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Price of Peace 4 - Uncovering the Truth

Chapter Text

Lily took the book without a word and turned it to the next page.

Chapter Five

The Invitation

James perked up. “To the World Cup?”
“Maybe.” Harry grinned.

By the time Harry arrived in the kitchen, the three Dursleys were already seated around the table. None of them looked up as he entered or sat down. Uncle Vernon’s large red face was hidden behind the morning’s Daily Mail

“Of course they read the Daily Mail.” Hermione muttered.

“Isn’t there only one paper?” Narcissa asked curiously.

Hermione shook her head. “No, it’s not like the wizarding world. There are many different papers, some that come out every day and some that only come out on Sundays or the weekend. But they all have different political stands, which affect how they approach stories. While not the worst, the Daily Mail tends to be a little more right-wing and, well, racist for want of a better word.”

“For example,” Harry added, “say a shopkeeper is robbed and injured in the process. One paper might have a headline like ‘shopkeeper injured in robbery’, whereas the Mail is more like to say ‘illegal immigrant in callous attack’.”

Hermione sniggered. “Yeah, that’s about right. Because, of course, no one else ever does anything illegal. It just doesn’t surprise me that someone like Vernon reads it, that’s all.”

… and Aunt Petunia was cutting a grapefruit into quarters, her lips pursed over her horse-like teeth.

Dudley looked furious and sulky, and somehow seemed to be taking up eve more space than usual. This was saying something, as he always took up an entire side of the square table by himself.

Lily shuddered. “Poor kid.”

James gave her an incredulous look. “Lil, are you kidding me?”

“Bully or not, he is still my nephew.” Lily said sternly. “And it’s not entirely his fault – if Petunia didn’t baby him and spoil him, they wouldn’t be having this problem.”

When Aunt Petunia put a quarter of unsweetened grapefruit onto Dudley’s plate with a tremulous “There you are, Diddy darling”, Dudley glowered at her. His life had taken a most unpleasant turn since he had come home for the summer with his end-of-year report.

Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had managed to find excuses for his bad marks as usual; Aunt Petunia always insisted that Dudley was a very gifted boy whose teachers didn’t understand him, which Uncle Vernon maintained that ‘he didn’t want some swotty little nancy boy for a son anyway’.

“Sounds like they’re contradicting themselves.” Arabella commented.

They also skated over the accusations of bullying in the report – “He’s a boisterous little boy, but he wouldn’t hurt a fly!” said Aunt Petunia tearfully.

“Well, he wouldn’t.” Harry agreed to general confusion. “Flies are too fast for him to catch.”

However, at the bottom of the report there were a few well-chosen comments from the school nurse which not even Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia could explain away. No matter how much Aunt Petunia wailed that Dudley was big-boned, and that his poundage was really puppy-fat, and that he was a growing boy who needed plenty of food, the fact remained that the school outfitters didn’t stock knickerbockers big enough for him any more.

“Sweet Merlin!” Narcissa gasped. “Who on earth lets their child get that big?!”

“Aunt Petunia.” Harry answered flatly.

The school nurse had seen what Aunt Petunia’s eyes – so sharp when it came to spotting fingerprints on her gleaming walls, and in observing the comings and goings of the neighbours – simply refused to see: that, far from needing extra nourishment, Dudley had reached roughly the size and weight of a young killer whale.

Lily looked ill. “Oh, Petunia, what are you doing? I know you hate me and my son, but why do you insist on driving your own into an early grave?!”

Ginny grimaced. “Mum loves feeding us all, but she’d never let us get that big.”

“I don’t think you could.” Hermione commented. “You’ve all got amazing metabolism. I mean, Ron never stops eating, but he’s still skinny.”

So – after many tantrums, after arguments that shook Harry’s bedroom floor, and many tears from Aunt Petunia – the new regime had begun. The diet sheet that had been sent by the Smeltings school nurse had been taped to the fridge, which had been emptied of all of Dudley’s favourite things – fizzy drinks and cakes, chocolate bars and burgers – and filled instead with fruit and vegetables and the sorts of things that Uncle Vernon called ‘rabbit food’.

David frowned. “No wonder the son’s a nightmare – it’s inherited behaviour.”

To make Dudley feel better about it all, Aunt Petunia had insisted that the whole family follow the diet too. She now passed a grapefruit quarter to Harry. He noticed that it was a lot smaller than Dudley’s.

Lily narrowed her eyes. “My son is not the one who needs to lose weight, Petunia!”

