Chapter 1 : The Normal Boy
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If you asked anyone living in the town of Biggleswade about a boy named Liam Wren, they would tell you he was a normal boy in most every respect. His grade school teachers found him average at best - not deficient in any one subject, but not exemplary either. His coach, a Mr. Morgan Jones, called him "a fine footballer, and a decent keeper for his size," but he might have said as much about any of the boys who played for him. No, if anyone from Biggleswade remembers Liam Wren at all, and there are few these days that do, they would say he was an average, thoroughly normal boy.
Yet, there had been an incident, back around 2001, when Liam called a bit of attention to himself. He came to school one morning claiming he could make his toy car move just by pointing at it. He even made a demonstration out on the yard during recess. But afterwards, the whole story was debunked. It was a mechanical car, or radio controlled, something of that sort. It had to have been. After all, toy cars do not move on their own unless they have some sort of engine. The whole thing was an elaborate prank by a boy craving a bit of attention.
If young Liam was feeling a bit neglected, well, who could blame him? His parents had recently separated. They may not have even been married. Polite people try not to pry into such matters, but one does hear things. Perhaps he felt slighted by all the turmoil in his house, or maybe that day his younger brother had received the lion's share of their mother's attention. So, Liam staged this prank as a way of getting people to notice him.
Hardly anyone recalls this incident these days anyway, and nobody held it against the boy. He was young at the time, only eight years old, or so.
If you were passing by Liam's house in Biggleswade on the day this story begins, (which happens to be a Saturday in June of 2004), and you were nosy enough to peer into his bedroom window, you would have seen a fairly typical scene: two boys, sitting on the floor of the room, playing with toy cars. The boys were brothers and looked it - one was just a smaller version of the other. Both had short tawny hair and a splash of freckles across the cheeks.
But, if you looked carefully, you would have noticed the cars, plain little matchbox cars with no motors whatsoever, racing at great speed along a thin plastic track. Each boy gazed at his own car with fierce concentration. Liam seemed to be guiding his car with his left index finger, while his brother guided his with his right. Neither finger was touching the car.
Liam had been able to make his toys move by pointing at them with his left index finger since he was very young. (He was, incidentally, left-handed.) He'd been doing it for so long, he couldn't remember a time when he couldn't do it. When his brother Patrick, who was three years Liam's junior, was old enough, Liam taught him the trick, too. It had taken a few tries before Liam thought to have Patrick use his right hand instead of his left. Once Patrick tried his right index finger, he could make toys move, too.
As far as Liam knew, he and Patrick were the only two people in the world who could make their toys move just by pointing at them. None of their friends could do it, and neither could Mum or Uncle Charlie who was their mother's younger brother. Liam's friends would get frightened by such exhibitions, so he soon learned not to show off. His mother, Annie, would shake her head in wonder when she saw her boys do their tricks, and Uncle Charlie would say things like, "Isn't that the damnedest thing!" Neither had ever seen anything like it.
Liam hadn't taught Patrick every trick he knew. One cold morning the previous winter, his mother had served him some hot cocoa that was a little too hot. Liam stared hard at the cup, and the cocoa in it cooled rapidly - too rapidly, in fact, so that it was almost cold when he took a testing sip. Slowly, with concentration, he was able to raise the temperature until it was to his liking.
He found the trick would work on people, too. He first tried it on himself. Despite the snow that morning, Liam found that, with focus, he could keep himself warm. Later in the day, Roger, who was always borrowing pencils he never returned and begging for money he never paid back, came 'round with an expectant look on his face. Liam sent a cold thought Roger's way, then watched, pleasantly surprised, as Roger shivered and crossed his arms over his chest. Even better, Roger changed course and went to bother someone else.
There were times when Liam's powers gave him a bit of a fright. One stiflingly hot day the previous summer, a fly had been loudly buzzing 'round Liam's room. He couldn't seem to drive it off. In anger, he pointed at it. The fly dropped immediately to the floor, dead. Now, if Liam had simply bashed the thing with a flyswatter, he would not have felt at all remorseful. But cursing a living thing to death was something else entirely, and it quite upset him. He couldn't confess what he'd done to his mother, but he did confide in his Uncle Charlie.
Charlie listened patiently to the story and, seeing the look of worry in his nephew's eyes, tried a lighthearted tact. "Well Liam-lad, what it takes to kill a fly is a whole lot less than what it would take to kill a person, right? Still, we probably don't want to test that theory now, do we? Not on another kid, anyway. Perhaps if a bill collector came 'round . . . ."
A year had passed, and Liam had not pointed at another living thing in anger since. He mostly just used his magic on his toys.
That Saturday in June as the boys played with their cars, their mother came into the room, momentarily disrupting the concentration of both of her sons. The cars careened at a high speed off the track. Patrick's blue car crashed hard into the far wall, while Liam's red one made a sharp u-turn in mid air and flew straight into his left hand.
"You've got some mail, Liam-lad," she said. "More school brochures. This one looks nice." She showed him the front of one of the brochures, which had a picture of a lake lined with trees. "Lakewood Prep," she read from the caption. "'By invitation only.' Sounds expensive. You must have done really well on that standard exam."
Liam shrugged. He didn't remember doing all that well on the tests. When his mother had left, he got up and looked at the brochure. He gazed at the photo and the words without picking it up. Feeling a bit discouraged, he grabbed a comic book instead and plopped back down on the floor.
