Chapter 2 : Number 3
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I jumped and my quill ripped the parchment, smearing ink over what would have been my last essay of the summer. Just finished.
Otus gave a low hoot from his perch atop his cage. He sounded as concerned as my stomach felt, having dropped from it's normal resting place. I abandoned the homework and grabbed my wand off the desk. Creeping up the stairs, I tried to remember every spell I'd learned in Dumbledore's Army last year.
Wand at the ready, I eased open the door at the top which led directly into the spotless kitchen filled with the smell of Mum's baking. She was out getting the last few ingredients. I really wished she were here. The warmth of the kitchen was a stark contrast to the thick fog that pressed against the windows outside. Just the sight was enough to push my unease up a notch.
My heart fluttered like bird wings and I am not too proud to say the sound made me jump. I spun toward the kitchen door and crept forward, grunts and scraping sounds filtering through from the hallway on the other side. With a sudden burst of courage, I barreled through.
"Freeze!" I cried. The door crashed open as I jumped into the hall, wand brandished in front of me with what I hoped was a menacing scowl on my face. The invader and I stared at each other in a moment of silence. "What are you doing?"
My brother Jacob stood in the hallway looking a little sweaty and dressed for far warmer weather than we were likely to get this summer. There was a large, heavy looking trunk at his feet and a dark, angry looking scowl on his face. He was certainly our father's son with his curly black hair, square jaw, and grey-blue eyes.
"What's it look like?" he said, irritated and eyeing my wand. Jake was a Squib. There had been a rift between us ever since my sister and I got our Hogwarts letters four years ago. Any reminder of the fact was another reason for him to be moody.
"I, um... Heard a noise," I said uncertainly. I tightened my grip on my wand. "What is your favorite math equation?"
"Not this again," he grumbled, reaching down for the trunk.
"Freeze!" I said again. "Answer the question! How do I know you're not a Death Eater pretending to be my brother? You could have stuffed his body in that trunk and used Polyjuice Potion! That happened to a professor of mine once! So answer or I will incapacitate you!"
Of course my brother knew I wasn't allowed to use magic outside of school. A Death Eater would know, too. Though, if it was my only chance of defense, I think the Ministry would be lenient. I hoped. My only true interaction with a Ministry Official was Dolores Umbridge- not exactly a poster child for understanding.
He growled at first and then answered, "X equals negative B plus or minus the square root of B squared minus four AC divided by two A. Otherwise known as the Quadratic Equation. Happy?"
I was quiet for a long moment, trying to reach back for long lost information that would make that sentence make sense. It was not forthcoming.
"For the moment. I suppose no self-respecting Death Eater has any right to understand what you just said." I lowered my wand and waited. He proceeded to move the trunk. "Well?"
"Well... What...!" he grunted. It was obviously heavy, yet I knew he was not about to ask for my help.
"Aren't you going to ask me my question?" I demanded. Every member of our family had a security question. Just in case. It was a recommended precaution from the Ministry. "I could have been impersonated, too, you know! Could be dead in the basement for all you know!" Or cared, though I kept that quip to myself.
"Will you leave me alone if I play along? Because I'm pretty sure if you were a Death Eater, I'd be dead by now." I refused to reply, though he was correct. He rolled his eyes. "Why the hell did you join your bloody sports team?" He never stopped with his task, which was, I could now see, to put the big, heavy trunk into the hall closet.
The "sports team" in question was my house Quidditch team. I was a beater for Ravenclaw.
"To overcome my fear of heights," I replied. Silly, I know. I'm still not sure how I was able to get on the team. My entire first year with them, I couldn't even stand to be on my broom without ductape affixing me to it. But, as Roger Davies had told me when he picked me, I had "great aim and one hell of a swing." High praise from someone so full of himself.
"Brilliant. Are we done?" Jake left no room for answer. He stuffed the bulky trunk into the closet and, with a disdainful look at my shock-white hair, trotted back up the stairs.
