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Characters:

Harrietta Jane Potter – Harry James Potter

Darcey Dursley – Dudley Dursley

Peter Dursley – Petunia Dursley

Veronica Dursley – Vernon Dursley

Uncle Martin – Aunt Marge

Pear Polkiss – Piers Polkiss

 

***Chapter 2

The Vanishing Glass***

 

            Nearly ten years had passed since the Dursleys had woken up to find their niece on the front step, but Privet Drive had hardly changed at all. The sun rose on the same tidy front gardens and lit up the brass number four on the Dursleys’ front door; it crept into their living room, which was almost exactly the same as it had been on the night when Mrs. Dursley had seen that fateful news report about the owls. Only the photographs on the mantelpiece really showed how much time had passed. Ten years ago, there had been lots of pictures of what looked like a large pink beach ball wearing different-colored bonnets—Darcey Dursley was no longer a baby, and now the photographs showed a large blond girl riding her first bicycle, on a carousel at the fair, playing a computer game with her mother, being hugged and kissed by her father. The room held no sign at all that another girl lived in the house, too.

            Yet Harrietta Potter was still there, asleep at the moment, but not for long. Her Uncle Peter was awake, and it was his shrill voice that made the first noise of the day.

            “Up! Get up! Now!”

            Harrietta woke with a start. Her uncle rapped on the door again.

            “Up!” he screeched. Harrietta heard him walking toward the kitchen and then the sound of the frying pan being put on the stove. She rolled onto her back and tried to remember the dream she had been having. It had been a good one. There had been a flying motorcycle in it. She had a funny feeling she’d had the same dream before.

            Her uncle was back outside the door.

            “Are you up yet?” he demanded.

            “Nearly,” said Harrietta.

            “Well, get a move on, I want you to look after the bacon. And don’t you dare let it burn, I want everything perfect on Darcey’s birthday.”

            Harrietta groaned.

            “What did you say?” her uncle snapped through the door.

            “Nothing, nothing…”

            Darcey’s birthday—how could she have forgotten? Harrietta got slowly out of bed and started looking for socks. She found a pair under her bed and, after pulling a spider off one of them, put them on. Harrietta was used to spiders, because the cupboard under the stairs was full of them, and that was where she slept.

            When she was dressed, she went down the hall into the kitchen. The table was almost hidden beneath all Darcey’s birthday presents. It looked as though Darcey had gotten the new computer she wanted, not to mention the second television and the racing bike. Exactly why Darcey wanted a racing bike was a mystery to Harrietta, as Darcey was very fat and hated exercise—unless of course it involved punching somebody. Darcey’s favorite punching bag was Harrietta, but she couldn’t often catch her. Harrietta didn’t look it, but she was very fast.

            Perhaps it had something to do with living in a dark cupboard, but Harrietta had always been small and skinny for her age. She looked even smaller and skinnier than she really was because all she had to wear were old clothes of Darcey’s, and Darcey was about four times bigger than she was. Harrietta had a thin face, knobbly knees, shoulder length black hair, and bright green eyes. She wore round glasses held together with a lot of Scotch tape because of all the times Darcey had punched her on the nose. The only thing Harrietta liked about her own appearance was a very thin scar on her forehead that was shaped like a bolt of lightning. She had had it as long as she could remember, and the first question she could ever remember asking her Uncle Peter was how she had gotten it.

            “In the car crash when your parents died,” he had said. “And don’t ask questions.”

            Don’t ask questions—that was the first rule for a quiet life with the Dursleys.

            Aunt Veronica entered the kitchen as Harrietta was turning over the bacon.

            “Brush your hair!” she barked, by way of a morning greeting.

            About once a week, Aunt Veronica looked over the top of her magazine and shouted that Harrietta needed a haircut. Harrietta must have had more haircuts than the rest of the girls in her class put together, but it made no difference, her hair simply grew that way—all over the place.

            Harrietta was frying eggs by the time Darcey arrived in the kitchen with her father. Darcey looked a lot like Aunt Veronica. She had a large pink face, not much neck, small, watery blue eyes, and long thick blond hair that lay smoothly on her thick, fat head and back. Uncle Peter often said that Darcey looked like a baby angel—Harrietta often said that Darcey looked like a pig in a wig.

            Harrietta put the plates of egg and bacon on the table, which was difficult as there wasn’t much room. Darcey, meanwhile, was counting her presents. Her face fell.

            “Thirty-six,” she said, looking up at her father and mother. “That’s two less than last year.”

            “Darling, you haven’t counted Uncle Martin’s present, see, it’s here under this big one from Mommy and Daddy.”

