By the time Harry's mind processed the Dark Mark still rising above Mrs. Figg's yard, he didn't have much chance to react. Within seconds people were pushing in on him from every side, forming a sort of protective circle with their backs to him.
After an outburst of screams, silence prevailed. Every witch and wizard but Harry had their wand raised, closing ever tighter while scanning for intruders. Not far from Harry, Mr. Finnigan, Mrs. Figg and the Grangers were being herded toward the middle of the group.
Harry couldn't even move an arm to reach his wand. Kingsley on his left and Bill on his right had him pinned in place. There was someone shaking behind him, while Ginny, pressed against his front, was so still he wasn't sure she was breathing. He could squirm just enough to get a good look around the yard, and was hardly surprised to see one person, only one, standing away from the others. Dumbledore's wand hung loosely at his side while the other hand held a piece of parchment near his face. He did not look pleased with what he read.
Harry twisted as best he could to his left to see a huge hole blasted in Mrs. Figg's bushes and fence.
"Sorry!" yelled a woman with an Irish accent, the same voice which cast the curse. "False alarm! Sorry! Just a squirrel or a rat or some sort of..."
All hell broke loose. At least twenty people unleashed hexes in that direction, Stunners and Impediment Curses and more Reductor Curses, until one side of Mrs. Figg's fence had been utterly destroyed. Harry heard Lupin hoarsely yelling Summoning Charms, and when he registered the name being Summoned, redoubled his efforts to reach his own wand.
To make matters worse, it as then that in one loud 'pop' several people, a few wearing pajamas, Apparated into the yard, and as they saw curses being fired at the fence line began doing so themselves with little concern for proximity to where everyone else was aiming.
Harry wasn't sure who was hit with what by whom first, but a moment later spells were no longer being directed outward towards the fence, instead flying in every direction. Harry was certain he would be struck in the crossfire when he was rather forcefully drug to the ground by his hair.
"Ow! Bloody hell, Ginny!"
"Shut it, draw your..."
But before she could even mention his wand, Harry felt it jump to life, right out his pocket and into his awaiting hand...and then, as if on a string, out of his hand and into the air, along with the wands of everyone around him. From all over wands flew above their heads towards the house, casting slicing shadows beneath the green glow, and clattered into a pile at Dumbledore's feet.
There were at least another two dozen people in the yard now, a few Ministry workers but some Harry recognized as his new neighbors. Several were searching the ground around them furiously, apparently thinking they had simply dropped their wands. Others were staring at Dumbledore with a mixture of anger and panic. Of course, a few hex victims were busy laughing, sneezing and in one case mewing uncontrollably.
"What the heck do you think you're doing, old man? Taking our wands with Death Eaters about?!" Several people murmured their assent, including Kingsley, who made an analogy as to how he felt without his wand that made Ginny, standing practically on top of Harry, snort with laughter.
Dumbledore, however, had not yet looked up from the parchment he held, as if the sixty or so wands had just happened to wander to him on their own. In the space between people's legs Harry saw Dumbledore absently wave his own wand, canceling all the hexes people around the yard were still suffering, then raise his eyes.
"My good people, be assured, neither Lord Voldemort nor his followers are in the vicinity. You are in no danger." There was no doubting him. Personally, Harry thought they were probably safer with Dumbledore armed and the rest of them not than if the situation were reversed.
"Harry, might I a word?" Of course. Slowly the circle peeled away between them. Harry climbed quickly to his feet and began moving towards the professor. Before he even heard them he felt Ron and Hermione following.
Until that moment, seeing him framed by the frightened crowd, it had not struck Harry how very odd it was that Dumbledore was actually there, giving him presents, organizing songs and settling arguments at his birthday party in Little Whinging. That nearly every member of the Order was there, even those he barely knew. That they'd decided to hold the party at midnight, and not waited for the afternoon or evening.
He must have been expecting something.
Dumbledore fixed him with an intense gaze as he approached, before turning back to the crowd.
"This is, as the saying goes, a false alarm," he said, his voice easily carrying the small yard. "I doubt any of the few Death Eaters outside Azkaban would be foolish enough to make an appearance in front of this rather formidable gathering. Now, if we can behave ourselves..." Dumbledore's stern gaze washed over the crowd quickly, then with a slight flick of his wrist the pile of wands slowly lifted off the ground and each drifted back to its owner. As they flew, Dumbledore gave his wand another twist, and the Dark Mark above the house flickered once then disappeared. Harry's eyes strained to see in the renewed darkness as Ron handed him his wand, having plucked it out of the air.
After confirming they held the correct wand, a process that involved lots of red, yellow, green and blue sparks, most of the new arrivals Disapparated, though some who lived nearby simply walked out the gate or rather, where the gate had been. Soon only a few severe looking wizards Harry assumed were from the Ministry remained beyond the original party-goers.
Dumbledore took a few steps toward the house and the three of them followed. The added distance gave a slight modicum of privacy from those still staring at them. Dumbledore wasted no time getting into an explanation.
"I do believe, Harry, that this stunt was meant to do little more than ruin your day," he said, "Or night, as the case may be. This, you may not have noticed, floated out from the mouth of the Dark Mark. It is addressed to you."
Hermione gasped, and Dumbledore nodded grimly at her before handing the parchment to Harry. It read:
Harry James Potter.
You are summoned to the service of the Dark Lord. Touch your wand to your name above and say "Portus."
Hermione whimpered over his shoulder, but Harry was less upset then confused. "That's it? This is how he recruits Death Eaters? Just tells you to go to him and...and they go?"
Dumbledore sighed. "It is not so simple, Harry. Usually the summons is only extended to those known to be sympathetic to the Dark Lord's cause. Those already acquainted with the dark arts, or who know how much they stand to gain and care little about the means. He cannot suppose you would accept. I imagine that this is Voldemort's idea of a practical joke."
