Ron looked at Harry as if showing up in his room in the dead of night was quite ordinary. If Harry had thought about it, he would have realized it was, as he shared a dorm with Ron ten months out of the year, but there was absolutely no connection in Harry's mind between this room and that.
"What are you doing here? How did you get in? Did your dad blow up the living room again?" Harry was unable to hide his excitement. He'd had rather low expectations for the day, knowing any party the new neighbors dragged him to would likely be little more than a bunch of strangers staring at him. "Who else is here? Is Hermione? Are your parents? Is..."
"Shut it, would you?" Ron said, chuckling. "Bloody hell, you'd think I'd told Hermione about a surprise exam! And yes, she's at that batty Figg lady's house, with...um, well, pretty much everybody you know. Mum wanted it to be a surprise party, so when you go downstairs, just act like its normal for us to kidnap you to visit ex-babysitters in the dead of night."
Harry, grinning like a fool, was so excited he didn't even say thank you or register the absurdity of Ron's last statement, but tried to go right out the door. Ron bodily stopped him, looking at him like he was an idiot.
"Well, you can't go over there looking- er, and smelling- like you just stepped off the pitch," he said, surveying Harry suspiciously. "What have you been doing? You look...bigger."
"My cousin got some weights as a present, and I've been using them," Harry said. The look on Ron's face confirmed his earlier decision not to try to explain Muggle workout equipment over the telephone. "Machines for exercising?" Ron still looked baffled. "Go look in the room by the stairs. On the left."
Ron disappeared for a moment and Harry searched for a shirt that didn't make him look like an orphan wearing his fat cousin's clothes. He decided it was cool enough out to put on the jumper Mrs. Weasley had given him last Christmas. He took his shirt off just as Ron came back into the room, his eyes bulging.
"Those things look like torture devices!" he said, awed. "Muggles use them on purpose?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "They use them to build muscle."
Ron looked at him even more suspiciously than before. "Well, it seems to have worked. You look...weird."
"Thanks, mate," Harry answered sarcastically. He didn't own a pair of pants that really fit, so he just grabbed something clean. After washing up, he and Ron headed downstairs, only to find Fred and George on the bottom landing, preparing to creep up to do Merlin knew what to the Dursley's bedrooms. Though Harry asked, the twins insisted that plausible deniability would be to his advantage next summer and disappeared upstairs, having revealed nothing about their plot other than the maniacal "Bwahahahaha!" it inspired.
Harry didn't even try to suppress his own laughter when he and Ron entered the parlor. The first person he saw was Mrs. Weasley, who seemed very upset about something. The second person he saw was also Mrs. Weasley, except with green hair and a serene smile on her face. Ginny was there as well, and though her face was the picture of innocence Harry could tell she was in on whatever the twins were up to. She giggled at him and nodded towards the Dursleys, who were huddled together in their night things, backed against the entirely undamaged fireplace.
"All right, Tonks?" Harry said to the green haired Mrs. Weasley. She looked only slightly disappointed that he had figured her out so quickly.
"Wotcher, Harry!" she said, bowing deeply, and when she came back up it was with the face and body of a woman in her early twenties, though the green hair remained.
Harry heard his uncle and cousin gasp. Aunt Petunia saw nothing, as her head was buried in her husband's back, looking rather like an ostrich up to its neck in pudding. Dudley was shaking, his left hand on his backside and his tongue moving rapidly in his mouth, as if he didn't particularly trust his teeth.
"Really, you're upsetting the Muggles!" Mrs. Weasley said to Tonks, in a tone that told Harry they'd been going back and forth for a while. "Harry dear, how are you?"
She enveloped him in a hug, then pushed him out at arms length to inspect him. She seemed quite taken aback by his altered appearance.
"Well," she said, turning to the Dursleys. "It seems you've managed to feed him properly this year."
The look on Uncle Vernon's face was indignant, as if he had been accused of a horrific crime, but he wisely bit back his desire to refute the compliment.
"We had better get along, Harry. Don't want to keep everyone, er, I mean- Mrs. Figg. Yes, Mrs. Figg waiting," Mrs. Weasley said, nodding to herself the whole time. Tonks rolled her eyes, and he could almost hear Ron do likewise. "We'll be back for your things after the, the visit, dear, and you'll be coming to stay with us for the rest of the summer."
Harry let out a small 'whoop,' and was about to greet Ginny when he was rather loudly interrupted.
