Harry looked up to see Mrs. Weasley lending a hand to help him up. Harry got quickly to his feet, not wanting to appear injured in case Mrs. Weasley fussed.
"I'm fine," he answered her.
He was in the kitchen and it looked as gloomy as ever. There were still dark pots and pans dangling from the ceiling and the dying embers of a fire were glowing at the other end of the room. Harry's knees ached from their collision with the floor, but he ignored the pain. He hadn't realize that when Mrs. Figg said 'headquarters' he would end up here. He looked around. It seemed Mrs. Figg didn't come with him.
"Why isn't Mrs. Figg coming?" asked Harry.
"She's got to stay at her own house, in case your relatives drop by," Mrs. Weasley said, peering closely at him, "she convinced them to go out tonight and promised us they'd be gone a long while... are you sure that you're all right, dear?"
"Yes," Harry said firmly, wanting to believe it, "where is everyone?"
"The drawing room. It's much less... dreary in there, now that we've cleaned it up," she said as she took a gentle hold on his shoulder, steering him through the kitchen door and up the stairs.
"Remember to keep your voice down..." she whispered.
As they passed Mrs. Black's veiled portrait, Harry felt sick. He shut his eyes briefly. Don't think about it, not now, he thought furiously.
The drawing room was dark and quiet when they arrived. Harry squinted in to the inky black of the room, seeing nothing, then turned to Mrs. Weasley.
Several loud bangs and shouts echoed from around the room and, for a moment, Harry found himself engulfed in sudden bright light and people laughing and patting him on the back. He blinked dazedly in front of him and found himself looking into the cheerful eyes of Fred Weasley.
"Ha! You should have seen your face! Bill, did you get a picture?" Fred said as he grinned over at his long-haired brother, who was standing by a table laden with sweets.
Bill jauntily held up a camera. "First one of the evening," he announced.
Harry looked around, still feeling confused. It was a small group, most of the guests Harry knew to be in the Order. They were all either smiling or grinning, their eyes intent upon him. Oddly shaped balloons drifted across the ceiling and bits of confetti and sparks rained down upon him. Above their heads, a large, glittering banner declared "Happy Early Birthday Harry!" in curly purple print. Harry's stomach fluttered madly. A birthday party...
"Is it good? It took us most of the evening."
Tonks was standing very near to him, with her hair in bubble-gum pink dreadlocks. Ron, Hermione and Ginny were standing with her, all grinning goofily at him.
"Its..." Harry wasn't sure what to say. He'd never had a birthday party before, the Dursleys certainly wouldn't have put up with one. He'd always ended up jealously watching Dudley tear open presents (that would be broken a day later) or otherwise sit alone in his cupboard. "It's wonderful," he spoke finally.
"We thought you'd like it. The Dursleys never had parties, did they?" Ron asked, scooping up three butterbeers and tossing one to Harry and Hermione.
Harry shook his head, watching the crowd. He could see Kingsley Shacklebolt talking animatedly with Dedalus Diggle, and on the other side of them was Remus Lupin. Lupin caught his eye and nodded to him. Harry gave a small smile back.
Maybe fifteen minutes later, most of the other guests had stopped staring at Harry and asking him how he was, either so they could get their drinks, or nibble at the sweets. Harry saw Mundungus Fletcher pouring an amber liquid out of his silver flask and into his bottle of butterbeer.
"There're presents, too," Ginny said, pointing to a table in the corner, which was piled very high with gifts, "at least half of us bought one. Though, I get the feeling 'Dung's gift to you might be a bit dodgy. He pulled it out of his pocket five minutes before the party, then went around asking people for paper and tape to wrap it with."
"You didn't have to-" Harry started.
Ginny looked at him. "Of course we did. You deserve it," she said firmly.
Something in her eyes made Harry want to look away, but he was soon saved by Lupin, who had come over to wish him a happy birthday.
"How are you?" Lupin asked in an undertone.
"Good." Harry said shortly, choosing not to meet the werewolf's eyes. He was starting to feel slightly out of place again, but he shook it off and sat down at the end of the table.
"Oh, Harry! We forgot to tell you! Guess who might be coming?" Hermione said excitedly, taking a seat across from him.
"Who?" Harry asked.
"Dumbledore!" Hermione and Ginny said in unison, looking over his shoulder.
Harry leaned forward, suddenly forgetting his feeling of depression. "Really? Dumbledore? Why couldn't he come earlier?"
"Because he had a very important meeting with a couple of goblins, but I assure you, he wouldn't miss this party for the world," said a half amused, half serious voice in Harry's ear, causing him to jump in his seat.
