Chapter 33 : A Christmas Surprise
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Harry set his quill down, rolled off the bed, and opened the door. Instead of looking annoyed and uncertain like he had when he’d left the park, Dudley looked determined, and he pushed past Harry into the room.
“I want you to know I’m trying,” Dudley said, “and so’s Mum and Dad.”
“Okay,” Harry said, bewildered.
“And so I think it’s only fair that you try too.”
“Try- you mean with-” Harry waved his hand at the walls, and the invisible protection. Dudley nodded. “What- you think I’m not trying?” he asked, annoyed.
“I think you’re pretending to like us,” Dudley said, folding his arms. “Like with Aunt Marge, but then when you’re away from us, you don’t care. But we’re actually trying, so you should try properly too. That Dumble-what’s-it bloke said pretending isn’t good enough.”
“If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be here,” Harry said. Dudley’s expression remained stony. “I don’t like Marge, I won’t pretend otherwise, but the rest of you have been-” Harry considered his cousin for a moment, and then decided to go with honesty. “-better than I would have thought.”
Dudley’s expression wavered for a moment, though his scent was so complicated that Harry couldn’t be sure why. It set again. “Prove it,” he said.
“Prove- how?” Harry asked, exasperated.
“Dunno,” Dudley said stubbornly. “You just have to.”
Harry opened his mouth and closed it again, thinking. Then he turned and strode to his trunk. He hastily covered the bag of dungbombs Fred and George had given him, and the wet-start fireworks Padfoot had left with him - just in case, before Dudley could see them and ask questions. Harry pulled out a brightly coloured package, and tossed it to his cousin. It bounced off him and landed on the carpet. Dudley bent and picked it up.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Your Christmas present,” Harry said. “A bit early, but there’s your proof.”
“You got me a present?” Harry swallowed his reply, not sure Dudley would appreciate his sarcasm.
“Yep,” Harry said. “And I wouldn’t have if I was pretending.” Actually, his main reason for buying the Dursleys presents had been that if they got off to a bad start, he might have been able to salvage things with gifts. So far, miraculously, it hadn’t been necessary.
“So you’ve got Mum and Dad presents too?” Dudley asked, still staring down at the package in his hand. Harry nodded, and Dudley slowly nodded back. “That’s pretty good proof,” he said slowly, almost shyly. And to Dudley, it probably was. Harry didn’t know how things were now, but back when he’d lived here, his aunt and uncle had showered Dudley with presents to show him how much they loved him, and Harry had never been given any, because they didn’t like him. Now that Harry thought about it, a present was probably more convincing to Dudley than a hug, or a friendly conversation over a meal. “Thanks.” Harry didn’t know whether he meant for the present or for Harry trying to get on with his family, so he just nodded. “Can I open it? Or do I have to wait?”
“Up to you,” Harry said, shrugging. Dudley grinned and ripped the paper off, frowning a bit when he uncovered the brown paper bag inside. He peered into it and his smile returned.
“Sweets?!” He shoved a hand in and pulled out a chocolate frog and squinted at it. “What’s-”
“They’re from a shop near my school,” Harry said. “Don’t share them with any of your friends, because some of them are-”
“Yeah,” Harry said. “And- probably best not to have the fizzing whizbees where anyone might see. They make you float.” Dudley’s eyes lit up. “Dudley?”
“Don’t share them, and don’t eat them where people might see.”
“Okay,” Dudley said. He looked a bit too innocent as he said it, and if that hadn’t tipped Harry off, his scent would have.
Harry opened his mouth and closed it again with a tiny smile. Dudley left - probably to sample his present - and Harry flopped back down onto the bed and picked up his quill, only to be disturbed by another knock, only a few minutes later.
“Yeah?” he called, pushing his essay aside again.
Aunt Petunia poked her head into the room.
“Have you got a moment?” she asked.
“Sure,” Harry said warily, sitting up. “What for?”
