A Study in Magic: The Application
by Books of Change

Chapter Two: A Melancholy Birthday

About three days had passed since Harry Potter returned to London. His friend Ron Weasley was going over the incident reports for the month of June—five rolls of parchment in total— with his twin brothers Fred and George that day. Then his mother burst into his room.

“John just called,” she said, waving her phone. “We’re going to Baker Street to celebrate Harry’s birthday.”

“Now?” asked Ron, startled.

“Well, of course!” said Mum, raising an eyebrow at them. “His birthday is today, you should know that.”

“Of course, we do,” said Fred. “We just didn’t know he was back in London.”

“Well, you know now,” said Mum sternly. “So clean up this mess and get ready!”

Then she turned and shut the door behind her.

“Our work is just a mess, now, eh?” Ron grumbled angrily. “Let’s see if she’ll still call it a mess when the customers hurl Howlers at us…”

“Forget it,” said George bracingly. “It’s not like she understands what we’re doing. Besides, it is Harry’s birthday; should be fun.”

Ron nodded mutely. Fred and George started talking about which Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes merchandise they should give to Harry as his birthday present soon after. Ron didn’t join the conversation, for he was trying to squish the ugly feeling of resentment that rose like miasma at the mention of Harry’s name.

Ron knew his feelings were unjustified. It was not like Harry ever demanded special treatment or recognition from anyone, let alone from Ron. It was just … for once, he wanted to be treated like someone special. Wasn’t being the director of Zing, formerly the Magical Mobile Network (MMN), at age fifteen special enough? Of course, there was that little problem of no one believing that he was …

“You’re too quiet,” said George, frowning at Ron. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing,” said Ron tersely, “Just thinking about what to get.”

“Didn’t you already get him something?”

“Yeah, but on the second thought, I can do better,” Ron lied.

Fred shrugged, “Suit yourself. I’m hungry. Let’s go grab something.”

And with that, he and George Dispparated.

Ron remained in his seat, brooding.

Ever since Fudge tried, but failed, to take him to court, Ron had a suspicion that gnawed on him constantly: the reason the Ministry of Magic didn’t bother to arrest him was because they thought he couldn’t possibly have a major role in the MMN, thus couldn’t be responsible for the MMN debacle. While he was immensely relieved at not having to face judge and jury, he couldn’t help but rage at the implications.

Before the MMN, Ron thought becoming as rich as Croesus would make him feel happy and fulfilled. Yet after gaining more wealth than he knew what to do with, Ron found himself still feeling discontent. He was missing something, and that something looked a lot like acknowledgement.

Maybe … maybe if he became Prefect, people would take him seriously. Maybe then they’d think he was someone worth knowing. Of course, Ron had no hope of getting the badge. He gave up any chance of being named Prefect when he gave his all to the Magical Mobile Network. The only reason he didn’t fail out of Hogwarts was Miss Jack’s very real threat to sack him if he got marks worse than Poor. And who in their right mind would make him Prefect over Harry Potter?

At length, Ron let out a heavy sigh.

“This is stupid, and I sound like Percy,” he muttered.

Ron let out another sigh. Then he stomped down to the kitchen.

-oo00oo-

Ron and his family—minus Percy; he didn’t show his ugly mug in the Burrow since moving out—travelled to Baker Street late in the afternoon, Ron and Ginny via Floo-powder, everyone else via Apparition. Ron arrived there first, and let out a gasp after he stumbled out of the fireplace and caught his first glimpse of Harry since the summer holidays started.

To say Harry looked a bit different was like saying a Blast-ended Skrewt turned cute. Harry’s hair was completely white – even his eyebrows were the same shade. He’d also grown quite a bit, but his skin gave the appearance of not catching up; it stretched over his longer frame like old bleached parchment. Harry wasn’t wearing glasses, but he wasn’t squinting as he was wont to when deprived of them. The only thing that remained the same, more or less, was his attire and eyes: The former a mixture of midnight and black, and the latter still bright green.

More people joined Ron’s stunned silence as his family members either stumbled out of the basement fireplace or popped into existence. Ginny looked frankly appalled, and Mum threw her hands over her mouth.

“Oh, Harry, dear…” Mum whispered, sounding aghast.

