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What if the Dursleys had been nice? (HP & The Philosopher's Stone) by adkal

Format: Novel
Chapters: 8
Word Count: 40,777
Status: WIP

Rating: 12+
Warnings: Spoilers

Genres: General
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, OtherCanon
Pairings:

First Published: 10/27/2017
Last Chapter: 02/21/2018
Last Updated: 02/21/2018

Summary:
We all know how mean (and cruel) the Dursleys had been to Harry over the years, but how different would things have been if they had been nicer and kinder?  What influence would their caring relationship have had over Harry and the decisions he made as he entered into the Wizarding World?  How different would their life have been after Harry set off to study at Hogwarts?


Chapter 1: Meet the Dursleys
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(Author's note: parts of the chapter are drawn from Philosopher's (Sorcerer's) Stone, Chapter 1)

 

For the first time in weeks, Vernon Dursley felt warm.  He had woken that November morning and found that the anxiety that had been weighing him down for so long had disappeared.  He was loath to admit but, for a while, a part of him had wondered if it had been because of the responsibility-laden change that he was still adapting to in his life: fatherhood.

Not that Vernon Dursley was one to shirk responsibility, he would have anyone who asked know, but it was a thought that made a little sense to him as he looked out of the window of his house and sighed at the dull, grey sky.  Looking down, squinting in order to see through the mist he had reluctantly gotten used to over the past couple of months, he was surprised to see that there was none surrounding his car.  It did, he noted grimly, need cleaning.

He glanced over at his wife’s dresser and frowned as he noticed a partially open jewellery box.  It was one he knew she had not opened in a long time, a gift from her sister, and an uncomfortable thought nagged at him that it had been the cause of the strange noise he had heard during the night.  The noise that had preceded the feeling that he shouldn’t worry so much anymore.

An idea on how to surprise his wife came to him and he moved back to the bed and hummed to himself as he began to make it.  ‘It’s the least I can do,’ he told himself.

Vernon’s wife, Petunia, was, to Vernon’s mind, one of the finest women around and, as he smoothed down the last pillow, he looked around their bedroom and realised he didn’t really want to go to work that day.  He marvelled at the fact that he had somehow wooed her and, right then, he wanted nothing more than to spend the day with her and their son, Dudley.  He smiled at the thought and stroked his moustache as he remembered the teasing and bullying he had often been at the receiving end of in his days at his old school, Smeltings.

‘What would they say now?’ he whispered aloud.  He puffed out his chest and stretched his arms wide.  ‘Director of a successful business, married to a beautiful woman, father to a bright and healthy boy.  A proper and normal life.  Well done, Vernon, old boy.  Well done.’  He chuckled and closed his eyes for a few seconds to listen to the familiar sounds of his home and to think about the last few days.

Sunday had passed by uneventfully for the Dursleys.  After a light breakfast and a long stroll pushing Dudley up and down their road in his pram – the mist, they felt, being too dense to risk going to the park – they had decided to spend the rest of the day at home.  While Petunia had busied herself in the kitchen with preparing the Beef Wellington and a sherry trifle for dinner, Vernon had played with their son in the living room.  Much to Petunia’s amusement, she had found father and son asleep on the baby blanket, with Dudley draped over Vernon’s belly.

Monday, as far as Mr Dursley was concerned – he was always ‘Mr Dursley’ on weekdays – had been a ‘ridiculous day’.  The depressive slump that seemed to have affected the whole construction industry in England throughout the summer – usually their busiest time – showed no sign of changing and he had spent the whole day trying to arrange telephone meetings over the rest of the week with long-forgotten clients in order to at least get some business in.

Tired and grumpy, that evening he kept telling himself not to be annoyed at the children running around in their silly masks.  After he had parked in the driveway and gotten out of his car, however, he, secretly, was glad Petunia had hidden a couple of bags of sweets in his briefcase that morning.

‘Thanks, Mr Dursley,’ the kids shouted, muffled by their masks, and they dashed away, whooping and cheering and shouting, ‘Trick or Treat, Trick or Treat, give us something good to eat!’.

He had stayed outside for over an hour and, with the dense mist providing quite the spooky atmosphere, he was sure the neighbourhood children had quite enjoyed the experience.  He couldn’t say the same for his suit, however.  When he had stepped into the house he noticed, with some dismay, that the mist had dampened the material and he knew it would end up smelling.

Monday night had been dreadful.  Dudley had refused to sleep and, judging by the sounds from their neighbours, it seemed that a number of the babies in their area had threatened to give their parents a sleepless night, too.  Exhausted from his day in the office, and suffering from a headache, Vernon had tried to have an early night.  Petunia had taken Dudley into the second bedroom when, suddenly, after the strange noise from the dresser, Dudley stopped crying.

Vernon opened his eyes with realisation and took in a sharp breath: all the babies had stopped crying.  How curious.

Downstairs, Petunia fussed over Dudley, while keeping an eye on the slightly-sweet porridge she was making for her husband.  Porridge and half a grapefruit had become Vernon’s weekday breakfast since the new year and she had tried to keep it interesting now and then by adding things like chocolate chips – ‘they look like stains’ – and raisins – ‘looks like ants are stuck’ – but she knew it was for the best.  The radio was playing a series of jingles in readiness for the news ‘at the top of the hour’.

Dudley, now a little over a year old, was not a fussy eater – he would gladly eat a toy car if you gave him the chance – but this morning he had more of a preference to smear himself and his mother with soggy cereal.  Petunia brushed back the hair that had covered Dudley’s forehead and a thought, quite unbidden, came to her: what was Harry like?

For weeks now she had found herself wondering every day, sometimes several times a day, about her sister and her brother-in-law and the nephew she had never met, and last night had been the worst.  Last night, as she desperately tried to calm Dudley and get him to sleep, something strange had thudded in her bedroom, and, as Dudley suddenly and quickly dozed off, Petunia had cried.  She was absolutely convinced that she had heard her sister’s voice, and then she had cried.

She glanced over at the telephone hanging in the hallway and then shook her head, resigned.  She didn’t have a number on which to call, it was always Lily who called her instead.  The gooey wetness of the cereal Dudley threw at her cheek brought Petunia’s thoughts back into the kitchen and she smiled at her baby and tried, again, to get more food in his mouth than on his face.

The floorboards at the top of the stairs creaked and Vernon made his way downstairs.  He stopped in the hallway, picked up the receiver and listened to the beeps.  He harrumphed, hung up the phone and walked into the kitchen.

‘It’s still a dull day, this Tuesday morning,’ said the man on the radio, ‘but I’m sure you’ll all be glad to know that the mists that had been smothering the country for so long seem to have lifted overnight.  Forecasters expect the cloudy sky to clear and we may even get to enjoy some sunshine.  Not sure if any of us believe them yet, but it looks like things are getting back to normal, folks.’

‘I suppose that’s why Marge didn’t call this morning,’ said Vernon, as he drew back his chair and sat down.  He prodded at the porridge Petunia had ladled out for him and made a face at Dudley.  ‘Didn’t I tell her she was just feeling under the weather, Dudders?  Didn’t I tell her?’

Dudley screeched and giggled and Petunia rolled her eyes at her husband’s joke.  In the weeks before, with the mists the weathermen insisted shouldn’t be there, there had been an almost overwhelming amount of anxiety experienced by almost everyone, so much so that Vernon’s sister had bombarded her brother with phone-call after phone-call, urging him to go and stay with her.  Vernon had refused, but he had, reluctantly, admitted to himself that it had sounded like a good idea.  It had sounded safe.  Now, however, everything seemed normal.

Hearing the news talk about a strange increase in owl activity, Vernon, porridge-laden spoon hovering near his mouth, looked at Petunia, who then turned to check the kitchen window.  She smiled at him and said, ‘It’s probably nothing, dear,’ and he nodded and continued with his breakfast.  He remembered the three occasions on which owls had come to their house: the first being the day they had moved in, the second was when they had received the wedding invitation from Lily and her then-fiancé, James, and the third was a little over a year ago, the day the jewellery box had arrived.

Having breakfasted, Vernon untucked his tie and put on his jacket.  Dudley squealed a little and began grabbing at his father and Vernon chuckled.  ‘Little tyke, always wanting me to stay,’ he said and, careful of his son’s messy hands, he kissed his head and headed for the door.

Just he reached for the doorknob, Vernon Dursley took in a deep breath and, convinced that that Tuesday morning was the start of something different, set off to tackle the world construction companies and their need for good drills.  He had a busy morning ahead of him, he knew, but, as soon as he had stepped outside, his motivation, right then and there, was that he had his family to come home to and the sooner he was done at work the sooner he could be home.

He nodded and waved ‘good morning’ to his neighbours, got into his car, and backed out of the drive.  Up above he saw an owl swoop down, as if coming in to land, and he leaned over the steering wheel to watch where it was going, his mind leaping to the times Petunia would receive messages from Lily by owl.  As slow as he was driving, his car began to swerve as he craned his head to watch the circling bird.  He quickly took control of his car and fought against his instincts and didn’t jerk his head around to look again but took a deep breath and, his walrus-moustache flapping away as he did so, exhaled slowly.

Other things tugged at his attention as he drove to work but he dismissed them as soon as he saw them, especially with it being Halloween.  ‘She’s right,’ he muttered to himself every few minutes, ‘it’s probably nothing,’ and he thought wistfully of the days when Halloween had been celebrated with ghost stories and apple-bobbing rather than the American import of dressing up in silly outfits and ‘trick-or-treating’.

At work, after checking his messages and making sure Marge hadn’t called, Mr Dursley put his mind to what had to be done.  Drills.  The morning ended up being more than just a good one.  All the calls he had lined up the day before had turned into deals and everyone in the office was suddenly busier than they had ever been.  Somehow, overnight, there were a lot of construction projects with a Christmas deadline.  As lunchtime drew nearer, however, his mind wandered back to what he had heard last night and seen in the morning, and then further back to what Mrs Dursley had said the week before.

‘Lily called earlier,’ she had said as she struggled with feeding Dudley some mashed banana.

‘Oh?’ Vernon remembered saying, lowering his newspaper, and frowning.

‘I thought you should know.’

‘Of course, of course.  And did she have anything to say?’

‘Not really.’  And that lunchtime, a week later, as he sat at his desk in his office on the ninth floor, Mr Dursley remembered his wife’s eyes being wider than he had ever seen them before.  ‘She said she wanted to make sure that we were okay.’

‘Hogwash,’ he had said, snapping his newspaper back up and continuing to read about the persistent mist that covered most of the country and, in particular, the side column about certain helplines being stretched to their limit.  ‘Her good-for-nothing husband’s probably broke so she called for a loan.’

‘You’re probably right,’ Petunia had said, but the way she had said it, the distance he heard in her voice, had made Vernon lower his newspaper into his lap and look at his wife.

‘Petunia,’ he had said, softly, smiling involuntarily at how Dudley’s head snapped round when he heard his mother’s name.  ‘Dear, this is the third time your sister has called.  If something was wrong she would have said so by now, surely.’

‘Perhaps.  Perhaps.  I just… I just have a feeling.  Dread.  I know we’re not yet on speaking terms,’ she held up her hand to stop her husband from interrupting, ‘and we won’t be until James apologises, but I can’t help feel that something is wrong.  Her voice…’  Petunia’s voice trailed off as she picked up a cloth and wiped some banana from Dudley’s face.

‘You think it might be something to do with their son?’ Vernon had asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

‘James isn’t like us.  And Lily… Who knows how these situations work?  But she would say something by now, surely?’

He knew from the way she looked at him that she needed his assurance, so he gave it as best he could.  ‘Of course, my dear.  Of course.’

They hadn’t discussed the matter since that evening but now, after the circling owl and seeing so many people dressed in silly clothes, as well as the news report on owls, Vernon Dursley could not help wondering if the strange goings-on were linked to his sister-in-law and her arrogant husband.

He tried to put the thoughts out of his mind and decided to make his way to the bakery across the road from the office.  The grey sky had cleared and was now bright and blue and everything that had made him feel gloomy for so long seemed to have disappeared.  The staff around him were cheerful and a few of them had even brought in cakes and buns that morning, ‘just because’.  Regretting not allowing himself to indulge earlier, Vernon gave in to the craving for something sweet to balance the months of porridge and grapefruit for breakfast.

Taking his newspaper with him so he could do the crosswords, he also did something he rarely did: he took his pen with him.  He wasn’t sure why, only that he had never been so confident before and that today he felt that he would be able to do both the quick and cryptic crosswords, in full, in pen.

And he did, and he felt a little guilty as he left the bakery clutching a large doughnut in a bag.  Not because of the doughnut, although he kept wiping his moustache in order to get rid of any traces of the sausage roll and the pasty he had indulged in as well, but because he had done the crosswords in two other newspapers that he had found in the bakery.  In pen.

His conflicting feelings of positivity and guilt vanished, however, when, exiting the bakery, he spotted a small group of cloaked people, huddled together and talking rather animatedly.  He lowered his gaze and walked past them, singing, in a not-so-low voice, the nursery rhyme he had started to sing to Dudley in the evenings as he helped put him to bed, and blocking out anything he might accidentally overhear.  His feet fought against him and his ears strained and tingled but, with his chest tightening as he held his breath, he persisted but, somehow, a word sneaked through: ‘Muggle’.

The word made his neck tingle and his ears burn.  It was a word he had not heard in a long while and Vernon now knew with absolutely certainty that his in-laws were involved with whatever was going on.  ‘Muggle’ was what James had called him, on more than one occasion.  With that, he decided that he had done enough at work for the day and that he needed to go home.

As he drove home, his mind leaped from one idea to another: that the strangeness of James and Lily had been discovered and the world had now changed; that owls were going to be used as weapons of war somehow; that their holiday to Benidorm would have to be changed to a Butlins one, instead.

He decided that he wasn’t going to say anything to Petunia about what he had seen and heard, but when he pulled into his driveway he had an unnerving feeling that something was watching him.  He shivered as he gripped the steering wheel, the engine running idle, and frowned as he decided, out of the blue, that he would learn how to fish so he could teach Dudley someday.

Suddenly tired, Mr Dursley got out of his car, locked the door and looked up at his house.  They had bought it a little over four years ago and had made it into a home.  Everything had been good.  Things were going well.  They had a plan: another six years to pay off the mortgage early and then they could start to enjoy life a little.  And fish.

Another shiver passed through him and he spun on the spot, swinging his briefcase around, confused by the unnerving feelings that seemed to be bombarding him.  He looked up and saw a strange grey cloud pass by.  It hung lower than the other clouds, like a small pocket of fog, and drifted away quickly.

‘Good day as well, Dursley?’ shouted Neave, and Vernon shouted back, ‘Yes,’ and hurried into the house.  Petunia was not home – on Tuesdays and Thursdays she was in the routine of taking Dudley to the playschool nearby – and Vernon changed into something more casual and settled in his armchair near the television.

He had never really watched ‘day time television’ but he hoped that maybe he would come across Anna Ford presenting the news.  She had been one of his favourite presenters on the News at Ten, along with Alastair Burnet, and had been quite disappointed when she had left for TV-AM, but, as he flicked through the four channels, he could not find anything of interest.  A little annoyed, he decided to try the radio instead.

‘Disturbing news coming in from Godric’s Hollow this morning, of a strange explosion in the old village.’

Vernon froze.  He knew that name.  He remembered their first conversation years ago:

‘My family’s from an old village out west,’ James had said, and he pushed his fingers through his already unkempt-looking hair.  ‘You’ve probably never heard of it.’

‘I used to be a travelling salesman in my youthful summers.’

‘Really?  I’ve never actually had to work.’

‘Quite.’

‘Anyway, it’s called Godric’s Hollow.  Lots of history and mythology, especially for magical folk.  A Muggle like you, though-’

‘No, you’re right.  Never came across it.’

Shaking, Vernon sat down at the kitchen table and covered his face.

Petunia had had a nice, normal day, she assured him over supper, but as she told him all about the latest goings-on in their part of Little Whinging, Vernon noticed a distinct lack of enthusiasm in her telling.  He wanted to ask her what was wrong but held off from doing so, convincing himself, briefly, that she was likely tired and that she would tell him in time.  He had wanted to tell her about what he had seen and heard, what the news had said, but then decided it would be better to wait until he was certain.  It didn’t help that his heart kept racing, however, nor that his mouth felt so dry.

It took longer to put Dudley to bed than normal, so the Dursleys decided to forgo their usual 8pm cup of tea.  He wasn’t crying like he had been the night before, so they took some solace in that.  Just before ten, with Dudley finally asleep, Vernon went into the living room in order to watch the news.  The main headline was that British industry, across the board, had experienced a sudden overnight spike in activity and investment.  The weatherman joked that it was because of the misty period coming to an end, while the presenter determined that it was because of the parliaments of owls that had formed in hundreds of places across the country ‘spreading their wisdom’.

No mention, however, was made of Godric’s Hollow.

Petunia padded into the room just as the theme music for the news finished, and slumped onto the sofa.  She closed her eyes and tilted her head towards the ceiling.  She looked tired and Vernon suddenly felt at a loss as to what to do.

‘I wanted to call her today,’ she said.  ‘I wanted to pick up the phone and tell it to call my sister.  I wanted to be able to do magic.’

Vernon muted the television and leaned forward in his armchair.  He wanted Petunia to open her eyes but she sat there, slowly breathing in and out.

‘I’ve been jealous of you,’ she said, and she didn’t have to say anything more.  He knew what she meant.

I heard people mention “Potter”, Vernon voiced in his head.  I’m sure I heard them say their son’s name.  I heard them say that word he used to use.

I heard them mention Godric’s Hollow on the radio.

‘Maybe there’s a way to get in touch?’ suggested Vernon, softly.  ‘An owl or a magic post-box or a streetlamp in the middle of the forest.’

Petunia’s mouth twitched and she took in a long breath and said, ‘There is.  There is a way, but I promised I wouldn’t use it.’

‘Some promises are made to be broken, Petunia.’

She shook her head, opened her eyes and looked at him.  ‘It was a promise to you, Vernon.’

Grunting as he pushed himself out of the armchair, he got up and sat next to her and took her hands in his.  ‘Then I free you from that promise.’

She smiled and kissed him on his cheek and nestled next to him.  They sat like that for an hour, taking comfort in each other’s company.

After the dishes had been done but before he switched on the downstairs alarm, Vernon stepped outside the house and took a look around.  He walked down the short driveway and leaned against the wall.  The cat looked up at him for a couple of seconds and then carried on looking at the end of the road.

‘I don’t know what’s been happening,’ he said, his voice barely a whisper, ‘but I know something’s wrong.’  He looked at a cat sitting on their wall and smiled as he imagined that it was fighting an urge to look back at him.

He looked up at the sky and frowned as several shooting stars suddenly streaked across it.

‘There is such a thing as magic,’ he whispered, and he touched his cheek.  ‘I know that.  I do.  There is such a thing, but the magic out there… it doesn’t belong here.’  He looked back onto the street and, for a few more seconds, he stared at the cat, convinced that it had sat up straighter when he had said those words. 

Mr and Mrs Dursley never really spoke to each other once they were in bed.  Long ago they had both agreed that anything worth talking about should be done before turning in for the night, and so Vernon lay there, sorting through the thoughts in his head, oblivious of what was going on outside the bedroom window.

As the light from outside the window vanished, Vernon yawned and closed his eyes for a couple of seconds.   When he opened them again, he didn’t notice that it was only moonlight that was peeking through the curtains and not the light from the streetlamps.

As the tears of sleep trickled down from his eyes and tickled his ears, Vernon remembered a picture he had seen a few years ago, of Lily holding a trophy that looked like a scroll turning into a crystal chalice.  He remembered how intricate it had looked and that he had wondered what on Earth ‘Transfiguration Student of the Year’ was supposed to mean.  Most of all, though, he remembered there being a cat next to Lily and that it looked like the one sitting outside.  ‘Imagination,’ he mumbled, sleepily, ‘silly little thing.’

As sleep’s siren call began to hum in his ear, Vernon had no idea that the cat outside was the same cat he had seen in the picture, and that the cat was actually a woman.  He also didn’t know that the woman was talking to a strange old man right outside, nor did he know that he was one of the subjects of their conversation.

Vernon stared at the ceiling and listened to his wife’s breathing and knew, with some certainty, that she was pretending to be asleep.  He stared at the ceiling and thought about the last few years: about meeting Petunia and falling in love with her; about her grief when her parents passed away and how he wanted to always be there for her; about his confusion at her confession that her sister was something quite different, and his realising that none of that mattered; about James and his arrogance and the anger he had felt towards him for the past few years; about how he had caught Petunia looking at him and his own sister; about her confession earlier and how he now knew for certain that she missed Lily.

What tugged at him most of all, though, were the words on the radio.  He had only heard them once but they had rung in his head ever since.  Those words, combined with everything else that day, had made everything feel ominous.  The quiet before the storm, he thought to himself.

He thought about these things and others as the old man and the severe-looking woman talked outside.  He thought about telling Petunia to invite Lily and James and Harry round for dinner, not knowing that, as he did so, the old man was telling the severe-looking woman the news that he had about Lily and James.

Vernon frowned in the dark as he heard the sound of a muffled motorcycle engine, and then turned, gently so as not to disturb Petunia, and closed his eyes, not knowing that on their doorstep, wrapped in blankets and accompanied with a note, slept Harry Potter.  He didn’t know that something in his life was about to change and that at that very moment, all over the country, people were meeting in secret and paying tribute to his baby nephew.

He snapped awake in the morning and found Petunia was already up.  He touched her side of the bed and frowned at how cold it felt.  He looked over at the cot and saw Dudley was still asleep and then, his back protesting a little, Vernon got up and looked across the hallway at the bathroom.

