Chapter 14 – The Worst Birthday
Not for the first time since he had gotten back, little Harry Potter let out a huge sigh. It was only the fact that he was currently uncomfortable enough that his mood did not warrant him breaking out in green goo. And what, you may ask, would bring our young hero to such a deplorable state? Short answer: his cupboard. Long answer: He was currently not in his beloved cupboard, his refuge, his haven,the greatest four walls housing the greatest floor space ever.
He was laying moodily on his new (third-hand) bed in the far wall of what once was Dudley's second bedroom. Quite honestly, there was nothing inherently wrong with where he was at the moment. It was more of what the room was lacking that had not settled well with him. Where was his slanted ceiling? His spider friends? His little hanging light bulb decorated with his shiny clothes hanger? His cot? He liked stretching his legs up from his cot and placing his feet on his slanted ceiling. He liked reaching out and being able to touch both walls by just stretching. He liked pretending he was a giant in his little hide-away. He liked staring at the shiny light bulb with his shiny clothes hanger and swinging it to amuse himself. Basically, all of the things that made his cupboard unique (in his mind at least) was missing from this room. In this room, he had felt so small. Which was also probably the reason he had curled in on himself on the larger relatively new bed.
It had all started when the Dursleys picked him up from King's Cross Station. He was quite surprised to see them there, he was already expecting to light speed travel himself and his things to his cupboard. However, the sight that greeted him was that of all three Dursley's at the other side of the barrier.
"And where do you think you've been off to?" his Uncle ground his teeth at him.
"Stonewall," he deadpanned.
In retrospect, he might have spent a bit too much time with the twins during the school year. He was certainly paying for it now. When they had arrived at Number Four, he had been made to lock all his wizarding things in his beloved cupboard and was forced to take residence in smallest bedroom of the house. It was easily four or even five times bigger than his cupboard. His Uncle basically had to wrench him out of his cupboard (despite it being nearly full with his things) since he was hanging on to the walls like a monkey. He was then plopped (dropped) onto the "new" bed and locked in. Oh, how he hated it.
Nearly everything in the room was broken. There was a bunch of random odds and ends that Dudley had broken in varying ways and were sporting various degrees of damage. The only thing that was changed with his arrival was the bed he was currently occupying. The old bed had apparently collapsed when Dudley threw himself on it in an effort to prevent Harry from taking the room in the first place. He sincerely lamented over the fact that he had not been present during this particular Dudley-tantrum. His cousin still complained about the bruise on his bottom.
One of the few bright sides in this arrangement, however, was that he found that the room had a bunch of loose floor boards that he could hide his things in. He had already light speed traveled back to his cupboard and taken them into the smallest bedroom. He left decoys behind, of course (transfiguring some of the aforementioned Dudley odds and ends into duplicates of his things. It did not bode well for him if he was caught, after all). His trunk and things were all under the loose floor board now, shrunk for convenience.
In fact, his shrunken books were some of his only escapes from the dull life at Number 4. Well, other than the fact that he observed that the Dursley's were exponentially more jumpy around him. He had once approached Dudley to let him know that Aunt Petunia was calling for him, when his cousin literally jumped up and ran to the kitchen as Harry approached. He didn't even know Dudley could move so quickly. His Aunt and Uncle had also taken to more or less ignoring Harry had existed (except to make him do chores. But who was he kidding? He kind of liked chores. He often experimented while doing them). Overall, it seemed to be a dull-as-a-brick-that-doesn't-even-fly summer for him.
There was a loud knock on his door.
"Get Up! It's time to cook some breakfast! I don't want my baby wasting away!" his Aunt's shrill voice called from the other side.
Of all the chores his relatives had assigned to him, cooking had to have been one of his favorites. It kind of felt like potions class to him (but without the MerVamp breathing on him). He quickly fired up enough bacon and eggs to feed a dozen people that were not Dursley-sized (His Aunt didn't count. She was technically not genetically a Dursley).
Harry sighed as he slipped a few of the ready bacon onto a plate for Dudley. He missed his cupboard, and he would stare at it longingly every time he passed by it. Theoretically, he could just sleep in it. His relatives never did check up on him at night. But his young mind was literally too shocked at the change of scenery that the idea hadn't even crossed it. Ah well.