The back door in the kitchen swung open and I spun around, wand up without thinking. Samantha Stone walked in, arms laden with bags that she dumped onto the table. Only thirty-four years old, Mum looked like she could be my older sister with her bright blue eyes, dark brown hair and youthful complexion. She looked every bit a mother, though, when she glanced up and her eyes zeroed in on the wand in my hand.
"Piper Amelia Stone! You know better than to have that out outside of school! I've a mind to write Professor Flitwick! Honestly!" She pursed her lips and began unloading the contents of the grocery sacks. "And put your hair back to rights- you never know who might see you!"
Both Mum and Dad were Muggleborns, having finished school at the end of the First Wizarding War. Apparently the war had affected them deeply because they had very nearly turned their backs on the Wizarding World after school, got married, and almost immediately had my brother. (Mum won't ever admit it, but I've done the math. She was pregnant with Jake before she graduated.) Neither had pursued any sort of magical career. We lived in the most ordinary Muggle town in all of England -Little Whinging. They even kept their wands out of sight, almost never using magic. I'm sure that we would have never known they were magical until acceptance letters arrived if I hadn't started growing bright purple hair. Having a Metamorphmagus for a daughter sort of pushed up their "big reveal" plans.
Though Jake would disagree, I was always certain that he was the favorite because he wasn't a wizard. Morgan and I were more of a burden, I think.
For all intents and purposes, though, they were Muggles. So it was always a little unnerving when Mum threatened to write to the school, knowing the Headmaster and teachers by name. It was even stranger when she threatened to hex us as a punishment. To date, she's never gone through with it, but the fact that she can is absolutely terrifying.
The hallway door swung shut behind me as I came back to the kitchen, my hair quickly darkening to it's natural brown. Sometimes being a Metamorphmagus sucked. I wore my emotions... everywhere. My hair, my eyes, and at times, or so I've been told, my face takes on a "demonic" look.
I stuffed the nine and a half inch willow into my pocket and tried to offer a sheepish smile. "Sorry, Mum. I heard a noise and... Well, with the way things have been lately, I got a little jumpy."
I was reasonably sure she couldn't help but forgive me. What, with the Brockdale Bridge snapped in half, the murders, the disappearances, the Dementors causing all the gloomy fog, and the reports on the tube about the freak hurricane in the West Country (Dad frequently muttered about giants whenever the news had updates on the story), I think being prepared even when underage was a completely forgivable offense.
Mum opened her mouth to reply, but was silenced by the timer on the stove. I took this moment to change the subject, just in case she wasn't in a lenient mood today.
"Are you sure we should be having this party anyway?" I asked. I moved to our little kitchen table and finished laying out the rest of the items she needed to finish off the cake, stuffing the empty sacks into a drawer. "I mean, with all the obvious... Death Eater activity lately."
As if to punctuate my point, an owl appeared at the window clutching a Daily Prophet in it's talons. It tapped on the glass impatiently until I opened it, repaying the service with a Knut and some bird seed we kept on the counter. Glancing at the front page, it was another article about safety, Harry Potter being 'The Chosen One,' and the new Minister, Rufus Scrimgeour. Luna Lovegood had sent me a copy of an unpublished Quibbler article on him. He was a vampire. The Ministry wouldn't let Xenophilius print the story. If that's not a cover up, I don't know what is.
Mum sighed. "Your father and I think it's a good idea to keep up appearances. To everyone else, we are a nice, normal Muggle family and we throw you and Morgan a birthday party every year for all your old primary school friends."
I made a face. I didn't have any primary school friends.
"Now, go get ready," she said. "The sun obviously isn't coming out today, so we're having the party at that little pizza place a few blocks up the road instead of the park."
I glanced down at my white peasant blouse and blue leggings. Shoes were next to the door, so worn from being slipped on and off that there was no reason to retie them. My present for Morgan had been hidden in the car for weeks. "How much more ready do you want me to get?"
She gave me a look of borderline disapproval, but ended with a shrug. "At least go brush your hair. Looks like you just rolled out of bed."
