Harry woke up much later than he usually did on mornings. Not wanting to join the Dursleys downstairs and be teased and bullied by his exceedingly overweight cousin, Dudley, he quietly got out of bed, putting on his glasses. Lifting the loose floorboard under his bed, he pulled out Mrs. Weasley's sweets which he had received the previous night, and began to eat. He figured that he should at least have the privilege of enjoying his birthday breakfast.
Opening a chocolate frog, he removed the card from the package and threw it aside, like he always did. He had a good-sized collection of cards ranging from Merlin to Dumbledore to Oliver Wood, his former house Quidditch team captain who was presently the reserve Keeper for Puddlemere United. Taking a second glance at the chocolate frog card, however, he was surprised to see his godfather's face staring back at him. He grabbed the card back from his bed and turned it over to read Sirius's bio:
Sirius Black is arguably the most infamous wizard alive today, aside from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. As a teenager, he attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he befriended none other than James Potter, the father of Harry Potter. Shortly after James's death and You-Know-Who's downfall, Black was arrested for aiding He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and for the murder of 12 Muggles and a wizard with one curse. Two years ago, he escaped from Azkaban (the only wizard ever to do so) with the alleged intention of finishing the job his master couldn't on Halloween night of 1981: that of killing Harry Potter. He still has yet to do so and remains at large.
Harry smiled at the thought of the changes that would need to be made once Wormtail took Sirius's place in Azkaban. He placed Sirius's card with the rest of his collection and continued to eat his so-called breakfast.
When Harry finished eating, he got dressed and made his way downstairs, intending to go out to the garden and relax. But on the way down the stairs, he was stopped by what, at first glance, he thought to be an elephant in his cousin's clothes.
The elephant said, "Why didn't you eat breakfast this morning with us?"
Harry's first reaction was ‘Elephants can't talk!' But then he realized that the elephant was, in fact, Dudley. He had gotten much fatter over Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts, and he still wasn't used to Dudley's added bulk. "Wasn't hungry," he answered his cumbersome cousin. He tried to move past his him, but he was held back.
"Why?" asked his cousin skeptically. "Are you hiding food in your room?"
"No," lied Harry, but just as his words had left his mouth, Dudley had raced towards the stairs. Harry tore after him, and considering that he was about 150 kilograms lighter than his cousin, he caught up to and passed Dudley on the stairs, pushing him out of the way. He reached his room, opened his trunk, grabbed his wand, and had a good two seconds before his cousin showed up in the doorway. He stopped dead when he saw Harry pointing his wand at him.
Obviously attracted by Dudley's groundbreaking footfalls, Uncle Vernon appeared right behind Dudley. "What in bloody hell is going on here?!" he roared.
"Oh, nothing. I'm just thinking that Dudley could do to lose a bit of weight." As he said this, he let his eyes wander from the tip of his wand to his whale of a cousin, making his intentions clear. "Don't you agree?"
For a moment, it looked as if Vernon would set the world record for having the purplest face in Muggle history, but he got control of himself as an evil grin swept across his mustached, pudgy face.
"I know for a fact that if you do any magic here, you'll be expelled from that school of yours!"
"Only if someone rats on me, ant it's unlikely that Hedwig will take any letter from you to the Ministry of Magic."
Realizing the truth in Harry's words, Vernon seemed to turn even purpler in the face.
"Now clear off, both of you, or I'll give you both a couple hundred extra kilograms to play with."
They complied, but Vernon didn't take his eyes off Harry until his uncle came to the stairs. Harry returned his wand to his trunk, and for the second time that day, went downstairs. This time, however, neither Dudley nor Vernon were anywhere to be seen, so he proceeded out to the garden where he sat himself on the bench.
Today was his birthday. He thought of all of the gifts he had got from his friends, again chuckling as he thought of the book Hermione had given him. Then Hagrid's gift came to mind. He imagined it was both very hard to find, and very expensive. Not only that, but he was supposedly on a mission for Dumbledore trying to get the Giants back on their side, meaning that he must have interrupted his work just for him, Harry. He felt quite touched.
Then he thought of Ron's gift. He couldn't wait to get back on his Firebolt racing broom so he could try out some new techniques. Then, his mind moved to Ron's letter which had said that they were trying to get him to be able to stay. He really did want to go to the Burrow this summer. At the end of last term, Mrs. Weasley had told Harry that Dumbledore might let him stay. He had stayed at the Burrow before his fourth year, and if he could help it, he wouldn't let this summer be any different. Plus, with all the excitement, he might stop having his nightmares.
His thoughts then turned to all of the Weasleys and how much he missed them. Mrs. Weasley, always ready and willing to take him in and treat him like her own child; Fred and George and their jokes; Ron who was his best friend in the entire world; Mr. Weasley, always tinkering with Muggle inventions; even Percy with his boring lectures on cauldron bottoms; Ginny who . . . His mind trailed off as he remembered the letter he had written to Ginny the previous night.