It was empty.

It was then that he heard a sob from downstairs.  Gingerly, as he tried to avoid both the creaking floorboard at the top of the stairs and the one five steps down, Vernon made his way to the kitchen, and froze.

Petunia sat at the table, shaking.  Her hands covered her face and she kept sobbing with a low, soft moan.  On the table, wrapped in blankets, was a baby, and, between Petunia and the baby, were several sheets of unfolded parchment.

Vernon didn’t say anything when he stepped over to his wife.  He didn’t say anything when he read what was written on the parchment.  He didn’t say anything when he glanced at the baby, and he didn’t say anything as he let the pages fall to the floor and knelt down and put his arms around his wife.

Dear Mrs Dursley, née Evans

I have thought long and hard this past day about an appropriate way to start this letter and I realised, unsurprisingly, that Truth is of utmost importance.

A Truth that I will share with you now is that, to this day, I still have the letter you wrote to me all those years ago.  I cherish it and it often brings a smile to my face and regret to my heart.  I smile at your eager words and your desire to learn, and I regret not being able to invite you the world to which your sister had been.

Another Truth is that the baby that I have left sleeping on your doorstep is your nephew, Harry.  He is not much older than your own son, I believe.

The third Truth I share with you is a painful one, and one that I am neither brave enough nor strong enough to tell you in person, and one I believe you will know to be true before even reading this letter.

Lily and James are no longer with us.

To say that my heart is heavy as I write these words is an understatement of what your sister and brother-in-law meant to me.  As their teacher and friend, I have watched them grow and mature and blossom from excitable children to determined leaders.  From playing pranks on their friends and colleagues to risking their lives for theirs.

I know that things were difficult between Lily and yourself in recent years.  I do not know the whys and I do not believe that any of that now matters.  I only know that Harry needs you.

Magic can do many things, and magic bonded by blood is magic that can protect, and it is that protection that Harry now needs.  Protection that only you can give him.

I imagine, now, reading this, that you are shaking your head, but I assure you that you do have magic.  The magic of love.

I ask you to love your nephew, if for no other reason than because you love your sister.

I ask you to look after him and give him a place that he can call home.

For a long time, the world of magic has been in turmoil.  A Dark Wizard, calling himself Lord Voldemort, had brought about a reign of terror that threatened to engulf your world, too.  Lily and James were among those who have strived against this wizard and his followers, and it was he, himself, who took them from us.

The scar on young Harry’s head is, I believe, the result of Lily giving her life to protect Harry from Voldemort.  On this, I give you three more Truths: Lord Voldemort sought to murder Harry; the world believes Voldemort to be dead; I do not.

These are the Truths that I am sharing with you, Petunia, and I do so with the hope that you will open your heart and allow Harry refuge and a home there.  The magic Lily evoked protects Harry until he comes of age, so long as he can call your home, wherever it may be, his, too.  It’s a magic of blood.  The magic of an aunt.

Please, look after him.

 


Chapter 2: The Vanishing Glass
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Harry snapped awake, panting, and stared at the ceiling.  He frowned at the new crack in the paint and then frowned even more as he tried to hold onto the dream.  It was just a green flash of light and a harsh voice, but he had been having the same dream, just before waking, for a couple of weeks and he couldn’t understand it.

The voice only said two words, but everything about it made his skin crawl and then prickle all over, like hundreds of hot needles jabbing into him.

The baby.

He shook his head and let go of the voice.  He lay there for a little while and almost dozed off again when he suddenly remembered what day it was and gasped.  He pulled off his duvet and sat up, careful not to knock his head against the lower ceiling over the middle of the bed.

Dudley’s birthday.

Harry got slowly up off the bed and started looking for socks in the small chest of drawers next to him.  He hated how cold the tiles in the kitchen were in the morning and he needed to be quiet to do what he wanted to do, so socks it had to be. 

After putting his socks on, he sat on the edge of his bed for a few seconds and wriggled his toes before standing up and making his bed.  He smoothed down the duvet and tucked the edges in and admired his first chore of the day.  His Aunt Petunia was obsessive – to put it mildly – about tidiness and cleanliness and the one time Harry had admitted to finding a spider in his room she had spent the whole day cleaning it thoroughly and, since then, insisted on cleaning it at least every other day.

‘But it’s such a small space, Aunty,’ he said a few months ago, biting his lip when he saw her suddenly look sad and regretting asking her to stop.

‘I know it is, Harry.  I know, but cleanliness is a good thing, so please let me.’  So he did, even though he did his best to make sure there wasn’t much for his Aunt to ever clean, he let her clean his room under the stairs.

That was where he slept; the cupboard under the stairs.

As strange as it sounds, however, Harry didn’t mind it, and he smiled whenever he remembered Dudley’s angry outburst when Mr and Mrs Dursley had told them that they were moving Harry from the room he and Dudley shared upstairs.  As different as he was to the Dursleys – and he was very different, Harry knew that – Harry had a sense of belonging with them.

As for his room under the stairs, everything around him was neat and in its place, and the use of space was maximized.  His bed folded up against the wall and a quick tug on a lever at the bottom edge released a small desk.  To his right, rising from the floor and up to the tenth step were various drawers and compartments, including a small bookshelf with his collection of stories about magicians and unicorns and an iron boy and a sandalwood girl.  Harry reached for the ninth step and pushed the sliding door open.  He stood on tiptoe as he reached further inside, grunting a little as he tried to find the small box he had placed there a few weeks ago.

The staircase creaked a little and he smiled as he imagined his Aunt carefully sneaking down the stairs and trying to avoid waking him.  His fingers finally found the box and he pulled it out and wiped the dust from it with his fingers.  He tilted his head and listened intently and then, timing it carefully, he opened the door and burst into the passageway just as his Aunt stepped off the bottom step.

‘Raaar,’ he whispered, arms wide and grinning as his Aunt fell against the wall with her hands covering her mouth.

‘Harry!’ she whispered.  ‘You should be sleeping.’

He shook his head and grinned more.  ‘I’m going to help with breakfast today.  Lots of bacon.’

Mrs Dursley smiled, gestured towards the kitchen and followed her nephew in.

Dudley and Harry had voracious appetites, but while Dudley was big – not quite fat but big – Harry had always been small and skinny for his age.  It didn’t help that he wore Dudley’s hand-me-downs and usually looked like a deflated green-eyed Michelin Man with black hair that a 60s rock star would be proud of.  And while Aunt Petunia insisted that his glasses – which were the cheapest on offer at their local opticians and paid for by the NHS – made him look like Clark Gable, Harry wished they weren’t so broken.  If asked, however, he would readily admit that their condition was his fault because of all the times they had fallen off as he played on the monkey bars and climbing frames in the local park.

The Dursleys were not ‘allowed’ to replace Harry’s glasses, because he was “a scrounging little parasite”, according to Aunt Marge, Uncle Vernon’s sister.  She didn’t like Harry.  At all.  Mr Dursley once told Harry how he had had to forcefully take him from her arms the first week after he had arrived when his sister had insisted on “dumping the disgusting rag at an orphanage”.  ‘I couldn’t allow it, Harry,’ he had said, pinching Dudley’s cheek as he gaped at him, awed at the idea that his father, Vernon Dursley, had stood up to the dreaded Marge.  ‘It wouldn’t have been right.’  Ever since, Mr and Mrs Dursley had come up with ways of hiding Harry’s presence around the house whenever Marge visited, and making it seem as if he didn’t exist.

Harry’s hair was long.  If you pulled down his forelock, it would reach the bottom of his eyebrows.  He sometimes wanted it longer, like some of the kids at school had theirs, but it never seemed to grow any longer.

It never stayed any shorter than that, either, and that was one of the things about Harry that was of particular annoyance to Aunt Marge.  They had long lost count of the number of times she had attacked him with scissors over the years, and, two years later, she would still bristle and become red-faced whenever she saw Neave, one of the Dursleys’ neighbours.  The embarrassment of having not just Social Services but the police being called to “have a word” with Marge about her treatment of Harry was something she was struggling to get over.

Another thing about Harry’s long hair was that the hair on the right-side of his head always covered his forehead, and so always hid his scar.  Harry hadn’t cared much about his scar before – in fact, he had always enjoyed the fact that his classmates and random strangers would admire that it was shaped like a bolt of lightning.  It was after the police asked him some questions about that scar and how he had got it that he decided to ask his Aunt Petunia about it.  It was a decision he still regretted.

‘In the car crash when your parents died,’ she had said, and whenever he caught a glimpse of it in the mirror, he always remembered how she had stood there for a long, long time, looking at nothing and forgetting all about the tomatoes she had been slicing.  He had decided against asking about it again after that.  He didn’t like it when his Aunt was sad.

Before long, rashers of bacon were sizzling in the pan while an early batch sat cooling on a plate.  ‘Tousle, tousle,’ teased Mr Dursley, playfully, as he grabbed a couple of rashers and ruffled Harry’s hair, making him giggle and squirm.

Ducking away from his uncle’s second attempt at a hair tousle, Harry began to prepare the eggs when his Aunt took the spatula from him and nodded towards the living room.  ‘Time to change the photos, dear,’ she said, gently, ‘in case we forget later.’

Harry grinned and nodded.  He padded over to the living room, singing an old playground song as opened the door: ‘I’ve got the power - to pick up a flower – it takes me an hour – to do’.  Marge, was going to be visiting that evening and, as always, that meant making it seem as if he didn’t exist.

The photographs on the mantelpiece in the living room were, to put it mildly, adorable.  There was one of a large blond boy riding his first bicycle and being pushed along by a laughing dark-haired boy; another of the two of them on a merry-go-round at the summer fair in their local park; one of the boys playing a computer game together, with Mr Dursley sitting with them; and Harry’s favourite, of Dudley being kissed by his mother while she ruffled Harry’s hair.

Harry removed the photos that had him in them and replaced them with their alternates: the same photos, more or less, but without Harry in them.  With that done, the room no longer held any sign at all that Harry lived in the house, too.

‘I wish we didn’t have to do that,’ said Dudley as he watched Harry put the pictures away in the bottom drawer of the oak wall cabinet.  ‘She doesn’t live here so she shouldn’t be allowed to make us to that.’

‘It’s okay, it’s only for a little while, right?’ said Harry as he dug his hand into his pocket.

‘So why don’t you move into the other room?’

‘We tried.’

‘Yeah, but-’

‘Here,’ Harry said, his arms out in front of him.  ‘Happy Birthday, Dudders.’

Dudley stared at the small box in Harry’s hands and frowned.  ‘How did you-’

‘Just take it, please.’

‘No.’

‘Dudley, please?’

‘You weren’t supposed to get me anything,’ Dudley whispered.

‘I won’t tell if you won’t,’ and the two boys grinned at each other.  The doorbell rang and, when they saw the small red car parked outside, their faces fell.  Harry forced the box into Dudley’s hand and rushed to his room.  The doorbell rang again and Harry tumbled out, dressed in clothes that were too big for him, and, adjusting his glasses, he hurried to the door.

Dudley looked at the pictures on the mantelpiece and then at the small box in his hand.  He squeezed it a little and then put it in his pocket as the doorbell rang a third time.

‘I allow some laxity in people like you, boy,’ said Marge Dursley as she glared at Harry, ‘but you knew I was coming and should have been ready.’

‘You’re early?’ Harry ventured, uncertainly.

‘Nonsense,’ she said, pushing her way into the hallway and draping her heavy coat into Harry’s arms.  ‘It’s my only nephew’s birthday and we have the whole day ahead of us.’  Harry looked out of the open door at the warm-looking blue sky and then stepped outside.

‘Ripper,’ he whispered.  ‘Here boy.’  He looked over at the red car, its windows partially open, and squinted a little.  The warm sun kissed Harry’s cheek and he looked up at the sky and then at the heavy coat and shrugged.

‘Hi Aunt Marge,’ said Dudley.  He was leaning against the doorframe to the living room and he smiled at her.

‘Good to see you strong and healthy,’ she bellowed, punching him on the shoulder.  ‘You’re going to be strong man soon enough, my boy.  A strong man.’  She sniffed a couple of times and smacked her lips.  She snapped her fingers and said, ‘scrambled eggs, boy.  Six for me and,’ she gestured at Dudley and he held up two fingers, ‘and three for Dudley.  And lots of bacon.’

It was supposed to be a cheery day – Dudley’s birthday – but Marge Dursley’s arrival seemed to have sucked all the fun out of number 4 Privet Drive.  For an hour, the Dursleys ate and listened and conversed with Marge while Harry hurried around making tea and English-style pancakes – ‘not that American rubbish’ – and more bacon.  Finally, sated, Marge burped and leaned back in her chair.

‘Wonderful breakfast, Petunia.  Perfect way to start the day.’  She looked at Harry and grimaced.  ‘Almost.’

Mr Dursley chuckled softly and poked at the remaining eggs in his plate.  ‘It really is so good of you to come around early for Dudley’s birthday, Marge, but you really didn’t have to.’

‘Of course I didn’t, Vernon, but I chose to.  As highly as I regard you two as parents there are times where I have to step in to make sure the Dursley blood is being raised proper.’  She gestured at her cup and Harry hurried over to pour her some more tea.  ‘I didn’t see any presents out there, have you already opened them?’

‘No Aunty,’ said Dudley, ‘we were going to wait until after the trip to the zoo.’

At that moment, the telephone rang and Aunt Petunia went to answer it while Uncle Vernon and the boys watched Marge’s reaction to Dudley’s words.

‘The zoo?  At your age?’  She slurped some tea and put the cup down slowly.  ‘And who is going?’

‘Oh,’ said Dudley, quickly, ‘Harry’s going to Mrs Figg’s and we,’ he gestured around the table, ‘are going with some friends of mine.’

Marge looked at her brother and asked, her head lowered slightly, ‘the boy is going to the cat-lady?’

Before he could answer, Aunt Petunia walked back into the room.  Before anyone else could say anything, Marge hissed, ‘She’s given you some pathetic excuse, she?’ and the table shuddered as she grabbed onto one of its legs.

Harry chanced a glance at Marge and gulped.  Her eyes bulged and her right fist was scrunched tightly.  ‘Now what?’ she hissed, her eyes flitting from her brother to her sister-in-law.

‘We could just leave him here,’ Dudley ventured, looking glumly at the table.

Marge snorted.  ‘I’ve seen that film.  If you think we’re leaving him here…’ her voice trailed off into a series of mumbles and Harry and the Dursleys looked at each other as they shared a memory from just before Christmas the year before.

Under the table, Dudley pretended to have a gun in his hands and whispered ‘ten’.

‘You were ten last year,’ Marge snarled, irritated, her eyes flitting over the table, and she quickly put on her sweet smile when she saw her nephew’s wide eyes.  ‘Figg has let us down, Vernon.  No good cat-lover.’  Harry glanced at Dudley and saw that his cousin was now clenching and unclenching his fists under the table.  Harry and Dudley actually liked Mrs Figg.  Yes, her house had a strange smell because of the weird teas she would make, and her fondness for cats had long been spoken of in loud whispers in their neighbourhood, but she was kind and played video games with them and made the most delicious chocolate cake.

Half an hour later, Harry was sitting in the back of the Dursleys’ car with Dudley and Aunt Petunia, on the way to the zoo.  Marge hadn’t been able to think of anything else to do with him, but before they’d left she had taken Harry aside and had a word with him.

Her hand shook by the side of Harry’s head and Harry felt himself tingle all over.  He knew she wanted to grab him by the hair but he also knew that she wouldn’t do anything to him as they stood on the driveway.  She glared at him and took in a series of long breaths through her nose and then, through grit teeth, she said, as she lowered her hand and stalked over to the car, ‘Don’t you dare do anything.  Any.  Thing.’

Before he walked to the car, he let out a slow breath and whispered, ‘It’s not my fault.’  He knew, however, that Marge would be watching him like a hawk the whole day and that that would mean no ice cream, too.

As Uncle Vernon turned the car off the roundabout near the zoo, Harry’s mind wandered back to what had happened a few years ago, when Marge had been living with them during the year her house was being renovated – the worst year any of them could remember.  Marge, tired of Harry’s unkempt hair, grabbed a pair of kitchen scissors and, fending off Aunt Petunia’s attempts at stopping her, had chased after him.  The neighbours who had witnessed it said that she had bellowed that she would make him bald.  “Let those kids see how deformed you are,” they said she had snarled as she had her dogs corner the little boy.

Harry shuddered at the memory.  Of her tugging at his hair and the snips of the scissors, and of Neave screaming that the police had been called.  Most of all, he remembered Marge shouting that she would “make sure that the boy is properly disciplined” and how he couldn’t understand what he had done wrong.

Marge had cut off a most of the hair on top of Harry’s head, and Harry had looked like a young and skinny Friar Tuck.  Somehow, however, Harry’s hair had grown back the next morning.  Uncle Vernon didn’t say anything as he handed a small beany hat but Harry knew that whatever had happened wasn’t normal and that the hat was something he absolutely had to wear.

He was glad he was wearing it when he and Dudley arrived home after school and found Marge had returned, and he didn’t take it off for the rest of her long and stressful stay.

Marge never spoke about that day after that but the Dursleys often caught her squinting at Harry’s hair.

It was a very sunny Saturday and the zoo was crowded with families.  The Dursleys made their way to a meeting point where several of Dudley’s friends and their parents were waiting and, before long, everyone set off to explore.

After lunch, the group split in two and the boys made their way to the reptile house.  It was cool and dark and some of them dashed off to see the lizards and snakes that were crawling and slithering over bits of wood and stone.  As Harry glanced around he wondered if there were speakers in the walls.  He kept hearing whispers, questions about why lunch was so late, others complaining about withered leaves, comments about peoples’ clothes and frustration at never being able to smell them.

One of Dudley’s friends nudged Harry and asked him if he was okay.  Swallowing dryly, Harry smiled a little and said he was but that maybe he needed a little time getting used to the darker room.  The two boys then hurried to join the others and their voices quickly mingled with the echoes of the other people in the corridor.

The boys quickly found the largest snake in the place and, awed, wondered aloud as to whether it could crush their parents’ cars.  The snake looked bored, or sleeping, they couldn’t tell, but, suddenly, slowly, it raised its head and seemed to wink at them.  Everyone gasped and stepped forward, pressing their hands and faces against the glass.  The snake moved towards them and slid alongside the glass, looking at each of them one by one.  It then slithered back along the line and stopped in front of Harry.

‘Harry?’ whispered Dudley, ‘what’s happening?’

‘I don’t know,’ Harry answered and, nervous, all the boys stepped back.

‘He’s never done this before,’ said one of the attendants.  ‘He usually just… sleeps.’

‘What else do you expect,’ said Marge harshly, ‘snakes are lazy creatures but this one clearly recognizes one of its own.’  Sneering, she slammed her fist against the window and frowned when the snake didn’t flinch.

Afraid, Harry and the boys dashed away to the center of the room and watched Marge Dursley.  ‘Do you know what some snakes do?’ she asked aloud but at no one in particular.  She struck the window again.  The snake seemed to look at her for a few seconds before sliding a little to the side and looking at Harry again.  ‘Some snakes steal their way into other nests and sneak their eggs in.’

The attendant tried to interrupt her but Marge struck the window a third time and continued: ‘They let others raise their young.  They discard their own children and have others raise them.’  Harry and Dudley glanced at each other and Dudley shrugged.

‘So loud,’ came the whispers.  ‘She’s so loud.’  Harry shook his head and looked at the others around him but, he realised, no one seemed to be able to hear what he could.

‘Dogs are loyal,’ she shouted as she sort of leaped to the side and tried to block the snake’s view.  It became some kind of strange and amusing dance, watched by human and reptile alike, and a gasp escaped the lips of everyone there when she raised her fists and slammed them into… nothing.

The glass was gone and Marge yelped as she tumbled into the enclosure.

The zoo director and the keeper of the reptiles apologised over and over as Marge kept swearing and threatening to sue.  Aunt Petunia, Harry, and Dudley made their way back to Privet Drive with the parents of one of Dudley’s friends.  Everyone was eager to get their over-excited children home and have some peace.

Later that night, as Harry lay in his bed under the stairs, he heard the argument between the three Dursley adults.  He had gotten used to hearing Aunt Marge’s rantings – Dudley’s impersonations of her were disturbingly accurate – but he couldn’t help but wonder, now and then, if she was right.

‘There’s something wrong with that boy, Vernon, I’m telling you.  You have to be rid of him.  I know he’s your nephew, Petunia, but there’s only so much you can be expected to do.’

‘This doesn’t affect you, Marge,’ said Vernon.

‘Doesn’t affect me?  Doesn’t affect me?  I will not allow you to have that boy take what is rightfully my nephew’s!’ she roared, and then stormed out of the house.

Vernon laughed. 

 



 


Chapter 3: Truth and Letters
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The story of Dudley and Harry’s Aunt, the vanishing glass, and how she had growled at a giant snake and stopped it from eating her was the talk of the school for weeks. No one linked the incident directly to Harry – at least not in any way that Mr and Mrs Dursleys had feared – but they were relieved when the summer holidays came round.

Dudley and Harry, however, weren’t.

The summer holidays were the start of the end, as far as they were concerned.  After the holidays were over they would be at different, separate, schools.  Mr Dursley had tried to get Harry admitted to Smeltings along with Dudley but the school had said that, “regrettably, Harry’s grades are not at the standard required for admission”.  Harry wasn’t the brightest student, he knew that, but his grades were not terrible, either.  Most of his teachers considered him to be “somewhere in the top ten – when he applies himself” but, whatever the real reason, Smeltings rejected him.

