4. The Letters From No One
THE LETTERS FROM NO ONE
The escape of the Brazilian boa constrictor earned Harry and Amber their longest-ever punishment. By the time they were allowed out of their cupboard again, the summer holidays had started and Dudley had already broken his new video camera, crashed his remote control airplane, and, first time out on his racing bike, knocked down old Mrs. Figg as she crossed Privet Drive on her crutches. Harry was glad school was over, but Amber had the opposite reaction then her brother. She always thought of school a getaway from the Dursleys. She had no classes with Dudley. But much to Harry's luck all his classes were included with Dudley. There was no escaping Dudley's gang, who visited the house every single day. Piers, Dennis, Malcolm, and Gordon were all big and stupid, but as Dudley was the biggest and stupidest of the lot, he was the leader. The rest of them were all quite happy to join in Dudley's favorite sport: Harry Hunting. They often left him alone when Amber was around. She would snap at them every time and stuck up for him. It was enough having to be humiliated at home. She wasn't going to let a pack of idiots do the same. This was why Harry and Amber spent as much time as possible out of the house, wandering around and thinking about the end of the holidays, where they could see a tiny ray of hope. When September came they would be going off to secondary school and, for the first time in their life, they wouldn't be with Dudley. Dudley had been accepted at Uncle Vernon's old private school, Smeltings. Piers Polkiss was going there too. The twins, on the other hand, were going to Stonewall High, the local public school. Dudley thought this was very funny. "They stuff people's heads down the toilet the first day at Stonewall," he told Harry. "Want to come upstairs and practice?" "No, thanks," said Harry. "The poor toilet's never had anything as horrible as your head down it -- it might be sick." Amber snapped, then grabbed Harry's hand and ran, before Dudley could work out what he'd said. One day in July, Aunt Petunia took Dudley to London to buy his Smeltings uniform, leaving Harry and Amber at Mrs. Figg's. Mrs. Figg wasn 't as bad as usual. It turned out she'd broken her leg tripping over one of her cats, and she didn't seem quite as fond of them as before. She let the twins watch television and gave them a bit of chocolate cake that tasted as though she'd had it for several years. That evening, Dudley paraded around the living room for the family in his brand-new uniform. Smeltings' boys wore maroon tailcoats, orange knickerbockers, and flat straw hats called boaters. They also carried knobbly sticks, used for hitting each other while the teachers weren't looking. This was supposed to be good training for later life. As they looked at Dudley in his new knickerbockers, Uncle Vernon said gruffly that it was the proudest moment of his life. Aunt Petunia burst into tears and said she couldn't believe it was her Ickle Dudleykins, he looked so handsome and grown-up. Amber didn't trust herself to speak. She thought two of her ribs might already have cracked from trying not to laugh. By the looks of it. Harry thought the same. There was a horrible smell in the kitchen the next morning when Harry went in for breakfast. It seemed to be coming from a large metal tub in the sink. He went to have a look. The tub was full of what looked like dirty rags swimming in gray water. "What's this?" he asked Aunt Petunia. Her lips tightened as they always did if he dared to ask a question. "Your new school uniform," she said. Just as Amber walked in, she
looked in the bowl with curiosity. "Oh," Harry said, "I didn't realize it had to be so wet." "Dota be stupid," snapped Aunt Petunia. "I'm dyeing some of Dudley's old things gray for you. It'll look just like everyone else's when I've finished." Harry and Amber seriously doubted this, but thought it best not to argue. They sat down at the table and tried not to think about how they were going to look on their first day at Stonewall High -- like Harry was wearing bits of old elephant skin, probably. Dudley and Uncle Vernon came in, both with wrinkled noses because of the smell from Harry's new uniform. Uncle Vernon opened his newspaper as usual and Dudley banged his Smelting stick, which he carried everywhere, on the table. They heard the click of the mail slot and flop of letters on the doormat. "Get the mail, Dudley," said Uncle Vernon from behind his paper. "Make Harry get it." "Get the mail, Harry." "Make Dudley get it." "Poke him with your Smelting stick, Dudley."