"Oh, no. . ." he said, going back through the letter in his mind. Now that he was fully awake, he was able to think clearly about what he had done. Ginny had had a crush on him ever since he had stayed with the Weasleys after his first year. And just last night, he had written a letter to her blatantly telling her that she was stupid for feeling that way? He couldn't believe he had been so stupid.
He raced back inside, almost knocking over Aunt Petunia working in the kitchen on the way (he gave her a hurried apology), and bolted up to his bedroom. Arriving there, he stared around with desperate hopes of what he could do to fix his mistake. Surely he would hear back from Mrs. Weasley with a just few words on the subject.
Finally realizing that there was nothing he could do, he looked at the clock on the wall and saw that it was time for lunch, so he headed downstairs into the kitchen.
Everyone had just sat down for lunch when they heard the flapping of the mail slot coming from the front door.
Harry was confused. Doesn't the mail come in the morning? he thought. He looked out to the front door, and lying on the mat was a bright red envelope addressed to him. His heart sunk to his feet at the sight when he realized that it was a Howler.
"I'll get it," volunteered Harry, for he knew that once it was delivered, there was only a matter of seconds until it exploded and started shouting at him. He ran over to the letter. Then, very quickly, (it was already smoking at the corners) he stooped down, picked it up, and ran up to his room. He could hear his uncle's shouting for him to return to the table, but Harry knew it was for the Dursleys' own good.
He reached his room and slammed the door shut just as it exploded. It wasn't as bad as most Howlers were, however, as it wasn't shouting at him. Mrs. Weasley's voice was still amplified to many times its normal volume, but it was calm, yet disappointed.
"HARRY, IN ALL OF THE YEARS I HAVE KNOWN YOU, YOU HAVE BEEN SWEET, KIND, AND THOUGHTFUL. YOU HAVE NEVER DONE ANYTHING TO HURT ANYONE BEFORE. BUT WHEN GINNY RECEIVED YOUR LETTER, AND I'LL HAVE YOU KNOW THAT I READ IT TOO SO I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT'S GOING ON, SHE WAS PROBABLY THE MOST UPSET AND DISAPPOINTED I HAVE EVER SEEN HER. IT'S NOT RIGHT TO GO TEASING PEOPLE ABOUT THEIR FEELINGS. FOR YOUR OWN SAKE, (GINNY CAN HAVE QUITE A TEMPER WHEN SHE'S UPSET), I HAVE SENT ALONG A PIECE OF PARCHMENT ENCHANTED TO ONLY DISPLAY TRUTHFUL WORDS. ON THIS PARCHMENT, I EXPECT YOU TO WRITE GINNY A PROPER APOLOGY TODAY, OR I PROMISE TO THINK TWICE BEFORE I LET YOU IN MY HOUSE AGAIN. I AM VERY DISAPPOINTED IN YOU, HARRY."
Mrs. Weasley's voice, although not shouting at him, sunk through his heart like a dagger. She had always treated Harry like one of her own, and upsetting her only daughter was how he had shown his thanks. But relief spread through him now that the Howler was apparently done, so he expected it to ignite and burn away. But instead, he then heard another voice being magically projected from the Howler. Harry was confused; he had never known a Howler to come from more than one person before.
He heard Fred's voice say, more calmly than Mrs. Weasley's, yet still magically amplified, "HARRY, AS ONE OF GINNY'S OLDER BROTHERS, I MUST STICK BY HER AND PROTECT HER."
He heard George's voice, then. "I AGREE WITH FRED. NOW, WE THOUGHT YOU WERE AT LEAST HALF-DECENT AFTER WHAT YOU DID FOR US AT THE END OF LAST TERM." George was of course referring to Harry's generous one-thousand-Galleon donation to Weasley's Wizard Wheezes that Ron had asked him about in his letter.
Now it was Fred's turn again. "BUT WHAT YOU DID TO GINNY IS UNACCEPTABLE. IF YOU EVER TEASE HER LIKE THIS AGAIN, THEN WE'LL SEND YOU FREE EXPLOSIVE WHEEZES EVERY DAY FOR THE NEXT SIX MONTHS."
"WHAT MY BROTHER IS SAYING IS YOU'LL REGRET DOING ANYTHING MORE TO UPSET OUR BABY SISTER."
Now that the twins were done, Harry breathed a sigh of relief. He sat back to let the Howler do away with itself, but instead, he heard Ron's voice. Although he was not shouting, the Howler still made him seem at least three times as loud as usual.
"HARRY, I THOUGHT YOU WERE BETTER THAN THIS. I THOUGHT THAT YOU WOULD BE SMART ENOUGH NOT TO GIVE GINNY GRIEF ABOUT HER FEELINGS FOR YOU. WHEN I SAID THAT SHE SHOULD HAVE GOT OVER HER CRUSH ON YOU, I DIDN'T MEAN ANYTHING EXCEPT THAT. I DIDN'T MEAN FOR YOU TO MAKE FUN OF HER FOR IT. NOW, I KNOW I'M NOT THE GREATEST WIZARD IN THE WORLD, OR EVEN AT HOGWARTS; THAT'S HERMIONE; BUT I PROMISE THAT I AM THE BEST BIG BROTHER IN THE WORLD, AND IF YOU EVER DO ANYTHING ELSE TO HURT GINNY, I'LL MAKE SURE YOU'LL BE PUT IN THE HOSPITAL WING FOR THE REST OF THE SCHOOL YEAR."
