On the bright side, Harry had discovered that it was rather hard to starve the cook.  Speaking of which… he snagged himself two more sausages and another piece of toast as he heard the clip-clop of Aunt Petunia’s shoes down the stairs.

 

Aunt Petunia made no sign that she even saw Harry.  She looked at the breakfast table, sniffed impatiently, and rearranged the table settings slightly.  Uncle Vernon trod heavily in and sank into his seat.

 

“Where’s my newspaper, boy?” he growled.

 

Harry glared coldly at his uncle, but went into the hall and out the front door to get the Daily Mail.  As he bent to pick it up, he felt Ron’s letter rustle in his jeans pocket, where he’d tucked it while getting dressed that morning.  There was no sense reading it while Uncle Vernon was still around.  He hadn’t mentioned putting a lock on Hedwig’s cage this year, but Harry didn’t want to take a chance of reminding him.  He only let Hedwig out while his aunt and uncle were asleep. 

 

Uncle Vernon grunted when Harry handed him the newspaper, and opened it immediately.  Aunt Petunia held out a piece of paper without looking at Harry, and he took it from her hand.  It had his day’s chores listed on it.  Dust and vacuum bedrooms, wash downstairs windows, clean drive with bleach, water all shrubbery and flowerbeds, wash Aunt Petunia’s car.  This would be in addition to cooking and cleaning up after all meals.  Not as bad as some days.  If I hurry, I can take a nap before I make dinner.

 

Harry had to admit he was getting along with his aunt better this summer than he ever had before.  He had got old enough – and had enough practice – to be really useful around the house, and his mood of settled gloom kept him quiet and fairly docile.  He could stare into space and worry just as well while weeding the garden as not.  Sometimes, when he and his aunt were both working quietly around the house, there was almost an air of teamwork between them.  She never complimented him on any of his work, but she didn’t have many complaints either.  I need to talk to Hermione, Harry thought.  I think I know how it feels to be a house elf now.

 

Uncle Vernon kissed his wife goodbye and glared one last time at Harry.  “Watch yourself!”  He stumped out the door.

 

Aunt Petunia disappeared upstairs while Harry was clearing up the dishes.  Finally, he could look at Ron’s letter in peace.  It was a long one:

 

 

 

Oy, Harry, who are you calling a cretin?  Oh, me then, was it?  All right, but don’t do it again!  Who knew the girl wanted to be written back to?

Sorry this letter is going to be so late.  I sent Pig to Hermione today with orders not to come back without a letter from her.  Don’t worry, I humbly apologized and she DID write back to me.  She needs to get over herself, though.

Harry, she told me her idea for you and it’s BRILLIANT.  No, I mean really brilliant - even for her.  I wish I could tell you, but she said not to.  It sounds like she’s having fun on her trip, so that’s good.  She sent me a picture of her in a sort of grotto thing with mad coloured lava and stuff.  Did she send you one?

She said your scar hurt last night as well.  What do you reckon it was?  I asked Dad, and he said there wasn’t anything going on, as far as he knew.  It only hurt a little?  Maybe You-Know-Who is far away from you, or something.  Have you heard from Hagrid at all?

Oh yeah, I do have news.  Fred and George are going to visit Lee Jordan for 2 weeks, and Ginny is going with them to stay with Lee’s little sister Cassie (you remember her – 2nd year Gryffindor last year?).  They invited me too, but I’m not going.  It’s pretty scary to think what new inventions Gred & Forge will come up with away from Mum – I don’t think the Jordans know what they’re letting themselves in for.

So, I’ll be left with only Percy.  Mum & Dad are really worried about him.  He won’t talk about his job now.  I know he was supposedly cleared of having anything to do with that Crouch fiasco, but I think people are still treating him like dirt.  He doesn’t want to hear ANYTHING about you-know-what. If Mum or Dad even mentions it, he gets up and leaves the room.  He’s a bloody pillock to try and be so loyal to Fudge and those others at the Ministry, instead of to his FAMILY.  How can he not believe YOU?  He knows you. I think he’s having trouble with Penelope as well.  Anyway he looks awful.

There, a nice long letter to make up for the last one.  I’ve written letters all bloody day.  See you soon, I hope!

 

                                                                                      Ron

 

 

 

Harry pondered as his hands automatically proceeded with the washing-up.  He needed to write both his friends about last night’s events.  But should he, really?  Sirius had once warned him to use different owls when writing to him.  Hedwig was so distinctive in her snowy white colour.  If she were intercepted -- Harry was frowning as he went outside to begin washing the windows.

