Harry fell asleep quickly and had a dreamless night, something that he was particularly grateful for. He woke, sprawled half across Sirius's bed, which was still there in all its multi-coloured glory. One of the pillows had somehow got onto his head, so he took this off and sat up, reaching for his glasses as he did so. Then the memory of the previous day's letter hit him. One more day and he would be at the Weasley's!
The clock opposite him proclaimed that it was half-past eight in the morning. Feeling more wide-awake than normal Harry got ready and went downstairs for breakfast. Snape wasn't down as yet, so he had the kitchen to himself. Breakfast wasn't ready yet, (scrambled eggs and toast, from the smell) so he sat there looking around and enjoying the sunshine that was pouring in through the large windows.
The house was quiet and peaceful, and yet again he relished the fact that he wasn't cooking bacon for Dudley, or making tea for Uncle Vernon. What was he going to do today? There was…. Nothing. Hmm. He could take his duvet apart, and put it back together again? Lost in his thoughts he was tracing the grain of the table with his fingers when an owl swooped through a window and deposited a newspaper on the table.
Not having any news of the outside world for close on two weeks Harry was extremely glad to have a chance of reading about what was going on.
Curious to see whether Hermione had released Rita Skeeter yet, he picked it up and began reading. The various news was not very exciting and not much really had happened, well at least that the Prophet had heard about.
One of the most interesting articles was;
"…Daily Prophet reporter Rita Skeeter has recently reappeared into the public eye, after an absence of several weeks.
Rumours have abounded around her disappearance, including that the Ministry had disposed of her, fed up with her constant criticism. Another was that she had been eaten by a rabid Hippogriff.
Famed for her "no-nonsense" (Harry snorted at this) style of reporting and the consequences and controversial results that her articles have (Harry knew all about this) she remains one of Britain's most high-profile reporters… She refuses to confirm rumours that she was captured by the Ministry and used for controversial experiments. Claims have been made that she had her brain removed and then put back in a different manner. There have been allegations that goats were involved…"
The rest of the news was unsurprising, Cornelius Fudge, the Minister for magic was refusing to either confirm or deny rumours of Voldemort's return, a dragon had been sighted by Muggles, etc.
By this time the food was ready but he didn't pay much attention to it. However there was one article that made his heart drop into his boots. Or would do if he had boots.
In the "Announcements" column, there was a certain notice. About a certain person.
"Today, In Crofter's Field, a memorial service is being held for Cedric Diggory. This is the time for relatives and friends of the 17 year old, to pay their respects if they so choose to.
His parents, Amos and Marge Diggory wish to make it known that friends, and relatives who have not already been informed of this are welcome at the service and that mourning dress is optional.
All who knew him described the 17 year old as a wonderful person. "
Harry sat there, a blank look on his face. Memorial service, memorial service chanted some part of his mind…
Just then Snape entered and went to the other end of the table.
Harry didn't notice him; he was too busy staring into some place that only he could see.
Snape asked something, Harry dragged his mind away and paid attention.
"…newspaper?" Snape was saying.
"Er… yeah. Sorry Professor"
Harry pushed the paper across the table. The plate in front of him had scrambled eggs on it. He didn't feel like eating them now. However not wanting to wait till lunch for a meal, he ate most of what was on his place but couldn't stomach any more. Snape gave him an odd look, as he made his way to the sink. Harry couldn't know that he looked quite strange at the moment, with his expression that he was looking at something that only he could see. Which was true.
He went upstairs and tried his best to think about something happy. He looked long and hard for something to do, but there was nothing at all that he could think of. However the part of his brain that came up with stupid and reckless things, which seemed to be on a roll lately, popped another idea into his mind.
Explore the house. After all, he'd be living here for the next two months. He had the invisibility cloak… he had time… and suddenly his spirits began to perk up. He'd have to be careful though. The cloak, wonderful as it was, didn't stop him making noise, or being solid. There was also the fact that he might stumble on some passage, get hopelessly lost, and they would find his skeleton years later.
Checking the corridor, all seemed clear. Taking the cloak under his arm he made as if to go out of the door. However, just coming up the stairs was Snape. Hurriedly he shut the door and stuffed the cloak under the pillow. Snape passed the room and Harry heard the click of Snape's door. A few minutes later he heard footsteps again and he breathed a sigh of relief as he heard them go down the stairs. Donning the cloak he slipped out of his room and to the head of the stairs. There was no one there.
