3. The Vanishing Glass
The Vanishing Glass
Nearly ten years had passed since the Dursleys had woken up to find their nephew and neice on the front step, but Privet Drive had hardly changed at all. The sun rose on the same tidy front gardens and lit up the brass number four on the Dursleys' front door; it crept into their living room, which was almost exactly the same as it had been on the night when Mr. Dursley had seen that fateful news report about the owls. Only the photographs on the mantelpiece really showed how much time had passed. Ten years ago, there had been lots of pictures of what looked like a large pink beach ball wearing different-colored bonnets -- but Dudley Dursley was no longer a baby, and now the photographs showed a large blond boy riding his first bicycle, on a carousel at the fair, playing a computer game with his father, being hugged and kissed by his mother. The room held no sign at all that other children lived in the house, too. Yet Harry was still there, asleep at the moment, with Amber watching him, but not for long. Their Aunt Petunia was awake and it was her shrill voice that made the first noise of the day. "Up! Get up! Now!" Harry woke with a start. Frightening Amber a bit. Their aunt rapped on the door again. "Up!" she screeched. Amber heard her walking toward the kitchen and then the sound of the frying pan being put on the stove. Harry rolled onto his back and tried to remember the dream he had been having. It had been a good one. There had been a flying motorcycle in it. He had a funny feeling he'd had the same dream before. "What did you dream about." Amber bit her lip, listening closely to her brothers response. "The same." He shrugged. "Doesn't it ever change." "Never." He looked up at his sister. "Oh." Their aunt was back outside the door. "Are you up yet?" she demanded. "Nearly," said Harry and Amber in unison. "Well, get a move on, I want you to look after the bacon. And don't you dare let it burn, I want everything perfect on Duddy's birthday." Amber and Harry groaned. "What did you say?" his aunt snapped through the door. "Nothing, nothing..." Harry trailed off. Dudley's birthday -- how could they have forgotten? Harry got slowly out of bed and started looking for socks. He found a pair under his bed and, after pulling a spider off one of them, put them on. Harry and Amber were used to spiders, because the cupboard under the stairs was full of them, and that was where they slept. When Harry was dressed he went down the hall into the kitchen, following Amber closely. The table was almost hidden beneath all Dudley's birthday presents. It looked as though Dudley had gotten the new computer he wanted, not to mention the second television and the racing bike. Exactly why Dudley wanted a racing bike was a mystery to Amber, as Dudley was very fat and hated exercise -- unless of course it involved punching somebody. Dudley's favorite punching bag was Harry, but he couldn't often catch him. Also with Amber around, Dudley wasn't allowed to do anything to Harry, she often snapped at him. Harry didn't look it, but he was very fast. There's an advantage between both twins. Perhaps it had something to do with living in a dark cupboard, but they had always been small and skinny for their age. They looked even smaller and skinnier than they really were because all Harry had to wear were old clothes of Dudley's, and Dudley was about four times bigger than he was. Amber sometimes wore her aunt Petunia's old small clothes. Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black hair, and bright green eyes. Amber had a thin face, light brown/red hair, and piercing green eyes. Harry wore round glasses held together with a lot of Scotch tape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose. The only thing they liked about their own appearance was the very thin scar on their forehead that was shaped like a bolt of lightning. They had had it for as long as they could remember, and the first question they could ever remember was asking their Aunt Petunia how had they gotten it. "In the car crash when your parents died," she had said. "And don't ask questions." Don't ask questions -- that was the first rule for a quiet life with the Dursleys. Uncle Vernon entered the kitchen as Amber was turning over the bacon. Uncle Vernon looked over at Harry who was seated on a kitchen stool near the counter. "Comb your hair!" he barked, by way of a morning greeting. About once a week, Uncle Vernon looked over the