Chapter 1 – Just Another Uneventful Birthday

An anguished yell pierced the stillness of the night. Harry Potter had awoken and was rolling on the floor, clutching his scar in pain. The door to his bedroom flung open and there stood the Dursleys, Uncle Vernon looking angry, Aunt Petunia terrified, and Dudley looking downright stupid as he rubbed his eyes with a clueless look on his face. They looked down at Harry, who was covered in sweat and still clutching his scar as he tried to sit up on the floor.

"What is the matter with you?" yelled Uncle Vernon, spit flying from his mouth, his face purple. "What do you think you're doing? You probably woke the whole street!" If the neighbors had not been woken by Harry's scream, they would no doubt be awake now because of Uncle Vernon's angry bellowing.

"S-sorry. I, er, had a nightmare," Harry stammered.

"He was clutching that foul scar!" shrieked Aunt Petunia. "Something's wrong with him!"

"Er, I just… have a really bad headache. S-sorry, I'm fine now," Harry realized he was still holding his forehead, and he took his hand away from his scar.

"Oh man!" said Dudley. "Look at his scar!"

Harry clapped his hand back to his forehead. " I'm fine. R-really." The Dursleys were looking at him apprehensively.

"Right," said Uncle Vernon after a long silence. "One more peep out of you, and you'll be in big trouble, boy. Understood?" he growled menacingly.

"Y-yes," answered Harry.

Dudley yawned and turned back to his bedroom, followed by Uncle Vernon. Aunt Petunia gave him a look and she also left, muttering about freaks and weirdoes.

Harry sighed in relief, then looked in the mirror. His scar was red and slightly swelled. He sat down on the bed, trebling with the memory of his nightmare. But it wasn't just a nightmare, Harry knew, it had actually happened. Harry tried to remember the dream he had just woken up from.

Voldemort had called his Death Eaters to him, and Harry could vaguely remember that he had been watching the scene from above, as a bird. Voldemort had said that the Death Eaters would act soon, right after the holidays, and that they would all act at once, trying to bring the Ministry of Magic into chaos. He could not remember the details of the dream, but he knew what had awoken him. Voldemort had called a man to him, which Harry recognized as Lucius Malfoy. Voldemort had told him that he would be helping him with something else, a different target. The pain had radiated in Harry's scar when Voldemort had said what it was.

Potter.

Harry knew what this meant, and he had been expecting it. Harry Potter was the reason for the downfall of Voldemort fourteen years ago. His mother had died to protect him and when Voldemort had tried to kill Harry, the curse rebounded on him and Voldemort was reduced to something barely alive. Orphaned, Harry had been brought to the horrible Dursleys, and had not known anything about being a wizard until Hagrid, the gamekeeper at Hogwarts, had come and told him. Then in Harry's first year at Hogwarts, he had encountered Voldemort again, who was then sharing a body with Quirrell, a former Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Harry had stopped him from capturing the Sorceror's Stone, which could have given him back his power and made him immortal. And in his second year, Harry had defeated Tom Riddle, who was Voldemort as a boy in Hogwarts. But at the end of his fourth year, just a few months ago, Voldemort had regained his body using Harry's blood and the help of his servant, Wormtail. Harry had dueled with the Dark Lord and miraculously got away, but not before Voldemort had killed Cedric Diggory, a student at Hogwarts and fellow Triwizard champion. Harry still felt a pang of guilt every time he thought of Cedric.

Harry shook himself and went to the window. There was a faint glow beginning to appear on the horizon, and Harry sat down in front of the window. He scanned the skies for Hedwig, who he had sent off with a letter for Ron and Hermione just a few days ago.

For some reason, Harry had not received a single letter from his friends or anyone else in the wizarding world. Harry remembered how Ron and Hermione had treated him after the end of the Triwizard Tournament, after the return of Voldemort. They had still been his friends, but there was a difference in the way they acted when they were around Harry. With sadness, Harry thought that maybe they did not want to be his friends anymore. He had sent them letter after letter, and never received a reply.

He sighed, wondering why he, of all people, was so different. He turned and looked at the clock – 5:41 A.M. He realized with a start that it was his birthday and he had been fifteen for almost six hours now, without acknowledging it. 'No one else has acknowledged my birthday either,' Harry thought. 'Not even Hedwig is here to share it with me.'

He suddenly felt very tired and, trying to forget his loneliness, he lay back down on his bed, staring at the ceiling. 'Just another uneventful birthday,' he thought as his eyes began to close.