"You most certainly will not be coming back here tonight!" Uncle Vernon said, outraged. "Our door will be locked to you, you and all the cretins walking the streets at such an hour!"
"I greatly doubt that!" Mrs. Weasley bellowed, completely overpowering Tonks comment about locks not being an issue. "After all, you will be coming along as well!"
Aunt Petunia's body seemed to wither, but her head failed to reappear, while Uncle Vernon shook his head violently while mouthed 'No!', though he failed to emit any articulate sound.
"Now then," Mrs. Weasley said menacingly, as if lecturing to an unruly child she was struggling not to spank. "I expect you will be getting dressed and come over to Mrs. Figg's house. Don't dawdle, or we'll have to send someone back here to fetch you."
Her smile as she spoke changed into something almost sinister as it reached her eyes, and Harry saw all protest deflate out of Uncle Vernon. He may have put on a brave face when confronted with Mr. Weasley, Moody and even Hagrid, but an angry Molly Weasley was something else altogether.
They filed out just in time to see the grand finale of the fireworks, a flock of blinding white owls and brilliant red phoenixes engaged in a nearly hypnotic dance. Fred and George apparated onto the lawn and gave Ron and Ginny the thumbs up, which resulted in a series of exceedingly enthusiastic and violent high-fives. He took this as an omen to hurry his pace away from a surely doomed number four Privet Drive.
The others quickly caught up to Harry, though, as he slowed to study the cracked sidewalks he'd had little occasion to walk this summer, lit by the lingering ash of the fireworks. Quite a difference good publicity could make, he thought wryly, while trying to ignore a neighboring parent pointing him out to his children, like he was just an encore to the fireworks.
As they crossed towards Mrs. Figg's side of Wisteria Walk, Harry, looking to finally say hello to Ginny, noticed she had stopped right in the middle of the road with a curious expression on her face. Harry stopped too, as did Ron and Tonks.
"All right, Ginny?" Tonks asked, following her eyes to a purple Volkswagen beetle parked along the street.
"I want that car!" she said, pointing at the Volkswagen. "This one's purple, Ron! It's perfect!"
Ron groaned a long-suffering groan.
"Every time she sees one of those Vault-Wagon things, she goes on like this," he explained to Harry and Tonks.
Ginny looked highly affronted, though in a playful way. "I can't help that they put my initials on the cutest little car in the world," she said.
This pronouncement seemed very odd to Harry. Ginny's initials were G.W., not V.W. He said as much, and was surprised when she looked rather hurt, then angry.
"Ginny's a nickname," she said, walking again. "Doesn't take much to work it out, if you bother."
For a moment Harry felt extremely stupid, especially when he turned to Ron for support and received a rather Hermione-esque "you-really-should-have-known-better" look. That feeling largely evaporated, though, in the face of nervousness as they approached Mrs. Figg's side fence and his first ever birthday party. The twins and Mrs. Weasley had hurried ahead of them, presumably to prepare everyone for Harry's arrival. Suddenly, a deranged voice filled the air.
"ARTHUR WEASLEY, GET OUT OF THAT HOUSE THIS INSTANT!"
The others groaned, and though they didn't explain, Harry understood perfectly. They reached the gate of Mrs. Figg's yard to find Mrs. Weasley waving a finger dangerously close to her husband's face, peppering him with comments about "why we never go into the village" and "the kind of person who just starts taking apart someone else's property, cannot believe...."
Scattered shouts of "Surprise!" came as people noticed Harry's arrival, and Mr. Weasley got another earful for "ruining everything!" Harry wasn't paying attention, as he had been engulfed by a flying brown bush.
"Harry! Happy Birthday!"
Hermione hugged him tightly, though she quickly backed off, looking at him with surprise.
"Goodness, Harry. You said you were working out every day, I never imagined..." Harry heard Tonks chuckle behind him, and noticed Ron had suddenly taken a very impatient expression.
Behind Hermione, about forty people filled the modest yard, mostly members of the Order milling about in conversation.
A large tent, which Harry noted only had poles holding up three of the four corners and none at the high point in the middle, covered most of the area. Massive torches in the corners of the yard provided the bulk of the light, though dozens of tiny blue-bell candles floated near the roof of the tent, giving it an eerie glow. There were picnic benches spread along the edges of the yard, as well as a large table which held an alarming number of presents. Not far from it stood a table with a spread of food, and Harry felt his empty stomach attempt to take over his feet.