Albus Dumbledore was standing behind him, in magnificent robes of blue-green. In his hand he was holding a small, square, shimmery package, which he set carefully on the table overflowing with other colorful gifts. The crowd in the room all seemed very surprised at Dumbledore's arrival, but they greeted him none the less.
"Albus! Honestly, most of us didn't think you would make it... but you did, and astounded us all," Tonks said cheerfully, grinning at the old professor. Mrs. Weasley gave her a half wild look as though trying to communicate to her to be more polite to the headmaster.
Dumbledore smiled, however. "There was good chance I wouldn't have made it! Ragnok insisted we go through every term tonight..." For a small moment his expression was closed and pensive, but soft smile made it disappear. He turned to Harry and said, "I see you made the journey safely. The Dursleys have been treating you well, I trust?"
"Er- they were okay. Better than usual, actually," Harry answered back. He noticed that most of the people at the party had taken seats around Harry, talking quietly. Tonks and Hermione were clearing space on the table and setting down some of Harry's gifts.
Dumbledore nodded and looked suddenly interested in a bowl of sherbet lemons. Harry watched Tonks and Hermione piling presents onto the table, and his stomach twisted. He'd never done this before...
"So, Harry. Pudding or presents?" Mrs. Weasley asked happily, smiling at him.
Everyone turned to look at him. Harry's stomach tightened uncomfortably, and he suddenly wished he were alone in his room, back at Privet Drive... anywhere away from everyone's searching eyes. He ran a hand through his already messy hair and said, in a voice not his own, "Erm.. presents, I suppose."
Fred and George whooped and clapped. "Well, done, Harry! You really are a Weasley!"
Harry grinned, automatically feeling at ease again. He could feel the beginnings of embarrassment and something that might have been shame overtake him, and he shook his head lightly. He knew perfectly well why he'd been feeling like hiding lately. It was because of Sirius ... but if he was going to have a good early-birthday party, he really should try to keep his thoughts away from Sirius's death... for one night at least.
Harry looked at the great pile of gifts now tottering in front of him and he stuck out a tentative hand, wondering which one he ought to choose. But before he could make a decision, Tonks had scooped up her gift to him, a flat, purple-spotted package, and pushed it into his hand.
"I think that Ron might enjoy this present a little more than you will," Tonks whispered audibly, winking at him. Everyone looked on interestedly as Harry pulled the paper from the package, wondering what Ron was going to like about it.
Inside was a very orange calendar and every month had a moving picture of the Chudley Cannons, Ron's favorite team, above it. Ron's eyes gleamed as Harry passed it to him.
"It charmed," Tonks continued, now picking up the purple-spotted wrapping paper and dropping it on Crookshanks's head, "it will remember dates and such. You know, Quidditch games... your girlfriend's birthday..."
"I haven't got a girlfriend!" Harry said defiantly. Ron had suddenly dropped the calendar back on the table, looking embarrassed.
"I know you haven't," Tonks argued, "all I'm saying is... you might, in thenear future," she winked suggestively at Ginny, who looked at Harry, and they both shrugged.
Harry set clumsily to work on his other presents, while Bill took continuous pictures. Mundungus Fletcher gave him gold cuff links, though Harry wasn't sure he trusted their source, knowing Mundungus's background. He also received a Foe Glass from Kingsley Shacklebolt, a set of solid silver gobstones from Dedalus Diggle, from Fred and George a certificate for five free items at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes (much to Mrs. Weasley's displeasure). Mr. and Mrs. Weasley got him a new pair of dress robes, green, (You've gotten so tall since the last ball, dear!"). Hermione got him a pocket watch that was very much like the Weasley's grandfather clock, only it told him when assignments were due, a large bag of his favorite sweets and Zonko's products from Ron, and set of Tibilius's Encyclopedias for Defense Against the Dark Arts from Lupin.
"I imagine they'll come in handy," Lupin told him pleasantly, "that is, if Dumbledore allows you to..."
Dumbledore chuckled lightly. "Remus, I don't think it would make the slightest difference if I told him to discontinue practice with the defense group. He'd do it anyway."
Harry grinned slightly. He was very pleased with Lupin's gift. He was almost itching to go off in some corner and start writing lesson plans. Sighing slightly at the thought of having to do it later, Harry looked around the table, realizing there were still a few gifts left.
Ginny, who'd been watching Harry search the table, picked up her gift and handed it to him, looking slightly nervous.
Harry removed the wrappings and a small, bottle-green sphere fell into his hand. It glowed faintly and as Harry gripped it, he felt more at ease than he had all summer.
"What is it?" Harry murmured, gripping the sphere more tightly. It was so smooth and warm... Harry's eyelids felt comfortably heavy and he sank lower into his chair.