 

*

 

After dinner that night, Harry was in his room yawning over his Divination textbook when an uproar arose in the next bedroom.  Either a rogue elephant had suddenly Apparated into Dudley’s room, or his cousin was upset about something.  There were sounds of slammed doors and expensive electronic equipment being kicked into walls.

 

“Where is it?” Dudley was shouting.  “Mum, what have you done with my striped shirt?  MUM!  I NEED it!”

 

Harry rolled his eyes and went back to his book.  He knew what the problem was now.  Dudley and his friends Piers and Dennis were going to a teen disco tonight, almost with actual girls.  Harry had overheard Dudley talking on the phone with his friends about some girls who had said they would be at that disco tonight.  Harry suspected they actually had plans to be on the other side of the globe, if necessary, to get away from Dudley and his ghastly friends, but who knew?  Some people really had terrible taste.  Naturally, Dudley wanted to look his best for such an auspicious occasion, and for some reason he fancied himself striped like an enormous circus tent.  Despite the so-called diet, Dudley was a very large boy.

 

“Oh, darling,” twittered Aunt Petunia, rushing up the stairs, “I know I washed it on Thursday and… oh, dear, I remember now, it was missing a button, and I hung it in the utility room until I could get a chance…”

 

Dudley cut her off.  “Well, sew it on, then.  I’m in a hurry.”

 

“But, Dudley dear, I was just pressing your trousers for you, and -- HARRY!”  Harry stuck his head out his door. 

 

“Go finish pressing Dudley’s trousers,” ordered Aunt Petunia.  “Make sure you get the seams straight, and turn off the iron when you’re done.”  Aunt Petunia probably knew that Harry couldn’t sew on a button to save his life, though a simple Reparo spell should do the trick, if he were only allowed to do magic.

 

Harry sighed and headed downstairs.  It was no use objecting.  Uncle Vernon would roar at him, and anyway, the challenge of ironing several yards of fabric was at least as entertaining as Unfogging the Future by Cassandra Vablatsky. 

 

When Harry returned to Dudley’s bedroom with the trousers, his cousin was already dressed in the striped shirt, looking in the mirror as he slicked down his perfectly smooth yellow hair.  He spun around at the sound of the door.

 

“MUM!  Get OUT!  Oh, it’s you.”  Apparently, Dudley didn’t mind Harry seeing him in his boxers.  “Put them on the bed.” 

 

Harry complied, but then leaned against the wall and watched his cousin primp.  Much as he disliked Dudley, the temptation to tease him was irresistible. 

 

“Wizard mirrors talk to you when you do that,” he said lazily.  Dudley scowled at his use of the forbidden word ‘wizard.’

 

“Better not let Dad hear you say that,” he snapped.  Then he smirked.  “I bet I know what yours says – ‘Brush your hair, you ugly little dirt ball.’”

 

Harry’s mouth quirked.  “Actually, you’re right about the hair.  Want to know what yours would say?” 

 

Dudley turned around quickly, balling his fists.  Harry rested lightly on his feet.  He was almost as tall as Dudley now, and much faster.  Dudley was still extremely strong, though, so Harry had to be wary.  He raised both palms, backing out of the room. 

 

“No need to get upset.  I’m sure it would give you good advice.  Like, ‘if you really want to impress the babes, wear your Smeltings uniform.’”  Smeltings was Dudley’s school.  Its uniform was a maroon tailcoat and orange knickerbockers, with a flat boater hat.  Dudley let out a roar, a pretty good copy of Uncle Vernon’s, and rushed at Harry like a bull.  Harry just managed to close and lock his bedroom door in time, collapsing in laughter against it as Dudley crashed into it from the other side. 

 

“What is going on?” Harry heard Aunt Petunia calling as she hurried up the stairs.  “Dudley dear, is Harry bothering you? Why, Dudley, what are you doing out in the hall in your under things?”  Harry felt the floor shake as Dudley pounded back to his room and slammed his door shut.

 

Harry shook with silent laughter, but prudently kept quiet behind his locked door until Dudley had left the house.   In the meantime, he had a letter to write:

 

 

Dear Ron,

Wow, thanks for the nice long letter.  I reckon I can call my best friend a cretin if I feel like it.  I didn’t rate a picture from Hermione – that must have been some apology you wrote.  No, I have no idea why my scar was hurting.  I have heard from Dumbledore, but he didn’t really tell me anything.  I do know that Snuffles and Moony are all right.  Actually, I had rather an adventure last night, which I REALLY need to tell you about, but I don’t think I should in a letter.  Do you think there’s any way we three could get together and talk?  Soon?

You and Hermione are driving me crazy with all this talk about her “idea.”  Why can’t you go ahead and tell me?  And why didn’t you go to the Jordans?  It sounds like fun.  Say hi to Ginny and the twins for me, and tell them to have a good time.

