Chrysanthemum Potter woke to the soft cries of an owl. It was a tragically beautiful sound. The nearly twelve-year-old girl rolled out of bed and knelt in front of the cage where Hedwig the owl was kept prisoner. Not knowing how else to comfort her, Chrys squeezed her fingertips between the bars and stroked at the snowy white feathers. Though she barely had enough space to move, Hedwig somehow managed to nuzzle against Chrys. Temptingly, a sweet breeze brushed past the curtains. The bird and the girl sighed in unison. As Chrys had slept in a cupboard under the stairs for nearly eleven years, she understood the pangs of claustrophobia.
"I'll get you out of here," Chrys whispered. "I promise."
"Don't make promises you can't keep." Her twin brother Harry had woken up, green eyes squinting down at her from the top bunk. "We haven't found out where Uncle Vernon's stashed the key."
"Not yet, but soon, if I have my way," Chrys said firmly.
"Which is when? When do we ever have our way?" Harry argued, pessimistic as always. Hedwig hooted again, no doubt attempting to mediate.
A resounding crash from the other room followed by shouts of "That ruddy owl!" singled that Uncle Vernon had woken up as well.
"Some day this is shaping up to be." Harry whistled 'happy birthday to me,' badly out of tune.
Chrys grinned. "We can't give up hope just yet. I'm sure you'll be less grumpy after we've had a bite to eat."
It may have been premature of her to assume breakfast would cheer them up. The morning meal at Number Four Privet Drive was a strained affair, as all meals had been recently.
Trying for some diplomacy, Harry pleaded with Uncle Vernon to let Hedwig out.
"Do I look stupid?" their uncle spat, spewing bits of fried egg all over the table.
"Is that a trick question?" Chrys mumbled under her breath. Harry snorted quietly. Aunt Petunia tutted and dabbed at the tablecloth. Harry opened his mouth to speak again, but their cousin Dudley Dursley interrupted with an earth-shattering burp. "I am simultaneously impressed and disturbed," Chrys admitted. Dudley grinned at her, taking this as a compliment.
"Pass the bacon," he ordered, waving his meaty hand at the pan.
"You've forgotten the magic word," Harry reminded him, ever involved in the seemingly impossible task of teaching Dudley some manners. Chrys winced as the Dursleys exploded (unfortunately not in the literal sense).
Uncle Vernon jumped up, flapping limbs making him look rather like an out of control windmill. Dudley scrambled backwards, leaving smashed plates and overturned chairs in his wake. Aunt Petunia took one look at the state of her kitchen and slumped over in a near faint.
The Durselys only settled down once Harry had thoroughly apologized for using the 'M-Word.'
"I'm not surprised the thought of politeness shocks them so much," Chrys joked, though she knew perfectly well it was the use of the word 'magic' that had thrown them off.
"They keep acting like I'm about to explode," Harry grumbled as Aunt Petunia attempted to tidy the room and soothe her husband at the same time. "I'm not a bomb."
"With a temper like yours, you might as well be," Chrys teased.
Harry frowned. "I'm serious, this isn't ordinary behavior, even for them."
Chrys shrugged. "I reckon the Durselys have always thought of us as about as much good as spoiled milk," she said. Harry laughed bitterly. "Besides, we're better than ordinary, we're extraordinary." Chrys glanced over her shoulder to make sure the others were properly distracted, and then continued in a quieter tone. "I'm a witch, you're a wizard, and we go to the best school for magic there is. You should be proud."
"Easy for you to say, when you're second in our year," Harry pointed out.
Chrys rolled her eyes. "Your marks are fine. Anyway, it's not like school is the only proper measure of intelligence. You're plenty smart, Harry, you wouldn't have survived otherwise. Need I remind you it's now been two times we've now faced off with the man who killed our parents and lived to tell the tell? That's got to be worth something."
"I guess." Harry shrugged. Sometimes Chrys admired her brother's humility, mostly it was just annoying.
