"Wow, Harry, that's...amazing!" burst Hermione. "And you didn't even have your wand or anything?"
Harry had wriggled into an unlikely position on his bed, hanging his head over the side with both legs propped up against the wall. He'd called Hermione right after breakfast, too excited by this latest development to wait for her to ring him.
"Well, if I'd used magic," said Harry, "I'd have an owl from the Ministry by now, wouldn't I?"
Hermione laughed. "I'm not so sure, things are a little different around there now...but I suppose you're right, they wouldn't just overlook underage magic use. Although I don't think they'll be threatening to snap your wand over it anytime soon."
Harry laughed as well, though with a bitter edge. "Right. They'll wait until after I do them the Big Favor, and then they'll snap it."
They both gasped at Harry's words. Neither of them had ever considered how the Wizarding community would react, should Harry defeat Voldemort; Harry's cynical comment made them both snap to the realization that many would consider him the most powerful wizard alive, and would fear him for it. Hermione broke the silence with a quavering voice, "Harry..."
"Yeah, I know. I guess we've been so busy trying to get to that point, we've never actually thought about what would happen afterward."
Harry heaved a sigh and closed his eyes. The last thing he wanted to worry about right now was the schemes and spins of the Wizard media. But for years Harry had been sick and tired of whispers and stares, of conversations abruptly halting upon his appearance. He would defeat Voldemort or die in the attempt; if he lived, he'd much rather be lauded as a hero than be despised as the next He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. But it wasn't like it was even up to him--if those hypocrites at the Prophet
decided to run another smear campaign, what could he do about it? He'd already seen the kind of power they weilded, to twist, distort, lie--to turn people against him. The whole concept was making his stomach turn over.
Hermione must have sensed it, because she finally recovered her usual businesslike tone of voice. "Well, I think we should add that to the agenda too, now that it's come up. I think I would go right crazy if you somehow got turned into the bad guy for this
, but we've certainly seen that the Ministry and the Prophet
can't be trusted to keep their own bias out of the matter. My goodness, Harry, I'm really glad you said that. We definitely need to start considering this now, while the political climate is in your favor."
"Right," he said. "Whatever. Look, can we talk about something else?"
"Of course. Let's get back to that Legilimency, that's a very important breakthrough. Tell me just how it happened."
Harry recounted how he had simply been talking to his aunt when the wave of her innermost thoughts crashed over him.
"Well, now I wish I were back at Hogwarts, I've never studied this sort of thing. You know what, though, Harry, it reminds me of Trelawney. Didn't you say that the one time she actually made a REAL prediction, she wasn't even trying?"
Harry nodded. "Yeah, that's right. It was
kind of like that, except when Trelawney did her thing, it was like she went into a trance or something. She didn't even remember saying it afterward." He paused thoughtfully. "I suppose I
could have gone into a trance. I mean, I wouldn't exactly know if I had, eh? But I'm pretty sure I didn't. I remember hearing my aunt's words, at the same time I just sort of knew
what her real meaning was."
"I bet it's very similar to real Divination, Harry--that you have to be open or relaxed to be receptive to it, something like that. Trying to force it just confounds the whole process. Which explains why Trelawney is such a fraud 99% of the time," she noted huffily. "You've been taking it easy for a bit, maybe that opened up your mind to Legilimency."
"But I've done it before, back in...HIS office," said Harry through clenched teeth. He finally understood why people couldn't bear to say Voldemort's name; he would never utter the word "Snape" again, though not out of fear.
"Right. But Sn--...HE was teaching you how--" she raised her voice over Harry's sputters of protest--"ok, he was provoking you into doing it, fine. The point
is that he was doing something to make it happen, and you were finding your feet. Well, maybe now you're seeing the results, that you can really do it yourself without having someone...pushing you into it."
"Hmph." Harry didn't want to consider any suggestion that Snape had ever helped him in any way.
