Through the front window of number four, Privet Drive, three pairs of eyes stared from behind a narrowly parted curtain, mouths agape at the seemingly horrific scene beyond the parlor window.
Across the street, a large banner had just been unfurled from the second story, emblazoned with the number "16." Any such banner would look odd in the presence of the perfectly manicured lawns and square homes of this suburban neighborhood, but this particular banner was strange all on its own.
Dozens of tiny broomsticks made up the numeral one in the "16," and a long-maned lion, sitting on his haunches, legs curving together into a circle, formed the six. The spies in number four thought they saw a small golden ball on the banner as well, but every time they looked it was in a different place. It also seemed every now and then the lion would raise a paw to swat at the ball, and if they had been paying attention they would have noticed some of the brooms break away from their number to poke at the lion's back. The large cat had an uncomfortable look on his face.
The possessed banner was the newest of several bizarre sights infesting this corner of Surrey over the last few days. Every other house had some sort of sign bearing the number sixteen, the words "Happy Birthday, Harry!" or both. There was a tent set up in one nearby garden that close inspection would have revealed didn't include nearly the appropriate number of poles, and the house next to it hosted a birthday sign with a picture that looked suspiciously like a dark haired, bespectacled boy behind the wheel of a flying Ford Anglia.
Vernon Dursley was beside himself. Little more than a month ago, this had been a perfectly normal neighborhood, with perfectly normal houses and perfectly normal neighbors. Now, though...
"It's all his fault!" Vernon roared to his wife Petunia and their son Dudley, though under his breath, as they were still peaking from behind the curtain. Just then, a loud rattling crash came from upstairs.
"Him!" Vernon said to the ceiling, his entire body shaking with fury and his great walrus mustache seeming ready to pounce of his behalf. Suddenly, a blinding red flash and rumbling explosion lit the front window, and sent them scrambling behind the nearest furniture.
"Sorry, test run!" came a voice from outside. And to add insult to injury, the phone rang, an event that had become far worse than random explosions in the street at the Dursley residence.
"I'll get it," the Dursley's nephew, Harry Potter, called from upstairs.
Harry came out from what until a month ago had been the Dursley's guest room, but was now Dudley's weight room. The weights were the Dursley's welcome home present to their still chubby son, who along with growing at least three inches over the last year had retained his title as Junior Heavyweight Inter-School Boxing Champion of the Southeast with such distinction that he had received attention from several professional trainers, something Uncle Vernon made common knowledge for other poor souls in the drilling industry.
Dudley, however, had so far spent very little of the summer training. It seemed every time he tried to walk down the street, a pair of roller skates or a deep fissure in the concrete would appear mysteriously beneath his feet. The damage to his ankles could not be overestimated, as so many years keeping apart the gravitational pulls of the Earth and Dudley had made them very susceptible to injury.
Because of his seemingly constant injuries, Dudley had been unable to use his gift, a fact his cousin had taken quick advantage of.
Harry had sweat through the oversized tee shirt he wore (one of Dudley's old ones), and as he reached the hall table where the phone was kept, he noticed he was dripping on the floor. Oh well. He thought briefly about ringing out his sweaty shirt all over the carpet, before picking up the phone.
"Harry?" the voice on the other side asked in a whisper.
"Ron? Speak up, I can barely hear you."
"I can't. Fred's home."
As Harry's best friend Ron Weasley's family was made up entirely of witches and wizards and had no need for a telephone, Ron was forced to Floo over to his twin brothers Fred and George's new flat in London to call Harry. This had the less than desirable side effect of letting the twins know whenever Harry was on the line, and one of them would invariably demand to speak to the Dursleys.