"Aren't you excited to get back to Hogwarts? I've missed learning new spells, and being with Hermione and Ron…" Chrys trailed off at the look on Harry's face. "It's getting boring with only you and the Durselys for company," she continued, so that he wouldn't have time to dwell on their friends' absence. "You know, I even miss Lavender Brown filling me in on the latest gossip."
"I don't know about that… but I am looking forward to playing a bit of Quidditch." Harry ran his hands through his hair, smiling at the memory.
"After everything we've been through, that's what you choose to reminisce about?" Chrys didn't have much fondness for the popular wizarding sport, especially as it tended to put her brother in more danger than she considered necessary.
"The way things are going you won't have to worry about Quidditch much longer." Harry sighed. Chrys gave him a questioning look. "If I don't practice over the summer, they're bound to kick me off the team," he elaborated.
"You're being too hard on yourself," Chrys told him, not for the first time, and certainly not for the last.
"Yeah, well…" Harry paused, suddenly refocusing on the Dursleys' conversation.
"Now as we all know, today is a very important day," Uncle Vernon announced pompously. Harry's eyes gleamed hopefully. "This could well be the day I make the biggest deal of my career," Vernon continued. Harry wilted. Chrys patted his back. Her poor brother must have assumed their uncle had finally remembered their birthday.
Instead Uncle Vernon was dead set on throwing the perfect dinner party so that his clients would hand over as much money as possible. Aunt Petunia and Dudley had been assigned various tasks of buttering up the guests, while Harry and Chrys were told to go to their room, not make a sound, and feign non-existence. Chrys thought this sounded much easier than forcing the Dursleys' hostile personalities to seem hospitable.
At least Harry cheered up watching Dudley practice appearing polite. Aunt Petunia would have punished him for laughing, but luckily she was too busy shooing them out of the house so that she could undertake her grandest cleaning venture of the year.
"Come on, Harry." Chrys linked arms with him. "We'll celebrate twelve years of existing if it kills us."
Harry peered through the window nervously. "If we interrupt Aunt Petunia she might actually kill us." For once he wasn't dramatizing. Still, Harry and Chrys did their best. They sang a roaring chorus of Happy Birthday, for a moment suspending disbelief in their musical abilities. Chrys gave Harry her usual handmade card, this year's version featuring a lion in a birthday hat.
"What's wrong, baby brother?" She poked at his sides. Harry didn't swat her away, or even start their usual argument of who had been born first.
"It's great, Chrys… I just thought for the first time in my life I'd get a birthday card from someone other than you." His puppy dog eyes pulled at her heartstrings. "Did we do something wrong? Maybe we hurt their feelings without realizing."
Chrys didn't have to ask whom he was talking about. There had been no word from Ron or Hermione since end of term. "It could be some sort of elaborate prank," she considered.
Harry shook his head. "I might expect that from Fred and George, but not Ron and Hermione. We should have heard from them by now." He plucked a piece of gravel from the driveway and tossed it from hand to hand. Growing up without toys, Harry and Chrys were old pros at getting creative for entertainment.
"Bet you can't hit that hedge," Chrys challenged him. This had been one of Harry's favorite games. Chrys would pick a target, and amazingly Harry would always hit the mark.
Harry smiled weakly. "You're on." He lifted his arm, ready to throw… and then dropped to his hands and knees, staring fiercely. "There are eyes in that shrub."
Hoping he hadn't lost the last vestiges of his sanity, Chrys crawled down beside him and squinted through the leafy green. "Oh." Either she'd gone just as mad, or there were a pair of green eyes, as big as dinner plates (without any head or body visibly attached) floating in the shade of the hedge.
However, she was cut off from making any conclusions by her cousin's snorting laughter.
"Why are you crawling around like babies?"
"Of course ickle-Diddykins, we're the infantile ones," Chrys responded without missing a beat. Dudley scratched his head. Harry sat up, wiping his palms on his jeans.
