Dudley seemed to be acting more spoilt than usual since the teeth incident. He somehow managed to get his mother to feed him all of his meals and he got extra helpings of ice cream because he said it helped his mouth feel better. It was all a lie of course; Harry saw it, but everybody else lapped it up.
Dudley was bought a new bike after they had finished up at the dentist. It was shiny and midnight blue and Harry wanted it more than Dudley ever could. Harry had only learnt to ride a bike on Dudley’s old ones before they were thrown into the refuse skip outside their house. He watched Dudley play on his new blue bike once in the garden and then leave it; it had been lying against the fence for two weeks.
Harry woke up thinking about the nice bike and how unappreciated it was. He sat up in his dark cupboard and stretched out, realising that it wasn’t as nice as he liked to think. It was restricted instead of cosy, stuffy instead of warm and Harry knew he was lying to Hermione and to himself. Maybe she was right, maybe he should tell somebody …
He pushed open his cupboard door and went into the kitchen. He sat at the table silently.
“You took your time,” Uncle Vernon hissed. “We wanted you up an hour ago.”
“Why?” he asked.
“We’re going to the dentist for Dudley’s check-up.”
Harry eyes brightened as Aunt Petunia placed two slices of buttered toast in front of him and a glass of water. “Hurry up,” she muttered.
He didn’t need telling twice. Harry tore through his breakfast and prepared to leave. Within fifteen minutes Harry was standing by the front door in his clothes waiting on the Dursleys.
“Someone’s eager,” Aunt Petunia muttered quietly. She opened the door and unlocked the car and Harry sat in the back quickly.
His Aunt and Uncle looked at each other, but didn’t say a word.
Harry sat patiently and ignored Dudley’s complaints about missing a television programme as they drove out of Privet Drive and into town.
Harry frowned. “Why aren’t we going on the motorway?”
Uncle Vernon looked at him through the rear view mirror. “We don’t need to be on the motorway.”
“So we aren’t going to Woking?” Harry said in a strained voice.
“No,” Vernon said as he turned left. Harry knew this route; it was their usual dentist in Little Whinging they were going to.
“But what about the NHS surgeries?” Harry said, trying to change his Uncle’s mind. “You hate them.”
“And you want me to pay the extortionate prices they charged me in Woking? I don’t think so.”
“But you’ll be seen quicker,” Harry said.
“This time we have an appointment.”
“I’m tired of you questioning me, boy. We’re going to our old dentist and that’s that!”
Harry shrunk back in the car and automatically fell into a bad mood. He folded his arms tightly as they sat in the waiting room and he didn’t speak for the whole day. Not while they were in the car back home, not while they ate dinner and not even in his cupboard - which he went to early.
All he could think about was missing the birthday party. And Hermione. For once in his life, he was wanted somewhere by somebody and now he had missed out. He hadn’t told Hermione where he lived, so there was no way that she would know where to send his invitation. Harry resorted to playing with his small action figures that night, trying to find a way to keep busy - as he would have to all summer.
The letterbox flapped the next morning as they were sat at the dining table and nobody flinched. Harry continued to nibble his toast sadly, still in a terrible mood with his family.
Uncle Vernon sipped his tea. “Get the post, Harry.”
He stomped out and scooped up the letters, throwing them down in front of his Uncle.
After a minute or so of ripping open the envelopes, Uncle Vernon said, “Who is Hermione Granger?”
Harry looked up in shock; Uncle Vernon was holding a spotty card and a blue envelope.
“The girl I met at the dentists,” Harry said.
“Ooooh, Harry’s got a girlfriend,” Dudley sang while Uncle Vernon cast his mind back a fortnight.
“No, I haven’t,” Harry spat at him.
“No one would want to be your girlfriend anyway,” Dudley retorted, bacon flying from his mouth.
“And the girls are queuing up for you, aren’t they?” Harry whispered sarcastically.
