Chapter Four: The House of Fun
"This the place?" said Fred, glancing up at the house, still grinning from ear to ear.
"Looks like it. Different in the daylight isn't it?" George looked up and down the street at the identical gardens and houses, chuckling. "Which door is it we're supposed to use?"
"Front, I think," his twin replied. "Yeah, something about not using the back door. I can't remember. We'll use the front anyway."
They grinned. Both of them knew very well they weren't supposed to use the front door, but still, they raised their hands and knocked three times on the door each, ending with a pleasant little tune.
The door swung wildly open, and Uncle Vernon's purple face stuck out.
"Back door only!" he hissed.
"Oh, sorry, forgot," said Fred, grinning.
"Likewise," said George. "Is Harry ready?" Catching Uncle Vernon staring in horror at the matching yellow leather suits and car, he winked. "It'll be the next fashion craze, matching your car with your suit. You saw it here first."
"Fred! George!" Harry bounded down the stairs, beaming, throwing a bag over his shoulder.
"Hey Harry! How are things?"
Harry pushed past Uncle Vernon to get out onto the step, "Great, really great! Thanks for the presents, by the way!"
"No problem," Fred grinned. "I hope they were put to good use, Harry."
"Oh, they were," said Harry. "Dudley's still got the marks."
Uncle Vernon cleared his throat loudly. Fred, George and Harry all gave him identically contemptuous looks. "Yes?" said Fred.
"I would appreciate you collecting the boy and then leaving," Harry's uncle said, stiffly, from under his quivering moustache. "The neighbourhood - "
"Fine then, time to take you somewhere you're welcome, Harry," said Fred, loudly, and both the twins put their arms around his shoulders, steering him down the path to the car. Something in George's hand caught Harry's eye, but by the time he'd glanced round at it, George had dropped it to the floor and Fred yelled,
Harry had no idea why, but they all tore down the garden path and leapt into the car as Uncle Vernon started bellowing at Petunia to shut the windows. George hammered a button on the dashboard and a roof and windows zoomed into place over the car; Harry had a split second's view of what looked like a firework on the front door step and then -
The windows were showered in bright pink and green swirling paint. Harry jumped away, almost landing in Fred's knee. The twins were both choking with laughter.
"What did you do?" said Harry, starting to laugh as well.
"See for yourself," said George, and he pressed another button on the dashboard.
Windscreen wipers clicked out from the side of the car and scraped the paint away from the windows, gave them a shine and after Fred handed each one a knut, they zoomed away again. Harry stared out at the Dursley's house, torn between total amazement and the desire to die laughing on the spot.
The garden and the front of the house was splattered with the same green and pink swirling paint. It was all over the windows, all on the car, all on the plants, the gnomes were now wearing rather funky little disco outfits and Ripper, who had been emptying his bladder on the side of Uncle Vernon's car, was frozen to the spot, leg still in the air, little more than a bright pink and green heap of paint.
The funniest of the lot was Uncle Vernon in the hallway, still holding the front door. He looked like a very lurid snowman, and his face was set in the most horrified expression Harry had ever seen in his life. As they watched, a large drip of paint fell from his moustache onto the toe of his new work shoes.
Fred started the car and it sped away down the street, Harry and the Weasleys laughing fit to burst at the sight of the fluorescent house on Private Drive. After a tap on the wheel from George, the car faded into invisibility and they took off into the sky. In minutes, the Dursley's house was nothing but a glowing spot far below them as they coasted through the clouds.
"That was brilliant!" said Harry, grinning, as George removed the invisibility, "What was it?"
"SuperSplatterDecorator 2003," said Fred, turning around in his seat to look at Harry. "One galleon each, just new. They come in blue and orange, yellow and purple, the green and pink as you saw back there, or a new one. Rainbow. That's getting pretty popular now."
"I might have to buy one of those to do the back garden," said Harry. "They want to match, don't they?"
Fred and George both laughed.
"They wear off in an hour or so without a sealing charm," said George, driving the car up to emerge from the sea of clouds, into very top of the sky. "So we can't get done for breaking the secrecy code of conduct. That only applies for actual magic, or something that lasts for an hour or more."
"What happens to the paint? Does it just disappear?"