            “All right, thirty-seven then,” said Darcey, going red in the face. Harrietta, who could see a huge Darcey tantrum coming on, began wolfing down her bacon as fast as possible in case Darcey turned the table over.

            Uncle Peter obviously scented danger, too, because he said quickly, “And we’ll buy another two presents while we’re out today. How’s that, popkin? Two more presents. Is that all right?”

            Darcey thought for a moment. It looked like hard work. Finally, she said slowly, “So I’ll have thirty… thirty…”

            “Thirty-nine, sweetgums,” said Uncle Peter.

            “Oh.” Darcey sat down heavily and grabbed the nearest parcel. “All right then.”

            Aunt Veronica chuckled.

            “Little dear wants her money’s worth, just like her mother. ‘Atta girl, Darcey!” She petted Darcey’s hair.

            At that moment the telephone rang and Uncle Peter went to answer it while Harrietta and Aunt Veronica watched Darcey unwrap the racing bike, a flower video camera, a make-up set, sixteen new girlie computer games, and a VCR. She was ripping the paper off the gold bracelet when Uncle Peter came back from the telephone looking both angry and worried.

            “Bad news, Veronica,” he said. “Mr. Figg’s broken his leg. He can’t take her.” He jerked his head in Harrietta’s direction.

            Darcey’s mouth fell open in horror, but Harrietta’s heart gave a leap. Every year on Darcey’s birthday, her parents took her and a friend out for the day, to adventure parks, hamburger restaurants, or the movies. Every year, Harrietta was left behind with Mr. Figg, a mad old man who lived two streets away. Harrietta hated it there. The whole house smelled of cabbage and Mr. Figg made her look at photographs of all the cats he’s ever owned.

            “Now what?” said Uncle Peter, looking furiously at Harrietta as though she’d planned this. Harrietta knew she ought to feel sorry that Mr. Figg had broken his leg, but it wasn’t easy when she reminded herself it would be a whole year before she had to look at Tibbles, Snowy, Mrs. Paws, and Tufty again.

            “We could phone Martin,” Aunt Veronica suggested.

            “Don’t be silly, Veronica, he hates the girl.”

            The Dursleys often spoke about Harrietta like this, as though she wasn’t there—or rather, as though she was something very nasty that couldn’t understand them, like a slug.

            “What about what’s-his name, your friend—Yanny?”

            “On vacation in Majorca,” snapped Uncle Peter.

            “You could just leave me here,” Harrietta put in hopefully (she’d be able to watch what she wanted on television for a change and maybe even have a go on Darcey’s computer).

            Uncle Peter looked as though he’d just swallowed a lemon.

            “And come back and find the house in ruins?” he snared.

            “I won’t blow up the house,” said Harrietta, but they weren’t listening.

            “I suppose we could take her to the zoo,” said Uncle Peter slowly, “…and leave her in the car…”

            “That car’s new, she’s not sitting in it alone…”

            Darcey began to cry loudly. In fact, she wasn’t really crying—it had been years since she’d really cried—but she knew that if she screwed up her face and wailed, her father would give her anything she wanted.

            “Dinky Darcydums, don’t cry, Daddy won’t let her spoil your special day!” he cried, flinging his arms around her.

            “I… don’t … want… her… t-t-to come!” Darcey yelled between huge, pretend sobs. “She always sp-spoils everything!” She shot Harrietta a nasty grin through the gap in her father’s arms.

            Just then, the doorbell rang— “Oh, good Lord, they’re here!” said Uncle Peter frantically—and a moment later, Darcey’s best friend, Pear Polkiss, walked in with her father. Pear was a scrawny girl with a face like a rat. She was usually the one who held people’s arms behind their backs while Darcey hit them. Darcey stopped pretending to cry at once.

            Half an hour later, Harrietta, who couldn’t believe her luck, was sitting in the back of the Dursleys’ car with Pear and Darcey, on the way to the zoo for the first time in her life. Her uncle and aunt hadn’t been able to think of anything else to do with her, but before they’d left, Aunt Veronica had taken Harrietta aside.

            “I’m warning you,” she had said, putting her large purple face right up close to Harrietta’s, “I’m warning you now, girl—any funny business, anything at all—and you’ll be in the cupboard from now until Christmas.”

            “I’m not going to do anything,” said Harrietta, “honestly…”

            But Aunt Veronica didn’t believe her. No one ever did.

            The problem was, strange things often happened around Harrietta and it was just no good telling the Dursleys she didn’t make them happen.