"Fine," Hermione said exasperatedly. "Regardless of how you got there: it's very interesting that you can do it, but it bothers me that it just happened.
You're going to need to learn to control it, Harry. Most people wouldn't appreciate knowing you have access to their inner thoughts--not to mention that you don't need people's thoughts spilling all over you at random. That's kind of creepy."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, that crossed my mind. I hate to think of Dudley suddenly dumping his little secrets on me, it'd be like being buried alive in maggots or something."
Harry and Hermione chatted a bit longer before hanging up. Despite waking up in an energetic mood, Harry dozed off and ended up napping away the rest of the morning. He awoke to a sharp rapping; he supposed, in his sleepy haze, that Tonks had sent another plate up to his door. The sound, however, was coming from the wrong end of the room. An owl was perched on the window ledge, holding a black roll of parchment in his beak. Harry frowned; the only colorful mail he'd ever seen were red Howlers, and he wasn't sure he wanted to find out what black signified. But unlike the typical owl bearing a Howler, this one didn't seem particularly anxious to get rid of the letter; on the contrary, Harry noticed that it had puffed up its chest feathers and stretched its neck, giving it an exceptionally poised and dignified air.
Harry opened the window and took the scroll from the owl, which hopped back a step, bobbed its head in a charming little bow, and took flight. Harry broke the bead of red sealing wax and unrolled it. The inside of the parchment was perfectly white, and the sunlight shone through it as if it were tissue. Harry turned it over to see if the other side was still black (it was), held it up to the window again to admire the effect, then finally took a look at what it said:
invite their dear friend, Harry Potter
to seal their marriage
taking place on August the Fifth at One o'Clock
in the Wizard village square
in Dijon, France.
repondez s'il vous plait
Harry smiled. Things were starting to fall into place. His birthday was in a few weeks, after which he would be free forever from number four, Privet Drive. After moving out, he would attend his first Wizard wedding, on his first trip out of the UK. Once the wedding was over, nothing would stop him from finding Voldemort (and Snape) and putting an end to them both.
Harry rolled the parchment back up. He had never been to a wedding, Muggle or Wizard, but he knew that people generally dressed up for such occasions. For lack of anything more important to do, he rummaged through his trunk for his dress robes. They had already become absurdly short on him. Fred and George know something about buying dress robes,
he thought; Ron had never complained about the robes they'd given him, though Harry had never seen Ron wear them either.
Harry's heart sank with another realization: people were expected to bring gifts to weddings. Aunt Petunia always made a huge deal out of wedding gifts, making sure that whatever she purchased was priced not a penny more or less than the cumulative worth of all the gifts she, Uncle Vernon, and Dudley had received from the bride and/or groom and/or their parents. She had always brought Harry along on these shopping trips, since Vernon would do nothing but complain about the expenditure and Dudley could not be relied upon to carry the bags carefully. Harry spent many an hour slouching against glass display cases while his aunt compared items, re-figured the allowed price in her head (adjusting for gifts she'd forgotten the first time through, unforgiven oversights, the number of the betrotheds' siblings also likely to get married, etc.), and eventually selected whatever kitchen appliance had been marked down the most on that particular day (later spending hours peeling every scrap of the "Final Clearance" labels off the package). In short, Harry knew exactly how NOT to buy a wedding present, but that was hardly helpful. Harry decided he would get some help with this, and put the matter out of his mind.
The next few weeks drifted by comfortably; long lazy naps, punctuated by calls from Hermione (and an occasional owl from Ron), late nights spread out prone on his bed, discovering fascinating details in his Practical Defensive Magic
texts (a Christmas gift from Sirius and Lupin). Harry purposely avoided the Dursleys, lest he find himself the unwanting recipient of too much information; this of course was just fine with them. He sent Hedwig off with what he hoped was a gracious acceptance of the wedding invitation, then wrote to Fred and George at their shop, asking what sort of thing wizards were expected to wear to a wedding, and where he could buy them. Hedwig returned the next day bearing their promise to make him the sharpest-dressed fellow at the party (except for themselves, of course). Mrs. Figg even dropped by once on the pretense of having a neighborly tea with his aunt, slipping Harry a very nice bag of sugar quills and chocolate frogs. She had no news for him; she was a member of the Order, but being a Squib, she was by necessity stuck in the "less you know, the better" crowd.