"Turns invisible," said George. "We spent about a year developing that. You should see our bedroom back at home. Total mess."
"So," said Fred. "Happy birthday for last week, by the way. Of age now, are you?"
"Yep," Harry grinned. "I gave Uncle Vernon rabbit ears, and I hexed my Aunt Marge's dog, and gave her a wart right on the end of her nose and everything."
"That's the boy," Fred chortled. "Ron and Ginny have been dying to see you all summer. And Hermione too, she's at The Burrow now. Oh, and Mum says she got your letter, and yes, we can go and sort out your new bachelor pad tomorrow."
Harry laughed. "It's not my bachelor pad, don't be stupid. How am I ever going to bring girls home to that when there's Sirius's mother in the hallway screaming if anybody rings the doorbell?"
"Dunno, it'd be a talking point."
They all laughed, and George took a bag of toffees from the glove compartment, which he offered round. Harry had experience of Fred and George's sweets and so had to decline with a polite, "but thankyou anyway." They spent the rest of the journey talking happily about the weekend ahead, the summer behind them and the next year at Hogwarts. Fred and George had left during their sixth year in strike against Professor Umbridge, and, they assured Harry, would not be coming back.
"But she's left," said Harry, as the cruised over the village near The Burrow. "Peeves chased her away at the end of the year."
Fred grinned. "Oh, did he? You know, that poltergeist's not so bad really."
"Have you heard the current news from Hogwarts?" George asked over his shoulder. "Apparently Peeves is being a complete pain. Even more than normal. Of course, it's just a rumour, but loads of people have said that he's almost torn the school apart."
"He does that anyway," said Harry. "He threw a bundle of walking sticks at me on my first day. Percy had to threaten him with the bloody baron."
"Shame Peeves didn't kill Percy," Fred muttered.
Harry decided it was best not to press the subject, but luckily, the awkward silence didn't last very long, as The Burrow appeared below them a few moments later.
"Hold onto your glasses!" said Fred, putting his foot down on the accelerator. The bright yellow car descended from the clouds like a fluorescent meteor and screeched to a halt in the yard a few seconds later. Harry felt as though his insides had been turned upside-down from the sudden drop.
He looked up at the shout from above, and saw Ron, Hermione and Ginny hanging out of an upstairs window, waving frantically at him. He grinned and waved back.
"How you doing, mate?" Ron shouted.
"Fine!" Harry yelled back. "Better now I'm here!"
"Come on, people, we haven't got all day now!" Fred interrupted. "You three get down here, we're supposed to be there by now!"
"Where are we going?" said Harry eagerly.
Fred and George grinned in the exact same way. "Just you wait," they both said at once.
Harry was instantly intrigued. "Oh, tell me, please!"
"Latest project we've finished," said George.
"And you four are the beta-testers," said Fred.
"What? What is it?" said Harry, gripping the back of the seat. From the looks on Fred and George's faces, wherever they were going, it was going to be marvellous.
"You'll see," said Fred, his eyes sparkling with excitement. "Put it this way... it's untested, unentered before now, full of magic and if you don't come out covered in paint or feathers or gunge, we'll be severely disappointed." He papped the horn loudly several times and turned back to the house. "Come on, time costs money, people!"
Ron, Hermione and Ginny came out of the front door and scrambled across the yard, laughing and racing each other. The second Ron pulled open the car door and hopped in beside him, Harry blurted, "Where are we going?"
"Weasley's Wizard Wheezes House of Fun," Ron said, grinning from ear to ear, strapping up his seat belt.
"Where?" said Harry.
Ginny buckled herself in, slammed the car door and Fred started up the engine again. In a few seconds, they had climbed up into the sky and were sailing over the clouds, the breeze blowing in their hair.
"Weasley's Wizard Wheezes House of Fun," said Ron, again, still grinning. "Fred and George's new place. They won't tell us much about it but it sounds amazing."
Fred chuckled, handing around the toffees. "George and I were considering buying an old muggle warehouse to base the House of Fun, but we decided we'd need much more space..."
"So, we had a look at the building laws of Diagon Alley..."
"And we found a rather interesting loophole. Building underground costs quite a lot of money and can be complicated, but..."
"There's nothing about building into the sky," both twins grinned.
