Chapter Three: Birthday Boy
"Harry, I'm completely full, I'm afraid. Do you want to finish the McNuggets?"
"You don't have to call them McNuggets, you know," said Harry, smiling, taking the box gratefully. "Just nuggets. It might say McNuggets on the boards, but it's McEverything in here, McBin, McChair, McTable, McWaitress, McRevolvingDoor..."
Lupin gave him a slightly confused expression, opening his mouth, but Harry managed to predict his question straightaway and grinned.
"Yes, I am joking." He slurped the last remains of strawberry milkshake from the bottom of the container, then said, "So what was the thing about my dad you promised you'd tell me?"
"Ah, yes... I thought you'd bring that up," said Lupin. "Well... you know that James was a Seeker. Quite a good one at that. You must have seen the trophies in the trophy room?" At Harry's nod, he thought for a moment, then continued. "Professor Snape was quite a good player as well - a Seeker, like your father. I always spent my evenings in the library, and the Slytherins normally practiced Quidditch then, in view of the library windows. I used to watch them. Snape could have been of great use to the Slytherin team... but he was never a member. Due to a prank your father played on him."
Harry's eyes widened. "Why? What did he do? What happened?"
"Severus joined the team in third year, I think," Lupin explained. "Of course, your father was already on the team, and he heard about the new Slytherin Seeker. He hated the thought of Severus being a rival to him, as naturally, he thought himself better than Snape. I suppose I should have noticed he was planning something when he spent so long in the library all of a sudden, looking up charms and unbreakable jinxes and so forth."
"Did he attack - "
"Oh no," said Lupin, shaking his head. "It wasn't violent at all. We were lined up outside potions one day, when James just drew his wand and performed a charm, very calmly. Snape didn't even notice he'd done it until the last moment."
"What did it do to him?" Harry whispered.
"Something called an Anti-Catching charm," said Lupin. "It doesn't affect grip or reflexes in anyway, it just makes the victim unable to catch at all. James told Severus this little fact by throwing a tennis ball at him and telling him to catch it. Snape's fingers were as though they had been buttered - and the charm was unbreakable. He lost his place on the team."
Harry felt so incredibly guilty now it was almost painful. He could feel his meal squirming remorsefully in his stomach. "So why did that make my dad realise he'd gone too far? Didn't he find it funny?"
"I suppose it would have been," Lupin mused thoughtfully, "If the Slytherin Captain hadn't announced his removal from the team in front of all the crowds at the next Quidditch match. Severus stood there in all his robes, ready to play - and to just be told that he could go get changed... that affected both Snape and your father, Harry. James saw Snape's last hope slip away before his eyes that day, and to know that he'd caused it..."
Harry wasn't sure whether he felt better or worse now. Snape could have been a famous Quidditch player, if it weren't for the butter-fingers that Harry's father cursed him with. "My dad was pretty nasty," he said, mournfully.
"Not so. Your father actually apologised to Snape after that day - it was a mark of how truly sorry he was. James never held grudges. I'm sure he died with no malice in his heart at all... except towards He Who Must Not Be Named, of course, though I don't think any wizard could ever count that vile creature as a friend." Lupin put a hand across the table over Harry's, paternally. "Sirius died fighting the Dark Lord's ranks, Harry. The best thing you can ever do to get revenge on your godfather and honour his memory is to make sure those who killed him are given justice."
Harry nodded. He already fully intended to do just that. "What were all those pieces of information that Sirius gave me about? Stuff about spies and Ron and a Death Eater's wife? And a letter?"
Lupin smiled. "That was a very typically Sirius thing of him to do. He's left you clues, Harry, that will only make sense to you when you've most likely unravelled the mystery completely and you're looking back. That, or they were meant to lead you on a wild goose chase." He gave Harry another fatherly smile. "I didn't suspect for one minute that dying for adventure would quench Sirius's love of it."
Harry grinned, took one of the paper napkins, found a biro in his bag and wrote down -
MORE SPIES THAT PEOPLE WOULDN'T EXPECT
SOMETHING SPECIAL ABOUT RON
SOMETHING ABOUT A DEATH EATER'S WIFE
"I wouldn't spend too long pondering those, if I were you," Lupin mused, smiling still. "It was rather disobedient of Sirius to reveal hints of Dumbledore's secrets to you... I suppose I couldn't have expected anything less."
