Continuation of Chapter 2: Lessons in Black and White
Harry had never, ever seen so much food in one place until that day at noon, after the first performances were held on the stage. Warm dishes, vegetables, pastries and fruits galore covered long tables dressed in pristine, embroidered white tablecloths from end to end, while on the other side of the large room a mountain of glasses, some containing amber bubbly liquids and others filled to the top with multi-coloured beverages, were promptly taken by children and adults, and even more quickly replaced for new ones. People dressed in white suits traipsed among them carrying more glasses filled with beverages, Harry refused an offer and walked up to one of the tables.
He approached the pastries with a salivating mouth, but Harry could only watch the tempting food because there was no adult to ask for permission to have one, and Mr Harper had left to speak with Headmaster Bullion. As he stood eye-levelled with the plentiful table, Clara and Annie approached and reached for a couple of desserts for themselves.
"Aren't you taking one, Harry?" Annie asked when she saw her classmate's surprised face.
"Shouldn't we ask Mr Harper first? Or someone else?"
Clara laughed at him and took another piece of chocolate cake; being as tall as she was, Clara also grabbed a cocktail glass filled with a creamy substance and chopped fruit. "English Trifle this is," she said, explaining it had sherry inside and her mum usually prepared those cold desserts at her home.
"The food is for us, Harry, you don't have to ask for permission to eat it!"
"Oh... Really? I mean, I've never..."
"Just take one and try it!" Mr Harper said, pushing Harry forward.
Annie had already left to talk with Clara when Harry started on his third serving of sweets, walking the room next to his teacher, who had already introduced him to some people, when he noticed the tall man freeze.
"Harold, old friend!" greeted a bearded man dressed in an impeccable black suit and a very mild French accent, "So glad to see you again, and still alive indeed... I've been invited to act as a juryman, can you believe it? Me, the first violin of the London Symphony in this baby musicians' thing, contest, whatever this is! Say, have you managed to stay away from, you know, temptation?" the man whispered that last word, but Harry still heard him.
"Yes, yes, of c-course I have, Phillipe!" came a nervous reply from Mr Harper. "Let me introduce you to young Harry James, the most talented pianist at my school."
"How funny, it's Harold and Harold!" the French man commented off-handedly, "Phillipe Dufournel. Your teacher and I studied in the Royal Academy together, I'm pleased to meet you young Harold, or perhaps should I call you Harry and then address Harold here as old Harry?"
Harry was confused, if he was young Harold and Mr Harper was Harold, how could he be old Harry when Harry, himself Harry, had never heard Mr Harper being called Harry? Too many Harryses made his head hurt. "Pleased to meet you too, sir, and just Harry will be fine," he said, after a few seconds, deciding to leave the matter to rest, besides, he didn't know if his name was actually Harold or plain Harry.
Mr Harper was reaching for a stem glass full of the bubbly beverage Harry had seen earlier, but Mr Dufournel, the French man, hastily slapped his hand and shooed the server holding the tray full of glasses, muttering something akin to "Lah vash! Harold, get a hold of yourself!"
Leaving the older men to talk with each other, young Harry picked a cold strawberry juice from the buffet table and walked to the front of the hall to see several framed certificates proudly displaying donations and the schools that received them. The Sir Isaac Newton Primary School, in Oxpadshire had been the recipient of a donation by merit of Mrs O'Riordan, English teacher, for presenting the Creative Reading Advanced Programme. "Didn't she realize that spells crap?" Harry wondered how someone could come up with such a horrible acronym. The afore mentioned school was awarded a completely new library and, according to the written document, has been visited by very important British authors ever since. On the upper right side of the wall he found one with the name Little Whinging Primary School, Little Whinging hanging in a neat row dedicated to the year 1987, detailing all sixty four brass, string, percussion and windpipe instruments donated, besides a concert quality grand piano. "What? A grand piano? I've never seen it!" was Harry's immediate thought. The certificate went on describing generous additional funds for playground and building renovation, but he had always played on the same rusty swings and cracked cement pipes; the slide had long since been bent beyond repair.
Harry had actually spent more time than any other student in the Music room, yet the largest amount of instruments he remembered counting were twenty at the most, including the now very familiar upright piano. His teacher had never mentioned the possibility of rehearsing on a grand piano either, nor had he ever discussed forming any large children's orchestra as was described on the elegant certificate he was now reading twice, just to make sure he had understood correctly.