Harry's eyes widened. "You've built a flying House of Fun?"
"Precisely," said George. "The most exciting wizarding place on Earth."
"Absolutely huge. It's taken us ages, and cost all the profit we've made so far. But once we're open to the public..."
"What sort of stuff is there?" asked Ron through a jawful of toffee.
"Oh, everything beyond your wildest dreams, dear youngest brother," George chortled. "Magic, slides, hidden areas to discover, pools full of all sorts of horrible sticky stuff, paint bombs consealed behind every unimaginable place possible and more gunge than you can shake a wand at."
"Cool!" Harry, Ginny and Ron breathed.
Hermione looked a little worried. "How safe is it?"
"It's perfectly fine," said George, smiling. "Trust us, Hermione. Any hexes or jinxes in there are first-year stuff. If you don't know the counter-charm, we highly overestimated you."
"But... gunge," she said with a painful look on her face.
"Cleaning charms on the way out," said Fred. He turned to peer at her between the gap in his chair. "Couldn't you have guessed?"
"Well, of course, but... I'm not so sure..." she said. "Has it been tested for safety and so forth?"
"Ah... it will have been, by the end of the day," said Fred.
"You're the testers," said George.
"Sounds good to me," said Ron, taking another toffee. "Come on, Mione, it'll be fine. This is Harry's day off, right? It's gonna be great!" He popped the toffee into his mouth, and leant forward. "Hey George, what about trick staircases?"
"Way ahead of you, bro," said George. "Half the place is pressure pads to change something. The whole thing is a flying, magical headquarters for chaos."
Harry, Ginny and Ron all grinned with excitement. Hermione bit her lip, but said nothing, reaching into a denim satchel she had on her lap and taking out a muggle book. Harry was surprised when everybody in the car groaned with exasperation.
"What's that?" he asked, tilting his head to look at the cover - INCREDIBLE FACTS YOU NEVER KNEW.
"Oh, it's brilliant!" Hermione gushed, sitting up eagerly, suddenly very bright. "I found it in one of the muggle London shops, it's the most - "
"Boring pile of junk ever written," George finished.
"What's it about?" asked Harry.
"Four-hundred pages of useless facts about stuff that won't ever help you in anyway," Fred groaned.
"It is not!" Hermione bristled. "It's really interesting, honestly! There's some really, really fascinating facts in here... for example - " She flicked through the book, and then announced, " - In Texas, it's illegal to graffiti on somebody else's cow."
"So if you ever go to Texas, make sure you graffiti your own cows and not some other poor person's," said Ron, rolling his eyes. "Hermione, that book's completely useless, I wish you'd just stop badgering us with annoying little facts so much."
"The world record for most children to one woman is 69," Hermione said, promptly, "and - "
"Zip it," said Ron, snatching the book off her. "Or the book goes out the window."
Hermione spluttered, and open her mouth to argue, but Ron waved the book threateningly over the car door and she shut up.
They flew for about an hour or two solid, over forests and hills and fields, cities and towns, roads and motorways, even over the top of the small mountain somewhere, until London was just visible on the horizon. Fred pressed the descend pedal slowly and the car swooped downwards, making all the passengers groan as one, and then with a slight bump, they touched down on an empty road off the main streets.
"Now, don't do anything that might make the muggles notice us," said Fred.
Harry stared at him. They were riding in a fluorescent yellow car, both the drivers were barely legally allowed to drive it, and both of them were wearing matching leather yellow suits, not mentioning there were four people squashed in the back of the car, and Ron was wearing a jumper emblazoned with "CHUDLEY CANNONS". Fred didn't seem to notice, and pulled out into the main traffic smoothly.
The ordinary shoppers turned to stare at the car, following it down the street with their wide-eyed gazes. Fred chuckled.
"Oh, I love attention," he commented, glancing out of the window. "Nine o' clock, George, give her a wolf-whistle for me!"
Ron and Harry grinned at each other as George leant out of the window and whistled at a blonde in a skirt going past. Hermione tutted.
"You wouldn't know what to do with her," she muttered.
George grinned. "You're going to be really popular when you grow up, Hermione... at the local book club."
