The Sugar Quill
Author: Aragog (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Harry Potter and the Staff of Serpents  Chapter: Chapter 3: Classes, Conundrums, and Departures
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.


Standard disclaimer: the author is not stealing the mearest portion of bread out of the mouths of J.K. Rowling's children.

Non-standard praises: to Yolanda, my conscientious beta.








Chapter Three
Classes, Conundrums, and Departures


Needless to say, Harry was more than a little preoccupied after waking. There was so much to sort out, and he had so much trouble recalling facts that came to him in dreams. They always seemed to melt away when exposed to sunlight.

Voldemort and his inner circle were fleeing England... no, they were looking for something... the Book of Serpents?... the Staff of Serpents?... they already had the Book of Serpents... something else... the Book's companion?... it was in Mongolia... it was near Mongolia... the San Mountains? Sulan Mountains? Yana Mountains?... and he was going to attack the school with an invisible weapon?... did Snape know that?... he'd sent Snape away, Snape didn't know anything except that the rest were leaving... Voldemort must not trust Snape... the Department of Mysteries knew about the Order of the Phoenix now... and about Sirius... except they probably didn't believe me... they didn't know about my link with Voldemort....

He concentrated on writing down as much as he could remember of that portion of the night's escapades involving Voldemort; the Dark Lord was the immediate threat, whereas who knew if his interview with the Ministry investigators might eventually be important or not.

His thoughts still Elsewhere, Harry finally went downstairs to eat two hours later. He barely registered the scolding Aunt Petunia couldn't stop herself from giving him for apparently sleeping in so late. Or for "having toast and cereal at lunch time." Nor did he pay her much mind when she abruptly lapsed into an anxious, sullen silence.

He knew he had to tell Dumbledore right away, that much was sure... or was it? Everything Voldemort had said seemed to be about stuff in the planning stages, and The Order had plenty of ways of finding out what it needed to know. And it wasn't like anyone was breaking their back to tell him what was going on... but he wasn't going to let himself get all upset about that again.

With a sigh of resignation, Harry temporarily set aside his desire to go out for another random walk around Little Whinging and trudged back up to his room to dash off yet another letter. What a lot of practice he was getting at them. This one however wasn't going to be anything elaborate, he decided. It wasn't even going to be a letter really. More like a sentence. It read:

Dear Professor Dumbledore

I had two dreams last night from which I learned things that might interest you.

Harry


He studied the note. Even though it revealed nothing about his dreams, sending it via owl post probably wasn't advisable. The mere fact his dreams were giving him information that "might interest" Dumbledore was incriminating enough in itself. And Hedwig was still out delivering the letters he'd given her the night before, so she wasn't an option at the moment anyway.

Harry decided to drop the letter at Arabella Figg's house and let her pass it along. He briefly considered knocking when he arrived at her front door, but rejected that for fear she might detain him. Instead he scrawled Sorry to be in such a rush. I'd be grateful if you could give this to Professor Dumbledore. Thanks. H.P. on the outside of the folded up note, slid it through the mail slot, and got on with his day.

~~*~~

"Getting on with his day" was something Harry was getting very good at, not that he'd stopped counting them. He just didn't know exactly which day he was counting to. His sixteenth birthday came and went on July 31st, and Dumbledore still hadn't responded to his note or given him permission to leave the Dursleys... but he wasn't going to let himself get all upset about that again. There was probably a lot going on.

And anyway it had been a reasonably decent birthday. Fred and George sent him a Wheezes Assortment, including more Bubble Blasters gum, so that he could "carry on their work at Hogwarts." They'd also assured him that no, the package of gum wasn't supposed to disappear, but they were glad he liked it. Mrs Weasley had sent a delicious cake, with a promise of a bigger one later.

Ron and Ginny had pooled their resources to get him a big bag of Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans. They also wrote him separate letters. Ginny's filled him in on events around 12 Grimmauld Place, including her practice sessions throwing a Quaffle at "an unwilling target." Harry supposed that meant Ron's head or something.

Ron's letter implied that he'd earned eight O.W.L.s. Like Harry, he was stunned that his scores were so good. Except for the "A" he just barely scraped in Divination, their results were remarkably similar. He joked that the only reason he got a Divination O.W.L. was because some of the mist in Trewlaney's classroom had soaked into his brain. He did not mention his History of Magic score, which led Harry to believe it must have been pretty awful.