He couldn't have been more wrong.

* * * * *

Just as Harry was drifting into an uneasy sleep, he was once again awoken. There was something standing by his bed, poking him. Harry sat up quickly and groped for his wand. He pointed it at the creature and squinted into the light. Whatever it was had bat-like ears, a nose like a potato, and it looked just like…

"Dobby!" exclaimed Harry.

The house-elf smiled broadly, but shook its head. " I is not Dobby, sir," it squeaked. "But I is Dobby's mother, Telly. Dobby is telling me very much about you, Harry Potter."

Harry stared, then overcoming his shock, he said, "Oh. You look so much like Dobby." Then, remembering what had happened the last time a house-elf had visited his bedroom, he added in a whisper, "But, er, it's not that I'm not pleased to see you, it's just that, well, we need to be very quiet and please don't do any magic. The Dursleys would kill me."

Telly nodded solemnly, her eyes wide. "I is not wanting for Harry Potter to get killed," she said in a whisper.

"Oh, they wouldn't actually kill me. I would just get into very big trouble. But if you don't mind me asking, why exactly are you here?" asked Harry. "I mean, I'm very glad to see you. It's my birthday and not even my owl, Hedwig, is here. And my friends haven't…" Harry paused, looking at Telly suspiciously. "Have you been stopping my mail?" he asked angrily.

The elf looked abashed. "No sir, I is not doing anything like that," she answered earnestly.

"Oh," Harry looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to accuse you, but I haven't gotten a single letter all summer and Dobby… well, he stopped my mail in my second year so I wouldn't go back to Hogwarts."

"I is sorry for what Dobby did, sir. He is only wanting the best."

Harry grimaced as he remembered how much trouble Dobby had gotten him into. "So, then why are you here?"

"I is coming to see you, Harry Potter, because I is going to die soon," Telly said seriously.

"What? But you can't… I mean, how do you know?" Harry asked, stricken.

"I is knowing, sir," she answered. "I is coming to give you a gift, Harry Potter… The Gift."

"What gift?" asked Harry. "I don't want a gift. If you're dying, you should…"

"No, Harry Potter!" she said strictly. "I is giving you The Gift!" Harry was surprised at the sternness in her voice. "Now bow your head, Harry Potter!" He bowed his head obediently.

"The Gift is very rare," Telly told him. "It originated in house-elves, sir, but sometimes they is giving it to their masters."

"But I'm not…" Harry started.

"Quiet, Harry Potter! I is wishing to give it to you." She sighed, then continued. "The Gift was passed down in our family, sir. I would have given it to Dobby but he is thinking that Harry Potter should have it, and I is agreeing with him." She sighed again before going on. "The Gift is different to everyone who gets it. You might have all of the Gift, or you might have almost nothing. The Gift can grow in you sir, if you is wanting it to, and if you is working at it. I is giving it to you now, Harry Potter."

She put her hands on Harry's forehead and said, "Close your eyes, Harry Potter, and be still." Harry knew there would be no use in arguing and obeyed. He shut his eyes after seeing Telly's face furrowed in concentration. He sat there awkwardly for a few minutes, when suddenly he felt a warmth coming from Telly's hands. It crept into him, and he felt his body tingling. Then when the tingling sensation started to fade away, he felt Telly take her hands from his forehead and he opened his eyes.

"What…" he began, then stopped when he saw the house-elf. Telly was shaking and sweating, her brow creased in pain. "Telly!" he yelled, a little too loudly. He knelt down beside her when suddenly the door opened.

"Dad said you—" Dudley Dursley had opened the door. He stopped abruptly when he saw the house-elf lying on the floor. His mouth opened wide and he started to scream. "AHH—"

Harry jumped up and covered Dudley's mouth. Then he shut the door, and turned back to Dudley, his hand still over his mouth.

"You are going to be quiet, and you're not going to tell your mum or dad," Harry said threateningly, pointing his wand at his cousin. He took his hand from Dudley's mouth but kept his wand positioned. "Did you hear what I said?" asked Harry. Dudley nodded slowly, his eyes on Telly. "Now help me, she's dying." Harry bowed over the house-elf. "Well?" Dudley was still standing by the door in shock. "Get over here and help me lift her onto the bed. NOW!" Harry ordered.

Dudley came over quickly, and helped Harry heave Telly on the bed. "W-what is that thing?" he asked shakily.

"It's a house-elf."

"A what?"

"A house-elf, and her name is Telly and she's dying. Now go get some water and hurry up," Harry told Dudley. "And not a word to your mum or dad," Harry growled.