Harry stared at the brief note, disgusted. He looked back at Ron, who eyed the parchment with a similar expression. Hermione was gazing into the distance, muttering to herself nervously.
"What exactly am I supposed to do with this, professor?" Harry asked. His first thought involved the one of torches in the corners of the yard.
"Make your choice."
Harry could do nothing but blink, though he heard Ron make an odd noise beside him.
"I am confident you will make the correct choice, Harry, but I will not make it for you. I cannot."
Harry sighed deeply. He supposed Dumbledore wanted him to take a moment to think about it. To weigh his options, remember that he had people who cared about him, people who had sacrificed for him, to affirm his rejection of the dark arts and pledge always to fight for the right.
That sort of rubbish.
He held the parchment back out to the headmaster, saying, "No offence sir, but I made my decision a long time ago. I'd really just like to go...to go."
Dumbledore took it, smiling sadly down at Harry. "Yes, I think that would be best."
He folded the parchment into his robes as he walked to McGonagall, stopping just long enough to whisper in her ear before heading towards the few non-invitees who remained.
Harry was wondering darkly how Dumbledore would have reacted had he pulled his wand and pointed it at the summons, when Hermione blurted out, "We could attack!"
"The note, the summons! It would take us to V-voldemort! If we got everyone together, everyone here, and we all used it together..."
"It has been tried, Miss Granger, with less than satisfactory results," Professor McGonagall said curtly, surprising Hermione into silence. Lupin was with her, and Harry saw Tonks, Bill and Charlie heading over as well.
"We need to get your things, Harry," Lupin said. "You two," he looked to Ron and Hermione, "should stay here. We'll be back shortly."
Soon Harry was leading the five Order members toward Privet Drive. Despite the late hour, several of the neighbors' homes had lights on, likely awakened by commotion from the Dark Mark. Harry could feel their eyes, and again found himself studying the pavement. It was starting to feel like the old neighborhood again.
They couldn't go any faster than McGonagall's pace, which at least gave Harry time to ask some of his many questions. "Not that I'm complaining, but why am I going to the Burrow and not Grimmauld Place?" he asked.
Lupin sighed. "The Aurors aren't willing to let you too far out of their sight, Harry, and Dumbledore wasn't going to open up headquarters to anyone outside the Order."
Harry doubted that was Dumbledore's only reason for keeping him away from Sirius's home, but he appreciated it nonetheless.
"Plus," Bill said, "Dad intercepted an owl from Hermione giving Ron, Ginny and the Lovegood girl advice on how to come break you out, and he told Dumbledore he had no intention of stopping them."
"It's a shame Hermione didn't come with us," Charlie said. "Your cousin seems to have a thing for her." They all laughed, though Harry thought he heard someone groan as well.
"Who says she didn't come?" Harry turned to see Tonks had changed to look exactly like Hermione, down to the same blue jeans and yellow shirt his best female friend currently wore.
"Ha!" snorted Charlie. "You know, Tonks, you could be really dangerous if you tried."
Harry saw Tonks frown and open her mouth to speak, then close it again, pursing her lips into a forced smile. If the real Hermione had been on the verge of lecturing Harry and Ron for playing Quidditch instead of studying but then thought better of it, she would have looked no different. Bill briefly caught Harry's eye.
As they approached the door to number four, Harry saw McGonagall, who was walking level with him, draw her wand with her non-staff hand. Harry didn't even have a chance to ask why.
He stopped to let her go in ahead of him, as this seemed the prudent thing to do. Whatever had put McGonagall in a mood to send spells first and ask questions later, he wanted no part of it.
"You!" Harry was shocked to hear Aunt Petunia shriek before he was even properly in the house, but once he was it became apparent she wasn't yelling at him but McGonagall. "You! The one who came to the house, after the letter! You, you're..."
McGonagall's eyes flashed dangerously at Aunt Petunia but the professor did not respond.
"Upstairs and pack him up, and be quick about it," she instructed the others. "I shall put the motorcycle," which she withdrew, shrunken, from a pocket, "in the rear garden with Invisibility and Imperturbable Charms on it. They should last until you can remove them on your next birthday, Harry." She disappeared into the kitchen as Harry and the others went upstairs.
"Maybe a little before your birthday," Lupin whispered to him. "We'll have to get you trained up, after all."
Harry faked a smile, but he wasn't feeling any more enthusiastic about actually riding the motorcycle. Rather, he was trying to figure out how on earth Aunt Petunia knew McGonagall. Combined with the Howler last year and her near attack of Ginny, Harry was beginning wonder if he brought his aunt to Hogwarts whether she'd start screaming at random people in the halls or snogging Professor Flitwick during a Quidditch match.
Leading them to his room, Harry could see Dudley peek into the hall. A moment later Tonks-as-Hermione passed, and there was an odd belching sound as the door thudded shut. Tonks giggled.
The first thing Harry did in his room was coax Hedwig out of her cage. Lupin suggested it might be better to have her meet him at the Burrow, so Harry decided to send her off with the nearly two dozen thank you letters he'd completed.
Or at least that was Harry's idea. Hedwig, though, wasn't ready to cooperate after a month of being ignored. If she was annoyed when he tied the first letter on and belligerent when he'd tied the second, she was in full out rebellion when Harry brought a third towards her. His forefinger was bleeding by the time he got a hold of her leg, and when she started in on his forearm Harry cursed loudly.
He could hear drawers opening and closing behind him and the 'whoosh' of his things flying across the room into his trunk, though Charlie had stopped packing to laugh at him. He'd finally gotten the third letter tied on when he heard a quick gasp.
Harry turned to find Lupin staring at an unopened package, identical to that which had carried the Dark Mark.
Harry was just about to explain that he'd received it earlier that evening when Bill, who'd been examining the pile of Dudley's broken toys in the corner, walked up to the box and flicked his wand.
The box Vanished. Lupin put a hand to his heart, and Tonks-as-Hermione gasped after having held her breath several seconds.