Hermione, predictably, sent him a book: Secrets of the Seekers: Strategies and Techniques Used by the Best to Catch the Snitch First, which became The Dark Arts Outsmarted when he opened the cover. Strange. His Occlumency manual also used Secrets of the Seekers as a disguise. Harry was beginning to wonder if that particular Quidditch title really existed.

She also sent a detailed breakdown of her O.W.L. results. It all came to the same thing: twelve, just as he thought. "O"s across the board except Ancient Runes and Astronomy, which were "E"s. Try as she might, the generally effusive tone of her letter couldn't quite conceal her disappointment at falling just short of outstanding in those two subjects. Nor could she stop herself from gently chiding Harry for his cavalier attitude about failing to get an O.W.L. in Divination or History of Magic, even if she was amused by his fanciful application of the former.

Hagrid sent a tin of his homemade treacle fudge and a book with blank covers that hissed menacingly at Harry when he brought his hands near it. Harry tried a little of the fudge, just to find out if spending time with Madame Maxime had improved Hagrid's cooking. It hadn't. The fudge was impossible for ordinary humans to chew. But that was okay. Harry chopped, carved, and hacked at it until he'd divided it into squares, which he planned to leave around the house in places where Dudley was likely to find them. Then he held his breath and had a go at the book.

It turned out to be a comprehensive description of different kinds of magical reptiles. The hissing was either meant as a harmless threat display, or as a substitute for a printed title, or both. As with his third year, there was a cryptic note suggesting it would be the text used in Care of Magical Creatures. Harry thought his Parseltongue would come in handy if they spent much time on snakes, but knowing Hagrid he knew he'd do better to expect sulfur turtles at best or a dragon at worst.

The strangest thing he got in the mail was his Hogwarts letter from Professor McGonagall:

Dear Mr. Potter

Please note that the new school year will begin on September the First. The Hogwarts Express will leave from King's Cross station, platform nine and three-quarters, at eleven o'clock.

As you are now entering sixth year, it is time for you to decide which courses you will study in preparation for your N.E.W.T.s. If you still wish to become an Auror, the career preference you expressed during our counseling session, you will need at a minimum to continue your education in Charms, Transfiguration, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Potions. Your O.W.L. results were sufficient to qualify in each subject, as well as in Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures. In addition, Professor Firenze has made a special request that you complete at least another year of Divination. Choose your classes from the enclosed list and return it immediately:

[ ] Charms
[ ] Transfiguration
[ ] Defense Against the Dark Arts
[ ] Potions
[ ] Herbology
[ ] Care of Magical Creatures
[ ] Divination

Yours Sincerely,

Professor M. McGonagall
Deputy Headmistress


PS: With the departure of Dolores Umbridge, Headmaster Dumbledore has decided to lift the lifetime Quidditch ban imposed on you last season.


Harry was at once elated and crestfallen. He could officially play Quidditch again! But another year of Divination!? What good would that do? His score on the Divination O.W.L. was atrocious. By rights he should have been rid of the subject forever. And he knew for a fact he did not qualify for further study in Potions. Unless McGonagall had misread his results, or gotten them confused with another student's, something else was going on.

Once again, no one bothered to explain... but he wasn't going to let himself get upset about that. He would simply ask for an explanation. There was no one stopping him from doing that, now was there? This wasn't Order business after all.

Dear Professor McGonagall

I apologize for not returning my class list yet, but there is something I don't understand. I didn't score well enough on my Potions O.W.L. to continue with it. My combined was an "E," and you told me Professor Snape wouldn't take anyone past fifth year who didn't earn an "O". Has something been changed?

Sincerely,

Harry Potter

PS: Thanks for arranging to let me play Quidditch again.


~~*~~

Three largely uneventful days later he was up early. It was now a week into August. In those scattered moments when his mind wasn't occupied with Voldemort and Death Eaters and the war and the people he lost and whether he was even going to have a future to plan for, Harry wrestled with what classes he should take. He was still convinced Potions had to be out of the question; Snape would not lower his standards just so he could continue with the subject. In any case, the thought of finishing his education at Hogwarts without having to deal with the ill-tempered Potions Master was such a happy prospect he couldn't let go of it.