"It's... well it's actually for smaller children, but I added some charms so it would be stronger... it's an Ameliorate," she mumbled, looking embarrassed, "it relieves stress, it's supposed to make you feel... better, if you're sad..."
Harry smiled at her, feeling peaceful. "Thanks, Ginny."
"Your welcome." Ginny said, not meeting his eyes and looking at her hands.
Harry was starting to feel very tired and he slumped lower in his seat. Before he could fall into his food, however, Lupin gently took the Ameliorate out of his hand and set it on the table. Harry sat up quickly, feeling wary and alert. Hermione scooped the sphere up and held it for a moment, looking relaxed, then passed it reluctantly to Ron.
"It's weird..." Ron mumbled, "Mum has some of these, but they don't have nearly this much... effect," he yawned widely.
Ginny looked embarrassed again and she muttered, "Too much Sleeping Charm, I suppose."
Dumbledore seemed very impressed by the little sphere, however. He spoke quietly to Ginny while the Ameliorate was passed around, "Your gift to Harry was the very best he could have received. I doubt he will have trouble sleeping this year."
Ginny smiled with a mixture of pride and pleasure in her eyes. She looked around the table and said happily, "Harry! You've got one last present!"
It was from Dumbledore. The box was wrapped in a shimmery, slightly translucent paper and Harry felt oddly as though he should be more careful opening this gift. He peeled the paper off, passing it to Hermione (who had a growing pile of it for Crookshanks next to her chair) and opened the box that was left.
A bright, gleaming, white light poured out from under the lid and, for a moment, Harry was forced to look away. Everyone, excluding Dumbledore, waited in baited breath for Harry to pry the top of the box the rest of the way off.
Harry blinked, finally peering inside the box. It looked like a Penseive, only it was very different from Dumbledore's. It was much smaller for one thing, distinctive runes patterned the brim, and as Harry lifted it out, it fit snugly in the palm of his hand. He could see that the liquid inside was brighter than Dumbledore's, more clear.
"I suspect this will be helpful..." Dumbledore spoke quietly to him, in a voice only Harry could hear, while the gift was peered at by everyone else at the table, "this is a Dream Arrest. It works the same way as a Penseive. If you have bad dreams, I would like you to put them in here... perhaps this way, they can be better analyzed. And of course, " he continued, "It can be used for a limited amount of your own thoughts, as well..."
Harry saw Dumbledore's saddened old eyes and a beam of understanding shot between them both. If, and there was no doubt about it, he had nightmares, he would put them in here, but there was also the matter of the prophecy. Harry's mind had been packed with information lately, what with Sirius's death and the prophecy that foretold Harry's very destiny, Harry felt a sudden overwhelming gratitude toward Dumbledore.
"Thank you," Harry said in low tones, steadily meeting Dumbledore's blue gaze. Dumbledore nodded and they turned back to the group in awe of the Dream Catcher.
"Oh, wow, Harry!" Hermione exclaimed excitedly, gazing at it over Ginny's shoulder, "these are really rare... and very expensive." At the word 'expensive', Mundungus's eyes gleamed, watching the gift slightly reluctantly.
Hermione looked up at him. "I suppose it's to examine your dreams more closely, right?"
Harry nodded, feeling very self-conscious. He pulled the Dream Arrest out of Ginny's hands, and away from everyone's prying eyes, and put it back into it's box. He felt oddly protective of it, as though his thoughts and memories were already spinning and whirling down into it's icy white depths.
"Harry! The time!" Mr. Weasley exclaimed abruptly, checking his watch, "the Dursleys will be returning any moment and we don't want trouble, do we?"
Harry shook his head, "Honestly, Mr. Weasley, I don't think they'd notice I wasn't back."
Mrs. Weasley pursed her lips. "Of course they will, Harry, " she said, rather forcefully, "if you'd like, you can leave your gifts here until it's time for you to come back again."
"Uh... sure," Harry answered. He wasn't ready to leave. This had probably been one of the best days he'd had since the night at the Department of Mysteries... don't think about that, he thought firmly.
A sudden tapping noise caught everyone's attention, causing them to look around in confusion. Eventually, Dumbledore stood up and strode to the window, where Harry realized the tapping must have been coming from. As he opened the shutters, a tawny owl swooped in, dropping a letter. Dumbledore caught it deftly in his hand and silently read it's message, his brow furrowing deeper into his already lined face.
"Harry, you are to stay here tonight," he spoke shortly, striding to the drawing room doors and putting his hat on, "the Dursleys... have not returned. Arabella tells us she saw Dementors."