Harry felt lost and alone.  He knew he was different to Dudley and that he wasn’t the Dursleys’ son, but now, more than ever before, he considered himself to be apart from them.  He took to spending as much time as possible out of the house, wandering around and avoiding thinking about the end of the holidays when everything was going to change.  He didn’t want to go to Stonewall High, the local public school, but he knew he didn’t have a choice.  Some of his other classmates were going to be going there as well, but he couldn’t be himself around them the way he could with Dudley.  They wouldn’t understand.

Harry had a secret, one he had shared, long ago, with Dudley, but it was a secret he didn’t understand and, sometimes, seemed untrue.  Dudley was convinced that what Harry could do depended on how happy or angry Harry was – so far there didn’t seem to be anything about Harry being sad.  When he was happy flowers bloomed and a bouquet of flowers in the Dursley house could live for months without being attended to.  When he was angry, however, strange things happened – usually to Marge but sometimes to others.

Harry could do magic.

‘Maybe it’s something your parents did,’ said Dudley when he and Harry talked about it one Christmas.  ‘Aunt Marge said your Dad was some sort of magician but maybe this is a present or a way of protecting you.  Magical love.  In the accident.’

It was an idea that Harry liked but it was also one that grieved him at times.  Was he alive because his parents had saved him somehow?  Some magical way?  Aunt Petunia had told him that his scar was because of the car accident that his parents had been killed in, but Harry sometimes wondered if, maybe, it was something else.  There were stories of lost princes with markings on them, maybe it was something like that.

Magic wasn’t so great, though.  Magic kept getting him into trouble.

Magic wasn’t real.

Midway through the first week of July, as the boys and Aunt Petunia shopped for new uniforms, Harry’s anxiety began to increase.  It didn’t help that his Aunt was looking more nervous as the days went by but that day, as they stepped out of the shoe store, a short man wearing a violet cape suddenly stopped in front of them and bowed at Harry.  Harry was stunned but Aunt Petunia looked terrified.

Later that night, Harry tossed and turned in his bed.  Sleep kept evading him and, although his thoughts were mostly about what life would be like at the new school, he couldn’t help but wonder what was making his Aunt behave so strangely.  She kept forgetting things or would just sit in the kitchen and stare at something in her hands.

The late night news was on the television but when Harry placed his head against the cool wall he heard something else – a conversation between his Aunt and Uncle:

‘He’s going to be eleven soon.  If what happened to your sister happens to him-’

‘We have to tell him,’ said Aunt Petunia.  ‘We have to talk to him.’

‘He’s going to hate us, Petunia.  He’s going to hate us for lying to him all these years.’

‘He won’t.  He’ll understand.’

‘He’s a good boy and I’m glad we took him in and raised him, but… I don’t want him to hate me.’

Harry strained to hear more but the only sounds were of Aunt Petunia sniffling and then, like a soft whisper, she said, ‘There’s nothing to hate.  You’ll see.’

Breakfast the following morning was a quiet affair and Dudley looked around the table and tried to understand what it was he was missing.  After the boys attended to the dishes, Mr and Mrs Dursley called them to the living room.  They looked so solemn as they sat on the sofa together and gestured for the boys to stand in front of the fireplace and, looking over at the armchair Mr Dudley always sat in, Harry and Dudley felt afraid.

‘Harry,’ said Mr Dudley, leaning forward and clutching his hands together.  He looked away from the boys and down at the coffee table and the small bouquet of flowers in a vase in the middle of the table.

‘S-Sir?’ said Harry, and all three of the Dursleys looked at him in shock.  Harry had never called Mr Dursley ‘Sir’, not unless Marge or someone like her was around.  It was always ‘Uncle Vernon’ or ‘Uncle’.

Vernon turned to Petunia and held her hand.  ‘I can’t do it,’ he said.  ‘I can’t.’  She patted his hand and then squeezed it a little.

‘I… I understand if it’s time for me to go,’ said Harry loudly, his voice quivering. 

Dudley looked at his parents and then at Harry and then back at Harry again.  ‘What’s going on?  Where’s Harry supposed to be going?’

‘Nowhere,’ said Mr Dursley, and he stood up and cleared his throat.  ‘Harry isn’t going anywhere.  This is his home.’

‘Then… why did you call us in here?  What’s happening?’

‘It’s time to tell you a story,’ said Mrs Dursley.  ‘Both of you.’

Mr Dursley stepped over to the window and looked out on to the houses facing theirs.  ‘It’s a story from before either of you were born but it’s one you both need to know.’

‘It’s a story about your mother and father, Harry.  My sister and her husband.’

Suddenly a fire started in the fireplace and Harry and Dudley stepped away, looking at each other uncertainly, and then, confused at the lack of reaction from Mr and Mrs Dursley, they slowly sat down on either side of the fireplace, as Mrs Dursley directed them to.

‘When your mother was a little younger than you she showed me a secret.  It was a beautiful secret but it frightened her, too.  She showed it to me because she thought and hoped that I would understand it and maybe have a secret like it.’  Mrs Dursley smiled and shook her head.  ‘It was a beautiful secret but it was only Lily’s.’  She reached for the flowers and pulled one out of the vase.  ‘Lily had a gift.  Magic.  She could make leaves dance to music, flowers bud and bloom, and light up the room with a gesture.  When she realised that I couldn’t do what she could, she was frightened.  She knew she was different and she didn’t want to be.  I knew she was different and I wanted to be like her.’

Aunt Petunia sat up a little straighter and took in a few breaths.  ‘There was a boy who lived nearby.  A small boy with dark and greasy hair.  I never liked him but I’m mature enough, now, to admit that… that some of that was because he could do what Lily could.  He understood it and could talk to her about it, and I lost my best friend.

‘The boy told Lily about wizards and witches and how there was magic all around us.  He told her of a school, far away, where they taught magic and other things.  He told her that before she turned eleven she would be invited to the school and that she should go and that he would be there with her.

‘He told her all these things and I… I grew jealous.  I wanted to go there, too.  I wanted to be magical, too.  But I couldn’t.  I’m not magical.’

‘Yes, you are,’ whispered Harry, and Aunt Petunia smiled and shook her head.

‘So she left.  Our parents were so proud, even though it was a world we couldn’t be part of.  She tried to share it with us, she did.  In the holidays she would come back with gifts and sweets – fantastic things that seemed to have come from storybooks.  Chocolate frogs that leaped away if you didn’t catch them quickly enough,’ she laughed, softly, at the memory, and sniffed.  ‘Over time, Lily and I drifted apart.  I’m to blame more than-’

‘No,’ said Mr Dudley gruffly.  ‘No, we would have made things right in the end.’  He turned to Harry and said, ‘I’m not a special man, Harry, I’ve always known that, but when your Aunt liked me it was like my world was better than it had ever been.  I can be loud and boisterous and arrogant, but that’s been tamed in me over the years.  I’m ‘normal’, I think.  I’m ‘normal’ in that there isn’t an ounce of magic or imagination in me, so when I see people walking around in funny cloaks or,’ he gestured at the fire, ‘things like that happening, I get worked up.  I got worked up.’

‘We’ve changed, though, Harry,’ said Aunt Petunia.  ‘After Lily died…’ She paused and looked at her nephew and then, tears streaming down her face, she said, ‘after Lily was murdered,’ the fire roared and Dudley yelped and moved to the side and then watched, awed, as his parents and Harry sat there as the words sunk in.

‘Murdered?’ Harry whispered, and Mr and Mrs Dursley nodded.  ‘But… the car accident.  My scar.  I don’t understand.’

Aunt Petunia sobbed and covered her face, and Uncle Vernon hurried over to her and put his arm around her.  Harry grabbed a box of tissues and held them out.  ‘Your mother and father came to our wedding,’ said Mr Dursley.  Harry knew that, he had three pictures from the wedding, pictures which had the Dursleys and the Potters together.  ‘Your father and I had… well, we had an argument towards the end of the night.  We said a few things and I swore that until he apologised I wouldn’t see either of them again.’

Aunt Petunia looked up, her eyes red and puffy.  ‘We were still young, that’s what I like to believe.  We held on to the grudge and refused to attend their wedding or invite them to Dudley’s christening or… acknowledge your birth.

‘Your mother used to write to me but the letters became smaller and less frequent and I stopped reading them after a while.  I remember one of the last I read had said that things were becoming dangerous and that she wanted to make sure that I was safe, but I dismissed it as some kind of foolishness.  I was happy.  Content.  I missed my sister, yes, but I had my husband and my son.

‘I dismissed what she said but something made me anxious.  Something felt wrong, around me.  She called a few times, which was something she almost never did, and I could hear it in her voice, and that worried me more, but I didn’t know what to do.

‘Then… then you came.  On our doorstep, wrapped in a blanket.’

‘There was a letter,’ said Mr Dursley, ‘and it explained what had happened.  It explained, but it was still so unbelievable, and we didn’t know what to think.’

‘Part of Lily’s wedding gift to me was this necklace,’ Aunt Petunia held out a long chain and opened her hand.  In her palm was a small locket.  ‘It had two pictures inside.  One was of me; a portrait your mother had taken when I was eighteen.  The other was of your mother.  I hadn’t opened it since the wedding day, but I opened it after reading the letter and… and the one of your Mum… of Lily… it was blank.’

‘I remember the night before,’ said Mr Dursley as he rocked his wife a little, ‘I had thought to myself that it was time to reach back out to your parents.  Family is family, isn’t it?’  Both boys nodded.  ‘Too little too late.’

‘They were gone.  Lily was gone,’ sobbed Aunt Petunia.

Harry was confused.  What his Aunt and Uncle were saying didn’t make sense – okay, magic made some sense with some of the things that had happened in his life but if there was magic out there then wouldn’t it be something that everyone knew about?  What they were describing seemed to be more than card tricks or sawing someone in half.  And how they were saying it…

Aunt Petunia blew her nose and stood up.  ‘Harry, the reason we’re telling you this is because it will be time for… for the people of the magical world to come and take you away from us, and I don’t want that to happen.

‘Your mother and father were murdered.  They were murdered by some… some dark wizard.  That’s what we were told.  Your parents had been working to stop this man and his friends and lost their lives doing so.  I lost my sister and you lost your mother and father, and I… Harry, I can’t let you go there.  You’re safe here, that’s why they gave you to us.’

‘The big man in my dreams.  The one on the motorcycle,’ Harry whispered loudly.  ‘That strange man outside the shop who bowed at me.  They’re from the magical world?’

Mr and Mrs Dursley nodded.

‘What are you saying?’ asked Dudley.

‘Harry’s a wizard,’ said Uncle Vernon, and Dudley grinned.

‘And my scar?’

‘The man who explained things to us, the one who wrote the letter, he said the scar was the result of… of the dark wizard’s attempt at killing you.’

‘What?’ shouted Harry and Dudley in unison.

‘The wizard was after you, Harry.  He killed your parents to get to you.’

Stunned, Harry slumped to the floor, his legs uncrossed and splayed and his head knocked against the bricks of the fireplace.

Dudley scrambled over to him, glancing at the dying fire, and helped his cousin to sit upright.  ‘I only joked about it, Harry, I promise.  I never knew…’

‘I need to go to my room,’ said Harry, allowing Dudley to help him to his feet.

Harry didn’t come out of his room at lunch time and the Dursleys didn’t press him.  He lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking about what he had been told.  His parents had died because of him.  Someone, for some reason, wanted to kill him when he was a baby.  They failed because of his parents.  They failed and Harry had been given to the Dursleys to be kept safe.

At dinner Harry ventured out.  The Dursleys smiled at him but no one said anything.  Dudley had been trying on his new Smeltings uniform and he did not like the look of it.  ‘What’s wrong with trousers,’ he wondered aloud, and his father snorted and said that he had always wondered the same thing.

‘I’m sorry about before,’ said Harry.

‘There’s nothing for you to be sorry about,’ said Mr Dursley, and he picked up Harry’s plate and ladled in some soup.  ‘But if you have any questions, any at all, then all you have to do is ask.’

‘We don’t have all the answers,’ said Aunt Petunia, ‘but we’ll tell you everything we know.’

‘Thank you.’

No one said anything about magic or the past for the next few days but, one morning, as Harry picked up the post, he saw something that made his heart leap to his chest.

It was a letter, addressed so plainly there could be no mistake:

Mr H Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
Little Whinging
Surrey


The envelope was thick and heavy, made of yellowish parchment, and the address was written in emerald-green ink.  There was no stamp.

Turning the envelope over, his hand trembling, Harry saw a purple wax seal bearing a coat of arms: a lion, an eagle, and badger, and a snake surrounding a large letter H.

‘Uncle Vernon!’ Harry shouted, and he stood up and walked to the kitchen.  ‘It’s here.’

Vernon Dursley’s hand froze in mid-air, the fork he held quivered and the pieces of sausage and egg threatened to fall into his lap.  He coughed and placed his fork down and Harry handed him the letter.  Aunt Petunia came to stand behind him and nodded, it looked like the one her sister had received all those years ago.

‘Do you mind if I open it?’ he asked Harry.  Harry shook his head and moved to sit next to Dudley.  Mr Dursley coughed again and slid his finger behind the seal and tugged… and nothing happened.  The letter didn’t open.  He harrumphed and shook his head and handed the envelope back to Harry.  ‘Looks like it’s to be opened by you only.’

Harry took the envelope and quickly tugged on the seal and pulled out the letter.  Without looking at it he handed it back to Mr Dursley and stared at his plate, waiting.  Mr Dursley read aloud:

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore

(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Surpreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)

Dear Mr Potter

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term begins on September 1.  We await your owl by no later than July 31.

Yours sincerely

Minerva McGonagall
Deputy Headmistress


‘So, it’s official, you’ve got a place at the magic school.’

‘What do they mean by owl?’ asked Harry.

‘It’s how they deliver the post,’ said Aunt Petunia, and there was a small smile on her face.  ‘Lily used to write to me when she was at the school and the owl would sit there waiting for me to give it a letter in reply.  Quite annoying they were at times.  Quite annoying.’

‘But, there’s no owl, so how can I tell them that I’m not going?’

‘Well,’ said Mr Dursley, ‘it says they’re waiting for one but that could also mean that if you don’t answer then they’ll take that to mean you aren’t attending.’

Harry nodded and reached for some toast.

‘We should move you upstairs again,’ said Aunt Petunia as she poured him some juice.

‘Why?  I like my room.’

‘Well, you’re a growing boy, you need space.’

The rest of the day was uneventful but the next day saw the arrival of two more letters, which Harry tore up and threw away.  The three letters the following day annoyed him and, that evening, Mr Dursley proposed a cross-country family road trip.  At every place they stopped at there was a letter waiting for them, and Harry found himself getting more and more annoyed.

For ten years he had been living with the Dursley and now these ‘magic people’ wanted him to know them?  Ten years of being normal and now all this strangeness?

‘If they would let an owl stay for a little while,’ said Harry as they sat for breakfast at the Railview Hotel in Cokeworth, ‘then I could write them “No”.’

‘Do you really want to go to Stonewall High?’ Dudley asked him later.

‘Why not?’

‘Well, I heard they stuff people’s heads down the toilet on the first day.’

They both laughed, but Dudley’s question made Harry wonder: what if he did go to this Hogwarts place?

On the night of July 30, the four of them sat around a table in the old Lower Lighthouse on the Calf of Man.  There had been no letter when they arrived that afternoon, and all of them took that as a sign that the end was near.  The wardens – the only two people who lived on the island – had already turned in for the night, and Aunt Petunia paced in front of the oven waiting for the cake she was baking.

‘Just one more day to go,’ said Dudley, ‘but this has been kind of fun.’

A storm raged outside, growing more furious as the night went on.  None of them could sleep, so they played some games and talked late into the night.  At around ten minutes to midnight, Aunt Petunia placed the cake, with a solitary candle in the middle, on the table.  She apologised for it not being up to her usual standard and then sat with them, and waited.

‘Five minutes,’ said Mr Dursley.  Something creaked outside and all four of them looked towards the door.

Three minutes, and the storm threatened to lift the building and take it away.

One minute and Harry would be eleven.  Aunt Petunia quickly lit the candle.

The wind howled louder and the four of them held hands.

‘Thank you for being my family,’ Harry said softly.

Ten seconds.

One.

BOOM.

The lighthouse shook and the four of them yelped.  Someone was outside, knocking to come in.

 

(Note: the text of the letter is from Chapter 4 of The Philosopher's (Sorcerer's) Stone)





 


Chapter 4: Keeper of the Keys
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BOOM.  Whoever it was knocked again and the four of them stared at the door.

Petunia placed her hands on the boys’ shoulders and pulled them back behind her and Vernon, standing a few feet in front of the three of them, set his feet slightly wider than his shoulders and, crouching slightly, turned his left shoulder a little towards the door.

In the silent room, the dripping tap rang louder than the panicked breathing of Harry and the Dursleys.

‘The wardens will come,’ whispered Dudley.

‘They’re probably outside right now,’ said Petunia, as she strained to hear what might be beyond the door.

SMASH!

The three of them shuffled back, with Petunia continuing to shield the boys but, as the room shook and the door fell forward and crashed into the floor, Vernon charged, shoulder-first, and barrelled his not-so-inconsiderable bulk into whatever waited in the darkness outside.

Three or four seconds passed and then, eyes wide and mouth agape, Vernon slid back into the room, over the fallen door, and spun to a stop on the floor, face to face with Petunia.

‘Giant,’ he whispered, and he frowned at his wife’s smile and craned his neck as she stood up and straightened her clothing.  Grunting with effort, and helped by the boys, Vernon got to his feet and looked at Petunia with confusion.

‘Shouldn’t a’ done tha’,’ said a voice from the dark.

A massive boot poked through the dark doorway and nudged the door forward a little before stepping onto the floor.  Vernon braced himself again, this time putting his right shoulder forward.  Petunia, however, gently patted her husband on the back and gestured for him to relax and stand next to her.

The four of them watched the doorway as the lights in the room swung back and forth as the wind swept in and, with brief flashes, they saw a giant of a man, wearing the furriest coat any of them had ever seen, crouch down and enter the room.

‘It’s a yeti,’ Dudley squealed, and Harry and Vernon looked at him and then back at the giant.

‘What’s a yeti doing all the way out here,’ rasped Harry, his throat dry and his mind befuddled.

With a grunt, the giant bent down and picked up the door as easily as if it was a pencil.  He placed it against the doorframe and tapped it with a pink umbrella, before turning around looking at Harry and the Dursleys.

‘Would you like some tea, Hagrid,’ asked Aunt Petunia, and Harry, Vernon, Dudley, and the giant all stared at her.

‘Love one,’ muttered the giant.  He reached into a pocket somewhere in the middle of his furry coat, glanced around the room and took a step forward.

Uncle Vernon rubbed his tender shoulder and muttered, ‘If that’s a half-giant then what’s a full one look like?’ and then dusted off the seat of his trousers before he sat down in a chair.

Harry and Dudley squinted at the hair-covered face high above them.  Beyond the hair, all they could see were two shiny black eyes that reminded them of their old classroom bunny rabbit – the one Aunt Marge had ‘firmly’ advised Vernon against allowing them to take home for a weekend because “a rabbit is no pet for a growing boy”.

A dream-memory danced in Harry’s mind and he whispered, ‘The giant on the motorbike.’

Hagrid paced around the room a little, although considering it was, for him, two steps across the width of the room and another two covering almost half the length, it could hardly be called ‘pacing’.  He leaned down to look at a few things and out of the large window, ignoring the three pairs of eyes watching him.  ‘’Snot a bad place, this.  Good fer birdwatching.  Put me in a bit of a pickle, though.’

‘How… how have we inconvenienced you?’ asked Mr Dursley a little meekly.  He stood up and walked towards the giant man.

‘There’s other Muggles here, ain’t there?’

‘“Muggles”?’ said Harry.

‘Non-magic folk.’  He reached into his pocket again and pulled out a small ball.  ‘Seems to be working.’  He gasped and stood straighter, hitting his head on the ceiling.  ‘Sorry about that.  Sorry.  Anyway – Harry, I got summat fer…’ his voice trailed off as he noticed the cake on the table.  ‘Oh, you already… well, it’s the thought that counts, right?’  His hand disappeared inside his coat and his massive frame shifted left and right and he held out a deformed box with green and yellow icing dripping from its corners.  ‘Musta, um, sorry about that,’ he said, and he handed the box to Harry.

‘A fat birthday for us,’ said Dudley, cheerily, and he took the box from Harry’s hands, opened it, and took out the misshapen cake inside and placed it on the table with the other one.

Hagrid growled a little and, slowly, Dudley backed away from the table and moved towards his parents.  Harry stepped in between his cousin and the giant and said, firmly, ‘Who are you?’

The room shook and the lights swung overhead as the giant chuckled.

‘Hagrid,’ said Aunt Petunia, again, softly, and everyone looked at her and then back at Hagrid.

Hagrid coughed and, if you looked carefully, blushed.  ‘Tha’s right.  Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts.’

Harry looked at his Aunt, who nodded, and then he held out his hand.  Carefully, Hagrid wrapped his thick fingers around Harry’s arm and gave him a gentle shake.  Then, tentatively, he offered his hand to Mr Dursley and Dudley and shook theirs, too.  Aunt Petunia held out a large bowl and smiled.  ‘The mugs here aren’t big enough, so I hope you don’t mind that I made your tea in this.’

Again, if you looked carefully and the lighting wasn’t so bad, Hagrid’s cheeks positively glowed red.

‘We do have some… stronger drink, if you would prefer,’ said Uncle Vernon, and Hagrid’s mouth opened and closed and he looked at Harry and then at Dudley and shook his head, thanking Uncle Vernon for the offer.

‘Lily told me all about you,’ said Aunt Petunia, gesturing at the large empty sofa.  Hagrid sat down and drank some of the tea and his stomach growled.