Uncle Vernon put the card back in the envelope and tossed it at Harry, who caught it swiftly.
“You’re not going,” was all Uncle Vernon said as Harry passed him on the way to his cupboard.
Harry locked the door behind him and switched the light on as he sat on his bed. The blue envelope had a piece of card and paper inside. The card had multicoloured spots on it and read:
“You are invited to Hermione’s Eleventh Birthday Party. The celebrations begin on 20 August at the National Sea Life Centre, Woking, then continue at the Bowling Arena and finally end in the Granger Household.” (The address and number came after this.) “Please call the number to confirm your attendance. We hope to see you very soon.”
Sighing, Harry turned to the piece of yellow paper accompanying it, which turned out to be a letter in Hermione’s very neat handwriting:
You’re probably wondering how it is I knew where to send your invitation. Well, you left your jacket on the bench in the surgery and I found your cousin’s name written on the tag. I asked my parents to find your address on the computer.
I really hope you can come to my party. I’m back from Canada on the 16th (which was yesterday) and will be preparing for my guests. It’s going to be really good. Hopefully, I’ll be able to give your jacket back then - Mum said it would be too much money to post it.
See you soon,
Harry read over it again and then somehow gathered the courage to step out of his cupboard and approach Uncle Vernon in the living room before he went to work.
“Uncle Vernon,” Harry began.
“What?” he replied as he did up his tie.
“I was wondering if you’d let me go to Hermione’s birthday party.”
“I already said no. I’m not driving all the way past Woking for a silly birthday party.”
“It’s not that far,” Harry said quietly. And it’s not silly, he thought.
“No,” Vernon said.
“I could take the train,” Harry suggested.
“On your own?” Uncle Vernon laughed. “You’d never come back.”
It was a stupid idea, but he had to try. “Uncle Vernon, please -”
He stood up with his briefcase. “I said no, Harry.”
He let his head fall down and he looked at his shoes. “Can I at least call to say I can’t go?” Harry tried.
“Make it fast.” Vernon watched Harry copy the number and dial it on the house phone.
Harry held it to his ear and waited for an answer.
“Hello?” A female voice said.
“Hello, this is Harry … P-Potter. Can I speak to Hermione please?”
Harry sat down on an armchair and waited. Uncle Vernon tapped his foot, but ended up leaving through the front door because he would be late for work. As soon as he did this, Harry dragged the telephone wire along the floor with him and he sat in his cupboard in the dark.
“Hello?” came Hermione’s voice.
“Hi,” he replied.
“Harry!” she squealed. “I wondered when you were going to call.” He was silent. “Harry?”
“I’m not allowed to come,” he muttered sadly.
“Oh no!” Hermione said. “Why not?”
“My uncle said he won’t drive me.”
“That’s okay, my mum will pick you up.”
Harry’s heart leapt. “Really?”
“Yes, I’ll ask.” Harry heard her say: “Mum, would we be able to get Harry at his house and drive him to the party?”
And then her mum said, “Yes, as long as it’s alright with Harry’s parents.”
Hermione said: “He lives with his aunt and uncle, remember?”
“Oh right,” Mrs Granger said. “He’ll have to ask them if it’s okay for us to pop in.”
Hermione spoke directly into the phone this time. “My mum said yes! Do you think your uncle will mind?”
“Probably,” Harry said. “But he’ll be okay after five minutes.”
Hermione finalised the plans, telling Harry all about which cake she chose in the bakery that day. “I hope you like triple chocolate fudge cake,” she finished.
“Love it,” Harry replied. “Not as much as my cousin though. He had a whole one to himself last week.”
“Really? That is …” While Hermione tried to contain her queasiness and dislike for Dudley, Harry heard his Aunt on the other side of the door.
“What on earth is the phone doing out here?” she muttered.
The next thing Harry knew the door to his cupboard was open and the phone was being dragged from his hands.
“Who have you been calling?!” she yelled at him.
