Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. But I think you already knew that.
Every person at the shelter had an opportunity each month of getting their hair cut by Mr. Benoglio. Of course, some tried to do it to themselves and invariably ended up with uneven ends and cut ears. That being said, Mr. Benoglio had never trained as a hairdresser and his method (developed and perfected over the thirty some odd years he had been in this business) was to place a bowl over the person’s head and trim the hair that still showed. It was possible, of course, to choose between different bowl sizes, but the end results all looked the same.
Harry’s hair had not been cut in quite some time (Aunt Petunia hadn’t bothered with it after the Hogwarts letters had arrived) and so hung limply over his ears and eyes. He wasn’t at all sad to see the hair clippings fall to the floor, where they blended into all the hair previously cut, as he had grown frustrated with constantly sweeping his hair out of his face.
His hair had caused him many problems at school; with his rumpled clothing and unkempt hair the adults assumed he was a ragamuffin and always were more than willing to help him when he asked questions or had problems (especially those who knew where he was living). His appearance had the opposite effect on the children. They wouldn’t play with him or let him sit near them because he was “dirty”. James, sensing an opportunity, had spread rumors that he had lice his second week of school and Harry now had an empty seat beside him in class; everyone had nudged their desks away from him, leaving a ring around him that no one would cross and the girl whose table he shared had switched classes. Miss Goodwin had been unable to force them to move the tables back to their original position and had quickly given up.
Harry had almost forgotten what he looked like without the mass of hair, but the scar on his forehead had been ever present in his mind. He had enjoyed the reprieve from the questions that usually accompanied first meetings with people, especially since he was confused as to what to tell people.
The unnaturally large man (Hagar? Had that been his name?) had told him that he had gotten it the night of his parents’ murder. His aunt and uncle had told him the same thing, only that it was a car crash that had killed them, not a mass murderer. The car crash would be the easier explanation of the two—could he really say that his parents had been murdered? The man who had told him this had left him without access to mysterious (did it even exist?) platform 9 ¾, without access to the (stupid) Wizarding world. Why should he believe him?
But what if he had been speaking the truth? He had looked sad while he spoke. Would it be disrespectful to his parents to tell others they had died in a car crash? Would they have even cared what he told others?
Later, after his forehead had been bared for the world to see and Darius had asked curiously about the lightning bolt scar, he had answered, “I don’t know where it came from.”
And that was the truth.
Darius looked up and down the street before he stepped onto the yellow lawn.
It was nearing dark and the shadows cast by the street lamps were long and full. The broken windows of the abandoned buildings and trash littering the street made the street appear desolate. This part of the city had seen better days—nothing in its appearance would remind someone that it had once been a bustling part of downtown London, crowded with men in business suits hurrying from one spot to another and pretty ladies gazing in store windows.
Now it was more a home for the homeless, a breeding center for illegal and violent activities. A large gang had made these streets its territory and had attracted the interest of many of the boys staying in the runaway shelter. It had promised revenge and fun nights, freedom from the laws of the city. Most of the windows had been broken by them during their break-ins, when they had tried (and succeeded) to collect any valuables left behind from the past. They had made the streets their trash bin, their toilet and their bed. The many calls and complaints to the police hadn’t done much to improve the situation, but Marcel’s gang had finally been chased away. Everyone had hoped it would be for good, but no one was naïve enough to believe it.
They had made this their home and they would be back.
Darius was already seeing the signs; he had noticed a boy with Nathaniel’s build peaking into the windows of the buildings across from the shelter late one night and there were a few other boys new to the neighbourhood that had been creeping around the streets.
He knew what they were doing and unfortunately it would be safe for them to come back. The police had long since stopped patrolling this area (they had more pressing matters to deal with than a gang that might or might not show its face again). The police wouldn’t return until the situation was dangerous, since no one had proof that the gang was returning, and they would be sitting ducks until then. They would be outnumbered and most would be too scared to challenge their reign. It would be best and safest to allow them the control of the streets.
Nothing had changed since they had left; they were still the kings of the street.
Darius just hoped he wouldn’t attract their attention. He was of a prime age for becoming involved with them, but to do so would be social suicide. Once they got their claws in him, they would never let him go.
And once they had their claws in him, school would become an afterthought, jobs an impossibility. His whole life would revolve around the streets and that was what he was trying to prevent, especially since he was trying to be a person Harry could look up to.
Darius glanced through open doorways and jogged up the steps, looking for Harry.
Harry wasn’t in their usual spot on the couch in the games room, which was occupied instead by a kissing couple. The couple was ignored by the other teenagers in the room and after a quick scan of the room to make sure Harry wasn’t there, Darius headed towards their room.
He wasn’t there either. He wasn’t anywhere Darius looked.
Darius was putting on his coat again to look for Harry outdoors (what if he had been captured? What if the gang had found him? Had the bullies at school done anything to him? They had better not…) when he saw Harry leaving Mr. Benoglio’s office.
His eyes were tracing the patterns of the floorboards and his shoulders were hunched. Darius called his name just as the supper bell rang. The hallway was suddenly flooded with people rushing to reach the dinner hall and Harry stepped back into the doorway of the office for safety.