Wishing to gather his thoughts, Harry walked outside and leaned on the bark of an ageing birch tree, watching the bustling of children, parents and teachers from other schools that had been granted donation because of their outstanding Music Syllabus or innovative ideas coming in and out of the auditorium building, some looking lost, others excited for something or other. A couple of elderly ladies were congratulating a very embarrassed boy holding a clarinet by pinching both his cheeks when an elegantly dressed young woman stormed out of the building and almost collided with them. She offered her excuses and turned a corner without noticing Harry, who crouched behind the hedgerows and crawled around them to see her walking to the nearest marble bench while her trembling hand looked for something inside her small handbag.
The woman Harry now recognized as Ms Flores found a pack of cigarettes and promptly lit one, taking a deep breath and releasing the smoke, like uncle Vernon did sometimes in the middle of the night, when he violated aunt Petunia's no-smoking rule. She found herself being joined by Headmaster Bullion who hesitated on the spot, looking around before sitting next to the school's secretary on the weathered stone seat and whispering something to her.
"I know your wife has to be here, caramba! That's not upsetting me, what's upsetting me is you and Harold using students for winning this, this stupid contest!"
"But kitten you--"
"Don't you dare kitten me Albert, honey! Harold sold those instruments for you and now because of your greed you're gonna use children as wonderful as little Harry to win this prize and cover your wrongdoings? You haven't seen the poor child beating himself over that miserable piano for months just to please old Harper!"
"My dearest Sandra, I beg you to listen, it was Harold who--"
Ms Flores had a well built body, her strength came to full recognition as her right arm swung back and, with the speed of a cricket bowler, connected one heavy hand on Mr Bullions stupefied face. "And I thought you'd be doing this for the school, I'm such a fool!" she yelled as another slapping added more colour to the Headmaster's reddened face. She then walked away, saying she was going to contact everyone involved and reveal their actions, in between several Spanish choice words neither Harry nor Mr Bullion comprehended.
Harry needed hear nothing further to finally understand what had happened to the missing instruments. Mr Harper had sold them and now he needed him to win first place and use the money the school would receive as a prize to hide it! He had probably taken the money for playground equipment too! Simply put, Mr Harper lied to him. Whatever lessons Harry had learned, musical and otherwise, were now complete lies, and it hurt so much that the boy could hardly breathe. He sat behind the green hedges and contemplated what to do now that his talent was worthless, now that he was a worthless fool. Should he confront his teacher? If only he could ask his uncles, they at least had never lied to him, they never hid the fact his parents were useless people that died in a vehicle accident, nor had they ever lied about loathing the very sight of him and the heavy burden that he was.
The evening webbed away until Harry heard a group of girls talking by the entryway, they were discussing how gorgeous some boy who played the cello was, until one of them changed the subject and commented off-handedly how cliché it was to play Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory.
"Elgar!" screamed Harry, who made the girls scream in fright themselves as he jumped through the hedges and bolted for the inside of the auditorium. He had to find Annie and tell her what he had overheard, perhaps she could tell him what to do about it.
A large wall clock indicated four minutes past three in the evening, Harry's performance was scheduled for a quarter past three which meant Mr Harper had to be looking for him, or else he had asked Annie to perform instead. Either way he had a better chance at finding her in the reserved sitting area or backstage.
Panting heavily after the running sprint, Harry managed to enter the hall as an announcer dressed in a fancy suit finished his remarks regarding the welcome presence of someone important to the completion of this musical contest. Whoever it was had already left the podium and people were finishing their applauding, so Harry busied himself with trying to find Annie before she was forced to take his place and tell her about Mr Harper's wrongdoings. He scanned the entire auditorium but couldn't find her, he then turned around and crawled under the steel trusses supporting the enlarged stage, reaching the other side to find their Music teacher pleading with his classmate.
"Annie, please, Harry's missing and you've learned the piece, you must play!"
"But it was supposed to be Harry, I can't go up there, I can't!" she said while hiding behind a large velvet curtain that hung from the backstage ceiling.
"Of course you can, you've got a talent, and you're a wonderful pianist! Besides this is for the good of the school, and wouldn't you like to have your name on the trophy cabinet?"