"We have all night to feast, Harry. First, there are a few people who wish a word with you."
Harry turned to find Dumbledore, flanked by Sturgis Podmore and a grinning Charlie Weasley. Dumbledore was one of only a few people Harry noticed wearing wizarding robes, scarlet and gold with the Gryffindor lion on the front, like an expensive dress version of his own Quidditch attire.
"All right, Harry?" Charlie said as they shook hands.
"Yeah," Harry said. "What are you doing here? I thought you were supposed to stay in Romania? To help, you know, recruit."
"Alas, Harry, we need no longer worry about convincing other wizards of Voldemort's return," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling. "You have managed that quite nicely."
"Besides," Charlie said, his voice raised pointedly, "As my two youngest siblings seem just as intent on mixing it up with Death Eaters as you, I figure the closer I am to home, the better."
Charlie was still smiling as he said this, but the implications of his statement were not lost on Harry. As if on cue, Podmore stepped forward and offered his hand.
"I'd just like to say thank you, Harry," he said. "Because of you and your friends, my conviction was overturned, and the Ministry is paying to have my wand restored."
Harry shook Podmore's hand and nodded silently. He had hoped not to think tonight about the events at the Ministry, yet he'd already been reminded of it three times.
"You, um, seem like you tolerated Azkaban okay," he said to Podmore. The older man smiled mirthlessly.
"I just imagined what Moody would do to me when I came back without his best invisibility cloak," he said. "No joy in that, I tell you."
Harry looked around the crowd, returning several smiles, but failed to locate Moody's mangled form.
"I'm afraid, Harry, you won't be seeing Alastor tonight, unless you too can see through invisibility cloaks," Dumbledore said, chuckling. Harry heard an irritated grumble that seemed to come from nowhere.
"Moody's on duty tonight," Charlie whispered to Harry, before barking into his ear, "Constant vigilance!"
"Too right!" the irritated voice said. Harry saw Dumbledore's long mustache quiver. A moment later, he realized an even larger absence.
"Professor, where is Hagrid?" he asked. Hagrid was the only person he'd ever celebrated his birthday with before this one, and one of the few who had always sent him a gift.
"Hagrid is otherwise occupied by his duties at Hogwarts," Dumbledore said, but his sudden frown belied that there was more to it. He seemed to be looking through Harry.
"Well, don't hog the birthday boy all to yourself, Professor!" someone said, and Harry turned to face a smiling Remus Lupin.
Harry had been concerned about Lupin throughout the summer. No one else had been as close to Sirius, and Harry worried his old professor might be coping poorly. On the contrary, though, Lupin looked better than Harry had ever seen him.
"Indeed, Remus," Dumbledore said, "I think Harry would be very interested to hear about your new vocation."
Harry was surprised to think Lupin had managed to land a job, considering his very public outing as a werewolf a few years ago. Nothing else, however, would explain the smart shirt and slacks he was wearing, obviously new.
"I imagine he will be interested," Lupin said, "As I mostly have him to thank for it. Apparently, Harry, at your trial last year you informed Amelia Bones where you learned your Patronus. Thanks to you, I've been named head instructor of the Ministry's program to teach the charm to all magical families."
Harry, who had had success teaching the Patronus Charm to the D.A. last year, was bursting to ask if he could help, when Ron interrupted their conversation by turning into a large potted plant. Fred and George high-fived.
"Leafy Pot Lollipops! Our newest!" Fred said, as Ron rustled as though in a high wind. Completely ignoring them, Kingsley Shacklebolt came up and wished Harry a happy birthday, as did Dedalus Diggle, Hestia Jones and Seamus Finnigan, with his parents. Mrs. Figg appeared as well, and Harry was in the midst of awkwardly thanking her, not only for hosting the party but for her testimony before the Ministry last summer, when just as suddenly Ron turned back into a tall red-haired boy, though soaking wet. Apparently, Mr. Weasley had found Mrs. Figg's hose and seized the opportunity to water plant-Ron "the Muggle way!"
The scene sent Dedalus Diggle into a laughing fit that reminded Harry of Luna Lovegood, his tall hat toppling off. After a few seconds George handed it back to him, and, when he put it back on, his head vanished. Fred and George were always the best at parties.
Harry tried to use the distraction to make his way over to the food table, only to be blocked by a woman Harry recognized from many years ago as Doris Crockford, apparently a good friend of Emmeline Vance, who proceeded to shake his hand and wish him "The happiest of birthdays!" continuously until he was rescued by his head of house, Professor McGonagall. She walked with him over to the food spread, and Harry felt his anger rise slightly as he noted her continued use of a cane.