"That's childish. I'll get the mail Uncle Vernon". Offered Amber. Harry dodged the Smelting stick and followed Amber to get the mail. They were never apart from eachother and they never thought about seperating. Especially if one of them stays by themself with the Dursleys for a while. It was too much to take in. Four things layed on the doormat: a postcard from Uncle Vernon's sister Marge, who was vacationing on the Isle of Wight, a brown envelope that looked like a bill, and -- a letter for Amber and Harry. Amber picked it up and stared at it, her heart twanging like a giant elastic band. No one, ever, in her whole life, had written to them. Who would? She had no friends, no other relatives -- she didn't belong to the library, so she'd never even got rude notes asking for books back. Yet here it was, a letter, addressed so plainly there could be no mistake:
Ms. A. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
The envelope was thick and heavy, made of yellowish parchment, and the address was written in emerald-green ink. There was no stamp. Turning the envelope over, her hand trembling, Amber saw a purple wax seal bearing a coat of arms; a lion, an eagle, a badger, and a snake surrounding a large letter H. "Hurry up, Girl!" shouted Uncle Vernon from the kitchen. "What are you doing, checking for letter bombs?" He chuckled at his own joke. Amber passed Harry his letter and he stared at it amazed. Amber went back to the kitchen, still staring at her letter. She handed Uncle Vernon the bill and the postcard, sat down, and slowly began to open the yellow envelope. Uncle Vernon ripped open the bill, snorted in disgust, and flipped over the postcard. "Marge's ill," he informed Aunt Petunia. "Ate a funny whelk. --." "Dad!" said Dudley suddenly. "Dad, Amber's got something!" Amber and Harry were on the point of unfolding their letter, which was written on the same heavy parchment as the envelope, when it was jerked sharply out of her hand by Uncle Vernon. "That's mine!" said Amber, trying to snatch it back. "Who'd be writing to you?" sneered Uncle Vernon, shaking the letter open with one hand and glancing at it. His face went from red to green faster than a set of traffic lights. And it didn't stop there. Within seconds it was the grayish white of old porridge. "P-P-Petunia!" he gasped. He snatched Harry's letter away. Pushing him back to the seat when he tried to jump for it. Dudley tried to grab the letter to read it, but Uncle Vernon held it high out of his reach. Aunt Petunia took it curiously and read the first line. For a moment it looked as though she might faint. She clutched her throat and made a choking noise. "Vernon! Oh my goodness -- Vernon!" They stared at each other, seeming to have forgotten that Amber, Harry and Dudley were still in the room. Dudley wasn't used to being ignored. He gave his father a sharp tap on the head with his Smelting stick. "I want to read that letter," he said loudly. "Want to read it," said Harry furiously, "as it's ours not yours." Defended Amber. Finishing her brothers sentence. They did have minds that worked alike. But it was pretty weird. "Get out, all three of you," croaked Uncle Vernon, stuffing the letter back inside its envelope. Amber didn't move. "I WANT MY LETTER!" she shouted. "Let me see it!" demanded Dudley. "OUT!" roared Uncle Vernon, and he took both Harry and Dudley by the scruffs of their necks and threw them into the hall, he then came back and dragged a furious Amber across the kitchen to the hall by the arm. Slamming the kitchen door behind him. Harry and Dudley promptly had a furious but silent fight over who would listen at the keyhole; Dudley won, so Harry, his glasses dangling from one elayed lay flat on his stomach to listen at the crack between door and floor. Amber didn't really join the stupid fight over something so idiotic. She was too busy wondering why there was an owl watching the house. Owls aren't really animals that prefer morning as a waking call. They take it as a goodnight sleep kind of thing. They were nocturnal. So why would there be an owl at this hour. Most importantly, why was it watching the house like a stalker or an intruder would do. "Vernon," Aunt Petunia was saying in a quivering voice, "look at the address -- how could they possibly know where they sleep? You don't think they're watching the house?" "Watching -- spying -- might be following us," muttered Uncle Vernon wildly. "But what should we do, Vernon? Should we write back? Tell them we don't want --" Harry could see Uncle Vernon's shiny black shoes pacing up and down the kitchen. "No," he said finally. "No, we'll ignore it. If they don't get an answer... Yes, that's best... we won't do anything.... "But --" "I'm not having none in the house, Petunia! Didn't we swear when we took them in we'd stamp out that dangerous nonsense?" That evening when he got back from work, Uncle Vernon did something he'd never done before; he visited Harry and Amber in their cupboard. "Where's my letter?" said Harry, the moment Uncle Vernon had squeezed through the door. "Who's writing to me?" "No one. it was addressed to you by mistake," said Uncle Vernon shortly. "I have burned it." "It was not a mistake," said Amber angrily, "it had our cupboard on it." "SILENCE!" yelled Uncle Vernon, and a couple