"For the good of the school?" Harry interrupted, "She's got a talent? What next, she's supposed to have the courage to do what feels right?" he yelled in a mocking tone while untangling his left foot from the steel bars.
"Harry, where have you--"
"Don't! I'm not believing a word you say to me sir! Not any more..." replied the black-hired boy, who had taken Annie's side while she stared at him. "Annie he's a thief, the school was given sixty four different instruments, and money for classrooms and money for the playground! But he and Mr Bullion sold the instruments and stole all that money! He wants us to win so they get the prize money and use it to cover what they took!"
The older man let his head down, pulled a wooden box and sat on it before looking up at his students. "You're wrong Harry, please let me finish..." he added when he noticed the boy's look, "I've never stolen money from the donations, and I've got to say it pained me deeply to sell those wonderful instruments."
"Harry, how d'you know of this?" Annie asked him over her teacher's laments.
"I heard Ms Flores yelling at the Headmaster, and she said she's going to tell the charge funding about it and he accused Mr Harper of taking all the money."
"That bloody bastard!" the old musician muttered.
"Charge funding? Oh, you mean charity foundation?" the girl asked, to what Harry simply bounced a little on the balls of his feet and nodded, slightly embarrassed at his misunderstanding of the words. It was Ms Flores after all, whose heavy Spanish accent was also at fault, Harry rationalized.
Sighing, Mr Harper looked at his pupils once more. "Annie, and Harry, have you ever wondered why I'm teaching music to little children in a small primary school of Little Whinging?"
No reply came, therefore the older man buried his face in his hands and continued. "Music took command of me, when I was young, the written notes on the musical sheets demanded me to obey and to serve them... Playing became torture when it had once given me pure bliss, and then those very same sheets I gave you last summer Harry, those wretched notations incarcerated my mind and broke my soul. Emotions had no place in there, only technique and mechanics, and I became as dull as an automatic instrument, an empty and meaningless repetitive tool... It was then that I learned emotions always find a way out, and they drowned me in liquor and gambling. I lost so many chances at playing for the Symphony Orchestra, that I'd need a calculator to add them all up!" he explained with a sad laugh, "Mr Bullion made me sell the donations and he took a large portion of the money that was for playground equipment and building renovation for himself. He said I'd be fired and never find another job because of my condition if I didn't do it..."
"But sir, you lied to me! To us!" Harry replied with a choking voice, his windpipe was almost closed and his eyes stung with tears, "I believed you when you said I've got a talent, I believed you when you explained it took courage to be a better person, to do what's right..." the boy looked at Annie and continued, "You never did any of that, sir, you've never had any courage, and you pushed Annie and me to win this contest thing only because you're afraid of Headmaster Bullion!"
"Harry it's not that simple!"
"Yeah it is! I'm not sure you won't get me expelled, but I'm not playing tonight!" he countered, angrily kicking a loose steel bar on the ground and storming away through a side entrance, looking for his uncle Vernon who, surely enough, was found wrestling over a parking space with a tiny old lady twenty yards down the street, the lady waved a closed umbrella at the rotund man's towering walrus-like face while his uncle sputtered his demands. As Harry walked the street in that direction, a bald man suddenly stopped in front of him and shook his hand in greeting, letting go after a second and walking away.
Once inside his uncle's vehicle, anger began to turn into guilt, but Harry's flared temper still occupied the larger part of his mind to pay much attention to it, nor to the strange fact that a purple dressed unknown man would shake his hand. He jumped on his seat after uncle Vernon forcefully shook him, repeating his question for the third time.
"I said, did you play your stupid piano, boy?" the rotund man yelled, making his moustache tremble.
"No uncle Vernon..."
"Ha! I knew you weren't good enough, they probably came to their senses after all, including that Harper teacher of yours, he should've asked my Dudley to play, he's a much better choice if you ask me."
"As if Dudleykins could play anything beyond the doorbell..."
"What was that boy? Don't you mumble at me, you hear?"
"Yes uncle Vernon..."
"And you'd better have eaten a lot in there today, because I'm not feeding you for free after all this trouble of fetching you out here, boy!"
"Of course uncle Vernon..."