Already this summer, they had managed to convince Aunt Petunia she had won a nationwide giveaway by a famous jewelry company (they sent her a toilet seat), Uncle Vernon to ship 200 drills to the address of a grade school teacher they had disliked in Ottery St. Catchpole (his boss had nearly taken it out of his paycheck), and Dudley, briefly, that Harry did in fact attend St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys (which is what his Aunt and Uncle told the neighbors), and had been slipping mickeys in Dudley's tea for years. For the last week they had been pitching Harry an idea that, to be effective, required extensive work on his part with a saw.
Down the hall, Harry heard a number of rapid taps, which increased in tempo as if it had begun to hail.
"Forget Fred," Harry said. "This is getting out of control, Ron."
"I've heard. Mundungus said yesterday he could double his income this year with nothing but a big net in front of your window."
Harry stretched the phone cord far enough to stick his head into his room. Outside his window were at least eight owls, each with a parcel of varying size and color tied to its legs. They were tapping on the window and bumping each other for position, like school children in the lunch line. Harry's snow white owl, Hedwig, gave him a withering look from her cage. Harry had had little for Hedwig to do this summer, and she was getting quite moody about his perceived neglect. He retreated back to the hallway under her hostile gaze.
"Ron, they've started putting up signs in front of their houses! With my name on them!"
There was a long pause on the other end of the line, and Harry was fairly sure Ron had covered the phone so Harry couldn't hear him cackle. Sure enough, a few second later a slightly out of breath Ron returned.
"Sorry, sorry, I, uh..."
"It's not funny!"
But Harry knew that under different circumstances, what was happening around him would be extremely funny. He heard another explosion outside, someone being angrily dubbed "prince of the freaks" downstairs, and sighed.
This had not been a typical summer at number four Privet Drive.
* * *
Harry noticed immediately after he came back from Hogwarts. Whenever he went for a walk around the neighborhood, there was another moving truck being loaded. Harry heard his Uncle Vernon telling Aunt Petunia excitedly how several neighbors had received unsolicited offers for their homes so extravagant no one in their right mind could refuse.
"People have finally taken notice of wonderful Little Whinging!" his uncle said in triumph. "You just wait, Petunia! One day someone's going to knock on our door, and we'll be moving to the country with Marge. Maybe with a leaky old barn for the boy."
Harry thought it was odd that despite the moving trucks filing out of the area, he never actually saw any of the obviously well-to-do neighbors move in. They would just suddenly be there, poking their heads out their windows and staring at him as he walked down the street. But where the Dursley's old neighbors had regarded Harry in his far-too-large slacks and warped tee-shirts with contempt, the new neighbors seemed to be watching him with an interest which, while familiar, he had never experienced at his relative's home.
The explanation became painfully obvious when the first neighbor family asked the Dursleys to tea. No more than twenty minutes after announcing loudly through the house that they were off, Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and Dudley stormed back into the house wide-eyed and shaking. They froze when they saw Harry watching television in the family room, and for a moment he thought they had forgotten he was now allowed to watch it when they weren't around to be bothered.
"Did you know about this?" Uncle Vernon said in a voice so threatening Harry was frightened of his uncle for the first time in years.
"Did you? Did you invite them? Bring them here to make our lives even more miserable?"
"What are you talking about?" Harry asked in a guarded voice.
"Here! Here! Here!" Uncle Vernon seemed unable to express what exactly was 'here.'
"More of your kind!" Aunt Petunia said, and she started stomping her skinny leg in a way that made Harry think it would snap. "All the new neighbors...ARE YOUR KIND!"
She fell into a chair like she'd been shot, and start pulling at her hair. Uncle Vernon stared at the fireplace as if it was the root of all his woes, and looked like he might attack it. Harry didn't know what to make of them.
"How do you know? Are you sure?" he asked. He was surprised when Dudley spoke up.
"They were asking for you! 'Oh, you didn't bring Harry? Boo hoo! Here, take him this pie I made him!'" Dudley seemed very upset about this new development, not least of all because two of his best friend's parents had sold their houses as well. From the purple outline around his mouth and smudges on his shirt, Harry gathered he didn't need to ask what happened to the pie.