‘Sorry ’bout that,’ he said a little sheepishly.  Aunt Petunia laughed and, much to Hagrid’s surprise, began busying herself with cooking some sausages and eggs.  ‘You really don’ have ter,’ he said, looking at the others nervously.

Harry pulled his chair closer to Hagrid and sat down.  ‘Is everyone at Hogwarts – at the school – is everyone like you?’

Hagrid chuckled and the lights shivered again.  ‘There aren’t many like me in the world, Harry.  ‘Fact, I don’t know anyone else like me.’

‘You’re alone?’ asked Dudley.

‘I have friends,’ said Hagrid.

‘But no one else like you.’

For a few seconds, the only sounds in the room were of the eggs and bacon frying and Hagrid slowly slurping his tea.

‘So,’ said Harry, ‘are you the caretaker?’

Hagrid coughed and spluttered and large splashes of tea spilled from the bowl and onto his coat.  ‘“Caretaker”?’ he said, his voice whispery as he coughed again.  He punched his fist into his chest and harrumphed.  ‘I’m the Keeper of the Keys and Grounds, not the caretaker.  That’s Filch’s job.’

‘I’m sorry,’ said Harry, ‘I didn’t realise there was a difference.’

Hagrid shrugged and smiled.  ‘Anyway,’ he said, as he stood up, ‘le’s get you your letter so we can get ready.’

‘Ready for what?’

‘For you to go to Hogwarts, ‘course.’

‘Actually,’ said Harry as he got up from his chair, ‘I’m not going to Hogwarts.’

‘I’ve got one ‘ere somewhere,’ mumbled Hagrid as he searched his coat pockets.  ‘Shoulda known these folks ne’er gave it to you.’

‘They did, Mr Hagrid.  I read the first one we got, but I don’t want to go to Hogwarts.’

‘‘S just Hagrid,’ said the giant on the sofa, and then, stunned, he asked, ‘Yer what?’

‘I don’t want to go to Hogwarts.’

Hagrid looked at Harry and then at Dudley and Uncle Vernon and then, with the sofa protesting, he turned to look at Aunt Petunia.  He let out a long breath, his brow furrowed under the mess of hair and his beard quivered as he muttered quietly to himself, and said, ‘You don’t want to go where your parents went to school?  Where they met and studied and learned it all?’

‘You have to understand, Mr Hagrid,’ he said.

‘Jus’ Hagrid,’ Hagrid growled.

‘Hagrid.  You have to understand, my Aunt and Uncle told me what little they knew but that was all they could tell me.  There’s a school, Hogwarts, that my parents went to.’  Hagrid nodded.  ‘And there’s magic and I can do magic.’  Hagrid nodded again.  ‘And my parents were murdered.’  Hagrid nodded slowly.

‘Tha’s… tha’s right,’ said Hagrid slowly.  ‘But… but did they tell you what was in the letter Dumbledore left fer yer?’

‘What else was in the letter?’

‘Harry,’ said Hagrid, leaning forward, ‘yer a wizard.’

Hagrid and Harry looked at each other, eyes locked as Hagrid smiled and nodded and, slowly, the smile on the giant’s face faded and became buried under his beard.

‘I know,’ said Harry.  ‘They didn’t say it in so many words, but I know.’  Mr Dursley’s mouth opened and closed and then he shrugged and crossed his arms.

Gaping and frowning, Hagrid sat back down on the sofa looking defeated.  He dug into another pocket and pulled out a yellowish envelope.  ‘So yer not wantin’ to read yer letter?’

‘I read the first one that arrived but there was no owl, so –’

‘Screechin’ Mandrakes,’ exclaimed Hagrid, ‘I completely forgot.’ He grabbed a handful of his coat and shook it a little and out popped an owl which, Harry and Dudley would both later agree, looked a lot like the green duck in a nappy that often appeared on television.  ‘“Write to me when you find him,” he said,’ he muttered as he pulled out a quill and a scrap of parchment.  ‘Completely forgot, I did.’

He scribbled a note and stroked the quill down the owl’s back as he read it back to himself, aloud:

Dear Professor Dumbledore,

Given Harry his letter.
Taking him to buy his things tomorrow.
Weather’s horrible.  Hope you’re Well.


Hagrid

‘Taking me where?’ asked Harry.

Hargrid looked at him, confused.  ‘To buy yer school things, o’ course.’

‘But I’m not going,’

‘What do you mean yer not going?  Harry, yer have to go.’

‘I’m happy here, with my family.’

Hagrid looked stunned.  ‘I wasn’ expectin’ this.  Really wasn’ expectin’ this.  He told me that it might be hard, that there might be trouble but I wasn’ expectin’ this.’

‘Harry,’ said Aunt Petunia, and she crouched in front of him and held his hands.  ‘When that boy told Lily about the school I dreamed of going there with her.  When she got her letter I wrote to Professor Dumbledore,’ she chuckled softly and shook her head, ‘amazing that he’s still there after all these years.  Your Mother… she learned so many things there, and I remember one of her first letters to me where she said,’ she squeezed Harry’s hands a little, ‘she said that two of the best things about going to the school was being with people who were like her.’

‘“Two of the best things”?  What was the other?’

‘Control.’ And Harry remembered the fire a few weeks ago and the vanishing glass and all sorts of mishaps that had happened over the years.

‘Soon after Lily discovered what she could do she was afraid.  She hid that part of herself.  She shared it with me but she hid it, too.  The boy helped her and the school helped her even more.  We, your Uncle and I – and Dudley, of course – we can’t help you.  We can’t teach you.’

‘What are you saying?’

‘I’m saying you should go.  I’m saying it will be good for you, and if you’re half as happy as Lily… oh, Harry, your eyes…’ she sniffed and wiped a tear away with the heel of her hand.  ‘If you’re half as happy as Lily was then it will have been amazing for you.  You should go.’

‘I’m not going to know anyone,’ Harry murmured.

‘No one ever really does, Harry.  That’s part of the adventure.’

Harry looked down at the ground and whispered, ‘You don’t want me anymore?’

She kissed his forehead, pulled him into a hug and squeezed him.  ‘You’ll always be my little boy, Harry.  Always.  You’ll always have a home with us.  I promise.’

Slowly, Harry wrapped his arms around his Aunt and hugged her, too.  A small glow enveloped them and then faded away.

‘I wasn’ expectin’ that,’ said Hagrid, wiping a tear.  ‘I really wasn’ expectin’ that.’

Aunt Petunia pulled away and sniffed.  She patted Harry’s shoulders, stood up, and tugged on the bottom of her cardigan to make herself a little more presentable.  ‘So,’ she said, her voice a little throaty, ‘tomorrow, we’ll go with Mr Hagrid here to Diagon Alley and get your school things.’

‘Hagrid, ma’am,’ said Hagrid softly.  ‘Jus’ Hagrid.’

Harry, Dudley and Uncle Vernon gaped at Aunt Petunia.  She looked so excited she was positively glowing.  She turned to Hagrid and said, ‘Is Ollivanders still there?  And the bookstore?  Flourishing Blotts or something?’

Hagrid sat up and smiled.  ‘Flourish and Blotts.  They’re both still there.  You know Diagon Alley?’

‘We went there to get Lily’s things.  Years and years ago, but I remember it, or bits of it.’

‘But, if yer know all these things why haven’ yer told ‘Arry before?’

Aunt Petunia sat down next to Hagrid and patted his massive knee.  ‘What could I tell him, Hagrid?  Everything would have sounded so crazy.  Vernon and I decided that we would tell him if it became apparent that he was like Lily.’

‘Why wouldn’t he have been like her?  Her and James were as good a witch an’ wizard as I ever knew.’

‘Lily was my sister, Hagrid.  Our parents and I didn’t have a drop of magic in us.  And Lily told me about Squibs a few times-’

‘“Squibs”?’ interrupted Harry.

‘They’re… er… they’re folk born in wizard families who can’t do magic,’ said Hagrid.

‘So that could have been me?’

‘O’ course not.  You’re different, you are.  Everyone knows the Potter name!’

‘My parents were famous?’

‘Still are.  You are, too.’

Harry remembered the times over the years were people saw him and said his name.  He remembered how excited they had looked, and how they always vanished from sight before he could get a good look at them.

‘But why?  I’ve never done anything.’

Hagrid looked nervously at Aunt Petunia and she nodded.  ‘I never expected this,’ he said, ‘but you can’t go off ter Hogwarts not knowin’.’

‘I can’t tell yeh everythin’, mind, it’s a great mystery to me, parts of it, and I suppose… I suppose I can understand a little why yer Aunt never told yeh.’  He paused and smiled at Dudley, who was holding out the plate of sausages.  ‘Kind of yeh.  Very kind,’ he said, and he took the whole plate on Dudley’s insistence.

‘It begins, I suppose, with – with a person called – are you sure yeh don’t know ‘is name?’

‘Who?’

‘Well – I don’t like sayin’ the name if I can help it.  No one does.’

‘Why not?’

‘Y’er makin’ me tug on Merlin’s beard here, Harry.  People are still scared.’  Agitated, Hagrid got up from the sofa and began pacing the whole room rather than the half he had been doing before – again, if it could be called ‘pacing’ as he only had room to walk five steps across the whole length of the room.  Harry and the Dursleys stood by the table and watched the giant.  ‘This is something that goes back a long time and there’s a lot that I don’t know, you understand?  Twenty years or more, I reckon.  Really shoulda paid more attention to what Professor Dumbledore told me.’  He paused and looked at the attentive faces of the four people gathered around him.  ‘It’s a story about a bad wizard who made our world dark and scary.  His name… his name is something no one really shares, even now.’

Hagrid paused by the window and leaned against the thick wooden ledge.  He sighed and mumbled to himself for a couple of seconds as he looked around the room, avoiding the eyes of the others and oblivious to the shuddering walls as his massive leg bounced up and down.  ‘You c’n do this,’ he muttered.’

Aunt Petunia held Uncle Vernon’s arm and turned her face away.

Hagrid took in a breath and said, ‘Voldemort,’ and shuddered.  He paused and watched as Uncle Vernon led Aunt Petunia back to the sofa and eased her down.  She whispered that she was okay and placed her hands on her knees and sat up straight.

‘Twenty years ago,’ said Harry, softly.

Hagrid closed his eyes.  ‘Twenty years ago, our world turned dark.  Trust was shattered.  Broken.  And trust… trust is hard even in good times.  Your parents… your parents were people I trusted absolutely.  Who would give their lives for me and I for them.’

‘But the bad wizard?’ asked Harry.

Hagrid sighed.  ‘He was taking over.  Bit by bit.  It was join him or die.  Some of us, like your parents, came together to fight him.  People say that Hogwarts was one of the safest places.  That Dumbledore was the one wizard the bad one was afraid of.

‘We fought him, yer parents and me.  Several times.  We survived and others died.  Then they couldn’t fight.  We wouldn’t let them.  Dumbledore wouldn’t let them, even thought James and Lily kept insisting.  Even at the end, when they were back at the village, with you.’

‘Me?’

‘That Halloween… I don’t know how he found you.  Only someone who knew could…’ his breath shuddered and then he continued, ‘but, somehow, he did.  He found them and-’ the room shook as Hagrid sobbed.

Quietly, Vernon held out his handkerchief and, sniffling a little, Hagrid took it and blew his nose as a loudly as a blender on a lazy Sunday morning.

‘Thank yer,’ he said.  ‘I’ll clean it up an’-’

‘It’s okay,’ said Mr Dursley, patting Hagrid’s huge arm and frowning slightly as something moved under Hagrid’s coat.

Hagrid took in a deep breath and composed himself.  ‘He killed yer parents, Harry.  After years of fighting, he killed them, but it wasn’t enough fer him.  No, wasn’t enough.’  He pointed at Harry’s face.  At Harry’s scar.  ‘He tried to kill you, too.  I don’t know why the evilest wizard in the world wanted a baby dead but I saw what his curse did.  I saw your house, destroyed.  And then,’ said Hagrid, his voice softening, ‘and then I saw you.  Untouched, ‘cept fer tha’ scar.  You, a baby, beat You-Know-Who.  His magic didn’t work on you, an’ that’s why yer famous, Harry.’

‘I’m famous because I lived?’

Hagrid drew his hand back, surprised at the bitterness in Harry’s voice.

Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon looked at each other uncertainly and Dudley asked, ‘And the evil wizard?  What happened to him?’

Hagrid shrugged and shook his head.  ‘I’ve wondered that meself, I have.  Reckon he was strong enough to take on the Ministry itself if he fancied.  ‘Spart of why Harry’s famous, see?  Spells broke all over the country.  People in the Ministry suddenly came to their senses, the Dementors stopped haunting everyone.’

‘The mists,’ said Aunt Petunia, nodding knowingly.

‘The green light and the motorcycle?’ asked Harry.

‘Don’ know ‘bout no green light, Harry, but the motorcycle was me when I took yer from the ruined house and brought to live with this lo-’ he paused and scratched his beard.  ‘With the Dursleys.  Dumbledore’s orders.’

‘It’s getting late,’ said Aunt Petunia loudly, ‘and we’ve got a lot to do tomorrow.  Diagon Alley,’ and she clapped excitedly.  ‘Hagrid, I don’t think there’s a bed big enough for you here, but-’

‘Not to worry,’ said Hagrid, ‘plenty of space for me here.’

‘But what about the wardens?’ asked Dudley.  ‘If they wake up and find you here-’

'Ah,' said Hagrid, and he pulled out the ball he had looked at when he first arrived.  'This 'ere is something Dumbledore borrowed me.  Told me that 'it keeps those who ain't meant to know from knowing' and puts people to sleep.  I figure they'll wake up when we're gone.' 

(Author's note: the text for Hagrid's note to Dumbledore is from chapter 4 of The Philosopher's (Sorcerer's) Stone)



 


Chapter 5: Diagon Alley
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Harry shuddered awake early the next morning and stared at the unfamiliar ceiling as the voice from his dream and the green light at the edge of his vision faded away.  He pulled the blanket around himself and sat up in the bed.  He looked at the floor and noticed a sock and, confused, Harry pulled back the blanket and saw he only had one sock on.  He looked over at Dudley and held back a laugh – despite the cold his cousin had kicked off all of his blankets and lay spread-eagled on his bed.  He noticed the green icing around Dudley’s mouth and frowned and then the memories from last night hit him and Harry hurried around the room, almost falling over himself as he tried to put his sock on.

He walked into the main room and froze.  Sunlight poured in through the large window and the floor and dining table in the middle of the room felt incredibly inviting.  At the far end of the room, collapsed on the sofa, was Hagrid.  The cold of the tiles slowly seeped through Harry’s socks as he stood there and remembered the things he had learned a few hours ago.

There was a sudden tapping noise and Harry’s heart jumped.  He looked over the window and rubbed his eyes.  He looked again and stepped forward, smiling involuntarily as he felt the warmth of the sunlit titles.

‘There’s an owl at the window,’ Harry said aloud.  ‘With a newspaper.’

‘Let him in,’ mumbled Hagrid, and then he shot up, wide awake.  He grabbed his coat from the floor and began rummaging through the pockets.

‘What’s wrong?’ asked Harry.

‘I forgot.  In all the talking, I forgot.’

‘Forgot what?’

Hagrid pulled out a ruffled owl and held up the parchment he had written on hours earlier.  ‘Forgot to send this.’  He hurried over to the window and let the owl out while letting the newspaper-carrying one in.  He pulled out a handful of strange-looking coins and counted out five little bronze ones.  ‘These are Knuts,’ he said, holding them out for Harry to see.

‘Knuts?’

‘Wizard coins.’  The owl held out its leg and Hagrid put the money in the small leather pouch tied to it, and then it flew out the still-open window.

‘What would you like for breakfast, Hagrid,’ said Aunt Petunia as she walked into the room.  Hagrid gaped and mumbled and looked at Harry and then back at Aunt Petunia and then shrugged.  ‘Eggs and bacon it is, then,’ she said, smiling.

The aroma quickly filled the room and the two remaining Dursleys soon joined them.

‘We’ve got a lot to do today, I expect,’ said Uncle Vernon, ‘best to eat well before we get too busy.’

Hagrid nodded and smiled as Aunt Petunia ladled some beans onto his plate.

‘We’ll have ter go to the bank first,’ he said, looking at Mr Dursley carefully.

‘What for?’ asked Uncle Vernon, ‘we have money set aside for Harry.’

‘Well, it’s, er… it’s wizard money.’  He dug into another of his pockets and placed some coins on the table.  ‘Different to Muggle money, see?’  He pointed at them and said, ‘the gold one is a  Galleon.  Seventeen of these silver Sickles to a Galleon and twenty-nine of these ‘ere Knuts to a Sickle.’

Uncle Vernon nodded, his moustache waving on its own, and asked, ‘And is the exchange-rate between our money and yours good?’

Hagrid looked at him and his mouth opened and closed a couple of time before he said, ‘I don’ know ’bout that.  Never thought about it.’

‘But what about Muggle-borns like Lily?’ asked Aunt Petunia.  ‘I’m sure we went to Gringotts in order to change some money.’

‘Yer know ’bout Gringotts, too?’ Hagrid said, stunned.

Aunt Petunia leaned forward and whispered to Harry and Dudley, ‘if we’re lucky we may get to go to the vaults.  Lily told me stories but I don’t think she ever got to go.’

‘How come?’ asked Harry.

‘I think because the vaults belong to old wizard families and Lily wasn’t from them.  But maybe after she married James…’ she sat back, lost in thought and memory, and the boys looked over at Hagrid as he layered rashers of bacon onto some toast and made himself a sandwich.  ‘There are goblins, though,’ Aunt Petunia said suddenly.

‘Goblins are real?’ breathed Dudley.

‘Never mess with goblins,’ Hagrid said loudly, as he covered his mouth.  He swallowed and said, ‘Yeh’d be mad to try and rob Gringotts.  Safest place in the world for anything yeh want ter keep safe – ‘cept maybe Hogwarts.  But d’yeh think yer parents didn’t leave yeh anything, Harry?’

‘Well…’ Harry said slowly, ‘if their house was destroyed—’

‘They didn’ keep their gold in the house, boy!’

‘Gold?’

‘The Potters ‘re a really old wizarding family.’

‘But… why didn’t anyone give any of that to Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon?  It could have helped them with-’

Uncle Vernon shook his head.  ‘Wouldn’t have accepted it, Harry.  No.  If there’s gold, as Hagrid here says, then that’s your inheritance and what you can use later, when you’re older.’

‘But—’

Uncle Vernon turned in his seat and faced his nephew.  ‘Harry, we haven’t always done right by you,’ he said, and he tugged on the large sleeve of Harry’s jumper.  ‘We’ve tried, and I hope you will believe that,’ he smiled when Harry nodded, ‘but we also… we also tried to keep things about you a secret.  About the magic and… and about the truth.  We never wanted to put you in the room under the stairs, it’s just… anyway, you’re our son, you’re Dudley’s brother, and while I couldn’t send you to Smeltings like I had wanted, I would like to help with this Hogwarts place, if you would let me.’

‘There’s no need for tha’, Dursley, Harry’s parents—’

‘Aren’t here, Hagrid.’  Uncle Vernon reached into his pocket and pulled out a creased and folded parchment.  ‘This is the list of things Harry needs.  All I’m asking is that we be allowed to provide these for him for his first year.  After that, it’s up to him.’  He squinted at the bottom of the list as if to check that something was still there and said, ‘I’m still not sure about this broomstick thing, though.  Always thought that was just for witches.’

Hagrid’s laugh filled the room.  ‘Wizards’ve got to travel somehow, too, Dursley.’

‘So,’ said Aunt Petunia, ‘shall we get ready and head to Diagon Alley?’





Much to everyone’s astonishment, Hagrid had rowed their boat from the Calf of Man to Liverpool, near the museum, in less than fifteen minutes.  ‘No point gettin’ tha ferry,’ he said, ‘take too long’, and no one argued with him on that.  From Liverpool, after Mr Dursley had withdrawn some money, they took the train in to London and, for two hours, Aunt Petunia asked Hagrid all sorts of questions ‘to know how much has changed and so Harry can have an understanding’.  By the time they arrived at Euston station Hagrid found that he was quite fond of Mrs Petunia Evans Dursley.

Harry had been to London before – the Dursleys would take the boys to see the Christmas lights every year and, now and then, a musical – but he had never seen Aunt Petunia look so excited.  Hagrid led the way and seemed to know where he was going but Uncle Vernon, Harry felt, seemed to be a little sad.  Dudley was quiet throughout the journey, although he did laugh when Hagrid got stuck in the ticket barrier on the Underground, and complained loudly that the seats were too small.

‘I don’t know how the Muggles manage without magic,’ he said as they climbed a broken-down escalator that led up to a bustling road lined with shops.  They walked the rest of the way in silence, already conscious of the stares they were getting because of Hagrid’s size, but Harry and Dudley both noted that there was nowhere around them that looked like it had anything to do with magic.  There were book shops and hamburger restaurants but nothing that looked like it could sell you a magic wand.

‘This is it,’ said Hagrid, coming to a halt.  ‘The Leaky Cauldron.  It’s a famous place.’

It was a tiny, grubby-looking pub and, if Hagrid hadn’t pointed it out, Harry and the others would have walked right on by and would never have noticed it.  As it was, the Dursleys looked at where Hagrid was pointing, and frowned.  All they could see was a book shop on one side and a record shop on the other.

‘I was afraid o’ this,’ Hagrid said softly.  ‘Muggles can’t see it.  Stops them from coming in, see?’

‘What if,’ asked Uncle Vernon, ‘what if we held hands with you and followed you in?  Petunia’s been to Diagonally before, so it’s possible for us to, isn’t it?’