I haven’t heard from Hagrid at all this summer, but I usually don’t until my birthday.  If I don’t hear from him then, I will be worried.  I’m sorry Percy’s having a hard time.  I wonder if he’d believe me if I could talk to him.  We used to get along okay.  Don’t drive your mum too crazy.  Maybe she’ll play chess with you.  Take care of yourself.

                                                                        Your friend,

 

Harry

 

 

 

Harry sent Hedwig off with the letter as soon as the Dursley’s went to bed, and for once he was asleep before Dudley came home.

 

*

 

A week later, on the morning of his fifteenth birthday, Harry was at the top of an extension ladder in the Dursleys’ back yard, cleaning out roof gullies.  He hadn’t found out what Hermione’s big idea was or had a chance to tell Ron and Hermione about his adventure with Snape.  In fact, nothing had changed except that Hermione was home from her cruise and Dudley had caught Harry unawares, broken his glasses, and given him a black eye.  The Dursleys hadn’t mentioned his birthday, of course, or his black eye, but he had gotten cards from Sirius, Hermione, and Ron the previous night.  No presents, though – and nothing at all from Hagrid, which had Harry very worried.

 

With a whir of wings, a strange owl landed on the rooftop beside Harry.  After he took the note from it, it settled down to wait for a reply.  The note was from Arabella Figg:

 

 

 

 

Dear Harry,

It was lovely to see you again the other night, though rather brief.  I am wondering if you can possibly get away and come for early tea today, say about 3:00?  If you have difficulty, please tell me, and I will ask Petunia if you can help me with some heavy lifting.

 

I do hope you will join me.

                                                                             Cordially,

 

                                                                             Arabella Figg

                                                                                                      

 

 

Harry thought quickly.  At three o’clock that afternoon, he was supposed to be cleaning out the garage.  He could easily climb out the garage window and over the fence to the garden behind.  Aunt Petunia rarely looked into the back garden, anyway; she spent most of her time in the front drawing room, craning her long, thin neck to watch her neighbours’ comings and goings.  He wrote a brief acceptance on the note and gave it to the owl, who took it politely and flew off.

 

By three, Harry had finished cleaning the garage in an impatient frenzy.  He left a note in the garage for his aunt in case she came back to look for him, saying only that he had gone to tea at Mrs. Figg’s.  Then he slipped out the window and over the fence.

 

Harry kept his hand on his wand and stayed alert as he walked, but he reached Mrs. Figg’s front door without trouble.  As soon as the door opened, a large black dog bounded out, wagging his tail widely.  He put his paws on Harry’s shoulders, and slurped his face with a big lick.  Harry made a face and pushed the dog away, laughing helplessly. 

 

“Oh, YUCK!  Down, boy.  SIT!”

 

 “Come in, come in, Harry dear.”  Mrs. Figg opened the door wide.  “Really, Sirius, must you be such a dog?  This way, Harry.”  Harry followed her into the parlour, which was filled with people laughing and talking. 

 

The first to reach Harry was Ron, taller and more freckled than ever, punching him in the chest with a big grin. 

 

“Happy birthday, Harry!” 

 

Mrs. Weasley was right behind Ron, squeezing Harry in a hug.  Mr. Weasley, Remus Lupin, and Sirius (changed back into a man) crowded behind to shake Harry’s hand and wish him a happy birthday.

 

Harry looked around in a daze.  Mrs. Figg’s shabby old-fashioned rooms were more crowded even than usual.  There were presents, and balloons, and on a table in the next room, a huge chocolate birthday cake with candles.  The first birthday party I’ve ever had!  For a moment, Harry was speechless.  Then he looked around again with a frown.  Why wasn’t Hermione here?

 

The front doorbell chimed.  Harry and Ron followed Mrs. Figg to the front hall.  Mrs. Figg peered carefully out of the peephole, and then peeked past the curtains of the window beside the door, while Ron rolled his eyes impatiently.  Finally, Mrs. Figg flung open the door, and there was Hermione!  She was bright-eyed and tanned in a pale yellow sleeveless dress, with a smile a mile wide, and her parents (looking rather nervous) behind her.  A large black motorcar was parked behind them at the kerb.

 

“Come in, dear,” said Mrs. Figg, “you must be Hermione, and you must be Mr. and Mrs. Granger!  I’m Arabella Figg.”

 

“So pleased to meet you, Mrs. Figg,” said Hermione breathlessly, and she rushed past to Harry.

