Tuesday, 28 August 2007

PayPal is now on my hit list.

You don't want to be on my hit list, PayPal. I have several young thugs at my disposal that will inflict such torture as sleep deprivation, auditory overload (Why? Why? Whywhywhywhywhywhywhyyyyyy? and Mummy? Mummy? Mumumumumumumumumuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum?), surprise wet spots on your carpet, and total destruction of your personal life. Still not scared? They can also inflict seven different types of cold & flu viruses by "accidentally" sneezing in your face, your food, and your keyboard.

These hit men require very little sleep, and once we are in a public place, they do not listen to any pleas for self control from me. They are ruthless and have no empathy. Their cuteness is their biggest weapon, because it will disarm you and make you think they are harmless. They are not.

Watch your back, PayPal. Give me my money or face the consequences.

You have been warned.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Harry Potter, the Lost Chapter (my version, at least)

This is my first writing project in many moons. Tell me what you think of it!

The weeks that passed after Harry’s final battle with Voldemort were a blur of funerals and aching grief. Harry felt at a loose end; what do you do with yourself when your life-long mission is complete at age seventeen?

“Of course you must live with us, dear,” said Mrs Weasley after Fred’s funeral. She wiped another tear away, “You are part of our family now, forever.”

So Harry lived with the grieving Weasleys, constantly gnawed by guilt and a feeling of helplessness when witnessing their private pain. Frequently, he found himself wondering about the Dursleys. After seeing countless families being torn apart by Voldemort’s cruelty, and in spite of the years of neglect Harry suffered at their hands, he needed to check up on them. He needed to make sure Dudley, at least, was happy.

The Aurors had done their job of hiding the Dursleys well. Kingsley Shacklebolt himself, now officially Minister for Magic, invited Harry into his office.

“I have to admit I was surprised when Arthur told me your intentions, Harry,” boomed Kingsley’s smooth, deep voice. “You certainly don’t owe a debt of gratitude to these people.”

Harry himself didn’t fully understand it. He shrugged, “I guess the pull of family is stronger than I thought.”

The Minister nodded. “Well, you understand that there are still suspected Death Eaters out there, don’t you? Your family could still be at risk from a wizard or witch bent on misguided revenge.”

“I certainly don’t want to draw attention to them or bring any more danger into their lives,” Harry was quick to say.

“Oh, I think we can manage a stealthy visit, for a few minutes. Their memories have been modified of course, so they won’t know you anyway.”

Harry sat there, momentarily stunned. The Dursleys won’t even remember him? The one last, tenuous link to his past, to his mother, gone forever. There were no other adults alive who were ever close to his parents, besides Aunt Petunia. Now that relationship, too, was lost. Harry had a fleeting memory of the Mirror of Erised.

He cleared his throat. “Of course. Just a glimpse then.”

Several port keys and a journey by floo powder had to be cleared before Harry could see the Dursleys. Harry himself was to use his Invisibility Cloak at all times, regardless of the Memory Charm. “No one’s going to risk losing you again, Harry!” boomed Kingsley as he guided him out of his office.

As soon as Harry returned to the Burrow from his appointment at the Ministry, he was cornered by Ron. “What d’you want to see the Dursleys for?” he asked, incredulous.

Harry shrugged again. “I don’t have anything else to do.”

This was true. Harry’s defeat of Voldemort after returning from the dead had catapulted him into a level of celebrity that even the Weasleys couldn’t ignore. No less than ten owls a day arrived with tearful letters of gratitude, expensive gifts and exotic foods. Even Rita Skeeter wrote such headlines as “The Boy Who Lived – Again” in the Daily Prophet. Kreacher was practically his shadow and would open doors for Harry, pull out chairs, and mutter loudly if Mrs Weasley did not make Harry’s favourite foods every day. She flatly refused to allow him to cook. Harry’s every need was provided for and, apart from feeling embarrassed about all the attention, he was bored stiff.

He didn’t even have his friends to keep him company; not in the same way, at any rate. The comfortable friendship he shared with Ron and Hermione shifted once they openly declared their feelings for each other. Whenever Hermione visited the Burrow, Harry always felt like the third wheel. Whenever she was back at St Mungo’s, waiting for her parents’ Memory Charm reversal, Ron would talk about her non stop.

Ginny wasn’t around anymore, either. Fleur and Bill were expecting their first baby and Mrs Weasley packed Ginny off to “Help them out” when she stumbled onto a private moment stolen in the cupboard under the stairs. Aside from Mrs Weasley’s decidedly unhappy reaction, that memory in particular always brought a smile and faint blush to Harry’s face. They kept in contact of course, but for the time being all Harry had was letters from Ginny.