“My friend,” Harry whispered.
“You don’t have any friends,” Aunt Petunia replied. She lifted the phone to her lips. “Hello?” The line was dead so she put the phone back in the living room. She went back to Harry and said, “You’re to stay in your cupboard until tomorrow.”
Harry was so embarrassed. Had Hermione heard his Aunt say he had no friends and hung up?
She left him alone in the darkness and that was when he decided not to tell his Aunt and Uncle about his attendance at Hermione’s party until she and her parents arrived on the doormat.
On the morning of the twentieth of August, Harry woke up feeling ill. He had still had the dreaded phone call in his mind, wondering what Hermione thought of him. Was she even going to turn up? He bet that Hermione was the smart popular girl at her school. She wouldn’t want him to be at her party with all of her friends after what his aunt said.
Harry suddenly shook with fright at the prospect of the new people he would meet today. He was not socially awkward, but the thought of it was still quite daunting. He had never had a group of people who wanted him around and he was so nervous that he could not even smile about it. Instead, he fell out of his cupboard and marched upstairs to the bathroom.
As the water from the shower pipe ran over him, the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” Harry heard Dudley say. His pounding footsteps went across the hall as Harry fell out of the shower and pulled all of his clothes on.
Dripping wet, he rushed out of the bathroom and tumbled down the stairs, heart pumping harshly in his chest.
“Harry?” Hermione frowned at him. There she was standing in the doorway in a pretty pink and white dress. There was a matching hair band in her long brown hair and she grinned at him after looking at her small silver wristwatch.
“Erm … hi,” he said. She looked so lovely, whereas he looked like a mess; he flushed pink.
“I hope it’s okay that we’ve come at this time,” Mrs Granger said to Harry and then to Dudley. Dudley simply looked at her shyly and then yelled, “MUM! DAD!”
Harry reluctantly led the way into the living room. Hermione and her mother sat on the peach two-seater opposite the fireplace and he stood beside them waiting for the thunder from Uncle Vernon. The man in question entered in his green tartan pyjamas and Aunt Petunia followed in her usual frilly apron and yellow rubber gloves.
“Hello, I’m Emily Granger,” Mrs Granger said, holding out her hand.
“Hullo,” Petunia muttered, looking at it as though it were dripping with mud.
“Who are you?” Uncle Vernon said, trying not to sound rude but failing.
“I’m Hermione’s mum,” Mrs Granger said. “Harry mentioned that he’ll be coming with us to her party?”
“No, he didn’t,” Petunia said. She stared down at Harry. “Why are you all wet?”
“I’ll just … go and get ready.” He ran from the room and dived into his cupboard while the adults chatted. He shoved his arms into an oversized blue shirt and flung on some dark trousers and his shoes; he had meticulously planned his outfit the night before from the ten items of clothing he currently owned. He patted down his damp hair, pulled on his broken glasses and open the cupboard door.
Hermione was standing outside of it waiting for him with her arms folded.
“You scared me,” Harry muttered nervously. He knew what was coming.
“Is this it then?” she said in a bossy tone, as Harry climbed out.
Before he could close the door, she held it open and peered in.
“This is wrong,” she said after a while.
Harry said nothing. All he saw was a single bed shoved neatly into the cupboard. No, there wasn’t any space to walk, but there were three wooden shelves and a few coat hangers which Harry’s shirts hung from.
“I should tell my mum,” Hermione said.
“Hermione, are you ready to go?” Mrs Granger was approaching them and Harry closed his cupboard door.
“Yes,” Hermione smiled. “Harry was just showing me something in his - this cupboard.”
Mrs Granger smiled. “Let’s get going.”
“So I can still come?” Harry asked brightly.
“Of course. Your aunt and uncle have agreed. I should have you back by tomorrow afternoon.”
“Tomorrow?” Harry gawped.
“Yes. They’re going out tonight and won’t be back until later so I offered to keep you for the night.”