John, who was standing a little behind Harry, smiled wryly. Harry shrugged.

“It’s just a colour change,” he said.

“You should’ve picked a different one,” said George. “Red is a good choice. Then we can call you our brother and no one would be wiser. Happy Birthday, by the way.”

The rest of the Weasleys hastily offered their Happy Birthdays to Harry. Ron felt guilty for getting so hung up about Harry’s changed appearance. Except for the glasses, all of them he knew had been unfortunate accidents or unavoidable byproducts. Harry’s white hair, for example, was the result of him giving his blood to their Defence against the Dark Arts professor, Remus Lupin, to cure his Lycanthropy. One of the side effects of donating blood to someone, at least for wizards and witches, was that the donor’s hair turned white (as a symbol of life willingly given away; Ron still couldn’t wrap his head around this).

“Thanks,” said Harry, after the last person finished thumping his back or shake his hand. “And I did try dying my hair, just so you know.”

“Dark colours, mostly,” said John. “No one was keen about Harry turning blonde. Well, Sherlock didn’t care, but we did. All in all, not worth it: black dyes were either too black or had a weird blue tint. Dark red looked fine, but it freaked out Sirius.”

They continued to talk about hair colour options as they climbed up the stairs. Then Fred asked the question that everyone was probably wondering about:

“Why aren’t you wearing glasses, Harry?”

“I don’t need them anymore,” Harry said.

“How come?” asked George.

“I got a Muggle procedure that corrects your eyesight done,” Harry answered.

“When?” asked Ron, “And why Muggle and not St. Mungo’s?”

“Right after I got back to London, and because we didn’t know St. Mungo’s offered reliable eyesight correction,” said Harry. Then he touched the bridge of his nose like he was pushing up invisible spectacles. “It still feels weird to be able to see the clock from across the room when I wake up.”

“You look better with glasses,” Ginny muttered quietly.

“I agree,” said John, making Ginny jump. “But I didn’t want to risk him losing his sight from shattered glass.”

Ron was in a sombre mood by the time they reached the first floor. The door to the living room was closed, but one could hear the muffled sounds of a baby giggling through the wood. Then John held the door the open for everyone, and the noise went up to full volume.

221B’s living room looked as it usually did, if one ignored the fact it was extended three times and the table between the windows had stacks of white containers, bottles of drinks, and a large chocolate cake. In the centre of the room stood a white picket fence that reached only up to Ron’s knee. Inside the fenced area was Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather, and Jeremy Benedict Holmes, Harry’s ten-month-old baby brother. Sirius had his hands outstretched towards Benedict, who was standing on his own two feet.

Everyone gasped when Benedict took a single wobbly step.

“Merlin, he can walk now?!” Dad exclaimed.

“Yep, he’s gone mobile,” said John, grinning. “Heaven help us.”

“When did he crawl?” asked Mum, as she and everyone else crowded around the fence.

“He never did,” said John. “Just wouldn’t warm up to the concept.”

Benedict took two more wobbly steps and then toppled. Ron and his family applauded as Sirius caught him in the nick of time.

“He’s growing up so fast,” said Mum fondly.

John made an agreeing noise. Then she stooped down and hefted Benedict up. Ron looked around to see who else was there in the calm that followed. He found Sherlock sitting on the leather armchair, open book in hand. Remus Lupin was by the kitchen’s sliding doors. Julia Lestrade and Neville Longbottom were occupying the couch. Hermione was absent.

“Where’s Hermione?” Ron asked.

“On her way,” said Julia, smiling in a way that eerily reminded Ron of Miss Jack (or should he call her Mrs. Jack?) “You know London traffic.”

Ron didn’t, but decided not to remark upon it.

Hermione showed up with her parents shortly thereafter. John opened the food table upon their arrival (yay!). While Ron, his siblings, and his friends descended on the food, Hermione’s parents honed in on Ron’s mother and father. Ron overheard a snippet of their conversation on his way back from the table with his heavy-laden plate.

“Hogwarts is the safest place to be, under the circumstances,” Dad was saying firmly. “That’s why I’m sending my own children back.”

Ron sat next to Hermione on the couch.

“You told your parents about You-Know-Who?” he asked quietly.

Hermione bit her lower lip.

