A/N: Happy New Year readers! Hope you all had a good festive season and apologies for having taken so long to post this. There is good news and bad news: the good news is that - fairly obviously - I've finally gotten around to posting this, bad news is that I won't be able to update as regularly as normal over the next few weeks as I'm going to be super busy. Hope you all enjoy though!
Magic and Mayhem
Alice marched purposefully down the street trying not to let any of the apprehension she was feeling show on her face. She was trying to avoid asking herself what could possibly go wrong as she was afraid that the answer was almost certainly rather a lot. Pausing in front of the house with the neatest lawn, and the biggest car in the entire street she checked the slip of paper in her hand one last time to make sure it was the right one before taking a deep breath and walking up to the front door. The hand that rang the bell shook slightly but as she waited patiently for a response she repeated her speech silently to herself to focus her thoughts.
"Hello," she began as the door opened, "I - Harry!" A grin spread across her face at the sight of his astonished expression, but she checked herself, "are your Aunt and Uncle in?"
"No they've gone to the station - How… What are you doing here?" he began grinning too.
"Coming to see you of course. Happy Birthday," Alice reached across and gave him a hug worthy of Hermione but as she drew back she frowned slightly. "You've grown again," she accused.
"Well it's about time," he laughed, "either that or the alternative is you've shrunk… again."
"Oi! Watch it you, I don't care about Ministry restrictions, one more crack about my height and I'll hex you into next week," Alice mock glared at him.
"Alright, I promise I'll be good. Do you want to come in for a small while? My Aunt and Uncle will be home shortly though." Harry tried to hold a serious expression but the twitch at the corner of his mouth gave him away and as the two walked through to the living room they both gave up and burst out laughing.
"That was terrible!" Alice managed when she had finally caught her breath.
"I know, but I couldn't resist."
"You've been friends with Ron for too long."
"Probably." Harry sat down next to her on the sofa. "How is he anyway, have you heard from him recently, I haven't heard anything since he tried to phone me. How's Hermione? And you, how did you get here, what have you been doing all summer?"
Alice giggled again at his exuberance, "which question do you want me to answer first? Hermione and Ron are both fine, I've got letters from them with me so you can hear from them yourself. Ron's very sorry about the phone call by the way apparently Hermione wrote him an essay telling him off for being an idiot. I haven't been doing that much over summer, the Home decided to take us on a trip to Guildford for a few days so I asked if I could stop by here and…" She picked her satchel up from beside her feet, "I bring presents!"
"What?" Harry looked so nonplussed for a moment that Alice wanted to give him another hug, she had always thought life in the orphanage was tough, but it was nothing to what Harry must have experienced here. On her way through the house she had managed to catch a glimpse of the cupboard Harry had mentioned a few times and it made her blood boil just at the thought of anyone treating Harry so badly.
Focussing back on the present - literally - she rummaged in the depths of her impossibly large bag, "all magical modifications were carried out in a legal and educational environment," she intoned in answer to Harry's questioning look, and drew out the first parcel she found. "Here you go," she handed him a rather shabbily wrapped package that was clearly from Ron and watched him slowly peel back the paper, read the letter and accompanying newspaper clipping with avid interest before examining the Sneakoscope from every possible angle. It was such a Harry reaction she couldn't help but smile. Even when receiving his first ever birthday present he still wanted to find out about his friends first. She then proceeded to hand over Hermione's letter and gift which turned out to be a broomstick servicing kit and then the parcel from Alice herself.
"Wow thanks Alice," he picked up the pocket radio she had given him and fiddled with a few of the dials on the front so that it suddenly hissed and crackled into life jumping through several stations, almost landing on one where a news reader was talking about something that had escaped, before the plaintive strains of some wizarding hit filled the Dursley's living room.
"I thought maybe it would make you feel less disconnected during the holidays and things, you can keep up with what's happening."
"It's great," suddenly he laughed, "you should see what Hagrid got me. I think it's a book but it's absolutely mental. It tired to bite my hand off when I unwrapped it this morning and now it's hiding under my bed somewhere."