“You’re leaving in the morning,” Aunt Petunia said, and Harry didn’t need reminding. Though his stay with the Dursleys hadn’t been the disaster he’d half-expected it to be, he was still looking forward to getting home to his own family. Aunt Petunia came fully into the room and closed the door, but remained standing. She had an envelope in her hands, and Harry hoped she hadn’t been harassed by any owls looking for him. “Breakfast this morning was- busy.”
“Sorry about Padfoot-”
“Padfoot?” Aunt Petunia’s eyes narrowed, and Harry remembered too late he’d called Padfoot ‘Blackie’. “Well, that certainly explains it, though that wasn’t what I was referring to.”
“You mean-” Harry wondered if he was going to put his foot in his mouth. “-Marge?”
Aunt Petunia gave a curt little nod.
“We didn’t know she was coming,” she said.
“I know.” Harry had smelled it on her when Marge arrived.
“She can be difficult,” Aunt Petunia said quietly. “I- Vernon and I- she’s not been- we appreciate how you’ve handled it.”
“It’s fine,” Harry muttered, suddenly a bit uncomfortable. It wasn’t fine - Marge was awful - but it wasn’t Aunt Petunia’s job to apologise for her.
“-and that you haven’t- well-” Aunt Petunia cleared her throat, and seemed possibly more uncomfortable than Harry. “I know what your- what people like you can do when-” She made an odd gesture with her hand.
“I wouldn’t- not on purpose, anyway,” Harry said awkwardly, even if he thought a bit of accidental magic might improve Marge a bit. Would it silence her, he wondered? Or turn her into something unpleasant, or-
“Yes, well,” Aunt Petunia said, clearing her throat again. She offered the envelope to Harry. “In case I don’t have a chance to give it to you tomorrow.” Harry took it, curious. It was heavy, as if there was more than just a letter inside.
Happy Christmas, it said, and thank you.
“Can I open it?” Harry asked, looking up at Aunt Petunia, who had not left the room, and looked rather nervous. She nodded.
The envelope held three photographs - muggle ones, that didn’t move, but Harry liked them anyway.
The first was on what must have been a young Lily’s birthday. She wore a bright green party hat and was grinning from behind her cake. One of her front teeth was missing. Beside her was a smiling Petunia - in a pink hat - and two adults, also in party hats were crouched behind them.
“My- our parents,” Petunia said. “Your grandparents.”
The second photograph was not of Lily at all; it was of James and Padfoot - only a few years older than Harry was now - peering into a fridge, while the door was only a fraction ajar. Mr Evans - Harry recognised him from the first photo - was laughing at whoever was holding the camera through an adjacent doorway, where James and Padfoot couldn’t see him.
“What are they doing?” Harry asked, amused.
“They’d never seen a refrigerator before,” Aunt Petunia said. “I think they wanted to know how it worked. It was all very odd, but Lily must have found it funny enough to take a photograph.” Harry grinned, and Aunt Petunia seemed to relax a bit.
The third photograph was of Lily holding a pink, wrinkly thing that must have been baby Harry up to the camera. She looked tired, but happy, and baby Harry looked vaguely concerned, his eyes fixed on something beyond the camera - probably someone doing silly things to get him to look.
“She sent it just after you were born.”
“Thanks,” Harry said, looking up at Aunt Petunia, and she nodded.
“I know that your godfather was in prison,” Aunt Petunia said uncomfortably, “so I wasn’t sure if he still had any of his old photographs to show you. Lily and I- grew apart, so I don’t have many photographs of her, and that one was the only one I had of your father. I’m sorry it’s not a better one.”
“No, it’s brilliant,” Harry said. “They all are.” He slid off the bed. “I have something for you as well. Sorry there isn’t a card.”
Aunt Petunia looked stunned, and didn’t speak as Harry passed over her present. She unwrapped it with shaky fingers, and then gave Harry an uncertain look.
“It’s a bit magical,” Harry said, and Aunt Petunia’s knuckles whitened around the bottle of Mrs Skower’s All Purpose Magical Mess Remover, but she didn’t fling it away. “Sorry. But it’s for cleaning. Our house- keeper uses it at home.”