top of his newspaper and shouted that Harry needed a haircut. Harry must have had more haircuts than the rest of the boys in his class put together, but it made no difference, his hair simply grew that way -- all over the place. Amber was frying eggs by the time Dudley arrived in the kitchen with his mother. Dudley looked a lot like Uncle Vernon. He had a large pink face, not much neck, small, watery blue eyes, and thick blond hair that lay smoothly on his thick, fat head. Aunt Petunia often said that Dudley looked like a baby angel -- Harry often said that Dudley looked like a pig in a wig. Amber put the plates of egg and bacon on the table, which was difficult as there wasn't much room. Dudley, meanwhile, was counting his presents. His face fell. "Thirty-six," he said, looking up at his mother and father. "That's two less than last year." "Darling, you haven't counted Auntie Marge's present, see, it's here under this big one from Mommy and Daddy." "All right, thirty-seven then," said Dudley, going red in the face. Harry, who could see a huge Dudley tantrum coming on, began wolfing down his bacon as fast as possible in case Dudley turned the table over. Amber took notice but acted normal by instinct. Aunt Petunia obviously scented danger, too, because she said quickly, "And we'll buy you another two presents while we're out today. How's that, popkin? Two more presents. Is that all right'' Dudley thought for a moment. It looked like hard work. Finally he said slowly, "So I'll have thirty ... thirty..." "Thirty-nine, sweetums," said Aunt Petunia. "Oh." Dudley sat down heavily and grabbed the nearest parcel. "All right then." Uncle Vernon chuckled. "Little tyke wants his money's worth, just like his father. 'Atta boy, Dudley!" He ruffled Dudley's hair. At that moment the telephone rang and Aunt Petunia went to answer it while Amber, Harry, and Uncle Vernon watched Dudley unwrap the racing bike, a video camera, a remote control airplane, sixteen new computer games, and a VCR. He was ripping the paper off a gold wristwatch when Aunt Petunia came back from the telephone looking both angry and worried. "Bad news, Vernon," she said. "Mrs. Figg's broken her leg. She can't take them." She jerked her head in the twin's direction. Dudley's mouth fell open in horror, but Amber's heart gave a leap, by the looks of it, so did Harry's. Every year on Dudley's birthday, his parents took him and a friend out for the day, to adventure parks, hamburger restaurants, or the movies. Every year, Harry and Amber were left behind with Mrs. Figg, a mad old lady who lived two streets away. Harry hated it there. Amber despised the old woman. The whole house smelled of cabbage and Mrs. Figg made them look at photographs of all the cats she'd ever owned. "Now what?" said Aunt Petunia, looking furiously at the twins as though they'd planned this. Amber knew she ought to feel sorry that Mrs. Figg had broken her leg, but it wasn't easy when she reminded herself it would be a whole year before she had to look at Tibbles, Snowy, Mr. Paws, and Tufty again. "We could phone Marge," Uncle Vernon suggested. "Don't be silly, Vernon, she hates these pairs of nothings." The Dursleys often spoke about Amber and Harry like this, as though they weren't there -- or rather, as though they were something very nasty that couldn't understand them, like slugs. "What about what's-her-name, your friend -- Yvonne?" "On vacation in Majorca," snapped Aunt Petunia. "You could just leave me here," Harry put in hopefully (he'd be able to watch what he wanted on television for a change and maybe even have a go on Dudley's computer). Amber nodded towards her aunt with all her hope, just like Harry. Aunt Petunia looked as though she'd just swallowed a lemon. "And come back and find the house in ruins?" she snarled. "We won't blow up the house," said Amber, but they weren't listening. "I suppose we could take them to the zoo," said Aunt Petunia slowly, "... and leave them in the car...." "That car's new, they are not sitting in it alone...." Dudley began to cry loudly. In fact, he wasn't really crying -- it had been years since he'd really cried -- but he knew that if he screwed up his face and wailed, his mother would give him anything he wanted. "Dinky Duddydums, don't cry, Mummy won't let them spoil your special day!" she cried, flinging her arms around him. "I... don't... want... them... t-t-to come!" Dudley yelled between huge, pretend sobs. "They always sp- spoil everything!" He shot