He went to the opposite side of where the stairs began for that floor and taking care not to make any noise, he tried the various doors. Most of the doors were locked along the corridor, and he wandered along, trying random doors. Eventually he turned a corner and walked down. It was slightly eerie, walking where there was only silence, and he didn't know what was around the corner. For all he knew, Snape might have laid a mantrap there, or some horrible monster, like Fluffy.
There wasn't really much there. There were a few open doors though, where the house-elf had obviously been dusting or something. The rooms were filled with old furniture, or were bare.
As he walked past a branch off he tensed, startled. He had definitely heard a voice…
'…don't know what you were thinking Victoria…'
Intrigued, he tiptoed down the corridor. He figured he would be pretty safe considering he was invisible, and that no self-respecting member of the Dark Side would be called Victoria.
Reaching the end of the passage, he found the source of the voice. Hanging on a wall was a picture of two girls sitting on a bench, a large oak tree behind them. The girl on the right, nearest to him, had uncontrolled curly brown hair that reminded him very much of a mop. She wore an ankle length blue dress in a fabric that shimmered like water.
The other girl was very different. She had light brown skin and her hair would have looked black, had it not been full sunlight. She was wearing a black and gold sari that sparkled when the sun caught it.
"Tia, I happen to like this dress." said the curly-haired girl with dignity. "What's wrong with it?"
"It's too… oh I don't know. It's alright I suppose."
"Well why did you just say it wasn't?"
"It's fine Victoria. Its lovely."
The curly-haired girl, who Harry assumed was Victoria, gave her companion an exasperated glare.
"Are you looking at my nose?" said Tia, clapping her hands to her face.
"Tia, you have a lovely nose. It is one of the classic noses."
Victoria rolled her eyes. " It is." She sat back, and after a few seconds a smile spread over her face.
"What?" she snapped, one hand still over her nose.
She nodded, an evil glint in her eye. Her friend suddenly gave a small shriek and slapped her.
Harry shook his head and turned away from the painting. The two girls were clearly insane. Tia's nose was perfectly alright, and what on earth had Victoria been going on about pancakes for?
He tensed as he thought he heard footsteps. He wasn't sure but he hurried back down the corridor and towards the stairs when he saw Snape at the foot of the stairs. Rushing slightly, he made his way back to his room and shut the door before taking off the cloak and again hiding it under his pillow.
He didn't want to go out again, so he wandered into the bathroom with the objective of making it tidier. However in his absence it had been tidied and there was nothing to do.
A while later when he judged it to be safe, he put the cloak on again and slipped out. This time he found his way more quickly and was where he had left off. He went a bit further looking in rooms and trying to figure out what they had been. Some of the rooms were bare and empty. Others had more interesting things in them, such as collections of various items.
There was a room full of wonderfully decorated silk covered folding screens. There were pictures of dragons, unicorns and other fantastic beasts.
One particularly wonderful piece was black with snarling, snapping red and gold Chinese dragons picked out with bursts of fire in between. Another was a woman reclining on a couch wearing a sari. What was extraordinary about the screen was the detail and decoration that had gone into it. There were patterns picked out in semi-precious stones, and the folds of the clothes looked almost real.
He stood there, moving and admiring the various picture and scenes, each a collectors item in itself.
Eventually he walked on making sure that he closed the door and knew where it was. After this he came upon more locked doors and empty rooms. Not knowing what time it was he went back with as much speed and as little noise, not wanting to miss lunch. He gauged it to be around half-twelve and when he checked, safely in his room he was surprised that he was right.
One o clock came and he made his way downstairs. Having spent the last three hours exploring he was by now quite hungry.
In the middle of some sort of fish with vegetables Hedwig swooped in and dumped a letter on the table. She then decided to stick her beak in Harry's water and then flew off, clearly desperate for a long sleep. Harry eyed the two letters with a certain amount of interest, as one was addressed to 'Whom it may concern'. He supposed that meant Snape and wondered who would be writing to him. However he picked it up and opened the envelope.
Out came a folded note, and a letter. He picked up the letter, sat down in his seat and started to read.
'To whom it may concern,
We wish to inform you that we are going on a summer holiday to Majorca and we would not be able to take our nephew back should you choose to throw him out.
We take no responsibility for any damage caused to you, whether physical or mental. We enclose his birthday present and wish you good luck
Mr. And Mrs. Dursley. '
This was written on plain notepaper with a border of what looked like blue pansies.
Snape had now finished and was going out of the door when Harry called
" It's for you Professor." Whirling round, Snape came back and took the letter from Harry. Harry picked up the note and scanned the contents
'Can't take you back for any of the holiday, so don't get thrown out.