"But...why? Why are they here?" he asked, mainly to himself.
"The freaks! The freaks!" Uncle Vernon said, attempting to jump up and down in rage but merely raising himself onto his toes a few inches. "The Freaks! Are Here! Because Of! YOU!"
"These crazy people...they think you can protect them! These people- the Finnigans- they said your kind is moving here because you can protect them from...from somebody they didn't even know the name of, and the dead heaters!" Dudley said, and though he was quite winded from such a long speech he began laughing manically like it was the most insane thing he had ever heard. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia also shook off their rages long enough for a disbelieving chuckle, though his Aunt's laugh was obviously forced for her husband's benefit. Her eyes regarded Harry as if he was something she'd never seen before.
Harry didn't notice this, though, as he slumped back onto the couch. They had simply misunderstood. It couldn't be true. Harry couldn't protect anyone...not even his godfather, not even himself from Voldemort. If anything, people were just in more danger if they were closer to him.
"Finnigan," he said, recognition slowly dawning. "Did you say Finnigan?"
"Yeah," Dudley said, his parents still unable to speak. "They had a son who said he was your friend."
Seamus. So it was true. But Seamus's father was a Muggle. His mother hadn't even believed Harry last year. They were Irish, for Pete's sake! If people like them were moving to Little Whinging, because they thought he could protect them....
"I knocked him on his arse when we left," Dudley added, but Harry was too far into his thoughts to hear him. This couldn't be happening.
But it had happened, and now a month into the holiday the Dursleys were practically prisoners in their home. Uncle Vernon sprinted to his car every morning to head to work, and back into the house at the end of each day. Dudley was stuck actually hanging out inside the houses of his few remaining friends in the neighborhood, for aside from the dangers he now faced walking the streets, the new neighbor's children seemed to vanish entirely or give him odd, lingering burns in uncomfortable spots whenever he tried to bully them. For Aunt Petunia, the sole benefit was that her time spent craning her long neck over their fences, which once yielded little other than reproachful tales of unkempt gardens, now allowed her to hold Uncle Vernon and Dudley a captive audience each night as she spoke in hushed tones of jumpers hanging themselves on drying lines and formerly harmless trees swatting at passing birds.
Harry himself wasn't spending much time around the new neighbors, either. Once he had processed the idea that they had moved to Privet Drive mainly because they expected him to fight any Death Eaters who showed up on their doorsteps, it began to infuriate him. Harry was still mourning Sirius, was still trying to deal with the knowledge of a prophecy that foretold he must one day either kill or be killed by Voldemort, was still a fifteen year old boy who wasn't allowed to do magic away from school. He had two guards following him around the clock, one from the Order of the Phoenix and now one from the Aurors. Yet he was supposed to protect them?
He was only just beginning to tolerate the new neighbor's presence, and only because of near nightly phone conversations with Hermione and Ron insisting that it was better to have people behaving irrationally based on the truth than behaving irrationally based on a lie as they had last year (that was how Hermione put it. Ron kept telling him to "deal").
It was no less than "Mad Eye" Moody who had suggested they rely on the telephone this summer, as it was much less likely Voldemort's Muggle-hating forces would be able to intercept their communications via phone than by owl or other wizarding methods. On the ride home from King's Cross, "Mad Eye" had apparated directly into the back of the Dursley's car and onto Dudley's lap to inform them that Harry would now be allowed to use the phone whenever he pleased, or else. Aside from several near accidents as Uncle Vernon briefly lost the ability to steer and scream at the same time, it had quickly become Harry's favorite memory involving the Dursleys.
* * *
"Oi, Harry, you still there? Harry?"
"Sorry Ron, just zoned out for a minute," Harry said, careful to drip some of his sweat directly onto the hall table.
"Right. Well, are you going to stand there and whine about your dozens of birthday presents, or are you going to open them?"
"Okay, then, hold on."