Charms, Transfiguration, and Defense were fundamentally too important to quit, so he wouldn't drop them. It seemed like he was stuck with Divination whether he wanted it or not. That left Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures. He could see himself giving up both, which would allow him more time for the four classes he had left. He could also see himself going on with both. Herbology classes were always dirty and tiring, but unlike Charms, Transfiguration, or Potions it was a subject he understood implicitly without having to flog his brain.

As for Care of Magical Creatures, Hagrid would feel disappointed if Harry didn't stay with him. And like Herbology, he had a good grasp of it without having to suffer undue mental strain. Taking one or the other, but not both, was also a possibility. He just couldn't decide between them. There was only one solution: ask Ron what he was studying. He didn't have to ask Hermione; he knew she was going to sign up for everything she could.

But before he could write to Ron a return letter came from Hogwarts.

Dear Mr. Potter

Professor Snape has expanded eligibility for Advanced Potions to students who scored an "E" on their Potions O.W.L. I would take this opportunity to remind you a Potions N.E.W.T. at an "E" grade level is essential if you intend to become an Auror.

Yours Sincerely,

Professor M. McGonagall
Deputy Headmistress


So there it was. He could take Advanced Potions after all. Someone, probably Dumbledore, must have been moving heaven and earth on his behalf. It didn't take a lot of effort to imagine how much Snape was going to resent that. The head of Slytherin House thought Harry had been given every indulgence already.

No sooner had he marked all seven check boxes on his list (something about the implicit obligation to take Potions made him give up on the idea of quitting anything) than two more owls flew in. One was carrying The Daily Prophet, and right on the front page was a story that explained something he'd been wondering about since his last Voldemort dream:

RAID ON MALFOY MANOR
Ministry Aurors Discover Large Number of Dark Artifacts

In a secret raid on Malfoy Manor five days ago Aurors with the Ministry of Magic recovered a large number of objects that once belonged to the newly risen He-who-must-not-be- named. They were in the care of Lucius Malfoy, the owner of the imposing fortress, who until recently was an eminent and influential wizard best known for his well-publicized contributions to charity. It has since been revealed by The Prophet that Malfoy's generosity concealed his identity as a Death Eater and close confidant of the Dark Lord. He escaped from Azkaban Prison little more than two weeks ago. It is believed the Ministry was hoping to recapture him unawares at home. Instead they stumbled onto an unexpected trove of artifacts that could have greatly aided the Dark Lord's evil designs on wizarding peoples around the world. Evidence at the scene suggests Malfoy was only hours away from removing them, but barely eluded capture himself.

Aurors also found a carefully maintained ledger cataloging all of the artifacts. The Ministry is in the process of cross- referencing this document with the items in custody to determine if all have been found. Anonymous sources say they are confident only a very few are not securely in the Ministry's possession.


There followed a description of some of the artifacts, and Harry had to admit it was a good thing Voldemort didn't have them. Not that anyone should have been confident they were safe from his grasp; the Dark Lord had said without hesitation he had supporters and sympathizers within the Ministry. Besides which, he had the Book of Serpents, the one artifact he did want, and whatever its purpose that had to be a very bad thing.

What really surprised Harry though, was that the raid took place at all. It was wildly out of character for Cornelius Fudge. Had somebody put a bug in his ear to make him wage war decisively? Another mystery to ponder if he ever ran short of things to think about, which he most certainly wasn't. At least the Malfoys were finally, deservedly, being held up to the kind of press scrutiny Harry himself had always been subjected to, even if The Prophet was giving itself a lot more credit than it deserved for revealing Malfoy's true nature. The man had only been caught red handed skulking around the Department Mysteries with some of the worst Dark Wizards of their time, after all. And at any rate The Quibbler had beaten The Prophet to that revelation by several months.

The other post owl turned out to be the one he appreciated most, which was all the more remarkable because it carried almost no information. In fact, the small slip of parchment tied to its leg merely posed a question:

"Thinking about leaving?"

Harry took a closer look at the owl. He'd never seen this one before. She was small and superficially resembled Ron's owl Pig, except that she was as phlegmatic as Pig was hyper.

Finding no clues to her origin, he turned his attention back to the parchment. On the other side were the letters "www" in very small print. That gave him a pretty good idea. "www" must stand for Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes; the owl must belong to either Fred or George; the letter, if you could call it that, obviously had something to do with leaving the Dursleys. Harry just had to figure out how to activate the real message.