"Uh, Bill?" said Charlie, his widened eyes focused on his older brother, who had returned to the pile of toys.
"You realize that package had the Dark Mark in it?"
"What? Oh, the box, yeah."
"Well do you realize," said Lupin, his voice a bit higher than Harry was used to, "since it only required 'Finite Incantatum' to let loose the Mark, your spell could have easily had the same effect?"
"I'm sure it did."
There was a moment pause before Lupin, still in that oddly high voice, asked, "Well, were did you send it then?"
"Do you mean to say," said Lupin, who was speaking very slowly, "that you just let loose the Dark Mark over Diagon Alley?"
"Of course not," said Bill lazily, as if it wouldn't have been a big deal if he had. "We have a room in Gringotts for, you know, stuff we want to get rid of. I just sent it there." He put down the speaker box he'd been holding and grabbed the other twenty letters out of Harry's hand, Conjured a rubber band around them and tied them to Hedwig without protest. "Are we ready to go?"
They were. Harry let Hedwig, who was staring fondly at Bill, out the window, then made a final sweep of the room, which yielded nothing.
They found a red faced McGonagall at the bottom off the stairs, glaring at Aunt Petunia, who glared back. It looked to Harry like they'd had a row, although he hadn't heard anything upstairs. With a flick of McGonagall's wand the door flew open violently, and Harry was done with Privet Drive for another year, his only goodbye going mentally to the weights in the old guest room.
When they got back to Mrs. Figg's house, Harry was surprised to find Hermione hugging Ginny in the front drive. It took him a moment to notice the blue sedan with Hermione's parents in the front seats.
"You're going, Hermione?" he asked.
"Yes." She smiled apologetically, though Harry didn't think she seemed particularly upset. "I'm staying home until our letters come. With everything that's been going on, I haven't had much time with my parents since, you know, before fourth year."
With a hug for him and another for Ron, Hermione was gone. Harry saw the fence was already repaired as he, Ron, Ginny and Professor McGonagall followed the others around back.
Just as Harry noted Dumbledore and Kingsley still busy with the Ministry wizards, all but Dumbledore Disapparated. He wasted not a beat before heading towards Harry's trunk, now filled with shrunken presents from the party. With a flick of his wand the trunk floated up to waist level and he began muttering over it. Harry kept a close watch, as it quite literally contained everything he owned.
"Portus!" Dumbledore said clearly, and the trunk briefly gyrated midair, glowing blue. Several of the adults laughed nervously. Harry imagined they were uncomfortable witnessing an unauthorized Portkey.
"You really don't give a damn, do you, Albus?" said an amused Mrs. Figg.
"Believe it or not, Arabella, I have indeed been labeled a rebel once or twice in my day," he said happily. "Now then, everyone get a good hold on the trunk. I've put a few charms on it, Harry, to ensure none of your possessions are damaged."
Harry, the eight Weasleys and a still upset Fleur each put a hand on the trunk. Everyone else stayed where they were.
"Um, aren't we traveling with some sort of guard?" Harry asked. Still, no Order members moved to join them.
"That will not be necessary," Dumbledore said. "Has he been invited, Molly?"
"Well, he knows, but better safe..." She turned and said, "Harry, you're welcome to come to the Burrow."
"Uh, alright," he said, feeling awfully confused, and then a bit irritated when everyone started laughing at him.
"Oh hush, he doesn't know," Mrs. Weasley said, slapping her husband in the chest with her free hand.
"What don't I..." Harry started to ask, but before anyone answered came the violent tug behind his navel.
* * *
A few minutes later, the ten of them were sitting in the living room of the Burrow drinking tea. Despite the late hour and that they were almost all drained, no one went straight to bed.
"So," Harry asked, breaking the peaceful silence. "Why exactly didn't Dumbledore send a guard with, um, us?"
"No need," said Ron simply.
There was several more moments of silence, before Harry asked, "Well, why not?"
"Dumbledore bet Ludo Bagman fifty Galleons you could survive a week without one," Ginny said. "By the way, we need your wand before we leave."
It took several seconds of Harry slowly turning green before the others started laughing.
"Alright," Harry said, grinning. "The Fidelius Charm, then?"
"Oh no," said Fred. "I'm sure You-Know-Who will know exactly where you are within a few hours."
Seeing several of the others nod resignedly, Harry's grin faded. "So, what, are we going to set the ghoul on him when he shows up?"
"No, 'Arry, actually, ze ghoul is busy sending an owl to ze dark one as we speak. I understand 'e pays quite well." Fleur seemed to be feeling better. How nice. His annoyance must have been evident, because Ron coughed loudly and gave Charlie a sharp look.
"The thing is," Charlie said, "we found some things that make all that unnecessary. Or rather, Bill did." It took several seconds of Ron and Charlie glaring before Bill tore his attention from Fleur.
"Right. In my years of curse breaking, you see, Harry, I've only come across eight spells we couldn't break. Four were rather personal in nature, and just too horrible to be discussed. Two others were just Locking Charms, but so old the actual variations and incantations are hopelessly lost. And the last two are wards."
"The first is the Vampire Curse," he continued. "Not as bad as it sounds. Simply put, no one can enter our property who hasn't been invited. Period. Can't walk in, can't fly, Apparate, Portkey or Floo. The only way you can enter is with an invitation from a Weasley."
"The slimy prat not included," Fred added sharply.
Nobody reacted to Fred's reference to Percy, which Harry found odd. Usually when his name was brought up Mr. and Mrs. Weasley became very upset, but tonight they were composed. The cup of tea Mr. Weasley held never wavered.
"Yes, well," Bill continued, "It's just the eight of us who can invite someone in. It goes for animals and magical creatures as well, except phoenixes, Merlin knows why, and you can receive owls from people who have been invited in. Also, people inside the ward can't be seen by anyone outside who doesn't have an invite. That's kept the media away pretty good." He yawned widely. "Am I missing anything?" he asked Charlie.
