Hogwarts had always been a magnificent sight to behold. The first years looked around, trying to take the sight in. They were in the Great Hall, and the ceiling was shining with thousands of dazzling stars. Candles floated in the air, giving the Hall a warm glow. The first years were crowded in a bunch, trying not to draw any attention to themselves.
A hush came over the crowd and several first years looked around, trying to determine the cause. This was easy to figure out, for everyone’s attention was fixed on the front of the hall, just below the teacher’s table. Professor McGonagall placed an old, frayed hat on the stool and stepped back. Ron Weasley was muttering something about a troll, when Hermione promptly shushed him. He glared at her, embarrassed, as the tips of his ears tinged pink, but didn’t whisper anymore.
Then the hat Professor McGonagall had placed on the stool opened a rip near its brim—could it be called a mouth?—and started to sing. Once done, the Hall burst into applause and Professor McGonagall raised her hand for silence. Then she began to read from a long list of names, alphabetized by last names. Each first year separated themselves from the throng and walked forward to sit on the stool.
This had been the ritual for many centuries, ever since the hat had been taken off Godric Gryffindor’s head and enchanted. Nothing had changed through the years, but the sorting never grew boring, no matter how many years Professor McGonagall had witnessed it happening. The anticipation of the crowd and the student, the nervousness, the wait, and finally the decision—it was all a wonderful and thrilling combination of emotions that never got old. Professor McGonagall looked down at her scroll, prepared to read the next name, and paused.
This had happened only once before and even then the school had been notified by the student’s parents. The student had been very ill and had not been able to ride the train to school, thus missing her sorting. She was instead sorted two weeks later in the privacy of the headmaster’s office when she had recovered.
Professor McGonagall stared at the sheet. Luckily, her unease was not noticed by the student body because the sorting hat had yet to announce the current boy’s house. The name on the scroll that she was so fixated by was Harry Potter, but it was not the name the created this dread in her. No, it was the fact that while every other name on this scroll was a deep, bold black colour, easily standing out on the pale beige of the scroll, his name was faintly scripted and she could hardly see it. This could mean only one thing. Harry Potter could not be sorted, for he was not in this hall, not in this school and had not arrived on the train.
So where is he?
She waited, anxious, until the meal was over. She could barely conceal her impatience and was relieved when Dumbledore finally sent the students off to their dormitories. Harry Potter was more to her than the Boy-Who-Lived, savior of the wizarding world. James and Lily had been two of her favourite students, and after they had graduated she had developed a closer relationship with them. She had been able to call them friends. When Harry was born, she had been one of the first notified, and she had spent many hours playing with a young Harry. Oh, how his parents had adored him! She hadn’t wanted to leave Harry with the Dursleys, but Dumbledore had said that it was for the best, and she had assumed that he knew something that she didn’t. Dumbledore had always been like that—keeping secrets from everyone. She could only hope that something hadn’t happened to Harry. She could only hope that Dumbledore would know what to do.
Severus Snape walked up the pathway and knocked on the door of Number 4, Privet Drive. He grumbled, unhappy about having been assigned this task. Sure he could better pick up physical cues to tell what the person was really thinking—he was, after all, a spy—but why not pick someone who had been close with the Potters, instead of James Potter’s old school rival?
I need someone discreet, Dumbledore had told him.
Snape had been surprised to hear the reason why he had been called up to Dumbledore’s office and surprised to see Minerva McGonagall there. She had, he gathered, just finished telling Dumbledore what Dumbledore had then told him. Harry hadn’t arrived at the school for his sorting. His job, Dumbledore told him, was to make sure that Harry wasn’t still at Privet Drive and to make sure that he had arrived at the train station. After that, Snape reassured himself, he was free to spend his last evening before the school term started however he wanted.
Petunia opened the door. “You!” she squawked.
“Hello Petunia. May I come in?” Snape asked. Though he didn’t like the woman, he was able to hide his personal feelings. It was one of the talents of a spy. He stepped through the door without waiting for an answer. He remembered her from when he was young, before he had attended Hogwarts. She had hated him for what he represented, for being, as she so nicely put it, a freak and for breaking up her friendship with Lily. He knew that she wouldn’t have let him inside her house if she could help it.
“I’m here to ask you a few questions. It won’t take long, and then I can leave.” Snape said smoothly. Petunia glared at him, but before she could vent her anger at him, a second presence came to play.
“Who’s this, Petunia darling?” Vernon asked.
“It’s one of those freaks. This one knew my sister.” Petunia replied, fairly spitting the words through her thin lips.
“I’m only here to ask you a few questions and then I’ll be on my way.” Snape said, refusing to be angered, “I’m a professor at Hog-”
“Don’t say that vile name!” Vernon hissed. Snape paused. It had been awhile since anyone had had the audacity to interrupt him. He continued, aware that he was on thin ice already. He knew that they couldn’t forcefully evict him, but it would be most helpful to gathering information when they weren’t at odds. “I am a professor at Harry’s school and some people were concerned when he didn’t arrive at the school.”He saw that they were still too shocked at having a wizard in their house to say anything and he used the break in the conversation to ask his first question. “Was Harry dropped off at the station?”