Dudley hurried from the room, and returned a few seconds later with a glass of water.

"Is-is she your pet?" he asked.

"No," Harry said, taking the water from Dudley. "House-elves aren't pets. They're more like servants, but she isn't mine. She's free; you can tell because she's wearing clothes. She just came to visit me. She's the mother of—"

Harry stopped suddenly. He had just had a vision. He got up and stood, not doing anything, just waiting. Dudley looked at him strangely.

He stood there for a moment, then said, "Dobby's coming."

Dudley looked at him questioningly and opened his mouth to say something, but then there was a loud POP! and Dobby appeared. Dudley looked like he was about to scream again, but Harry hushed him. "Be quiet!" Harry didn't even dare to think of how much trouble he would be in if Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia came in and saw a couple of house-elves in his bedroom.

"Dobby!" he said urgently. "It's your mum, she—"

"I know, Harry Potter." Dobby looked up at him calmly. "Is she giving you The Gift?" he asked.

"Yeah, but what—"

Dobby just smiled and said, "I must take her." The house-elf walked over to his mother and held her in his arms. "Good-bye, Harry Potter."

"Wait Dobby, what—" but there was a loud POP! again and they vanished.

Dudley jumped, then sat down quickly on Harry's bed relieved. "Man," he whispered. "Did I just see what I thought I did?"

"Yes, you did. And you're not going to tell anyone about it, you hear?" Harry threatened.

Dudley nodded, then looked up at Harry. "How did you know that other one was coming?" he asked.

"Oh, Dobby? I dunno, I just… I just knew." Harry remembered how he had had the vision of Dobby appearing, and then he just knew that he was coming. He didn't know how to explain it.

"And what's 'The Gift'?" Dudley asked.

"That I don't know," Harry answered. "Telly just said that she had to give it to me, and she—" He stopped, wondering why he was telling all this to Dudley, who had been his enemy all his life. Now they were sitting in Harry's room, talking as if they had always been friends. "You better go, Dudley. What did Uncle Vernon say for you to tell me?"

"Oh that. He said you have to go see my mum, and she's gonna give you work to do," answered Dudley, getting up to leave, also looking surprised that he was in Harry's room talking to him.

Harry groaned. "Oh great…"

Dudley had gone to the door and was about to leave when he turned around and asked, "Isn't it your birthday?"

"Yeah," Harry said, surprised that Dudley remembered.

"Well… Happy Birthday," Dudley said quietly, then hurried away.

Harry was stunned. Did Dudley just wish him a happy birthday without throwing any insults at him? I guess I was wrong, thought Harry. Maybe this birthday won't be so bad after all.

* * * * *

Harry took back that thought as the day went on. Aunt Petunia had given him a long list of chores to do, and now he was kneeling in the hot sun, spreading manure onto the flowerbeds. He had already mopped the floor, vacuumed, cleaned out the garage, washed the car, and mowed the lawn. He still had a number of things to do, and it was just past noon. Aunt Petunia hadn't let him eat breakfast, so he had to deal with pangs of hunger while he worked.

'Not that breakfast would have made much of a difference,' Harry thought to himself. Dudley was still on a diet, and Aunt Punt was forcing the rest of the family to abide by it again. And this time, Harry didn't have any food stashed up in his room. He sighed, remembering that he hadn't gotten a single letter from his friends. Had they forgotten about him? Or maybe something was wrong? Now that Voldemort was back, they were in danger, especially since they were his friends. He would be devastated if something happened to them.

Lost in his thoughts, Harry absentmindedly worked in the flowerbeds. Then he became aware that someone was watching him, and spun around.

Snape.

Harry yelled and fell backwards into the pile of manure he was supposed to be spreading. 'What is Snape doing on Privet Drive?' he thought. But when he looked up again, it wasn't Snape who stood there.

There was a short, middle-aged man standing before him. He was dressed as a postman and had a sack slung over his shoulder. Harry didn't see how he could have mistaken this man for his pale, hook-nosed, greasy-haired Potions professor. But he couldn't help thinking that the sneer on the postman's face very much resembled Snape's.

Harry stood up and tried to brush off his clothes, stuttering, "Sorry, I-I thought you were someone else." The man just stood there with a sneer on his face, watching Harry pick the manure off his clothes.

"Get in here, boy! What's taking you so long?" shrieked Aunt Petunia from the door. "You've still got to clean out the gutters and the chimney. And the toilet's clogged, so you have to go clean it out too. And don't forget, you're not getting anything to eat until you're done!"