            Once, Uncle Peter, tired of Harrietta coming back from the hair place looking as though she hadn’t been at all, had taken a pair of kitchen scissors and cut her hair so short she had the ugliest pixie hair cut with long bangs, which he left “to hide that horrible scar.” Darcey had laughed herself silly at Harrietta, who spent a sleepless night imagining school the next day, where she was already laughed at for her baggy clothes and taped glasses. Next morning, however, she had gotten up to find her hair exactly as it had been before Uncle Peter had sheared it off, to her shoulders. She had been given a week in her cupboard for this, even though she had tried to explain that she couldn’t explain how it had grown back so quickly.

            Another time, Uncle Peter had been trying to force her into a revolting old sweater of Darcey’s (hot pink with bright yellow puff balls). The harder he tried to pull it over her head, the smaller it seemed to become, until finally it might have fitted a hand puppet, but certainly wouldn’t fit Harrietta. Uncle Peter had decided it must have shrunk in the wash and, to her great relief, Harrietta wasn’t punished.

            On the other hand, she’d gotten into terrible trouble for being found on the roof of the school kitchens. Darcey’s gang had been chasing her as usual when, as much as Harrietta’s surprise as anyone else’s, there she was sitting on the chimney. The Dursleys had received a very angry letter from Harrietta’s headmaster telling them Harrietta had been climbing school buildings. But all she’d tried to do (as she shouted at Aunt Veronica through the locked door of her cupboard) was jump behind the big trash cans outside the kitchen doors. Harrietta supposed that the wind must have caught her in mid-jump.

            But today, nothing was going to go wrong. It was even worth being with Darcey and Pear to be spending the day somewhere that wasn’t school, her cupboard, or Mr. Figg’s cabbage-smelling living room.

            While she drove, Aunt Veronica complained to Uncle Peter. She liked to complain about things: people at work, Harrietta, the council, Harrietta, the bank, and Harrietta were just a few of her favorite subjects. This morning, it was motorcycles.

            “…roaring along like maniacs, the young hoodlums,” she said, as a motorcycle overtook them.

            “I had a dream about a motorcycle,” said Harrietta, remembering suddenly. “It was flying.”

            Aunt Veronica nearly crashed into the car in front. She turned right around in her seat and yelled at Harrietta, her face like a gigantic beet with a woman’s mustache: “MOTORCYCLES DON’T FLY!”

            Darcey and Pear sniggered.

            “I know they don’t,” said Harrietta. “It was only a dream.”

            But she wished she hadn’t said anything. If there was one thing the Dursleys hated even more than her asking questions, it was her talking about anything acting in a way it shouldn’t, no matter if it was in a dream or even a cartoon—they seemed to think she might get dangerous ideas.

            It was a very sunny Saturday and the zoo was crowded with families. The Dursleys bought Darcey and Pear large chocolate ice creams at the entrance and then, because the smiling lady in the van had asked Harrietta what she wanted before they could hurry her away, they bought her a cheap lemon ice pop. It wasn’t bad, either, Harrietta thought, licking it as they watched a gorilla scratching its head who looked remarkably like Darcey, except that it wasn’t blond.

            Harrietta had the best morning she’d had in a long time. She was careful to walk a little way apart from the Dursleys so that Darcey and Pear, who were starting to get bored with the animals by lunchtime, wouldn’t fall back on their favorite hobby of hitting her. They ate in the zoo restaurant, and when Darcey had a tantrum because her knickerbocker glory didn’t have enough ice cream on top, Aunt Veronica bought her another one and Harrietta was allowed to finish the first.

            Harrietta felt, afterward, that she should have known it was all too good to last.

            After lunch they went to the reptile house. It was cool and dark in there, with lit windows all along the walls. Behind the glass, all sorts of lizards and snakes were crawling and slithering over bits of wood and stone. Darcey and Pear wanted to see huge, poisonous cobras and thick, man-crushing pythons. Darcey quickly found the largest snake in the place. It could have wrapped its body twice around Aunt Veronica’s car and crushed it into a trash can—but at the moment it didn’t look in the mood. In fact, it was fast asleep.

            Darcey stood with her nose pressed against the glass, staring at the glistening brown coils.

            “Make it move,” she whined at her mother. Aunt Veronica tapped on the glass, but the snake didn’t budge.

            “Do it again,” Darcey ordered. Aunt Veronica rapped the glass smartly with her knuckles, but the snake just snoozed on.

            “This is boring,” Darcey moaned. She shuffled away.

            Harrietta moved in front of the tank and looked intently at the snake. She wouldn’t have been surprised if it had died of boredom itself—no company except stupid people drumming their fingers on the glass trying to disturb it all day long. It was worse than having a cupboard as a bedroom, where the only visitor was Uncle Peter hammering on the door to wake you up; at least she got to visit the rest of the house.