"Well, Mr. Potter, you look to be in excellent shape for Quidditch this year," she said, looking at him approvingly as he piled food onto a plate. "Perhaps you'll even manage to complete all three games, for once. I daresay you and our five returning starters should make our side more than formidable."
Harry would have agreed with her, but reconsidered. Professor McGonagall was not a woman you spoke to with your mouth full.
"I have been exchanging owls with Miss Bell over the past few months concerning the team, and you might be surprised to learn she has no interest in the vacant Captaincy."
Harry swallowed quickly, and his heart rate quickened in anticipation.
"I thought you should be aware that she suggested Mr. Weasley would make a fine Captain, and I am inclined to agree with her. Your suspension, of course, makes your ineligible."
Just as quickly, Harry felt himself deflate, stabs of jealousy overwhelming him. He had to look away from McGonagall. "Of course," he said. "Ron will do great." There was that awful false voice again. He could feel McGonagall eyeing him closely. She was silent for several seconds, and Harry was beginning to feel rather stupid, pouting under her close scrutiny.
"I should also congratulate you on your O.W.L.S. performance, Mr. Potter. You will come by my office after the Welcome Feast? If you still hope to train as an Auror, that is."
Harry knew this to be an instruction, not a request, and nodded quickly, still not looking at her.
"An Auror, eh?"
Kingsley Shacklebolt appeared next to Harry, his plate apparently charmed to accommodate an inhuman amount of food. "I don't know, Potter. The job takes a lot of nerve. How are you in a fight?"
Shacklebolt laughed heartily to himself, and Harry relaxed slightly. He'd been waiting since his career advice session last year for someone to dash his hopes of becoming an Auror, but obviously Shacklebolt wouldn't be that person. He winked as he made for a table with Professor McGonagall, leaving Harry to his food and his thoughts.
It didn't take him long to have his fill of either. Moving through the crowd, Harry found Ron, Ginny, and Seamus on the outskirts of a large group of overexcited women.
"What's going on?" he asked.
"Hermione," said Seamus, rolling his eyes.
Mrs. Finnigan, Doris Crockford, Mrs. Figg, Hestia Jones and Emmeline Vance were peppering Hermione with questions about her O.W.L.S. score and a certain world-famous Quidditch player to whom she had been romantically linked. Ron looked at Harry like it was all his fault.
"Soon, its going to be the Famous Harry Potter and the Famous Hermione Granger and that poor kid they hang around with," he said, sarcastically but with a hint of sadness. Harry had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep in a searing comment about Weasley the Quidditch King and Captain to boot.
"Poor kids," Ginny corrected him, "And don't act like you're getting ignored in all this," she said, turning to Harry and Seamus. "He got fan mail the other day."
Ron brightened considerably.
"Yeah, yeah!" he said. "Remember the one who sent you the picture last year, Harry?"
Seamus's eyes widened fearfully. Harry had always wondered what happened to that photograph.
After a minute, Harry bowed out of the conversation, suddenly in no mood to listen to Ron either complain or gloat. He noticed Mr. and Mrs. Granger standing close to where Hermione was unwillingly holding court. They looked both proud of the attention to her grades and hesitant, even annoyed at all the Viktor Krum talk. Behind the Grangers, Bill and Fleur Delacor were talking in embarrassingly close proximity. It didn't seem like a good time to say hello. Just then the side gate opened, and to Harry's horror the Dursleys appeared, walking in tight formation as if there were guards ushering them on with fireplace pokers. Dudley was carrying a purple umbrella, probably thinking of Hagrid's pink one and hoping it would help him fit in. Seamus's upper lip curled.
Harry decided it wasn't going to be his job to introduce the Dursleys, and went over to where Fred and George were listening to a story from an animated Mundungus Fletcher.
"What you 'ave to understand is, I'd spent most 'a the day at the Leaky, chatting with Tom and what. So there I am, 'ole pile of lasses robes, and I musta got confused on whether I'd 'ad my invisibility cloak on. So this bloke Warner from the MLE, what does 'e see 'cept some lasses robe floatin' in air, cause I'd put it on top of my cloak! And you know what 'e does? 'E comes and grabs the robe, right out the air, an inch from me face, and yells "'E musta gone this way!" And the whole lot of 'em went charging past me, shaking in me boots!"