Harry put the phone down and went into his room. Apparently, a lot of people had decided it would be smart to get on Harry's good side after the events of a month ago. It wouldn't be his birthday for several hours, yet he had already received more than fifty gifts from people all over the country he had never met.
Despite Hedwig's protests, he opened the window for the owls, some of which looked like they were beginning to tire. They swept into the room like locust, seeming to cover ever surface, and hooted noisily at Harry, hoping he would untie their package first so they could move to Hedwig's water bowl. The snowy owl read their minds and moved to the other side of her cage, haughtily turning towards the wall as if she hoped they would all be gone when she turned back.
There were eight packages, each with a card of some kind attached. Harry scanned them quickly as he untied them to see if he recognized any of the writing, though he didn't expect he would. He saw one that instructed him to perform "Finite Incantatum" before opening. Harry figured it would be safer to open it outside when he was finally somewhere he could perform magic, as he imagined a shrinking spell had been used on it.
Suddenly a ninth owl flew in the open window. It brought no package, but a thin yellow envelope with green writing which Harry tore into immediately. The letter inside was written in a narrow, looping scrawl he'd learned to recognize long before he knew to whom it belonged. He read it once and laughed before scrambling back into the hall and picking up the phone.
"I'm dead!" he said happily. "I'm dead and it's all thanks to Trelawney!" Harry heard Ron spray his drink on the other side of the line and guffaw.
"Trelawney? Dead? What? Trelawney?" Ron sputtered, and Harry heard a concerned female voice squeak, "What?"
"No, no, no!" said Harry, trying hard to conceal his joy. "Just listen to this."
Harry read the contents of the letter into the phone:
Professor Trelawney has just informed me of your most horrific and untimely death a few days ago. As such, you have fulfilled the terms of your lifetime ban and are hereby reinstated as a member of the Gryffindor House Quidditch team.
Headmaster, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
P.S. To be safe, I must insist you avoid Madagascar until I have another chat with my Divinations professor. Perhaps Maui as well. And Monaco."
"Woooooo!" Ron yelled, forcing Harry to hold the phone away from his ear. "Hey, Ginny! Harry can play Quidditch this year!"
Harry heard a female voice say something that sounded suspiciously like "duh" on Ron's end, though he couldn't make out what followed.
"Okay, okay," Ron said. "Ginny says if you get a new broom you have to give it to her."
"Sure I do," Harry said. "Say, Ron, has you-know-who been bothering her lately?"
There was a distinct gasp on the other end of the line.
"What do you mean? Did something happen I don't know about? Did you have a vision? Was it a snake?"
It took Harry a few seconds to figure out why Ron had gotten so worked up, then he had to suppress a groan.
"No, not Voldemort, you git (Harry heard another, lesser gasp). Skeeter! Has she been bothering Ginny any more?"
Not long after Voldemort's return became public, the Daily Prophet had released a detailed story on what was being dubbed "The Battle of the Ministry." While it had missed several important details, like Sirius's death and exactly how Harry and five other Hogwarts students had come to be in the Department of Mysteries, the fact that Dumbledore dueled Voldemort and that Harry and his friends fought a dozen Death Eaters on their own was now common knowledge.
With Harry's honesty no longer in doubt, the Prophet had decided to delve deeper into his years at Hogwarts, and it was not disappointed. It seemed to him there was a new story every other day with headlines like: "11-Year-Old Potter and Friends Fought Troll" or "Potter, Weasley Received Special Services Awards Second Year."
As much as Harry hated the invasion of his privacy, he was pleased for the first few weeks that people around the wizarding world were learning that his friends had often been just as brave as he. There had even been a front page story two days ago about Hermione earning the first perfect O.W.L. score in thirty-five years. However, a story two weeks before reminded Harry there was a reason he ultimately despised reporters.
Ernie Macmillan, a Hufflepuff House Prefect Harry had become fairly good friends with over the last year, had given an interview to the Prophet's notoriously venomous (and recently rehired) reporter, Rita Skeeter. Ernie had told her all about Dumbledore's Army, a secret Defense Against the Dark Arts group Harry ran last year because the Ministry was preventing the teaching of practical defensive spells at Hogwarts.
