CHAPTER THREE: The Best Birthday Ever
For the sixteenth year in a row, Harry celebrated his birthday alone. Hedwig had not yet returned from delivering Ron's message more than three days before and Harry hadn't heard from anyone. When he'd woken that morning, he'd eagerly awaited the arrival of the owls he expected would show up at any minute bearing with them cards and presents from his friends, if only so he could send his plea for rescue back with one of them, but not a single owl had arrived. The day was beginning to wane into twilight, and Harry was angrily pacing back and forth in his room. How could they all have forgotten him? Hermione always remembered his birthday, even when she was on holiday, and Ron had never failed to at least send a card, even when he didn't have the pocket money for a present. And Hagrid -- especially Hagrid! -- had never forgotten. Hagrid had given him his first real birthday present ever on his eleventh birthday: a somewhat squashed and luridly pink birthday cake. Surely he hadn't forgotten about Harry too? Angrily, Harry kicked the leg of his desk, knowing full well that the resulting noise would annoy his aunt and uncle, but at the same time, he heard the doorbell ring. Fuming that not even his wretched family would pay attention to him, he threw himself face down onto the bed. He heard the chatter of voices coming from downstairs and wondered vaguely who it was before deciding hatefully that he didn't care. Suddenly, however he heard something that surprised him. Outside his door, someone shot the dead bolt back and the door opened. Harry rolled over to see Uncle Vernon, looking very red-faced and flustered, standing in the doorway. "I thought you sent them a message!" he hissed in a theatrical whisper. "What?" Harry asked, legitimately confused. Uncle Vernon turned a deeper shade of crimson and pointed to the stairs. Baffled, Harry left his room and headed down to the parlor. "SURPRISE!" A chorus of cheerful voices scared him and a mass of bushy brown hair attacked him as he rounded the corner. "Hermione?" he gasped as she practically choked the life out of him with her hug. "Happy birthday, Harry!" she squealed as she squeezed him tighter. Harry let out a yelp of pain as she squeezed his not quite healed bruises and she quickly released him, surprised. Then Ron bounded forward and clapped him jovially on the shoulders. "Happy birthday mate!" he crowed, barely containing his excitement. "We came by car!" he hissed happily. "A Muggle car!" Harry looked around. Tonks, Professor Lupin, Fred and George, Ginny, and both of Hermione's parents were standing in the parlor beaming at him. Aunt Petunia and Dudley were huddled in the far corner clinging to one another and eyeing their uninvited guests warily. "Thought we'd surprise you for your birthday!" Fred cried as he and George pushed forward and pressed a large brightly wrapped package into Harry's hands. "It's from all of us," Ginny said smiling brightly at him, "and these are from Mum and Dad." She handed him another small parcel. Professor Lupin looked happier than Harry had ever seen him as he guided Harry into the parlor and over to a seat. Harry felt like he was in some kind of a trance. Tonks came forward and set two small packages on Harry's lap. "Wotcher, Harry!" she beamed at him. "The pink one's from me, and the brown one is from Mad-Eye. I'd be careful opening it if I were you." She winked at him. Her hair was again short and bright pink, which reminded Harry forcefully of someone else. Hermione plopped happily down onto the couch next to him, bringing him out of his little reverie. "This one's from me!" she said, pressing a heavy, book shaped present into his hands. "And my parents brought you a cake!" Harry looked over at Mr. and Mrs. Granger who were beaming at him in a friendly way and showing him a large round birthday cake which read "Happy Birthday Harry!" in bright red across the top. Lupin set a large round tin down at Harry's side. "From Hagrid," he said with a smile. "Some of his famous fudge, I think." Uncle Vernon however was not looking nearly as friendly. "See here!" he said loudly and to no one in particular. "You said you were here to pick him up for the summer, so get his things and get out!" Mr. and Mrs. Granger looked slightly offended, and Tonks glared menacingly, but Professor Lupin stepped forward with a benevolent smile. "I assure you, Mr. Dursley that we intend to do just that." Uncle Vernon looked slightly mollified until Professor Lupin added, "As soon as we're through with Harry's birthday party." He turned to smile at Aunt Petunia. "Perhaps you could help Mr. and Mrs. Granger find some plates and forks for the cake, Mrs. Dursley?" he said in his sweetest voice. All the color drained from Aunt Petunia's face as Lupin addressed her, but, apparently deciding that the Grangers looked less threatening than the robe-wearing pink-haired people assembled in her living room, she hesitantly led the way into the kitchen. Harry had never felt as wonderful in his whole life. With Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon in the kitchen, Fred and George began extracting a room full of already inflated balloons and brightly colored streamers from their jacket pockets, much to the amazement of Dudley, who was hiding in the corner. Still feeling a bit stunned, Harry began unwrapping his presents. He tore the garish paper off of the Weasleys' gift to reveal a handsome brown box with the words Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes Deluxe Assortment emblazoned across the lid. "It's all the stuff we've been working on for our shop!" George said proudly. "But be careful of the vanishing creams," Ginny whispered urgently. "The stuff they've vanished hasn't exactly turned up yet." From Hermione, he got a large and very heavy book of curses and counter curses that both Lupin and Tonks looked rather