of spiders fell from the ceiling. He took a few deep breaths and then forced his face into a smile, which looked quite painful. "Er -- yes, Harry, Amber -- about this cupboard. Your aunt and I have been thinking... you're really getting a bit big for it... we think it might be nice if you moved into Dudley's second bedroom. "Why?" Asked Harry and Amber. "Don't ask questions!" snapped his uncle. "Take this stuff upstairs, now." The Dursleys' house had four bedrooms: one for Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, one for visitors (usually Uncle Vernon's sister, Marge), one where Dudley slept, and one where Dudley kept all the toys and things that wouldn't fit into his first bedroom. It only took the twins one trip upstairs to move everything they owned from the cupboard to their room. Harry sat down on the bed and stared around him. Nearly everything in here was broken. The month-old video camera was lying on top of a small, working tank Dudley had once driven over the next door neighbor's dog; in the corner was Dudley's first-ever television set, which he'd put his foot through when his favorite program had been canceled; there was a large birdcage, which had once held a parrot that Dudley had swapped at school for a real air rifle, which was up on a shelf with the end all bent because Dudley had sat on it. Other shelves were full of books. They were the only things in the room that looked as though they'd never been touched. From downstairs came the sound of Dudley bawling at his mother. "I don't want them in there... I need that room... make them get out...." Amber sighed and stretched out on the bed. Yesterday she'd have given anything to be up here. Today she'd rather be back in his cupboard with that letter than up here without it. Next morning at breakfast, everyone was rather quiet. Dudley was in shock. He'd screamed, whacked his father with his Smelting stick, been sick on purpose, kicked his mother, and thrown his tortoise through the greenhouse roof, and he still didn't have his room back. Harry was thinking about this time yesterday and bitterly wishing he'd opened the letter in the hall. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia kept looking at each other darkly. When the mail arrived, Uncle Vernon, who seemed to be trying to be nice to Harry and Amber, made Dudley go and get it. They heard him banging things with his Smelting stick all the way down the hall. Then he shouted, "There's more! 'Ms. A. Potter, The Smallest Bedroom, 4 Privet Drive and Mr. H. Potter, The Smallest Bedroom, 4 Privet Drive--" With a strangled cry, Uncle Vernon leapt from his seat and ran down the hall, Harry right behind him. Uncle Vernon had to wrestle Dudley to the ground to get the letters from him, which was made difficult by the fact that Harry had grabbed Uncle Vernon around the neck from behind. "Don't you think we should stop them, Aunt Petunia." Said Amber. Petunia just glared at her then stayed with her wide eyes and mouth agaped. After a minute of confused fighting, in which everyone got hit a lot by the Smelting stick, Uncle Vernon straightened up, gasping for breath, with Harry's and Amber's letter clutched in his hand. "Go to your cupboard -- I mean, your bedroom," he wheezed at Harry. "Dudley -- go -- just go." They all went separate ways. Amber Ofcource followed Harry to their room without being punished. But they never left each others side. Amber walked round and round her new shared room, Harry watched her back and forth. Someone knew they had moved out of their cupboard and they seemed to know they hadn't received their first letter. Surely that meant they'd try again? And this time Harry would make sure he didn't fail. He had a plan. A plan that involved Amber and His secret that had yet not been revealed to themselves. The repaired alarm clock rang at six o'clock the next morning. Harry turned it off quickly and shook Amber awake. She made her way to the bathrrom quietly and got dressed. She must not wake the Dursleys. The twins stole downstairs without turning on any of the lights. The plan was to wait for the postman on the corner of Privet Drive and get the letters for number four first. Her heart hammered as she crept across the dark hall toward the front door --
Harry leapt into the air, scaring Amber to death; Harry had trodden on something big and squashy on the doormat -- something alive! Lights clicked on upstairs and to his horror Harry realized that the big, squashy something had been his uncle's face. To Amber's horror, they surely have been caught now. Uncle Vernon had been lying at the foot of the front door in a sleeping bag, clearly making sure that Harry and Amber didn't do exactly what they'd been trying to do. He shouted at the twins for about half an hour and then told them to go and make a cup of tea. Harry shuffled miserably off into the kitchen with Amber right behind him, by the time they got back, the mail had arrived, right into Uncle Vernon's lap. Amber could see six letters addressed in green ink. Three for her, and three for Harry. "We want --" she began, but Uncle Vernon was tearing the letters into pieces before their eyes. "You had no permission to do that. Its my letter, I shall do whatever I want with it." Amber hissed. But, as usual, Uncle Vernon ignored her.