‘Can’t hurt,’ said Hagrid, and he smiled and held out his massive hand.

The Dursleys gasped as a misty veil seemed to be lifted and, right in front of them, they saw the dark windows of an old pub.  Hagrid tugged on the door and the sound of chatter poured out.  They all stepped in and Aunt Petunia shuddered a little.  For a famous place, it was very dark and shabby.  The chattering stopped and Harry could feel everyone’s eyes on them.  Hagrid waved and everyone around them waved and smiled at him.  They all seemed to know him, and the bartender reached for a glass, saying, ‘The usual, Hagrid?’

Hagrid shook his head and guided Harry and the Dursleys through the pub and over to the door to the courtyard.

A whisper started to spread as they walked: ‘It’s Harry Potter.  Look.  It can’t be.  It is.’  For the first time in a long time, Harry wished he was invisible.

The old bartender hurried out from behind the bar and seized Harry’s hand, tears in his eyes.  He gasped as Hagrid gently prised his hands off Harry’s.  ‘Sorry, Tom, no time for dillydallying today.’

More and more people began to crowd around them and reach out to them, with some of them tugging on Mr and Mrs Dursley and thanking and praising them for being so kind and good for looking after Harry.  Seeing Mrs Dursleys cheeks redden, Hagrid stood taller and broader and coughed loudly, and the eager and excited voices faltered and faded to soft murmurs and nervous smiles.

Harry, without meaning to, held on to Mr Dursleys arm.  They kept trying to move forward and thanked and nodded and shook hands with everyone who approached them.  Flashes of memory danced through Harry’s mind as he found himself recognising some of the individuals in the throng, with their strange hats and capes, as people he had seen while shopping in town or playing in the park and he wondered how many of them had watched him growing up.

Clearing the way, Hagrid held out his arm, holding the crowd back, and bowed a little at Aunt Petunia, ‘Ma’am,’ and she giggled and shushed him.  He directed them through the bar and out into a small, walled courtyard, where there was nothing but a trash can and a few weeds.  He tapped the wall three times with the point of his umbrella.

Harry and the Dursleys stepped back as the wall shivered and the bricks began to move.  Before they could even look at each other, an archway had appeared and, beyond it, they saw a mixture of cobbled stones like the ones at St Katherine’s Dock or the Piazza at Covent Garden.

Holding the boys’ hands, Mrs Dursley stepped over the dusty threshold as Hagrid nudged Mr Dursley and, chuckling, bid them a warm welcome to Diagon Alley.  Harry and Dudley quickly looked back over their shoulders and saw the archway shrink back into a solid wall.

‘First stop, Gringotts,’ said Hagrid.

Harry, Dudley and Uncle Vernon kept looking around in every direction as they followed Hagrid.  Aunt Petunia nodded at the various store signs as if checking them off a list she had in her head.  The boys caught sight of several other boys their age, with their noses pressed against a window.  Harry and Dudley tried to push themselves in closer to get a look at what had so awed the boys and, seeing the display of brooms, shrugged their shoulders, unimpressed but still curious.

‘They really use broomsticks,’ whispered Dudley, and they both yelped when Uncle Vernon grabbed their shoulders and pulled them out.

‘We’ll look around later,’ he said, ‘don’t worry.’  He pointed at a snowy white building that towered over the other little shops.  ‘I think we’re supposed to go there.’

Hagrid and Aunt Petunia were waiting at the foot of the stone steps and, above, standing beside the bronze doors that shone as if aflame and wearing a uniform that reminded the boys of hotel porters at fancy London hotels, was a goblin.  It was shorter than Harry, barely coming to his chest, and the long fingers and feet tugged at an uncomfortable memory of a movie Aunt Marge had forced them to watch when she had babysat them a few years ago.  He bowed as they walked inside.  In front of them was a second pair of doors, made of silver.  A strange light shimmered and glistened as they stepped closer and Mrs Dursley and Hagrid, quiet throughout, stepped aside and watched as the others realised that words were engraved in the doors and Mr Dursley read them aloud.

‘What more could there be?’ asked Mr Dursley when he finished reading the poem a second time.

‘More than you want to know,’ said Hagrid, ‘and likely more than they will ever say.’

Dudley squinted at the goblins by the massive door and dug his hands deep into his pockets to stop himself from reaching out and touching their skin.  The ceiling of the enormous hall they entered was so high that Mr Dursley staggered backwards a little as he craned his neck a little too far.  Stretching down one wall, attending to scores of people, were dozens of goblins dressed in strange and somewhat uncomfortable-looking suits, and Dudley whispered to Harry, ‘a wooden leg named ‘Smith’’, and Harry grinned and whispered back, ‘what was the name of his other leg?’.

Mr Dursley stepped forward and said to Hagrid, ‘Remember, we’re going to exchange some money,’ and Hagrid nodded and lead him over to a counter.

‘Afternoon,’ he said to the goblin, ‘we’ve come ter exchange some Muggle-money.’

The goblin looked over his spectacles and said, ‘Muggle-born?’

‘No,’ said Hagrid.  ‘It’s for Harry Potter.’

The goblin looked from Hagrid to Mr Dursley and then leaned to the side and looked over at Harry and Dudley.  ‘Mr Potter has a safe, does he not?’

‘He does,’ said Mr Dursley, ‘but—’

The goblin sighed and gestured for Hagrid and Mr Dursley to follow him.  They waved at Harry, Dudley, and Aunt Petunia and hurried through a door.

‘Is it how you remembered?’ Harry asked his Aunt.

‘It is,’ she said.  ‘I used to look at maps of London to see if I could find this place.  Maps and photographs, but there was never anything there.  Other buildings, other roads, and other places, but here… magic,’ and she sighed.

A few minutes later and Hagrid and Uncle Vernon came back out of the room.  Uncle Vernon had two pouches in his hands and Hagrid was patting at the numerous pockets of his coat.  Uncle Vernon held out one of the pouches and said, ‘This is for today’s shopping.  I think it should be enough.  This one is for your school year.  Hopefully.’  He gave the pouch to Harry who then promptly gave it to Aunt Petunia.

‘Ah ha!’ whispered Hagrid, holding out a tiny golden key.  ‘Knew I had it here somewhere.’  He crouched down in front of Harry and took his hand.  ‘This is the key to yer vault.  Yer can ask the goblins to check it if yer want.  I’ve got to get something from another vault for Dumbledore.  Hogwarts business.  You can all head out and start shopping and—’

‘We should probably stay with you,’ said Aunt Petunia quickly.

‘Yer sure?’ asked Hagrid, and everyone nodded.

‘Okay, follow me then.’  He walked back to the counter and held out a letter and they watched as he puffed out his chest proudly and the goblin poured over the letter.  The goblin glanced to its right and a second, older, goblin ambled over and looked at the letter.  It nodded at Hagrid and then signalled for a third goblin to approach.

‘I take it, Mr Hagrid,’ said the older goblin, ‘that your companions would like to look at their vault, too?’

‘If it wouldn’t be too much trouble,’ said Mr Dursley.

‘Very good.  Griphook here will look after you.’  He shuffled to the side as a small door opened and Griphook stepped through to the main lobby.  As they turned to follow the goblin, they all gasped when they saw the older goblin standing in front of them with his long hands clasped on its chest.  ‘I apologise for the discomforting surprise,’ he said softly, ignoring the looks from a half-dozen goblins as they stopped what they were doing, ‘but I just wanted to say that your sister was a very kind woman and someone I will always hold in high regard.’

‘You knew Lily?’ whispered Mrs Dursley.

‘I regret not having been able to express my condolences to you before but please accept them now.’

‘Of course.  Thank you.’

The goblin bowed and gestured for them to follow Griphook, and a murmur filled the room as the watching-goblins quickly got back to work.

‘There’s so much about Lily’s life I don’t know about,’ said Mrs Dursley, and Harry felt his throat tighten a little as he watched his aunt dab at her eyes with her handkerchief.

When they stepped through the doorway, Harry and the Dursleys found themselves in a stone passageway that reminded them of the tunnels under Nottingham Castle.  Flaming torches lined the walls but they didn’t flicker when Hagrid let out a loud breath.

‘Are the flames not real?’ asked Mr Dursley.

‘Put your hand in and see for yourself,’ snarled Griphook.

‘Perhaps another time,’ said Mr Dursley quickly.  He then noticed a set of railway tracks on the floor behind the goblin.  ‘This is why you were looking forward to the vaults?’ Uncle Vernon whispered to Aunt Petunia.

‘And the dragon,’ she replied, and he nodded, paused, looked at her again, and mouthed ‘Dragon?’ and she smiled and patted his arm.

Griphook whistled and two small carts came hurtling down the tracks towards them.  They climbed in – Harry and Dudley in the first one, with Hagrid, and Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia in the second on.

‘Vault seven hundred and thirteen,’ said Griphook, and they were off.

The carts twisted left and right and up and down and upside down and round and round, and Harry and Dudley clung to the thin bar in front of them so tightly their knuckles turned white.  Behind them they could hear Aunt Petunia whooping and Uncle Vernon emit a high pitch moan.

They went over an underground ravine and their teeth began to chatter as the air grew colder and colder.  Hagrid grabbed the boys by the shoulders as they leaned over the side of the cart in order to see what was at the bottom.

The carts screeched to a sudden halt and Griphook ambled out and over to the vault door.  It had no keyhole.  He flexed his long fingers and motioned for everyone to stand back.  He stroked the door gently with one of his fingers and the door melted away.

‘“Booty traps”,’ whispered Dudley, as they all stepped onto the platform in front of the vault.

‘You mean booby traps?’ asked Mr Dursley.

‘“That’s what I said”,’ said Dudley and Harry loudly, ‘“Booby traps!”’ and they laughed as their voices echoed around them.

Griphook glared at them and then stepped back to the door as Hagrid returned to the carts, having collected whatever it was he had come to the vault for.  ‘Wouldn’t be laughing if they got stuck in there, though, would they,’ muttered the goblin as his fingers weaved and twisted and glowed and the doorway shimmered and the metal and stone door reappeared.  ‘Should show ‘em the bones of the last one who got stuck.’

Hagrid patted his coat a couple of times and then helped Uncle Vernon into the second cart.  After checking that everyone had settled into their carts, Griphook asked, ‘Do you still want to see the Potter vault?’

Harry looked at his uncle and shook his head.  ‘We can do that another time,’ he said, ‘if that’s okay?’  Mr Dursley smiled weakly.

‘Best we don’t talk on the way back, eh Dursley?’ said Hagrid and Uncle Vernon, his face pale, nodded and put his hands to his mouth for a couple of seconds.  Once outside Gringotts, Uncle Vernon and Hagrid, still pale from the cart rides, decided that it was best that they go to the Leaky Cauldron for a pick-me-up while Aunt Petunia and the boys headed to Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions to get Harry’s uniform.

When the three of them walked in to the shop Madam Malkin, a squat, smiling witch dressed in mauve, squinted and frowned a little when she saw Aunt Petunia.  ‘Two for Hogwarts?’ she asked, and Harry stepped forward and said that it was just him.

She gestured for him to go in to the fitting room and flicked her right hand as he walked past her.  ‘Would you like some tea?’ she asked Aunt Petunia, and a small table and two chairs slid across the floor.  Dudley gasped and looked at his Mum.

‘That would be lovely,’ Aunt Petunia answered.  ‘Thank you.’

A tray laden with a cakes and biscuits and a teapot and cups floated through the air and set itself down on the table.  A strange clipboard appeared and a quill hovered just above it.  ‘Please fill in the delivery details,’ she said as she stepped over to the curtain separating the fitting room from the main shop floor.  ‘We won’t be too long.’

A voice drifted over from the fitting area.  ‘I think it’s stupid, really.  I’ve been flying for years, all over our estate.  My stupid elf told my father that I put my broom in my trunk.’  The voice rose a little, exasperated, ‘I’m a natural but if I can’t have a broom then I can’t play Quidditch, can I?

‘No,’ said Harry, ‘you can’t.  Are you any good?’

‘Am I?  Me?  Didn’t you just hear me tell you that I’m a natural?’

‘So, you were in a team?’

‘Were you?’

‘No, but my father used to be a chaser.’

Aunt Petunia set her cup down and got up to look at the range of fabrics on display.

‘Your father used to be a chaser but that doesn’t mean you’d be any good,’ sneered the voiced.

A roll of measuring tape hovered behind Aunt Petunia, quickly taking measurements as she reached out to touch a set of dress robes.  Dudley’s head turned left and right as he watched fabric and scissors fly across the rear end of the store, behind a large ‘Do Not Cross’ sign, and a clothing rail slowly filled with new robes of various colours and sizes.

‘Come along, Mr Malfoy,’ they heard Madam Malkin say.  ‘All measured up.  Your mother chose the fabrics and I’ll make sure they’re sent to the mansion in plenty of time.’

There was a slight thud and a soft grunt and the curtain parted and a boy with a pale, pointed face stepped through.  He looked at Dudley and then spotted Aunt Petunia and gaped.  ‘Why are Muggles in your store?’ he hissed.

‘Never you mind,’ said Madam Malkin.

Aunt Petunia hurried over to Dudley and stood next to him.  Neither of them said anything as the boy looked at them and squinted.  ‘Are you a Mudblood?’ he said slowly and loudly and, beyond the curtain, they heard Madam Malkin say, ‘He means you, dear.’

‘No,’ said Harry, ‘my parents were a witch and wizard.’  He excused himself and stepped through the curtain and walked past the boy.

‘Then who are they?’ asked the boy, and he pointed with his chin.

‘My Aunt and cousin.  My family.’

‘But they’re Muggles!’ exclaimed the boy, and he looked back at Madam Malkin as if urging her to agree.

‘And they’re my family.  I’m not sure why that’s so hard for you to understand.’

The boy looked at Harry for a good while and then his eyes widened.  ‘That scar,’ he said, his voice soft and as if awed.  ‘You’re Harry Potter.’

Harry felt his face redden and his arm twitched as he fought the urge to hold his Aunt’s hand.

‘Father said there were rumours you were being raised by Muggles, but…’ he stepped forward, looking Harry up and down, and then sat on the arm of one of the chairs.  ‘Harry Potter.’  He stood up again and held out his hand and said, ‘My name’s Malfoy, Draco Malfoy.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.’  Harry looked at the outstretched hand and then at his Aunt and cousin and then took Draco’s handshake.

‘Harry Potter.’

Draco stepped forward and gestured at the people walking by outside.  ‘You’ll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter.  You don’t want to go making friends with the wrong sort.’  He turned and smiled at Harry.  ‘I can help you there.’

‘I… I appreciate that,’ said Harry, ‘but, if it’s all the same, I’m going to take this one day at a time.’

A pink tinge appeared in Draco’s face but he smiled again and said, ‘Just try not to hang around with riffraff or it will rub off on you.’  He turned towards the door and stopped, gaping.  Hagrid was standing by the front window, grinning at Harry and the Dursleys, and pointing at four large ice creams.

‘Hagrid!’ said Dudley, and Draco looked at him over his shoulder.  Without saying another word, Draco opened the door and left the store.

‘Well,’ said Aunt Petunia, ‘we’ve met a Malfoy.’

‘You know them?’ asked Madam Malfoy.

‘Only what my sister told me.  That they’re an old wizarding family.’

‘“Sister”?’

‘Lily Evans.  Lily Potter.’

Madam Malfoy smiled and nodded.  ‘You looked so familiar but I wasn’t sure.’  She looked through the window and said, ‘your ice creams are melting.’  She smiled again and led them out of the shop.  ‘Welcome to Diagon Alley.’

Hagrid handed Harry and the Dursleys their ice creams and they followed after him as he walked away.  ‘Yer Uncle’s gettin’ yer cauldron and stuff and said he’d meet us later.  Figured I should show you the bookstore before we get you yer wand.’

In Flourish and Blotts they bought an additional copy of A History of Magic by Bathilda Bagshot – it was the only way they could get Aunt Petunia to leave the store.  As they neared Ollivanders they could see Uncle Vernon waiting for them across the road.  He was surrounded by a large pile of wrapped items of various shapes and sizes.  At his feet was a pewter cauldron and, in it, sat a strange creature with large eyes and even larger ears.

‘Told yer they’d insist on loaning you their elf, Vernon,’ said Hagrid with a chuckle.  The little elf stared at him, wide-mouthed.  ‘Let him take this stuff to yer house.  Won’t take him long.’

‘But we can’t have this stuff outside the house, Hagrid.’

‘Trust me, this little fella can put everything in the house, nicely unpacked an’ everything.  You won’t have ter lift a finger.’

‘Well…’ Uncle Vernon glanced at Aunt Petunia and said, ‘we don’t have the car with us…’

Aunt Petunia knelt in front of the cauldron and held out her hand.  The elf looked at her hand and then up at Hagrid.  Slowly it reached out its hand and wrapped its fingers around Aunt Petunia’s.  ‘It’s really not too much bother, ma’am,’ said the elf.  Its voice was squeaky and wavered a little.

‘If you’re sure,’ said Aunt Petunia, ‘but,’ she gestured at the stack of books under Hagrid’s arm, ‘if you could also take those and put that wrapped book in my room,’ the elf nodded its head quickly, ‘and,’ she bit her lower lip and everyone looked at her.  ‘And, there’s an old shirt in the small room that you can have, if you like.’

‘Shirt, ma’am?’

Hagrid looked around quickly.  ‘Er… Petunia-Miss,’ he whispered urgently, ‘I’m thinking that’s not such a good idea.’

‘Look at the rag it’s wearing, Hagrid.  The shirt won’t free him, I’m not its owner, but I can give him something like that.’

The elf shook its head.  ‘No ma’am.  You can give but Hooky won’t take.’  Aunt Petunia sighed and nodded.  She stepped back and smiled at the elf and said, ‘Hooky, if you would be so kind as to take these things to 4 Privet Drive and place them in the third bedroom, we would be very grateful.

The elf climbed out of the cauldron and gestured for Uncle Vernon to step back.  He then bowed to Aunt Petunia and clicked his fingers.

Hooky and the packages disappeared and Harry, Hagrid, and the Dursleys were left standing in Diagon Alley.  Harry turned and looked at the shop behind them.  Peeling gold letters over the door read Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C..

‘Before we go in there, Harry,’ said Uncle Vernon, ‘this is from Hagrid and myself.’  Harry heard his Aunt gasp and turned to see Uncle Vernon, with Hagrid’s hand on this shoulder, holding up a large cage.  A beautiful snowy owl, fast asleep with her head under her wing.

‘It’s yer birthday present, Harry.  We weren’t sure what to get yeh but I figured an animal would be good.  I don’t like cats, they make me sneeze, so… well, it’s an owl.  All the kids want owls, they’re dead useful, carry yer mail an’ everything’.’

Harry leapt forward and hugged his Uncle and then hugged Hagrid.

‘Might make it easier to keep in touch, eh?’ said Uncle Vernon gruffly.

‘So,’ said Hagrid cheerily, ‘in to Ollivanders.’

A bell tinkled somewhere in the store as they stepped inside.  Rows and rows of narrow boxes were piled right up to the ceiling, each one emitting a soft glow through the black of the fabric they were wrapped in.  There was a brighter patch of light ahead of them but most of the shop was the dark, the glow from the boxes only emitting a few centimetres of light.

The walked into the brighter area and looked around themselves.  Dust drifted in the air, twinkling in the light, and Dudley stroked his arm and frowned.  ‘It feels warm,’ he whispered, and Harry and the Dursleys nodded.

‘Good afternoon’ said a soft voice and, standing before them, was an old man.  His eyes were wide and pale and, in the gloom beyond where they stood, they shone like moons.  He looked at Harry and stepped forward as his eyes flitted from side to side.  ‘Green eyes,’ he said, ‘green and curious, just like hers.  Mr Potter, eleven already...? his voice drifted as he looked at the others gathered in his shop.

‘Ms Evans,’ said Mr Ollivander softly. 

‘It’s Dursley now,’ said Aunt Petunia, and she squeezed her fingers.

Mr Ollivander looked at Uncle Vernon and then at Dudley.  ‘Is it now?  Indeed.  I must confess, I never expected to see you again.  Not after last time.’  Aunt Petunia felt her cheeks flush and was glad the lighting was so poor.  He looked back at Harry and said, ‘Do you remember your sister’s wand?’

‘Only that it was made of willow,’ replied Mrs Dursley, her voice quivering a little.

‘Indeed.  Indeed.’  She was quite good with it, from what I heard.  Do you remember much at all about wands, Mrs Dursley?’

‘That it’s the wand that chooses.’

‘Quite.  Quite.

Mr Ollivander stepped forward and leaned towards Harry until they were almost nose to nose.  He pulled back and then reached out and touched the lightning scar on Harry’s forehead with a long, white finger.

‘That is quite curious, isn’t it?’ he said softly.

‘What is?’ whispered Harry.

‘Your scar.’  His traced his finger along the scar and then asked, ‘does it tingle?’

‘I-I don’t think so,’ said Harry, and he felt a little anxious that he couldn’t see past Mr Ollivander’s head and find his aunt.

‘Magic – powerful magic – leaves traces, Mr Potter.  I’ve had doubts over the years, when I heard about what happened, but I can see now that it was one of my wands that did that to you.’

‘One of yours?’

‘I’m not the only wandmaker in the world, Mr Potter.’  He stepped away and flicked his fingers at a couple of shelves of small boxes.  ‘I may be the best, according to some, but I’m not the only one.’

‘So, you hoped it had been another?’ asked Mrs Dursley.

Mr Ollivander turned to look at her.  ‘I have seen many wizards and witches come through those doors, each with different kinds of potential and promise.  The wand that did that to your nephew, that took your sister, is one I made many, many years ago.  There is always hope for great things to be achieved by a wand and its wielder, but ‘great’ is not always ‘good’.’