Aunt Petunia seemed to feel that the best way to keep up Dudley’s morale was to make sure that he did, at least, get more to eat than Harry.

Addie looked worried. “That’s not good. At least before ‘less’ was still quite a lot.”

But Aunt Petunia didn’t know what was hidden under the loose floorboard upstairs. She had no idea that Harry was not following the diet at all.

James grinned. “Atta boy, Harry.”

Lily sighed. “James …”

“What?” James asked innocently. “Aren’t you glad Harry’s not starving?”

The same thought seemed to have occurred to Lily and she settled for glaring at James and continuing to read without another word.

The moment he had got wind of the fact that he was expected to survive the summer on carrot sticks, and knowing that he couldn’t get away with relying on Jess for more than one meal a day …

“I’m sure you could.” Jen commented. “I doubt she’d begrudge you the food.”
Harry shook his head. “She wouldn’t. But she has to put up with them for the rest of the year.”

… Harry had sent Hedwig to his friends with pleas for help, and they had risen to the occasion magnificently.

Lily beamed at them.

Hedwig had returned from Hermione’s house with a large box stuffed full of sugar-free snacks (Hermione’s parents were dentists) and several ever-warm flasks of home-made soups and casseroles.

“They were lovely.” Harry remembered with a smile.

Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper, had obliged with a snack full of his own home-made rock cakes …

“Why did you write to Hagrid?” Hermione asked in bewilderment. “Hagrid can’t cook!”

“I wasn’t thinking straight.” Harry admitted sheepishly.

… (Harry hadn’t touched them; he had had too much experience of Hagrid’s cooking). Mrs Weasley, however, had sent the family owl, Errol, with an enormous fruitcake and assorted pasties. Poor Errol, who was elderly and feebly, had needed a full five days to recover from the journey.

“She should have borrowed Hermes.” Ginny chuckled.

“What? And leave Percy without an owl for his ‘very important work’?” Fred gasped. “Perish the thought!”

And then on Harry’s birthday (which the Dursleys completely ignored) …

Lily scowled, but didn’t interrupt herself.

… he had received four superb birthday cakes, one each from Ron, Hermione, Hagrid and Sirius.

“Sirius,” Addie sighed, “where’d you get the cake?”

“I had a wand now, remember?” Sirius grinned. “I was able to apply a glamour charm and get into Muggle shops.”

“That was risky.” Addie frowned.

“Not that risky.” Sirius assured her. “News of my escape never broke in South America. I kept to solely Muggle places just in case. I’ve got an account out there anyway, so money wasn’t an issue.”

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’d been planning for a prison break.” Hermione smirked.

Sirius chuckled. “You got me.”

Harry still had two of them left, and so, looking forward to a real breakfast when he got back upstairs, he started eating his grapefruit without complaint.

“Harry, birthday cake is not a real breakfast.” Lily told him.

“Mum, I don’t think you quite appreciate how small this piece of grapefruit was.” Harry sighed. “It was barely two mouthfuls.”

“Eat the cake.” Lily told him.

Uncle Vernon laid aside his paper with a deep sniff of disapproval and looked down at his own grapefruit quarter.

“Is this it?” he said grumpily to Aunt Petunia.

“Well, you could do with losing some weight too, you fat lump.” Mandy hissed.

Aunt Petunia gave him a severe look, and then nodded pointedly at Dudley, who had already finished his own grapefruit quarter, and was eyeing Harry’s with a very sour look in his piggy little eyes.

“Don’t you dare.” James growled.

Uncle Vernon gave a great sigh which ruffled his large, bushy moustache, and picked up his spoon.

The doorbell rang. Uncle Vernon heaved himself out of his chair and set off down the hall. Quick as a flash, while his mother was occupied with the kettle, Dudley stole the rest of Uncle Vernon’s grapefruit.

“Brat.” Alice muttered.

Harry heard talking at the door, and someone laughing, and Uncle Vernon answering curtly. Then the front door closed, and the sound of ripping paper came from the hall.

“That’s odd.” Hermione frowned. “That sounds like a delivery, but most things wrapped in paper come through the letter box – there’s no need to ring the doorbell.”

Aunt Petunia set the teapot down on the table and looked curiously around to see where Uncle Vernon had got to. She didn’t have to wait long to find out; after about a minute, he was back. He looked livid.

“Oh, that’s not good.” Ginny murmured.

“You,” he barked at Harry. “In the living room. Now.”

