Even after the Howler incident, life at the Dursleys for Harry over the next three weeks continued more or less as usual. His teachers at Hogwarts had given him plenty of work to do over the summer holiday, so it wasn't as if he had nothing to do. Harry had managed to finish Snape's essay on poisons, with Hermione's help via owl post, but he still had other work to keep him busy. And for this he was thankful; he really wanted to avoid the Dursleys as much as possible at all costs.
He hadn't heard any new news about the war, thankfully. At the end of his last term, Lord Voldemort, possibly the greatest Dark Wizard of all time, had risen again. Hermione, again through owl post, kept him updated on any big news, so Harry was able to keep up with current events. She had told him that there were new attacks occurring nearly every day, but they were mainly on the continent; the important sights including Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and the Ministry of Magic, were still relatively safe.
Harry had spent most of his time avoiding the Dursleys and keeping to himself. He exchanged owls almost daily with Ron and Hermione. Harry hadn't, however, heard back from Ginny. He wasn't too surprised, though, after what he had done to her. He supposed he would just talk to her at Hogwarts.
At about seven o'clock on a sunny Saturday morning, Harry was sitting in his bed after waking from another nightmare, trying to clear his mind by thinking about school, the war, and his friends, when he was brought suddenly back to awareness by the shrill ringing of the telephone. Harry got out of his bed and left his room, confused. The Dursleys usually didn't get telephone calls this early in the morning. He heard the telephone being picked up in the master bedroom a few rooms over.
"Vernon Dursley speaking," said his Uncle Vernon's voice groggily. He had obviously just woken up. Vernon paused to listen to the person on the other end of the line. Then he said, "What do you want with him?" Pause. "Right, then, I'll send him right over." He hung up the phone with a click. Harry heard the sounds of much weight shifting on a bed, and feet falling to the floor. Not wanting his uncle to know he had been listening, Harry sneaked back into his room and got back into bed and pretended to be asleep as he waited for his uncle's footsteps to pass. But to his surprise, they stopped right outside his room.
"Wake up, boy!" hissed his uncle.
"What is it?"
"Mrs. Figg. She wants to see you."
"Don't ask questions! Just get some proper clothes on and go."
As Vernon left the room, Harry complied. He dressed, went downstairs, and left the house. It was a nice warm day, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Harry paused once outside the door, to take in the warm morning summer air. Then he set off down the sidewalk toward Mrs. Figg's house.
Mrs. Figg was an elderly woman whose house always smelled like cabbage, and she also had many cats. Harry had begun to suspect that her cats ate cabbage. After walking the short distance to Mrs. Figg's house, he stepped up to the front door and raised his hand to knock. But before he could, the door swung inward to reveal Mrs. Figg.
"Harry! How good of you to come so early! Do come in!" She motioned inside and Harry followed her as the door shut behind them. He followed her into her kitchen, where there was a pot of steaming tea, a jug of orange juice, and a plate of toast waiting invitingly on the table.
She motioned to the food, and said, "Please help yourself. I imagine that you haven't eaten yet." Harry shook his head and sat down. He took some toast and poured himself some orange juice into a glass.
"Thanks," he said politely as he began to eat.
Harry watched as Mrs. Figg poured herself a cup of tea, and sat down at the table with him. "So, Harry," she said, sipping her tea and looking over the rim of her cup at him, "I assume you are wondering why I invited you over this early. Surely not for breakfast and a visit."
"Well, allow me to explain. You have known me for most of your life, correct?" Harry nodded again, looking up at her.
"I'm afraid, Harry, that you don't know me quite as well as you think you do." She put her teacup down on her saucer. "You see, I am a witch."
At this, Harry spat out the bit of orange juice he was drinking. "Sorry," he said, moving to clean it up, but Mrs. Figg beat him to it. She took out her wand (Harry's eyes widened in surprise) and waved it, and the mess disappeared.
"I understand that this may be a bit startling to you." Harry nodded fervently. "But Dumbledore felt it necessary to tell you my true identity. The reason I have lived here all these years is to watch out for you." Harry started to interrupt, but Mrs. Figg held up a hand to cut him off. "I know you feel you don't need watching over, but Dumbledore and the Ministry of Magic felt it necessary.
"I called you over here this early for a reason. During Voldemort's first reign of terror, I was part of a group called the Order of the Phoenix. Our job as the Order was to spy on and fight against Voldemort.
"Admission to the Order had several requirements. First, of course, you had to be of age. Second, as a test of bravery, you had to be willing to openly say Voldemort's name. Third, you had to be in the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry, and then, above that, you had to be inducted to the Order itself, which was essentially the group in charge of the Department of mysteries.