Harry laughed, but after a moment he realized he was the only one doing so. Fred and George were silently staring at something over Harry's shoulder. He turned and saw Aunt Petunia shockingly close to Ginny, a wild expression in her eyes.
Harry moved towards them as fast as he could without running, though he had no idea what might be going on. Several people beat him there and separated the two of them, Mr. Weasley dragging Ginny away by the hand while Remus Lupin stepped in front of Aunt Petunia and said something to her in a voice too low for the rest of them to hear.
"Her eyes, her eyes are wrong, but...but...." Aunt Petunia stared at Lupin desperately. "How? You can't do it, I know you can't! I didn't think...."
Lupin moved very close to Aunt Petunia and seemed to be whispering to her. Several feet away, Uncle Vernon made a sound of protest but didn't move. He seemed to be just as shocked by his wife's behavior as everyone else.
Aunt Petunia's eyes never left Ginny, but her expression slowly shifted from near panic to one of simple shock. She nodded at Lupin and staggered back over to her husband and son.
"What on earth was that about?" Mr. Weasley asked, his tone more forceful than Harry was used to hearing from him.
"Later," Lupin replied, though he too looked at Ginny with an odd expression before picking up his drink and, with a nod at Mr. Weasley, going into the house. Mr. Weasley looked hesitant to leave Ginny, but eventually followed. Ginny was returning Harry's aunt's gaze, a pitying expression on her face. George tried to ask her what happened, but Ginny brushed him off and slipped over to where Charlie was telling Mr. Finnigan about dragons. She looked rather shaken. The twins were staring at Harry as though he might understand what had just happened, but he could only shrug.
Nearby, Hermione had somehow freed herself from the older women, and was talking to Tonks and Professor McGonagall. It seemed she was trying to learn how Tonks abilities were both similar to and different from the Animangus transformation. Professor McGonagall seemed as interested as Hermione, but Tonks, who was usually annoyingly curious, was tapping her feet and shifting nerviously, as though she'd rather be anywhere else. Harry noticed her eyes keeping fairly steady track of Charlie, and they held a nervousness he'd never seen from her. He must have been watching her curiously for several minutes when he felt someone's shoulder brush up against him.
"Hey, Harry. Picked up on that, have you?" Bill said, low enough that only Harry could hear him. Harry nodded slowly, prodding Bill to go on. "She was a year behind him. Had one of those all too public crushes." Bill was silent for a moment, then gave a protracted sigh. "This is probably the first time she's seen him in...years."
"Well, why doesn't she go talk to him, then?" Harry asked. Bill shrugged.
"You can only walk away from someone so many times before they stop coming after you, Harry."
Before Harry had a chance to interpret this rather cryptic answer, Lupin and Mr. Weasley came back out of the house, Mr. Weasley looking appeased. He too shot a piteous expression over at Aunt Petunia, which boggled Harry. He'd always thought Mr. Wealsey despised the Dursleys as much as he did. What on earth was going on?
"Well, Harry," Lupin said, taking him by the shoulder, "Now that you've had a bit to eat, I think its time you opened some presents."
Lupin looked unusually excited, but Harry couldn't stop looking at his hand, still clasped on Harry's shoulder. It was the way Sirius used to greet him.
Lupin must have noticed Harry's stare, because he removed his hand. Harry immediately felt stupid for letting something so slight bother him, and he tried to smile at Lupin to let him know he hadn't minded. Lupin nodded, seeming to understand.
His old professor was about to announce that it was time to open presents, when he stopped, and elbowed Harry in the side.
"Listen," he said, a grin starting over his face.
"...And it's got four bedrooms, plenty of room for all of your, you know, things you people have, and the fireplace, works nicely for the...whatever you people use them for..."
Uncle Vernon was talking to Dedelas Diggle, trying to convince him to buy number four, Privet Drive. As Harry walked away with Lupin, he thought he heard his Uncle offer Harry himself as a throw-in with the house. He laughed. Seamus had told him Dumbledore had spread word that he would be very upset with anyone foolish enough to make an offer for number four, so Harry knew Uncle Vernon had little hope of even giving the house away.
"Attention everyone, attention!" Lupin yelled, "It's time for Harry to open his gifts!"
People started to move towards the table where the presents were piled, but many were elbowed out of the way by a charging Mrs. Figg.
