Harry wasn't prepared for the stack of wrapped birthday gifts waiting by his bed. It towered to the ceiling on all sides of his bed and on his bed it reached the canopy. There were presents shoved underneath the bed, under his bedside table, and there were gifts covering the nearby desk. He, Ron, Neville, Dean, and Seamus stared at the plentitude, wondering how they all had gotten there.
"Wow," Neville breathed, amazed. "Harry, who sent you all of these?"
"I dunno," Harry said, reading the tags. "I mean, I don't recognize the names at all. Professor Dumbledore did write me about these, but I didn't know there were going to be so many…Should I open them?"
"If you don't mate, I will," Ron said, eyeing the presents with barely concealed glee. "I love opening stuff!"
"Well, if I'm going to get this lot opened before midnight, I'm going to need some help," Harry said, looking around at all of his friends' faces.
In a wrapping-paper massacre that would never be rivaled again, Harry and his friends opened all of the gifts while an accommodating QuickQuotes quill that Dean had took an inventory of what was there and who had sent what. There were books, clothes, sweets, spell instruments, Quidditch gear, and charms and protections that were supposed to keep him safe. The gift in the gold wrapping proved to be a book called "Quidditch Hints and Tips: Improving Your Playing," and it was from Mrs. Figg. The gift in Snitch-patterned wrapping was a pair of warm, woolly socks. The card said the socks were from Professor Dumbledore. Remembering what Professor Dumbledore had told him when he asked what the older man saw in the Mirror of Erised, Harry had to laugh.
"Last one, mate," Ron said, pulling a small gift out from underneath the bed. "The card on this one says it's from your uncle. You should open it, not one of us."
Harry pushed aside a pile of wrapping paper and sank down on his bed while his friends gathered about him. He read the card, wondering what it was.
Many happy returns! I hope this will be the beginning of many years where I'll be able to send you a birthday gift. I hope this gift will make up for my negligence of past years. Until we are able to speak, I remain,
Your Uncle Thomas.
Harry set the card aside while the QuickQuotes quill scribbled Thomas Potter. Feeling decidedly fluttery in his stomach, Harry unwrapped the gift and was left staring at what appeared to be a very normal-looking book. Turning it over, he read the title, not sure at all of what to make of it.
Big Book of Answers
"Oooooh-kaaay," Ron drawled, reading the title. "What d'you suppose it is?"
"I dunno," Harry muttered thoughtfully, flipping the pages. They were all blank.
"Some answer book," Dean said, looking at the book over Harry's shoulder. "I mean, there's nothing in it!"
"Maybe you're supposed to ask it a question?" Neville suggested. "Hey, book! What's the main use of a mandrake plant?"
"Maybe we're supposed to say 'please' or something?" Seamus guessed, so they re-phrased the question, making sure to be polite.
"What if we used its name?" Ron said, sounding thoughtful. "You know, like 'Big Book of Answers, how do I…?'"
They tried it, and again, nothing happened.
"Oh, this is getting annoying," Ron muttered, shoving wrapping paper out of his way so he could get to his bed. "Maybe you could ask him tomorrow, Harry? I'm gonna go crazy until I know how that thing works!"
Harry looked at it thoughtfully, remembering something. "D'you think it works like that diary Ginny had in our second year? You know, write something and it writes back?"
"I don't think I like the sound of that, mate," Ron said, looking worried.
"Yeah, sounds dodgy to me," Seamus agreed.
"I wouldn't risk it," Dean said while Neville nodded vigorously.
"He's supposed to be my uncle, and Professor Dumbledore and the other teachers have already checked all of these!" Harry protested.
"Well, be careful," Ron cautioned, as Harry took out ink and a quill. He and the other boys watched as Harry wrote: What kind of book are you?
All of them stared as the book wrote back:
Well, aren't we bright! I'm an answer book, brainless! Read the front cover!
They all started laughing, too surprised to do anything else. It seemed all right. Harry dipped his quill in the ink and wrote something else: Did Thomas Potter send you?
Everyone crowded around, trying to see what the book was writing back.
He said you might ask that, and he told me to tell you that he applauds you for your caution. Yes, he sent me. Honestly, I feel like a bloody owl.
Excited, Harry wrote something else: What kind of answers can you give me?
The book waited a moment before answering.
It really depends on what you ask, kid. Can I help you with your homework? Sure thing, but don't expect me to do it for you. Test question? Don't even bother asking me. I'm not a tool to help you cheat. Want me to illustrate a difficult concept? I'm your tome. Want me to be an aid to reflection? Tell me all about yourself, and I'll be able to tell you all about you when you most need it. I know a good deal about thousands of topics, so if you have a question, write it, and I'll answer you.
"Oh, I want one of those," Seamus said, sounding jealous. "Where can I get one?"
Harry wrote: My friend Seamus would like a book like you. Do you know where he can get one?
Slowly, the letters formed on the page.
Sure. We're from Enchanted Tomes, Inc., a wizard and witch's book paradise; specializing in special editions and non-fiction self-helps, such as Yours Truly. The Big Book of Answers line includes pocket-size, palm-size, mouse-size, wand-size, and table-size of Answers books. We are available in a variety of bindings, covers, folios, quality of papers, and colors. Right now, the special is a green dragon-hide covering with silk frontispieces, folded in quarto, made of 100 pure cream parchment, four only fifty- five Galleons! Order today while they're still in stock! Want to personalize it? For only ten Sickles more, you'll be able to have your name or the name of a loved one or friend stamped on the cover, to make their Big Book of Answers their very own!
Everyone stared at the advertisement, certain that the book had to be joking. A moment later, new words formed.
Do you know how exhausting having to do that spiel is? Honestly, they could have made it a little shorter, but no. No, whenever someone asks that question, I have to go through the whole thing. Does that answer your question for your friend Seamus?
Yes, thanks, Harry wrote, feeling a little tired himself. At that point, the clock struck twelve, and everyone agreed that it was time for bed.
It's very late, Harry wrote. Do I need to put you somewhere so you can sleep, because my friends and I are going to hit the sack.
No, I don't sleep, the book wrote. I'll be fine in a drawer or on top of a table or on a shelf. Just make sure that water can't get to me; I despise soggy pages.
How would my bedside table drawer be?
That's perfect, as long as it's nice and clean.
After assuring the book that it was, Harry tucked it away and blew out his candle. He could see a lot of fun in store with this book.
One problem continued to worry him, though: He would have to see his uncle tomorrow.