 

“Harry!  Happy birthday!”  She took his two hands and grinned at him.  “Are you surprised, or did you guess when we didn’t send you any presents?  I thought we should send you something, just so you wouldn’t suspect, but Ron said –”

 

Hermione suddenly dropped Harry’s hands and stopped talking.  She looked over at Ron, who was hanging back, looking awkward and hesitant.  “Hi, Ron.” 

 

“Hi, Hermione.”

 

Harry looked curiously from Hermione to Ron until he was distracted by Mr. Granger shaking his hand and wishing him a happy birthday.  Next, Mr. Granger stretched out his hand to Ron.  Harry gave Ron a vicious dig with his elbow and Ron started and took Mr. Granger’s hand.  Mrs. Granger shook hands with both boys next, looking rather amused about something.

 

*

 

After tea and cake and much conversation, they moved back to the parlour for Harry to open his presents.  Sirius gave him a wristwatch, which he badly needed since his old one had been ruined in the second task of the Triwizard Tournament. 

 

Lupin’s gift was a book, Curses and Countercurses, by Professor Vindictus Viridian.  Harry laughed.

 

Thank you, Professor – I mean Remus.  I wanted this book the first time I ever went in Flourish and Botts, but Hagrid wouldn’t let me get it.”  Ron snagged the book from Harry. 

 

Bewitch Your Friends and Befuddle Your Enemies with the Latest Revenges: Hair Loss, Jelly-Legs, Tongue-Tying and Much, Much More – excellent!”  He raised his eyebrows at Harry with glee. 

 

Mrs. Weasley, Mrs. Figg, and even Sirius looked sternly at Lupin.   Lupin shrugged one shoulder. 

 

“I’m not a teacher any more.  It’s a good book.”

 

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley gave Harry handkerchiefs embroidered with his initials and a box of fudge.  Ron’s gift was a pair of leather Quidditch gloves specially made for Seekers, with the palm and inside of the fingers left bare.  Mrs. Figg gave him some red sealing wax and a Gryffindor seal. 

 

“Gryffindor was my house, too” she said proudly. 

 

Hermione held out her gift last, with a smug smile.  Harry took it.  Definitely a book.  He removed the wrapping.  Apparition for Beginners?  Harry looked at Hermione. 

 

“Thanks, uh, I’m sure it’ll come in useful.”  He grinned.  “Do you really think I need to study for two years to learn how to Apparate?”  Hermione beamed back at him, bouncing on her chair with excitement. 

 

“Just wait!”

 

Mrs. Figg walked to the fireplace and threw in a handful of powder.  “Albus Dumbledore!”  Professor Dumbledore’s snowy-maned head appeared in the grate.

 

“Hello, Arabella.  Happy birthday, Harry,” he said.  “I’m sorry I couldn’t attend your celebration.”  He smiled genially at all the guests.

 

“Thank you, Professor,” said Harry.

 

“Harry, I have a proposal for you,” Professor Dumbledore continued.  “Your friend Miss Granger has been very concerned about your safety since the attack on you last month.  She reminded us that the original Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Magic included a provision for exceptions for hardship cases.  Miss Granger maintains that you would be very much safer if you learn to Apparate, and I agree with her.  The Department of Magical Transportation has agreed as well; the department head is a friend of Mr. Weasley’s.”

 

Harry could only gape at the Headmaster.  Me?  Learn to Apparate?  Yes, that would have been very helpful when he and Cedric were in the graveyard.

 

“After we had agreed on that, Miss Granger pointed out that you are usually in the company of herself and Mr. Weasley, and that you would naturally refuse to Apparate to safety if it meant leaving them behind.  I had to concur, so I have obtained hardship exemptions for the two of them as well.”

 

Harry could feel his face flushing.  This was Hermione’s plan?  No wonder she was smug! 

 

“To receive the most benefit, your ability to Apparate must be kept completely secret from our enemies,” Dumbledore continued blandly.  “And you must begin at once.  As you probably know, you cannot Apparate on Hogwarts grounds, and there is barely time for you to become proficient before the school term begins.  Mr. Lupin has agreed to give the three of you intensive tutoring, beginning as soon as can be arranged.”  Harry looked at Remus, who nodded, smiling.  “My first thought was that you could stay with him for the rest of the summer, but Professor McGonagall was of the opinion it would not be appropriate for Miss Granger, being a bachelor household.  Therefore, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley have agreed to host the lessons.  Mr. Lupin will Apparate to the Burrow each day to instruct you.”

 

Harry finally found his voice.  “Wow, Professor, that’s – I mean, uh, thank you – and Hermione, and Remus, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley –”  The head in the fireplace spoke again.