Harry wouldn't really have minded, except that Ernie mentioned that several of the groups members were people who had been directly affected by the Death Eaters in the past, such as Neville Longbottom, Susan Bones, Cho Chang (Ernie mentioned she had been the girlfriend of the now well-known martyr Cedric Diggory), and Ginny, who had been taken into the Chamber of Secrets and briefly believed killed during her first year at Hogwarts.
Rita Skeeter had taken a particular interest in Ginny's story, and it was fortunate very few people currently knew the details of her being possessed by the memory of a school-aged Voldemort. Harry knew well enough the type of damage Skeeter could and cheerfully would do to someone with the right information, and he hoped Ginny would be spared the experience.
"Ginny isn't the one I'd be worried about," Ron said. "She's been going out of her way to step on every beetle she sees the last few days, and keeps talking about going into London for Muggle weapons the ministry can't detect."
Harry heard an angry female voice on Ron's side and a very audible curse.
"That's just gross," Ron said, shuddering. "Not right in the head, this one isn't."
"I don't know where we went wrong with her!" Fred screamed in the background. Suddenly there was a huge explosion, and Harry heard Ron gasping for breath. Again, he sighed. War or no war, he was used to Fred and George.
"Gummy Grenades (cough, cough). Still in development, apparently (cough, cough). Got to go, Harry. See (cough) you later."
Sure, Harry thought. I'll see you three weeks later when Dumbledore finally lets me out of my cell.
Dumbledore. Harry didn't think it was possible for one person to touch as many aspects of another's life as Dumbledore did his. He wondered what it would be like in a few years, when he was of age and could make his own decisions. Where would he live when no one could force him to come here ever again? For the past few years, he had never needed to wonder. He would have lived with Sirius.
Deciding he'd had a long enough break, he went back into the old guest bedroom, only to find Uncle Vernon already there.
"Wasn't her, was it?" he said, his eyes wide.
"No," Harry said, "But I hope to hear from her tonight."
Uncle Vernon closed his eyes and tried to pretend he hadn't heard him.
"I hope you know we won't be taking you to the hospital if you hurt yourself in here dirtying Dudley's gift," he said for the twenty-ninth time this summer. "You'll just have to magic yourself over there, or call some of your twisted fan club to take you. WE will not lift a finger."
As Uncle Vernon stormed out, Harry realized the new neighbors must be having more of an impact than he had imagined for his uncle to say the M word (magic) without flinching.
Harry lay'd down on a bench with a metal bar perched on a rack directly above his head. There were balanced weights on either side, and Harry lifted the bar off the rack to resume the exercise he had been working on before the call. One. Two. He wondered darkly if he got tired and dropped the bar on his neck whether any of the Dursleys would bother keeping him from suffocating. Four. Five.
The "she" Uncle Vernon had referred to was Harry's other best friends, Hermione Granger. Thanks to a few slight exaggerations by Harry, the Dursleys were under the impression it would be better to run straight into Voldemort's arms if Hermione was coming from the other way.
A week or so after coming back from school, Harry had come down to breakfast, Uncle Vernon ranting about those "abnormal people." He lowered his voice when he noticed Harry, as if allowing him to hear them talking about the new neighbors would automatically invite them all to tea.
Harry tuned him out, instead choosing to focus on Dudley, who appeared to have somehow toasted an entire loaf of bread, and was now cramming it into his mouth whole. He didn't notice a minute or two later when Uncle Vernon went quiet.
"What's that, boy?" he asked, and yanked Harry's right hand in front of his face, giving no notice that the hand was attached to an arm attached to a boy.
He was looking at the scar, "I must not tell lies," which Harry had received last year as punishment from Professor Dolores Umbridge, a Ministry of Magic spy at Hogwarts. Uncle Vernon released his hand, looking more pleased than Harry had ever seen him.