Harry's anxiety began to build as his birthday approached. Safety notwithstanding, he still looked forward to leaving Privet Drive. In the third week of July, he received an owl from Lupin, saying that "the inheritance" was "shaping up neatly" and "friends would be arriving soon." He had so many questions for Lupin, but he sent the owl back with only a scrap of a note saying he'd be ready.
The next morning, Harry awoke to the sounds of suitcases being lugged downstairs and packed onto the car. For a moment he thought that the Dursleys had taken it upon themselves to help him move out, but that was silly--his posessions wouldn't require more than one trip down the stairs. He found his uncle in the kitchen, scratching away at a note meant for him. Uncle Vernon merely glared when he saw Harry and resumed writing. Harry was quite curious now, enough to step outside the house for the first time in weeks and ask Aunt Petunia what was going on.
"It's none of your business, but we're taking a holiday at Marge's estate."
"And you're actually leaving me here alone?"
Aunt Petunia screwed up her face in distaste. "Your uncle and I see no reason to deny ourselves the pleasure of a vacation away from home just because you're here. And you'll be leaving in a few days anyway, isn't that so?"
Harry nodded. "I'm just surprised you didn't wait until I was gone. Not afraid I'll steal everything that's not nailed down and fence it all at St. Brutus's Home for Incurable Delinquents?"
Uncle Vernon had emerged from the house and stomped over to Harry. He was already turning purple around the edges. "Don't think we haven't taken measures, boy. For all your faults, though, we agreed that you've never shown any tendency to steal--other than the room and board you've sponged from us all these years, of course. These next two weeks were the only ones Marge won't be running off to dog shows, so we're taking advantage of the opportunity."
Harry very nearly commented that, if that were really the case, these two weeks were the worst possible time to visit. Such a jab was so easy, though, that there was no satisfaction to it--and besides, it would only prolong the Dursleys' departure if Uncle Vernon were goaded into a tantrum. Harry merely raised his head high and stared past his uncle at the hydrangeas, while Vernon went into a threatening monologue about what Harry could expect if anything went missing, or if reports came back about freaks and weirdos coming to visit him during their absence.
When Uncle Vernon appeared to be finished, Harry nodded coldly and turned to Aunt Petunia. She was vigorously fanning hot air out of the car before climbing in. There was a sudden tightness in his throat as they regarded one another for what he knew would be the last time. The golden morning sunlight, which normally imparted a warm, healthy glow to whatever it touched, did nothing to soften Petunia's scrawny, pale features. Yet this was his mother's sister. She knew Harry's mother longer and better than anyone alive; the tiny fraction of her memory that he had glimpsed had told him more of real value
about his mother than everything he'd previously discovered. Harry knew she could tell him much more; it was all there, locked tightly behind that bland facade. He could sense the white-hot light of truth burning there in her mind, knew that he could open it again...
Then Aunt Petunia turned to Dudley, who was complaining about the delay. The connection broke and Harry understood with absolute clarity that this bitter shell of a woman would burn into madness if he were to release that fire within.
Harry spent his last few days at Privet Drive in an eerie state of disbelief. He'd never had full run of the house before and it was actually rather disconcerting. As a child, he would have loved an opportunity to check out Dudley's room, with its myriad gadgets, games, and entertainments, but now the very idea that anything his cousin owned could possibly interest him was ludicrous. He did look over Uncle Vernon's stationary bicycle--never used--and found to his dismay that he could only ride a short time before becoming winded. Harry had never relied much on his physical strength or stamina; magic was a matter of the mind and heart, and even Quidditch required more technique than strength (at least for the Seeker). But he had no wish to become "soft," and spent quite a bit of his last week pedaling the bike while watching all-news networks on the television.