‘How are the wands made, though?’ asked Mr Dursley aloud, as he looked at the shelves closest to him.

‘There are all sorts of ways of making them, sir,’ replied Mr Ollivander, ‘some are preferred over others, and others are known to very few.’  He picked up a wand that was on display on the far counter and brought it over to Mr Dursley.  ‘This is an old wand.  It’s more than 700 years old.’  Mr Ollivander smiled as Mr Dursley pulled his hands back and shook his head, refusing to take the wand from Mr Ollivander’s hands.  ‘It’s quite alright.  As old as this wand is, it’s quite useless.’

‘It’s inert?’ asked Mr Dursley and, tentatively, he took the wand and held it for Harry and Dudley to look at.

‘In a manner of speaking.  Wands, despite their appearance, are more than just sticks.  Each has a core that, in itself, is magical, and there are many wands, like this one, that have an attachment to one user and rarely any other.  That attachment is because of the personal nature of the core.  Personal to the owner of the wand.’

‘But what about all of these wands?’ asked Harry, ‘they can’t all be personal.’

‘Not initially, no.  With my wands, the bond between wand and wandbearer grows over time, but there is something special when a wand finds the bearer it wants to be with.’

‘“Wants”?’

‘The wand chooses, dear,’ reminded Mrs Dursley.

‘Now, Mr Potter, onwards with the search for your wand.’  Mr Ollivander began pacing the room, looking up and down the rows and columns of boxes.  He pulled a long tape measure with silver markings out of his pocket just as Harry looked at his right hand and the tape measure shot across the room and began measuring him.

For the next hour or so Mr Ollivander kept placing a wand in Harry’s hand and immediately snatching it away.  Neither Harry nor the Dursleys males had any idea what Mr Ollivander was waiting for but Aunt Petunia kept squinting and shaking her head.  As frustrated as Harry was Mr Ollivander appeared to be happier and happier.

‘I’ve been reluctant to try this,’ said Mr Ollivander, softly, as he gently opened yet another box.  ‘Reluctant and curious, but this one seems to be the most likely.’

Harry took the wand and his arm raised above his head and, as Aunt Petunia held on to Uncle Vernon’s arm, a light surrounded him and warmed the room.

‘What’s curious?’ asked Uncle Vernon.  Mr Ollivander took the wand from Harry and put it back into its box and wrapped it in brown paper.

‘I’ve waited more than fifty years to find the one who was meant for this wand.’

‘Is it special?’ asked Harry.

‘Other than being made my me?’ teased Mr Ollivander.  ‘It’s special in that its core is a tail feather from a phoenix.  It’s special because it has a twin and that twin-’

‘Killed Harry’s parents,’ said Dudley.  Mr Ollivander glanced at Dudley but before he could say another in response, Dudley said, ‘It did, didn’t it?  It did kill Aunt Lily.’

Mr Ollivander leaned over the counter and closer to the young boy and nodded.  ‘What Mr Potter does with his wand, young Mr Dursley, is unknown, but I can say this: as similar as he may be to the bearer of the other wand, he is all the more different because of each of you.  It may, perhaps, serve him well to remember that and, I feel, for you to remind him of that from time to time.’

A little unnerved by Mr Ollivander’s cryptic words, Harry paid seven Galleons for the wand and the group readied themselves to leave.  During the ‘want-fitting’ session, Aunt Petunia had invited Hagrid to dinner and, after a lot of protesting, Hagrid agreed to attend.  As they began to move towards the door Mr Ollivander stepped forward and approached Aunt Petunia.

‘Ms Evans… Mrs Dursley, I have something here that I never thought I would ever give to you.  Not because I didn’t want to, you understand, but because I never thought an opportunity to do so would arise.’  He held out a long box similar to the one he had placed Harry’s wand in.  ‘Wands have journeys of their own and, sometimes, they find their way back to where they started from so that they can start another part of their journey.’  He stepped forward and took her hand and placed the box in it.  ‘I long believed this was why this came back to me.’

Aunt Petunia opened the box and pulled the layers of tissue paper aside.  Etched along the bottom edge of the wand were the letters ‘PELE’.

'Lily's wand,' she whispered.





 


Chapter 6: A Brief History of Magic
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The Dursleys’ dining room looked odd that night, as everyone – a little nervously – ignored the blinking light of the answering machine and the small pile of notes that had been collected from the mat in front of the front door.  Most of the furniture had been moved out in order to make room and the small chandelier had been taken down.  The large oak dining table – bought because of Marge’s insistence on tying her dogs to table legs and the numerous times over the years when the dogs tried to bolt – had been moved closer to the French doors that led to the ‘summer room’, where most of the dining room furniture had been tucked away.  A number of old cabinets and dressers had been retrieved from the shed at the end of the garden and duct-taped together to form an almost throne-like chair.

Aunt Petunia hurried around the kitchen, chiding herself for not being more prepared and for the fact that she had had to order certain food items rather than cook them herself.  The three men of the house had worked up quite the sweat and were eager to have a quick bath, but they had agreed to wait for Aunt Petunia to give them okay.  They had also each taken turns in cleaning the metal bucket they had bought from the local petrol station on their way home.

Hagrid hadn’t taken the journey back with them after they had invited him to join them for dinner.  ‘Create too much attention,’ he had said, ‘but I promise I’ll be there after dark.’  Harry and Dudley had found his excuse to be quite amusing, considering their journey from Liverpool and on the London Underground but they felt it best to keep that to themselves.  So, after everyone had cleaned themselves up and gotten ready, and as the long summer night continued and Harry and the Dursleys waited for Hagrid to arrive, they looked over the school-things that had been bought that day and talked.

It wasn’t long before they realized that some of the books, and some parts of certain books, could only be read by Harry.  To the Dursleys, what Harry saw as a spell or a potion recipe they would see a black and white print of something different, and each of them saw the print differently.  Sometimes Aunt Petunia would squint really hard at a page before sighing, exasperated, and turning over to another.

‘I used to think Lily befuddled her books on purpose,’ she said as she flicked through the pages of her copy of A History of Magic, ‘like she was teasing me.  I was in a bitter place back then.  Jealous.’

Harry didn’t say anything.  Everything was so new that he didn’t know what to say.  What tugged at him more, however, was that he knew what he wanted to say but didn’t know if it was true, or that he would ever know.  What he wanted to say was something like, ‘I’m sure Mum understood’.

‘The photographs keep moving,’ said Dudley, pulling everyone’s attention back into the room, ‘and they’re not like our hologram stickers.’  He showed them the pictures of the Quidditch teams in a book Harry had bought in order to learn more about the game.  The figures were darting around on their brooms and flew in a V formation and waved as they ‘left’ the page.

‘It always was a strange thing,’ said Aunt Petunia.  She closed her book and set it beside her on the sofa.  ‘Lily would send us pictures and the next day, more often than not, they would be empty.’

‘Empty?’

‘The people in the photographs would wander off.’

‘They’re alive?’

‘Not really… just… not frozen.  They usually came back after a while, and if you weren’t doing anything interesting they would wander off again.’

‘But I’ve never seen…’ Harry’s voice trailed off as his Aunt presented him with a small box.

‘Your Uncle and Hagrid got you an owl and, before all this, I had something else in mind for you, but I hope that this will do for now.’ 

Inside the small box was a smaller box and, in that, were dozens of pictures.  The ones at the top of the pile suddenly burst with ‘life’ as children and teenagers and young adults hurried around and made themselves presentable.

There was a picture of a wedding party, and everyone was waving vigorously.  There was another of three young men laughing - one with hair like Harry’s, the second with long dark hair and the third tired-looking and shaking his head, bemused.

There was one of Lily and James, cheek-to-cheek and grinning and blowing kisses.

Harry traced over their faces with his fingers, smiling as they ducked their heads around and stuck their tongues out at him.  ‘I thought… when you said the one you had…’

Aunt Petunia’s mouth quivered and she rubbed her fingers against her neck and said, ‘That… the pendant was different.  A special gift from her to… but she’s in these.  You can see her.  You can see them.’

They looked so young in the pictures, and so lively, and Harry understood, as he watched people dart in and out and scramble amongst each other, why he had never seen them before.

‘Can I keep them?’

Uncle Vernon ruffled Harry’s hair and said, ‘Of course you can.  Just, you know, don’t let Marge or anyone see them.’  Harry nodded and smiled and looked over the pictures as the Dursleys continued to discuss the various books.

As the evening drew on, Harry and the Dursleys began to get moodier, and the boys began reminiscing about the food they had seen and scents they smelled in Diagon Alley.

‘It was a sensible suggestion,’ said Uncle Vernon, in a cheery voice, as he talked loudly over the rumble of his stomach.  ‘We know how some of the neighbours can be, after all.’

‘It’s so strange, though,’ said Dudley.  ‘Don’t people around there wonder where those delicious smells are coming from?’

‘It must drive them crazy,’ agreed Harry.

There was a rumble of an engine just outside the house and then, a moment later, a thud against the door and Dudley shot to his feet and hurried to open it.

‘Hello, Mr Hagrid,’ he said, breathless with excitement.

‘Allo, Dudley.  Err… best ye step back.  Little tricky for me to be getting’ in, see?’

‘Come through this way.  The ceiling’s higher in the kitchen.’

Harry and his Aunt and Uncle stood on the edge of the carpeted area of their through-lounge, and Aunt Petunia smiled when Hagrid gasped at the sight of the laden table.

‘Yeh did all this for me?’

‘Well, and for Harry’s birthday,’ said Uncle Vernon.  ‘It wasn’t easy, mind,’ he grinned.

‘Yeh shouldn’t have.  I didn’t mean to be an inconvenience.’

‘Oh hush now,’ said Aunt Petunia as she put on an apron.  ‘You must be famished. Take your seat and we’ll get started.’

Uncle Vernon helped Hagrid with his coat and then hurried into the ‘summer room; and draped it over the table, before hurrying back into the dining room.  Carefully, Hagrid pulled back the put-together chair and, gingerly, lowered himself into it.  It creaked and croaked but held, and Uncle Vernon pushed the dining table closer towards Hagrid and gestured at the boys.

They ate and talked and laughed and Harry couldn’t help but think to himself that this was probably the best birthday he had ever had.  It wasn’t that his Uncle and Aunt had never celebrated it, just that Aung Marge always showed up and ruined things.  He looked over at the glow of the red light blinking in the hallway and then smiled when he saw Uncle Vernon shaking his head and refreshing his drink.  ‘We’ll deal with her tomorrow, okay?’  Harry nodded.

‘I know I said this already,’ said Hagrid, as the meal drew to a close, ‘but today weren’t how I thought it was gonna be.’

‘Disappointed?’ asked Uncle Vernon, chuckling.

‘Well, a little.  Was hopin’ ta turn Dudley here into a little pig or summat.’

The table went quiet as the four of them stared at Hagrid.

‘Only on account of what I had heard,’ said Hagrid quickly, holding his hands up in surrender.  ‘See, I was the one who brought Harry here, that night…’

The silence continued, only now, instead of shock, it was one of sadness.

‘Tell me more about the school,’ said Harry, smiling, and Hagrid nodded.

‘Hogwarts… no finer place fer learning magic.  Been ‘round fer over a thousand years, after the founders got together and made the place.  Greatest witches and wizards of their age, they were.  Didn’t always agree with each other, mind, but that’s how some great people are, I think.

‘It’s up north, hidden away.  Enchanted so Muggles can’t see.  It’s beautiful.  The lake, the forest.  Lived there most o’ me life, I have.’

‘It’s the only magic school here?’ asked Uncle Vernon.

‘It’s the best one.  There are others in other countries, but-‘

‘But,’ said Harry and he shifted in his chair and leaned forward, ‘in the robes’ store, Madam Malkin asked if I was there for Hogwarts robes.  Why would she ask that if there aren’t other schools here?’

‘Well,’ said Hagrid, looking a little uncomfortable, ‘there’re other schools, and they keep ta themselves, but they’re not like Hogwarts.’

‘But how’s the school structured?’ asked Uncle Vernon.  ‘At Smeltings we had groups called houses and the boys stayed in dormitories and-’

Hagrid grinned and, animatedly, said, ‘Hogwarts has houses, too.  The students are divided into four houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin.’

‘Your mother was a Gryffindor,’ said Aunt Petunia.

‘And my father?’

‘Him, too.’

‘So I’ll be one as well?’

‘Well,’ said Hagrid, ‘that’s up to the Sorting Hat to… er… decide.’

‘A hat?’

‘It’s a magical hat.  Ne’er been wrong.’

‘So maybe I’ll be a Slytherin?’

Hagrid laughed.  ‘You?  A Slytherin?’

‘But you said-’

‘There’s not one bad wizard who wasn’t from Slytherin,’ said Hagrid, ‘so I know you’re not one.’

Aunt Petunia shook her head.  ‘Sirius wasn’t bad.’

No one noticed Hagrid’s frown – the mass of hair on his head made sure of that – or his sudden discomfort.

‘Who?’

‘Your godfather.’

‘I… I have a godfather?’

Aunt Petunia nodded, but, at the same time, she looked a little uncertain.  ‘Sirius Black.  It was one of the last things your mother wrote to me about.’

‘Sirius Black,’ Harry repeated.

‘Sirius and James were best friends.  The summer before they all left Hogwarts, the four of them came to see Lily.’

‘Four?’

‘James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter.  “The Marauders”, they used to call themselves.  Certainly lived up to the name.  People talked about what happened for years-’

‘But where is he?  My godfather?’

‘We don’t know,’ said Uncle Vernon.  ‘We waited for him to come after… after you were left with us but he never did.  Even though the letter had asked us to look after you, we weren’t sure if we could.’

‘I worried that your magic might show before Lily’s ever did.  She was my sister but you were hers and James’ son, and James was a wizard from a wizard family, and I just… I didn’t know what that all meant.’

‘And he was in Slytherin?’

‘He was.  And, despite his mischief, your mother was very fond of him, and he was very protective of them both.  Although he never did like…’

Harry hurried into the living room before his Aunt could finish her sentence, and came back with the photo of James with two other young men.  Aunt Petunia pointed at the dark haired one, who tried to bite at her finger and then winked at her.

‘Still a rascal,’ she muttered.

‘After a while,’ said Uncle Vernon, ‘we started to think that maybe it was part of Professor Dumbledore’s magic.  That maybe your godfather, Sirius, was out there but couldn’t find you.’

‘It’s… it’s why I spend so much time in the garden,’ said Aunt Petunia.  ‘I keep thinking, if he’s out there, then maybe he’ll see me somehow.  Maybe with his owl or some familiar or something.  That he would see me and recognise me and come.’

‘And take me away?’

‘No, Harry, not that.  Not…’

The table trembled and the glasses rattled.  Hagrid closed his eyes and let go of the table.  He opened them again and the looked up at the ceiling as Harry and the Dursleys looked at him.  Finally, he cleared his throat and said:

‘I know where he is.  Sirius Black.’

‘Where?’ asked Harry, and his hands shook a little under the table.

Hagrid took in a deep breath and gripped the sides of the table again, releasing both table and breath and knocking over a couple of glasses as he said, ‘Azkhaban.’

‘No!’ gasped Aunt Petunia and then, her voice shrill, she asked, ‘Why?!’

‘For murder.’

Aunt Petunia stared at Hagrid, stunned.

Thirteen murders,’ said Hagrid, and the put-together chair squeaked dangerously as he shifted uncomfortably.  ‘Twelve Muggles and a wizard.’

‘That’s not possible.’

‘I promise you, it is.  It was.’  He fiddled with dishes near him and then continued.  ‘It was… it was a little after Professor Dumbledore and me… and Professor McGonagall… after we left Harry with you.’

‘What happened?’ asked Dudley, his voice barely a whisper.

‘I saw him last at the Potter cottage.  Dumbledore… he told me to get there quickly, that something was going to happen.  He wanted to go himself but the Death Eaters… it was Halloween and You-Know-Who had sent his followers out on a rampage.  A distraction to keep Dumbledore away.’

‘The mists covering the country, and all those missing people,’ said Uncle Vernon, nodding knowingly.

‘He thought there would be time.  That I would get there and get everyone to safety.  I’m… I’m pretty resistant to magic, see?  Takes a lot ter take me down on accounta my giant blood.’

‘You’re a giant?’ said Harry, Dudley and Vernon, awed.

‘Half.  Me Mam… anyway, I…. I got to the house too late, but Dumbledore had said… he had been very specific… that if the worst had happened then I was to find you, Harry, and bring you here, to yer Aunt.’

‘The worst had happened,’ said Harry softly.

‘I don’t know what happened to You-Know-Who.  No one does, really.  Just that something out you messed his spell and he was gone.

‘I found you, crying, and I bundled you up and then Sirius arrived on a motorcycle.  White as a sheet, he was.  He tried to take you from me, said he would look after yer, on account o’ bein’ yeh godfather, but I told him I had Dumbledore’s orders.  And then… then he was calm, but an angry calm.  His face was all… all stoic-like, but his eyes… I had never seen him so angry before.

‘He told me to take his motorcycle and get you away-’

‘See?’ breathed Aunt Petunia.  ‘He couldn’t have murdered anyone.  Would a murderer try to save a baby?’

‘I only know what I’ve been told, Petunia, and what I was told was that he… he was found… there was a high street in a Muggle town and Peter found him and-’

Aunt Petunia sat up straighter.  ‘Peter?’

Hagrid nodded.  ‘Peter Pettigrew.’  Aunt Petunia covered her mouth and shook her head.  ‘He found Sirius… he found him and told him to give himself up but then…’

‘No, no, no,’ said Uncle Vernon, suddenly agitated.  ‘I remember reading about that.  I read every bit of news I could after Harry arrived, and the only thing about thirteen deaths back then… that was a gas explosion.’

Hagrid nodded.  ‘That’s the story the Muggles know, but it was Sirius-’

‘So Peter was the wizard?’ asked Uncle Vernon.

Hagrid nodded.  ‘Twelve Muggles and a wizard.’

‘I don’t believe it,’ said Aunt Petunia sharply.  ‘I refuse.’

Hagrid reached out to put his hand on Petunia’s shoulder but then stopped and pulled it back.  ‘He may have been good when he was younger but he went to the Dark Side, just like everyone else in his family.’

‘No, Lily would have said something.  She would have known.’

‘No one knew.  Dumbledore suspected someone was telling You-Know-Who secrets but even he didn’t know who.’

Aunt Petunia stood up and busied herself with getting the dessert together.  No one said anything for a little while but then, as she placed plates laden with cake and trifle in front of everyone, she said, firmly, ‘Hagrid, I may have only met Sirius a handful of times, and I may not know much about the world you live in, but I know my sister.  I knew James.  Even if Professor Dumbledore himself were to walk through that door and say that Sirius did what you said he did, I wouldn’t believe him.  He was their best friend and there’s nothing that Vold-,’ she paused as Hagrid flinched and the table shuddered.  ‘Sorry, You-Know-Who.  There’s nothing that You-Know-Who could ever have done that would have made Sirius betray them.  I know this.  Absolutely.’

‘I usedta like ter think the same.  I did.  I knew ‘im, or thought I did, but-’ he fell silent when Aunt Petunia raised her hand and mumbled, ‘Yes, ma’am.’

Dudley pulled the conversation back to Hogwarts and the magical world and Hagrid, gratefully, told them the little history that he knew, but when he mentioned the magical creatures he had everyone enthralled.

‘Dragons and hippogriffs and phoenixes, oh my,’ whispered Uncle Vernon.  ‘It’s like being a child again, only…’

‘Only what, Dad?’ asked Dudley.

‘Only… only I knew they were just stories, but now… Witches and wizards I could accept, grudgingly.  The goblins, I saw… but all these fantastic beasts… where would you find them?’

‘They’re everywhere, Vernon, you just need to know where to look.’

The boys began to yawn and the adults took that to be the cue to, reluctantly, end the night.  Harry and Dudley heaved Hagrid’s coat from the table, accidentally dropping the copy of The Daily Prophet onto the floor.

‘Yeh can keep that, if yeh like,’ said Hagrid, shrugging into his coat.  ‘Might make good lining paper for yer owl.’

‘Thanks,’ said Harry, smiling as he and Dudley looked through it and at the moving pictures.

‘Oh, Harry.  ’Fore I forget.’  He rummaged in his coat and pulled out an envelope.  ‘Yer ticket fer Hogwarts.  First o’ September – King’s Cross – it’s all on yer ticket.’

He looked over at the Dursleys and suddenly looked a little nervous.

‘I’m repeating myself, I know,’ he said, ‘but I have ter say, Vernon, Petunia, I really didn’t expect any of this.  The things I had been hearing, about Harry being forced to live under the stairs and all sorts of stuff, well, last night I was looking to put a scare into yeh, but I’m glad that I didn’t.  I’m glad ter have met yer son, too.  I’m thinkin’ tha’ maybe…’

‘We could be friends?’ asked Uncle Vernon, his hand outstretched.

Hagrid pulled the three Dursleys into a hug and Harry grinned.

 


Chapter 7: Journey from Platform 9 and three-quarters
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August flew by in the Dursley home and, before long, it was time for Harry and Dudley to start on different paths.  Although they took turns in tending to Hedwig – the owl Hagrid and Uncle Vernon had gotten Harry for his birthday – they hadn’t really said much to each other since Harry’s birthday, with both boys wrapping themselves up with the excuse that they were getting themselves used to their new curriculums, but it was a distancing that had not gone unnoticed by Mr and Mrs Dursley.  While the two adults had tried to split their time between the boys they could not help but feel anxious about what lay ahead.