"Remus! We haven't had cake! Cake before presents! Cake...Before...Presents!"
This seemed to be very important, and Lupin threw up his hands in acquessance. Professor McGonagall waved her wand, and another table appeared. Bill and Charlie came through the crowd carrying a huge white cake, chocolate marble on the inside as displayed by a Ron's finger sized gash.
Someone waved a wand, and sixteen candles appeared on the cake. Another wave, and they were lit. Suddenly, everyone was clearing their throats.
Harry had always hated "Happy Birthday." It meant that Dudley had dozens of new toys he wasn't allowed to touch, and in just a week or so he'd be celebrating his own birthday by cooking breakfast and doing chores, gifted only with a disgusted sneer if he hazarded to mention what day it was. Lately, it meant owls from people far too far away.
All the voices seemed to melt together as he looked around and saw them, smiling at him with no clue what they were really doing. He found himself blinking and swallowing furiously.
"Harry, are you all right?" Hermione asked, putting a hand on his forearm. He nodded a bit too rapidly.
"Sorry, yeah," he said in a small voice, concentrating on the cake. "Just, that was the first time anyone had sung me, you know, that song."
Only the people standing close to Harry heard him, but their reaction was swift. The piteous looks towards Aunt Petunia from Lupin and Ginny dissolved into those of deepest loathing, and Mrs. Weasley appeared to be restraining herself from marching over and shouting at them. The Dursleys looked very nervous. Harry choked out a laugh as he imagined how Hagrid would have reacted.
He looked up at Dumbledore, and immediately regretted it. His face was long and depressed, and his eyes seemed to be apologizing to Harry. A moment later, though, the customary twinkle had returned, like something funny had just occurred to him.
"While we are in the singing mood," he said loudly, gathering everyone's attention, "It has been far too long since I have heard my personal favorite song. I wonder if a few of my current and former students might indulge their aging headmaster?"
Fred and George's heads appeared over the crowd, smiling like they hadn't seen Dumbledore in months and he had brought them an especially dangerous present. Everyone Harry could see looked excited with the of exception Professor McGonagall, who Harry imagined had never been particularly taken with the song.
"And a one, two, three..."
"Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts,
Teach us something please..."
Fred and George went with a yodel-in-the-round, each repeating what the other said until one got bored and moved to the next line. And Kinglsey Shacklebolt, it turned out, was quite the soprano. Someone not far from Harry settled on the tune of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips." Ginny topped them all, though, by singing a American Blues version, which Bill complimented nicely by making guitar noises with his mouth.
"The "Dead flies and bits of fluff blues" indeed, Miss Weasley!" said a delighted Dumbledore as the last notes died out. Fleur looked absolutely scandalized.
"All right, all right, time for presents already," said Tonks as she shoved hers into Harry's chest, the cake uncut and forgotten.
Harry unwrapped what turned out to be a book, entitled "Ugly on the Inside: A Beginner's Guide to Personal Concealment." He barely had time to thank her before the next, a rather floppy package, was thrust upon him. He opened the wrapping, and out fell dozens of signed wizarding photographs of Gilderoy Lockhart. Harry turned sharply towards Ron, whose face looked innocent enough, but flushed ears betrayed him.
Ron's real gift was a book on amateur Quidditch, which featured a picture of the Gryffindor Championship team from Harry's third year.
Hermione and her parents bought Harry a pair of new glasses, which Hermione charmed to always be the perfect prescription for Harry. Harry's present from Hagrid was a new cage for Hedwig, though Hagrid's note was unusually short and didn't explain his absence.
Within a few minutes, Harry began to think the pile of presents on the table was actually growing instead of shrinking (it did at one point, as about five owls arrived at once), and that he would be opening them all night. He felt a bit ridiculous opening gift after gift in front of so many people, especially Ron, but Dudley's jealous gaze kept him in a high spirit throughout.
One gift, from Lupin, gave him pause. Inside what appeared to be an oversized jewelery box Harry found a small gold and silver ball. It took him a moment to realize the thin silver strips were actually wings...the wings of his own Golden Snitch. Normally, Harry would have been over the roof. Coming from Lupin, though, Harry had a feeling he was looking at something more than a piece of magical sporting equipment. The last time he had really talked to Lupin- in fact, the last time he had talked to Sirius- the topic was a memory Harry witnessed in Professor Snape's penseive, where his father had been playing with a Golden Snitch. He'd also been acting like a arrogant prat, and the experience had totally changed Harry's opinion of his father, not for the better.