At long last, the Howler burst into flame leaving a pile of ashes on his floor. He finally looked up, and saw Pig just outside his window. He opened it to let Pig fly in. He dropped a piece of parchment into Harry's waiting hands. Pig then made himself comfortable on top of Hedwig's empty cage.
Looking at the parchment that Pig had dropped, Harry read the words "This parchment is enchanted with a Veritus Charm. Any words written untruthfully on this parchment will not be displayed." Harry remembered what Mrs. Weasley had said about writing an apology to Ginny to be returned the same day, so he sat down and began to write.
First off, I would just like to say that I'm sorry.
He paused there, half expecting his words to not show up on the parchment, but when they stayed, Harry felt better knowing that these words were, in fact, truthful. He continued.
I would also like you to know that when I said I appreciated your thinking of me, that was true. It was a very sweet thing to do, one not many best friend's little sisters would think of. Looking back on my previous letter, I realize how thoughtless it must have sounded, and I really do apologize. So maybe when I see you at Hogwarts, or maybe even at your house, we can talk about it, okay? I don't want there to be any hard feelings, and maybe we can even spend some time together when we see each other and get to know each other better. So, I really am very sorry, and I'll see you later.
All my apologies,
After checking his letter to make sure it was completely truthful (he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that all of his words were still there), Harry folded the parchment and sent it of with Pig after letting him drink a bit of Hedwig's water from her dish. Harry watched his friend's tiny owl's retreating form until he was out of sight. Deciding he'd better go downstairs and explain everything to the Dursleys, Harry returned to lunch.
"WHAT IN BLOODY HELL WAS THAT ALL ABOUT?!" roared Uncle Vernon when Harry returned to the kitchen. "HOW DARE YOU BE SO DISRESPECTFUL TO YOUR AUNT AND ME?"
"Well," said Harry, not really in the mood to be respectful to his uncle, "when one wizard-" he emphasized the word ‘wizard' to annoy Uncle Vernon "-is mad at another wizard, he sends the other a Howler. When the other wizard gets the Howler, it shouts insults at them so as to embarrass them in hopes that other wizards are listening."
Harry was happy to see his uncle's face turn purple for what seemed like the fifth time that day.
"Well, then, I want you to write back to these idiots-" he said this last word looking straight in Harry's eyes as if to say "I will never say the ‘W' word," "-and tell them never to send you another ‘Growler.'"
"Howler," corrected Harry absentmindedly, taking a bite of his lunch.
"Don't you go correcting me, boy!" shouted Vernon slamming his fist on the table so hard that the plates jumped.
"Fine," said Harry, "but while we're talking about letters, I might as well send one to Sirius-"
"--Yes, my godfather – saying that you guys are being abusive to me again." Harry didn't really intend to tell Sirius about the Dursleys. He was just using the idea to his advantage. He knew that if he did write to Sirius, he would overreact, added to which, Harry had already dealt with the Dursleys for fifteen years. He had made dealing with them into almost an art form.
"Haven't they caught that lunatic yet?" asked Vernon, trying to turn the subject away from their abuse of Harry.
"Why don't you turn on the television and find out. Such a criminal should have made the top news."
Looking skeptically at Harry, Vernon nodded to Dudley, who had the remote control at his spot.
Dudley whined. "Aw, Dad, I wanted to see this show!"
"Dudley," said Vernon threateningly. So, muttering under his breath, Dudley switched the television to the news channel. They watched for a few minutes, but there was no report on Sirius. Vernon looked at Harry.
"Hah! Look's like there's not any-"
Just at that moment, the news reporter said, "And just last night, the escaped alleged murderer, Sirius Black, turned himself in. As it seems presently, the murder he was accused of and imprisoned for was in fact committed by another man who then framed Mr. Black. His trial is to be held privately today, and if he was in fact framed, he will be compensated for his imprisonment." The news then switched to the weather report, leaving the entire Dursley family to stare open-mouthed at Harry.
"How the hell did you know about this, boy?!"
"He wrote me about it last night."
"He's been writing to you?!"
"Sure has. And if you do anything to me that is abusive, then he'll find out. Innocent or not, he'll still come after you — and just remember, he's a fully qualified wizard."
"Fully grown lunatic if you ask me," sputtered Vernon through his bushy mustache, looking down at his plate.
Harry stood up at that moment. For a split second, Vernon thought he was about to start punching him, but instead, Harry was calm. He said, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an essay I have to write on making poisons from snake venom for my potions class." And before Vernon could tell him off, Harry had disappeared up the stairs and into his room.
A/N Special thanks to my beta, Jo, with this chapter.