Bewildered, wondering what on earth he was supposed to have done this time …

“Do they blame you for a lot?” James asked sharply.

Harry nodded. “Anything and everything they can think of.”

… Harry got up and followed Uncle Vernon out of the kitchen and into the next room. Uncle Vernon closed the door sharply behind both of them.

“So,” he said, marching over to the fireplace and turning to face Harry as though he was about to pronounce him under arrest. “So.

“So what?” James asked darkly.

Lily chuckled.

Harry would dearly loved to have said “So what?” …

Sirius smirked. “There’s your father’s wit.”

… but he didn’t feel that Uncle Vernon’s temper should be tested this early in the morning …

“And your mother’s intelligence.” Jen added.

… especially when it was already under severe strain from lack of food. He therefore settled for looking politely puzzled.

“Good boy.” Lily approved, pausing. “I’m glad you learnt some manners in that house.”

This just arrived,” said Uncle Vernon. He brandished a piece of purple writing paper at Harry. “A letter. About you.”

“Oh, it’s from Mrs Weasley.” Hermione realised. “Although why he rang the …” She groaned. “Oh, I know what she did.”

Harry’s confusion increased. Who would be writing to Uncle Vernon about him? Who did he know who sent letters by the postman?

Hermione coughed.

“You’ve never sent letters that way.” Harry pointed out.

“That’s because you’ve got a very smart owl who shows up when she’s needed.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “I do, however, send general letters by the post.”

Uncle Vernon glared at Harry, then looked down at the letter, and began to read aloud:

Dear Mr and Mrs Dursley,

We have never been introduced, but I am sure you have heard a great deal from Harry about my son Ron.

As Harry might have told you, the final of the Quidditch World Cup takes place next Monday night, and my husband, Arthur, has managed to get prime tickets through his connections at the Department of Magical Games and Sports.

“It still amazes me that Uncle Vernon read the letter aloud without having a heart attack.” Harry commented.

I do hope you will allow us to take Harry to the match, as this really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity …

“Yeah, it is.” James agreed. “They’d better let him go.”

Fred sniggered. “We weren’t going to take no for an answer. This was just a formality.”
…Britain hasn’t hosted the Cup for thirty years and tickets are extremely hard to come by. We would of course be glad to have Harry to stay for the remainder of the summer holidays, and to see him safely onto the train back to school.

It would be best for Harry to send us your answer as quickly as possible in the normal way …

“They won’t like that.” Arabella predicted.

… because the Muggle postman has never delivered to our house, and I am not sure he even knows where it is.

Hoping to see Harry soon,

Yours sincerely,

Molly Weasley

P.S. I do hope we’ve put enough stamps on.

Hermione sighed. “I knew I should have helped her.”

Uncle Vernon finished reading, out his hand back into his breast pocket, and drew out something else.

“Look at this,” he growled.

He held up the envelope in which Mrs Weasley’s letter had come, and harry had to fight down a laugh. Every bit of it was covered in stamps except for a square inch on the front, into which Mrs Weasley had squeezed the Dursleys’ address in minute writing.

Hermione and Lily laughed. “Oh dear.” Lily giggled. “No wonder the postman rang the doorbell.”

“What is a stamp?” Regulus asked.

“Well, in the Muggle world, we don’t use owls.” Hermione explained. “We have post boxes where we drop off our letters and then a man – or woman – comes and collects them. Then they’re taken to the post office, sorted into areas and delivered by other postmen, or postwomen.”

“Like if you hire an owl in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, you need to pay a small fee to deliver the letter.” Lily continued. “But because you don’t hand the letter to the post office yourself, you put a stamp – which is a small sticky square of paper with a picture on it – on the envelope to prove that you’ve paid.”

“So you only need one stamp per letter then.” Regulus concluded.

Lily nodded. “Exactly.”

“She did put enough stamps on then,” said Harry, trying to sound as though Mrs Weasley’s was a mistake anyone could make.

“Well, it is.” James said fairly. “I’m willing to bet most of us would have made it.”

His uncle’s eyes flashed.

“The postman noticed,” he said through gritted teeth. “Very interested to know where this letter came from, he was. That’s why he rang the doorbell. Seemed to think it was funny.

“Then laugh it off as a practical joke.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “It’s not difficult.”
Harry didn’t say anything. Other people might not understand why Uncle Vernon was making a fuss about too many stamps, but Harry had lived with the Dursleys too long not to know how touchy they were about anything even slightly out of the ordinary. Their worst fear was that anyone would find out that they were connected (however distantly) with people like Mrs Weasley.