 

“I must go now, Harry, but I will stress one thing.  You are being given a special privilege for your safety only, not for your amusement.  I trust you won’t abuse it.  During your training time, you must never Apparate without Mr. Lupin’s supervision.  After your lessons are over, you must not Apparate for any reason other than the utmost necessity.”  Dumbledore smiled. 

 

“You will use good judgment?” 

 

Harry nodded.  “I promise.”

 

“Mr. Weasley?  Miss Granger?”

 

“Yes, sir!” chorused Ron and Hermione.

 

“Very well.  Many happy returns, Harry.”  With a sizzle and a pop, Dumbledore’s head disappeared.

 

After that, the party began to break up.  Mr. Weasley Apparated back to his office, and Remus took Sirius-as-a-dog for a walk to patrol the neighbourhood.  The Grangers began asking Mrs. Weasley anxious questions about Apparating, and about the terrible news of Voldemort’s return, and Mrs. Figg joined in to try to reassure them.  Harry tugged both Ron and Hermione through the dining room and into the kitchen.

 

“I really need to talk to you,” he told them in a low voice.

 

Ron was ebullient.  He snagged another piece of cake as they went through the dining room and grinned broadly at Harry.

 

This is why I wouldn’t go to Lee’s house, Harry.  No way was I going to miss this!  Can you believe Hermione, doing all that research?  I’ve never heard of anyone getting to Apparate before they were 17.”  Hermione blushed a little. 

 

“Oh, I was just looking up the restrictions on Underage Magic in general and I saw –“

 

“Later, all right?” interrupted Harry ruthlessly.  “I mean, you’re wonderful and all, Hermione, but I have something really important to tell you two, and I need to get back to the Dursleys before-“

 

“Right, your adventure,” Ron broke in.  “What happened?”

 

Harry quickly ran through the events of the night Snape had been ill, hugely relieved to finally be telling Ron and Hermione about it.  When he got to the part about leaving with Sirius, Hermione burst in.

 

“Oh Harry!  You shouldn’t have – did you even check to make sure it was Sirius?”

 

“Oy, shut it, Hermione,” said Ron, putting his hand over her mouth.  “Let Harry tell it.”  Hermione coloured, and Ron snatched his hand back.

 

“I was really, really careful,” Harry assured Hermione kindly.  “Sirius was impressed.”  He continued the story.

 

Hermione limited herself to a squeak of surprise when Harry got to the part about seeing Professor Snape lying on the table, but when he told them about the Myrmidon Potion, it was Ron who interrupted.

 

“But – that can’t be – why would they be testing his loyalty?  You-Know-Who already knows Snape isn’t a Death Eater anymore.  Remember, you heard him, Harry, saying about the one who had left forever, and would be killed.  And Snape didn’t go when they were all summoned – we saw him in the stands while you were gone.”

 

“Well, maybe this was how he was going to kill him,” said Harry.  “Or maybe I was wrong, and Voldemort was talking about someone else.”

 

 “But Voldemort must have known about Snape since first year,” Hermione jumped in.  “I mean, he was under Quirrell’s turban the whole time, right?  So he heard Snape trying to stop Quirrell from getting the stone.”

 

“No, I don’t think so,” said Ron, frowning in concentration.  “I mean, we knew that Quirrell was going for the stone to help You-Know-Who, ’cause Firenze told Harry in the Forest, but I don’t know if Snape knew.  Couldn’t he just have thought that Quirrell was going for the Stone for his own sake, just to be rich and live forever and all?  So Snape wouldn’t know he was going against You-Know-Who?”

 

“But I’m sure that’s why Dumbledore moved the Stone to Hogwarts in the first place,” argued Hermione.  “He must have known somehow that Voldemort was active and trying for the Stone.”

 

“Yeah, but did he tell Snape that?” shot back Ron.  “Or, if he did, did You-Know-Who know it?”

 

Harry considered.  “Well, Voldemort would never tell his subordinates anything, I’m sure.  But Snape might have said something to Quirrell when he was threatening him that showed he knew.”

 

“Not if he was smart,” said Ron.  “He’d want to leave his options open.”

 

“But – ” Harry was still not convinced.  “When Quirrell tried to kill me during the Quidditch match, and Snape did the counter curse – ”

 

Hermione gave a gasp.  “Harry!  Finish the story.  Did Snape die or what?”

 

Ron caught Harry’s eye over Hermione’s head with a hopeful grin.  Harry choked.  Hermione whirled around to glare at Ron. 

 

“It’s not funny!  Harry, stop laughing.”

 

“It’s okay,” Harry rushed to reassure Hermione, “my blood worked.  Snape saved himself, really, with the counter potion.  Although Dumbledore was the one who thought of using my blood – I think Snape would be dead without that.”