"Explain that!" he said, his eyes twinkling. Harry felt his hate for Uncle Vernon rising, but he quickly calmed down. He had an idea.
"Punishment from one of my favorite professors," Harry said sarcastically.
Uncle Vernon slammed his hand on the table in victory. "I knew it! I knew it! Even your kind saw you for what you are, they did!" He was standing now, his chest puffed out, and seemed to be strutting in place. "Hmmph! Maybe I was wrong about that school of yours!"
"Yeah, I really enjoyed her," Harry said, feigning disappointment. "A shame, really."
"What's that?" Uncle Vernon wasn't actually listening to Harry, instead muttering to himself about "my kind of neighbor."
"Well," Harry said. "When my friend Hermione found out about that, she wasn't very pleased. Not at all. Arranged to have that professor trampled to death by centaurs."
Uncle Vernon turned white and eyed Harry's hand again, this time fearfully. Dudley seemed to have regurgitated several inches of the bread loaf, still whole as it hung out his mouth, and Aunt Petunia went straight to the back window as if expecting to find a host of centaurs there, grinding bones on the lawn.
"She survived, of course," Harry said. "But Hermione is very persistent. That reporter she kidnapped..."
The Dursleys hadn't answered the phone since.
Harry smiled. That was the first time he'd felt like himself since....
Eleven. Twelve. Harry re-racked the bar with little difficulty and sat up. He needed to add more weight, he decided, and slipped another metal plate on each side. Feeling bolder than was probably prudent, he added another plate on top of each of those, and lay back down.
The weight was quite a bit more than he usually worked with. It kind of scared him, but that only made him feel more reckless. He lifted the bar and lowered it down to his chest.
One. He remembered coming home from school with a better report card than Dudley when he was nine. Uncle Vernon hadn't let him out of his cupboard for two days, even to use the bathroom...
Two. Dudley's friends had pinned his arms behind his back, and were holding him for Dudley to hit...
Three. Malfoy was telling him that Cedric was just the first to die...
Four. Snape was taunting Sirius, calling him a coward...
Five. A headless gold statue was pushing him away from Voldemort, and he was too weak to resist, too small to keep his place in the fight...
Six. He could feel his right hand aching, the scar threatening to open again as it did whenever he pushed too hard...
Seven. Neville was screaming in pain, and Harry was just standing there...just standing there...
Eight. Lupin was holding him, dragging him away from the dais when Sirius was just on the other side of that bloody veil...
Nine. Sirius was falling towards the veil, a confused look on his face...
Ten. Professor Trelawney was spinning over Dumbledore's pensive, that strange edge to her voice...
Eleven. Twelve. Harry positioned the bar back into its rack, his arms and chest burning. He sat up and shook them out, hoping to avoid a cramp. He'd done several more than he'd expected.
Dudley's welcome home gift had been the best thing to happen to Harry all summer. For the first time he didn't have to just take the Dursley's abuse, his nightmarish memories, his frustrations and sit on them throughout the summer. Every day since he'd been home, Harry spent hours working himself in the room, fantasizing about knocking Snape's lights out, beating Dudley in a boxing match, taking out Crabbe and Goyle by himself. Lestrange.
It helped Harry to think straight, though that wasn't always a blessing. If he was honest with himself, he knew that things were soon going to get much worse, especially for him. Already he knew of so many people who had died because of Voldemort's efforts to kill him. How many more would die, people he cared about?
The weights also gave him something non-maddening to do now that he could barely walk down the street in peace. Just because he understood his new neighbors were scared didn't mean he had to go have tea and give a reassuring hug to each of them, if he could avoid it.
He'd gone to hang out with Seamus a few times, but it hadn't gone as well as he'd hoped, and lately he'd tried to keep his visits to a minimum. Granted, he liked Seamus, but he seemed to think the whole fighting Death Eaters thing was some cool adventure, and spent an awful lot more time talking about Lavender Brown than Harry cared to listen.