Harry groaned and turned to the man. "If you're here to deliver something, you better bring it to the house," he said. The man looked at him disbelievingly. Harry turned back to the flowerbeds.

"Why do you put up with them, Potter?"

Harry jumped up. "What?" he asked. "What did you just say?"

The man looked uncomfortable and shifted his feet. "I mean, well, why are you, er, listening to them?"

"How did you know my name?" Harry asked suspiciously.

"I, er, have some letters for Mr. Harry Potter." he said. "That's you, isn't it?"

Harry just stared, not hearing what he said. 'It couldn't be… but then, it was…' "I knew it!" Harry said. "You're Snape, aren't you?"

The man looked surprised, then suspicious, and then his old familiar sneer returned. "How did you know?" he asked in a whisper.

"I dunno, I just... well, somehow I knew," he answered. Postman-Snape  looked at him curiously.

"Did you take Polyjuice Potion?" Harry asked.

"No. Polyjuice Potion wears off after an hour and it's inconvenient to carry around a flask of it. Not to mention, it's easily recognized. This is called a Charisma. It – never mind, no one is supposed to know about it. But how could you have known it was me? It's supposed to be foolproof."

Harry shrugged. "I dunno, maybe you made a mistake with it. So why are you here anyway?"

"Like I said, I've got some letters for you. You haven't--"

"You have them? Why haven't I been getting any all summer?"

"Part of your protection," Snape grunted.

"Protection? I don't need any stupid protection. How is stopping my letters protecting me? I thought everyone was just ignoring me."

"Use whatever tiny brain you have, Potter," Snape said unpleasantly. "The Dark Lord is after you. Must I remind you of that?"

"No, you don't," snapped Harry. "I already have enough reminding of that. Stupid dreams."

"Oh I see," sneered Snape. "Nightmares bothering you?"

"Will you shut up?" Harry yelled. He had had enough. "You don't know what you're talking about, so shut the hell up! They aren't just nightmares! I know for a fact that they actually happen. I see Voldemort talking to the Death Eaters and I wake up because my scar hurts like hell! Does that make you happy, Snape? To know that I'm in pain?"

Snape, who had been looking daggers at Harry, now had an expression that Harry couldn't distinguish. "They actually happen?" he asked softly. "How do you know? What did Voldemort say?"

"Why should I tell you?" shot Harry.

"Look, I need to know. This is important," Snape said anxiously.

"Why should I tell you?" Harry repeated. "Dumbledore may trust you, but I sure as hell don't. Nothing you have ever said or done to me has ever shown that I could trust you. So forget it. I'm not telling you anything."

"I saved your life, Potter!" Snape spat. "You wouldn't be alive if it weren't for me, don't forget."

"You only saved my life because you were in debt to my dad!" yelled Harry, seething with anger. "You don't give a damn whether I live or die. You'd rather have me dead."

"Is that so? You night think you're always right, Potter, but you're not!"

"Forget it, Snape! You want me to trust you, then you better act like it!" Harry glared at Snape. "Because right now, you're one of the last people on earth that I would ever trust!" Harry turned and stormed away from Snape and towards the house.

"Potter!" Snape called.

Harry kept walking.

"You're forgetting something, Potter!"

Harry stopped and turned around. The postman-Snape was still holding a bulging sack. Harry was so angry that he didn't even notice. "What? Are you going to take points from Gryffindor? Because I really don't care anymore!" With that, he stormed into the house, slamming the door behind him. When he reached the kitchen, he suddenly remembered about his letters. Harry looked out the window, but Snape was no longer there.

'Oh well,' he thought, disappointed, as he climbed the stairs to his room. 'At least now I know they weren't ignoring me.' He opened the door to his bedroom and was surprised to see the sack on his desk and that Hedwig had returned.

He rushed over to the owl and gave her an owl treat he had bought in Diagon Alley. She nipped his finger affectionately. Then Harry turned to the sack and emptied the contents onto his bed. A stream of letters and packages spilled out, Setting the packages aside, he turned to the large pile of letters in front of him.

To his surprise, he saw that they were all dated. Although he was eager to open them, he decided to read them in order so he wouldn't miss anything. So he sorted the letters and was amazed at how many of them there were. 'How could I have ever thought they were ignoring me?' he wondered. He saw the usual letter from Hogwarts and opened it first.