Uncle Vernon didnt go to work that day. He stayed at home and nailed up the mail slot. "See," he explained to Aunt Petunia through a mouthful of nails, "if they can't deliver them they'll just give up." "I'm not sure that'll work, Vernon." "Oh, these people's minds work in strange ways, Petunia, they're not like you and me," said Uncle Vernon, trying to knock in a nail with the piece of fruitcake Aunt Petunia had just brought him. On Friday, no less than 24 letters arrived for Amber and Harry. As they couldn't go through the mail slot they had been pushed under the door, slotted through the sides, and a few even forced through the small window in the downstairs bathroom. Uncle Vernon stayed at home again. After burning all the letters, he got out a hammer and nails and boarded up the cracks around the front and back doors so no one could go out. He hummed
'Tiptoe Through the Tulips' as he worked, and jumped at small noises. On Saturday, things began to get out of hand. 36 letters to Harry and Amber found their way into the house, rolled up and hidden inside each of the two dozen eggs that their very confused milkman had handed Aunt Petunia through the living room window. While Uncle Vernon made furious telephone calls to the post office and the dairy trying to find someone to complain to, Aunt Petunia shredded the letters in her food processor. "Who on earth wants to talk to you this badly?" Dudley asked Harry in amazement.
"None of your business--" Amber hissed, She's been doing that alot. Who would guess that not getting a letter can get a small petite eleven year old girl in a bad mood. On Sunday morning, Uncle Vernon sat down at the breakfast table looking tired and rather ill, but happy. "No post on Sundays," he reminded them cheerfully as he spread marmalade on his newspapers, "no damn letters today --" Something came whizzing down the kitchen chimney as he spoke and caught him sharply on the back of the head. Next moment, thirty or forty letters came pelting out of the fireplace like bullets. The Dursleys ducked, but Harry leapt into the air trying to catch one as amber laughed loudly and stood in the middle of the room looking back and forth in amazement. "Out! OUT!" Uncle Vernon grabbed Amber's arm and seized Harry around the waist and threw them into the hall. When Aunt Petunia and Dudley had run out with their arms over their faces, Uncle Vernon slammed the door shut. They could hear the letters still streaming into the room, bouncing off the walls and floor. "That does it," said Uncle Vernon, trying to speak calmly but pulling great tufts out of his mustache at the same time. "I want you all back here in five minutes ready to leave. We're going away. Just pack some clothes. No arguments!" He looked so dangerous with half his mustache missing that no one dared argue. Ten minutes later they had wrenched their way through the boarded-up doors and were in the car, speeding toward the highway. Dudley was sniffling in the back seat; his father had hit him round the head for holding them up while he tried to pack his television, VCR, and computer in his sports bag. They drove. And they drove. Even Aunt Petunia didn't dare ask where they were going. Every now and then Uncle Vernon would take a sharp turn and drive in the opposite direction for a while. "Shake'em off... shake 'em off," he would mutter whenever he did this. They didn't stop to eat or drink all day. By nightfall Dudley was howling. He'd never had such a bad day in his life. He was hungry, he'd missed five television programs he'd wanted to see, and he'd never gone so long without blowing up an alien on his computer. As for Amber, she couldn't get more crankier than she was. She rested her head on Harry's shoulder while she nuzzled her nose upon his neck. She had her eyes closed, but could'nt seem to sleep at all. Uncle Vernon stopped at last outside a gloomy-looking hotel on the outskirts of a big city. Dudley, Amber, and Harry shared a room with twin beds and damp, musty sheets. Dudley snored but Amber stayed awake, sitting on the windowsill, staring down at the lights of passing cars, making small conversation with Harry, as he seemed not te get any sleep either. They ate stale cornflakes and cold tinned tomatoes on toast for breakfast the next day. They had just finished when the owner of the hotel came over to their table. "'Scuse me, but are any of you Mr. H. Potter and Ms. A. Potter? Only I got about an 'undred of these at the front desk." She held up the letters so they could read the green ink address:
Mr. H. Potter. Ms. A. Potter
Room 17 Room 17
Railview Hotel Railview Hotel