"Dumbledore's secrets? How do you know that - " said Harry, and he beamed, "You know what they mean! Oh, tell me Professor, tell me!"
Lupin chuckled. "Absolutely not. I know a few sketchy facts about one of the things on that list, and I won't tell you which one it is or what I know. The last one I can guess... the first one is Dumbledore's business, and the third thing is more than likely meaningless gossip that we won't hear another word of for years. The second thing could be anything really. Perhaps Sirius was just highlighting the value of friendship to you."
"No, I think it's something properly special," said Harry. "Sirius wasn't mushy like that. Maybe... maybe Ron's going to become Minister For Magic!"
Lupin laughed again. "Ghosts can't see into the future, Harry."
"Maybe there's a dead fortune teller in there with Sirius," said Harry, grinning.
"Or maybe not," said Lupin pleasantly. "Come now, it's almost six o' clock and I don't want to have you late home."
They stood up, gathered their bags, put their rubbish in the McBin that Harry mentioned earlier and left the restaurant, strolling slowly in the direction of the train station.
"Who's looking after me next week?" Harry asked, eagerly. "Do you know?"
"Yes, I do," Lupin replied. He smiled. "I think you'll be pleased. The Weasley family have offered to take you on a day out somewhere on the Saturday, you'll stay the night, and I believe they're planning to let you do your homework on the Sunday, seeing as though I wasn't of any help today."
"Great!" Harry beamed. He could see Ron and Ginny again, and maybe Bill and Charlie would be there, and the twins, and maybe -
He fell silent, remembering something.
"Professor?" he said.
"Remus," he was corrected.
"Remus?" he said.
"What happened to Percy Weasley?"
Lupin shook his head sadly. "I'm not very sure. Molly desperately wants to forgive him, whilst Arthur never wants to see the boy again. I don't know about Percy's attitude, but the Ministry and Dumbledore have now bonded together, so I can't see why he would still hate the rest of his family."
"It's funny... Ron always joked that Percy would stab the family in the back," said Harry. "And he did last year..."
Lupin gave him a weak smile. "I'm sure this will all be sorted out in time, Harry. Blood is thicker than water, after all. Percy will come to his senses eventually, I'm sure."
"I hope so."
"We all do."
They continued in near silence, across the pleasant river bridge from before, back down the street that Professor Snape lived on, through a back alley, and then out into the country lanes leading to the train station and the steam engine that would take Harry back for another week of hell with the Dursleys. But really, he didn't feel so bad. He'd had a brilliant day with Professor Lupin, he'd had the chance to say goodbye to Sirius, he'd agreed to a cease-fire with Professor Snape, and he would be spending all of next weekend with Ron and his family. He was so lost in his eager anticipation that they arrived at the train station all too soon, and Lupin was standing on the platform while he hung out of the window to say goodbye.
"Thanks for everything, Remus," said Harry. "This has been the best birthday I've had in ages."
Lupin smiled. "It was my pleasure. Oh, before you go, I bought you something." He took a package wrapped in brown paper and string out of his bag and handed it carefully to Harry. "I heard about your dark arts club, and I thought you'd enjoy a few ideas to teach them."
Harry grinned, taking the package. "Thanks."
There was a loud toot from the whistle and a jet of steam blew up in a great cloud into the air.
"Remember to send me a message if you ever need anything," said Lupin. "And get straight off the train in your town, don't hang around! Professor Snape should be there to escort you home, you don't want to keep him waiting!"
The train pulled away out of the station, and Harry just had time to turn around and shout, "I wouldn't dream of it, Remus!" before he was whisked out of sight with the train, heading away into the evening sunset.
Lupin chuckled, suddenly struck by just how like James Harry was, putting his hands in his pockets and strolling away out of the station, whistling a jaunty tune that carried him out into the country lanes and back into town. He found a quiet spot, out of the way of muggles, and after checking for anybody around, he smiled, closed his eyes and vanished into thin air with nothing but a faint pop as evidence of his very existance. And several miles away by now, on the train back home, Harry Potter was asleep after a long, blissfully happy day.
"Potter, wake - up - now."
"Nffrf, gerroff my arm!"
Harry swatted out vaguely at whoever it was gripping his arm, his fingers scuffing velvety material and sallow, cold skin that he remembered from somewhere, but couldn't quite pinpoint it.