"Your parents were part of the Order, too, before. . ." She broke off here, obviously not wanting to upset Harry.
"In any case, I, along with the old, and some new members of the Order, have been called back to duty to report to the Ministry today. We need to be there by noon, so that's why I called you here so early; to make sure I could talk to you before I left. Dumbledore felt that with my absence from Privet Drive, you would be less effectively protected. Therefore, you have been granted permission to stay with your friends, the Weasleys, for the remaining two weeks of the summer holiday."
At these words, Harry felt warmth spread through his body as if he had just drunk an entire bottle of Butterbeer. It must have shown on his face because Mrs. Figg said, "I assume you want to go get your school things." Harry nodded. "Then you and I will get your belongings and A-A straight to the Weasleys'."
Harry looked at her questioningly. "A-A?"
"Assisted-Apparition. When I Apparate, if you are holding on to me, you get pulled along, like a Portkey," Mrs. Figg explained. "I am a good friend of Arthur's, so he knows I'll be bringing you."
There was silence as Harry continued to eat. Then he said, "So is Sirius part of this Order of the Phoenix as well?"
"Sirius Black?" Mrs. Figg chuckled slightly as she took a sip of her tea. "He was during Voldemort's first reign of terror, but he has long since been stripped of his position as a senior member of the Order. And even now, with sufficient evidence to find him innocent, he says that he doesn't want the position anymore."
"Why?" asked Harry.
"He said he's looking into the position of a full-time job somewhere else this year, considering his trial is called in his favour," answered Mrs. Figg.
"Really? He hasn't told me! What job is he thinking of?"
"Well, you do have to remember that he hasn't been freed yet, so he's not guaranteed a job anywhere. He's asked me not to tell you anyway," she said evasively, and Harry decided not to push the subject.
About ten minutes later when Harry had finished his breakfast, he said, "All right. We can go get my school things now."
Mrs. Figg, who had been reading a magazine on cat breeding as Harry ate, put it down, and said, "Okay, then. Hold my hand, and you can A-A to your room, get your things, then A-A straight to the Weasleys."
"What do I have to do?" Harry asked.
"Just hold on to me. I do the actual Apparating."
Perplexed, Harry took her hand.
"Ready?" asked Mrs. Figg.
"Yeah," said Harry. He was excited; he had never Apparated anywhere before.
"Okay then," said Mrs. Figg. Then, suddenly, Harry felt a sensation in his stomach as if he were falling, then he saw his room back at the Dursley's appear around him. For a second, he just stood still in his room, slightly giddy at discovering this new way of travelling. The idea of just appearing somewhere else was very intriguing.
Harry bustled about, getting his school things packed into his trunk while Mrs. Figg went to tell the Dursley — she had Apparated to the front door and rung the doorbell so as not to frighten them — that Harry was leaving for the rest of the summer. When she returned to his room, Harry had finished packing, and was just checking his room for any lost quills or books. When Mrs. Figg returned, he replaced the floorboard under his bed and stood up.
"Ready?" Mrs. Figg asked again.
"Think so," he said. He grabbed Hedwig's cage (Hedwig gave a soft, tired hoot of acknowledgement) and his trunk containing all his books, clothes, and his Firebolt racing broom. Mrs. Figg took hold of his arm.
"Here we go, then," said Mrs. Figg. Once again, Harry experienced the falling sensation, and then he appeared in the Weasley's kitchen.
Mrs. Weasley was bustling about making breakfast for Fred, George, Percy, Ron, Ginny, and Mr. Weasley, who were all sitting at the table. When she noticed Harry and Mrs. Figg appearing in the kitchen, she said, "Arabella! Harry, dear! So good to see you!" She embraced Harry tightly. Then she released him and shook Mrs. Figg's hand. "How have you been, Arabella?" Harry determined this must be Mrs. Figg's first name.
Harry took a seat at the kitchen table between Ron and George. He tried to catch Ginny's eye, but it seemed she was making a point not to look at him. And when he looked closer, he noticed that she was slightly more subdued than usual.
"Quite well," replied Mrs. Figg. "They're calling the Order in today. I need to be there by noon."
"Please do stay for a bit," invited Mrs. Weasley. "Have you eaten breakfast yet?"
"Yes, but I really should be going. I have yet to complete my packing properly."
"At least stay for a cup of tea. We can play a quick round of Deturrbocus even!"
"Oh, you play Deturrbocus?" asked Mrs. Figg, slightly more interested.