"No. I'll explain the other, shall I?" Charlie turned to Harry. "Its necessity was made obvious by a certain rat which used hang around here, just in case we happen to have another."
Harry's back stiffened at this. One of his greatest fears was that, like his parents, he was putting too much faith in someone who would one day betray them. He trusted the Weasleys implicitly, but the Zacharius Smith's and Professor Snape's of his world were another story.
"It's called a Phoenix Song Spell," Charlie said. "Have you ever heard phoenix song, Harry?"
Everyone looked at him like he'd asked Dumbledore if he knew which end of his wand to hold.
"Right, nevermind," Charlie mumbled, while his mother, half-asleep on her feet, muttered something about "don't know why I bother writing..."
"Well then, you know phoenix song makes the noble feel brave, puts fear in the hearts of the wicked, all that? This uses that effect, so no one can enter the property who would be frightened by phoenix song. Basically, no shirt, no shoes, no bad guys."
Harry and the twins were the only ones who chuckled at this. Ron was blinking rapidly, trying to stay awake.
"Hogwarts should have these," Ginny said. "Then everyone wouldn't be looking around corners for Death Eaters like the end of last year."
"Well," said Bill, "I suspect Hogwarts does have some sort of Vampire Curse on it, but it's a moot point. Most of the Death Eaters, You-Know-Who included, went to Hogwarts. Once they've been invited in, it can't be revoked or renewed."
"And," said Charlie, "With a Phoenix Song Spell in place, half the student body, all the liars and perverts and variously malfunctioning teenagers, wouldn't be able to get on the grounds. Not to mention Snape."
Everyone except Mrs. Weasley laughed, when a potential problem occurred to Harry. Later, though he had slept most of the evening, he would attribute the question to tiredness.
"What if someone you've invited sends an evil owl?"
Bill stared at him for a moment, then as if Harry had not spoken helped Fleur up and hugged his parents and siblings goodbye. Finally he turned back to Harry.
"The Phoenix Song Spell only affects humans, so I'm afraid any evil owls you've been avoiding are still in play. Good luck with that, Boy Who Lived."
Everyone broke up as he promptly Disapparated. Fleur followed quickly, distraught with laughter, as if Bill had said something about a baboon's backside.
Charlie left not long thereafter, and soon Mrs. Weasley was ushering everyone up to bed. Harry saw Mr. Weasley float his trunk up the stairs, the twins and Ginny following. Ron was whimpering at the prospect of getting out of his seat and staring foggily at Harry as if hoping to be carried up.
It took Harry moving to the stairs himself to convince Ron his fate was sealed. He followed, grunting and moaning dramatically with each stair. By the time they reached the fifth floor landing, Harry was beginning to wonder if the person who appeared to be Ron wasn't actually a very pregnant woman using Polyjuice Potion.
Ron fell directly into his bed. "Yours is the other one," he muttered uselessly before transitioning to soft snores.
Harry, having already slept a night's worth that evening, took his time getting situated in bed. He thought of going downstairs for more tea, but decided against it. The way this birthday was going, there'd be a boggart waiting for him in the pantry. Instead he lay for what felt like hours staring at the orange ceiling, bright even in the darkness, thinking about the nearly non-stop sequence of odd events since he'd last awakened. Hopefully, he thought as he finally drifted off, his birthday day would be more relaxing than his birthday morning.
* * *
The sun was high in the sky when Harry opened his eyes to the disorienting orange barrage. The still asleep Ron had at some point taken off his shirt and moved under the covers, though his trainer-clad feet hung out over the edge.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Harry'd had several odd dreams. He'd had to play Exploding Snap versus a vampire to get into the loo, cooked breakfast at Privet Drive wearing a tea cozy, talked cheerfully to Neville in a windowless version of their dormitory, sat for a Defense Against the Dark Arts class with Aunt Petunia lecturing, and served detention with Professor Umbridge writing out pro and con lists on whether to become a Death Eater. Other than the queer bit with Neville, Harry knew the dreams were just reactions to his rather eventful early morning. Nothing to write Dumbledore over.
"Couldn't have done it without my teammates," Ron muttered, evidently still asleep. "No, no, silly. Your place? Roommate? Breakfast?"
Harry left Ron to it and quickly wound his way down to the kitchen.
Ginny was sitting alone at the table, leaning over a piece of parchment and writing lazily. "Afternoon, birthday boy," she said without looking up. "Mum made some sandwiches before she left. The twins have them in the living room."
Harry nodded and started digging through the cupboard in search of a glass, as there was an ice-filled jug of pumpkin juice sitting on the counter with his name on it. Literally. A note attached read:
You three had better leave some lunch for your sister and Harry!
"Who are you writing to?" he asked after a moment.
"Dean," she answered, her quill not breaking stride. "He'll want to know what really happened, and I'm sure Seamus won't get around to writing until he's made sure the big bad Dark Mark didn't scare his pooky Lavender."
Harry nearly snorted out his first sip of juice. "Too right. The bloke's obsessed. Barely talks about anything else."
"Yep." Ginny put her quill down and started reading over the letter, so Harry went into the living room. He found the twins sharing the Daily Prophet. It was opened so that he could read the cover:
Dark Mark over Surrey
More trouble for Potter
"Anything interesting or, y'know, true in there?" he asked.
"Morning Harry," George said. "Not much of either, actually. It doesn't seem they talked to anyone who was there. According to the Ministry...let's see. Yes, here you go. 'According to an anonymous source in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, "If Mr. Potter had been in bed like a normal teenager instead of partying into the unmagical hours, this incident surely would have been avoided." The same official said he had reason to believe the Boy Who Lived was "right pissed" when M.L.E. arrived on the scene.' So there it is. All your fault, as usual."
"They said I was drunk?" Harry asked incredulously.
"Hey, it could be worse," Fred said. "They could have said you were in a corner wetting yourself."