Dreading the morning break on Monday, Harry failed to sleep all night and simply walked out of his cupboard when aunt Petunia slid the hasp and turned the lock. Large bags adorned his green eyes and worry clenched his jaw as he wondered. What if he did get expelled? Would his uncles finally send him away to an orphanage? Living with his mother's sister, or so she claimed to be, had at the very least some advantages over life in an orphanage, for as far as Harry knew, they were no better than living in a cupboard night and day, the schooling was horrible and children actually fought each other for the simple right to breathe. Dudley only punched him occasionally and all the running was quite healthy when compared to the prospect of a tiny, thin boy battling other boys, and girls he added, who were probably used to all that fighting. Oh, how he loathed the day his parents learned to drive a car.
"Harry James Potter?" Ms Vowel called, and he raised his hand as usual. The list of names continued to be called and he let his arm fall limply to the side, relieved that his complete name was actually still in the list.
That very morning Annie had walked up to him, visibly looking for any sign of Dudley or his friends, and with a large smile explained how she had agreed to play Sir Elgar's piano solo and won third place in the contest. He stuttered a small congratulation and quickly made his way into the classroom, wondering when and how was he going to be summoned for the Headmaster's office. The summon never came, and despite the fact Harry had stayed indoors during morning and lunch breaks, no one came looking for him.
In the afternoon, as he was being hunted by Dudley again, a large group of parents stood by the gates and loudly debated among each other. Harry ran several times past them and caught a few sentences here and there, most of them relating how the Headmaster had been suspended from his functions and that the school was under fraud investigation. Mr Bullion was gone, he had not seen Mr Harper all day and his name was still on the list, Harry smiled and gave a small "whoop" before turning a corner and tumbling a couple of old brooms on his cousin's path, grinning as he heard splattering sounds and very dirty cursing behind him.
A couple of days before June the twenty third, Dudley's eleventh birthday, Harry whistled while working the garden under longer summer days that alternatively scorched or drenched the ground as well as his bare shoulders. Despite everything that had happened in his almost finished school term, music had become part of him, it was the expression of his unwavering hope and a release mechanism for his feelings of joy, frustration or simple boredom. There was a suitable written piece of music for everything, he could dream, laugh, scream and weep, and if there was nothing that could convey his mood Harry simply ran his fingers over an imaginary keyboard and let the notes flow, composing his own music out of thin air.
"Stop that ruddy whistling boy!" Uncle Vernon seemed agitated and was yelling from his car window. His moustache bristled and his face contorted every time Harry made his presence known, it seemed that for the Dursley family his best attributes short of non-existence would have been to be a mute and invisible child, something he already was for all purposes, since he kept silent and hidden out of their way most of the time after his house chores.
He was looking forward to spending time at Mrs Figg's on the day of Dudley's birthday, but she had tripped over one of her felines and broken her leg, which left aunt Petunia and uncle Vernon with the arduous task of finding someone who wished to take care of Harry for the day. Alas, no such luck, therefore he was dragged alongside Dudley and his friend Piers for a day of fun at the zoo.
"Enough with that bloody whistling I said!" Uncle Vernon kept complaining but he knew there was nothing short of taping the boy's mouth, which would be quite frown upon if done in public, to stop Harry from doing it.
"But the chimp seems to like it! Look, he's almost dancing," Harry replied, and for the first time in his life, Dudley seemed to agree to something his useless cousin said, because the monkeys had been quite boring until then.
Most of the animals were quite interesting, much more than his cousin's constant demands anyway, and young Harry soon found himself in front of a glass enclosure holding a reptile described on the sign as a "boa constrictor". He adjusted his eyeglasses and peered closer, almost touching the glass pane with his nose, when the animal opened its beady eyes and looked at him. Their gazes locked and Harry felt sad for the locked existence this snake had to endure. It winked at him and clearly conveyed how bothersome it was to be there.
"If you had hands and feet, you'd be dancing along a tune like that chimp back there," Harry said, "I could whistle a charmer's melody if you wish."
"Doesss my ssskin look like an Indian cobra to you?" came a muffled reply from behind the separating glass.
"Wow!" he yelled and took a step back, drawing the undesired attention of his relatives. "You-you c-can speak?"
"Yesss, but not Abahnyem... I wish I wasss sssomewhere else..." it said in a pitiful tone.
"Sorry, can't help you there," the boy answered with truthfulness.
The boa shifted itself to better face Harry and said "I believe you, sssmall human."
At that moment Piers screamed for his friend's relatives to come quickly. It didn't take long for Dudley to arrive and shove him away, cutting his until then pleasant conversation with a snake. "Look! The snake's moving! What were you hissing at it, freak?"