the twins a nasty grin through the gap in his mother's arms. Just then, the doorbell rang -- "Oh, good Lord, they're here!" said Aunt Petunia frantically -- and a moment later, Dudley's best friend, Piers Polkiss, walked in with his mother. Piers was a scrawny boy with a face like a rat. He was usually the one who held people's arms behind their backs while Dudley hit them. Dudley stopped pretending to cry at once. Half an hour later, Amber and Harry, who couldn't believe their luck, were sitting in the back of the Dursleys' car with Piers and Dudley, on the way to the zoo for the first time in their life. Their aunt and uncle hadn't been able to think of anything else to do with them, but before they'd left, Uncle Vernon had taken the twins aside. "I'm warning you both," he had said, putting his large purple face right up close to Harry's, "I'm warning you now, boy -- any funny business, anything at all -- and you'll be in that cupboard from now until Christmas" he then went to Amber. Who was holding Harry's hand tightly "Same goes for you, Amber." He threaghtened. "We are not going to do anything," said Harry, "honestly.." Amber nodded. Not daring to say a word. She swallowed hard. But Uncle Vernon didn't believe them. No one ever did. The problem was, strange things often happened around Harry and Amber, it was just no good telling the Dursleys they didn't make them happen. Once, Aunt Petunia, tired of Harry coming back from the barbers looking as though he hadn't been at all, had taken a pair of kitchen scissors and cut his hair so short he was almost bald except for his bangs, which she left "to hide that horrible scar." Dudley had laughed himself silly at Harry, who spent a sleepless night imagining school the next day, where he was already laughed at for his baggy clothes and taped glasses. Amber ofcource was their all times and defended him. No one was going to make a fool out of her brother. She can barely stand her uncles threaghts and insults at home. But for some nobody to do the same. She couldn't stand that. Next morning, however, he had gotten up to find his hair exactly as it had been before Aunt Petunia had sheared it off. He had been given a week in their cupboard for this, even though he had tried to explain that he couldn't explain how it had grown back so quickly. Amber tried to back him up. But it resulted to end up being called a liar. Another time, Aunt Petunia had been trying to force Amber into a revolting old sweater of hers (brown with orange puff balls) -- The harder she tried to pull it over Amber's head, the smaller it seemed to become, until finally it might have fitted a hand puppet, but certainly wouldn't fit Amber. Aunt Petunia had decided it must have shrunk in the wash and, to her great relief, Amber wasn't punished. On the other hand, Harry gotten into terrible trouble for being found on the roof of the school kitchens. Dudley's gang had been chasing him as usual when, as much to Harry's surprise as anyone else's, there he was sitting on the chimney. The Dursleys had received a very angry letter from Harry's headmistress telling them Harry had been climbing school buildings. But all he'd tried to do (as he shouted at Uncle Vernon through the locked door of his cupboard) was jump behind the big trash cans outside the kitchen doors. Harry supposed that the wind must have caught him in mid- jump. Amber was punished with Harry just so they could scare her to not go through Harry's path. By path I mean, just so she wouldn't do the same. Again, the twin's were both punished unfairly. But today, nothing was going to go wrong. It was even worth being with Dudley and Piers to be spending the day somewhere that wasn't school, their cupboard, or Mrs. Figg's cabbage-smelling living room. While he drove, Uncle Vernon complained to Aunt Petunia. He liked to complain about things: people at work, Harry & Amber, the council, Harry & Amber, the bank, and Harry & Amber were just a few of his favorite subjects. This morning, it was motorcycles. "... roaring along like maniacs, the young hoodlums," he said, as a motorcycle overtook them. "I had a dream about a motorcycle," said Harry, remembering suddenly. "It was flying." Uncle Vernon nearly crashed into the car in front. He turned right around in his seat and yelled at Harry, his face like a gigantic beet with a mustache: "MOTORCYCLES DON'T FLY!" Dudley and Piers sniggered. "OFCOURCE HE KNOWS MOTORCYCLES DON'T FLY!" snapped Amber annoyed "IT WAS JUST A