“Thank you,” Aunt Petunia said slowly. She opened the door, still holding the bottle Harry had given her. “You- I don’t know if you can tell from the photographs, but you have her- Lily’s eyes.” Harry smiled at her. “You’re- very much like her.”
“Is that a good thing?” Harry asked. If anyone else had said so, he’d have taken it as a compliment at once, but coming from Aunt Petunia, he wasn’t so sure.
She made a jerky movement that might have been a nod, and fled.
* * *
“...enjoyable, yes, thank you, Colonel, except for-” The door swung open. Ripper lifted his head off his paws and made an odd grumbling sound. “-one moment.” Marge fumbled with her mobile, trying to work out how to put the silly thing on hold. It was very convenient, having a mobile, but the thing was bulky and heavy and she hadn’t had it long enough to know how to work it properly. She gave up and just set it on her pillow, hoping Colonel Fubster wouldn’t mind.
Then, she slid out of the narrow bed that she’d been given in Dudley’s second bedroom, and went to peer out the door. The landing was empty. Frowning, she shut the door and climbed back into bed. Ripper whined and she gave him a reassuring pat.
“Are you there, Colonel?”
“Yes, yes,” he replied. “What were you saying earlier?”
“That my stay’s been enjoyable,” Marge said, “except for Petunia’s little beast of a nephew-” Something thudded against the wall by Marge’s suitcase, and Ripper started to bark. “Quiet, Ripper. The brat’s staying here, Colonel - godfather’s in prison, apparently.”
“Oh my,” Colonel Fubster said, sounding concerned. “Hardly a proper role model for a young man…”
“The boy was rotten before this,” Marge assured him. “Vernon and Petunia did all they could and even that wasn’t good enough - he’s beyond help. No doubt he’ll end up in a cell with his godfather, and the world will be a better place for it, mark my words. But in the meantime, he’s weaseled his way into my room, and I’ve had to stay in Dudley’s second bedroom. The bed’s would be small for me alone, but I’ve got Ripper too...” Ripper glanced over at his name, and then went back to growling at the room.
“Now, Marge, you did arrive at short notice,” Colonel Fubster said chidingly.
“And good thing I did!” Marge said. “Someone’s got to keep that wretched-” The door swung open with a click, and Ripper started barking madly. “Quiet,” Marge huffed, getting up again. Again, the hallway was empty, but as she was about to push the door shut, it slammed, rather violently, in her face.
Startled, Marge yelped and stepped backward, heart racing. Ripper leapt off the bed, snarling at the door, and then went to sniff the corner he’d been growling at earlier.
“Marge?!” Colonel Fubster called through the mobile. “Is everything all right?!”
“So sorry, Colonel- I just- startled myself, that’s all.” The door clearly had a faulty hinge. She’d have words to Vernon about getting it fixed when she went down for breakfast. And speaking of breakfast… “I should be going, Colonel,” she said.
“All right, Marge,” he said. “I’ll speak to you later. And don’t worry about the dogs, they’re in good hands with me.”
“Yes, thank you.” She ended the call and set the phone down. “Ripper, come away from my suitcase- Ripper!”
* * *
When Harry Flooed into the Burrow’s kitchen, the scene that met his eyes was one of utter, but pleasant chaos. Mrs Weasley had swept him up in a warm hug before he could even say hello, and Ginny and Draco were both hanging back over her shoulder, clearly wanting to say hello as well, but willing to wait. Hermione seemed to have survived her first Floo experience (though not gracefully, as she was currently being helped up and dusted off by a grinning Ron), Percy seemed to be trying to squeeze past everyone to greet Padfoot, who’d just come through, carrying a large bag of presents, Fred and George were weaving in and out of everyone, trying to catch what appeared to be a garden gnome, and Mr Weasley was watching the whole scene unfold, amused.
“Lovely to see you, dear,” Mrs Weasley said, beaming, and went to hug Hermione.
Ginny stepped forward to say something, only to be knocked into by Padfoot, who was trying to get away from the fireplace so that Marlene could come through.