Rolling my eyes, I went to the living room at the front of the house where I knew I would find my brush. I may not always put my things where they belonged, but I knew where I left them.
Setting the brush back down, something caught my eye out the window. It was a tall teenage boy with unruly black hair. I grinned.
"Mum, I'm going to take off and walk to the pizza place!" I called down the hall to the kitchen. I bent back to my brush to pull a hair tie off the handle and pulled my hair up into a messy poof atop my head. It looked so good, it seemed intentional.
Suddenly Mum appeared out of thin air as if she had Apparated from the kitchen to the living room. "Oh no you don't, little girl. You just got done talking about your concerns with all these attacks and dangers and you think I'm going to let you walk around outside by yourself? You can sit right here and wait for me to finish the cake!"
"Mum!" I protested. "I won't be alone, Harry's outside waiting for me." I pointed out the window and her gaze followed the direction, spotting the boy who lived across the street.
Her lips pursed. "I'll bet Terry doesn't appreciate you spending so much time with another boy," she remarked.
I sighed. Harry was a friend. We were Quidditch rivals who respected and didn't hate one another. And Terry was my very understanding best friend-turned-boyfriend. And he had only been that since the end of last term which was barely a month and a half ago! And he knew well enough not to get jealous of Harry Potter of all people.
"Well... I suppose I can trust the life of my little girl to him for a few blocks. He is The Boy Who Lived, after all," she muttered. "Alright, but straight there! No detours or short cuts or anything funny! And you might want to hurry- looks like his cousin is zeroing in."
I looked out the window again and indeed, Harry was being approached by a baby blonde elephant and a tiny black haired rat. I moved to exit the house. "Okay, Mum. I'll see you soon-!"
She stopped me with The Look. Twisted lips and one eyebrow disappearing into her hair line. "Ahem?" she said, holding out her hand.
Oh. Right. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out that thing I wasn't supposed to use outside of school and handed it to her. Her expression softened and she kissed my cheek.
"Be safe!" she called as I slipped into my trainers and took off through the door.
Dudley Dursley had been ridiculously tame towards his cousin since last summer. Whether it was from fear of what had happened or gratuity that Harry had saved him, I didn't know. What I did know was that he obviously hadn't told his top croonie, Piers Polkiss, who was egging the enormous boy on, trying to get him to torture poor Harry. Well, I wasn't going to let that happen.
"Afternoon, boys!" I called, drawing the attention of all three of them. I crossed the street, smiling. The Dursley's had no idea that Morgan and I were witches, which made this easier since Dudley -like every other warm blooded teenager- had a serious crush on my lovely twin. We were mostly identical, she was just a bit more... Curvy. "Harry, waiting for me?"
Dudley's beady eyes narrowed, obviously realizing what that implied. "Why would he be waiting for you?" he demanded.
I blinked innocently. "To go to my birthday party, silly. Harry and I have been friends since primary. Isn't that right?" No, that was a lie. But I had heard the stories of the boy who would somehow end up on top of the school building. Of course, back then I had no idea he was Harry Potter. Or who Harry Potter was for that matter.
Harry nodded a bit unconvincingly, but it would do.
"Are you coming, Dudley? I'm sure Morgan would like to see you. Most of our old primary mates are going to be there." I smiled pleasantly. I was going to get in trouble with Morgan later, but for the moment it was worth it.
Dudley nodded dumbly, Morgan's name like a strong love potion to him. Without another word, he grabbed Piers and disappeared into Number Four, muttering about going to town. I turned and beamed at Harry who grinned back. That having been enough of a greeting, we started off down the sidewalk, navigating the gloom spreading before us.
"How did you get here so fast?" he asked.
"Honestly, Harry, I live right across the street at Number Three. I always have."
"What are you-?" He turned to look at my house and stopped. His mouth formed into a little 'o' of realization. You'd have thought the building had appeared out of thin air. "I see. You should be careful about that."
"Careful... About what?" I knew Harry could be strange, but this was borderline Luna.