DREAM. CALM DOWN!" "DON'T TALK TO ME LIKE THAT. MOTORCYCLES DON'T FLY. END OF STORY!" Amber huffed with anger. "I know they don't," said Harry. "It was only a dream." But now Harry wished he hadn't said anything. If there was one thing the Dursleys hated even more than them asking questions, it was them talking about anything acting in a way it shouldn't, no matter if it was in a dream or even a cartoon -- they seemed to think that they might get dangerous ideas. It was a very sunny Saturday and the zoo was crowded with families. The Dursleys bought Dudley and Piers large chocolate ice creams at the entrance and then, because the smiling lady in the van had asked Amber what she wanted before they could hurry her away, they bought her a cheap lemon ice pop. At first she refused because of Harry not getting none but at the end both Harry and Amber got the cheap lemon ice pop. It wasn't bad, either, thought Amber, licking it as they watched a gorilla scratching its head who looked remarkably like Dudley, except that it wasn't blonde. Amber had the best morning she'd had in a long time. Harry was careful to walk a little away apart from the Dursleys so that Dudley and Piers, who were starting to get bored with the animals by lunchtime, wouldn't fall back on their favorite hobby of hitting him. They ate in the zoo restaurant, and when Dudley had a tantrum because his knickerbocker glory didn't have enough ice cream on top, Uncle Vernon bought him another one and Harry was allowed to finish the first. For some reason they bought Amber a knickerbocker too. She was quite surprised. Amber felt, afterward, that she should have known it was all too good to last. After lunch they went to the reptile house. It was cool and dark in there, with lit windows all along the walls. Behind the glass, all sorts of lizards and snakes were crawling and slithering over bits of wood and stone. Dudley and Piers wanted to see huge, poisonous cobras and thick, man-crushing pythons. Dudley quickly found the largest snake in the place. It could have wrapped its body twice around Uncle Vernon's car and crushed it into a trash can -- but at the moment it didn't look in the mood. In fact, it was fast asleep. Dudley stood with his nose pressed against the glass, staring at the glistening brown coils. "Make it move," he whined at his father. Uncle Vernon tapped on the glass, but the snake didn't budge. "Do it again," Dudley ordered. Uncle Vernon rapped the glass smartly with his knuckles, but the snake just snoozed on. "This is boring," Dudley moaned. He shuffled away. Harry and Amber moved in front of the tank and looked intently at the snake. Amber wouldn't have been surprised if it had died of boredom itself -- no company except stupid people drumming their fingers on the glass trying to disturb it all day long. It was worse than having a cupboard as a bedroom, where the only visitor was Aunt Petunia hammering on the door to wake you up; at least she got to visit the rest of the house. The snake suddenly opened its beady eyes. Slowly, very slowly, it raised its head until its eyes were on a level with Harry's and Amber's. It winked. Amber stared. Then she looked quickly around to see if anyone was watching. They weren't. Then she looked at Harry. He looked back at her. They looked back at the snake and winked, too. The snake jerked its head toward Uncle Vernon and Dudley, then raised its eyes to the ceiling. It gave Amber a look that said quite plainly: "I get that all the time." "I know," Harry murmured through the glass, though they were't sure the snake could hear them. "It must be really annoying." Murmured Amber. The snake nodded vigorously. "Where do you come from, anyway?" Harry asked. The snake jabbed its tail at a little sign next to the glass. Harry peered at it. Boa Constrictor, Brazil. "Was it nice there?" Asked Amber. Looking at the sign as well. The boa constrictor jabbed its tail at the sign again and Amber read on with Harry: This specimen was bred in the zoo. "Oh, I see -- so you've never been to Brazil?" Hinted Amber. As the snake shook its head, a deafening shout behind Harry made both of them jump. "DUDLEY! MR. DURSLEY! COME AND LOOK AT THIS SNAKE! YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHAT IT'S DOING!" Dudley came waddling toward them as fast as he could. "Out of the way, you," he said, punching Harry in the ribs. Caught by surprise, Harry fell hard on the concrete floor. Amber crouched on the floor and cupped Harry's cheeks.