Aunt Petunia had left the pantry stocked with precisely enough food to fix himself three meals a day up through July 30. Not being much of a cook, he settled mainly for sandwiches, although after riding the bike for two days, he toyed with the notion of summoning Kreacher to cook something more substantial. But this would not only require him to endure Kreacher's presence, it would surely bring on lectures from Hermione. Harry managed to prepare a big batch of spaghetti all by himself.
On July 30th, Harry packed up his trunk, brought it and Hedwig's cage downstairs, and spent most of the day pedaling faster than ever on the bicycle. It helped ease the knot in his stomach. This was his last day as an underage wizard. As of midnight, he could legally perform magic any time (within the laws regarding Muggle secrecy, of course). He could Apparate if he wished. He could hop on his broom any time he felt like flying! The minutes turned to hours as he pedaled hard, going nowhere.
Mrs. Figg knocked on the screen door that evening, carrying a small white cake, with a Gryffindor lion that resembled something by Picasso drawn in icing on the top. "Happy Birthday, Harry!" she squealed as she entered.
Harry smiled wryly. "That's tomorrow, Mrs. Figg."
"Oh, I know, me luv, believe me, but something tells me I won't see you to say it tomorrow," she said with a wink. "Seventeen! Just imagine! I reckon you'll be off on your broom at the stroke of midnight, they all seem to do that."
Harry's smile widened. "Why, what a great idea you've given me, Mrs. Figg!" She responded with a mock glare and waggled a finger at him.
She bustled down the hall to the kitchen and set the cake in the middle of the kitchen table, chattering all the way about nothing in particular. Once settled at the table with tea, she regarded Harry fondly. "Just look at you. To think you were once knee-high to a cricket. Oh, Harry. Now you're a fine young man." Her eyes sparkled warmly as Harry held her gaze and fumbled for something to say.
Without warning, it happened again. One minute, he was simply sitting with Mrs Figg; the next, he was buried under an avalanche of Mrs. Figg. Fortunately she was busy reminiscing about Baby Harry, so the thoughts flooding him were not nearly as personal as those from Aunt Petunia. He watched himself suffering abuses at Dudley's hands through her eyes, some of which he had completely forgotten, others that he could still recall from his own perspective. The latter kept combining themselves in a rather uncomfortable way, giving him a sensation of vertigo. He felt her outrage at the way the Dursleys treated him. He wrote letters with her hand to Albus Dumbledore, begging him to find a better home for that poor child; he read the responses, always asking her to trust him, even though it was painful.
When the tide ebbed and Harry's eyes would focus again, he saw that Mrs. Figg was staring at him with a horrified expression.
"What did you just...do to me?" she said weakly.
"Mrs. Figg, I'm so
sorry! It's just started happening
lately, I don't even know what it is! No, that's not true, it's Legilimency, but I don't know why it's happening, I'm not trying to do it, I swear!" Harry's voice was panicky, pleading; he was stunned that she had been aware of what happened. He felt deeply ashamed for violating her privacy, even though he hadn't done it on purpose.
She choked back a sob but gestured to Harry to stay in his seat. After a moment, she composed herself and said, shakily, "I've heard of Legilimency, Harry, but I've never seen it before...Merlin's ghost, child, that's just been 'happening' and no one's had anything to say about it?"
Harry slumped in his chair. "It just happened once, with Aunt Petunia," he groaned. "She didn't seem to know anything was going on."
"Your aunt...I see," said Mrs. Figg. "Well, maybe Muggles can't feel it, or something like that."
"That's what I figured. But I guess it's different for Squibs."
"Must be, dear," she said, her voice nearly back to normal. "I know wizards are aware of it; maybe I've got a little bit of magic in me yet."