 

Ron narrowed his eyes.  “Maybe he wasn’t even in danger.  Maybe he was just trying to get Dumbledore to trust him by pretending that the potion was killing him, because that would prove he was disloyal to Voldemort.”

 

“Ron, that’s dumb,” huffed Hermione.  “Dumbledore trusted him already.  Why in the world would he pull a stunt like that if it weren’t real?”

 

Ron was off on another subject.  “I wonder who made the Myrmidon Potion, and who forced Snape to taste it?”

 

“I’m guessing Snape made it himself,” said Harry, who had thought about it all week.  “I bet that’s why Voldemort called Snape back even if he doubted him – to make that potion and test all his followers.  Maybe Snape is the only one who can make that potion; maybe it’s really hard.”

 

“So he poisoned himself.  Ron snorted.  “I bet he felt like a total prat.  I can see that You-Know-Who might like that as poetic justice or something.  But now that Snape didn’t die, will he think he’s loyal after all, or will he think he buggered up the potion somehow?”

 

“If you’re right, Harry,” said Hermione, “I wonder how many Death Eaters did die that night?  When was it, anyway?”

 

“A week ago Saturday night was when he took the potion,” said Harry.  “I saw him on Sunday night.”

 

Hermione’s eyes widened.  “Oh! – so when your scar hurt –”  Harry nodded. 

 

“I think that must be when Voldemort summoned the Death Eaters to come take their medicine.  I felt it before when he touched Wormtail’s Dark Mark at the cemetery.”

 

Harry heard the voices of Remus and Sirius in the parlour.  They must have returned from their patrol.

 

Hermione lowered her voice.  “How did they” – she tilted her head toward the two men in the parlour – “get into it?”

 

“They were meeting with Dumbledore – at his home in Hogsmeade – when Snape Apparated in.  They were reporting on some mission they’d done the night before.”

 

“Oo-ooh,” said Ron.  “D’you think it was related?”

 

“Maybe,” said Harry.  He lowered his voice to a whisper.  “I begged Sirius to tell me what he was up to, and he told me he’d always fancied himself as a rat catcher.”

 

As they looked at each other in mutual understanding, Sirius Black came into the kitchen.  He was carrying a small package and smiling.

 

“We found this on the floor under the letter slot, Harry.  It must have come while we were on our walk.”

 

“Maybe it’s from Hagrid,” said Harry, taking it eagerly.  Then he frowned, looking at the unfamiliar angular printing: ‘H. Potter, The Kitchen, 7 Larkspur Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.’ No, not Hagrid.  Harry had an uneasy feeling.  He opened the package gingerly.  There was a photograph, and a note on a tiny slip of paper.

 

TO HARRY POTTER, A BIRTHDAY GREETING FROM YOUR MUDBLOOD FRIEND.

 

The picture showed an unfamiliar house, with flames catching and moving across it.  Hermione, looking over Harry’s shoulder, gave a strangled gasp, and turned white.  She ripped the photo from Harry’s hand and ran back into the parlour.  Harry, Ron, and Sirius pelted after her.

 

Harry felt a queasy twisting in his stomach as Hermione thrust the photograph at her parents.  It was a wizard picture, showing the flames igniting at a corner of the house and quickly moving across the front wall.  It looked like a very powerful Incendio spell.

 

“Mum, Dad, it’s our house – it’s on fire.”  Mr. and Mrs. Granger took the photo, looking sick and terrified, and completely bewildered.  Mrs. Figg immediately took charge.

 

“Remus, can you go check it out?  I must stay with Harry, in case – Molly, tell Arthur about this.  Sirius, will you please –”

 

“I’m going with Remus,” growled Sirius, and both men disappeared with an audible ‘pop.’  Mrs. Figg glared at the place where Sirius had been, her hands on her hips.

 

“Well, really, Sirius,” she huffed.  “Do you want to get caught?”  She shook her head, grumbling under her breath.  “Impulsive fool – wanted criminal – get us all in trouble – well, too late now, I just hope nobody sees him.”  She turned back to her guests.  Mrs. Granger was crying, and Mr. Granger was trying to comfort her.  Mrs. Weasley started to the fireplace to call her husband.

 

Suddenly Hermione brushed past Mrs. Weasley and reached for the jar of Floo Powder on the mantel.  As she was throwing the powder into the flame, Ron ran over and grabbed her from behind.  He held her with both arms around her middle, despite her furious struggles.  Harry rushed to get between Hermione and the fire. 

 

“Hermione, are you crazy?” yelled Harry.  “What are you doing?  You can’t go into your house!  It’s ON FIRE!”  Harry tried to catch her hands, which were beating frantically against Ron.  Ron backed up, dragging her further away from the hearth.  Both her parents watched, wide-eyed and frozen in confusion.