The kitchen was quickly filled up by genetically-Dursley-residents the minute the plate of bacon was lain on the table. The Dursley's, genetic and by-law, sat around and started to eat. Harry was given a piece of bread and a bowl of oatmeal for his breakfast. He was sorely tempted to make his classic breakfast sandwich but he also knew that hell would freeze over before Dudley left even bacon bits over. That boy ate bacon like pigs were about to sprout wings and fly away before more bacon could be made. Harry giggled a bit at the mental image of Dudley chasing after flying pigs, while a herd of townsfolk chased after Dudley (the townsfolk thinking Dudley was a flightless pig).
Uncle Vernon cleared his throat. "Now, as we all know, today is a very important day."
Harry shook his head to release his humorous mental image that now consisted both Dursley males chasing and being chased.
"This could well be the day I make the biggest deal of my career," said Uncle Vernon.
The young Potter heir had to hold back a snort when Dudley surreptitiously stole a piece of bacon from his Father's plate as Uncle Vernon was otherwise occupied.
"I think we should run through the schedule one more time," said Uncle Vernon. "We should be in position at eight o'clock. Petunia, you will be-?"
"In the lounge," said Aunt Petunia promptly, "waiting to welcome them graciously to our home." She sounded like she had been repeating this line twice a day for the past two weeks.
'Oh, hold on,' Harry thought, 'she has!'
"Good, good." His Uncle smiled at his wife as if he hadn't heard her exact answer before. "And Dudley?"
Dudley had to choke down his stolen bacon quickly before answering. "I'll be waiting to open the door."
Harry snickered a bit (albeit, very quietly) when Dudley had to take large gulp of chocolate milk before he could speak again.
Dudley put on a foul, simpering smile (not in the least improved by his chocolate milk mustache). "May I take your coats, Mr. and Mrs. Mason?"
"They'll love him!" cried Aunt Petunia rapturously.
"Excellent, Dudley," said Uncle Vernon. Then he rounded on Harry. "And you?"
Harry smiled brightly at them all. "I'll be in my bedroom, making no noise, and pretending I'm not there."
"Exactly," said Uncle Vernon hastily, turning away from Harry's bright smile. "I will lead them into the lounge, introduce you, Petunia, and pour them drinks. At eight-fifteen-"
"I'll announce dinner," said Aunt Petunia.
"And Dudley, you'll say-"
"May I take you through to the dinning room, Mrs. Mason?" said Dudley, standing up (albeit wobbly as he did so), and offered his arm to an invisible woman.
Aunt Petunia looked like she wanted to cry, "My perfect little gentleman!"
Harry wanted to cry too. From his angle, he could see that his cousin had bacon bits on his bottom. How it got there was really any ones guess. It took a lot out of him to smother down the laughter in the back of his throat.
"And you?" said Uncle Vernon viciously to Harry.
"I'll be in my room, making no noise, and pretending I'm not there." Responded Harry dutifully. Maybe he should make a t-shirt with it so his Uncle would stop asking.
"Precisely. Now, we should aim to get in a few good compliments at dinner. Petunia, any ideas?"
"Vernon tells me you're a wonderful golfer, Mr. Mason… Do tell me where you bought your dress, Mrs. Mason…"
"How about – 'We had to write an essay about our hero at school, Mr. Mason, and I wrote about you.'"
This was too much for Aunt Petunia and she burst into tears. She hugged her son and kept patting his head.
Harry, on the other hand, stared at Dudley like he had a second head. Really? Wouldn't it reflect badly on the Dursley's if Dudley's go-to hero was a man he had not even really known? Ah, well. It wasn't like he would be present at the dinner anyway.
"And you, boy?" his Uncle turned back to him.
He really ought to make or get that t-shirt. "I'll be in my room, making no noise, and pretending I'm not there."
"Too right, you will. The Masons don't know anything about you and it's going to stay that way." Harry noticed that whenever he smiled at his Uncle, the elder Dursley would flinch and turn his attention to something else as quickly as possible. It amused Harry to no end. "When dinner's over, you take Mrs. Mason back to the lounge for coffee, Petunia, and I'll bring the subject around to drills. With any luck, I'll have the deal signed and sealed before the news at ten. We'll be shopping for a vacation home in Majorca this time tomorrow."