Regulus snorted under his breath, but didn’t comment.

Uncle Vernon was still glaring at Harry, who tried to keep his expression neutral. If he didn’t do or say anything stupid, he might just be in for the treat of a lifetime.

“Oh, you’re going.” Sirius stated darkly. “Just tell him I’ll turn him into a yak or something.”

“A yak?” Addie questioned. “Why not a walrus?”

“Too easy.” Sirius dismissed. “I like a challenge.”

He waited for Uncle Vernon to say something, but he merely continued to glare. Harry decided to break the silence.

“So – can I go, then?” he asked.

A slight spasm crossed Uncle Vernon’s large, purple face. The moustache bristled. Harry thought he knew what was going on behind the moustache: a furious battle as two of Uncle Vernon’s most fundamental instincts came into conflict. Allowing Harry to go would make Harry happy, something Uncle Vernon had struggled against for thirteen years.

Lily’s voice became slightly cold as she tried to control her anger at her ‘family’.

On the other hand, allowing Harry to disappear to the Weasleys’ for the rest of the summer would get rid of him two weeks earlier than anyone could have hoped, and Uncle Vernon hated having Harry in the house. To give himself thinking time, it seemed, he looked down at Mrs Weasley’s letter again.

“Who is this woman?” he said, staring at the signature with distaste.

“Our mother.” Fred scowled. “So watch it.”

“You’ve seen her,” said Harry. “She’s my friend Ron’s mother, she was meeting him off the Hog – off the school train at the end of last term.”

“Well saved.” Hermione commented.

He had almost said ‘Hogwarts Express’, and that was a sure way to get his uncle’s temper up. Nobody ever mentioned the name of Harry’s school aloud in the Dursley household.

Uncle Vernon screwed up his enormous face as though trying to remember something very unpleasant.

“Dumpy sort of woman?” he growled finally.

“Excuse me?” Ginny asked icily. “Have you looked at your son recently?”

“Load of children with red hair?”

Harry frowned. He thought it was a bit rich of Uncle Vernon to call anyone ‘dumpy’ …

“Exactly.” Ginny agreed.

… when his own son, Dudley, had finally achieved what he’d been threatening to do since the age of three, and become wider than he was tall.

Lily paused again and closed her eyes as if praying for strength, before carrying on.

Uncle Vernon was perusing the letter again.

“Quidditch,” he muttered under his breath. “Quidditch – what is this rubbish?”

“It’s not …”

Silencio.” A jet of light hit James and Lily tucked her wand away. “Sorry, sweetheart, but I’d like to get through this chapter today, which I can’t do if you’re ranting about Quidditch.”

Harry felt a second stab of annoyance.

James began waving his arms, evidently in agreement.

“It’s a sport,” he said shortly. “Played on broom …”
“All right, all right!” said Uncle Vernon loudly. Harry saw, with some satisfaction, that his uncle looked vaguely panicky. Apparently his nerves wouldn’t stand the sound of the word ‘broomsticks’ in his living room.

“Muggles use broomsticks too, you know.” Hermione rolled her eyes again. “Just for sweeping rather than flying.”

He took refuge in perusing the letter again. Harry saw his lips form the words ‘send us your answer in the normal way’. He scowled.

“What does she mean, the normal way?” he spat.

“Owl post.” Sirius answered, taking pity on James. “Finite Incantatem.”

“Thanks.” James turned to Lily. “I wouldn’t have ranted for that long. But Quidditch is not rubbish.”

“We know, dear.” Lily smiled.

“Normal for us,” said Harry, and before his uncle could stop him, he added, “you know, owl post. That’s what’s normal for wizards.”

Uncle Vernon looked as outraged as if Harry had just uttered a disgusting swearword. Shaking with anger, he shot a nervy look through the window, as though expecting to see some of the neighbours with their ears pressed against the glass.

“Yes, because they’re all that obsessed with you.” Hermione shook her head. “These people are unbelievable.”

“How many times do I have to tell you not to mention that unnaturalness under my roof?” he hissed, his face now a rich plum colour. “You stand there, in the clothes Petunia and I have put on your ungrateful back –”

“Only after Dudley finished with them,” said Harry coldly, and indeed, he was dressed in a sweatshirt so large for him that he had to roll back the sleeves five times so as to be able to use his hands, and which fell past the knees of his extremely baggy jeans.