They didn’t end up saying anything until after dinner, when they were washing the dishes. Both of them had been hungry and the only pair capable of making decent spaghetti had been cooking tonight. There had been no time for conversation.
Handing Harry a dish to dry, Darius casually asked, “So why did Mr. Benoglio want to see you?”
“He told me I’m missing school tomorrow.”
“There’s a couple coming tomorrow. They want to see what I’m like and maybe let me stay in their home, if ‘we suit each other’,” Harry quoted Mr. Benoglio.
“But that’ll mean you’ll have to leave here, if they choose to adopt you.” Darius started scrubbing the dishes harder than was necessary.
“Exactly! That’s what I said to him, but he just said it was a great opportunity. I don’t want to leave you or Joel.” Harry was punctuating his point by waving his arms in the air. The towel he was using to dry almost hit Darius in the arm.
“You’ll just have to wait and see. I’m sure they’ll take your opinion into account before any final decisions are made.”
“I sure hope so.” Harry started putting the plates and bowls back into the cupboards. “What do you think they’ll be like?”
“Well,” Darius glanced sideways at Harry, “They could be even more neat and orderly than you are and will gasp in horror at our ugly lawn and hurry through the front hall. They could be prissy and gasp in dismay at our communal washrooms and table manners.” Harry was smiling now. “They could be very timid and shy away from the big, bad teenagers here. The man might be very macho and will try to intimidate those very same people, who will just stare unimpressed at him.” He flicked soap bubbles at Harry. “Or they could be very nice people. You never know.”
“Albus,” Severus hissed, “I don’t know what game you’re playing, but it had better stop.”
Albus merely smiled at Severus and waved his hand at the chair in front of his desk that had just appeared. Severus didn’t sit.
It was late evening and the torches on the walls of the Headmaster’s office were the only thing lighting the room. Albus was sitting behind his desk, hands clasped and a look of childish joy on his face.
“Why Severus, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Perhaps you are merely overtired from dealing with both the troll and Fluffy.” Severus sneered at the name. “By the way, how is your injury?”
Severus stiffened and swept his robes tighter around his legs. “Fine. And you knew perfectly well what I’m talking about! Keeping the Philosopher’s Stone in a school full of children is madness! Surely you must see this. The troll was just a diversion—Quirrell is trying to steal the stone!”
“Quirinus, Severus. He’s your colleague; surely you can call him by his first name.”
“That’s not the point,” Severus snapped.
“I shall do what I think is right.”
“Even if it puts us at risk? Even if the stone gets stolen?”
“That is enough Severus.”
Severus glared at the old man, but didn’t speak. There was silence for a few moments as they both stared at each other.
It broke when Albus turned to look out the window at the stars.
“Am I dismissed, Albus?”
Just before he entered the stone stairwell, Severus said, “I do think you are making a mistake.”
Albus looked at Severus. “I know. I do appreciate you notifying me of your encounter with him.”
Severus nodded stiffly and swept down the stairs, out of view.
Albus turned back to look at the stars. “I am doing the right thing. The stone will stay safe.” A star twinkled. “Yes, I suppose I should place an extra ward on the trapdoor. It’s never hurts to be safe.”
When the sun rose the next morning there was an extra layer of protection surrounding the stone, though no one but Albus knew.
Joel had a wide smile when he plopped down beside Harry in the cafeteria. Harry had been picking half heartedly at a baloney sandwich, which he eagerly abandoned.
“My brother’s back in town!” Joel said excitedly, offering Harry a banana.
“Really? But I thought the police told him he couldn’t come back.” Harry was uncertain if his brother’s return was a good thing, but if Joel was happy…
“They don’t know!” Joel seemed perfectly happy at this. “He snuck into the house last night—my mother wasn’t too happy that he climbed through our window—he almost broke the latch on it!”
“Huh… well, that’s good, I guess. How long will he be staying?”
“I don’t know—he says he has business in town, but he’s being really mysterious about it. He wouldn’t even tell my mum.” Joel thought that this was quite an accomplishment.
“Really?” Harry had heard Joel say that his mother’s glares would make a charging rhinoceros halt in its tracks and found it hard to believe his brother could withstand it.
“Yeah—he just walked right past her once she started pestering him. Wouldn’t talk to her at all after that. ” Joel’s voice lowered now. “I heard her crying, later, in the bathroom. She was really sobbing.”
Harry couldn’t quite see the connection between the tears and her son’s return—shouldn’t she be happy?—but he didn’t question it. He had never had a mother, after all.
“Did you say anything?”
“Nah—she caught me looking and told me to go back to bed. I didn’t argue with her—not after that. Plus, it was really late.” Joel took a few bits of his salad. “She seemed alright this morning.”
Harry hummed his agreement and reluctantly picked at his sandwich.
Joel turned to look at Harry. “Why’re you missing classes in the afternoon? Did something happen?”
“I’m meeting with a couple at the shelter. Mr. Benoglio let me out of school.”
Joel nodded. “Lucky! I wish I could miss math this afternoon—I have a math test today that I know I’m going to fail.”
Harry smiled into his food. At least someone saw the benefits of his meeting. He was feeling rather nervous himself.
This afternoon would affect the rest of his life.