Cokeworthe Cokeworthe Amber made a grab for the letter but Uncle Vernon knocked her hand out of the way. The woman stared. "I'll take them," said Uncle Vernon, standing up quickly and following her from the dining room. "Wouldn't it be better just to go home, dear?" Aunt Petunia suggested timidly, hours later, but Uncle Vernon didn't seem to hear her. Exactly what he was looking for, none of them knew. He drove them into the middle of a forest, got out, looked around, shook his head, got back in the car, and off they went again. The same thing happened in the middle of a plowed field, halfway across a suspension bridge, and at the top of a multilevel parking garage. "Daddy's gone mad, hasn't he?" Dudley asked Aunt Petunia dully late that afternoon. Uncle Vernon had parked at the coast, locked them all inside the car, and disappeared. It started to rain. Great drops beat on the roof of the car. Dudley sniveled. "It's Monday," he told his mother. "The Great Humberto's on tonight. I want to stay somewhere with a television. "
"This is so unfair." Mumbled Amber. Her green eyes tracing the shadows of the trees, "I can also care less about your Monday shows Dudley." Wait. Monday. This reminded Amber of something. If it was Monday -- and you could usually count on Dudley to know the days the week, because of television -- then tomorrow, Tuesday, was Harry and Her's eleventh birthday. Of course, their birthdays were never exactly fun -- last year, the Dursleys had given Harry a coat hanger and a pair of Uncle Vernon's old socks. Amber got an old book that looked as if it was very old. Still, you weren't eleven every day. Uncle Vernon was back and he was smiling. He was also carrying a long, thin package and didn't answer Aunt Petunia when she asked what he'd bought. "Found the perfect place!" he said. "Come on! Everyone out!" It was very cold outside the car. Amber shivered under her sweater. Uncle Vernon pointed at what looked like a large rock way out at sea. Perched on top of the rock was the most miserable little shack you could imagine. One thing was certain, there was no television in there. "Storm forecast for tonight!" said Uncle Vernon gleefully, clapping his hands together. "And this gentleman's kindly agreed to lend us his boat!" A toothless old man came ambling up to them, pointing, with a rather wicked grin, at an old rowboat bobbing in the iron-gray water below them. "I've already got us some rations," said Uncle Vernon, "so all aboard!" It was freezing in the boat. Icy sea spray and rain crept down their necks and a chilly wind whipped their faces. After what seemed like hours they reached the rock, where Uncle Vernon, slipping and sliding, led the way to the broken-down house. The inside was horrible; it smelled strongly of seaweed, the wind whistled through the gaps in the wooden walls, and the fireplace was damp and empty. There were only two rooms. Uncle Vernon's rations turned out to be a bag of chips each and five bananas. He tried to start a fire but the empty chip bags just smoked and shriveled up. "Could do with some of those letters now, eh?" he said cheerfully. He was in a very good mood. Obviously he thought nobody stood a chance of reaching them here in a storm to deliver mail. Amber privately agreed, though the thought didn't cheer her up at all. Harry thought it would be impossible to get reached there. He had already lost most of his hope, he still had a glint of hope. Which helped his situation a bit. As night fell, the promised storm blew up around them. Spray from the high waves splattered the walls of the hut and a fierce wind rattled the filthy windows. Aunt Petunia found a few moldy blankets in the second room and made up a bed for Dudley on the moth-eaten sofa. She and Uncle Vernon went off to the lumpy bed next door, and the twins were left to find the softest bit of floor they could and curled up, sharing, under the thinnest, most ragged blanket. The storm raged more and more ferociously as the night went on. Ofcource Amber couldn't sleep, and Harry followed in her footsteps. Amber shivered and turned over slighly, trying to get comfortable, her stomach rumbling with hunger, as did Harrys. Dudley's snores were drowned by the low rolls of thunder that started near midnight. The lighted dial of Dudley's watch, which was dangling over the edge of the sofa on his fat wrist, told Amber they'd be eleven in ten minutes' time. She layed beside her brother and watched their birthday tick nearer, wondering if the Dursleys would remember at all, wondering where the letter writer was now. Five minutes to go. Harry heard something creak outside.
"You heard that." Amber propped herself on her elbows, looking around. She'd hoped the roof wasn't going to fall in, although she might be warmer if it did. Four minutes to go. Maybe the house in Privet Drive would be so full of letters when they got back that he'd be able to steal one somehow. Three minutes to go. Was that the sea, slapping hard on the rock like that? And
(two minutes to go) what was that funny crunching noise? Was the rock crumbling into the sea? One minute to go and they'd be eleven. Thirty seconds... twenty ... ten... nine -- maybe he'd wake Dudley up, just to annoy him -- three... two... one... BOOM. The whole shack shivered and Amber sat bolt upright, staring at the door. Harry held on her hand as they stood there in fear of what was behind the door. In this moment, someone was outside, knocking to come in.
A/N: What do you guys think. Comment if you please.