Then he realised he'd just slapped Professor Snape around the face.
He jolted straight awake and yelped as Snape's hands went for his neck, but the professor narrowly managed to get a grip and avoid strangling the living daylights out of Harry in a public place.
"Which part of wake up was it causing you the most trouble, Potter?" he hissed.
"Well if you say something then - "
"I DID say something, you stupid boy!" Snape snapped. Several muggles turned around to stare, and Snape glared at them coldly, grasping Harry by the arm and pulling him out of the carriage. "Are you TRYING to get me arrested for child abuse?" Snape snarled when they were out of ear-shot of the general public.
"Sorry," said Harry, straightening out his sweater huffily. "I didn't know it was you."
"Oh, well, that's perfectly alright! An innocent civilian tries to wake you up on a train, with all good intentions in their heart, and your response is to slap them around the face?" Snape laughed coldly. "I'm not surprised your aunt and uncle despise you."
Harry frowned, and was about to speak his mind, but decided against it at the last moment and just muttered, "Fine, I'm sorry. I won't slap you again."
"I hope so," said Snape. "For your sake at least. Come on, it's already quarter to eight... damn Lupin, couldn't meet a deadline if it came towards him tied to a broomstick... hurry up, Potter, I'm damned if I'm going to take the blame for your precious Lupin's mess!"
Harry tried vaguely to keep up with Snape's ridiculously swift stride, having to actually jog to keep up. He clasped the package tight in his arms, desperate not to drop whatever it was. Snape spotted it and frowned.
"A birthday present from Remus," said Harry, stoutly.
It was hard to tell whether Snape was more surprised by the fact that it was Harry's birthday, that he'd got a present, or that he was on first name terms with Lupin. It only showed on his face for a second though, and in true Snape form, he acted as though he couldn't care less.
"Your birthday?" he said, coolly.
"Yes, I'm 16," said Harry. "The Dursleys might forget it, but not everybody does."
"I thought it was the fifth of November," said Snape, frowning slightly.
"No," Harry said in a very cold voice. "That's Malfoy." Everybody knew when Draco Malfoy's birthday was, It was generally the day that the Slytherin table collapsed under so many owls carrying presents and cards and cakes from his parents.
"Hmm," Snape droned, not really bothered at all.
The rest of their journey was in silence, which Harry wasn't sure whether he felt glad or awkward about. He had no real reason to despise Snape now. After all, not many people in the world would have conjured his godfather from the dead so that Harry could say goodbye. As they turned up Harry's street, the boy realised that maybe he hadn't apologised for his own actions clearly enough.
"Professor?" he said, jogging for a moment to keep up.
"No, Potter, I won't slow down. We're late as it is, and - "
"No, it's not that," said Harry, and the fact that he had interrupted so confidently seemed to make Snape take notice more than anything. "I... I want to say sorry... for going into your pensieve and finding about all that. And then mocking you about it."
Snape raised an eyebrow, looking down at him, and to Harry's relief his place slowed slightly. "An apology from Harry Potter? Lupin must have hexed you."
"No," said Harry, trying a weak smile, "I just wanted to sort of... call a cease-fire..."
"Potter, we were never at war." Snape picked up the pace again, and Harry hurried after him, sure he was going to fall over and break his nose if they kept this up much longer.
"Fine, a peace offering. I just wanted to say sorry, because what my dad did wasn't exactly fair. None of what he did was." He paused for a moment, and then said, "I found out about the thing..."
Snape gave him a very scournful look. "The thing, you say? Woe is me, Potter knows about the thing. How can I live, with the knowledge that Potter knows about the thing?"
Harry fished around in his pocket for something, found one of Dudley's old marbles and said, "Catch...", as he tossed it gently to Snape. Anybody could have caught it; it was such a gentle shot, it was impossible to miss. The professor instinctively shot out a hand to catch it, there was a loud noise like somebody sliding across a slippery floor and the marble shot straight out of his grasp to the floor.
Snape watched it roll away under a nearby car, tumble past the grate and fall with a graceful plop into the sewers below. Harry was too busy trying to sum up Snape's expression.
"Who told you?" the professor said, quietly, after a moment.
"I'm not going to say... but I want to apologise for the butter fingers thing, as well."