Your birthday present is enclosed.'
A very friendly letter. Harry looked out of the corner of his eye at Snape who wore quite an odd expression as he read the letter. He finished it, and screwed it into a ball and took the note, from where it was lying on the table. He read that, and lifted an eyebrow. Harry was thinking that he had better get upstairs and fast when Snape picked up the envelope and pulled something out.
" Potter, there seems to be a twig in the envelope."
" That'll be my present then."
" It's a twig."
" Do they often give you...er… gifts ?"
The look on Snape's face was now priceless.
Harry merely thought that the Dursleys had wanted to make a good impression on whoever he was staying with by sending him a present, after ignoring it for a couple of years. Or maybe they were feeling generous now that they didn't have to see him for two months.
Snape seemed a little disturbed by Harry's reaction, as he looked completely nonchalant.
Harry spoke at this point.
" It's really nice of them to remember my birthday, actually. And no. "
He paused to enjoy the look on Snape's face. He looked… a little bit shocked, a little bit disbelieving, but Harry thought he was probably agreeing with the Dursleys.
Back in his room, there was only one thing on his mind- exploring. He donned the Cloak once more, shut his door and slipped out. It took him less time to find where he was before, and to continue down from there. The doors down here were older than his and had a different look to his.
Harry wandered for a while until he spotted a door that was ajar. Curious, he crept in and was rewarded by the sight of a single solitary painting hanging there.
It was of a young girl. The name engraved on the frame was:
"Ethel Snape. 1840-1852."
Out of the picture, a black-haired, grey-eyed girl gazed defiantly out of a thin pointed face. She wore the severe old-fashioned pinafores of the era and her hair fell around her face. Harry watched with interest as she stretched suddenly and started to move. The expression on her face was that of boredom.
He made as if to go, but tripped over something on the floor. At the noise she fell off the chair she was sitting on and called out.
Harry took off his Cloak and looked at her. She stared back, her face guarded and unfriendly. For a moment neither spoke. She finally broke the silence.
" Who are you? And what are you doing here? You don't look the least bit like a Snape. " she asked. A friendly person to say the least.
" Harry. And I'm not a Snape."
" Well what are you doing here? The house hasn't gone out of the family for centuries."
" I was… I was…."
"Looking around? Why are you here? There are more interesting places in the house."
This conversation was definitely going places.
" Well I haven't found them yet. I'm not meant to be here though. Are you going to snitch on me?"
Ethel considered this. "No. I'm lonely as well and I haven't anyone to talk to either. The current Snape here… what's his name…. Severus, isn't much fun."
"You're telling me?" said Harry. "He's one of my teachers at school."
"Oh, so he is a teacher? I thought he was. What does he teach?"
The conversation progressed for a good half hour, through an epic description of the Potions dungeons, Harry's friends and Ethel's life, and then Harry gave her a recap of current affairs (she hadn't heard anything about the outside world for over a hundred years – she had never even heard of Voldemort!)
"Well I talk to the other portraits," she said, "but no-one ever bothers to tell us anything. We're just pictures." she added bitterly.
Harry gave her a good recap of everything that had happened since Victorian times, as far as he could remember, and at Ethel's insistence told her about most of his own encounters with Voldemort (he did, however, leave out Cedric.)
They talked for quite a long time, until Harry realised that he really ought to get back before Snape realised he was in the locked up part of the house and made him do some particularly nasty chore.
He made his way back to his rooms, glad of another person to talk to after he came back from Ron's … only half a day away! Harry was in a better mood than previously. Meeting one of Snape's relatives in a picture was weird enough, but also that he should be looking forward to talking to them again?
After this there was really nothing to do. Ron and Hermione seemed an age away as he sat in his bedroom waiting for dinner.
When it did come, as usual it was a silent meal, consisting of well… silence. Snape seemed more cheerful than usual, if it was possible. He seemed to be giving Harry less death glares than usual. He idly wondered whether Snape had seen any Muggle science-fiction movies before, in which the monster shoots out rays which kill the hapless victim… Harry in this case.
As he ate his way through some dish of meat and vegetables he reflected on the fact that tomorrow he could have real conversation with people. Not snakes, not pictures, but people. Snape didn't mention his trip to Ron's – he probably realised Harry knew already – so Harry left the room without uttering a single word, looking forward to tomorrow.
AN: Well thank you for reading and putting up with us! I think this is our longest chapter yet! Was it worth the wait? Tell us!