“We’re taking you shopping.” Ginny informed him. “Right, Hermione?”

“Run for it.” Sirius advised him in an undertone. “I’ll take you shopping later, but you do not want to get into that torture. Trust me.”

“I will not be spoken to like that!” said Uncle Vernon, trembling with rage.

But Harry wasn’t going to stand for this.

“Go Harry!” Fred and Ginny cheered.

“You know, Gin, you make quite a good Weasley-twin stand-in.” Hermione commented.

“I’ve had practice.” Ginny smirked.

Gone were the days when he had been forced to take every single one of the Dursleys’ stupid rules. He wasn’t following Dudley’s diet, and he wasn’t going to let Uncle Vernon stop him going to the Quidditch World Cup, not if he could help it.

Harry took a deep, steadying breath and then said, “OK, I can’t see the World Cup. Can I go now, then? Only I’ve got a letter to Sirius I want to finish. You know – my godfather.”

“Nicely done.” Hermione smiled.

He had done it. He had said that magic words. Now he watched the purple recede blotchily from Uncle Vernon’s face, making it look like badly mixed blackcurrant ice-cream.

Remus wrinkled his nose. “Well, that’s me put-off blackcurrant ice-cream for life.”

Jen chuckled. “But you always pick chocolate ice-cream anyway.”

“Good point.” Remus conceded.

“You’re – you’re writing to him, are you?” said Uncle Vernon, in a would-be calm voice – but Harry had seen the pupils of his tiny eyes contract with sudden fear.

Sirius smirked. “Good.”

“Well – year,” said Harry, casually. “It’s been a while since he heard from me, and, you know, if he doesn’t, he might start thinking something’s wrong.”

“Damn right I would.” Sirius agreed.
He stopped there to enjoy the effect of these words.

“You’ve got a dark sense of humour, Potter.” Draco sniggered.

“Wouldn’t you?” Harry asked in response.

He could almost see the cogs working under Uncle Vernon’s thick, dark, neatly parted hair. If he tried to stop Harry writing to Sirius, Sirius would think Harry was being mistreated. If he told Harry he couldn’t go to the Quidditch World Cup, Harry would write and tell Sirius, who would know he was being mistreated. There was only one thing for Uncle Vernon to do. Harry could see the conclusion forming in his mind as though the great moustached face was transparent. Harry tried not to smile, to keep his face as blank as possible. And then –

“Well, all right then. You can go to this ruddy … this stupid … this World Cup thing.

James and Sirius cheered, ignoring the slight against their beloved sport.

You write and tell these – these Weasleys they’re to pick you up, mind.

“Oh, we will.” Fred smirked.

I haven’t got time to go dropping you off all over the country. And you can spend the rest of the summer there. And you can tell your – your godfather … tell him … tell him you’re going.”
“OK then,” said Harry brightly.

He turned and walked towards the living-room door, fighting the urge to jump into the air and whoop. He was going … he was going to the Weasleys’, he was going to watch the Quidditch World Cup!

“You lucky thing.” James grinned. “Wish we’d had the chance to go.”

“We did.” Sirius smirked. “The final was in France the year we graduated. Can’t remember how we got tickets, but we all got an international portkey to Calais and travelled by broom the rest of the way. Well,” he glanced at Addie, “not all of us.”

Addie squeezed his hand. “Did you enjoy yourself?”

“I don’t really remember much of it.” Sirius confessed.

“Dementors?” Jen asked softly.

Sirius chuckled. “No, firewhiskey.”

Outside in the hall he nearly ran into Dudley, who had been lurking behind the door, clearly hoping to overhear Harry being told off. He looked shocked to see the broad grin on Harry’s face.

“Serves him right.” Neville scowled. He hated bullies.

“That was an excellent breakfast, wasn’t it?” said Harry. “I feel really full, don’t you?”

“Now, Harry,” Lily chided. “Don’t antagonise him.”

“But, Mum,” Harry said innocently, “Dudley’s so stupid he wouldn’t realise.”

Laughing at the astonished look on Dudley’s face, Harry took the stairs three at a time, and hurled himself back into his bedroom.

The first thing he saw was that Hedwig was back. She was sitting in her cage, staring at Harry with her enormous amber, and clicking her beak in the way that meant she was annoyed about something.

“Could be anything.” Fred chuckled. “Harry has a very temperamental owl.”

Exactly what was annoying her became apparent almost at once.

“OUCH!” said Harry.