Harry recalled the helplessness and rage he felt in Snape's office, as that hated man had explored freely in his mind while Harry had no idea how to stop him. "It's been done to me. I know how it feels and I didn't like it. Please, please believe me, that I didn't do it on purpose."
She managed a wan smile. "I do believe you, Harry. I've seen you wallop that brat Dudley every now and then over the years, and I know
you didn't mean to use magic--you didn't even know you had it in you!"
Harry remembered setting that snake free at the zoo, before he'd ever heard of Hogwarts; he hadn't known how he'd done it. He regarded Mrs. Figg carefully. She looked a bit shaken, but not angry; she really had forgiven him.
"I walloped Dudley? Really??" he asked as playfully as he could manage. Mrs. Figg laughed and reached across the table to pat his hand. "Oh, you certainly did, child, why there was one time..."
The two of them chatted at the table until well into evening. As the dinner hour neared, Mrs. Figg offered to make supper, and Harry gladly accepted. She produced an unexpectedly tasty chicken in sauce from the few remaining ingredients in his aunt's fridge (though she had to raid the freezer too). As they cleared the table, she asked Harry whether the clocks had the correct time.
"They should. Why?"
"Well, goodness. I wasn't supposed to tell you, but now I'm getting worried. There were...plans tonight, Harry...a little birthday gathering. They said they'd bring dinner. I was only supposed to make the cake. I rather thought they'd be here by now...long before now, to be honest."
Harry felt his throat tighten. Lupin had said that people would be coming for him, too. "I'm going to check something," he said, and began rummaging through his trunk for his cell phone.
Hermione answered his call right away. "All's quiet as far as I know," she said. "I heard there was
supposed to be a small group coming to escort you. Hang on, I'll check on things right now."
Harry heard a clunk as she set the phone down. Hermione spoke in the distance, barely audible, followed by a woman's voice, then quick footfalls on a wooden floor. Some crunching sounds, a moment of quiet, then Hermione abruptly picked up the phone and spoke.
"Okay, Harry, I had my parents' fireplace hooked into the Floo Network. Technically speaking, I'm not supposed to use it for outgoing calls, but I think this constitutes an emergency!" she said. Harry heard a whooshing noise; she must have added the Floo Powder to the flames. "Number 12, Grimmauld Place," she whispered. Harry could hear the crackle of kindling; she must have brought the phone right into the fireplace with her. They waited a moment, and presently Harry heard Tonks answering.
"Herms! What're you doing in the fire? This isn't the best time."
"Harry just told me no one's arrived there yet."
Tonks' voice was dubious. "He did? Well, yes, that's right, we're having a bit of trouble. Three people tried to Apparate into his backyard and they all Splinched. We flagged down the Knight Bus, but it wouldn't go within a mile of his house, it just stopped running. Moody was on it. He said there's wild magic in the air (no one's sure exactly what the heck he meant by that), but he didn't think there was a problem. Said it was something to do with the protective spell coming to an end; it was a pretty big piece of work and it's collapsing all on its own, so it's wreaking some havoc. He reckons we can Apparate once it's gone at midnight. A couple of people are just now suiting up in Muggle clothes--we'll get as close as we can by magic, and just walk the rest of the way. Including me, which is why I have to go. So don't worry, Herm, we're on the job, OK?"
"Ok, thanks, see ya soon," said Hermione, and the sounds of the fire stopped abruptly. "Did you hear that, Harry?"
"Yeah," he said. "Weird. I'll be glad when this is over."
"We all will, but it--" A burst of static cut off Hermione's voice. Harry strained to make out a few fragments of words, then the phone quit entirely. He felt a brief surge of panic, but reassured himself that "wild magic" would probably interfere with cell phones as well as the Knight Bus. Just to test this theory, he turned on the TV and was relieved to see that it had no reception whatsoever.