“Sorry!” Padfoot said, steadying Ginny. “How are you, Ginny? Draco? Snape track you down, did he?”
“Yesterday,” Draco said. “He-”
“Mr Black,” Percy said, offering Padfoot his hand, only to have to pull it back as Fred dove past, arm outstretched, after the gnome. Draco toppled onto Harry trying to get out of the way.
“-have you here, Hermione, dea- Fred!” Mrs Weasley shook her head crossly. “Sorry, Sirius.”
“It’s all right, Molly-”
“Wotcher!” Dora said brightly as she toppled out of the Floo and went sprawling. Her hair, which had been silver and tinsel-like, flashed an amused yellow. “Whoops- thanks, Arthur. Remus’ll be through in a sec...” The gnome ran over her outstretched leg, George close behind it. “Is that-?”
“Hello, everyone,” Moony said, stepping out of the fireplace, and paused to take in the scene before him.
“Harry, coming your way!” Fred shouted, and Harry bent in time to snag the gnome by the ankle as it tried to run through his legs. “Nice!”
“Superb catch, old chap!” George panted. “Here, I’ll-”
“Right!” Molly said, in a fond but firm voice. “You lot - out!”
“C’mon,” Ron said, gesturing out of the kitchen. Harry tossed the wriggling gnome to George and followed him out. “Mum’s been fussing all morning-”
“Did you know we were coming?” Harry asked.
“Not until Sirius popped into the fire and said you were all coming through,” Ron said, flopping onto a couch in the Burrow’s sitting room. “Did you?”
“Not until Moony showed up with Hermione,” Harry said, taking a seat on the other couch.
“Mum told me last night,” Ginny said, smug.
“I’ve known for a few days,” Hermione said, perching on the arm of the battered chair Ginny had claimed.
“And your parents didn’t mind you spending Christmas here?” Draco asked.
“They did a little,” Hermione said, frowning, “but it’s a bit silly, really, because we saw Mum’s family yesterday and we’re having dinner with Dad’s side, and I’ll be there for that too, so...” She shook her head. “What about your family? Do they think you’re with Professor Snape?”
“They think he’s with Padfoot,” Harry said.
“I don’t know why,” Ginny said thoughtfully. “Snape was here to see you, so he knows where you are-”
“He wouldn’t tell,” Draco said at once.
“Obviously,” Ron sniggered. Hermione glanced at him, looking puzzled, and then back to Draco, but before she could say anything, Ron interrupted. “Dad saw the whole thing,” Ron said, with a wide grin, and then turned to Hermione - who was clearly not following the conversation - to explain. “Mr Malfoy went and pushed Sirius into a wall at the Ministry and was threatening him about Malfoy-” He jerked his head in Draco’s direction. “-only well- Sirius is an Auror, and attacking Aurors is a bit, well… frowned upon.”
“Marlene hexed him,” Harry said, unable to keep his mouth from twitching. “All in the name of protecting her fellow Auror, of course.”
“Poor Mr Malfoy,” Ginny said, but her eyes were bright and her scent was pleased in a sharp sort of way. Then she grimaced and looked at Draco. “Sorry.”
“I just hope she knocked some sense into him,” he said wryly, and then scowled. “Though it’s more likely he’s gone home to sulk.” Since learning of Mr Malfoy’s involvement with diary last year, Draco’s feelings toward him had been a mix of disappointment, frustration and anger - Harry knew as much from his scent. All of that was still there, but there was a new distinctly wary scent now, that hadn’t been there a few days ago, when term ended. Harry wondered just what had happened when Draco left the Manor.
“Charming,” Hermione said, but she seemed concerned. “Draco, did you run away?”
“I Flooed,” Draco said, with a faint smile, but he’d drawn his knees up to his chin and smelled uncomfortable. Harry didn’t think the term ‘run away’ had occurred to him until now. “There was actually very little footwork involved-”
“Can we talk about Potter’s difficult family members, not mine?”
“Thanks, Draco,” Harry muttered, rolling his eyes, because that comment had diverted Hermione’s full attention onto him, and it was now him getting worried looks, not Draco.