 

Hermione kept struggling.  She was saying something.  Harry could hardly hear her for her sobs, but finally he made out the words. 

 

“Crookshanks!  Crookshanks is in there.”  Ron cursed horribly and shoved Hermione down on the sofa, where she finally collapsed.  Harry knelt beside her. 

 

“Hermione, I’m sure he got out.  Cats always get out, when there are fires.  And think how smart Crookshanks is – smarter than a normal cat.  I’m sure he got out.”

 

 “But how could he?”  Hermione lifted a tear-stained face.  “We don’t have a cat door, or a window open.  How could he get out?”

 

Harry thought quickly.  “But he’ll hide from the smoke and fire, and the fire department will put it out.  He’ll be all right.”  Harry hoped this was true.  Hermione’s parents came to her, and she jumped up to hug them. 

 

“Oh, Mum, Dad, this is all my fault.  I’m the one they’re after.  You’re in danger because of me.”  She was crying on her mother’s shoulder while her father patted her back awkwardly.

 

No, Harry thought, it’s all MY fault.  Hermione’s in danger because she’s MY friend. 

 

Harry looked at Ron, who looked back, white as a sheet, his freckles standing out starkly against his pallor.  Somehow, Harry knew what his friend was thinking – the Burrow.  No one was home there, either.  Had it been burned down, too?

 

Mrs. Weasley finished talking to Mr. Weasley in the fire and walked over to Ron.  Mrs. Figg threw in another handful of powder and called Professor Dumbledore’s name.  Ron put his arm around his much shorter mother. 

 

“Mum?  Shouldn’t we check –?”  Mrs. Weasley shook her head.

 

“The Department of Magical Law Enforcement is sending a team to the Burrow, too.  We’ll hear soon enough.”  She looked sadly at the Grangers, and at Mrs. Figg still talking with Dumbledore.  “I’d better make some tea.”

 

Before she could move off to the kitchen, there was a ‘pop’ and a strong smell of smoke as Sirius Apparated back into the room.  He walked right over to the Grangers. 

 

“The Muggle fire department is there,” he reported, “and they’re doing a good job of putting out the fire.  It looks like the front of the house is pretty much destroyed, but the back might be – might have some left.  The Ministry team is there, too – Remus is talking to them – but there may not be anything for them to do.  If they used Incendio, it will just look like a normal fire – no sign of arson, and no clear sign of magic.  I could smell where the Death Eaters had been, but I didn’t recognize any of their scents.  I will if I smell them again, though.”  Sirius looked grim.  Hermione grabbed his arm. 

 

“Did you see Crookshanks?”  Sirius’s expression darkened.  Crookshanks had been his friend, when he was trying to break into Hogwarts to get Peter Pettigrew.  He covered Hermione’s hand with his.

 

“No – but Hermione, I’ll go back as a dog and I swear I’ll find him.  I know his scent as well as I know anyone’s.  Leave it to me.”  He stepped back a pace and Disapparated. 

 

Hermione looked somewhat comforted.  She walked back over to the group by the sofa, and let Mrs. Weasley hug her.  Then she bit her lip and looked down at the ground.

 

“Thanks, Ron and Harry,” she muttered.  “I wasn’t thinking straight.  I’m sorry.”  Ron shrugged and grinned a little. 

 

“You’ve held me back often enough.”  It was true.  Harry could remember many times when Hermione had restrained Ron from attacking Draco Malfoy by holding on to the back of his robes.

 

“Yeah,” said Hermione to Ron with a little smile, “but you don’t usually hit me.”    Ron laughed.  Then Hermione gasped and put her hand over her mouth, looking from Ron to Mrs. Weasley.  “The Burrow!”

 

“It’s being checked, dear,” said Mrs. Weasley, putting a hand on Hermione’s shoulder.  “No sense worrying until we hear.”  As if on cue, Arthur Weasley Apparated back into the room and walked immediately to his wife and son.

 

“Nothing,” he said simply.  “It’s fine.”  Mrs. Weasley closed her eyes in relief and Hermione clasped her hands together.  Mr. Weasley turned to Harry. 

 

“Molly said you got a note, and a photograph?”  Harry nodded.  “May I have them, please?  I’ll turn them over to Parker in Magical Law Enforcement.”

 

Harry looked about rather weakly.  He had no idea where the note or the photograph was.  After some searching, it was discovered that Mr. Granger had shoved the photograph into his trouser pocket, and Harry had dropped the note and wrapping on the kitchen floor.  Mr. Weasley took them in his handkerchief without touching them and prepared to leave.  Harry wondered if the wizarding world knew about fingerprints – it appeared that they did.