            The snake suddenly opened its beady eyes. Slowly, very slowly, it raised its head until its eyes were on a level with Harrietta’s.

            It winked.

            Harrietta stared. Then she looked quickly around to see if anyone was watching. They weren’t. She looked back at the snake and winked, too.

            The snake jerked its head toward Aunt Veronica and Darcey, then raised its eyes to the ceiling. It gave Harrietta a look that said quite plainly:

            “I get that all the time.”

            “I know,” Harrietta murmured through the glass, though she wasn’t sure the snake could hear her. “It must be really annoying.”

            The snake nodded vigorously.

            “Where do you come from, anyway?” Harrietta asked.

            The snake jabbed its tail at a little sign next to the glass. Harrietta peered at it.

            Boa Constrictor, Brazil.

            “Was it nice there?”

            The boa constrictor jabbed its tail at the sign again and Harrietta read on: This specimen was bred in the zoo, “Oh, I see—so you’ve never been to Brazil?”

            As the snake shook its head, a deafening shout behind Harrietta made both of them jump. “DARCEY! MRS. DURSLEY! COME AND LOOK AT THIS SNAKE! YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT IT’S DOING!”

            Darcey came waddling toward them as fast as she could.

            “Out of the way, you,” she said, punching Harrietta in the ribs. Caught by surprise, Harrietta fell hard on the concrete floor. What came next happened so fast no one saw how it happened—one second, Pear and Darcey were leaning right up close to the glass, the next, they had leapt back with howls of horror.

            Harrietta sat up and gasped; the glass front of the boa constrictors tank had vanished. The great snake was uncoiling itself rapidly, slithering out onto the floor. People throughout the reptile house screamed and started running for the exists.

            As the snake slid swiftly past him, Harrietta could have sworn a low, hissing voice said, “Brazil, here I come… Thanksss, amiga.”

            The keeper of the reptile house was in shock.

            “But the glass,” he kept saying, “where did the glass go?”

            The zookeeper himself made Uncle Peter a cup of strong, sweet tea while he apologized over and over again. Pear and Darcey could only gibber. As far as Harrietta had seen, the snake hadn’t done anything except snap playfully at their heels as it passed, but by the time they were all back in Aunt Veronica’s car, Darcey was telling them how it had nearly bitten off her leg, while Pear was swearing it had tried to squeeze her to death. But worst of all, for Harrietta at least, was Pear calming down enough to say, “Harrietta was talking to it, weren’t you, Harrietta?”

            Aunt Veronica waited until Pear was safely out of the house before starting on Harrietta. She was so angry she could hardly speak. She managed to say, “Go—cupboard—stay—no meals,” before she collapsed into a chair, and Uncle Peter had to run and grab her a large brandy.

           

            Harrietta lay in her dark cupboard much later, wishing she had a watch. She didn’t know what time it was, and she couldn’t be sure the Dursleys were asleep yet. Until they were, she couldn’t risk sneaking to the kitchen for some food.

            She’d lived with the Dursleys almost ten years, ten miserable years, as long as she could remember, ever since she’d been a baby and her parents had died in that car crash. She couldn’t remember being in the car when her parents had died. Sometimes, when she strained her memory during long hours in her cupboard, she came up with a strange vision: a blinding flash of green light and a burning pain on her forehead. This, she supposed, was the crash, though she couldn’t imagine where all the green light came from. She couldn’t remember her parents at all. Her aunt and uncle never spoke about them, and of course she was forbidden to ask questions. There were no photographs of them in the house.

            When she had been younger, Harrietta had dreamed and dreamed of some unknown relation coming to take her away, but it had never happened; the Dursleys were her only family. Yet sometimes she thought (or maybe hoped) that strangers in the street seemed to know her. Very strange strangers they were, too. A tiny woman in a violet hat had bowed to her once while out shopping with Uncle Peter and Darcey. After asking Harrietta furiously if she knew the woman, Uncle Peter had rushed them out of the shop without buying anything. A wild-looking old man dressed all in green had waved merrily at her once on a bus. A balding woman in a very long purple coat had actually shaken her hand in the street the other day and then walked away without a word. The weirdest thing about all these people was the way they seemed to vanish the second Harrietta tried to get a closer look.

            At school, Harrietta had no one. Everybody knew that Darcey’s gang hated that odd Harrietta Potter in her baggy old clothes and broken glasses, and nobody liked to disagree with Darcey’s gang.

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