"I suppose he must think it will come in useful at some point, though I can't think when. Hermione will approve though; it's a book, it would go against all her principles not to."
Harry chuckled, "I can just imagine her still trying to read this thing as it tries to take a chunk out of her," a lurid grin spread across his face at the thought, "she might make an exception for this particular book I guess." Looking down at the small collection of presents he had amassed he said, "we better get these upstairs, if the Dursely's get home and see these…"
"Where are they anyway?" Alice began helping him pick up the torn paper and string lying at their feet.
"They've gone to the station to collect my Aunt Marge - well she's not really my aunt - she's coming to stay for a week."
"What's she like?"
"Vernon in a dress." Alice, who had seen Harry's uncle from a distance at the station a few times, snorted at the image.
"Yeah. If you hadn't come round this was going to be one of my least favourite birthday's ever, and that's saying something."
Alice wasn't sure what impulse made her do it, but she suddenly reached across and put her arms around Harry again. "I don't care if boys think hugs are soppy," she whispered fiercely, "you need as many as you can get after having had to put up with them for so long."
"Erm… thanks Alice," as she broke away Harry's cheeks were slightly pink, "and thanks for coming round today."
"It was the least I could do. Anyway," she cleared her throat, "we'd better move all this stuff."
Once they'd had gathered everything up Alice followed her raven-haired friend up the stairs and across the landing to Harry's room.
"What?" Harry looked totally perplexed. "What can possibly be Wow about my room?"
"I thought my room in the Home was tiny, this is hardly any bigger than -"
"A cupboard?" Harry supplied.
She grinned ruefully. "Point taken. So where do you want me to dump this?"
"Just on the bed." He indicated the rickety looking structure covered in a faded green duvet that was squashed into the corner of the room. It was obviously sturdier than it looked though because once Harry had put everything down he sprang quickly onto the bed and sat cross legged. He looked up and caught Alice staring at him quizzically. "In case the demon book savages my ankles," he explained. "Have a seat; just move those packets behind you out of the way."
Turning Alice scooped up several packets of owl feed - which turned out to be empty - and dropped them into the bin at the side of Harry's desk before sitting down backwards on the chair in front of it. There was something slightly odd about seeing Harry at home, if you could call it that; he seemed constantly ill at ease and just didn't seem to fit at all in this muggle setting. She wondered if it was just exposure to the wizarding world or if he had always been like that, she had a horrible suspicion it was the latter. Steering her thoughts away from this depressing and ultimately futile train of thought she turned to lighter subjects. "So do you think the Kestrels are going to win the League this year?" she teased.
"Ha," Harry scoffed, "only if the entire Pride team came down with dragon pox, then the Wasps had their brooms stolen and the Tornado's were tricked into a Vanishing Cabinet…" Harry continued in this vein for quite some time and they both became so absorbed in the normality of a conversation about Quidditch - which they had both been starved of for over a month - that neither of them heard the sounds of a car pulling up in the driveway outside.
"BOY!" The silence in Harry's bedroom was sudden and total as Vernon Dursley's ominous voice thundered around the house. "Boy, where the devil are you?" There came the thump of heavy footsteps on the stairs as Alice quickly cast around the room for somewhere to hide.
"In the wardrobe," hissed Harry, clearly going through the same thought process.
Alice darted across the room but for someone who resembled a walrus more than anything else Harry's uncle seemed to move deceptively quickly; before she even had a chance to turn the handle Vernon's bulk was filling the doorway. There were several seconds of protracted silence during which Harry's uncle seemed in danger of suffering a coronary episode. His piggy eyes bulged alarmingly and the vein in his temple appeared at risk of beating it's way through his skin. Alice was just about to stutter out some sort of excuse for why she was there when he found his voice again.
"WHO - JUST WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?! POTTER," he rounded on Harry who defiantly held his ground in the face of his uncle's incandescent fury, "YOU BETTER HAVE A GOOD EXPLANATION FOR THIS."