"Telling people where you live. The Fidelius Charm isn't something to take lightly, you know." He gave me a look of knowing like it was a Charm he had a lot of experience with.
After a long moment I clucked my tongue at him. "Good one. You almost had me going there. Come on, we're going to be late." I started off again. I don't know if his joining me was accepting defeat or not.
"So..." he began, glancing at me through his round glasses. "I forgot about your birthday party..."
I nodded solemnly. "I will find a way for our friendship to survive," I vowed, a hand over my heart. We chuckled and continued in silence for a bit.
I kept glancing at him, wanting to ask the question on the tip of my tongue but not wanting to offend him or something. I mean, you couldn't just be friends with someone as famous as Harry Potter and not be even a little curious about the rumors that went around about him. Well, you could if you were Hermione Granger or Ron Weasley, always attached at the hip, but I wasn't even in the same house, let alone that close of a friend.
"You can ask," Harry said after the silence stretched beyond the comfort zone. "I promise, it's fine."
I laughed nervously. "It's just that it's such a big deal, I can't help but want to know," I babbled. "I mean, it's all the Prophet can talk about, you know?"
"Piper." He fixed me with a look. "Just ask."
One day I was going to chew straight through my lower lip. It could happen. I knew someone who did it once. She put in a little earring like she'd meant it.
"Well... I mean... Are you? The Chosen One and all that?" Even though I had been given permission, I still wouldn't blame him for giving me a proper dressing down for prying.
He looked forward, resting his hands behind his head. I looked ahead, too, if only not to trip.
"I haven't talked to Dumbledore about it yet," he said. "I can say that I'm not what the Ministry is expecting."
I nodded, though I didn't quite understand. Not wanting to trespass the subject any longer, I tried to change it.
"Er... How's... Your hand?"
I will not tell lies shone stark white against his flesh. He flexed his hand. I had been lucky to fly under the Umbridge Radar for most of the year until she and her Squad broke into D.A.
"It's healed. But I'll always have it."
After another moment of silence I started the conversation again, veering toward school, classes, O.W.L.s, and especially Quidditch. I told him that for my birthday my parents were getting me all new gear, broom and all, when we went to Diagon Alley for school shopping. He seemed interested in what broom I would get, to which I laughed.
"I'm only a beater," I told him. "Not everyone needs a Firebolt."
The pizza place came into view, colorful balloons alerting passersby to special events going on inside. They were our colors, Morgan's and mine. Blue and bronze for my house, green and silver for hers. I'm not sure how she ended up there. I'm not saying she doesn't absolutely belong there (save for pureblood supremacy and all that), I'm just saying two Muggleborns don't exactly make Slytherin material.
"So," I said, knowing there wouldn't be much time for talking inside, "think we'll have time for our park excursions this summer?" That was how we had originally met and become friends was in the park my first summer home from school. We didn't get much time before some driving force whisked him away every year and there had been little time this last month to speak, especially with Muggles and Wizards alike on edge. Not to mention the breeding dementors sucking the life and fun out of everything.
"Oh, er, sorry," he replied. "I can't. I'm supposed to be leaving in a few days."
"Supposed to be?" I asked, trying not to sound too hopeful.
"Well, I'm not sure. But hopefully."
"Oh, all right, Potter," I groaned, feigning annoyance. I knew how miserable he was with the Dursley's. Everyone did. So I couldn't get actually annoyed. It's not like I didn't have anything else to do for the rest of the summer. I mean, I had a boyfriend now, so... There was that.
"Go! Go and be free for the summer remainder! But know this!" I turned to him, eyes narrowed and one finger raised. He had the good graces to look amused. "At least I got you to one of my birthday parties for once!"
He nodded, grinning. "That's your greatest achievement for the summer, is it?"
"Yes!" I cried, fist in the air. "And now... Get ready for the horde." I turned from him to the front door of the shop, already filled with bodies. I squared my shoulders and took a deep breath, one hand on the handle. "Three... Two... One..."
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