He read it aloud. He prodded it with his wand. He thought hard, really, really hard, about leaving, and prodded it some more. He held it up to a mirror. He put it in his mouth (the little owl, which was sticking around for some reason, looked like it was suppressing the owl equivalent of laughter when he tried that). He folded it up as tightly as possible and unfolded it again.

Finally, he threw it down on his desk and barked in frustration "Yes, I'm thinking about leaving!" Turning around to exit his room he muttered, "I've been thinking about leaving since day one."

That was why Harry didn't notice the influence his initial exclamation had on the note. He was too busy pinching a cigarette lighter from Dudley's room to find out if holding it above an open flame would do anything. No sooner had he inadvertently singed the edge of the paper when he saw the words were different and snatched it way just in time to prevent a real fire:

Tomorrow. 8:00am. Be ready.

Then it ignited of its own accord and disappeared. The little owl gave a satisfied yawn, clicked her beak, ruffled her wings, hooted once, and flew away.

The rest of the day couldn't have passed more slowly. As soon as the note told him freedom was at hand he immediately set about gathering together quills, parchment, books, clothing, birthday gifts, and broomstick, and put all of it in his trunk. Then he took everything back out to retrieve the broom, which was on the bottom, and put it all back in again; they might be traveling via broomstick after all.

That had taken him up to about 1:00pm. He spent the rest of the afternoon and evening bouncing around 4 Privet Drive, so giddy with anticipation and happiness that all three of the Dursleys couldn't help noticing, and as a group became extremely surly even by their own standards. When he told them he was leaving, their mood, perversely, got both better and worse. They were as eager to be rid of him as he was of them, but maybe they thought he should have been grateful for their (involuntary) forbearance, or maybe they just resented him being happy in their house.

Whatever the reason for it, their attitude didn't bother Harry in the least. He was going back to his people, his real family. He couldn't even bring himself to feel gleeful at dinner when Dudley's jaws were sealed shut by the square of treacle fudge he'd tried to gobble down in one big bite. Nor did Harry get angry when Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia glared reproachfully at him like it was all his fault. Not too angry anyway. He did put the fudge where Dudley would find it. But it was Dudley's own fault his eyes bugged out whenever a bit of sweet landed in front of him. And this was the third time in three days. Even someone as thick as his cousin should have caught on by now.

~~*~~

Harry was up at 6:30am the next morning, too excited to sleep. He contrived a way to slide his trunk out of his room without making a lot of noise, then gripped an end handle and eased it slowly down the stairs step by careful step. When he finally reached the front hallway it was nearly 7:00am. One hour. Time enough for the last thing he intended to do here, which was to put his favorite jeans in the washing machine and clean them up. He reckoned that by getting them started so early they'd be done before Aunt Petunia noticed.

Everything might have gone perfectly if he'd begun the wash as soon as he was awake and on his feet. But as it was Monday his Aunt and Uncle were both stirring by 7:10am or so. Even if they didn't hear the machine's low thrumming there was no misunderstanding the cause when Uncle Vernon attempted to take a shower and got only a weak trickle of water. Harry had just finished bringing Hedwig and his Firebolt downstairs when a damp but by no means clean Vernon Dursley let out a roar of frustration and came pounding down the steps in his bathrobe.

"What have you done this time, boy!" snarled the elder Dursley, his moustache twitching with agitation.

"I haven't done anything," Harry replied, knowing it was futile. He'd been saying that ever since he could talk and no one had believed him yet. It looked like he wasn't going to get away from Privet Drive without a row after all.

From where they were standing it was much easier to hear the washer. Vernon's eyes narrowed. "So, thought you'd play a little trick on us did you? Wanted to have a little fun with us all before you scarpered, eh?"

"I wanted to wash my jeans and take them with me," replied Harry "There was nothing in it about 'having fun' with you."

That was an understatement; "fun" and "Durlsey" went together in Harry's mind like barbecue sauce and ice cubes.

"What are you doing to my washer!?" shrieked Aunt Petunia, drawn to the foot of the stairs by the argument.

"I'm using it to clean up my trousers, the ones that got muddy in the rain," said Harry in a deadpan voice. "That's what you do with washers you know, put dirty clothes in them. Then they come out clean. It's like magic, really."

He might as well have waved a red cape in front of his uncle.

"HOW DARE YOU MENTION YOUR ABNORMALITY IN THIS HOUSE!" roared Uncle Vernon, who really needed to get a new line.