Dear Mr. Potter,

Please note that the new school year will begin on September the first. For security reasons, the Hogwarts Express will not be taking students to Hogwarts this year. Students will receive an individualized Portkey, which will bring them to their common room at a prearranged time. First-years will be brought to the Great Hall. You will receive the Portkeys the morning of the first of September. More information will be give at that time.

Please take extra precautions when out shopping for school supplies. A list of books for next year is enclosed.

Yours sincerely,

Professor M. McGonagall

Deputy Headmistress

Harry knew why these extra security measures were being taken, and he wondered about the Portkeys before leafing through the rest of the packet. There were more required books for fifth years than he had ever had before. He noticed that there was a wide variety of Defense Against the Dark Arts books and he wondered who would be teaching them. They had never had a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher that had lasted more than a year.

He turned to the next page and his jaw dropped in shock after reading the first sentence.

Dear Mr. Potter,

I am pleased to inform you that you have been made a Hogwarts prefect. I have no doubt that you will fulfill this role admirably.

After arriving at Hogwarts, please report to your Head of House, who will instruct you on your responsibilities as a prefect.

          Sincerely,

          Albus Dumbledore

          Headmaster

'Hogwarts prefect?' Harry thought disbelieving. 'Me? Dumbledore's surely off his knocker.' He stared at the parchment, then put it aside and turned to the rest of his letters.

There were letters from Ron and Hermione, telling him about their holidays and what was going on. Harry laughed when Hermione described Rita Skeeter's face after she had let her out of the jar and turned back into her human form. Both Hermione and Ron had stayed home for the holidays (Harry had a good idea why), but they seemed to be having fun.

There were a couple of letters from Hagrid, saying that he had been away most of the summer, but had found some "interesting" creatures for his Care of Magical Creatures class (he swore they weren't too bad, but Harry knew better). He also made a not-so-cryptic statement about Madame Maxime. Harry was glad they were getting along.

Another letter from Ron told him that he got a new broom (his family was doing better financially), and that he was practicing Quidditch because he wanted to try out for the Gryffindor team this year.

He read letters from Sirius, who was out doing something for Dumbledore, and even one from Lupin, who was also working with Sirius.

Then Harry read a letter from Hermione, who wrote that she was a prefect and was very excited about it. 'Wait until she finds out that I'm a prefect too,' he thought.

Finally, Harry finished reading his letters, and had fun opening his birthday cards. Hermione sent him a card that kept changing shape and color. Sirius's card made his hands turn purple with green polka dots. The card from Hagrid looked suspiciously like a dragon as it flew circles around Harry's room, much to Hedwig's annoyance. The card Ron sent sang 'Happy Birthday' in Ron's own voice ('Ron wasn't much of a singer,' Harry thought). He opened another card and stared. It was a plain Muggle birthday card, but that wasn't what he was puzzled at. The card was from Snape. It said:

Don't listen to the Muggles. You have no reason to. Enjoy your birthday.

                   -Professor Snape

Harry stared. 'Snape sent me a birthday card?' Then he came to his senses and threw it aside. 'I'm not going to start trusting him because of some stupid birthday card,' he thought bitterly.

There was one more birthday card and Harry picked it up. The front said, "Happy Birthday" in sparkling letters. He opened it and saw what looked like a keypad of buttons, with numbers 0 through 9. He pressed the number 5. There was a POP! and he was two feet taller than normal. He looked into the mirror and almost fell over in surprise. He had turned into an enormous grizzly bear and was standing on his hind feet, teeth bared. Then there was another POP! and he was back to normal, the birthday card still in his hands. It now flashed "Weasley's Wizard Wheezes" before the keypad reappeared. Harry laughed. Fred and George were really making progress, after Harry had given them the thousand Galleons he had won from the Triwizard Tournament. He couldn't wait to see what else they had thought up.

The door suddenly opened, and for the second time that day, the three Dursleys stood there. Uncle Vernon boomed, "What is all this racket? You haven't even finish--"

He stopped when he saw Harry's room. Letters littered the floor and packages covered the bed. Harry's hands were still purple with green dots and Ron's card was still singing "Happy Birthday." Not to mention that Hermione's card was changing color and shape on the desk, and Hagrid's was flying around the room, Hedwig hooting indignantly.

Aunt Petunia screamed as Hagrid's card flew towards her. Dudley was looking around the room in awe, and Uncle Vernon's was almost as purple as Harry's hands.