"Alice is a friend." Over the low, forceful tone of Harry's voice Alice could hear more feet on the stairs.
"FRIEND?!" Vernon roared - Alice was beginning to think he only operated at one volume - "FRIEND?!" he repeated as he moved further into the room revealing the figures of two women peering intently through the doorway who, by their general proportions, Alice assumed to be Harry's Aunt Petunia and Vernon's sister Marge. "You don't have friends at that freaky school you go to, just other freaks," he spat the word as though it was in danger of burning his tongue. His tirade continued along this general theme for several more minutes as Harry stood patiently waiting for it to end, but Alice didn't catch it all as she was slightly distracted by the fact that Petunia Dursley was staring at her. Actually staring wasn't a strong enough word for it, it was as though she was trying to bore through Alice's skull and dissect the contents of her brain. Her expression was one of utter shock and her cheeks, which had been flushed previously, seemed to slowly be draining of all blood. The woman must really hate magic to have such an extreme reaction.
"- and YOU," Vernon suddenly seemed to recall the object of his initial rage, "you can just get out right now."
The part of her that wanted to run and hide whenever anyone shouted at her began strongly suggesting that she do so, but her natural stubbornness and loyalty meant that she also wanted to stay and somehow help Harry out of this situation. Somehow.
Seeing that she was about to answer back Harry, concealed from view behind his uncle's girth, signalled frantically to get her attention. A quick glance in his direction revealed that he was silently shaking his head. Deciding that he would probably end up in less trouble if she didn't cause a scene, Alice obeyed.
"Bye Harry, I'm sorry," she whispered as she ducked around the Dursley's and ran down the staircase two at a time. At the bottom she nearly collided with his cousin who was standing non-plussed, mouth agape and with very little going on between his ears at the front door. As she moved toward him he jumped back from her as though burned; it was almost comical. Quickly opening the door she walked down the path and along the street with each step she took feeling like a betrayal of Harry, she vowed she would make it up to him somehow. He had looked so happy when she arrived and then she'd gone and made his birthday even worse than it would otherwise have been. Alice stopped dead in the street. There must be something she could do, or say that would make a difference surely? She had just resolved to turn around and go back when she heard several wails of terror and, much closer at hand, someone calling her name.
"ALICE! Alice wait." She turned to see Harry struggling along the street behind her dragging his trunk and Hedwig's cage and getting tangled up in both.
"Harry, where - what happened?" She ran and took the cage from him so that he could manoeuvre more easily.
"Blew… blew up my - my uncle," panting, he stopped momentarily to catch his breath. "I'm leaving," he added.
"You blew - what?"
"Well I didn't blow him up exactly, more…" he searched for the right word looking slightly sheepish as he did so, "inflated."
"Inflated?" Alice repeated the word deadpan.
"Yeah, I just got so angry at the way he treated you and the stuff he was saying about magic and just… everything sort of spilled over and I must have done magic by accident."
Alice stared at him for several seconds more trying to decide whether to be pleased that his Uncle had finally gotten what was coming to him or appalled at the trouble Harry would likely be in for not only performing underage magic but doing so on a muggle. Several more wails and screeches from the direction of the Dursley household cut short her deliberations.
"We can worry about the trouble you're going to be in later." She turned and started off down the road again. "Come on, we had better make ourselves scarce. Can you manage the trunk?"
Harry nodded and together they began to make their way to the end of the street; as they approached the junction Harry spoke up again. "Turn left there's a park not far from here we can go there till we decide what to do next." Alice duly obliged and within minutes found herself looking at the most depressing park she could imagine. It hardly merited the name really it was just a tiny patch of scrub land wedged between the football pitches and another row of houses identical in almost every way to all the ones they had passed since leaving Harry's. Thankfully it was empty and so they made their way over to the swings and sat down to rest and assess the situation they now found themselves in. As Alice lowered the owl's cage gently down onto the grass its occupant hooted at her balefully.