Vernon’s eyes glinted malevolently. “Yes he was. We dropped him off at King’s Cross on our way to the hospital.” His tone indicated that he didn’t want to share any more information on that topic, but Snape was not about to oblige him.
“Why were you on your way to the hospital?” he asked. He noticed that Petunia glanced at Vernon fearfully.
“One of your bloody wizards harmed our boy by putting a pig’s tail on him!” Vernon screeched.
“Hush Vernon—we don’t want the neighbours to hear.” Petunia calmed her husband. Snape rolled his eyes. He wasn’t getting anywhere in finding out where Harry had gone.
“So you dropped him off at the station? You’re sure?”
“Yes, you freak! Can’t you understand english?” Vernon bellowed, his face turning an alarming shade of purple. Snape could see that this line of questioning was going nowhere. When Vernon saw that Snape wasn’t visually affected by him, he gathered his bulk up and shouted, “Get out of my house!”
Snape stepped outside the door, his robes billowing. He apparated just outside of Hogwarts’ barriers and knocked on the gate, waiting to be allowed in. He didn’t have to wait for long before the gates creaked slowly open. He rushed up the path, puzzling over the news. He hadn’t gotten anywhere with his questioning—Harry had apparently made it to the station. So, then, what had happened to him there?
Harry walked through the streets. Yesterday he had sworn to show the magical world just what exactly a muggle was capable of but unfortunately he hadn’t thought past that stage. He had spent the previous night huddled in an alley, damp from the rain that was perpetually falling in the city. Hedwig had spent the night near him for which he was grateful. He was in an unfamiliar part of the city and he had no one and no place to go.
Hedwig had flown away sometime shortly after dawn. He assumed that she was going hunting because she needed to eat too. He knew in his heart that she wasn’t going to abandon him, and logic backed this up, for which creature would spend a miserable night with someone when they didn’t have to only to abandon them the following morning? Not most, he was sure of it, and certainly not Hedwig. He felt as though he had a special bond with the animal, although he didn’t know if that was possible. The Dursleys had been against having animals as pets; they called anything that didn’t walk on two legs vermin. Of course, Harry knew that if Dudley had asked for a pet, he would have gotten one, no matter what.
As for him, he was hungry also, but he didn’t know how to hunt and he didn’t have any money to buy food. He knew he couldn’t get a job—he was only 11 years old, though he appeared to be closer to 9. No one would hire a 9 year old. However, how else was he to get the money? Harry didn’t know the answer to that question, and he was starting to get really worried.
He trudged through the streets, looking around at the sights, and hoping for inspiration to hit him. He looked out of place, for school had started and even if it had not many children hung around downtown, but no one paid him any attention for they were too busy hurrying to their next destination, hoping to escape the looming shower that the black clouds promised.
He had been walking long enough that he had left the downtown area behind and was now reaching one of the poorer areas of the city. The businesses filling the dividing area were an interesting mix, full of antique shops, variety stores and pawn shops, among others. He paused in front of one building—the only building with a front lawn, albeit yellowing, surrounded by a chain link fence. The name on the gates to the fence sounded vaguely familiar. He scrunched up his nose, a habit he had gotten into while thinking, and tilted his head.
Harry had outgrown his glasses. They no longer helped him to see with clarity—everything he saw was slightly blurry. He took them off and rubbed them on his shirt, trying to dry them from the drizzle that was now falling from the sky. While he got his glasses dry, it didn’t help his eyesight. He squinted at the sign some more and realized he had heard the name before.
This was a runaway shelter for teens. Harry had heard his uncle ranting about it before, saying that he wouldn’t waste his hard earned money on that. Harry thought he was being selfish. Not everyone had a home where they were loved and sometimes they ran away. It was good if they had a place to run away to.
He felt a sudden urge to go into the building. It was something that he normally wouldn’t have done, because he was usually skittish around strangers, but he found himself pushing the gate open and walking up the path to the front door. He then knocked on the door and waited. He felt slightly foolish, standing in front of a strange building by himself, but he couldn’t bring himself to walk away.
A tall man with long, dark brown hair with grey streaked throughout opened the door and looked at Harry. Harry smiled nervously and raised his hand to ruffle his hair, then stopped. His aunt had hated it when he had done that. Instead, Harry shuffled his feet. The man smiled softly.
“Hello. Are you new? Did you want to come in?” the man said softly, not wanting to frighten the young teen in front of him. Harry found that he couldn’t speak. He settled for nodding. He followed the man nervously through the doors and into a small office. He looked around, taking in his surroundings, glancing quickly at the man. He was sitting calmly, watching Harry. Harry resumed his observing. The room was quite small, with a short desk and chair. There was a second chair in the room that looked well used and worn out.