"Of course," said Mrs. Weasley as if this were something that everyone should have already known. Then she arched her back superiorly. "I got a fiver once," she said, her voice full of unmistakable pride.
"Wow, really? A fiver?" said Mrs. Figg, impressed. "The best I've ever done is a quadruple!"
"So, will you stay, then?" asked Mrs. Weasley, her tone obviously more excited.
"No, I really must be going, unfortunately," said Mrs. Figg, shaking her head. "I have work to do."
"Very well. I'll see you later then?"
"Of course." She turned to look at Harry. "Take care, Harry!"
"I will. Thanks, Mrs. Figg!" With a nod at Harry and a smile at Mrs. Weasley, she Disapparated with a small pop.
Harry looked at Ron. "Deturrbocus?" he asked.
"Oh, yeah," he said with an air of annoyance in his voice. "It's this game Mum and Dad like. I don't really see the point, though. You just knock down Muggle bowling pins, really. Kind of stupid." He took a bite of his sausage.
"Would you like some breakfast, dear?" Mrs. Weasley asked Harry in a motherly tone.
"No thank you, Mrs. Weasley. I ate at Mrs. Figg's."
"Are you sure, dear? There's plenty of sausage left. You can help yourself." As Harry looked, he noticed a gigantic platter full of sausages waiting on the counter.
"No, really, Mrs. Weasley. I'm fine."
"All right, dear," Mrs. Weasley sighed. She returned to her cooking.
"So, how's the summer been, Ron?" asked Harry.
"Not bad. Hermione's coming this afternoon," he said excitedly. "It'll be nice to see her again."
"I know," agreed Harry. "I want to check my Potions essay with her."
Ron looked confused for a second. Then, he came to his senses and said, "Oh, right. Yeah, I should probably check mine, too."
George, who had overheard, leaned over to Harry, and said, "He hasn't even done his essay yet. He's been too busy boring us all sick saying that he was so happy Hermione didn't go to Bulgaria." As he spoke, he unearthed a small salt shaker labelled with the words "Restoration Salt" from his pajama pocket.
"What was that, George?" said Ron accusingly.
"I'm Fred, you git!" said George. "Blimey, you can't even tell your own identical twin brothers apart! Here ikkle Ronnikins, let me put some salt on your sausages for you." He leaned over with his Restoration Salt and dumped half the contents on Ron's food.
"Hey!" protested Ron, but he didn't have time to do anything else before there was a bang! as his sausages turned abruptly into tiny pigs, snorting and milling around Ron's now otherwise deserted plate.
In the commotion that followed, Harry managed to glimpse Ginny quietly getting up from her seat and disappearing up the stairs. Curious, Harry followed. Ginny had never been more to him than Ron's little sister in his mind, but as Ron was presently preoccupied, he felt it up to him to help Ron out by seeing what Ginny was up to. After all, she hadn't seemed quite as happy as usual from what Harry had seen of her so far that morning. He watched as she entered her room and shut the door behind her. When Harry reached it, he knocked gently.
"Who is it?" Ginny's shaky voice said from inside the room.
"It's Harry. Can I come in?"
He heard a pause from inside her room, followed by a timid "Okay," so Harry opened the door.
He walked over to her bed, still unmade, and sat down next to her. "Is everything alright with you Ginny?"
She frowned at him. "What do you think? And why do you even care?"
"Ron's my friend. You're Ron's sister. So I though I should try to help you." Harry thought a moment. "Is this about my first letter?" he said finally. Ginny nodded. "Look, I said I was sorry—and you know I am; I wrote it on enchanted parchment!"
"I know," she said, tears beginning to well from within her deep chocolate brown eyes. "It's just. . . It's just. . ." She never completed her sentence.
Harry considered. "It's just that you were hoping that I, er, felt the same way about you."
Ginny let out a pitiful sob and threw her arms around Harry. Not quite knowing what to do, Harry awkwardly patted the top of her flaming red-haired head. Then, suddenly, as if she had just realized what she was doing, she jerked back from Harry.
"Why did I do that? You don't even like me any more than ‘Ron's-Little-Sister!' I'll never be anything more than that to you!"
Harry didn't know what to say, so after a moment of indecision, he just said, "Just let me know how I can make it up to you, Gin. Ron'll never forgive me if you don't."
Ginny was slightly taken aback at Harry's calling her ‘Gin.' Nobody had ever called her that. Not even her mum. But she said, "Okay, Harry. I'll think about it."
Harry got up from her bed and walked over to the door. But before he could leave Ginny's room, she said, "Harry, do you think you. . . Oh, never mind. Just carry on." At this, Harry shrugged, and left her room. He closed the door behind him.