"WHAT-WHAT IS ALL THIS? HOW DARE YOU BRING THINGS LIKE--" Uncle Vernon swatted the dragon-card, which was about to land on his balding head. "—LIKE THIS, INTO MY HOUSE?" The dragon-card, apparently angry for being swatted, shot sparks at Uncle Vernon, igniting his mustache.

This was too much for Harry. He started laughing so hard that he was crying. He clutched his stomach in laughter as Aunt Petunia shrieked and started beating Uncle Vernon's face with a pillow in an attempt to put it out. She finally succeeded, but then Dudley came rushing in with a glass of water and emptied it all over his father's head. Harry just laughed as the Dursleys stood there, Uncle Vernon sputtering like an engine.

Harry, gasping for breath, finally regained his composure. "You should see your faces," he said as he grabbed the flying card from the air and put it on his desk.

"I - I WILL NOT – BE – SPOKEN – TO – LIKE – THAT!" Uncle Vernon raged.

For once, Harry decided to take Snape's advice. After all, why was he listening to them when he could very easily hex them to pieces with just a wave of his wand?

"Whatever," said Harry calmly. "But I've had it with you telling me what to do. I'm staying here only because I have to, and I'm not putting up with any more of your crap, so clear off and leave me alone, or else."

"Oh yeah?" asked Uncle Vernon dangerously.

"Yeah!" said Harry. He looked down at the Weasley's Wizard Wheezes card that he was still holding and pressed the number 5.

POP! Harry Potter was now an enormous grizzly. Dudley's eyes grew wide as Harry took a step towards them. Both Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon screamed and ran from the room. A few seconds later, Harry was himself again and laughing uproariously.

Dudley still stood at the door, his jaw dropping. Then his mouth broke into a grin and he started laughing. "How did you do that?" he asked.

"Thanks to Weasley's Wizard Wheezes," Harry answered, gasping for breath.

"Huh?"

"My best friend's twin brothers, Fred and George, made it. They're real jokers," said Harry.

"Are-are they the ones who gave me that-that toffee?" Dudley asked.

"Oh that!" Harry said, laughing. "Yeah, that's them!"

Dudley blushed, embarrassed, and Harry stopped laughing. "Sorry, but I'm used to it if something like that happens. It wears off after awhile. See? My hands aren't as purple as they were before."

"How did they get purple?" Dudley asked.

"Here," said Harry, giving Dudley Sirius's card. "Open it."

Dudley looked at Harry suspiciously.

"It's okay, it just changes the color of your hands."

Dudley took a deep breath and opened the card. His hands turned blue with yellow stripes. "Wicked…" he said.

"Try this one," said Harry, handing him the Weasley's Wizard Wheezes card. "Press a number. I only know number 5, that's the grizzly."

Dudley pressed the number 2 and became a tiger. "Whoa…" he said when he was human again. "That was awesome!"

The two cousins entertained themselves by pushing the rest of the buttons, turning into an owl, a snake, a chimpanzee, a house-elf, a cat, and some other animals. Then Dudley turned to the packages on Harry's bed. "What are those?" he asked.

"I dunno," Harry shrugged. "Birthday presents, I guess. I'll open them."

He grabbed the nearest package and tore the brown paper off it. It was a large basket of food from Mrs. Weasley. She had no doubt remembered how the Dursleys had treated him and wanted to make sure he wasn't starving. Dudley eyed it hungrily, drooling.

Harry put it aside and grabbed the next package, which was from Hagrid. It was a large box of Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Bott's Every-Flavor Beans, Cockroach Clusters, and a variety of other sweets from Honeydukes.

Then he came across a large, heavy package, which turned out to be from both Ron and Hermione. It was a handsome wooden box with intricate designs engraved on it. He lifted the lid and gasped. Inside was a collector's set of top quality Quidditch balls, including the red Quaffle, the two black Bludgers, and the Golden Snitch.

"Wow…" he whispered. Dudley shuffled over to have a better look.

"What are those?" he asked.

"They're the balls used for Quidditch. That's a sport played on broomsticks," Harry explained. "I know! I'll show you Quidditch Through the Ages." Harry stood up and went to his closet. He pulled out his trunk, took out the book, and gave it to Dudley.

"Whoa! The pictures move," exclaimed Dudley as he opened it. "Can you actually fly one of those things?" he asked, pointing at the picture.

"Sure. Want to see my broom?" Harry took out his Firebolt and showed it to Dudley, who was awestruck. Harry then explained the rules of Quidditch to Dudley, who hung on to every word.