"Besides, this makes you sound cool," said George. "Reckless, fun loving. Like one of the royals. The girls will be throwing themselves at you."
"Prince Hal," said Ginny, coming in from the kitchen. "Next they'll have you and Dumbledore smoking Mandrake root on the roof of St. Mungo's."
"Prince Hal?" Harry and Fred asked simultaneously. Ginny just waved her hand in dismissal. "You two," she said to the twins, taking sandwiches for herself and Harry, "had better save some of these for Ron. Mum'll take it out on you if she has to listen to him moan about how he nearly starved because she didn't make enough."
"What's she going to do," Fred smirked, "make us de-gnome?"
Ginny huffed, then turned to Harry. "Did Ron tell you about the gnomes?" He shook his head. "First thing Mum did after the wards were set up was have us carry them to the edge of the property. We threw them outside, and when they turned around to yell at us, they couldn't see us. They've just been sort of wandering around the perimeter since, trying to find a way back in."
"Of course, threatening to invite them back has been an excellent way to avoid the washing up," George said with a grin.
"Anyway," said Fred, "at least they didn't accuse you of setting off the mark yourself. You know, again."
"And hey," said George, "the whole thing doesn't even qualify as another assassination attempt."
"Unless you count the big scary owl that delivered the package," said Ginny, her eyes twinkling. The twins snickered, and, trying to avoid an extended teasing session, Harry changed the subject.
"Actually, Dumbledore thought the whole thing was just Voldemort's way of ruining my birthday."
What good cheer remained from a moment earlier quickly dissipated. It was a moment before Fred said, "Funny, he sent me a jumper."
Met with three disbelieving looks, he shrugged. "I never wear it, though. Has a big ugly kneazel on it, kept trying to lick my armpits. And it was maroon, so obviously, with Ron and all..."
By now George had his hands over his face, and Ginny was shaking her head rapidly at Fred. Harry wondered if she thought he was too emotional to handle joking about Voldemort.
"Which was?" he asked.
Fred, seemingly aware that he was crashing and burning, blinked in surprise. "Which was what?"
"Maroon," Harry said. "Was the kneazel maroon or the jumper?"
George was now peaking between his fingers, a smile slowly spreading over his face.
"The jumper was maroon," Fred said, "but the cat was green. Lime green, with the off yellow stripe. And I don't mind saying that it wasn't the best made jumper I've seen. Mum's are loads better."
"Yeah, and the scarf I got had huge holes in it, like he'd started making a jumper and forgot to shape it like a person," George said, "and then he goes and gives Ron a new pair of trainers. Nice ones, too."
"Who sent me trainers?" asked a pajama-clad Ron, making a beeline for the sandwiches as if their scent had lured him downstairs.
"Speak of the devil," Ginny said. "Actually, speaking of two of them."
"We were just talking about what Voldemort sent the rest of you for your birthdays, seeing as he made such a mess of mine," said Harry.
Ron's face was a mixture of confusion and anger, though he never lost focus on his sandwich.
"You taking the piss out of me?"
Ginny tipped her head condescendingly.
"So I didn't get new trainers?"
"Afraid not, little bro'," said Fred.
Ron furrowed his brow, then shrugged and kept chewing. Though Harry tried to keep a straight face, when his eyes met Ginny's and he saw her similarly straining to keep composed, they both broke into hysterics.
When Harry gathered himself, he found the twins grinning at him and Ginny while Ron frowned, likely supposing they were laughing at him.
"Well," said George, "it's still your birthday and you seem to be having a fairly good time, so I guess You-Know-Who didn't quite accomplish his goal."
Harry smiled in agreement, though in the back of his mind he wondered whether there wasn't an altogether different reason for the package they were overlooking.
"He's really been quiet?"
Again, the Weasleys' expressions turned serious.
"Not a peep," Fred said. "Dumbledore doesn't seem very surprised, though. With all the Death Eaters arrested at the Ministry, there are only eight or nine we know of still out there."
"Dumbledore thinks he's spending his time getting back in touch with some of the older families, people that could go either way," said George.
"People he didn't trust enough before his return was made public, but now he doesn't have anything to lose by approaching them."
"Yeah, and Snape said that..."
"Hang on a second," Harry said, looking between the twins before understanding swept over him. "You're in the Order."
It wasn't a question. The twins puffed out their chests importantly. He would have laughed at their mock-Percy poses, but their ears had gone pink.
"And why wouldn't we be? Who better than us?"
"We're of age."
"We're out of school."
"We're respectable businessmen."
"We're creative geniuses."
"We're excellent fliers."
"Shockingly good looking."
"Charismatic and quick-witted."
"And we learned Defense Against the Dark Arts from one of the greatest wizards in the world."
Harry pretended to be laughing into his chest at their exaggerated list, ignoring the rather intense and loaded stares being fixed on him.
After a moment, Ron added, "And they're not Percy." Ginny sighed loudly, and the twins' gaze, while still aimed in Harry's general direction, became unfocused and cold.
"No progress there I take it?"
"Well," said Fred, speaking slowly, "One day about two weeks ago Dad says he showed up in his office looking like a scared rabbit, stood there for a few seconds, then took off as fast as he'd come."
"Embarrassed, I imagine," Harry said.
"He bloody well should be embarrassed," Ron said, his temper rising. "If I'd said and done the things he has, I'd turn my wand around."
"That's not funny!" Ginny snapped at him. "At least he's trying. Well, sort of. But..."
"No buts, Ginny," George said, his voice remaining even. "Need we go over everything he's done?"
With that, George began listing all of the reasons Percy should never be allowed back to the Burrow, Fred and Ron interjecting and nodding fervently.
They were working themselves into a frenzy, and Harry was only half listening when he felt a poke in his back. He turned to see Ginny, who was sitting adjacent to him, lean towards him conspiratorially. When he leaned slightly as well, she whispered, "Mum's been exchanging owls with Penelope. They seem to be formulating some kind of plan. I think Bill's involved, too, he and Mum have been doing a lot of sneaking around lately."