It was a rainy afternoon, while Harry was aimlessly wondering if Mr and Mrs Weasley would let him take Ginny on a proper date, that a Ministry owl landed soggily on the Weasley kitchen table. They left the window open at all times now, to prevent a scrimmage of owls trying to deliver Harry’s post all at once.

The sleek, tawny owl, Ministry of Magic logo emblazoned across its chest, strutted importantly across the table, leaving wet claw marks on its surface. As it raised its leg for Harry to take the letter, excitement started to rise up inside him. He had finally been granted permission to see the Dursleys! Harry had not realised how listless he had been feeling. For the first summer in six years, he had no Hogwarts to look forward to, no mission to prepare for, no purpose. Even though this excursion to see his estranged family would take no more than a day or two, he was energised by the thought.

He called out to Ron and Hermione, who were in the next room playing wizard’s chess. “My letter from the Ministry’s arrived! Excellent!”

Ron, distracted by Harry’s shout, lost his knight to Hermione. “Oi, woman! That’s my bishop you just nicked!”

Hermione punched Ron in the shoulder and then laughed, “Don’t call me woman! And it was a completely fair play, wasn’t it?” Her pawns squeaked the affirmative up at her.

Harry impatiently ripped the letter open as the Ministry owl flapped back into the rains.

Dear Mr Potter,

In light of your recent valour in destroying Lord Voldemort, the Ministry of Magic and its Department of Magical Transportation have approved your journey for the1st of September, to begin at 7.24 am sharp.

Please report to Mr Basil Bimshott on level 6, office 3a on the above date and time.

We trust you will be using your own form of Magical Concealment, in addition to the protection of this Ministry.

Sincerely yours,
Madam Edgecombe
Floo Regulation

“Excellent, Harry! That’s only a few weeks away!” Ron clapped Harry on the shoulder.

Hermione, however, looked slightly concerned. “Why do they want you to bring your own form of magical concealment? They mean your Invisibility Cloak, right? Is this going to be a dangerous trip?”

Harry had not mentioned that more Death Eaters were on the loose, and could possibly be looking for the Dursleys. He nodded.
“Well, yes, the Minister did say there might be Voldemort supporters out there still.” Hermione’s mouth opened to say something, but Harry rushed on, “But obviously the Ministry trusts my judgment, right? It says so right in the letter! And with Kingsley Shacklebolt in charge, who better can I trust?”

Ron, quickly glancing at Hermione and judging it safe to do so, agreed with Harry. “He’s right, Hermione! I still don’t understand why he wants to visit those gits, but he can certainly take care of himself. The cloak has never failed him yet.”

Hermione looked mollified, and invited Harry to take her place at the chess table. For a few hours that evening, Harry invigorated with the idea of his upcoming journey, Ron beating him at chess mercilessly, and Hermione curled in a chair next to them reading aloud from her latest book, Muggle Magic and How To Tap Into It, everything felt like old times again.

On the morning of September first, Harry woke with a start. Kreacher was staring into Harry’s face, his nose mere centimetres away from Harry’s own. With a pang, Harry realised he thought Kreacher was Dobby for a moment. Sitting up and scrambling for his glasses he asked, “Is it time to wake up already?”

Kreacher’s change in attitude towards Harry, while welcome, made him a tad over-keen at times. “Sir asked me to wake him so as to not be late this morning. It is currently 5.07am. Will Sir have enough time to get ready?”

Harry suppressed a groan at the sight of Kreacher’s anxious face. “Yes, Kreacher, thanks very much.”

Two hours later, Harry was fully awake and standing before the Weasleys’ fireplace, waiting for Mr Weasley to finish getting ready. Although Harry vastly preferred flying on his broom to any other form of magical transportation, he felt the discomforts of apperating were worse than using floo powder.

As Mr Weasley bustled in with a stack of buttered toast in his hand, Harry went through a mental checklist. Hermione let him borrow her magically enhanced bag (after removing the sequins) and it now contained his cloak, a small two-man tent, food to last a few days, muggle clothes and muggle money. Harry didn’t think he would need any of it, but Hermione insisted. His wand was tucked into his back pocket.
“Ready to go, Harry?” Mr Weasley smiled.

Harry’s nose was still itching slightly from the ashes when he knocked on Mr Bimshott’s office door. The same woman’s voice that announced floors in the Ministry lifts immediately spoke, “Harry Potter, 7.24am appointment, 46 seconds late.”

As Harry started to mumble an apology, the door to Mr Bimshott’s office seemed to melt away. Peering inside, Harry saw a small desk overrun with so many random and broken objects the pile nearly reached the ceiling. In fact, every surface was covered in junk, leaving a narrow pathway weaving its way around the room. Harry cautiously stepped inside but was startled by the door reappearing behind him and knocked over a pile of broken baby rattles with a loud crash.