In all honesty, Harry did want his Uncle to get the deal. He wanted to go to Majorca too. Though, he doubted he'd be willingly invited. But one never knew. Maybe Mrs. Figg couldn't take him while they were away. And maybe, just maybe, the new vacation house had a cupboard too.
"Right – I'm off into town to pick up the dinner jackets for Dudley and myself. And you," he snarled at Harry, "You stay out of your Aunt's way while she's cleaning."
Harry was sorely tempted to just clean the house himself. He always did a better job than his Aunt did (in his eyes at least. That left out piece of toast and smother of ketchup on the table gave the place character! The table cloth was white for Merlin's sake. It needed the splash of color). But the elder Dursley's were just content in ignoring him or making him get out of their way. He had more-or-less adjusted to this new dynamic.
Harry left through the back door and entered the backyard. He smiled a bit as he lay down on the perfectly mowed grass, if he did say so himself. The sun was caressing his face with it's warm rays and the grass was a still damp from last night. He was feeling oddly content. More content than he had been in that stupid bedroom at least.
He started to think back on when he had felt as relaxed. Images of Hogwarts immediately went to the forefront of his mind. He missed Hogwarts. He missed the castle with its many wonders. He missed being among people that didn't seem to find his existence insulting (Mr. Filch being an exception. Though he swore the old man almost smiled at him when he was escorted to his first detention). He even missed Wayne and the other first years he had acquainted himself with over the year. He wondered if what they were up to now and whether they had been forced into larger bedrooms as well. He hoped not. It was a despicable experience.
"I know what day it is," said Dudley, waddling toward him.
He had to give it to Dudley, the boy had such a short attention span that he often remembered and forgot to avoid Harry. This made for entertaining days where Harry would make a bet with himself how long it would take Dudley to yelp and run away from him after initial contact. This time, Harry bet two and a half minutes. If he was wrong, he'd finally start on that Potions essay he had been avoiding. I mean, really. An essay on why certain ingredients should not be used with another was just the kind of thing that annoyed him.
"Well done," said Harry, keeping his eyes closed and not moving an inch. "So you've finally learned the days of the week."
"Today's your birthday," sneered Dudley. "How come you haven't got any cards? Haven't you even got friends at that freak place?"
Harry opened his eyes at that. It was his Birthday? Oh, he was definitely not doing the essay today then. It would be his little gift to himself: postponement of responsibilities (or procrastinating. Either would do).
He sat up on his elbows. "Ah, and so it is. Why? Care to wish me a good one this year, Dudley? That's mighty thoughtful."
Dudley hitched up his trousers, which were slipping down his fat bacon-crusted bottom. He looked to be almost ill at the thought of greeting Harry a happy birthday.
"So how come you haven't got any cards?" his cousin asked again.
Harry took a breath and looked him straight in the eye. "Who needs friends, when I've got you, Dudley? You're my bestest friend ever."
Dudley jumped and ran for the kitchen, but not without murmuring "freak" under his breathe.
Harry sighed as he realized it took three minutes for Dudley to jump away again. He was off by thirty seconds. Ah well, at least he had already decided to do his essay tomorrow.
Laying back down on the grass, Harry thought back to Dudley's question. Did it bother him that none of his acquaintances had written to him since school had ended? In all honesty, his answer was no. He had only ever received one letter at the Dursley home. That was his Hogwarts letter. And besides, he had left Hedwig at Hogwarts. He instructed her to stay since he could not. His gift to her of enchanted owl pellets had nothing to do with it. His instruction to fly around and drop colored stones, ones specially made by him, in random parts of the grounds, not withstanding.
He smirked as he thought of the timed chaos the probably bored Professors would endure. Hey, it wasn't fair that they got to stay and he didn't. A bit childish on his part, but he also knew that the excitement of it all would probably keep them young.
Thinking back on it, maybe he should have asked Hedwig to come around once she was done. Maybe another letter to the Marauders would yield better results than the last time. Besides, he could have also communicated with the Weasley twins. Those two were always good for a laugh. He suddenly missed his acquaintances and almost wished he were back in Hogwarts with even just the MerVamp for company.