What appeared to be a small, grey, feathery tennis ball had just collided with the side of Harry’s head.

“Pig.” Hermione, Ginny and Fred concluded together.

Harry massaged his head furiously, looking up to see what had hit him, and saw a minute owl, small enough to fit into the palm of his hand, whizzing excitedly around the room like a loose firework.

“That’s the Pig Thing.” Hermione smiled.

Harry then realised that the owl had dropped a letter at his feet. Harry bent down, recognised Ron’s handwriting, then tore open the envelope. Inside was a hastily scribbled note.

Harry – DAD GOT THE TICKETS – Ireland versus Bulgaria, Monday night. Mum’s writing to the Muggles to ask you to stay. They might already have the letter, I don’t know how fast Muggle post is.

“Within a day or two usually.” Hermione answered the unasked questions. “Depending on how much you pay and how far it’s going.”

Thought I’d send this with Pig anyway.

Harry stared at the word ‘Pig’, then looked up at the tiny owl now zooming around the lampshade on the ceiling. He had never seen anything that looked less like a pig. Maybe he couldn’t read Ron’s writing.

Ginny chuckled.

He went back to the letter:

We’re coming to get you whether the Muggles like it or not, you can’t miss the World Cup, only Mum and Dad reckon it’s better if we pretend to ask permission first. If they say yes, send Pig back with your answer pronto, and we’ll come and get you at five o’clock on Sunday. If they say no, send Pig back pronto and we’ll come and get you at five o’clock on Sunday anyway.

“Why not just say ‘we’re coming at five o’clock on Sunday’?” Sirius asked.

Fred shrugged. “It’s Ron.”

Hermione’s already here. Percy’s started work – the Department of International Magical Co-operation. Don’t mention anything about Abroad while you’re here unless you want the pants bored off you.

See you soon – Ron

“Calm down!” Harry said, as the small owl flew low over his head, twittering madly with what Harry could only assume was pride at having delivered the letter to the right person.

“No, just excitement about delivering a letter.” Ginny smirked.

Addie shook her head. “Only you, Sirius.”

“Come here, I need you to take my answer back!”

The owl fluttered down on top of Hedwig’s cage. Hedwig looked coldly up at it, as though daring it to try and come any closer.

Harry seized his eagle-feather quill once more, grabbed a fresh piece of parchment, and wrote:

Ron, it’s all OK, the Muggles say I can come. See you five o’clock tomorrow. Can’t wait.

Harry.

He folded this note up very small and, with immense difficulty, tied it to the tiny owl’s leg as it hopped on the spot with excitement. The moment the note was secure, the owl was off again; it zoomed out of the window and out of sight.

Harry turned to Hedwig.

“And now Hedwig’s going to act even more professional than usual just to prove to Harry how it should be done.” Hermione predicted.

“Feeling up to a long journey?” he asked her.

Hedwig hooted in a dignified sort of way.

“Can you take this to Sirius for me?” he said, picking up his letter. “Hang on … I just want to finish it.”

He unfolded the parchment again and hastily added a postscript.

If you want to contact me, I’ll be at my friend Ron Weasley’s for the rest of the summer. His dad’s got us tickets for the Quidditch World Cup!

“Buckbeak couldn’t understand your excitement.” Sirius informed him. “I don’t think he’s a fan of Quidditch.”

“Sirius, he’s a hippogriff.” Addie smirked. “Of course he’s not.”

The letter finished, he tied it to Hedwig’s leg; she kept unusually still, as though determined to show him how a real post owl should behave.

“Told you so.” Hermione sang.

“I’ll be at Ron’s when you get back, all right?” Harry told her.

She nipped his finger affectionately, then, with a soft swooshing noise, spread her enormous wings and soared out of the open window.

Harry watched her out of sight, then crawled under his bed, wrenched up the loose floorboard, and pulled out a large chunk of birthday cake. He sat there on the floor eating it, savouring the happiness that was flooding through him.

“A novel feeling.” Harry commented.

Lily sighed and grabbed his hand again.

He had cake, and Dudley had nothing but grapefruit; it was a bright summer’s day, he would be leaving Privet Drive tomorrow, his scar felt perfectly normal again, and he was going to watch the Quidditch World Cup. It was hard, just now, to feel worried about anything – even Lord Voldemort.

“Really, Harry?” Hermione asked in amusement.

“What can I say, Quidditch solves everything.” Harry joked.

“You are your father’s son.” Lily sighed. “Right, that’s the end of the chapter.