Within a half hour, Tonks arrived with Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Harry was a little relieved that they'd been delayed till after dark. Tonks, bouncing up the walk with her magenta hair, and an enormous black man wearing a pirate earring, pretty much spanned the Dursleys' definition of "freaks and weirdos." They had just settled into the living room, when all the lights in the house went out.
Harry heard two sets of feet hit the floor and immediately felt both Aurors at his sides. Shacklebolt's hand was on his shoulder, pushing him down low in his chair. All three jumped at a clicking sound from across the room. A flame illuminated Mrs. Figg's face; she was calmly holding a Zippo lighter and peering out the window.
"Oh, dear, the whole block is out..." she said, turning back from the window, but she fell silent with a shocked expression at the sight of three very serious faces and three wands aimed at her. "Good heavens, don't point those at me!"
"Douse that flame!" ordered Tonks, and Mrs. Figg obliged right away. They all scanned the room, the house, the yard, straining to hear any sound of intruders. Nothing. Candles began to appear in the windows of other houses, and after a few minutes, Harry began to feel a bit silly.
"Um, I think it's just a power failure."
"Shhh!" hissed one of the Aurors; Harry could not tell which. A few more minutes dragged by in silence. The lights flickered on once, but dimmed and went out again.
It dawned on Harry that the words "power failure" had no meaning in the Wizarding world, so he tried again. "Look, Muggles use this stuff called electricity to make light. Sometimes it stops working. Other Muggle things stopped working earlier. I really think this is just more wild magic."
Now that their eyes had adjusted to the darkness, he could see the Aurors glance at one another, and at him. Shacklebolt relaxed somewhat and released Harry's shoulder, but Tonks suddenly stepped away from him and pointed her wand in his face.
"Who said anything about wild magic, Harry?"
Harry gaped in shock, but put the pieces together quickly. "Calm down! It's me! Hermione and I were on the phone when she talked to you. Just before you came here."
"The foam..." Tonks said.
"Phone," piped up Mrs. Figg. "It's sort of like Floo powder for Muggles."
Tonks stood her ground for a few more seconds, then dropped her wand. "Harry...you have got
to knock it off with the surprises. Everyone's on edge; it's wands first, ask questions later." She paused a moment. "Sorry I almost broke you in two."
Harry gulped. "No problem." He wasn't sure if she was joking or not, but he had no doubt she could do it.
The four of them sat on the floor of the darkened house (Shacklebolt wanted them out of line of sight from the window) and munched on the cake Mrs. Figg had made. Harry wanted to talk, to ask questions, but as the Aurors were distracted by every little sound, he soon gave up. Besides, it was almost midnight, and he was getting a bit anxious himself at what might happen.
"I'm going to take your belongings outside, Harry," said Shacklebolt. "I'm getting a feeling...we may need to get out in a hurry." Harry started to stand, but Shacklebolt waved him down. "You stay put, I'll get them." As he hauled the trunk and Hedwig's cage through the door, Tonks made a face at his back and smirked at Harry. "Fancies he's a Seer now, eh?"
Harry grinned, but he was getting downright nervous himself. He was noticing an awful lot of little sounds himself, surely more than the usual number. He glanced at his watch, discovering for the millionth time that he no longer wore it because it had broken years ago. It occurred to him that with the power out, he had no way to know when midnight arrived.
"Tonks, this is silly. What difference is five minutes going to make? Let's just go."
"Five minutes is the difference between underage
sorcery and adult. You still have enemies in the Ministry, Harry. Petty-minded people like Umbridge who can hold grudges like you wouldn't believe. They'd never confront you now, especially if it happened when we were under attack, but they'd file it away for later. Why hand them free ammunition? Though I do wish we'd just smuggled you out hours ago, the waiting is enough to--"
They both jolted as a very low, creaking groan filled the air, seemingly coming from every part of the house at once. Nothing moved, nothing looked different, but there was no mistaking the sound of stress deep within the wood and nails. Tonks and Harry glanced at each other and each knew exactly what the other was thinking. They bolted to the front door, yanking Mrs. Figg along in mid-stride.