‘I don’t want what happened to Lily and me to happen to them, Vernon,’ confided Aunt Petunia.  ‘We lost so many years.  I keep thinking… what if we had told them sooner?’

‘What if we hadn’t let Marge… impose herself.’  Uncle Vernon sighed heavily.  ‘I’ve been remembering a lot of things about what happened back then.  A lot of things we could have done differently.’

‘But we tried, didn’t we?  Despite everything, we did try.’  She picked up the photograph of Harry, Dudley, and Vernon playing a computer game and showed it to her husband.  ‘He was part of our family.’

‘He is part of our family, Petunia.  He always will be.’

‘But he’s going away.  Him and Dudley both.  Everything’s changing and…’

‘And what if we can’t protect him anymore?’ finished Uncle Vernon.  He grunted a little as he got up out of his armchair.  ‘We knew it was going to happen eventually-’

‘But not like this.  The magic… the letter said-’

‘Hagrid says this Professor Dumbledore knows what he’s doing,’ he took Petunia’s hands in his own, ‘you have said that Dumbledore is amazing.  We have to trust that.’

He picked up a picture of Harry and Dudley grinning together and continued, ‘Harry’s famous.  I never realised how much until that day, but he’s famous and there are people out there who will look after him.  They can do things we can’t, no matter how much we love him.’

‘What if he hates us for holding him back?’

‘Then I wouldn’t be the boy you raised me to me,’ said Harry, as he and Dudley stepped into the room.  Both boys had red faces and streaked cheeks, and both held opened envelopes in their hands.

Harry walked over to his Uncle’s armchair and sat on the left armrest, closest to the fireplace.  ‘I just want you all to know that nothing has changed.  Aunt Marge and one of her dogs will be here for Christmas, only this time I might not be here for-’

‘You’re not coming home for Christmas?’

‘I don’t know.  I don’t know if-’

‘You’re allowed.  You are.  Lily always came, except for when she was getting ready for her O.W.L.s, but she always came.’

Harry laughed and Dudley snorted.

‘What’s so funny?’ asked Aunt Petunia.

‘Harry thought that being a wizard meant no exams,’ chuckled Dudley.

‘And then I checked one of the books.  Dudley’s going to be doing things like Latin and I’m going to be studying Runes and other weird things, and there are going to be exams.’

‘You’re just like your Mother when she said something like that,’ said Aunt Petunia, and she wrapped her arms around Harry and squeezed him.  She pulled back and held him at arm’s length and then adjusted his glasses.  ‘She was good at Charms and Potions.’

‘She always was a charmer,’ chuckled Uncle Vernon.

Aunt Petunia rolled her eyes and continued: ‘Your Dad was more… well, he could fly, even with a “rubbish broom”, and, from what Lily told me-’

‘And what happened at our wedding,’ said Uncle Dudley quickly.

‘He was quite partial to Transfiguration.’

‘What if-’

You, my boys, have to find your own paths.’  She gestured for Dudley to come over and wrapped her arms around them both.  ‘Be yourselves.  Dudley’s going to hear stories about Vernon and you’re going to hear ones about Lily and James, but those are their stories.  You have to make your own.’

Dinner was cheery and there was a lot rushing back and forth to make sure Harry’s trunk was packed but, although everyone turned in early on that 31st of August, no one really slept.  Dudley stared at the wall separating him and Harry and remembered the times he had wronged his cousin and how, in time, they had become brothers.  Petunia and Vernon didn’t say a word to each other.  They wanted to, but both lay in their bed and stared at the ceiling, lost in thoughts of how things could have been different and how everything was changing.  Harry sat on his bed, cross-legged, using a small flashlight to look at pictures from his parents’ wedding.

Eventually, they all dozed off but the phone call at 6am had all four of them up and about in a panic.

Marge was coming.

A little before 8am Harry turned to look at the house again.  His heart raced and he tried his utmost to ignore the burning in his eyes.  Dudley, taking no notice of his parents’ gestures, tugged on Harry’s shirt collar and directed him to the car.  ‘You’ll be back in the summer,’ he said, ‘but if we don’t go now she’s going to get here.’

Harry nodded, took one more look at 4 Privet Drive, and got in the car.

‘King’s Cross, Platform 9 and three-quarters!’ whooped Aunt Petunia.

Excuse me?’ said Uncle Dudley, taken aback at his wife’s excited outburst.

‘Come on, come on,’ she urged and Uncle Vernon, conscious of the time, started the car and pulled out of the drive.  He glanced in his rear-view mirror and quickly asked Harry if he had the ticket Hagrid had given him.

Harry grunted, shifted, and pulled the envelope out of his backpack.  ‘Got it!’  He looked at it and then showed Dudley and both of them said out loud: ‘Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at 11am.’

Uncle Vernon harrumphed, shook his head, and began driving towards the motorway.  Every few seconds he would glance at the clock on the dashboard and then growl a little at the speedometer.  When the blue overhead sign for the motorway appeared he gripped the steering wheel a little tighter and muttered, ‘C’mon, c’mon.’

No one else said anything.  Each of them was looking at the oncoming traffic, and they were all as anxious as Uncle Vernon.  Hedwig, however, turned her gaze from Harry to Dudley and back again, curious about the silence and attention.  Her cage slid a little as Uncle Vernon took the roundabout just before the exit to the motorway a little sharper than he had intended, but all four human occupants of the car breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed as the car roared, accelerating to the speed limit.

As they passed a red car, coming in from the opposite direction, Uncle Vernon hooted and asked Aunt Petunia for a breakfast sandwich.

Describing King’s Cross Station as crowded is a bit of an understatement.  As one of London’s hubs the station is busy on a regular day, on this day, as children and teenagers were arriving and leaving, pushing luggage trolleys and hauling their bags, it was one of the station’s busiest days of the year.  Destinations and platform numbers were being shouted out across the concourse and the notice boards clitter-clattered their updates.

‘Nothing about “Hogwarts” or “nine and three-quarters”,’ whispered Uncle Vernon, and Aunt Petunia smiled, took his arm, and began to lead the way.  They headed towards platforms nine and ten, the adults at the front and Harry and Dudley stopping repeatedly as they cheekily ‘checked’ the brakes on the trolley.

As they neared the middle of the long platform, Aunt Petunia slowed and came to a stop.  ‘Now,’ she said, ‘watch that family there with the cat.’  A little ahead of them was a family of four – the parents, a boy a couple of years older than Harry and Dudley, and a two-year-old being carried by the father.  They headed towards the dividing barrier between the two platforms and shimmered, suddenly turning away and continuing up along platform nine.

Harry, however, gasped.

‘I don’t understand,’ said Uncle Vernon.

‘They disappeared,’ said Harry, awestruck.

‘No they didn’t,’ said Dudley and Uncle Vernon in unison.  ‘They’re walking up there.’

Harry looked towards where they were pointing but couldn’t see the family and so turned to his Aunt asked, ‘How?’.

She shrugged.  ‘I see them walking up there, too, I just know to look for the shimmer.  Like the Leaky Cauldron.’

Understanding dawned on the three of them and they looked again at the barrier between the platforms as another family headed towards it.  To the Dursleys, the family shimmered, turned away, and headed up along the platform; to Harry, the family shimmered and vanished through the barrier.

‘Like the Leaky Cauldron,’ said Uncle Vernon firmly, and the four of them held on to the cart and, urged by Aunt Petunia, marched straight at the barrier, with only Aunt Petunia not closing her eyes.

The sight that greeted the family from No 4 Privet Drive was something three of them never expected.  A scarlet steam engine, with wheels of shining silver and handles of bright gold, was waiting next to the platform, and it was surrounded by people… and cats.  Cats of every colour wandered about, dashing between people’s legs and jumping onto trunks.  Owls hooted and toads trilled and ribbitted.  The foggy glass ceiling of Kings Cross rose high above them and birds soared and dove and danced through the air.  A sign overhead said “Hogwarts Express” and, when they turned around, they saw a wrought-iron archway, plain as day but with an empty wall beyond it, where the barrier had been.  Across it were the words “Platform Nine and Three-Quarters”.

Anticipating further arrivals, they moved to the side and set the trolley against a wall.  Further along the platform were a series of small stands and stalls, most of them being associated with the shops found in Diagon Alley: 2nd Hand Brooms (and repairs) for those who may have damaged their broom on their way to the station; Amanuesnsis QuillsScribbulus Writing Instruments and the Second-Hand Bookshop for any last minute school supplies; Gringotts Exchange; Sugarplum’s Sweets, and a number of small stalls and peddlers selling snacks and drinks.

A tall brown-haired man in his late thirties stood by the part of the wall near the Scribbulus stand.  Next to him, pushing herself into a tiptoe, was a woman of similar age, over a head shorter than the man and with lighter brown hair tied into a bun.  The man noticed the Dursleys and waved at them enthusiastically.  Stunned by the man’s actions, Uncle Vernon stared at the red steam engine and tried to ignore that the man had started to move towards them and had gestured for the woman to follow.

‘It’s a bit strange seeing them go, isn’t it?’ said the man a little breathlessly.

‘It is a little, yes,’ mumbled Uncle Vernon, a little warier.

‘I’m Michael,’ said the man, holding out his hand, ‘Michael Granger.’  He stepped a little to the side and introduced the woman next to him, ‘and this is my wife Carol.’  Uncle Vernon introduced himself and the family, still guarded as to why the man had approached them.  ‘I hope you’ll excuse our intrusion,’ said Mr Granger, ‘it’s just… well, you looked more like us than-’

A caped couple and a boy wearing knickerbockers popped through the gate and Uncle Vernon and Mr Granger watched them walk by, squeaking in their rubber rain boots.

‘Ah,’ said Uncle Vernon, and he adjusted his jacket and relaxed a little.

‘Our daughter, Hermione…’

‘There was always something about her,’ said Mrs Granger a little distractedly, paying more attention to the train than to the group, yet eager to talk about her daughter, ‘but it was always about learning rather than anything… odd.’

‘So no… strange happenings?’ ventured Uncle Vernon.

‘Birthday candles suddenly lighting up,’ Mrs Granger stopped tiptoeing and counted off on her fingers, ‘finding books on the coffee table even though we had just checked, my keys disappearing whenever it was time to leave the library-’

‘Never thought that any of it was magic, though,’ said Mr Granger.

‘When she got the letter, and then the lady from Hogwarts came, I thought Michael was doing some sort of elaborate joke.’

‘Someone came to see you?’ asked Aunt Petunia.  ‘A stern-looking lady, perhaps?’

‘Yes, yes, very stern.  Hermione took an instant liking to her, although I think she was quite surprised by Hermione’s questions.’  Mrs Granger turned away slightly and began looking at the front of the train again.

Mr Granger looked down at Harry, smiled, and said, ‘And Harry’s your first?’

‘No,’ said Aunt Petunia.

‘Yes,’ said Uncle Vernon.

The Grangers looked at them quizzically.

‘I mean… he’s our nephew.  His parents are… um…’

The Grangers’ eyes widened a little with realisation and while Mr Granger’s face reddened a little Mrs Granger’s turned a little paler.  ‘Oh.  I’m so sorry.’

Avoiding the awkwardness as best he could, Harry crouched down to check on Hedwig.  Unseen by him, in the distance, near the front of the train, a girl with bushy brown hair popped her head out of a carriage window.

‘I told you she would look for us!’ said Mrs Granger, and she excused herself and headed into the crowd.

‘Our card,’ said Mr Granger.  ‘Maybe we can… exchange stories some time.  Muggle to Muggle.’

‘“Muggle to Muggle”,’ acknowledged Uncle Vernon with a smile, and he took the card and watched Mr Granger head off after his wife.

Uncle Vernon looked at the card.  ‘Dentists, eh?  Explains the teeth,’ he chuckled.

Harry looked up at the clock and saw that it was almost ten minutes to eleven.  A burst of panic flashed through him and, for a brief few seconds, he wondered if he was doing the right thing in going to the school.  He looked at the strangely dressed people and remembered the way the robes had irritated the back of his neck and how he had almost tripped on them when he came down the stairs.  He saw the children running around creating sparks and lights and flowers and the nagging thought resurfaced that he would be no good at magic.  He saw older children laugh and hug and reunite and the other thought, the one he had ignored, taunted him.  Would he be able to make friends?  He wondered if, come eleven o’clock, he should still be standing on the platform as the train pulled away.  That all of this had been some nice and strange dream of a world that might have been and-

Suddenly a teenage boy with flaming red hair appeared.  He was pushing a trunk like the one the Dursleys had bought Harry in Diagon Alley, and he moved a little to the side and waited.  A couple of seconds later and another boy, slightly younger but also with flaming red hair appeared, also pushing a trunk.  A few seconds more and another boy, looking exactly like the second one, appeared, and Harry blinked and rubbed his eyes.

‘Definitely twins,’ whispered Dudley, and Harry smiled at his cousin, relieved.

Another red-haired boy, this one around Harry’s age, appeared and the second and third boy grabbed him and started tousling his hair.  

Finally, a plump woman and a young girl, both with hair just as flaming red as the boys, appeared and looked around.  Shaking his head at the teasing the twins were giving the youngest boy, the first boy nodded at the woman, smiled, and headed off to board the train.

‘I wanna go to Hogwarts!’ said the little girl, and she dashed away in the opposite direction.

‘Ginny, come back here!’ shouted the woman.  Embarrassed, blushing a little, she quickly apologised to the Dursleys and the other people around her and hurried into the crowd to find her daughter.  The twins laughed and the boy smiled and tried to sneak away with his trunk, only for the twins to grab him under his arms and carry him away.

‘We should probably find you a seat, Harry,’ said Uncle Vernon.  He took hold of one end of the trunk and Dudley quickly grabbed the other.  Harry shouldered his satchel and Aunt Petunia picked up Hedwig’s cage, and the four of them moved into the crowd, apologising almost every step of the way.  They passed a round-faced boy who was saying, ‘Gran, I’ve lost my toad again,’ and the old woman sighed.

They found an empty compartment near the end of the train and Dudley and Uncle Vernon heaved the trunk up through the door and into the compartment.  Dudley reached out for Hedwig and carried the cage in and then, just as Harry placed his foot onto the first step, Aunt Petunia put her hand on his arm and stopped him.

‘Harry,’ she said, and she looked up at her husband and took a breath when he nodded, ‘there’s something I’ve been meaning to say to you.’

Harry’s throat tightened as his Aunt took him over to a bench and sat down while Uncle Vernon and Dudley stayed in the carriage doorway.  Just a little further down the platform were the red-haired family.  The eldest boy had come back, dressed in robes and with a shiny silver badge on his chest.  They were too far for Harry to hear anything, and the hissing of the train masked even Dudley and Uncle Vernon’s conversation.

Aunt Petunia sat close to the rim of the bench-seat, her back straight and hands clasped in her lap, and said, ‘I don’t know what’s true and what isn’t, I only know what my instincts say-’

‘About?’

She slouched a little.  ‘… Your Godfather’

‘Siri…’ Harry choked on the name and then tried again, ‘what about him?

‘He wasn’t in Slytherin.’

‘What do you mean?  Hagrid said-’

She turned slightly, facing her nephew, and Harry noticed high tightly she had her fingers clenched.  ‘That’s just it, Harry, Hagrid didn’t say.  I did.’

‘I don’t understand.’

I said that he had been in Slytherin.  That’s what I thought, then, when Hagrid was telling us about him.  But I remembered afterwards… later… his family were Slytherin.’

‘But Hagrid said that Slytherins went bad and-’

‘He wasn’t, though.  He was a Gryffindor like your Mum and Dad, so if Hagrid’s right about only Slytherins going bad then he would never have gone bad.’

‘And if Hagrid’s wrong about that and right about-’

‘Then it’s not just Slytherins, no matter what Hagrid might want to believe.’

Harry stared at the ground.  ‘Can I tell you something?’ he whispered.

‘Of course you can.’

‘I’m scared.’

‘Of?’

‘Everything.  I’m just me.  Harry Potter.  The boy who lives with his aunt and uncle and cousin.  That’s me.  But when I get on that train, everything is going to be different.  I’m going to be Harry Potter, “The Boy Who Lived”.’

‘Who called you that?’

‘It’s in the books.’

That’s what they’re calling you?’

Harry nodded and Aunt Petunia looked at her nephew and then over at her husband and son and, for the first time in a long time, she whispered:

‘I wish your Mum was here.’

Quickly and quietly, Harry took his Aunt’s hand in his and said, ‘She is.’

The whistle sounded.

‘Sirius,’ said Harry, ‘do you think he-’

‘No.  Never.’

‘Why?’

‘Just… trust me.  He would never.’

Uncle Vernon and Dudley stepped off the carriage and onto the platform.

‘Azkaban’s really bad,’ said Harry.

‘I know… and if he’s been there for the last ten years…’

They sat there for a moment, hand in hand, and then, as the minute hand on the clock moved to the number 12, Aunt Petunia patted her nephew on the knee, stood up, straightened her clothes and got ready to say goodbye.

‘You promise you’ll write?’

‘Every day.’

‘Don’t go making promises you can’t keep, young man.’

‘Okay,’ he grinned, ‘I’ll try to write every day.’

The whistle sounded again.

Harry hugged his family and stepped onto the train.  He closed the door and looked out of the window.  He saw the red haired woman pull out a handkerchief and the little red haired girl jump up and down and wave at people he couldn’t see.  He smiled at the Dursleys and waved quickly.

The train began to move and the Dursleys waved.  Dudley jogged alongside the train for a few seconds as it gathered speed and stopped as the little girl ran passed him before she, too, stopped and waved.

Harry stepped into the compartment and smiled at Hedwig.  ‘It’s just the two of us now,’ he said, but Hedwig shook her head and hooted softly.  ‘No?  Just me?’

The door of the compartment slid open, just as Harry pulled out a book from his satchel, and the youngest redheaded boy he had seen earlier came in.

Before the boy could say anything, Harry grinned, pointed at the empty seat opposite where he was standing, and gestured for him to come in.  The boy sighed with relief and collapsed into the seat, letting his bag fall onto the seat with him.  He looked over at Hedwig and smiled.

‘That’s a beautiful owl,’ he said.

‘Thanks.  She’s a birthday present from my Uncle and Hagrid.’

The boy sat up.  ‘You know Hagrid?’

Harry nodded.

‘My brothers told me about him.  My parents and Percy keep saying that George and Fred exaggerate everything about him but Bill and Charlie said to me that they haven’t even told me the half of it.’

Harry counted off the names and said, ‘Five brothers?’

Ron nodded, ‘And a sister.  Ginny.  Fred and George are twins.  You can’t miss them.  Percy’s a prefect.  I’m Ron, by the way.  What about you?’

‘I’m… well, I’m an orphan and my-’

Ron’s smile faded and he looked over at Hedwig again.

‘It’s okay,’ said Harry, ‘it was a long time ago.  I’ve lived with my Aunt and Uncle since I was a baby.’

It was then that Ron noticed the scar on Harry’s forehead, covered by his hair, and he leaned forward, awed.

‘You’re-’

‘Hmm?’

‘Blimey!’ Ron slumped back into his seat, ran his hands through his hair and exhaled.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘You’re Harry Potter!’ he whispered, almost squeaking.

Harry nodded, self-conscious, and Ron composed himself and sat up again.

‘I’ve never really met Muggles before, or even a Muggle-born,’ said Ron, and he leaned forward a little.  ‘I’ve seen them, like now, at the station, but everyone was in a hurry – us and them – but what are they like at home?’

‘No different from… from us, really.  They just can’t do magic.  There’s good and bad,’ and he tapped the copy of A History of Magic and said, ‘just like the wizarding world.’

Ron stared at the book and then sat back, upright, and looked at Harry, worried.  ‘You started studying already?’

Harry laughed.  ‘I’m behind everyone, I expect,’ and gestured around them, ‘this is your world, I’ve only just found out about it.’

‘I suppose,’ Ron murmured, still uncomfortable.

‘Look,’ said Harry, and this time he leaned forward a little, ‘you’ve seen Quidditch being played, right?  Probably ridden a broom.  Obviously seen your parents do magic.  All of that is normal for you.  Not for me.  Not for the others.’  He pulled out the copy of the Daily Prophet that Hagrid had bought from the owl on the day they first met and pointed at the pictures on the cover.  ‘In my world, the Muggle world, these don’t move.  Not on newspapers.  Things like this are strange to me.’

‘They don’t move?’

‘No.’

Ron mouthed ‘weird’ and shook his head a little.  ‘But loads of people come from Muggle families and they all learn quick enough.’

‘Walking through barriers in Kings Cross, self-stirring cauldrons¸ goblins, all of that is what we have in stories and movies and comics.’

‘Movies?’

‘Yeah, y’know, films…’

Ron shook his head and this time Harry slumped backwards in his seat and gaped.

For over an hour the two boys talked and exchanged stories and experiences.  Ron told Harry about his family and the frustrating thing about being part of such a large family, and Harry told him about cars and portable computer games and live around Marge Dursley.  Ron showed Harry Scabbers, the hand-me-down-pet rat the Weasleys had had for the last ten years, and his battered and chipped hand-me-down wand.  He even tried to do a spell but nothing happened.  Harry showed Ron some of the comics he had brought with him and his old albums of football stickers.

‘My Dad would love meeting you,’ said Ron, ‘he always says that Muggle-borns find his questions weird.’  He tilted one of the albums from side to side and shook it a couple of times and then put it to one side.

‘It would be like a “Cultural Exchange”.  That’s what my Aunt calls it.’

‘But didn’t you ever wonder?’

‘About?’

‘The scar?  The magic?’