Harry was glad to have someone to listen to, especially someone who was so interested in what he was saying, even if it was Dudley. Harry showed him his books and Sneakoscope, and explained what Hogsmeade was like. Then he coaxed Dudley into trying some Cockroach Clusters and Bertie Bott's Every-Flavor Beans, which Dudley enjoyed until he came across a vomit-flavored one. Then Harry pulled out his Invisibility Cloak.

"What's that?" asked Dudley in the middle of a Chocolate Frog.

Harry pulled it on and Dudley's mouth fell open. Harry tiptoed behind Dudley, then poked him in the back. Dudley screamed and Harry took off the Invisibility Cloak.

"It's an Invisibility Cloak," he said. "Want to try it out?"

Harry the cloak to Dudley, who put it on, his head floating in midair. "Wow," he whispered in awe. "You know what you could do with this?"

"Yeah, it's great for sneaking out of bed at night," Harry said.

Dudley gave the cloak back to Harry. "What's in the rest of the packages?" he asked.

Harry went over to the forgotten packages and opened the nearest one. It turned out to be a box of assorted Weasley's Wizard Wheezes tricks. Apparently, Fred and George were very grateful to Harry for his generous donation. The tricks included a box of chocolates that Harry wouldn't touch, some trick quills and fake wands, a bag of Ton-Tongue Toffees, and a variety of other things that Harry couldn't recognize.

All of a sudden, Dudley started to shrink. He had tried one of the chocolates, and was rapidly diminishing until he was only 10 inches tall. Harry hooted with laughter until Dudley was back to normal.

"Sorry," he said between laughs. "It's just that you should never accept anything from Fred and George. I should have warned you."

After that, Dudley decided he wasn't going to eat any more of Harry's candy.

Harry reached over to the last package and saw that it was from Sirius. He opened it and was surprised to see that it was an old book. He flipped through the pages and noticed that one was marked with a scrap of parchment. Harry read what was Sirius's handwriting:

Harry,

I daresay you might find this useful. See if Ron and Hermione will help you. I trust that you will make the right choices and keep yourself and your friends out of danger.

-Sirius

'Help me with what?' Harry wondered. He looked at the top of the page that was marked and gasped. The top of the page read: 'Becoming an Animagus.'

"What's an 'Animagus'?" asked Dudley, reading over Harry's shoulder.

"A wizard that can turn into an animal at will," Harry answered as he flipped through the pages. The process was very complicated, involving many spells and potions. "I'll have to get the ingredients for the potions in Diagon Alley," he said to himself. "And buy enough for Ron and Hermione, too."

At that moment, there was a small explosion and Harry's letters flew all over the room. Hedwig had had enough and flew out the window with an annoyed hoot. Harry looked up from the book. Dudley was holding a small box and was covered in black soot.

"One of those tricks," he said shortly as Harry burst into laughter.

They decided to clean up, and packed away Harry's things into his trunk. When they were done, they sat down on Harry's bed and shared the cake Mrs. Weasley had sent.

Hedwig flew back in and Harry could have sworn he heard her say, "Finally," as she settled herself in her cage. 'But that's absurd,' he thought. 'Owls don't talk.'

Suddenly Harry heard Aunt Petunia's scream from downstairs. Harry and Dudley ran downstairs and saw a fluffy ball zooming around the kitchen. It flew towards Harry, who reached up and caught it.

"Pig!" Harry said. The minute owl had a piece of parchment tied onto its leg and Harry carried it upstairs to his room. He untied the parchment with great difficulty, as the owl wouldn't hold still.

When Harry let go of the owl, Pig proceeded to zoom around Harry's room.

"Calm down!" Harry hissed.

The owl stopped abruptly and started hopping up and down on Harry's desk. "Sorry, so sorry, sorry, sorry!" it hooted.

Harry fell off his chair with a thud. "You-you can talk!" he exclaimed.

"Of course we can talk," hooted Hedwig indignantly. "All animals can talk. Humans just don't know how to listen."

"But – how come you – why haven't I heard you before?" Harry asked.

"You didn't have The Gift then," Hedwig answered simply.

"That-that's what The Gift is? I can talk to owls?"

"Not just that," answered Hedwig cryptically, closing her eyes sleepily. "Tell that sorry excuse for an owl to shut up."

Pig was still hopping on the desk, saying, "Sorry, sorry, so sorry, sorry!"

"Shut it, you," Harry said to the little owl. Pig shut up.

"Why are you hooting like that?" asked Dudley from the door.