“Please, have a seat.”Harry obliged. He still did not feel completely comfortable. So much had changed in the space of the past day for him that he hadn’t had time to get used to it.
“I shall assume that you want to stay for awhile at this establishment?” the man paused. Harry was grateful that he didn’t have to explain what he wanted, and simply nodded to the man. The man smiled. “We cannot, unfortunately, let you stay here indefinitely, you understand?” Harry looked at the man, confused. He hadn’t heard about this rule before. The man saw his confusion and proceeded to explain. “We don’t have endless space or endless funding. We cannot let everyone stay, or else we wouldn’t have room to take in anyone else. This is why we have need of this rule.” Harry nodded. It made sense now. “I’ll have to ask you a few basic questions. It’s standard procedure.” Harry nodded his agreement.
“What’s your full name?”
“Harry James Potter.”
“How old are you?”
“11 years old.”
“When is your birthday?”
“Where did you live?”
“Ah…um… number 4 Privet Drive. With my aunt, uncle and cousin.” This came out in a rush.
The man nodded and took out a camera. “I have to take a few photos of you. Standard procedure. We need it for the records in case you show up again. Then we can recognize you even if you were using a fake name.” He snapped a few photos of Harry, leaving Harry to blink rapidly after each flash. “Now all I need to do is fill in some paperwork. You do realize that I will need to contact Welfare so that they can contact your family.” Harry looked at the man sitting across from him, but didn’t say anything. He didn’t think that his relatives would be showing up anytime soon to pick him up. He shrugged.
Harry sat in silence as the man filled in the paperwork. It was occasionally broken by the man asking him a question, and it wasn’t long before the man was done. “I’ve done this many times. I’m well practiced.” Harry realized that this man was making conversation with him to calm him down and make him seem friendly. Harry didn’t mind. The man continued, “Here at the shelter we have regular chore schedules. You will be assigned chores and will complete them with a partner, one of our choosing, usually one of your roommates. We feel that completing chores in pairs help to develop friendly relationships with the others at the shelter. I feel that I should warn you that not all in this shelter are passive, and it would not be in your interest to provoke them. Finally, you will share a room with 3 other individuals. That is all for now.”
The man stood up and motioned for Harry to follow him. He led Harry up a narrow staircase and down a hall. The hall had many doors, and there was a small window at the end of the hallway. He stopped in front of one of the doors and opened it. Three boys were inside, lazing about. It was a small room (Harry had the feeling that the shelter didn’t have much space, and tried to cram in as much as possible) and there were two sets of bunk beds, set up against opposing walls. Although the room did have one small window, not much light was provided and the boys hadn’t turned on the lights. The man introduced Harry to the group and spoke to one of the young men, “Now, Darius, I want you to show Harry around the shelter. He is your responsibility now, and you will help him.” The man waited for the other’s acknowledgement and then left the room.
Harry was by far the youngest and the smallest in the room, and he stood awkwardly in the doorway. The others in the room ignored him, until Darius stood up and said, “Might as well give you the tour.” As he led Harry into the lit hall, Harry was able to observe his new companion.
Darius was, though much taller than Harry, not tall by most standards. He was well-built, with large muscles from hard work. He wore his sandy brown hair longer than most men, and walked with a confident air. Harry had to struggle to keep up with Darius’ long strides. He was too frightened and unsure of himself to tell Darius that he was having trouble, so he was very relieved when Darius noticed the problem by himself and slowed down.
Darius pointed to a door at the end of the hall. “That’s the bathroom. There’s only two other bathrooms in this building—both of which are on the main floor. The rest of the rooms on this floor are bedrooms, and I’ll warn you not to enter them. People here are very particular about their privacy and they don’t take well to having it invaded.” Harry understood this very well for he was like that himself. He followed Darius down the stairs and down the hall in the opposite direction of the door and the man’s office. As they walked Darius showed him the kitchen, the two bathrooms and the rec room. The rec room wasn’t in great shape: the sofa was very worn and its fabric was torn in some places. The television was an old model, and the felt on the pool table had numerous engravings on it. The walls had many artistic expressions on it and the cupboard in the corner held only a few tattered board games. A few people were huddled in one of the corners, though Harry couldn’t see what they were doing.
As they wandered through the shelter, Harry noticed that there weren’t that many people. He asked Darius about it and Darius replied, “Not many of the teens that use this place as a home stay here during the day. My friends and I were only here because it’s raining outside and we didn’t have any place in particular to be.” Darius continued walking, leading the way back to their room. Once in, Darius pointed at second of the lower bunk beds. “That’s your bunk bed. Mr. Benoglio, who pretty much runs this place by himself, expects that we keep our rooms clean and our beds made.” Darius left him and walked over to his buddies, who were playing a card game on the floor in the middle of the room. Harry lay on his bed, and thought about all that had happened that day. However, his train of thoughts didn’t last long before it was derailed and Harry fell asleep.
Darius looked over at him from where he was playing his cards, and felt a sensation he hadn’t felt before as he watched Harry asleep. He shook it off, and went back to the card game.