Fred chuckled and steered the car into a backstreet, heading for one of the underground parking lots. Hermione frowned, buried her nose back in her book of useless facts, and didn't look up until a few minutes later when they all got out of the car. Fred went to pay for a ticket as George fussed with his hair in the wing mirror.
"So can you tell us what it's like now?" said Ron. "Properly? Not just vague hints about slime?"
George tweaked his quiff back into place. "You'll see when you get there, we've told you, Ron. Well... there is one thing you have to choose... there are different rooms, see. Playhouse, jungle, labyrinth or magical catastrophe... or... the Ultimate Room."
Everybody shivered when he said it, as though the words themselves were an incantation to a spell.
"What's in there?" said Ginny.
George smiled, glancing over his shoulder at her. "Something for everyone. Imagine this... take your normal, muggle play centre. Like for kids. Then make it about a thousand times bigger, with nets and ropes and slides and ball pools and ladders and tunnels and hidden rooms and everything... then add gunge, slime, paint, feathers, confetti, glitter... a few magical creatures... puzzles to solve... codes to crack... and a whole lot of magic."
Everybody watched the sparks flare in his eyes, and a universal flush of excitement went through every heart.
"I want that one," said Ron.
Ginny and Harry nodded frantically.
Hermione mumbled something about whether they had a library or non-gunge room.
"I don't know, you're all going to have to decide," said George. "Unanimous vote... if Hermione doesn't want the Ultimate Room..."
Harry, Ron and Ginny all leapt on Hermione, pleading with her and talking so fast and so loud that she couldn't hear them, eventually shouting, "Alright, alright, I'll go in the Ultimate Room if you're that bothered!"
They all cheered, George chuckled, as Fred came back with the ticket and stuck it to the windscreen of the car. "Well, the sooner we get there, the more time you'll have. Let's go."
Whistling, the twins led their four beta-testers out of the underground car park and up into the hustle, bustle and bright dry sunshine of London. Cars of every colour and make (save, perhaps, bright yellow that matched the drivers' suits) zoomed past on the street below like a great rainbow snake, and buildings rose to the sky in the distance. A sort of timeline was visible over the skyline of the city, with the modern, brand new silver skyscrapers with gleaming windows and working lifts, to the carved stone from the Victorian ages, a few Tudor-style decorations on the outside of houses to the west, and red-brick chic of the 1950s to the east.
"Which way to The Leaky Cauldron?" asked Fred.
"It's just down this street, then through an alley over there, past the chocolate shop and the library, then there it is. You can sort of see the roof," said George, "if you lean over like this."
Hermione grabbed the back of his jacket to stop him plummeting fifty feet over the side of the building they were on, but George just laughed, swatting her off. "I'm joking. Come on you lot, hold onto the railing, down fall and kill yourselves, Mum'll never forgive us." He set off down the steep track, descending right into muggle London. They all followed, Fred first, followed by George, Ginny, Ron, Harry and then Hermione at the back, muttering to herself.
"What's wrong?" asked Harry, holding back to talk to her.
"I'm not sure I approve of all this," she said. "It all sounds very risky to me."
"It'll be fine," said Harry. "Don't worry. Fred and George wouldn't do anything that dangerous... I mean, I know they're a little wild sometimes, but they wouldn't hurt us."
"Hmm," she said, unconvinced.
Harry's feet met the stone slabs of the path, and he turned to offer Hermione a hand down, but she was already down beside him and tying her hair back into a neat half ponytail on the top of her head.
"Have we got everyone?" said Fred, doing a quick check. "Right, let's go! Stay close together, we don't want you wandering off into muggle London. And watch the cars, muggles are terrible drivers!"
Harry thought this was a little rich coming from somebody who had parked his car lengthways across three spaces, but said nothing, following after Fred and George as they made their way over the zebra crossing. Ginny and Hermione started to talk about OWLs, and Harry wasn't surprised to hear Hermione had got all the top marks she had expected.
"What did you get, Harry?"
"Pretty good," he said. "Can't remember exactly. I got enough to be an auror though."
"You mean you passed potions?" said Ron. Harry nodded. "Whoa, that's great! You see? It was all Snape's fault that you got bottom marks in class."
"I suppose," said Harry. "What did you get?"
"I did alright, I guess," said Ron. "Not as good as Bill or Percy, but not bad really."