"There's no need to," Snape sighed. "Your father spent all of his sixth and seventh years kissing up to me, trying to make me forgive him so he could make my life hell once more. I don't need his hormonal son doing the same." He started to walk again. "Potter, pick up the pace, for the love of Merlin."
Harry hurried after him, and as they turned into the drive of number four, Harry noticed Snape was rubbing his hands on the pockets of his trousers agitatedly, as though trying to remove a stain. The professor knocked loudly, three times, with his bony, long-fingered hand. There was some movement from inside, which to Harry's total horror included barking, the door opened, and Harry got a split-second's view of Uncle Vernon's angry purple face before he was knocked backwards by something flying from the house.
Ripper wrestled him to the ground, barking and snarling, shaking his great head around, spit flying all over Harry's face and clothes. Aunt Marge's voice was laughing from the hall, and so was Dudley's, the Dursley's were all laughing. Harry could well imagine Snape smirking too, but to his surprise, Snape said calmly, "Potter, how old are you now?"
"Sixteen," he choked, trying to pull back from those fangs.
"Read the papers, Potter?"
"No, you're not helping!" Harry choked, leaning back to get away from Ripper's jaws snapping at his face.
Snape sighed, as one would with an awkward child. "Due to some events, and don't think I wouldn't love to see you torn to pieces by a bulldog, but the ministry has decided to lower the age required to do magic by one year... now, even you can't fail to work out that - "
Harry realised then, with a flush of relief and excitement. "I'm of age!" He drew his wand from his sleeve, pointed it right at Ripper's slobbering jaw and announced, "Expello!"
Ripper was lifted up into the air, sailed through the air and knocked Harry's make-shift mended gnome to pieces. Harry looked up at everybody else in the garden. Aunt Marge stood in the hallway, gaping at him in horror, a new red leather hangbag swinging from her podgy arm. The Dursleys were all clustered on the front door step, looking as though all their worst dreams had come true. Snape, however, was smirking.
"A expelling charm? Couldn't you have thought of something a little more inventive, Potter?"
Ripper whimpered, getting to his feet and running over to hide behind Aunt Marge, tail between his legs, the gnome's head stuck over one of his ears.
Harry was on top of the world from that moment on. He could do magic. The Dursleys were like toys to him now. He had to admit, he showed off rather a bit after that by modifying Aunt Marge's memory, fixing the gnome, repainting his bedroom and turning Dudley into a red head, at which his uncle demanded he put it back. Uncle Vernon spent two hours with a pair of rabbit ears until Harry had enjoyed himself enough, and restored Dudley's hair colour and Uncle Vernon's proper ears. Over all, Aunt Marge's memory was modified so many times that by nine o' clock, she had no idea where she was or where she lived. They had to look it up in the phone book to make sure.
Snape had left rather quickly after the incident with Ripper, possibly because he didn't want to spend anymore time with an excited Harry, or because there was a very angry bulldog in the area, or because of Aunt Marge, or because he was sure the commotion in the house would bring muggles running like moths to a flame. Whatever his reasons, he excused himself, and the last thing the professor saw before he apparated away was Harry running into the house and chasing Dudley, who was screaming and falling over furniture to escape. It's not a surprise that Snape wasn't eager to hang around for coffee.
Having magic, to Harry, was like having a life again. The Dursleys certainly wouldn't be treating him like a slave or a ghost anymore. With all the excitement of demonstrating various hexes right under Dudley's nose, it wasn't until very late at night that Harry retreated back to his room and collapsed onto his bed, grinning. He could imagine the Dursleys all sneaking out of their various hiding places to check the coast was clear. Harry was so lost in his imaginings that it was a few moments before he realised he was lying on something hard and rectangular.
He reached behind his back and pulled out Professor Lupin's package. How could he forget? Any other day, he'd have ripped it open the moment he got home, desperate to find out what was inside. For a moment, he felt a prickle of guilt at casting aside Professor Lupin's kindness so quickly once he had something new to focus on. He'd have to write him a thankyou letter, for whatever it was.
Carefully, he untied the strings and pulled apart the paper. It was a book. A large, very heavy, glossy-covered book with the title SPECIALIST CURSES, HEXES AND JINXES emblazoned across the front in silver lettering. Intrigued, Harry opened it at the first page, and found a hand-written note inside.
