A Birthday To Remember

Sitting on the couch in Mrs. Figg's house, Harry felt a weird sort of loneliness as he listened for the sound of the Dursleys' car returning from Dudley's sixth birthday outing. The Dursleys sometimes "forgot" to pick him up from Mrs. Figg, but it seemed as if they were out a lot later than usual.

Finally Mrs. Figg said "Harry, let's go back over to the Dursley's. We can put you in bed, and they'll get home when they get home. I can't stay up any later."

So, the two of them walked over to Number 4. The door was locked, but Harry fished the key out from under the potted plant and let himself in, thanking Mrs. Figg for taking care of him all day.

With no-one to notice, he helped himself to a slice of bread and some cheese, not enough to be noticed if anyone went looking, but enough to quiet the growling in his stomach. Satisfied, he crawled into the cupboard and went to sleep.

The next morning Harry got up, as he usually did, before sunrise, to get started in the kitchen. He checked to see if the Dursleys had returned, but there was no car in the driveway, and he couldn't hear Vernon or Dudley snoring.

Not knowing what to do, he began to prepare breakfast. This had become his normal ritual recently, and he was rather proud of himself for being able to fry an egg, heat up some beans and tomato halves, and sizzle sausages. He was very careful around the sausages, having burned himself a bit in the hot oil once or twice while serving them.

Unfortunately, nobody showed up to eat. He had only made enough to get started, but that was still quite a bit, so after waiting for a while, he sat down and ate it. It had gotten cold while he waited for the Dursleys, but it was still good, and also quite a bit larger than any breakfast he could remember. He had to sit and digest for a while before he could clean up. Apparently there was such a thing as too much breakfast—who knew?

When he was done cleaning up, there was nothing to do, and no-one to yell at him. Even though he could hear the sounds of life going on outside, the silence in the house felt as solid as stone. Loneliness washed over him, like a soft, grey, anxious blanket. He sat quietly in the living room for what seemed like hours, listening for the sound of the car.

From time to time, a car would go by, but none stopped. He finally roused himself and went outside to work in the garden. Petunia had taught him to weed, and because it got him out of the house and away from the glares and unkind looks that Petunia and Vernon often sent his way, he had come to look forward to it.

For a while, the sun came out, and he felt better. The warm golden glow helped to dispel the gloomy feeling of anxiety in his chest. But there was only so much weeding left to do, and when the clouds rolled in again and the temperature dropped, the loneliness and anxiety came back full force.

Finally, in the late afternoon, Harry heard a car pull up outside. It was a police car. Vernon got out, along with a police constable. They opened the back of the car and helped Dudley out of the back seat. To Harry's surprise, Dudley had a cast on his leg, and had to be helped onto crutches.

Vernon's expression wasn't familiar to Harry. He looked… actually kind of the way Harry sometimes felt when Vernon called him a freak, or Petunia yelled at him. Harry felt a weird sort of sympathy rise up in him. He held the door for Dudley, who made his way rather slowly across the threshold.

The constable said his goodbyes to Vernon, then Vernon and Harry followed Dudley inside. Vernon collapsed in his favourite chair with a sigh, and said "Harry, would you please make dinner?"

Harry went to work, happy to finally have an assignment. A half hour later, he brought out a dinner of steak and potatoes and green beans, the usual Dursley meal. Vernon sat down and started serving himself. Dudley made his way over to the table, and nearly fell down as he pulled out the chair to sit down. Harry managed to catch him, and helped him sit.

Looking up at Harry, Vernon said, "serve yourself and start eating before it gets cold, Harry. We need to have a talk."

Harry sat down at the table, wondering what was coming. He served himself a small portion and began to eat, glancing at Vernon every few bites to make sure that he wasn't in trouble. Dudley was uncharacteristically quiet.

Vernon finished what was on his plate. Then he looked up at Harry, with that same unfamiliar expression. His face was pale, not the usual red. "There was an accident yesterday. You can see that Dudley's leg is broken. Your aunt is in the hospital. She's in a coma. they don't know when she'll wake up."

On the morning of Dudley's birthday, the house was a bustle of activity. Harry had to prepare for a day over at Mrs. Figg's house, but before that he had to prepare breakfast for the Dursleys.

Petunia had been training Harry for several years to do as much work around the house as possible. Although Harry could not safely pick up a hot frying pan full of grease (which, sad to say, he and Petunia had learned the hard way), he had gained quite a bit of skill at frying things in it.

So as Petunia packed the car for the day's excursion, Harry fried bacon, eggs, halved tomatoes and a few small potatoes, deftly turned them out onto plates and carefully transferred them to the table, using two hands at all times and looking carefully where he walked (another habit learned through unfortunate trial and error).

Dudley was already at the breakfast table. He too had learned that if he poked Harry while Harry had a plate in his hand, he would have to eat later, since Harry would inevitably drop the plate. So Dudley kept his hands to himself until the plate was safely on the table, at which point he reached out to jab Harry, who dodged ably and went back to the stove to make Vernon's breakfast.

By the time Harry got to eat, Petunia was done packing the car, and had nearly finished her own breakfast. Vernon glared at Harry and said "eat quickly, boy, we need to get you over to Mrs. Figg so that we can get going."

In a generous attempt to help speed things along, Dudley speared several potatoes and some bacon off of Harry's plate as he was eating. Harry managed to wolf down an egg , two slices of bacon and a slice of toast before Dudley had cleaned his plate.

The plan for Dudley's birthday was first to get in the obligatory visit to Aunt Marge, have lunch at a family-oriented restaurant in Staines, and then go to the Cinema in Staines. Finally, there would be an afternoon birthday party with some of Dudley's friends. The day was scheduled rather tightly, because Marge's house was not close by.