"Yeah, and we're glad you didn't get as much as Percy," said Fred, butting into the conversation with a reprimanding tone that Harry had rarely heard from him before. "He isn't a part of this family anymore, remember?"
"So... the fight's still going on...?" asked Harry, tentatively.
Ron nodded, and when Fred was caught up checking a map again, he said in an undertone to Harry, "Even though the ministry have... well, accepted the whole Voldemort thing, Percy still thinks Dad should have been with the ministry all along. They had an argument through the floo network a few days ago, and they've only been talking through howlers ever since. We get woken up every moment by Percy bellowing at Dad about loyalty to the authorities. As if he's got any right to talk about loyalty."
"I just wish they'd stop fighting," said Ginny, with a slight sigh. "As Dumbledore said, we should stick together as families at a time like this. I've heard that he's planning to call off the House Cup this year, to stop rivalry between houses, and there'll be more lessons together."
"I hope we're with Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff," said Hermione, brightly. "It's really nice getting to know some of them."
"As long as we're not with Slytherin," Ron muttered. "I'm so sick of all of them now. Especially Malfoy. You know, some people are a bit evil sometimes, but nice the rest of the time, and you forgive them, but he's just... evil. There's no other word for him. You know what, Harry? He's been on the side of everybody against you. You Know Who, Umbridge... if they don't like you, he's their best friend."
"He's just jealous, Ron," said Hermione. "Harry's popular, famous, a hero... he's the opposite of all of that."
"Malfoy just wishes he was half of what you are," said Ron spitefully.
"Have you heard about all of that Malfoy stuff?" asked Hermione, but before Harry had an opportunity to find out about "the Malfoy stuff", Fred and George led them inside the Leaky Cauldron pub.
"Anybody want drinks before we get to the House of Fun?" said George. "No food or drink allowed in there except what you find, remember."
"No, come on, we want to see what it's like!" said Ron. "We'll get something to eat later, come on!"
"Alright, alright, keep your hair on," said Fred. "Follow us then, and stay close together, Diagon Alley's always packed on a Saturday." He drew his wand, conjured identical yellow leather fedoras, handed one to George and jammed the other on his head where it clashed horribly with his hair. "Just passing through, Tom," he added to the innkeeper.
Tom smiled toothily at them, beckoning them outside to the yard. Fred opened up the gateway to Diagon Alley, lead them through and Harry instantly had a rush of being home at last. The winding cobbled street was full of the sound of people talking, gold clanking, somewhere there was a pipe playing a gentle tune to the morning sun and the smell of cooking and magical smoke filled the air. Every shop sold ancient magical objects, or potions ingredients, spell books, cauldrons, wands, robes, magical creatures, all sorts of fascinating things that sent shivers of excitement up any wizard's spine.
"Which way is your shop?" asked Harry, looking expectantly up the air for a floating building.
Fred chuckled. "It's made invisible, Harry. Muggle-repelling charms too. We forgot those at first, then a muggle helicopter sort of... found the House. What a mess that was."
"Took us months to repair the damage," George nodded.
They strolled down the packed wizard street, passed the shops and the shoppers and shopkeepers, under archways and down steps and down alleyways and up steps, until finally, the brightest building in the entire street caught Harry's eye around the corner. It was painted fluorescent orange, with bright pink and green spots, with the familiar logo WEASLEY'S WIZARD WHEEZES emblazoned above the main window.
"Nice colour scheme," said Harry, grinning, as Fred took a large iron key from his pocket and fitted it in the lock.
"Nice sarcasm," Fred replied with an equally wicked grin. He opened the door, and the most curious smell came floating out like water from an open container. It was like smoke and fruit and sugar and sunshine, all at once. It was the scent of pure mischief.
"Mind that," said George, absent-mindedly, gesturing to a machine lying under a nearby shelf that was belching great green bubbles into the air. Hermione stepped to the side to avoid a particularly large and sticky-looking bubble, but to her surprise, it floated after her.
"Welcome to Weasley's Wizard Wheezes," said Fred, holding out his arms, grinning at them all. "The modern headquarters of magical mischief."
"Where's the funhouse?" said Ron, eagerly.