“How was it?” Hermione asked tentatively.
“They weren’t actually too bad,” Harry said, and then paused. “Well, actually, Marge was awful, but we’re not really family, so-”
“Who’s Marge?” Ginny asked, wrinkling her nose.
“I don’t remember you mentioning anyone called Marge,” Hermione said, frowning.
“‘Cause Harry said so much about it,” Ron said, giving Harry a teasing nudge with his foot. Hermione hid a smile, and Harry scowled at them both.
“Marge is Uncle Vernon’s sister,” Harry said. “And a piece of work, honestly.”
“Is that why you smell like dungbombs?” Fred and George were back - Merlin only knew where the gnome had ended up - and were leaning over the back of Harry’s couch. “Didn’t want to ask in front of Mum.”
“I can’t smell dungbombs,” Ginny said. Draco leaned a bit closer to Harry and sniffed, then shook his head.
“You don’t know them like we do,” Fred said sagely. “Well, Harry?”
“I gave the Dursleys Christmas presents,” Harry said, grinning. “It didn’t seem right not to give Marge something.”
“So you gave her a dungbomb?” Hermione asked, as Ron chortled. Hermione didn’t seem to know whether to be amused or disapproving. “Harry, you really shouldn’t-”
“Leave it, Hermione,” Ginny said, laughing. “If Harry’s passing out dungbombs, then she must have deserved it.” Harry grinned at her.
“Surely you didn’t just give it to her?” Draco asked, mouth twitching.
“Just about,” Harry admitted sheepishly. “I put it in her suitcase.”
“Brilliant,” George said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Although, I reckon she might guess it was you, mate, when she comes back and finds it.”
“She’s-” Ron clutched his sides, gasping for breath. “Mate, she’s going to think you took a-”
“I’m sure that wouldn’t be her first thought, Ron,” Hermione said exasperatedly.
“No,” Harry said cheerfully, “it probably would have been. She reckons I’m depraved. Only she couldn’t think that, because she was in the room when I put it there, so she blamed the dog.”
“You walked in and put a dungbomb in her suitcase while she was there,” Fred said, “and she blamed a dog?”
“She didn’t see me,” Harry said, shrugging.
“Of course not,” Hermione said, mouth twitching; she, at least, had remembered the cloak. Harry thought his father would have wholly approved of it being used for such a purpose; Padfoot had certainly been all too happy to bring the cloak temporarily out of hiding for him.
Ron and Draco wore similar looks of understanding.
“Brilliant,” Ron said.
“She blamed the dog?” George repeated weakly. “How? Is she blind?”
“Deaf?” Fred asked.
“She’s both,” Ginny said. “Obviously.” She grinned at Harry when the twins weren’t looking.
“How?” Fred asked.
“Prongs helped me out,” Harry said, grinning.
“The Map?” George asked, baffled.
“Potter inherited his father’s powers of invisibility,” Draco said seriously.
“He did not,” Ginny said, and then smiled impishly. “Dumbledore gave him the powers to him for Christmas.”
Harry and Ron sniggered, and Hermione just smiled. Harry had wasn’t sure when Ginny had learned about the cloak, only that she hadn’t seemed surprised when they’d mentioned it the day Harry told them he was an Animagus. His best guess was that Ron had told her about it at some point after their first year.
“Fine, don’t tell us,” Fred muttered, narrowing his eyes.
“It’s true,” Padfoot said. He was leaning in the doorway, looking highly amused by their conversation.
“To us, your word is law, Mr Padfoot,” Fred said, bowing.
“Except,” George added, “we know how much you like a laugh, so it’s not always honest law.” Padfoot laughed.
“If you don’t believe me, ask Moony,” he said. The twins exchanged a look, and moved away from Harry’s couch.
“You stay here,” George said. “So you don’t get him to go along with it with a look or secret hand gesture.”
“I wouldn’t dare,” Padfoot said gravely, putting his hands up. The twins disappeared into the kitchen. “Come on, you lot,” Padfoot said, grinning. “Food’s up.”
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