 

“I think it’s safe for you to go home,” Mr. Weasley said to his wife.  “The team will still be there.”

 

“All right, Arthur, but I think I’ll stay a little while.”  Mr. Weasley nodded and Disapparated.

 

*

 

When Sirius returned, fifteen minutes later, they were all much calmer, sitting and drinking tea.  Hermione jumped to her feet at the sight of him; he was smiling broadly. 

 

“I found Crookshanks three streets away,” he said, “but I persuaded him to go back.  He meowed at the kitchen door of your neighbours on the left, and they took him in.  You can go get him when you get back.”  Hermione thanked him profusely.

 

Sirius sat down and accepted a cup of tea.  “Do you know yet what you’re going to do?” he asked the Grangers.  “Do you need somewhere to stay?”  Mr. Granger looked seriously at his daughter. 

 

“I think we’ll have to do what Hermione’s been begging us to do all summer,” he said slowly.  “My brother-in-law has just moved to the Azores and bought a hotel.  He’s been telling us that the islands are in crying need of dentists and urging us to move our practice there.”

 

“We didn’t really consider moving,” Mrs. Granger added, “but we did take our holiday there this summer, and it really is lovely.  We could sell our practice, and with the insurance money from the house –”  She trailed off and turned to her husband.  “Oh Miles,” she wailed, “how can we even think of going out there and leaving our daughter here – with those, those monsters?”

 

Her husband took her hand comfortingly.  Hermione sat up indignantly.

 

“Mum!” she burst out.  “I’ve told you and told you – I’m a witch and I have to learn how to protect myself.  You’re Muggles, and you – well, you can’t do anything to protect yourselves from them.  I’ll be safer at Hogwarts than anywhere, but if you stay here, they can always use you to get to me” – she lowered her voice – “and to Harry.”

 

Harry set his jaw.  “Mr. and Mrs. Granger, I’m really, really sorry.  I never knew – I mean, when I was making friends with Hermione, I had no idea that – that it was a bad idea for her to be friends with me.”  Hermione and Ron scowled and glared at him, but he ignored them. 

 

“Uh, if you think you could go to the Azores – maybe you should,” continued Harry, wishing he could find better words.  “If you could not tell anyone, or hardly anyone, where you are going, that would be good.”

 

Mrs. Weasley leaned forward.  “I think Harry is right.  You wouldn’t be totally safe there, but I don’t think You-Know-Who would bother you so far away.”

 

And Hermione could still go to you on holidays,” added Harry eagerly.  “She’d be much safer there than at your old house.”  He winced, and flopped a hand helplessly in the air.  “Well, obviously.”

 

Mr. Granger took both his wife’s hands and looked into her eyes. 

 

“I really think we need to do this, Joanna.” Hermione looked beseechingly at her mother.  Mrs. Granger hesitated, and then sighed. 

 

“Very well.”  Harry breathed a sigh of relief.  Hermione nodded with great satisfaction.

 

“Would you like Hermione to come stay with us right now?” Mrs. Weasley spoke up tentatively.  “While you get things in order?”  Hermione shook her head fiercely. 

 

“I’m not leaving them until they’re on the airplane.  I may not be a full-fledged witch, but I can do Stupefy.”  Her face was pale and determined.

 

“That’s the spirit, dear,” said Mrs. Figg briskly, “and I think we can get you some help.  How would you like Alastor Moody as a temporary bodyguard?”  Hermione’s face lightened at the thought of the retired Auror whose motto was ‘Constant Vigilance.’ 

 

“That would be just about perfect,” she smiled. 

 

Harry turned to Mrs. Figg. 

 

“Is that what you are to me?  A bodyguard?  Have you been keeping watch over me all these years?”

 

“It was my pleasure, dear boy.”  Mrs. Figg smiled fondly at him.  “Your grandmother was a very dear friend of mine.”

 

Harry shook his head in amazement. 

 

“All those times you babysat for me – why didn’t you tell me anything?”  He looked around with a sudden frown.  “And where are all your cats?” 

 

“Oh, they’re all upstairs.”  Mrs. Figg smoothed the apron over her flowered dress. “They hate crowds and noise, but I’m sure they’d love to see you sometime when it’s quieter.  As for the secrecy – well, I did as Albus wished.”

 

Suddenly – ‘BANG, BANG, BANG’ – there was a pounding at the front door.  Startled, Mrs. Figg jumped up and rushed into the hall.  Harry and Sirius stood up to follow.  Mrs. Figg looked through the peephole and shrank back with her hand over her mouth. 

 

“Oh,” she whispered to Harry and Sirius, “it’s Vernon Dursley!”

 

 

* * *

//
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