“I had to,” she said. “The Ministry sent safety brochures to all households that have at least one witch or wizard, remember? They read it, and wanted to know what happened.”

“How did the talk go?”

“As well as you can expect,” said Hermione. “We haven’t talked about it recently, but I know they still prefer I go to a Muggle Comprehensive and study for the GSCEs. At least until the dust settles.”

“Would you?” Ron asked.

“Of course not!” said Hermione indignantly. “I’m not running away!”

Ron smiled.

Unlike Harry’s memorable twelfth birthday, this year everyone was content to sit, talk to each other, and partake the good food and drinks, even when Fred and George pulled out the fireworks (they weren’t lit; John told them she will not be responsible for her actions if they upset Benedict, and Mum drew her wand at them). Ron, Harry, Hermione, Ginny, Julia and Neville talked about their summers.

“Bill’s back at home,” said Ron. “He applied for a desk job at the England branch so he could help us out.”

“Can’t be that exciting, compared to being a curse-breaker,” Harry remarked.

“He says he misses the tombs,” said Fred. “But there are compensations.”

“Like what?” Julia asked.

“Remember Fleur Delacour? She’s got a job at Gringotts to eemprove ‘er Eenglish—” George sniggered. “—Bill’s been giving her a lot of private lessons.”

Harry’s eyebrows shot up. Then he shared a knowing look with Julia. Ron stole a look at his sister when they did. Ginny looked unmoved, but then again, there seemed to be a strained air about her.

Rain started to lash the windows as the day grew old. A chill started to permeate through the flat, so Ron’s mum lit a roaring fire in the fireplace. Ron felt like he’d sunk himself in a hot bath afterward.

“Oh, this is so cosy,” said Mrs. Granger, as she stared at the fire with a steaming teacup in her hand.

“Mmmn,” Sherlock rumbled. He then turned to prod John, who was sitting next to him on the couch, fast asleep. He blinked when John didn’t wake up.

Lupin came to the rescue.

“Why don’t we open presents?” he said, clasping his hands.

Everyone gathered around Harry, holding their wrapped gifts. Ron studied their sizes and shapes and figured most people got an item in the wish list Sherlock and John sent out. The list made gift-buying easier, but some of the items listed made Ron suspect Harry wasn’t the one who created it.

Fred and George presented their gift first: They dragged in a chest that an overlarge red bow tied in the middle.

“Here you go, Harry,” said Fred, grinning. “Enjoy.”

Harry stared. “Why a chest?”

“We didn’t know what you’d need for defence, so we put everything that might be useful,” said George.

Defence?” Mum exclaimed, outraged, as Harry untied the ribbon and threw open the lid.

The chest was full to the brim with Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes products such as Extendable Ears, Self-Propelling Custard Pies, and an impressive number of firecrackers. Sherlock joined Harry on the floor and started pulling out the contents like a child would at Christmas.

“What’s this?” asked Harry, holding up a small leather sack.

“Peruvian Instant Darkness powder,” said George. “Throw it, and you get instant darkness. Lighting spells won’t work in it.”

“Interesting,” said Sherlock. “So how would you navigate through the darkness you’ve created?”

“Eh, we were thinking along the lines of throwing it at your enemy, so you can escape,” said Fred.

“You should always have a fail-safe for the weapons you make,” said Sherlock sternly. “Start working.”

Fred rolled his eyes and George shrugged ruefully. “Will do,” said the latter.

Harry moved on to his other gifts while Sherlock continued to examine the chest. Hermione’s gift was a box of Honeydukes chocolates and a book titled: Born to Run A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen; Neville, a pot of dittany (“Uncle Algie got it directly from Crete.”); Lupin, a book titled: Practical Defensive Magic and its Use Against the Dark Arts (“It’s from both me and Sirius”). Even Dobby the house-elf brought a present, which turned out to be – socks.

“Dobby is making them himself, sir!” the elf said happily. “He is buying the wool out of his wages, sir!”

The left sock was bright red and had a pattern of broomsticks upon it; the right sock was green with a pattern of Snitches.

“They’re … they’re really … well, thanks, Dobby,” said Harry. Then he pulled them on, causing Dobby’s eyes to leak with happiness.