"I didn't mention my 'abnormality,' you did. All I said was your washer was 'like magic,'" responded Harry, well aware the Durlseys weren't going to be impressed or persuaded by his command of logic.

"You ungrateful brat!" screeched his Aunt.

"We've given you everything," barked Uncle Vernon, picking up the familiar theme. "We've allowed you every freedom in the past month, and this is how you repay our hospitality! Well I'VE HAD ENOUGH I TELL YOU! It's time you had a good thrashing!"

The hem of his bathrobe swirling about his chunky legs, Uncle Vernon dashed into the living room and grabbed a decorative cast iron fire poker propped next to the fireplace. By this time a grinning Dudley had come down to watch the show. He was holding another square of Hagrid's treacle fudge, which he absently popped into his mouth.

Oh, here we go again, thought Harry miserably. He was only washing a pair of trousers for goodness sakes. Couldn't these people have kept their head about them for just one more measly hour?

Evidently not. Evidently the accumulated pressures and indignities that built up during the month they'd been forced to behave with relative comity could no longer be contained. Uncle Vernon was soon waddling after Harry taking wild swings with the poker, his face almost violet, his eyeballs convulsing so hard they were moving independently of each other. Harry backed away into the kitchen with his wand drawn and positioned the kitchen table between himself and his Uncle, who slowed only enough to consider how he would attack next.

Petunia and Dudley followed as far as the kitchen entryway, the former looking frightened and the latter torn between competing desires to let his fists join in or use them to protect his backside. He settled for squealing "get 'em Dad!" Which came out like "Gaa'm! Daah!" because the treacle fudge had glued his jaws shut again.

"What is it Duddykins? What's wrong? WHAT DID YOU DO TO HIM!?" screamed Aunt Petunia. She'd gone from Concerned Parent to Realization to Banshee in the blink of an eye.

Uncle Vernon looked over, saw his son trying to pry his own mouth open, and lost what little grip on rationality he had left. With a feral roar he lunged right at Harry heedless of the furniture and wound up beached on top of the table with his arms outstretched, ineffectually swishing the poker through the air. The table creaked and groaned, and something underneath it cracked, but it miraculously held Vernon's ample weight. Harry saw his opportunity to grab the weapon when an odd noise caused all four of them pause and look toward the back of the house.

The washing machine, which was located in a small alcove off the hallway, was making loud knocking and gurgling sounds. Then it went "BLORP," and temporarily quieted down. A large oblong purple bubble came drifting up the hall, floated in over everyone's heads, slowly circled the kitchen, and broke when it came in contact with the side of Vernon's face. The resulting lopsided mask and skullcap effect it created was approximately as appealing as his normal appearance.

I think I remember where I put that first pack of gum now, thought Harry with a creeping sense of trepidation.

"ARGH!" yelled Uncle Vernon. He waved the poker gracelessly with one hand, tore at the gum on his face with the other, and tried to back himself off the table with his elbows all at the same time.

The washing machine meanwhile had resumed its knockings and gurglings, then went "BURRRAPP!" Another large purple bubble drifted into view and exploded itself all over Dudley.

"waaaACH!" he wailed, partially wrenching his mouth open, " I's eatin' me! 's athakun muh!" Petunia frantically tried to help him pull the sticky stuff away without much success.

"PLBBBBBTD" went the washer like Peeves blowing the biggest raspberry of his life. A convoy of purple bubbles the size of footballs* came racing onto the scene, circling the three Dursleys.

"Vernon! Look out!" shrieked Aunt Petunia, who was thrashing and flailing her arms to little effect.

Uncle Vernon was now back on his feet, thrusting the poker at bubbles to pop them but not hitting anything. "Make them stop this instant!" He bellowed at Harry.

"I don't know how to stop them! I don't even know how they started!" Harry yelled back. Nor would he have tried even if he could; he was starting to enjoy this, and anyway not a one of the bubbles was coming after him.

Against all odds the inexpertly wielded poker struck one of its targets dead on, but instead of bursting the bubble split in two.

"Everybody into the living room!" commanded Vernon as the washing machine went "URRRRRRP!" and more bubbles came out.

A brief scrum broke out at the living room doorway when the Dursleys all tried to go in at once, during which a bubble or four broke itself on an arm or a leg or a shoulder. Somehow Aunt Petunia got through first, then Dudley and Uncle Vernon, who slammed it shut behind him just before the reinforcements arrived. Harry heard what sounded like the couch being dragged over and braced against the door to act as a barricade. Which was pointless; the door opened the other way.