"Whatever it was, it's gone now. Dudley must have scared it away," he informed her, ignoring their cousin.
"Poor whatever-it-was. If only it had known that Dudley's bark is much worse than his bite," Chrys sighed mildly. Dudley's brow was wrinkled to the point of him looking like a chubby shar pei.
He attempted to gain control of the situation the only way he knew how. "Oh yeah? Well at least I don't spend my birthday staring at hedges!"
An unbidden smile slipped onto her face. "You remembered our birthday?" This was more than she could say for his parents.
Harry was not as easily affected. "Actually, I was trying to figure out which spell to use to set the hedge on fire," he said. Dudley was shaken, but still able to call Harry's bluff. Even someone as dumb as Dudley knew that Uncle Vernon would kick the twins out at the first sign of magic, and as much as they'd like to leave, they didn't really have anywhere else to go. Angrily, Harry stood up and chased Dudley around shouting out words of nonsense. "Jiggery pokery! Hocus Pocus! Squiggley wiggly!"
Chrys laughed, though she thought the last one was rather weak. She laughed harder as Dudley did what any sensible twelve year old would do—called for his mummy. Unfortunately, Aunt Petunia didn't find the situation nearly as funny. She stuck her head out the window, and after taking a quick cursory glance at the situation, swung at Harry with her heaviest saucepan. Chrys gasped in fear, and then again in relief as Harry intuitively dodged the blow.
"You could have seriously injured him!" Chrys screamed at Petunia.
"Quiet down before the neighbors hear you!" Petunia hissed.
"If you go near him again I'll shout so loud, they'll hear me in China," Chrys threatened. Harry gripped her shoulders, stopping her from advancing on Petunia, fists shaking.
His voice in her ear was the only thing stopping her from breaking free and pouncing. "I'm fine, Chrys, it's okay, really, don't worry about it."
"See, he's fine," Aunt Petunia repeated. She was eyeing Chrys somewhat warily, yet she still had the audacity to assign the twins a round of cleaning, for punishment for scaring Dudley. "And don't expect a crumb of food until you've finished!"
"Nobody wants your horrible cooking anyway," Chrys grumbled.
Aunt Petunia narrowed her eyes, seeming to take this personally. "Get to it, girl!"
Chrys took a deep breath, and marched away, shooting one last glare at her aunt.
As Dudley ate the ice cream his mother had given to him to help him recover from his trauma, Harry and Chrys pulled, picked, and scrubbed away all of Number Four's impurities. Chrys might have been proud of their accomplishments, especially having managed to do so much in such blazing heat—had she not been busy fuming at Aunt Petunia.
Chrys was so frustrated with her aunt that she didn't even eat her meager supper, comprised of stale bread and cheese. She had to leave the kitchen before her body betrayed her, mouth watering and stomach growling as she saw the mountain of whipped cream and sugar roses Aunt Petunia was preparing for pudding. Harry sighed wistfully as the scent of roasting pork met their noses. Aunt Petunia was pleased to see them watching. "That'll teach you to insult my cooking," she said primly, before shooing them upstairs.
The twins' roles from earlier that day had flipped-flopped. Harry attempted to cheer Chrys up by handing over the extra bread and cheese he'd hidden in his pockets. Chrys ate it, somewhat reluctantly, but she ate it all the same. Like any child who'd gone hungry, Chrys knew to eat whenever she got the chance. "It'll be a nice quiet night in," Harry tried to play up their situation. "We can play with that set of cards you found in Dudley's waste bin."
"I'd prefer Exploding Snap," Chrys mumbled, recalling the much more interesting wizarding version of cards.
"Pyromaniac," Harry teased.
"Maybe a little." Chrys grinned. Exploding Snap was aptly named after all.
"Bet I win the first round."
Chrys was never one to turn down a challenge. "You're on."
They never found out who would have won that night, as they were rather preoccupied by other matters. The bulbous green eyes from earlier had returned, this time with a body and a head. And what a head it was.