shocked to see. Harry guessed by the expressions on their faces that it probably would have belonged in the restricted section of the library at Hogwarts. From Tonks he got a large purple crystal suspended from a long leather thong. "I picked it up in Albania," she explained. "It's supposed to make the wearer invincible." She gave him a friendly wink. Mad-Eye had sent Harry a miniature version of a foe glass: a dark detector that showed you your enemies. Harry gazed intently at it, but saw only a few shadowy shapes. And the package from Mr. and Mrs. Weasley bore Mrs. Weasley's usual assortment of delicious baked treats. At that point, Mr. and Mrs. Granger reappeared bearing trays heavily laden with thick slices of birthday cake and steaming mugs of tea. Aunt Petunia, seeming more at home in her role as hostess, made her way around the room doling out cream and sugar, and really only shuddered once when Tonks dropped her tea cup and it shattered on the hearth. But by far, the best part of the whole evening was the look on Dudley's face. Harry caught his eye more than once as he glared out at the gathering from his corner, peering around over his hideously swollen nose, his face positively green with envy. At one point, Fred and George offered Dudley a piece of birthday cake, but Dudley silently refused, eyes wide and frightened, obviously wary of the twins from their previous encounter. As the last crumbs of birthday cake disappeared, and the party seemed to be winding down, Lupin suggested that Harry go upstairs and get his things. Ron and Hermione offered to help him, and followed Harry as he took the stairs two at a time in his haste. "Oh Harry!" Hermione gasped as they reached his bedroom and she saw the dead bolt and the cat flap in his door. "Let's just get your stuff quick," Ron offered as he pushed past Hermione's horrified stare and into Harry's room, where he began throwing things into Harry's open trunk. "Harry," Hermione said, staring at him, "what happened to your face?" Harry put his hand up to his lip. While mostly healed, a dark scab still remained over his split lip, and he realized that his glasses were still skewed at a wonky angle. "Oh," he said, trying to sound casual, "Dudley and I had a fight." Ron whipped around. "Did you give him that broken nose?" he demanded. When Harry nodded Ron gave out a whoop and punched the air with his fists. Hermione looked scandalized. "He hit you?" she cried. She looked down at his side, deducing the reason for his earlier aversion to her hugs. Harry shrugged. "I hit him first," he said. Ron cackled wickedly. "That's brilliant!" he cried. Harry grinned. "Ron!" Hermione admonished, beginning to look alarmingly like Mrs. Weasley before one of her tirades. "Hurry up up there!" Tonks called from the bottom of the stairs. "It's getting late." Harry hurried over to his wardrobe and started yanking out clothes and throwing them into his trunk. "It's nothing, Hermione," he said soothingly. "We just had a bit of a quarrel. Now are you going to help us, or are you going to give me a lecture?" Hermione sighed, but said nothing as she went over to gather up Hedwig's cage and owl treats. Before long, the three of them had managed to get all of Harry's belongings together and carted them downstairs where the rest of the group were sitting silently in the living area, the Dursleys staring at the wizards, and the wizards staring back at the Dursleys with the Grangers looking apprehensively on. Fred and George jumped up and offered to take Harry's things out to the cars, quickly followed by Ginny and Mr. and Mrs. Granger, eagerly jingling their keys. Professor Lupin stepped forward and offered his hand to Uncle Vernon. "Mr. Dursley, Mrs. Dursley, thank you so much for your hospitality." Uncle Vernon stared at the hand as if he thought it might explode, and when Professor Lupin offered it to Aunt Petunia, she whimpered quietly. Professor Lupin shrugged and headed out the door closely followed by Tonks. Hermione and Ron hung back and Harry faced his aunt and uncle. "Well, bye then," Harry said awkwardly, looking at the livid face of his uncle, and the pale, frightened face of his aunt. For a moment, he almost felt sorry for them. "One more year, boy," Uncle Vernon spat under his breath. "One more year and you're out!" Hermione looked as though she were about to say something, but Ron pushed her forcefully out the door. "Right," Harry said angrily, all pity vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. He stormed out the door and up the walk towards the two cars parked on the street. "Hey! Freak!" Dudley hissed at him from the bushes. Harry swung around to look at him. Dudley grinned evilly. "Don't worry about your girlfriend. I'll look after her for you!" Harry laughed right out loud, knowing that Gwyn was already far away in London. "You do that," he said, leaving Dudley behind. "All right there, Harry?" Lupin asked as Harry approached the cars. Harry grinned. "I'm great," he said with enthusiasm. Lupin smiled. Fred and George bid Harry goodbye and then, looking to see that no one else was around, noisily disapparated. Ron, Ginny, and Tonks piled into the car with Mrs. Granger, and Hermione, Harry, and Professor Lupin rode with Mr. Granger. "We thought your aunt and uncle would be happier if we arrived in a more traditionally Muggle way," Hermione spat venomously, glaring at the house as the cars pulled away. Harry couldn't remember ever feeling quite as happy as he did right then as the suburbs rolled past the windows on the way to London. Before long, Hermione nodded off, lulled to sleep by the steady motion of the car, her head resting on his shoulder. "Have a good birthday, Harry?" Lupin asked quietly. "Yeah," Harry said with a smile. Then his smile faltered. "I just wish Sirius could have been there." "Me too," Lupin replied.

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