Some of the bubbles clustered at the entrance to the living room, trying to squeeze in around the edges of the door or through the keyhole before breaking. Others went exploring; several of Aunt Petunia's decorative china plates acquired a fetching purple skin, as did a couple doorknobs and light fixtures. Still others broke open at random points on the walls, leaving irregular splat marks.

"FWWwwweldt," whistled the washing machine issuing a multitude of small orbs, its internal distress somewhat relieved.

Harry looked at his watch: 7:30am. If everything had gone normally the wash would be about done by now. Not that it mattered anymore; his trousers were probably good for nothing more than service as walking Bubble Blaster gum advertisements. Ah well, no harm in checking. The bubbles were still leaving him alone, so he walked back to the washer and opened the lid.

"Eerp" it went and a few more tennis ball-sized spheres flew away to either side of him. Thankfully, these machines were made to stop when the lid was up. He pulled up the sopping garment and checked it over. There was a shapeless lump and a lurid swirling splotch on the rear pocket where he must have left the gum, but otherwise the rest of it seemed fine. Feeling slightly better, Harry dug out what remained of the gum and closed the lid again.

"Pfwit - foop - poot" were apparently the last words the washer had to say on the subject, and something very resembling individual grapes emerged.

On his way back to the kitchen Harry stopped to listen at the living room door. There were scraping sounds, occasionally some muffled kvelling, and a goodly number of grunts and curses from Uncle Vernon.

"What is this damned stuff!? It sticks to damn near everything! I'm going to wring that damn boy's neck when we come out of here!"

Harry decided against telling the Dursleys it was safe now. Besides, there were still bubbles floating free. He sat down on his trunk to watch them.

At 7:40am the washer stopped, and Harry went to put his jeans in the dryer. Twenty minutes would have to do it. The Dursley sounded like they were still trying to get gum out of their clothing and hair.

At 8:00am the dryer stopped. Simultaneously, the doorbell rang, prompting a new round of curses from the living room. Harry got up and opened the front door expecting to see a group of wizards and witches. Instead there was a frail old lady with wispy hair in a faded floral dress.

"Can I help you?" he asked uncertainly.

"I have an appointment to see the man of the house," said the old lady in a croaky voice, "May I come in?"

Uncle Vernon had an appointment with this old lady? What in the world could she have had to do with power drills? Harry suspected he was being had, but he opened the door wider and stood aside, saying "Of course."

She hobbled in and waited, looking at him expectantly.

"Err, uh, let me show you into the kitchen. Then I'll get my Uncle." This was going to be interesting. A visitor to the Dursley home at a time when it looked like it had been attacked by a blind lunatic having seizures. When she saw it all Aunt Petunia would probably suffer a spontaneous lobotomy.

Harry turned his back and took about four steps up the hall when he was hit square between the shoulder blades with a tickling charm. He spun around and saw in place of the frail old lady a healthy young woman with garish pink and green hair.

"Wotcher Harry?" said a grinning Nymphadora Tonks.

Harry was giggling too hard to reply, but he did manage a sort of convulsive hand wave. Standing on the front step were Fred & George Weasley, Remus Lupin, and Mad-eye Moody, all of whom were more or less effectively disguised as Muggles. His spirits soared, and it had nothing to do with the charm. These were the wizards and the witch (minus Arthur Weasley; no doubt the twins were here in his place) who'd stood up for him at Kings Cross station, who made the Dursleys treat him decently.

They began filing in. Stepping forward to make room, Tonks lost her balance when her left boot connected with Harry's trunk. She stumbled right into his chest, drove both of them with a thud into the wall, and from there to a tangled heap on the floor. Harry was laughing the whole time.

Smiling but collected as always, Lupin pointed his wand at Harry and said "Finite Incantatem." Harry immediately regained most of his composure (he was blushing just a bit) and set about extricating himself from Tonks.

"Sorry Harry," she said, somewhat pink-faced herself, when they were back on their feet.

"Let that be a lesson to you not to turn your back, boy. Constant Vigilance!" growled Moody, thunking through the door with the closest thing to a grin his face could manage.

Once everyone was safely inside, and Harry had enthusiastically shaken hands all around, the remnants of the catastrophe that preceded their arrival caught their attention. As did Uncle Vernon's furious pounding on the living room door and his demands to be let out immediately; the gum bubbles that broke trying to get around the door had caulked it shut.