The drive to Aunt Marge's house went well: although it was a Monday morning, they left the house in time to miss the worst of the traffic, and got to Marge's house safely. Dudley, rather full from his and Harry's breakfast, had a nice nap in the car until they were nearly there.

As they got out of the car, Marge rushed up, trailed by an adorable bulldog puppy. Dudley went immediately to the puppy, completely ignoring Marge. Vernon and Petuna exchanged knowing looks and quickly distracted Marge with a story about Harry's misbehaviour.

Dudley, meanwhile, got along famously with the pup until it got a little bit too excited (perhaps as a result of Dudley bending one of his legs the wrong way) and nipped Dudley's nose. In the meltdown that followed, Harry was forgotten, and the puppy was bundled off to a pen in the backyard.

When she returned, Marge looked rather pleased, and announced that she had decided to name the puppy "Ripper." Petunia, who thought the little monster should be put down, bit her lip and sat quietly comforting Dudley, who had had a rather impressive tantrum, but Vernon could not restrain himself.

"I can't see how you can be so proud of the pup when he's viciously attacked your own nephew," Vernon raged. "When he bites someone's leg off, are you going to give him a special house?"

Marge was unmoved. "The boy needs to toughen up. Look at him, having a good cry like that. He shouldn't be crying unless one of his limbs is dangling by a thread. What kind of a man are you raising, Vernon? Why didn't the boy fight back?"

The sniping went on for some time until Dudley perked up and demanded to know where his presents were. "Now there's some good thinking," Marge said approvingly. "Come into the sitting room—I have them on the table."

Still wrapped, it looked like a decent haul, but Dudley was disappointed to discover that his gifts consisted mostly of several jumpers in rather dismal shades of brown and green, two pairs of socks, a colouring book about the second Boer War, and a backgammon set, which Dudley didn't quite know what to make of.

But then, to his delight, one last gift was presented: a rather long, thin package that was quite heavy, and turned out to contain an air rifle. Delighted, Dudley immediately rushed outside, with a quick smile to Aunt Marge, and began taking shots at Ripper through the chain link fence.

"That boy will go places," Marge remarked. "I can see him in the military. Just needs to develop some backbone, but I can see that that's coming."

The ride back to Staines was uneventful. Traffic was light, Dudley quite enjoyed playing with his new rifle, and the occasional sharp bang as it went off only caused a few small swerves. Vernon happily scolded Dudley each time, Petunia covered her ears, and everyone was quite satisfied.

Dudley was not impressed by the movie. It was a story of a cat and a dog who were somehow friends, and then got separated and had to find each other. "Utter nonsense," Dudley thought, although he did enjoy imagining taking pot shots at the animals as they went on their way.

When the movie was over, the Dursleys went back to the car. The back window was broken, and the rifle was missing. Dudley had a fit. "Why did you leave my rifle in the car? I wanted to take it with me, but you wouldn't let me, and now it's gone!" On and on he raged, as Petunia tried to quiet him, and Vernon navigated out of the car park and back onto the A308 for the trip home.

Unfortunately, the noise from Dudley was such a distraction that Vernon missed seeing the lorry approaching in the roundabout. Vernon had just enough time to look up and see the lorry bearing down on them in the rear-view mirror, and then…

There was a loud crash, the sounds of tires scrubbing on pavement, more breaking glass, and finally a loud thud as the car came to a stop against a tree in the middle of the roundabout.

Vernon, dazed, looked at his hands on the steering wheel, which were covered with blood, and then to his left to see Petunia slumped, her side of the car a bit crushed, out cold. "Mum? MUM?" cried Dudley. He reached to shake her, but Vernon put his hand on Dudley's to stop him. "Sit back, Dudley, let me see how she is."

Petunia seemed to be breathing, but didn't respond when Vernon called her name. Reluctantly, he tried slapping the back of her hand to see if that would wake her, but it didn't. Not even a moan of protest.

By this time, the lorry driver had collected himself and come to investigate. Several other bystanders had also rushed to the car and were trying to get Petunia's door open. It was stuck.

Dudley tried to get out of the car, but found that his leg was quite badly hurt. He tried to stand on it, but there was a terrible pain, and he collapsed. As he sat on the ground crying from the pain, a nice lady came up to help. She had run up to see what had happened after the accident. She helped him to sit up and just held him in a gentle hug, looking to Vernon to see what to do.

Vernon, however, was in no shape to be thinking about what to do. His head was bleeding quite profusely, and he felt dazed. The light was bright, and there were too many people, and Petunia wasn't there to help. Petunia! What was wrong with Petunia?

A police car pulled up. Two officers hopped out and began shooing people away from the crash. One of the officers noticed that Petunia was unconscious and started talking urgently on his radio, uttering words that Vernon couldn't quite follow. The other officer came over to check on Vernon and Dudley.

After what seemed like quite a long time, but was probably only a minute or two, an ambulance pulled up. Paramedics rushed out, took in the scene, and called for a second ambulance. Vernon and Dudley were put in neck braces, which were quite uncomfortable, and then Dudley was set up on a stretcher, shrieking a bit with the pain in his leg when they moved him. When he was finally lying down on the stretcher, he seemed relieved, but so small.

There was a flurry of activity by the car: Petunia was still trapped in the car, now in a neck brace, and the paramedics were setting up a rather impressive gadget that sounded like chainsaw, using it to pry open the door to get access.

Finally, they were able to get the door off. They attached a board to Petunia with some broad straps, and then two paramedics very carefully and slowly maneuvered her out of the car and onto a stretcher, where she lay quietly.

Despite her pallor, to Vernon she seemed like the most beautiful and precious thing in the world, and in that moment he realized that he was terrified that she might be really hurt. He though he would give anything, anything at all, to see her wake up and be whole again.