"You won't believe it, but not only can I talk to snakes, now I can talk to owls," Harry said, grabbing the parchment Pig had delivered. It was from Ron:

Harry,

You can come stay at the Burrow for the rest of the summer. Mum's arranged everything with Dumbledore. I don't know if you'll get this in time, but we're coming to get you on the first of August. We'll be taking the Knight Bus. Hermione's coming too.

I can't wait until you get here. Fred and George have something to tell you.

                   See you soon,

                   Ron

Harry whooped for joy. "I'm going to Ron's house!" He did a little jig. "You might as well stay here, Pig," he told the little owl.

"Who's Ron?" Dudley asked.

"You saw him. His family all has red hair. And his twin brothers are the ones who make Weasley's Wizard Wheezes."

"When are you leaving?"

"Tomorrow."

"Oh," said Dudley shortly.

"But I'm all packed and everything," Harry said quickly. "What do you say we go try out that Invisibility Cloak?"

"Cool," Dudley said with a grin. "Let's go."

So they went downstairs, Dudley under the Invisibility Cloak. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia were sitting at the kitchen table, and they looked at Harry when he came in, apparently alone.

"Just to get this straight," said Uncle Vernon harshly. "You can do what you want, but I won't have you doing magic in this house!"

"Sure, whatever," shrugged Harry. He didn't want to get in trouble with the Ministry of Magic.

At that moment, the refrigerator opened and a piece of chocolate cake came floating out. Harry's aunt and uncle looked terrified.

"Must be a ghost," Harry shrugged, trying not to laugh.

He walked outside and Dudley took off the Invisibility Cloak, stuffing his face with the cake.

Harry had an idea. He grabbed the cloak and told Dudley to wait for him. Then he went back inside, making as much noise as possible under the Invisibility Cloak. He took his Firebolt from his bedroom and went through the kitchen swinging it over his head. His aunt and uncle were sitting rigidly at the table staring at the dancing broomstick in horror. Harry laughed before he got out of the kitchen, and his aunt and uncle jumped in their seats.

When he got outside, he found Dudley waiting for him.

"Wait a minute, I'm going to call Pig," he told Dudley. He went to the side of the house and called Pig. The little owl came barreling down from the window in a flash. "I'm going to need you to keep watch. Follow me," he told the owl.

So he and Dudley, followed by the overenthusiastic owl, headed towards the park. When they walked out onto the baseball field, Harry told Pigwidgeon to make sure no one was around. Then he mounted his broom and took off.

Dudley watched openmouthed as Harry flew circles around the field, doing tricky moves on his Firebolt. Harry felt free for the first time all summer. The last time he had flown was at the first task of the Triwizard Tournament when he had to get past a dragon, and that seemed like ages ago.

Harry dived quickly and landed next to Dudley. "Want to try it out?" he asked with a grin.

Dudley stared wide-eyed at the broom. "Will you teach me?" he asked.

So Harry showed Dudley how to mount the broom and taught him the basics of flying. By the end of the evening, Dudley was slowly flying back and forth across the field comfortably.

"Wow," he breathed when he finally landed next to Harry and gave him back the Firebolt. "That was so awesome."

Harry called Pigwidgeon and they started back home. Dudley kept going on about how cool it was to fly. "You are so lucky to be magic," Dudley told Harry. "How is your school?"

So Harry told him all about Hogwarts, his friends, and even about Voldemort. They finally got home and went into the kitchen to make sandwiches. Aunt Petunia walked in as they were eating, and was surprised to see Harry and Dudley chatting like friends. But she just turned and left the room without a word.

Before going upstairs, Harry went into the living room where his aunt and uncle were sitting. They flinched when he came in.

"Just to let you know," Harry said. "I'm going to be at my friend Ron's house for the rest of the summer. They're picking me up tomorrow."

Uncle Vernon grunted. "They are not coming into the house again," he said in a small voice.

"I don't think they'll want to," Harry said, and went up to his room. Hedwig and Pigwidgeon had gone out hunting for the night. Harry made sure all his things were packed away in his trunk before getting into bed.

'It's been a good birthday,' he thought contentedly as he lay in his bed. 'But very strange…'

Yet the day's surprises weren't over.

Just as Harry was falling asleep, he sat up abruptly in his bed. Something poked its head through Harry's open window.

"I never made it to Brazil."

Authors Note: Hey this is my first fic on FanFiction.net. It may start out a bit slow, but give it a chance; it gets better. Ships come up in later chapters and so does the action. I hope you all like my fic. Don't forget to review!

Email me anytime at maggie1130@aol.com and I'll always write back.

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