His mother's comment, "sounds expensive," had struck him deeply. She was often complaining about lack of funds, and the prospect of sending Liam to a decent prep school seemed daunting to her. She worked long hours, and took what little Uncle Charlie could give her in exchange for meals and an occasional night's lodging. If Liam and Patrick's father were still around, if he was contributing more to the family, things might be different.
Liam's friend Tim was going to Thursgood's, an old prep school in the country. "You should apply," Tim had urged Liam. "They take everybody." But even a place like that seemed out of reach, financially. Without some sort of scholarship, Liam would be going to the local comprehensive for sure. And, he was simply too ordinary, both as a student and as an athlete, to earn a full scholarship anywhere.
Patrick, being more removed from the prospect of secondary school, was therefore much more fascinated by it. As soon as he was certain Liam wasn't going to look at it, he snatched the brochure off the desk and sat on Liam's bed to read it.
The bed was supposed to be off limits to the little brother, but it was a rule he broke regularly, and Liam often let him. That day, Liam glared at Patrick but said nothing. The younger boy, gazing at the front panel, remarked, "That's a grand castle."
Liam, who had just looked back down at his comic book, raised his head again and said, "What castle?"
"The one on the front." Patrick turned the panel Liam's way, but not quite the right angle for Liam to see properly.
"Give it here," snapped the elder brother.
"Oh, now that I'm looking at it, you want to see it."
"Give it here!" Liam said again.
"Fine!" Patrick tossed the brochure towards his brother. Liam reached for it, but it floated away from him down onto the carpet.
"There's no castle," said Liam contemptuously. There wasn't - just lake and forest. Patrick gazed, curious, over the edge of the bed and reached for the brochure. Liam snatched it up instead.
As soon as he looked at it again, sure enough, there was a grand castle on the lakeside. It sat on a hill which he hadn't noticed before. It was as if the whole photo had slid to the left slightly, so that something that was out of the frame was now visible.
Under the photo, another change had come to the brochure: the caption now read "Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."
"Will you look at this?" asked Liam.
"Will you let me?" answered Patrick.
Liam opened the brochure, pressed it flat to the carpet and let go. The inside page had three panels. Each panel had a picture, and captions like, "Come to Lakewood Prep. We inspire Learning." One picture showed students studying outdoors, under a tree. Another showed a student sitting in a desk, raising her hand.
Certain of what to do now, Liam set his hands down on the corner. Immediately, all of the pictures changed. The girl raising her hand turned into a boy wearing some strange costume. He was holding a red ball and looked to be riding a broom. In the other frame, instead of students under a tree, there was now two students gazing expectantly down into what was unmistakably a cauldron.
"You seeing this?" Liam asked Patrick.
"I think I better show this to Mum."
So the boys got up and scampered back down the hallway to their mother. She was sitting on the sofa, reading the newspaper. "Mum, will you look at this?"
She took the brochure from Liam. "Oh, this is the Lakewood brochure. I saw this one already."
Liam could see it was still the Lakewood brochure when his mother was holding it. "Wait," said Liam. He sat next to her and touched the corner of the brochure. He watched, pleased, as his mother's eyes widened.
"What's this?" She looked over at him and asked, "Are you doing that?"
"No. I mean, it changes when me and Patty touch it, but it's doing it on its own. We're not making it change."
Annie inspected the front panel. "The name has changed, too. 'Hogwarts.' What a peculiar name for a school." With a laugh, she added, "I rather like 'Lakewood' better."
Patrick squeezed onto the sofa on Annie's other side. "What does it say?" he asked. Patrick could read just fine, but avoided doing so whenever he could.
So, Annie opened the brochure and read the captions to her sons. "Come to Hogwarts, now fully restored to its former glory. Study under the finest teachers in Britain all the traditional magical disciplines: Potions, Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts and more. Play Quidditch for your House, and make friendships that will last a lifetime!"
"What's Quidditch?" asked Patrick.
"Haven't the foggiest," Annie answered. Liam shrugged, too. "Defense Against the Dark Arts," she mused. "What kind of a world do they think we're living in?"
"Do you think it's some kind of a prank?" asked Liam, remembering what people said about his open display of magic.
Annie shook her head. "If you let go, it goes back to being a Lakewood brochure?" Liam nodded. "I'd call that magic." She pursed her lips. "You know, I think there was a letter that went with this. Run and get it, will you? It should be right on top of your desk."
Liam ran and got the letter. He checked that it said 'Lakewood' on the letterhead, before picking it up. As soon as he touched it, the words changed to 'Hogwarts.' There was a coat of arms, a lion, an eagle, a badger and a snake surrounding a large letter 'H.' He brought it to the sofa and sat down next to his mother. "Do you want to read it? It's a Hogwarts letter, now."
"Why don't you read it to us, dear."
So, Liam read out loud to his mother and brother:
HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY
Headmistress: Minerva McGonagall (Order of Merlin, First Class, Mugwump Emeretis, International Conf. of Wizards)
Dear Mr. Wren,
We are pleased to inform you that you have a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Your aptitude for magic has been clear to us for some time, and we look forward to developing your abilities to their fullest potential.
An Orientation Specialist from the Ministry of Magic's Department of Non-Magical Persons Relations has been assigned to assist you in your transition into the Magical World. Said official shall be visiting your place of residence on Sunday, June 13th to answer any questions that you and your parents may have.
Liam lowered the letter and gave his mother a long look. Her eyes were wide, and she was very still. It was Patrick who broke the silence:
"Sunday the 13th? Isn't that tomorrow?"
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