Shacklebolt was already leaping onto the porch; he had to veer awkwardly against the wall to keep from plowing into them. It was bright outside, as if the streetlamps were still working, but Harry immediately saw that the light was confined only to his yard. In fact, it was getting brighter as he sprinted down the sidewalk. He realized that the edge of the light was coming toward him like a glowing wall. He didn't know if it was dangerous or not, but it was too late to worry about it; the four of them flew into it at top speed. Harry felt his hair blow back as though he'd walked in front of a fan, but nothing worse.
As soon as he hit the pavement, Harry whirled around to see what was happening. The wall of light was actually a dome, arching over the house. Swirls and streaks of red and orange roiled and churned in a single layer, resembling some sort of laser show. It was shrinking; Harry could see the edge creeping across the lawn, the blades of grass rippling inward as it passed. Harry heard Shacklebolt mutter an incantation behind him, followed by a small pop; clear of the "wild magic," he'd been able to cast a spell to transport Harry's trunk.
The dome slipped smoothly through the walls of the house, blazing out through the windows. The light grew brighter as the surface became more concentrated. The lower edge of the dome began to curve inward; by the time it had crossed the living room, it had become an extremely bright sphere. The sphere collapsed faster and faster into its center, which lay inside Harry's little cupboard under the stairs. It slipped out of view behind the cupboard door, though a few rays of light beamed from around the door frame and the joints of the steps.
Then it was gone. For an instant, there was not a sound to be heard, not even a cricket.
It started in the cupboard. Light began to shine from within again, not the warm red of the sphere, but a poisonous green. The entire staircase burst into flames. A second green light streamed from Harry's bedroom window, followed quickly by flames. Harry would have kept watching from the curb, but suddenly found himself being hurtled across the street. Shacklebolt had scooped Harry and Mrs. Figg into his massive arms and was charging away from Number Four at top speed, Tonks right on his heels. They dove behind a neighbor's car. As soon as Shacklebolt loosened his grip, Harry popped his head up to watch through the windows.
The house was now ablaze with green lights. The window of his bedroom exploded inward, followed quickly by the rest of the exterior wall. The debris mainly flew onto his bed; jagged boards and shards of glass jabbed into the mattress. Glowing snakes slithered through the lawn, setting the grass afire in their wake, and disappeared into the foundations. What looked like a flock of luminous swifts dived down the chimney and blasted it apart, the bricks flying into the house at terrible speeds and smashing through walls, floors, and ceilings. The stairs collapsed and Harry could see that more green and yellow-green lights were bursting open where his cupboard used to be. Some were accelerating the flames that were already roaring, while others seemed to sputter out, as though the spell were so old or feebly cast that it had become a dud.
Harry felt Hedwig land on his shoulder very delicately, but the spectacle was too fascinating to tear his eyes away. The neighbors began to pour into the street to watch the show. Apparently none had the presence of mind to call the fire department, not that it would have mattered. Harry's stomach clenched as he realized that if it weren't for Aunt Marge's estate, there would be nothing left of the Dursleys either. Hoo, boy,
he thought. They're going to hit the roof...if they still had one.
He watched, mesmerized, until nothing remained of Number Four but a pile of rubble, and the last of the green lights flickered and died, finding nothing left to ignite. But when Harry finally turned away, he met an even more startling scene: his three companions were staring at him
, with incredulous expressions that seemed more apropos of the destruction across the street than himself. His brows flew up, then furrowed. "What?" he said, throwing his hands wide.
None of them spoke, but Shacklebolt slowly pointed at the bird on Harry's shoulder. Hedwig must be nibbling on something particularly vile to provoke this sort of reaction! Harry stretched his neck away from his shoulder even as he turned to look.
The bird resting on his shoulder was not Hedwig. It was not, technically speaking, even a bird.
Harry was looking into the flaming eyes of a phoenix.