His moments of solitude and reflection came to a crashing halt as his Aunt finally thought to utilize the free labor and make him clean the windows (if she saw him make faces at himself through the reflections, she never commented), wash the car (he couldn't resist the urge and actually climbed to its roof and slid down in a whoosh, his bottom wet and soapy. His Aunt upturned the bucket on his head for his troubles), mow the already perfectly mowed lawn (he pretended to make crop circles. He didn't think his Aunt would notice. She did. And made him follow a pattern of her design instead.), and repainted the bench (He had written his name and painted over it so many times he had lost count.).
After his full day of chores and fun, he was finally given a slice of bread a bit of cheese for supper. He was forced to scarf it down as quickly as he could, chug down a whole glass of water, then was directed straight into his new bedroom.
It had already been repeatedly stated (too many times, in fact), that the Potter heir hated his new bedroom. But what he found on his bed actually made him give pause about his (possibly) unfair first impression of it. After all, he never had any visitors in the cupboard. And if the Dursley's had guests tonight, well, it was only fair he had one too. And by Jove, he would treat the creature on his bed better than the Dursley's were treating the Masons!
"Hello." he stated, his eyes wide as took the creature in.
Well, he knew perfectly well what it was. He had seen plenty at Hogwarts. The creature had large, bat-like ears and bulging green eyes the size of tennis balls. It was wearing what looked to be an old pillowcase with rips for arm and leg holes. Harry couldn't help but think the pillowcase looked incredibly soft and comfortable despite the holes and loose threads, as all the best sleep clothes were.
The house elf slipped off the bed and bowed so low that the end of its long, thin nose touched the floor.
"Harry Potter!" the creature had a high-pitched voice just like the ones in the kitchens. "So long has Dobby wanted to meet you, Sir... such an honor it is..."
Harry stared at the creature and at the (thankfully) closed door. "Err... yes. Good to meet you too, err.. sorry. I didn't catch your name."
The creature turned red. But the color clashed so horribly with its skin that Harry was worried he would have sick on his floor in a minute.
"Dobby, sir. Just Dobby. Dobby the house-elf," said the elf.
"Right. Well, I've never really had anyone come visit before..." Harry said uselessly until he remembered that he did have some knowledge on how to treat guests. But the house-elf was already in the house. Ah well, he could start here instead.
Puffing up his chest and doing his best impersonation, he tried his best simpering smile and said, "May I take your coat, Mr. Dobby?"
Harry wanted to hit himself when he noticed that the elf didn't have a coat. Strike one against his hosting skills. It didn't help that the house elf looked so shocked and startled that it looked like it was about to bawl, but Harry wasn't finished.
The elf seemed to already know who he was so he skipped the introductions. Next step then. He held out his arm, "May I take you through to the err.. other side of the bedroom, Mr. Dobby?"
The elf looked like he was in a haze as Harry grabbed the elfs hand and lay it on the crook of his arm and led the elf to a small chair he had just noticed. He ushered the elf to it and sat himself down on the floor.
Now for the next step his Uncle had spoken about. He may not have food to share to the elf, but he could surely think up a few good compliments.
"I've been told that house-elves are wonderful at cooking, Mr. Dobby... Do tell me where you got your pillowcase, Mr. Dobby..."
The elf's eyes got even bigger if it was possible, suddenly looking at its pillowcase as if seeing it for the first time.
Harry smiled and went in for the kill.
"We had to write an essay about our hero at school, Mr. Dobby, and I wrote about you."
It proved to be too much for the house elf it got up from the chair quickly, accidentally pushing it down with a clatter. Mr. Dobby looked panicked and quickly reached to straighten it, but Harry had moved the second it hit the floor and was already holding on to the leg of the chair.
"Oh, let me!"
Mr. Dobby looked panicked, grabbing the other leg of the chair, "No, no, Mr. Potter! Let Dobby!"
Harry pulled at the tiny chair, "But you're a guest! I insist!"
Mr. Dobby pulled back, "No, no, Mr. Potter! It-it isn't right sir! Dobby's is a house-elf, see!"