Harry couldn't decide how to take the gift. Was it a symbol of solidarity between Remus and Harry's father? A reminder to keep his ego in check? Something to keep his mind off the upcoming war? Was it supposed to remind him of Sirius? Harry smiled warily at his former Professor, but Lupin's pensive nod confirmed his suspicions. They would talk later.
His dozens of other gifts included a dragon skin wand holster, a year's subscription to Quidditch Quarterly, a pair of socks, one lime green and one forest green (which could have only been from Dobby), and his first non-invisible cloak, from Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. From Fred and George Harry received a useful book titled "Accio Ha-ha: The Best of Wizarding Humor," which apparently changed its content to reflect the funniest current jokes and stories. Mundungus Fletcher handed Harry something wrapped in a table cloth, which turned out to be a cauldron.
Finally, the table was empty of unopened presents. Harry was going to suggest they finally cut the cake, as Ron was hovering over it looking desperate enough to cry, when a tawny owl flew into the yard, landing on the table next to the Dursleys. They quickly shuffled away as a unit and Dudley held his umbrella out in front of him like an epee, having seemingly decided the owl was looking for a fight.
Mrs. Figg calmly took the letter from the owl, and tried to hand it to Uncle Vernon.
"It's for you," she said.
Uncle Vernon seemed torn over whether to be more frightened of the letter or Mrs. Figg, who until then he apparently had not put two and two together about.
He finally snatched the letter and backed away, reading it with Aunt Petunia and Dudley looking over his shoulders. Harry couldn't believe there was someone in the magical world with anything to say to the Dursleys who was not at the party.
Uncle Vernon read the letter several times, before looking up with a confused and hesitant expression.
"What, exactly, is a house elf?"
Hermione, who was standing next to Harry, put a hand over her mouth in horror.
"No," she said between her fingers, "No one would do that, they're not wizards, they can't..."
Mrs. Figg had seized the letter back, and looked up with an odd expression.
"Someone's got them a house elf, all right," she said, before letting out a bitter laugh. "Says they deserve the rest after caring for Harry for so long."
A lot of coughing followed this comment, much of which sounded a lot like "I'll give them..." and "deserve, indeed!"
"It's not really a...a...you know, elf?" said Uncle Vernon, chucking at the idea. He seemed to go green when he realized no one else was laughing.
"They're about so tall," Mrs. Figg said, flattening her hand in midair slightly above her waist, "Sort of yellow, most of them. Very prestigious, owning a house elf."
Mrs. Figg seemed to be enjoying herself at the Dursley's horror, and Harry wondered whether she wasn't somehow involved in sending the owl.
"We don't want it!" said Aunt Petunia, looking around the yard wildly. She pointed at Harry and said, "He can take it!"
Hermione quickly made her way to the Dursleys, her arms waving frantically to get their attention.
"You can't give it to Harry, Harry doesn't want a house elf!" she said, her eyes wide and somewhat manic. Harry knew Hermione too realized how unimaginably awful the Dursleys would be to a house elf after their years of shoddy treatment of him. "You have to set it free when it gets here! All you have to do is give him or her clothes, anything will do, really..."
"This...this thing will not be touching any of my clothing!" said Aunt Petunia, backing away from Hermione, who sighed exasperatedly.
"Just give it an old sock, like you're always giving Harry!"
It was at this point chaos first threatened to take the still young day. As she spoke, Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon seemed to realize exactly who Hermione was, and in an instant Aunt Petunia's head was buried in Uncle Vernon's back again.
"You! You!" Uncle Vernon said, turning towards her. "The crazy one!"
Most of the guests looked confused as to why anyone would call Hermione Granger crazy. Hermione couldn't suppress a laugh, which just added to Uncle Vernon's theory.
"What kind of name is Hermione, anyway?" Uncle Vernon said, gathering himself up. Hermione wasn't nearly as frightening in person. "Your parents are probably the biggest freaks of them all!"
"We're dentists, so sod off you fat son of a..." came a female voice from the back of the crowd, and Hermione covered her ears, apparently unable to deal with such language from her own mother.
"I-I don't think it's a bad name," Dudley said, looking at Hermione from behind Aunt Petunia. Uncle Vernon threw Dudley a horrified look, and was about to say something when he was interrupted.
Everyone, including the Dursleys, quieted as Dumbledore stepped forward.