"Harry," the note read, "I thought you'd find this interesting. Dumbledore told me all about the DA, and it sounds as though you did a good job. He's asked me whether you would be interested in making it into a proper club, with some help from me, though of course, I think you're becoming the expert here. Send me a letter with your owl if you think it's good idea. Happy birthday - Remus."
Harry smiled eagerly, turning the note over and taking out his trusty biro. He scribbled, "Thanks for the present, I'd love to!", and was about to call Hedwig to take a letter -
When something large, white and feathery suddenly seemed to completely cover his window. Harry leapt away, terrified that some sort of fluffy dragon was attacking the house, but he realised that it was just a cluster of owls, all carrying letters and packages. Suspiciously, he opened the window. They all rushed in, hooting loudly and dropping parcels and parchments on his head in what seemed to be a hailstorm of communication.
"OW! Stop that, come on, let's get some order! Get off my head!"
The owls settled in various places around the room, leaving Harry to rub his head and crouch down to the floor, sorting through the mountain of letters and boxes he suddenly had.
There was an important, official looking one in a clean white envelope that caught his eye. For a moment, he worried that he'd mistaken his birthday, that he was actually fifteen and was expelled from Hogwarts for all the magic he'd done, but when he opened it, he grinned even more.
Dear Mr Potter,
We are writing to notify you that the recently deceased Mr Claus I. Brisk has left you several items of property in his will. Please reply to this letter with acknowledge you have read the following and accept the property.
12 GRIMMAULD PLACE, LONDON AND ALL CONTENTS
Andralyn Galvez (Ministry Of Magic)
Harry then noticed a hand-scribbled note on the end of the letter, in spiky, elegant black letters he remembered from somewhere, though couldn't quite picture exactly where.
PS - The department of magical law enforcement are watching you, they've noticed all the magic going on and they're just waiting for something to book you for, so tone it down, okay? Just between you and me.
He took his biro again and added, "Confirmed, I accept the property, signed Harry Potter", to the bottom, then put it on the Outgoing pile.
Next letter, he thought. He recognised one of the owls smiling up at him from the cluster around his feet. It was Errol, the Weasley owl. Old, and slightly battered, Errol's feathers were mostly sticking the wrong way but he looked rather proud at having survived another delivery. He had carried quite a large box as well. A present? Harry tore the spellotape off the top of the box excitedly, opened it up, and came across a large chocolate cake wrapped in cling film, a bundle of letters, and a bright yellow bag that caught Harry's eye instantly. He lifted it out carefully, and inspected it.
WEASLEY'S WIZARD WHEEZES proclaimed the bag, in lurid green and orange flashing letters. Harry grinned. Fred and George Weasley now owned their own joke shop business at 93 Diagon Alley. No doubt they'd sent him something dangerous. Brilliant.
It took an hour to get through all the presents, send off replies and thankyou letters. There were presents from Ron, Ginny, the twins and the rest of the Weasley family, Hermione, Hagrid and Luna Lovegood, along with the book Professor Lupin had given him earlier. By the time all the owls had left with their replies, Harry fell into bed and was straight asleep without even getting changed. His dreams were full of confusing thoughts of the day, from Professor Snape and his butter fingers, to Professor Lupin, Sirius's shade in the cauldron, all the presents, Ripper, the storm of owls... it was a good job that Harry hadn't noticed the last, unopened letter under all the paper littering his bedroom floor.
His name was inked in delicate, curly handwriting on the envelope, and the letter itself was from Cho Chang. She and Harry had been through a relationship of some sort during their last year, though they had parted on bad terms, and as far as Harry knew, neither of them were keen to pick the whole thing back up. If only he'd read the letter. Unfortunately, it was scooped away along with the rest of the paper the next morning, crumpled up, and stuffed into a bin, though really, Harry had quite enough on his mind without the troublesome Cho to confuse things even more.
His sixth year at Hogwarts would prove to be the most eye-opening of his life so far. Danger, romance, mystery, action and new discoveries were ahead of him, though as he slept on the night of his birthday with a headful of sleeping chaos, Harry Potter had no idea of the events in store for him that year.
It all began properly the next weekend, as a fluorescent yellow car pulled up outside number four, Privet Drive, and its drivers jumped out from the front seat, wearing identical grins and leather jackets to match the car. If the Dursleys thought Mad Eye Moody was a problem, they would have no idea what hit them when Fred and George Weasley arrived.
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