"Isn't that right, Harry?!"
"Huh? Sorry, what?"
"The letter! The bleeding letter! You read it, you know what he said! And in Dumbledore's office, with Fudge didn't you say he said..."
"Okay, okay," said George. "Enough of this melancholy blithering. I think we can all agree that Percy is a spineless suckup and should have been in Slytherin."
Harry didn't know how to react to that. As far as he was concerned, it was the worst thing a Gryffindor could say about another. Ginny frowned.
"Now then, Harry, we've got something decidedly more cheerful to show you." George nodded at Fred, who turned towards Harry, his excitement evident.
"Our newest product. They're called Fake Fake Wands. This one," he drew a light brown wand from his pocket, "turns into a salmon..." he gave it a flick and it did indeed turn into a large fish, "a salmon with a Dragon heart string core, excellent for your more common spells."
After a moment looking from Harry to Ron to Ginny, he Stunned his twin with the salmon. George slumped in his seat.
"That was nothing. Watch this."
Harry saw Ron and Ginny grin wickedly as Fred walked up to George and held the limp salmon directly in front of his face.
"Hu, wha- Ahhh!" George shrieked, pushing himself backwards over the chair and taking cover behind it. "Ahhhhhh!"
By the time George collected himself, he'd been joined on the ground by his hysterically laughing brothers and sister. Harry, though, had not moved from his seat, shocked at the sight of someone successfully pranking one of the twins, even if it was only the other one.
George waited for everyone else to get back in their seats before he stood from behind the chair, straightened himself out in the most dignified manner possible, and sat down, giving his twin an approving slap on the leg before turning to Harry.
"So far, Dragon heart strings are all we've had to work with. Dad says we can't ask Dumbledore for a feather from his phoenix, some rubbish about Fawkes not giving out any more. We asked Bill to see if Fleur can get us some Veela hairs, but I'm not holding my breath. That just leaves our dear sister, who insists she'll have no trouble getting close enough to the unicorns in the forest to get a few tail hairs."
"We'll see, won't we?" said Fred.
Harry had no idea what the big deal was, but Ginny had turned beat red and looked ready to kill.
"You two are gross. Just...ew."
She scrunched up her face in disgust. And, oddly, instead of pressing their advantage, Ron and the twins made similar expressions. Perhaps there was something about unicorns he didn't know. He didn't recall them being all that messy.
One of the twins noticed Harry's confused expression, and elbowed the other in the side.
"Hey Ron, it seems your best friend doesn't know about unicorns."
Ron looked at Harry, surprise evident on his face, then snorted. Harry was about to ask what the big deal was when Ginny jumped up and drew her wand.
"One more word out of any of you, just one word, and You-Know-What!"
Ron and the twins immediately stopped laughing. In fact, they went utterly still, as if their sister was an animal they were trying not to antagonize. They looked utterly terrified, and Ron contorted until he was in an upright fetal position.
"Is the Bat-Bogey Hex that bad?" Harry asked. Ginny smirked triumphantly at her brothers.
"One of the many things you don't know about me, Harry..." 'Oh, that,' he thought, "Is every year I make a point to learn one rare and hopefully terrible hex no one else can do. It was the Pavidus Curse my first year, the Medusa Curse second year, Potty-Mouth Hex my third- I've got a funny story about that, actually- and of course the Bat-Bogey last year. I think my brothers will agree that this year's version exceeds the others."
"Well, what's it called?" Harry asked. He'd thought about asking her to show the D.A. the Bat-Bogey Hex, and was excited that she might have something even better.
"No!" yelled the twins desperately. "Don't tell him!"
"You don't want to know," said Ron in a strangled voice. He whispered, "Horrible. It's horrible."
"That it is," Ginny said, her earlier anger gone. She put her wand away, looking very pleased with herself. "Hopefully I'll never have to use it on any of you."
Harry's jaw fell open. "You mean none of you have even seen this new curse? Well, what does it..."
"Just drop it, Harry!" Ron yelled while the twins nodded vigorously. "Drop it. Seriously."
"You know, you're right, Harry," Ginny said. "I don't see why they're getting so upset." She broke into a grin. "As for me, I'm going to go have a quick spin on my broom."
Ron's eyes went wide and Fred looked like he'd be sick. Harry had rarely been so confused.
* * *
Soon after Ginny's grand exit, Harry followed, leaving the three Weasley brothers virtually comatose in the living room. Harry spent a few minutes in Ron's room pondering what he had already begun thinking of as the "Unicorn and Salmon Incident," then started on his latest round of thank you letters, for those who had been at the party. They were much easier than the awkward form letters he had spent the summer mass producing. Indeed, Harry had written so many in recent weeks it did not occur to him not to bother writing letters to those he'd already thanked in person. He'd finished letters for the remainder of the people he didn't know, as well as for Ginny, who'd given him a scarf to go with his new cloak, and the twins before dinner.
Mrs. Weasley made Harry's favourite meal, steak and kidney pie. Only Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Ron, Ginny and the twins were there, but the table was extremely loud as everyone insisted on retelling events at the birthday party as if they had been the only one present. Harry tried to stay out of the fracas, but he couldn't help interjecting at certain outrageous exaggerations, such as when Fred's version of the house elf incident somehow included Dudley's pudgy hand on Hermione's rear, and Ginny's claim that Harry had yelped like a scared puppy when she pulled his hair. He had, of course, done nothing of the sort.
Not long after the pudding plate was cleared, Ron received an owl from Hermione and disappeared upstairs, and the elder Weasleys moved into the living room, Mrs. Weasley having charmed the dishes to clean themselves. Harry sat at the table, partially listening to the twins and Ginny discuss the Fake Fake Wands, waiting for a moment to give them the thank you letters. At some point during dinner it struck him how awkward it would be to have them read right in front of him, so he planned to head upstairs to join Ron as soon as he handed them over.