“Great,” Harry beamed. “I’ll just get some things.”
Harry turned to his cupboard and Hermione, panicking, ushered her mother to the car to wait for him there, diverting away from Harry’s ‘bedroom’. He grabbed his pyjamas and ran up to the bathroom for the rest of his toiletries. Before he could leave, he was stopped at the door by Uncle Vernon.
“You better behave yourself, boy.”
“And don’t go getting too comfortable with these people. I doubt they’ll have you back again.” Harry nodded. “And if I find out that anything odd went on, you will be punished.”
“Yes, Uncle Vernon,” Harry said looking at the ground.
When Harry had climbed into the back of Mrs Granger’s silver car, Hermione asked him what his uncle was talking to him about.
Harry said, “Just the usual teary goodbyes. Said he’d missed me.”
Harry grinned as Hermione saw through his lie and shook her head, while Mrs Granger said, “That’s lovely.”
The drive to Woking went much faster than Harry remembered. He and Hermione were deeply engaged in a conversation over sports and games they like to play. While Hermione obviously favoured a simple game of skipping rope or hopscotch, Harry enjoyed climbing frames and running. They then moved onto more personal details, like family and friends.
“I don’t have many friends,” Harry muttered vaguely after Hermione asked him about them. He changed the subject hoping not to trigger any memory of Aunt Petunia’s comment. “How many people will be coming to your party?”
“Not many,” she copied with a grin. “Two of my cousins and two friends.”
“Oh,” Harry said, looking over the field he was sure he remembered on his first journey to Woking. He felt a little more at ease knowing that there would only be a few other people.
“Nearly there, Harry,” Mrs Granger called.
Harry laughed. He was very excited about this and Hermione could tell by just looking at him. She stared inquisitively at him as he looked out of the window. His carefree smile made her smile. She was in awe of how easily he was made happy - a side effect of living with the Dursleys.
“What?” Harry asked her.
She jumped as he looked at her. “Nothing.” Blushing, she turned to her side and picked up his jacket which was beside her on the seat. “Here you go.” Harry said thank you and took it. “Why does it have your cousin’s name in it?”
“Because it was his,” Harry replied.
“It’s far too large for you,” she whispered. “Don’t they -?”
He shook his head. His aunt and uncle never bought him new clothes. Not even when he was a baby. Harry was sure that he wore Dudley’s baby clothes. He supposed that that was the best he was ever treated by the Dursleys - after all, how badly could you treat a baby without people noticing? He bet by the time he turned five or six, the bad treatment really set in. He never did remember a time where they treated him well. They always got him to do the chores and he always got last pickings of everything, hand-me-downs and poor quality food lacking in much nutritional value. Apparently, poor treatment was meant to make you stronger, but for what? What could possibly happen to Harry that could be worse than the Dursleys?
“Harry! Time to go,” Hermione called. She and her mother where out of the car waiting for him; he hadn’t noticed the car stop.
Quickly unbuckling his seatbelt, he joined them in the car park of the Sea Life Centre. Mrs Granger locked the car and led the way inside.
“Excited, Hermione?” she asked her daughter.
“So much. I’ve been waiting weeks for this,” she told Harry.
“You’re going to love my present, Hermione,” Mrs Granger said.
Harry stopped walking and Grangers looked at him. “I didn’t get you a present.”
“That’s alright,” Hermione said genuinely.
“I - I didn’t know I was coming - and - and even if I did, I don’t have any money to -”
“Harry, dear, it’s alright,” Mrs Granger reassured.
“But, Hermione …”
“It’s okay,” she said. Hermione walked beside him, took his hand and tugged on it. “Now, come on.”
His hands were getting a little sweaty, he must admit, but simply having someone beside him despite his lack of money, clothing or family, was what really counted. Holding his breath, Harry walked beside Hermione, body shaking with elation that a girl had held his hand.
All he could do was smile.
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