"I'm sure we can resolve this matter to everyone's satisfaction," he said to both the Dursleys and Hermione, "After proper arrangements have been made to find the house elf another home. Now is not that time."
Neither Hermione nor the Dursleys looked appeased, but Dumbledore spoke with a note of finality, and they kept their further comments to themselves as the headmaster turned to Harry.
"That was not the preface I would have preferred, but no matter," he said, as much to himself as to Harry. Everyone else held their breaths: surely Dumbledore was about to say something important.
"I have another gift for you, Harry," Dumbledore continued, his face long. He stepped closer, trying to create some privacy in the midst of forty eager listeners. "But it is not from myself. Sturgis, if you would?"
After a moment, the crowd parted, and Sturgis Podmore came forward wheeling a gleaming silver motorcycle at his side, a falsely bright smile on his face. He gave up trying when he saw Harry's expression.
Harry felt the back of his eyes burning, and suddenly realized he had eaten far too much. It was, of course, Sirius's flying motorcycle. Hagrid had called it was his most prized possession.
Harry could feel Dumbledore's eyes, studying him, waiting for him to begin screaming and yelling, or worse, crying, there in front of all those people. Well, he certainly wasn't going to yell, he quickly knew that much. He wondered briefly whether it would be rude to jump on it and race away, now, before he did begin to cry and people started hugging him and clasping his shoulders all over the place.
"Sirius planned to give this to you today, Harry," Dumbledore said. "He wanted you to have it."
Harry nodded, and looked up to find Lupin had taken a spot at his side. He also seemed to be attempting a smile, with even less success.
Suddenly Uncle Vernon, still fuming at the letter clutched in his hand, waddled through the crowd to stare at the motorcycle. He looked around desperately, as if hoping someone else would claim it for themselves.
"Yep," said Harry, his sad countenance dissolving into a forced grin. "It flys."
Uncle Vernon's hair seemed to go grey on the spot, and his mustache went limp.
"Harry will of course need to leave it at your home during the school year," Dumbledore added with a kind but sharp look at Harry.
That seemed to be the final straw for Vernon Dursley. As if struck by lightning, he threw up his hands and wailed, "Aaaahhhhh!"
Spinning wildly, he grabbed Kingsley Shacklebolt's shirt with one hand, pointing with the other.
"It flys! It flys! Flys! The motorbike!"
Kingsley's expression was mixed amusement and annoyance, but Harry had a feeling Uncle Vernon was a fat man walking on thin ice.
"A flying motorbike! In my home! In my home?"
"Petunia," Dumbledore said, taking Uncle Vernon by the shoulder and steering him out of the crowd. "Perhaps Vernon has had enough excitement this evening?"
All three of the Dursleys seemed energized by the idea that they were allowed to leave, and quickly Uncle Vernon and Dudley found themselves failing to squeeze together out Mrs. Figg's gate. For the first time in his life, Harry was sorry to see them go. They'd been rather entertaining.
Now, most of the guests slid back into their own conversations, as Harry stood next to Sirius's motorcycle. Lupin, Hermione, Ron and Ginny were standing silently next to him. Seamus was with them, too, but he didn't seem to understand why getting a flying motorcycle would be anything but exciting for Harry, and looked on the verge of asking to ride it. Harry didn't even think it would be okay to ride it himself.
Fleur and Bill came over to look at it, as did Mr. Weasley, who opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. He imagined Mr. Weasley probably had many strong feelings about Sirius Black's famous flying motorcycle. He had the look in his eye of someone exercising great self control.
Harry turned to Lupin, more questions on the tip of his tongue than he could keep straight, when he heard a loud screech, and a snowy owl which resembled Hedwig, only larger, swooped down on him. It dropped a package identical to one Harry had received yesterday, wrapped in brown bag paper, directly into his hands. Like the other, Harry found a note instructing him to perform the "Finite Incantatum" spell on the package.
"I zought you were done wiz your presents, 'Arry?" Fleur said over his shoulder.
"This one just came," he said, eyeing it skeptically as Fleur took it. Something told him the identical packages were more than a coincidence.
"Oh! Well, since you cannot perform ze spell..."
"Don't open that!" yelled a gruff voice from nowhere.
The top of the package ripped open, the underlying box flaps making short work of the paper. Again came a voice from nowhere, this time a hiss Harry had spoken with himself, in what he wished had been false nightmares.
Fleur dropped the box and screamed as a monstrous green shape rose from it, filling the sky above the yard.