Just as Fred and George were preparing to leave for their flat, Harry gave them the letters. They looked at him questioningly, but Disapparated nonetheless. Harry turned back to the table and handed Ginny her letter as well. It had barely left his hand when with a loud 'pop' the twins reappeared, grabbed Harry under his armpits and steered him outside.
"What in Merlin's arse are these supposed to be?" Fred said. The twins were looking back and forth at each other like they were in the presence of someone untrustworthy.
"They're thank you..."
"We can read!" George said, his voice full of menace.
"Thank you letters!" Fred spat, shaking his head. "Are you a man?"
"I mean, obviously someone must have verified at some point that you weren't the Girl Who Lived..."
"But that doesn't explain these...things!"
Harry wasn't sure whether he should be offended, or if maybe he ought to just run for it. He started to back away from them, only to find he was already pinned against the house.
"I mean, did we send you bloody thank you letters when you saved Ginny?"
"Or when you gave us a thousand bloody Galleons?"
They were practically on top of him now, yelling in his face.
"Damn straight, no!"
"And why not?"
"BECAUSE MEN DON'T WRITE THANK YOU LETTERS!"
They Disapparated, leaving Harry wide-eyed and leaning against the house. He was so relieved to have not been turned into a lemur or some other animal he barely heard someone laughing nearby.
"That's about as close as you're going to get to a 'your welcome' from those two," said Ginny's head, which was leaning out a nearby window.
"You're not going to yell at me too, are you?" Harry asked.
"Not about this. Though personally, I try to get to know all of my friends' names. But that's just me."
Harry could tell she was no longer particularly upset at him, but he felt he should apologize anyway.
"Alright, then," he said. "What's your middle name?"
Ginny looked surprised, then said "Elizabeth. My Dad's Mum's name."
"Virginia Elizabeth Weasley," Harry said. "Harold James Potter. Pleased to meet you."
Ginny giggled again, then shook his outstretched hand. "Likewise. But it's not Harold, silly."
"Nope," he replied, grinning. "Just Harry."
Ginny took on a very thoughtful expression, as if the bit about Harry's name was a major revelation. She disappeared from the window and came outside a few seconds later, motioning for him to follow her over to the picnic table. She waited for Harry to sit down, then sat across from him.
"You know, your mother did want to call you Harold. She wanted to name you after her grandfather, but your dad wanted something less...stuffy. So they compromised."
Harry looked at her like she was crazy. Ginny was barely more than an infant when his parents died, yet she'd spoken like she'd known them. Seeing his expression, she added, "Sirius told me."
"When did he say that?" he demanded, a little louder than was necessary. Ginny's eyes narrowed at his tone, but she bit back any retort.
"Last summer, Sirius and I talked a lot," she said. He told me..." Her expression softened, like whatever she was going to say would be painful for him. Harry didn't care. If Sirius said it, he needed to hear it.
"Go on," he said, trying to hide his impatience. Ginny nodded slowly, then took a deep breath and spoke.
"He told me I reminded him of Lily," she said. "Your mum."
That was near the last thing Harry had expected to hear, and it was a while before he spoke.
Most of the images he'd seen of his mother were from when she was older, near when she died. But last year, in Snape's Pensieve, he'd seen what she looked like at fifteen, the age Ginny was now. He closed his eyes and remembered his mother outside the castle, shouting at his father. Her dark red hair and deep green eyes. His eyes. Her facial features, high cheekbones and short nose.
He opened his eyes and saw for himself. Ginny might be a good deal shorter than he imagined his mother was, but everything else was the same.
"Everything but the eyes," Harry said aloud without meaning to. Ginny didn't look at all surprised.
"That's what they keep telling me."
Everything but the eyes. A light bulb went off in Harry's head. "Is that what happened with Aunt Petunia?"
Ginny nodded, and she suddenly looked very sad.
"I guess she thought...I know they don't know much about magic...but I think she thought somehow your Mum was alive again."
Harry felt himself pale and couldn't help feeling sorry for his aunt. She didn't know much about magic, certainly not enough to know that not even the most powerful of wizards could give her her sister back. She didn't know, and for a moment, she had believed.
Ginny spoke again, shaking him from his daze.
"Sirius. He said I reminded him of her as much as you did your dad," she said, in a quiet, almost apologetic voice.
This made Harry feel even worse. Sirius had lost so many years in Azkaban, blaming himself for Harry's parents' death. Mrs. Weasley had scolded Sirius for behaving like he had James back in Harry, but how could he have acted otherwise?
"Did he tell you any other stories?" Harry asked, his fingers crossed behind his back. "About my parents?"
Ginny smiled sweetly, got up and went into the house. Harry felt a surge of disappointment in his chest, and started to get up to follow when she came back with two glasses of pumpkin juice.
"Yeah, he told me a few more stories," she said. "They were kind of his favourite topic, with me."
By the time she was done, Harry wondered when she and Sirius had found so much time to talk, as he'd never seen them speak. Sirius had told her all about his parents Hogwarts years. How McGonagall had had to repeat James' name several times at his Sorting because he was busy staring at the red head who had just been put in Gryffindor. How he'd tried to slip her a love potion third year and ended up making her hate all her friends for a week. How she had campaigned to have him removed as Head Boy because he kept giving boys detention if they showed any interest in her, even though simple detentions were a big improvement over how he'd reacted before becoming Head Boy. And this after they'd started going out! How he'd Portkeyed her back to Hogwarts to propose under the same tree they'd first kissed, and how the tree had a charm on it to show their carved initials, but only if you were looking for them.
"I guess Sirius and your mom got to be pretty good friends, too," Ginny said. "Said she always had an answer for his problems. Sort of like Hermione, only..." she giggled, "only a little less so, if you know what I mean. That's how Sirius put it."