"I know," she told it, "but here is better than being back at the Dursley's isn't it?"
Behind her Harry gave a bark of laughter. "All the trouble will almost be worth it just to have seen the look on Uncle Vernon's stupid face when the buttons started popping off his shirt. You should have seen it, he looked like a giant tomato."
Alice couldn't help but grin a little at his description and at the obvious enjoyment Harry had gotten out of getting one up on his odious relations. "Do you think he's deflated at all yet?"
"I hope not." Harry considered this with glee evident in his eyes. "He probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference anyway, he's always the size of a whale." He continued in this vein for several moments more fantasising about what might have happened to his uncle and likening him to several other rather rotund creatures. Alice let him ramble as she sat next to him on the swings unwilling to knock him down from his triumph. Eventually though she had to.
"So what are we going to do now?" Her raven haired friend sobered quickly at the question and he glanced up at her with eyes which didn't quite manage to conceal their worry.
"I'm going to get expelled aren't I?"
She couldn't deny that the thought had crossed her mind, but now that she had had several minutes to think about it she wasn't so sure. "I don't know if they will - no hear me out," she continued as Harry snorted in disbelief, "what you did was accidental magic, albeit very powerful, it's the sort of thing that kids do before they go to Hogwarts. Surely they won't expel you for that? Besides," she added when he still looked sceptical, "I don't think Dumbledore would let them do you? If he wasn't going to kick you out after flying a car to school, being spotted by muggles and crashing into a priceless, if rather vindictive, tree I don't think he ever would." She was pleased to see her remark had the desired effect when his grin began to return at this.
"I suppose there is no point in worrying about it just now. There's no way they'll take me back now though; even if I wanted to go. I'm going to need somewhere to stay till school starts again… or longer if…" He left the possibility unsaid.
"I reckon you're best option is to go to Dumbledore or the Ministry and explain what happened. If you just disappear they'll think you've gone on the run or something stupid." She was aware she sounded like Hermione as she said it but her friend was usually right, if a little bossy, and so that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. "Harry?" She looked at him in concern as he stared blankly at the grass in front of him in studied silence. "What do you think?"
After a moment he seemed to snap out of whatever thought process he had been going through and sighed in resignation. "You're probably right… again. But I'd need to get to London and I don't have any money and I can't use magic."
"Don't worry about that," she reached back into the gloomy depths of her satchel and rooted about amongst the debris at the bottom until she located her purse. As she pulled it out she saw Harry looking askance at the pink and silver sequins that covered it. "I didn't choose it," she told him defensively, "all the girls got them at a birthday party at the Home and I didn't have another one so… Anyway," she continued brusquely, "I've got a little bit of extra money in here that they gave me to get back to Guildford and for any treats we wanted to get. It should be enough to get a bus to London." She counted the notes quickly as she spoke. "Normally I would have suggested going to Ron's parents, but they're still in Egypt aren't they?"
Harry nodded in affirmation. "Are you sure? I don't want to spend all your money."
"Don't be daft Harry; I'd rather spend it on you than on sweets anyway. I think if we can find the Leaky Cauldron someone there can get us in touch with Hogwarts or the Ministry."
"Alright then there's a bus stop not far from here," Harry bounded off of the swing eager to have purpose again and let it drop with a clatter as he walked over to Hedwig's cage and opened the door. "Come on girl out you come. I want you to go to the Leaky Cauldron alright? Stay there until we arrive." Alice had no doubt the snowy was listening intently as she cocked her head to one side and regarded Harry with her large yellow eyes. When he had finished she gave his shirt a playful nip with her razor sharp beak and then took off in a rush of feathers and outstretched wings.
"Come one then," Harry broke the silence that fell as they both stared after her for several moments. "Let's go and get this bus."
A/N: I know it's unlikely that child services would allow Alice, being all of 12 at this point to wander off to Little Whinging on her own, but hey it's a story and these aren't exactly normal kids are they?