Harry pulled slightly harder, the little creature stepping forward as a result, "A house-elf that has come to call! I simply cannot-"
"No, No!" Dobby pulled again, "Dobby did it, Dobby must-!"
Harry used his advantage of having a bigger body and lay the chair upright, they were both still holding on to two legs each. "There! See! We did it together. Well, done, old chap!" he let go of the legs and sat back down on the floor.
The little creature looked so confused and overwhelmed that Harry patted the floor next to the elf. "Well, take a seat Mr. Dobby. Plenty of floor to go around if you don't want the chair."
Mr. Dobby plopped himself onto the floor and let out a miserable howl. "Oh! Oh! There were stories, Sir! Stories of how great Harry Potter was. But no one says how good."
Harry frowned, "I can't be all that good if my first house guest is bawling his eyes out during the visit."
The house elf quickly quieted down. "Oh, but sir. It is... Dobby has never been treated like an equal by a wizard! And by Harry Potter, no less!"
"Really?" Harry pondered. "I don't know how it goes on in the Wizarding World but all of this is normal here." Well. Relatively normal.
Mr. Dobby sobbed again, but quieter now. "Oh yes. The Muggles must be great and good to have showed greatness and goodness to Harry Potter."
Harry glanced at his door and shrugged. "Eh. They're alright."
Mr. Dobby wiped his tears on his pillowcase. And Harry remembered the manners drilled into him by watching his Aunt interact with the neighbor women.
"So, what brings you by today? Is it the begonias again? Or has Richard done something to that blasted lawn mower? You can borrow ours if it becomes too much of a nuisance." He thought he did an incredible impersonation of his Aunt.
The house-elf seemed confused but shook its head before getting a determined look on his face. "Dobby has come to warn the great Harry Potter!"
Harry stared, "Warn me? By jove. That sounds important. Warn me about what?"
"He must not go back to Hogwarts." the house-elf whispered.
Harry was non-plussed. "Err... why?"
"There is a plot! A plot, Harry Potter! A plot to make the most terrible things happen at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry this year," the house-elf kept whispering. "Dobby has known it for months, sir. Harry Potter must not put himself in peril. He is too important, sir!"
Harry frowned. "Well, Mr. Dobby. Consider me warned. Is there anything else you have come by for?"
It was the house-elf's turn to stare, "So Mr. Potter will not be returning to Hogwarts?"
Harry sighed and rubbed his temples dramatically. He suddenly pictured himself in one of those afternoon soap operas his Aunt had taken to watching this summer. "I have been quite accommodating of you, Mr. Dobby. But I'm afraid you have been terribly rude in return."
The house-elf's eyes widened and he stood. "No! Never rude to Mr. Potter! Never!"
"I have welcomed you to my humble abode. Have offered you comfort in a chair and on the floor as you insisted. I have listened to your warning. I have kept my end of the deal. But you, master elf, have entered without my express permission. You have disallowed me from going to get my education. And! I just remembered it is my birthday. What a birthday visit this has been. I know I may not have tea or biscuits to serve you, but I think I should have been treated better than that." Harry flourished with his diatribe, but kept his voice at an even tone and volume like he had seen on the telly. The younger woman in that scene had looked cowed by her great Aunt, a role Harry was currently undertaking.
Mr. Dobby sure looked cowed. "But-but... Dobby only means to protect Harry Potter. Never insult-"
The elf grabbed the nearest object, which happened to be the chair, and proceeded to hit himself on the head with it.
"Bad Dobby! Bad Dobby!"
Harry suddenly heard footsteps at the end of the hall. He had completely forgotten about the Dursleys and their guests.
"Dudley must have left his television on again, the little tyke!"
His Uncle flung the door open and spotted the strange creature hitting itself on the head with a small chair. He eyes went from the creature to Harry, then back and forth. His brain seemed to be short circuiting and his face was turning purple.
Harry turned to the Mr. Dobby.
"I think you should go."
The house-elf disappeared with a deafening crack.
His Uncle turned to him in an instant, his face horribly close to Harry's. "What - the - devil - are - you - doing?"
Harry met his gaze head on and said, in a monotone voice, "I am in my room, making a little noise, and am now pretending I'm not here."
He really had been spending too much time with the twins. He wondered how he would be paying for it this time.