Fred and George swapped grins, then ducked down behind the counter, unfolding several panels. Everybody crowded around to watch, except Hermione, who was still being pursued by the obsessed green bubble.
Harry watched over the twins' shoulders as they opened up the last panel, and a large, red button was revealed.
"Hold onto your hats," said Fred, winking at him, slapping the button.
Harry's only possible likening of that experience was of to being inside a blender with no blades, but full of paint that didn't stain and water that could be breathed. He felt himself being tossed around and whisked back and forth, shooting up and up into the air, flapping frantically to keep himself afloat, and then quite suddenly, he hit something hard above him and fell with a thud to the floor. He was entangled with Ron in a crumpled heap, in a room that had no walls or ceiling or floor, just bright blue everywhere, stretching away for miles on end.
"Where are we?" said Ron, groaning, sitting up and rubbing his head.
"The House of Fun?" suggested Harry. "Where are Hermione and Ginny? And Fred and George?"
"You don't think something's gone wrong, do you?" said Ron in a worried voice.
"SELECT WORLD," said a loud voice from nowhere.
Ron and Harry jumped, looking around wildly for the source of the voice.
"Hello?" said Harry, nervously.
"JELLO," said the voice. "LOADING JELLO."
"Uh-oh," said Ron.
There was a loud splat suddenly on their heads, and Harry yelled with surprise as he was hit full on in the face by a bowl of cold, slimy, strawberry jelly.
"Eurgh!" said Ron, wiping the green variety from his eyes. "Get off us!"
"TOFFEES," said the voice. "LOADING TOFFEES."
"Duck!" yelled Harry, as he saw several brightly coloured papers zooming from far away. The two boys hit the floor as Ton Tongue Toffees rained down on their heads, getting stuck in the cold jelly, pattering a tattoo on the back of Harry's head.
"It's not funny!" Ron shouted.
"MONEY," said the voice. "LOADING MONEY."
"Wahey!" said Ron. "Money, money, money!"
"TOUGH LUCK," said the voice. "NO MONEY FOR PESKY LITTLE PREFECT BROTHERS."
"Huh?" said Ron. "Wait - Fred? George?"
There was wild laughing and cackling from nowhere, the sound of somebody thumping a desk from merth. Ron sighed exasperatedly. "That wasn't funny," he said, sounding remarkably like Hermione. "Come on, why are we here?"
"We've put you in the Ultimate Room," said one of the twins. "Basically, boys versus girls. Somewhere in the area is the esteemed Weasley's Wizard Wheezes Whistle. You find that, and blow it, and you win. The winning team get prizes. The losing team get SURprizes."
"Nice surprises?" asked Ron, hopefully.
"I don't know, it depends what you think is nice. Anyway, stop interrupting me." Fred, or it might have been George, cleared his throat. "Now, the doorway will open in about thirty seconds. After that you're free to do what you like. Your wands have been confiscated though, so you're running on raw magic."
"Oh no, Fred, I'm rubbish at raw magic!" Ron complained loudly.
"Then do it the muggle way," said Fred. He chuckled. "You've got two hours to find the whistle. After that, you're coming out, and if neither team has found the whistle you're in for the gunging of a lifetime. Are we clear?"
"What sort of things are in there?" asked Harry.
"Well, your usual funhouse stuff, gunge, slides, bla bla bla. BUT! The Ultimate Room plays on your own memories. Don't worry, only nice ones. So, it's basically places you've been, avec un twist," Fred chirped, with a very bad French accent, "and some people from your memories will pop up as well. Only nice people or people that we can make fun of. And you can do what you like with that, they'll only fight back if you want them to."
"You've not got Voldemort in there, have you?" said Harry.
"Harry, nobody else knows what he looks like apart from you, how are we supposed to know which of your memories is Voldemort? But don't worry, any nasty memories are cut out, so there's no Death Eaters or Voldemort or whatever. This is your enjoy time. Have as much fun as you can while you're safe, okay?"
"Okay!" said Harry and Ron, beaming.
A square of light a few metres away shone into view, starting to expand into a magical doorway.
"Go get 'em, tigers," Fred chuckled, and with grins to each other, Harry and Ron sprinting for the door, leaping straight through, sucked into the Ultimate Room and towards the call of adventure.
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