Harry was silent, as he had been most of the time. He loved learning about his parents, but it pained him to have to hear the stories from Ginny instead of Sirius.
"I'm sure he wanted to talk to you about this kind of stuff himself," she said, seeming to read his mind.
"He did once," Harry said. "When the twins made their diversion for me, in fact."
He knew it would be alright to tell Ginny what he had seen in the Pensieve, but he couldn't. He felt he had to keep one thing to himself. They were his parents, after all. Fortunately, she didn't press him, instead nodding as if she knew not to ask, as if she didn't need to.
"It's getting dark. I suppose we should head in," she said, her voice hoarse from what was essentially an hour long monologue. Harry, though, stayed seated long after she disappeared inside, thinking about his parents. Most of the things he'd known about them concerned their death. They'd only had a few years together, he realized. He wondered where their lives would have taken them, if not for that damned prophecy. Whether, if he had had a sister, she would have looked like Ginny.
* * *
Harry came down late for breakfast the next day. He'd stayed up ridiculously late again, having had far too much sleep the previous night. Most of the evening was spent talking to Ron over the chess board about the stories Ginny'd told him. Ron seemed especially interested in the tactics James used to keep other boys away from Lily. They'd played game after game, until the white queen heard the early morning birds chirping and began lecturing them until they called it a night.
In the kitchen he found Ron already at the table, looking just as miserable as Harry felt, and Ginny looking extremely bored and shooting nasty glances at Ron like it was entirely his fault.
Harry slumped into a chair and Ginny turned her annoyed gaze at him. He suddenly felt he was under time limit to say something interesting, with dire consequences dare he fail. Of course, his mind was blank.
Ginny looked back at Ron and let out a long sigh, as if judging them both utterly useless.
"Quidditch, then?" she asked, and the words had the effect of four more hours of sleep and a Pepperup Potion on the two boys. Just as quickly, Harry felt all his energy drain out again. It was worse than death.
"My broom," he said. He wanted to scream, but his spirit was effectively broken. "It's still...still..."
Ron stood up so quickly he knocked his chair backwards.
"It's at school?!"
Harry nodded. Ginny gasped, and Ron pounded the table like he'd just been told the British Army had fallen in Normandy. His face belied a similar expression.
After a few minutes of shocked silence, Ron picked up his seat and fell back into it. He and Harry were so mournful they didn't notice Ginny get up from the table and go outside until she stuck her head back in.
"Harry, how fast can your broom go?"
Harry looked at her irritably. What did it matter how fast his broom went if it was trapped in a dungeon hundreds of miles away?
"Why?" he asked.
"Well, I was just trying to decide whether I had time to change before it arrives."
Ron and Harry exchanged a confused glance. Ginny had obviously been spending a bit too much time with Luna if she thought the broom was just going to Apparate in the garden.
"And how exactly do you expect it to get here?" Ron asked, "You think Filch makes home deliveries?"
"Ha, ha. No, I Summoned it, so it shouldn't be very long."
Harry and Ron sat silently for a moment as what Ginny said sank into their sleep-deprived brains.
"But...but it's too far away!" Harry said. It was well more than five hundred miles from the Burrow to Hogwarts.
"Yeah, well, I'm good at Summoning charms," Ginny said, heading back outside. They followed. Harry felt like jumping up and down.
"What are you thinking?" Ron said. "That's underage magic! You'll get in trouble!"
Ginny laughed. "Come on. Hermione used a bunch of Shield Charms at the party and she didn't get one. I think the Improper Use of Magic Office has a lot bigger things to worry about right now than me."
'You'd be surprised,' Harry thought. He felt a strange mix of anticipation and foreboding. On one hand, his broom could be here at any moment. On the other, a letter attempting to expel Ginny could also arrive, just like had come for him last year. He and Ron alternated staring at the sky and Ginny, as if either might explode or turn purple. After about 10 minutes, Harry was sure a letter from the Ministry would have arrived if it was going to, and he began to relax. Ten minutes later, though, he had all but given up hope his broom would show up, either.
"I don't understand," Ginny said, her frustration mounting. "It should be here."
"Don't worry about it," Harry said, though he couldn't mask the disappointment in his voice. "It is an awful long way."
After another minute, they slumped back into the kitchen, and Ron had just suggested they Floo the twins to see if they could borrow one of their brooms when a huge crash and roar that reminded Harry of Grawp came from the front yard.
There was a loud clicking noise. Harry looked to see that Ron and Ginny's hands on the clock were now pointed at "Mortal Peril." Ginny frowned and went to the door, only to stop in the frame and let out a series of squeaky attempts at speech. Ron and Harry came up behind her, and Harry's first thought was that it was a good thing Mrs. Weasley wasn't home. Outside was a disheveled and clearly confused troll, rubbing its backside with one hand and a death grip on Harry's Firebolt with the other.
"Oops," Ginny croaked under her breath.
"It's okay," Ron said quickly. "Harry and I have taken out a troll before. All we need to do is hit it over the...head...with..."
He trailed off as the troll whipped its face around towards them, seeming to pick up his voice. "Feebes!" it roared. It withdrew a scythe the size of Harry from behind its back, replacing it in the scabbard with the broom, and squared off on the house.
Harry's eyes met Ron's. This was a very different troll from the one they encountered as first years. Apparently, Umbridge's claim of extra security around the Firebolt was not only true, but headed their way.
To be continued...
Authors Note: Thank you to all my readers! My reviewers, thank you each so very much! It's shocking how happy you can make me. You're the scratch behind my ears!
I'm really sorry this has taken so long to update. Be forewarned, chapter four is already this lengthy and not close to done (flowers and Red Bull should be directed to Promethean Alchemist, my hardworking Beta, who keeps my underage motorcyclists out of England). Thereafter I expect to be much more reasonable, though how you can take the word of someone with only an expectation of self-reason is beyond me. Cheers!