Again his apology was cut short, this time by Basil Bimshott himself.
“Mr Potter, is it? Right, right. I’ve set up several port keys for you today and opened Mrs Arabella Figg’s fireplace to the floo network as well. She said she knows you quite well?” He peered at Harry.

“Oh yes,” Harry replied, remembering his former neighbour and his shock at discovering she was a Squib.

“She’s also been relocated but refused any Ministry protection aside from living in a non-magical residence,” Basil sniffed. He obviously felt personally affronted by this attitude. “She’ll be your fourth stop today.”

As Mr Bimshott explained the travel procedure to Harry, he started digging through his piles of junk. He handed Harry a rubber duck, a bootlace, a giant screw and a packet of melted sweets.
“Each port key is timed to work in succession. Don’t lose them, because they’ve been specially charmed to work in reverse as well. You’ll have twenty-four hours before they start activating themselves again. The first port key will be active in,” he checked his watch, “ten seconds.”

Basil stuffed a bit of parchment into Harry’s hand. “Here’s the order they work in. I hope you have deep pockets!”
And the familiar pull of the port key whisked him away. Harry barely had time to take in his surroundings before the next port key activated. He had fleeting glimpses of desert dunes, wide open sea, and towering forest trees. He suddenly slammed to a stop inside a cramped front room, smelling strongly of cats.

Mrs Figg bustled up to him. “Good to see you, Harry! It’s a shame you can’t stay for tea, but I have my orders.” She pushed him into the fireplace as the floo powder took him to his next destination. He fell out into a run down old shack, sitting on a familiar rock in a familiar bit of dismal sea. His last port key, the melted sweets, activated and sent him hurtling towards his final destination.

Completely winded, Harry lay flat on his back trying to get his bearings. It was dark and dusty, but shafts of light shone onto his face. He appeared to be in a barn hayloft. Hearing voices, Harry quickly donned his Invisibility Cloak and looked down.

He couldn’t believe his eyes! There was his cousin Dudley, mucking out the horse pens, and whistling while he worked! His disbelief only grew when he saw Aunt Petunia come into the barn, covered in dirt, and begin to milk their cow.

Harry noticed with surprise that they were speaking in fluent French. They seemed so relaxed and happy. Harry’s heart began to swell. Maybe not every outcome of Voldemort’s terrorism was negative. Harry had never seen the Dursleys look so content; he was used to them constantly striving to be better than everyone else. This humble little farm was far from their previously perfect home on Privet Drive.

Harry smiled as he watched them work and chat together. Waiting an extra twenty minutes after they left to climb down from the hayloft, Harry carefully picked his way through the barn. The animals were slightly restless, unable to pinpoint his presence.

Harry stepped through the doorway, blinking in the bright morning sun. The Dursley’s new life as farmers seemed to suit Uncle Vernon as well. Harry could see him off in the distance, apparently spit-polishing a gleaming combine harvester.

His curiosity sated, Harry decided to leave the Dursley farm and take a stroll. The port keys wouldn’t reactivate until tomorrow morning, so he intended to enjoy his solitude. Maybe he would find an Inn and avoid his owl post for the day.

It turned out that the small farm was right on the edge of a bustling village. It was market day, with stalls selling cheeses, breads and homemade preserves. Harry ducked down a narrow alley to remove his Invisibility Cloak. He enjoyed walking around anonymously in a group of people. He felt completely at ease and just as unnoticed as if he was wearing his cloak.

As he was trying to point out which cheese he wanted to buy, he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. Was that a wand in someone’s hand? Was the Ministry tailing him, or could it be one of those rogue Death Eaters? Harry suddenly realised how careless he had been in taking off his Invisibility Cloak. All that work to protect the Dursleys could be wasted in one moment!
Quickly thanking the stall holder, Harry tried to slip through the crowds, looking for someone who might be a wizard. No one stood out in odd Muggle clothing, the usual sign of wizards trying to blend in with non-magical people. Not having any luck, Harry decided to best thing to do would be to put on his cloak and disapperate out of there. He accomplished his original goal, anyway. He was happy for the Dursleys.

Heading for the same alley he used earlier, Harry started to pull out his cloak. After apperating all over the British countryside last year, Harry had a clear idea in his mind of where he wanted to go. In one fluid movement, Harry pulled his cloak around him and turned on the spot. Just before the telltale CRACK of his disappearance, Harry felt a hand grasp his ankle. He couldn’t shake it off.

Harry never did get used to the feeling of being squeezed through a rubber tube and so when he apperated in the same wood where Snape led him to Gryffindor’s sword, he felt dangerously disoriented. His ankle felt twisted.