Moody's response was emphatic.

"DURSLEY" he roared back. "You sure you want to come out here? If I see your mug I might just decide to fix it!"

Then he cocked his head at Harry. "Hrmph. We were going to put that lout in his place when we got here. Looks like you've sorted him out fine on your own, lad."

"What happened here Harry?" asked Fred. "Is this a new Muggle decorating scheme?" He was clearly amused by the additions to the interior of the Dursley home.

"A shame it isn't pink." said Tonks. "Purple isn't my color at all," Then she scrunched up her face and turned her spiky pink and green hair into ropy dreadlocks the same color as the gum anyway.

George was taking a closer look at some of the purple residue. "Is this what I think... Harry! This is a brilliant use of our gum! How long did it take you to do all this?"

"It took about ten minutes, but it's not all my doing." said Harry. He then did his best to explain how he woke up early to wash his jeans, how he got into a fight with the Dursleys because of it, and how the Muggle washing machine started burping big gum bubbles that attacked his aunt, uncle, and cousin until they hid in the living room.

"Right boy, save the long version for later," said Moody, holding up a toilet plunger. "Do you want to stay here and keep your relatives company, or shall we be on our way before every git at the Ministry shows up with a court summons?"

So they were traveling by Portkey. Wasn't that supposed to be dangerous because it was too easy to trace?

"Won't the Ministry know we're using a Portkey?" asked Harry.

"That's why Dad isn't here," said George.

"He's, uh, persuading the Department of Magical Transportation to look the other way for a just a little while," said Fred.

Something heavy crashed against the living room door, which shuddered and cracked but did not give way. Tonks picked up Harry's broomstick. George floated his trunk. Fred picked up Hedwig in her cage. They all put a free hand on the plunger. Moody was about to activate it when he was momentarily distracted.

"WHO IS THAT YOU'RE TALKING TO BOY!?" bellowed a beyond livid Vernon Dursley. "I WILL NOT HAVE THOSE... THOSE *FREAKS* IN MY HOUSE!"

Everyone looked at each other. No matter how awful Harry said they were, there was nothing like experiencing the Dursleys first hand.

"You know, in about ten seconds that's going to be a factually true statement," was Remus' deadpan observation, nodding at the source of the interruption.

Harry remembered something just as Moody was completing the incantation.

"Wait! Accio trousers!" Down the hall the dryer sprung open and the denim jeans flew into his wand-hand a half-second before he felt the familiar jerk behind his navel.

No sooner had the group disappeared when a crushing blow finally broke the living room door from its hinges and Uncle Vernon staggered into the kitchen.

"WAIT UNTIL I GET MY HANDS ON YOU, YOU... YOU...."

"pwip" went the washing machine, and a blueberry-sized gum bubble dribbled out.








A/N: American readers should note that the phrase "bubbles the size of footballs" uses the term "football" as the rest of the world understands it: a round object almost exclusively manipulated with the feet, not an elliptical object that is occasionally kicked but mostly carried by hand. Substitute soccer balls and you've got the idea.

To SpellChecker, who notes that Harry's letter to Gred and Forge in Ch 1 uses the word "principle" when it should have been "principal:" You're determined to live up to your screen name, aren't you? You are correct though, and the error is indeed mine, although if I wanted to be a butt-covering bureaucrat or politician about it I would blame my beta.(Who has, by the way, corrected it. You are having an influence. Between you and Yolanda I'm sure to end up with a story free of spelling, grammatical, and word usage errors).

In answer to Brianne's question: "is it Mundungus Fletcher? The associate with questionable loyalty, that is." That's for me to know and you to find out.

Thank you CheddarTrek, anna, mommacat, Elisabeth Cline, A. Lee, Giesbrecht, pegoheart144, MrRobertsIII, Laura Carlie Darla Carems, Mary, Margaret B, Delleve, slateone, Melodie, slate-one, Kristen, Sweetfreak, Sinbin, Kate Lynn, lily, Rainydaie, tamira, fetishized_armadillo (nice handle!), keely, Valerie, PhoenixWings, Bitz, Nev, Lenayvonne, Melindaleo2000, Sabre, Shloz, Lilac, Megan Laura, uremia, Giesbrecht, Three Sickles Short, Susan, Becky, Jorge, britneyfan, Erin, caitlin, Brianne, and nuey for your reviews.





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