"DUDLEY! YOU IDIOT!." Exclaimed Amber. Glaring daggers at Dudley. Imagining his death in her small fragile mind.
What came next happened so fast no one saw how it happened -- one second, Piers and Dudley were leaning right up close to the glass, the next, they had leapt back with howls of horror. Harry sat up, with the help of Amber, and gasped; the glass front of the boa constrictor's tank had vanished. The great snake was uncoiling itself rapidly, slithering out onto the floor. People throughout the reptile house screamed and started running for the exits. As the snake slid swiftly past them, Amber could have sworn a low, hissing voice said, "Brazil, here I come.... Thanksss, amigo."
"Your welcome." Answered Harry and Amber in unison. The keeper of the reptile house was in shock. "But the glass," he kept saying, "where did the glass go?" The zoo director himself made Aunt Petunia a cup of strong, sweet tea while he apologized over and over again. Piers and Dudley could only gibber. As far as Amber had seen, the snake hadn't done anything except snap playfully at their heels as it passed, but by the time they were all back in Uncle Vernon's car, Dudley was telling them how it had nearly bitten off his leg, while Piers was swearing it had tried to squeeze him to death. But worst of all, for Harry at least, was Piers calming down enough to say, "Amber was talking to it, so was Harry, both of 'em, weren't you?" Uncle Vernon waited until Piers was safely out of the house before starting on the twin's. He was so angry he could hardly speak. He managed to say, "Go -- cupboard -- stay -- no meals," before he collapsed into a chair, and Aunt Petunia had to run and get him a large brandy. Amber layed in herbdark cupboard much later, holding Harry in her arms, wishing she had a watch. She didn't know what time it was and she couldn't be sure the Dursleys were asleep yet. Until they were, Harry and Amber couldn't risk sneaking to the kitchen for some food. They'd lived with the Dursleys almost ten years, ten miserable years, as long as they could remember, ever since they've been baby's and their parents died in that car crash. They couldn't remember being in the car when their parents had died. Sometimes, when Harry strained his memory during long hours in the cupboard, he came up with a strange vision: a blinding flash of green light and a burning pain on his forehead. This, he supposed, was the crash, though he couldn't imagine where all the green light came from. He couldn't remember his parents at all. Every time he had this vision, his scar hurted and so did Amber's. It was weird how they shared the same connection with the scar. His aunt and uncle never spoke about their parents, and of course they were forbidden to ask questions. There were no photographs of them in the house. When they had been younger, Amber had dreamed and dreamed of some unknown relation coming to take her and Harry away, but it had never happened; the Dursleys were their only family. Yet sometimes she thought (or maybe hoped) that strangers in the street seemed to know her and Harry. Very strange strangers they were, too. A tiny man in a violet top hat had bowed to them once while out shopping with Aunt Petunia and Dudley. After asking Harry and Amber furiously if he knew the man, Aunt Petunia had rushed them out of the shop without buying anything. A wild-looking old woman dressed all in green had waved merrily at them once on a bus. A bald man in a very long purple coat had actually shaken Amber and Harry's hand in the street the other day and then walked away without a word. The weirdest thing about all these people was the way they seemed to vanish the second the twins tried to get a closer look. At school, Amber and Harry had no one. Everybody knew that Dudley's gang hated the odd twin Potters in their baggy old clothes and Harry with his broken glasses while Amber with her very puffy hair, and nobody liked to disagree with Dudley's gang. That made Amber feel less loved. Harry felt the same. They were different. They are Potters. They are like the same person. But just different from average.