Grasping for his wand, Harry heard a horribly familiar “Hem, hem.” Pulling herself up to stand, Delores Umbridge looked at Harry with a mad glint in her eye.

Aghast, Harry cried out, “What are you doing here?”

Delores Umbridge was a shell of the woman Harry knew from Hogwarts and the Ministry. She had been on the run for several weeks, hiding from the Ministry for her crimes against Muggles and Muggle-borns. Her broad, flabby face was even flabbier after losing weight so quickly. Her hair was lank and robes were stained and torn. Pointing her wand at Harry she gleefully exclaimed, “I knew you would turn up eventually. Your hero complex and Muggle adoration make you an easy target, Mr Potter. Lucky for me.”

And with that, she shouted “Crucio!” Harry just managed to block her spell with a well-placed “Expelliarmus!”

Harry picked up her wand from the forest floor. “You are one of the vilest people I’ve ever met. I don’t understand why, after everything that has happened, you would still try to come after me.” Using Umbridge’s wand, Harry produced ropes that wound themselves around her. He stuffed some old, mouldy leaves into her mouth for good measure.

Sighing to himself, Harry realised that he would have to suffer her company until the next morning, when his portkeys reactivated. He set up his tent, levitated Delores onto one of the beds, and waited.

The sight of Delores Umbridge, tied in ropes and covered in twigs and leaves caused quite a stir in the Ministry the next morning. Basil Bimshott completely lost his head and ran straight to Kingsley Shacklbolt’s office himself, leaving Harry in charge of Umbridge yet again. Harry didn’t mind. He had quite enjoyed checking on her ropes, making them a bit tighter (even if they hadn’t gotten loose) and purposely ignoring her looks of rage and loathing. The feeling was mutual.

Later that day, Harry found himself in the Minister’s office.

“Well, Harry,” smiled Kingsley, “Looks like we owe you yet again!”

“Thank you, but it was all sort of a coincidence, really. It’s not like I went out looking for fugitives from the law or anything.” Harry wanted to avoid further newspaper headlines.

“Nonsense, Harry, you really are too modest. I can see that your experience and talents are an invaluable asset to the Ministry. There are some that would think your youth is a legitimate reason to keep you from full-time employment as an Auror, but I certainly disagree. Will you join us, Harry? You’ll need a bit more training up, but I daresay you could teach us a thing or two yourself, eh?”

Harry was so excited, so thrilled at the idea of working as an Auror, he could barely speak. “Er, yeah! I mean, thank you, Minister! I would be honoured. I accept!”

Kingsley Shacklebolt stood up to shake Harry’s hand. “We’ll be glad to have you Harry.”

For the first time in years, Harry looked forward to his future outside of Hogwarts with excitement. He was in control of his own destiny now.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Long time no see!

If there's one thing I'm good at, it's inconsistency. I seem to post here on a daily basis for a week or two, then leave it at a stand-still for months at a time.

I could say my excuse is a busy lifestyle, but it's probably more laziness than anything else! Sorry, dear readers!

As we near the end of August and our great "British Summer" I am thinking more and more about the changes coming just around the corner for our family.

Eldest Child will be in school -- wearing a uniform and everything! -- in a scant few weeks. Ack!

Middle Child will be three years old and starting nursery school in less than two months. Ack! Ack!

Baby Child will be one year old in four months. Ackety ack ack!

Oh, and my husband will be well and truly in his thirties, as he is turning 31 at the end of October. But don't tell him I told you that. He is in deep denial.

Life has this funny way of creeping up on you. At the end of each day, I run through what I've done with my time, and can never understand how quickly the days turn into weeks, which turn into months and then years.

But anyway, I digress. My biggest excitement that will be coming just around the corner (aside from birthdays and holidays of course) is my Big Trip to America!

I haven't been back to the states since I moved to England 8 years ago, so I'm sooo excited. I got myself some dollars last week, and I made my appointment with the US Embassy in London to renew my United Statian passport. I will be dragging all three kids along on the trains and tubes in London in order to make it to my appointment, so I'll be sure to let you all know if I survive the ordeal. I'm kind of excited to go it alone, just me and the kids. It's a test of nerve and skill and I'm up to the challenge. Plus, I plan to take them to the Natural History Museum to see all the dinosaur bones and the stuffed Blue Whale (I'm seriously stoked about that one!), so it should be a good day. Middle Child is behaving amazingly well when I let him walk alongside the buggy, so I'm hopeful. He'll still be on the reins and/or sitting in the double buggy, but I think he'll be reasonably well behaved.

I just hope the weather is nice. HA!