There were four more presents left after Dobby’s odd socks, one of which was Ron’s. Harry opened the box-shaped one first. It contained a pair of black shoes that had thick cushioned soles, a mesh body and silver stripes that reflected light (Hermione told Ron they were for running, which made him incredulous; Muggles had shoes just for running? What for?!).

“Thanks, Dad,” said Harry sardonically as he held up the shoes. Then he placed them to the side and picked up a hefty-looking parcel that was from Sirius.

“Don’t bother,” said Sherlock, after putting away the profoundly disturbed look that formed on his face when Harry called him ‘Dad’. “It’s just high-end Quidditch Gear.”

“How do you know that?” Sirius demanded.

“I followed you,” said Sherlock.

“I saw no one,” Sirius protested.

“That is what you may expect to see when I follow you,” said Sherlock haughtily.

Harry opened the gift anyway. As Sherlock said, it contained a trunk of Quidditch equipment: all four balls, with the Bludgers chained to the bottom and the Snitch locked inside an inner compartment; a pair of Beaters bats and polish to clean them. There was also a small mirror.

“It’s a two-way mirror,” said Sirius. “James and I used to use them when we were in separate detentions.”

“This is great,” said Harry happily. “So you’ve got the other one of the pair?”

“Yep,” said Sirius. “If you need to speak to me, just say my name into it; you’ll appear in my mirror and I’ll be able to talk in yours. We have phones now, I know, but it doesn’t hurt to have a backup plan.”

“I agree,” said Lupin. “Anyway, Sherlock, why did you say to not bother with the Quidditch equipment?”

“Yeah, what’s up with that?” asked Sirius.

“He’s quitting the team,” said Sherlock matter-of-factly.

“WHAT?!” Ron, Fred, George, and Ginny shouted.

“You’re lying!” howled Sirius.

“He’s not,” Harry mumbled very quietly, without looking at anyone.

“Why?!” Ron cried. “You love Quidditch! You’re the best Seeker I’ve ever seen! Even Krum’s got nothing on you!”

“I’m not, and I really don’t want to quit,” said Harry miserably. “But I need the time to prepare.”

A hush fell in the living room after that statement. For a long beat, only the sound of the crackling fire and Benedict quietly whimpering could be heard.

“…Sherlock told you to quit, didn’t he?” said Sirius, scowling heavily. “You know, your father would’ve never let anyone stop him from having fun. You don’t have to do everything he says. He’s not right all the time.”

Harry flinched. Then he turned to look at John, who was still fast asleep.

“How amusing,” Sherlock said coldly.

“What is?” demanded Sirius.

“You,” drawled Sherlock. “Dumbledore will be quite pleased to know that you and Snape, for once, are in agreement.”

Sirius drew out his wand furiously.

Stop it!” said Harry, jumping in between the two men. “No one’s forcing me! I thought about it, and made up my mind on my own!”

“But he’s influenced you!” growled Sirius. “He’s turning you into someone you’re not! You—”

“Sirius, this is not the time,” Lupin interrupted.

“But Remus…!” Sirius started to protest.

Padfoot!” said Lupin sharply. “Sit. Down.”

Sirius sat down.

There was an awkward silence. Ron shivered as the chill within the group seemed to seep into the very atmosphere, despite the lit fire.

Harry walked over to John and nudged again. Then he flicked his eyes at the fire, which seemed to diminish before their eyes, and a look of horrified realisation dawned on his pallid face.

“Dementors…!” he whispered.

“What, here?!” Dad exclaimed. “But that can’t be! Not here in—”

Harry shot out of the flat, wand drawn, ignoring all protest. Ron followed after him.

A heavy downpour was battering the pavement outside, and Ron soon found himself drenched. Heedless of the wet and cold, Harry cast his eyes about, searching the dark streets determinately. Ron wondered how Harry could see anything, as all the street lights in the vicinity were out.

Suddenly, as though sensing something, Harry looked up. Ron looked up, too, and saw, very dimly, a crowd of tall dark shadows hovering on the roof of 221B.

Ron felt his heart jump to his throat when the shadows fell upon them like a nightmare.

Then he was falling … endlessly falling … in cold, mind-numbing despair…

But then he heard someone yell:

Expecto Patronum!