Looking up from the floor, Harry stared angrily at his cousin, before realizing that the boa had somehow escaped the enclosure and was now advancing upon the horror stricken children.
"I can defend you from thessse babakuara!" it said, glaring at both boys, an amazing feat for a snake, but Harry simply shook his head negatively and the boa slithered away, saying "Brazil, here I come... Thanksss, amigo."
Harry finished the day locked inside his cupboard, wondering why the spiders living with him had never spoken a single word. If he could carry a conversation with a snake, why not with a spider? Then again, Harry thought, perhaps it was the odd snake that could talk to humans and not the other way around... He fell into uneasy sleep with a lot of questions and little comfort.
The locked-in-the-cupboard punishment went on for days, he was let out for urgent needs only, and that was if he screamed loud enough. The benefit was the lack of chores, which gave him enough idle time to turn his notebooks into notation sheets, where Harry would write his tiny compositions.
Temperatures soared and Harry was beginning to worry, if he spent all his time inside his sleeping quarters, the flower beds would die without proper care. He entertained the idea that perhaps his uncles had hired a real gardener for the summer, but then laughed at it so hard that aunt Petunia had come to release him, telling uncle Vernon she did not need the trouble of caring for an insane nephew.
Chores and routine resumed, with the added pressure of escaping Dudley's gang of bullies. It wasn't enough to have to run from them at school, now all five lords of the playground had become permanent residents of number four Privet Drive as well. Harry had to use all his agility and energy, finishing the days so exhausted that he was barely able to think of anything after laying his weary bones over his bed and resting his head on one arm, since he had no pillow. The nightmares, however, had no consideration towards how tired he was.
The mass-produced, antique style wall clock the Dursley's proudly displayed on the wall opposite the main door of their house chimed midnight while Harry tossed and turned on his barely cushioned foam mattress. Still enveloped in the hazy fog of sleepiness, he failed to notice the sound of coarse paper running through the door's letter plate and the metallic clinking it made after a letter was pushed through, barely a second after the last of twelve gongs echoed away.
As morning broke and aunt Petunia allowed him out of his tiny quarters, he noticed something square, flat and yellow by the front door. Harry walked to it and picked the odd envelope, running a finger over the unusual material and the blood-red seal on it. As he turned it over, he could do no more than stare at the handwritten name and address he read.
"A letter, for me?"
1.- Sorry for the never-ending chapter, it remained big no matter how much I chopped it. The idea was to show Harry's earliest childhood and four years of primary schooling.
2.- Harry apparated to the school kitchens, I've read that it's more broadly accepted that he levitated himself, but that's not half as cool as apparating at the tender age of eight.
3.- The Death Eater attack that changed Hermione's life has changed Harry's too, he wouldn't have been taken to the British Library and met her, nor would his primary school have had a piano if it wasn't for the H.J. Granger Foundation.
4.- This time Harry enjoys staying with Mrs Figg, despite the cats and the cabbage smell; I've always been fond of her, reminds me of my own granny.
5.- The vanishing glass at the zoo is a landmark of the Potterverse, the idea was to have the same end result but under different circumstances, so that the boa constrictor escapes but has a longer conversation with Harry first.
6.- Foreign languages have been written as Harry would interpret them:
Ms Flores: "ares deemaceadow gerdow" / Spanish; Eres demasiado gordo / You are too fat.
Ms Sewen: "Everyvone quiet down und please open the tuer!" / German accent; und; Tür / and; door.
Mr Dufournel: "Lah vash!" / French; La vache! / French expression of surprise, literally "The cow!"
Boa constrictor: "abahnyem" "babakuara" / Indigenous Tupi-Guarani (Brazil); abanheém; babaquara / Language of men; fools. The boa constrictor in canon H.P. thanks Harry and refers to him as "amigo", but it's bred in the zoo; that word means "friend" in Portuguese (as spoken in Brazil) and in Spanish, therefore snakes can speak the native tongue of their original development place in the world in parseltongue, which is why the snake uses the term "abanheém" as a reference to "the tongue of men" and "babaquara" towards Dudley and Piers ("fools"). Do I make any sense at all?
Write a Review Nineteen Eighty One, with a Twist: Chapter 3: Lessons in Black and White, Finale