Harry did learn from Seamus that he wasn't the only reason so many magical families had moved to Little Whinging. The Ministry's guides to self defense had suggested people move to areas highly populated by other wizards, to hopefully dissuade Voldemort from attacking places he would be outnumbered. Seamus said people were selling huge manors just to afford descent sized cottages in Hogsmeade.
But of course Harry knew he was the only witch or wizard living in Little Whinging as of just a month or so ago. He might not be the reason they had all moved, but he was the reason they had moved here.
They'd done a very poor job of covering up the fact that there would be "surprise" fireworks at midnight when his birthday officially started. He was also fairly sure they were throwing a party at Mrs. Figgs' house at the same time, and quite possibly expected him to come. He supposed if he stayed in the house the rest of the evening he'd be safe, as no one had yet approached him about it. Please, oh please don't let the fireworks spell out an invitation, he thought.
Harry flipped through the book that had accompanied the weight machine, looking for other exercises. So far, he'd been surprised how readily his skinny frame adapted to the shock of being forced to such extremes every day, and if he did say so himself, it suited him. When he looked in the mirror, he was already starting to see more of the man his haunted eyes seemed to belong to.
Done working out a little more than an hour later, he sat down at his desk to write. Harry felt stupid that people he had never met were sending him birthday presents, but he knew it would be rude to send them back. Instead, he took Hermione's advice and was writing thank you letters for each one, though in the back of his mind he feared he might be encouraging this sort of thing again next year.
Awhile later, Harry heard a kind of snarfle that sounded like a hippo sitting on a dozen balloons, and found Dudley filling his doorway. He turned back to his letter to Darla Wickham, a little girl who had sent him several boxes of Chocolate Frogs that had melted along the way, and merely nodded and yawned when he opened them.
"What?" he asked when he noticed Dudley was still standing there a minute later.
"That Hermione girl who keeps calling?" Dudley said, sounding just as uncomfortable as his parents did when a subject related to Harry was brought up.
"Yeah?" Harry said.
"Was she at the train station?" Dudley asked. He seemed very tense, as if he was afraid of the answer.
"Yeah," Harry said, happy that Dudley might be worried Hermione was planning to do something terrible to him at her next opportunity.
"The one with the curly hair?" Dudley asked with baited breath.
"Yep," Harry said. It struck him as odd that Dudley, who already had a pitiful memory before he'd started boxing, would remember such a particular detail.
"Why'd you ask?"
Harry turned just in time to see what he imagined was the rear third of Dudley vanish from view, and a few seconds later he heard a door slam closed.
Harry wrote out nearly a dozen more thank you letters, towards the end of which he began blurring his words together and jumping at noises from around the house he hoped might be the telephone.
Finally he called it quits and started to head downstairs for dinner, only to hear the front door open, the awkward clop-clop of three pairs of feet, and the Dursley's car pulling out of the driveway at an inadvisable speed. Sighing, he grabbed a few of Darla Wickham's Chocolate Slugs out from under his loose floor board for dinner, but having nothing but sweets quickly upset his stomach. Hoping a nap would make him feel better, Harry fell over onto his bed, still wearing his workout clothes, and slipped to sleep in seconds.
He was back at his desk, writing a thank you to Bellatrix Lestrange for the shiny axe she had sent him for Christmas. He tried to give the letter to Hedwig, but she kept yelling at him with Hermione's voice to close his mind or it was back to the cupboard for him! He'd deliver it himself, he decided, but no matter where he looked he couldn't find his invisibility socks...
He awoke with a start to the sound of raised voices downstairs mixed with explosions outside. Harry jumped up towards the window to find spectacular wizarding fireworks dancing over the house across the street. The sky they lit was pitch black.
"Leave it to you to sleep through your own surprise party."
He turned to find a smirking Ron leaning against his door frame.