‘I didn’t know anything about any of it until the letter arrived.  I didn’t know anything about Voldemort un-’ He saw Ron’s face turn white and stopped talking.  He looked around the compartment and at the wall behind himself twice and then, worried, he asked, ‘What?’

‘You said… you said the name,’ said Ron, and Harry frowned at the awe in Ron’s voice.

‘Oh, I thought it was just Hagrid who didn’t like it.’

No one likes it,’ said Ron.

Scabbers suddenly shook himself away and scrambled over Ron’s knee and towards the door.  Curious, the boys watched the rat and then, a couple of seconds later, they heard the rattling sound of trolley wheels coming from the corridor.  Harry glanced at Ron and saw the boy shift himself a little deeper into his seat.  The door opened and a kindly woman popped her head in and asked if they wanted anything from the laden trolley.

Ron said he had brought sandwiches but Harry, even though his Aunt had packed him a lunch made up of last night’s leftovers, was curious.  Steadying himself against the train’s movement, he got up and went out into the corridor to take a look.  ‘I know this isn’t proper,’ Ron heard him say, ‘but what if I buy everything and you can give it to everyone who wants something?’  He didn’t hear the lady’s reply but, when Harry came back into the compartment, he saw that he was carrying all sorts of treats in his arms.

‘My aunt told me she had had some “unpleasant” experiences with some of the sweets she remembers my Mum sharing with her,’ Harry said as he deposited the pile of sweets onto the seat, ‘so we didn’t get much when we were in Diagon Alley, but maybe you can help me learn about these?’

Ron looked at the brown-paper package he had placed on top of his bag and then back at the goodies on the seat.  ‘I suppose Scabbers can have some of this,’ he said, and he opened the package and placed a sandwich in front of the rat.

They ate and talked and Ron explained the Chocolate Frogs and their collectible cards, the dangers of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans – ‘they really are every flavour’ – and they wondered if, with the right amount of air, they could maybe fly away with a packet of Brooble’s Best Blowing Gum.

Every now and then, someone would hurry down the corridor and, even more frequently, they would hear loud voices telling people to stop running.

‘Probably Percy and his friends being all bossy,’ muttered Ron.  ‘He learned this spell where you could hear him from the other side of the field.’

‘You have a field?’

Ron shrugged.  ‘A few of them.  Middle of nowhere, though.’

‘Our garden’s too small for our bikes,’ said Harry, ‘and the last field I went to was when we went fruit-picking last year.’

‘Trevor,’ came a voice from the corridor.  ‘Where are you?  Anyone seen Trevor?  He’s a toad.’

The compartment door slid open and, before the anxious boy could say anything, Ron said, ‘No toads in here.  Sorry.’

‘We have chocolate frogs, though,’ said Harry, ‘and maybe one of the Prefects can do a locator spell or something.’

‘I suppose,’ said the boy.  He glanced from Hedwig to Scabbers and then flumped into the seat next to Harry.  ‘At least yours are still here, mine keeps running away.’

Ron poked at Scabbers and muttered, ‘Sometimes I wish mine would.’  He looked at the boy’s sad face and then picked up Scabbers and moved him away from the part-nibbled sandwich.  ‘I’m going to try that spell again.’

‘Maybe I could try?’ said Harry.  He pulled out a long case and opened it.  Inside, wrapped in tissue paper, was the wand he had bought from Ollivander’s.

‘I’ve only held this once,’ he said.

He felt a warm tingle move up his arm, and then the door slid open again.  A girl with bushy brown hair stood at the opening and frowned at the sad boy.  ‘Neville,’ she said, ‘how are you going to find Trevor if you stop looking?’

‘He said that maybe the Prefects could do a locator spell,’ said Neville, nervously.

‘Oh,’ said the girl, ‘I suppose they might.  Maybe.’  She saw Harry with his wand in his hand and stepped further into the compartment.  ‘Are you going to try?’

‘No,’ said Harry, and his eye widened when he noticed that the girl was already in her Hogwarts robes.

‘Then?’

‘What’s the spell again?’ Harry asked Ron.

‘Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow, turn this stupid, fat rat yellow.’

Harry repeated the words and there was a hum and Scabbers began to glow and then the light faded away.  Scabbers was not yellow.

‘The words are a little…’ said the girl, disapprovingly.

‘Intent is a key part, though,’ said Harry.

Ron and Neville looked at each other and then at Harry and the girl.

‘True,’ said the girl, ‘intent is a key part, but words and names have power.’

‘So maybe if we use his name?’ Harry ventured, and the girl nodded.  Harry tried the spell again and Scabbers shimmered and the light faded again.

‘There’s potential, though,’ said the girl, and she smiled a little.  ‘I’ve tried a few spells that worked but didn’t think of making one up.  I’m Hermione Granger, by the way.  Who-’

You’re Hermione?’ exclaimed Harry.

‘Yes…’ said Hermione, and she frowned.  ‘Why?’

Harry stammered a little and quickly said, ‘Oh, nothing.  I just… well, I met your parents on the platform.’

‘Did you?  Oh, you’re the one like me… Muggle-born?  Harry, right?’

Ron snorted.

‘What’s so funny?’ asked Hermione, sharply.

‘You.  Calling him a Muggle-born.  He’s the most famous boy in the whole of the wizarding world!’

Hermione gasped with realisation.  ‘You’re Harry Potter!’

And all Harry’s efforts up to that moment failed, and he blushed.

Hermione sat down, more animated than when she had first come into the compartment, and she pulled Neville down to sit next to her.  ‘You must have so many stories,’ she said.

Harry shook his head.  ‘I don’t, actually.  I’m sort of like you.’

‘Like me?’

‘He lived with Muggles his whole life,’ said Ron, authoritatively, puffing out his chest a little.

Hermione looked a little disappointed.  ‘Oh.  I thought… maybe that… others visited.’

‘No one.  I didn’t even know about any of this until my birthday.’

Hermione turned to Ron and asked, ‘And you are?’

‘Ron Weasley.’

‘Weasley… Weasley.  That’s an old family, isn’t it?’  She gasped.  ‘Doesn’t your brother look after dragons in Romania?’

‘Um… yes?’ said Ron, stunned by the fact that Hermione knew so much about his family and trying to ignore Harry’s gape.

‘Have you seen any?  You must-’ Ron, now wide-eyed, shook his head vigorously and Hermione, disappointed, stopped asking questions.  She got up and excused herself and Neville, advised Harry and Ron to get their robes on, and left.

‘That’s two of you who have been practising!’ exclaimed Ron.

Harry shook his head as he closed his wand box.  ‘I told you, we’re behind.’

‘She said the spells she tried worked for her.’

‘But she didn’t say what those spells were.’

The door slid open again, this time three boys entered.  Harry recognised the one in the middle: Draco Malfoy.  The other two boys were thickset and extremely mean-looking and stood on either side of the door.

‘I heard you were down here, Potter, but I didn’t want to believe it.  I thought to myself, “That Potter seemed to be bright, he’d know not to hang out around here”.’  He nodded towards Ron.  ‘Thought you would have listened to my advice and avoided the riff-raff.’  He grimaced a little.  ‘Honestly, Potter, allowing yourself to be stuck in a room with a Weasley.  I told you, some wizarding families are much better than others.  All the Weasleys are good for is having red hair, freckles, and more children than they can afford.’

‘Can’t be that bad if you decided to walk in here, though,’ said Harry.

The two thickset boys lurched forward but Draco held up his hands and said, ‘It’s okay, Crabb.  Goyle.  Potter here doesn’t know our ways yet.’

‘I’m not sure I want to,’ said Harry.  He picked up a chocolate frog and watched it jump from his right hand to his left and back again, leaving small chocolate stains on his palms.  He looked up saw Crabb looking longingly at the frog.  He held out a few frogs and offered it to them.  ‘Plenty to go round.’

‘So the other rumour is true, then?’ asked Draco.

‘What rumour?’

‘That you bought out the trolley?’

‘I… I thought people might get hungry,’ said Harry.

‘Harry Potter the Boy Who Bribes,’ said Goyle.

‘Good one, Goyle,’ snorted Draco, ‘guess he has to buy friends somehow.’

‘You sure you don’t want one?’ said Harry, as he held out another chocolate frog.

‘You expect us to eat with you and him?’ sneered Draco.

Harry shrugged.  ‘It’s up to you but it looks like they wouldn’t mind.’

‘I would,’ said Ron, and Harry looked at him, surprised.

Draco snorted.

‘I’ve heard about your family, Malfoy.’

‘Oh?’

‘Claimed to have been bewitched by You-Know-Who when he disappeared.’

‘My father-’

‘Your father didn’t need an excuse to go over to the dark side.’

The two boys stared at each other, both red in the face.

‘There’s something I heard once, Potter,’ said Draco, not taking his eyes off of Ron, ‘that you should keep your mind open and principles firm.  My family upholds its principles.’

‘You saying mine doesn’t?’ snarled Ron.

Draco took a step back and cast his eye over the compartment and shook his head when he spotted Scabbers.  ‘It’s okay, mistakes happen.’  He looked at Harry and said, ‘Come sit with us.  The journey’s almost over and there’s lots we can tell you.’

‘If it’s all the same to you, I’m quite comfortable here.’

Draco shook his head and sighed.  ‘You’re making a mistake Potter.  I can only look out for you so much.  Come along boys.’

After Draco and the others left, Harry and Ron sat in the compartment for a little while, neither saying a word to the other.  Outside the window, as the sky slowly grew darker, they could see that the train was slowing down.

A squeaky announcement echoed through the compartment and Harry and Ron stared at each other for a couple of seconds as the realisation sunk in that they had less than five minutes to get ready.  They fumbled and stumbled as the train slowed and they pulled their robes on and picked up their litter while stuffing the remaining sweets and pasties into their pockets and satchels.

‘I’m sorry about before,’ mumbled Ron, ‘it’s just… what I’ve heard from my Dad… he works for the Ministry and-’

‘It’s okay, Ron.  I just-’

‘What?’

‘Should we really judge Draco because of his Dad?’

‘A Malfoy’s a Malfoy, Harry.  He’ll be Slytherin like the rest of them.’

‘They can’t all be that bad.’

Ron shrugged and the train came to a stop.  The boys opened the door and stepped into the crowded corridor.  As they neared the door to the platform they heard a voice say, ‘Firs’ years!  Firs’ years over here!’ over and over. 

Harry nudged Ron and whispered, ‘That’s Hagrid’s voice.’  Ron nodded and grinned nervously.  They stepped onto the dark platform and gasped and shivered at the cold night air.  Ahead they could see a lamp bobbing in the air, high above the height of the train.  The light danced off a bearded face and there were gasps of awe as the first years caught sight of Hagrid.

‘Blimey!’ whispered Ron.

‘All right there, Harry?’ said Hagrid, and the crowd of students turned to see who he had been addressing.  Harry and Ron stood there, self-conscious, and Harry gave Hagrid a little wave.  After Hagrid loudly gave the instruction for the first years to follow him, a whisper began to spread.

Some of the first years looked back, curious as to where the older students were going, but the darkness soon enveloped them and hid them from sight.  ‘Not much further now and y’all get to see the castle.  She’s a beauty, she is.  You’ll see.’

There were loud gasps of aww and one voice said, ‘It’s bigger than the Queen’s!’  Another wondered if there would be fireworks while a third exclaimed that there should be.

There was a great black lake and, beyond it, on a mountain, was a massive castle with turrets and towers and lights, and the moon winking through the clouds at everyone below.

‘Hello, Hogwarts,’ whispered Harry.  

 

 


Chapter 8: Let the lessons begin
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Despite the exhaustion from all the excitement from the day before, he had hardly had a wink of sleep.  To make matters worse, his ears were still ringing from Marge’s angry words – the fact that her car had refused to start and the recovery mechanic couldn’t find anything wrong with it had certainly not helped.

He closed his eyes for a moment and remembered what had happened less than twenty-four hours earlier, after the excitement and wonder at Kings Cross:

‘You told me he was at St Brutus’,’ Marge had shouted at them before they had even opened the car doors.  ‘I thought you were finally seeing sense, but they told me that he’s not there.’

‘You’re not on the approved list,’ Vernon had said as he unlocked the door to the house and tried to usher her in.  He saw curtains at several windows across the road flutter and shuddered at the scene his sister must have made while waiting for them.

‘“Not on the approved list,”’ Marge had snorted, ‘who are they to decide that?’

‘The school board,’ Vernon had muttered.  He had wanted to say more but knew it would be better not to.  He stepped into the living room so that Dudley could sneak upstairs and hide the treats they had bought from a few stalls after the train had left the platform.

‘Then call them now and prove it,’ she said, and she grabbed the telephone from the small table in the living room, accidentally dislodging the handset from the cradle, and held it out.

Vernon took the phone from her hands and placed the handset back in the cradle before returning the telephone back on the table.  ‘Would it really make any difference?  When they tell you he’s there, wouldn’t you demand to know why they lied to you?’

‘Then let me speak to the boy,’ she snarled.

‘None of us are allowed to speak to him,’ said Petunia.  ‘We can’t call him.’

‘It’s all part of the self-reliance process and punishment,’ said Vernon.  ‘If we were to call now and ask to speak to him then it gives him hope.’

‘“Hope”?’ spat Marge.  ‘“Hope”?  How much more hope does that parasite need?  How much is he going to take away from us?’

It was only when Dudley had said, in quite an exasperated tone, that they had taken Harry to his new school that Marge finally accepted that Harry was no longer living at the house calmed down a little.

But not enough.

Vernon took a sip of tea and winced as it burned his lips a little and pulled him back from his memories.

‘Can’t even call the boy,’ he whispered.  He set the cup down and shuffled over to the bread bin.  He gasped a little when the lock on the kitchen door clicked and the door opened.

‘You go sit down,’ said Petunia in a hushed voice as she padded into the kitchen and closed the door behind her.  ‘I’ll get breakfast ready.’

‘You’re supposed to be asleep,’ whispered Vernon.

‘So are you,’ replied Petunia. 

‘I was going to try and call Richard, catch him early and let him know that Marge might storm the school looking for Harry.’

‘She wouldn’t.’

Vernon looked at his wife, one eyebrow raised, and Petunia sighed and nodded.

‘Ever since Harry saved Rachel from Gnasher, Richard has said he would do anything for him.’

‘I know, but pretending that Harry is going to that school?’

‘Like he said, “How is she going to know otherwise?”’

Petunia smiled and shook her head at her husband.  ‘I’ll do some bacon and eggs – try to keep Marge happy – and then we can help Dudley get his things together.’

‘He’s still here another week, Petunia.’

‘I know, but he insisted we start.’

‘I actually thought this was going to be easier,’ said Vernon, as he took out a carton of eggs and placed them on the counter.  ‘I thought that with Harry gone, with him finding out about himself… I thought…’  He sat back down and sighed.  ‘I miss him, Petunia, and we can’t even call.’

‘He’ll write.’

‘It’s not the same,’ mumbled Vernon.  He looked out of the window and saw a small speck in the sky.  He frowned a little as it swiftly get bigger and bigger.  He quickly got up and locked the kitchen door and then hurried over to the door to the garden and opened it.  Within seconds, just as Vernon finished tying the small bag of food to the perch he had installed just beyond the patio, Hedwig landed.  She held out her right leg and Vernon untied the small pouch she was carrying.  Inside was a small scrap of tightly rolled paper.

Eagerly, Vernon unrolled the paper and frowned.  It was only a little bigger than a paper joke in a Christmas cracker.  He flicked it and then rubbed it with his finger and then, leaning forward and bringing it closer to his lips, he whispered, ‘Abracadabra.’

Nothing happened.

He looked at the resting owl and then back at the slip of paper and noticed the word shakily written on it:

‘Gryffindor.’

He nodded, understanding, and folded his fingers around the paper.  ‘He’s okay, though, isn’t he?’ he asked Hedwig. The owl spread her wings and then touched Vernon’s head with the tip of her right one before folding them back against her body again.  ‘Good,’ he said, ‘you make sure you keep an eye on him.’

He checked the bag of food and headed back into the kitchen, closing the door behind him.

‘I told you he would write,’ said Petunia.

The smell of bacon being cooked filled the air and Vernon took in a deep breath.  He placed the piece of paper on the counter, just by the stove.  ‘It’s just one word.  He got into the House his parents were in.’

‘Oh.’

‘You sound disappointed.’

‘I… I am.  I thought… I thought he would write more.’

Vernon wanted to say that he had thought the same – that he had hoped the same – but, instead, he said, ‘He probably will, once he gets settled.’

‘Of course.’

‘Although that Hermione-girl has probably sent her parents at least four pages.’  He couldn’t help himself, the words just tumbled out of his mouth.

‘Vernon!’

‘What was it Carol said?  “She loves to write and read”.’

‘“And read and write.”’

‘It’s a shame the boys aren’t like that.  I don’t think either of them are going to be writing to us much.’

‘You don’t know that.’

Hearing a thud from the third bedroom, the anxious couple froze.

‘Let’s get this day over with,’ Vernon muttered, and he opened the loaf of bread and loaded the toaster with four slices.  ‘At least we did the shopping on time.’







Harry stared at the red velvet curtains hanging above him and sighed.  He had been awake for a little over half an hour but he hadn’t been able to bring himself to leave the four-poster bed.  He had found that one of this teeth tasted like the treacle tart he had gorged a little on at the Welcome Feast and he had been thinking about all the food he had eaten and all the dishes he simply hadn’t had room for.

He shifted a little in his bed and looked through the gaps in the curtains.  At the other side of the room from him, hidden from sight by the warm stove in the middle of the room, slept Neville, the boy with the wandering toad.  To the right, hidden by a curtain, was Ron.  To the left, also hidden by a curtain, was Seamus Finnegan, sent over from Ireland by his Mum.  Further to the left was Dean Thomas, an eleven-year-old who was tall enough to pass for a fifteen-year-old.  Like Harry and Hermione, he had only learned about magic recently.

As he looked around the room Harry realised something: it was too tidy.  The bed warmers each of them had taken from their beds and placed on the floor were gone and all the clothes they had tossed out of their trunks so they could find their sleepwear were neatly folded and sitting on top of their trunks.

‘Aunt Petunia would love this,’ Harry whispered, and then he sat up and reached for the parchments and quill he had placed on the bedside table.  Next to the inkwell were four Muggle pens that no longer seemed to work - although it likely didn’t help that the nibs of each one were covered with ink.

D

I don’t know if this will reach you before you go or if Hedwig can find you at Smeltings.  Hagrid said that she can but she’s never been, so how can she?

This place is strange, just like your Mum said it would be.  There are ghosts.  Real ones.  The staircases move but not like escalators.  The paintings talk.  We have a painting of a fat lady and have to say the password to get to our rooms.

The rooms are nice but no real heating.  There’s a stove in the middle but it was off.  It’s on now, though.  I have a four-poster bed!

Write back when you can and I’ll tell you all about the feast next time.  Treacle tart!  Going to get some breakfast.

H

He folded the parchment and tucked it into a small leather pouch.  He then picked up another piece of parchment and started writing.

Dear Aunty and Uncle

I miss you.

You were right: the food here is amazing.  Yours is better.

The rooms in the tower are how you told me they would be.  Even the bed warmers!

I saw Professor Dumbledore.  His beard is so long.  A lot of the wizards don’t have beards.  One with dark hair kept staring at me.  Everyone keeps staring at me.

Professor Maggonnagall McGonagall reminds me of you and I’m scared I might call her Mum!

Give D some hugs from me.

H

As he placed the second leather pouch with the first, his stomach began to growl.  He frowned, surprised at being hungry again but then grew curious about what feast awaited them.  He remembered that Percy had told them, after showing them into the common room, that breakfast was served from seven in the morning but nothing about what kind of breakfast it was.  Was the welcome feast a one-off?  Had the range of options his Aunt had mentioned changed since his mother had left Hogwarts? 

A low moaning sound began to fill the room and Harry popped his head out between the curtains at the foot of the bed and looked around.  Ron was sat up in his bed, arms wide, stretching and making the moaning noise.  One by the one, the other boys woke up, too.

‘I didn’t snore, did I?’ mumbled Dean as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

‘Like mountain troll,’ teased Seamus through grit teeth and a long wake-up stretch.

Dean sighed and pulled a gooey glob from the bridge of his nose.  ‘Told my Nan this wouldn’t work,’ he muttered.

‘Kidding, mate, kidding,’ said Seamus, and he snorted a little as he watched Dean try to flick the glob from his fingers.

With moans and groans and a lot of heavy breathing, the boys got themselves out of bed and began to get ready for the day ahead.

‘Anyone know how to get to the Hall?’ asked Neville.  The boys all stopped whatever they were doing and looked at each other.

‘Follow the girls,’ said Harry.

‘Yer what?’ asked Seamus.

‘My Uncle said men hate asking for directions, him included, so when you’re lost but know that there are girls or women heading to where you need to be, then follow them.’

‘Your Uncle never came to Hogwarts, Harry,’ said Neville.







At breakfast, with tables laden with thick slices of French toast and pots of colourful jams, pancakes and crepes, sausages and bacon and all sorts of other foods, including buttered parathas and sweet rice, Percy and the rest of the prefects walked along the rows of dining tables and handed out class timetables.  A few of the older students compared their timetables with the person next to them but most of them ignored the stiff sheets of glossy vellum and continued shovelling food into their mouths.

Shortly after some of the teachers left the High Table, Fred and George hopped onto an empty bench and began to call out to all the first years.  Some of the older students in each of the four Houses stood and leaned over their tables.

Listen to this,’ they sang, ‘this is a song you should pay attention to.

The twins both raised a leg and stomped on the bench.  The standing students clapped loudly twice and the twins stomped again.

Intrigued, and encouraged by their housemates, some of the first-year students moved down the hall towards the Gryffindor tables.

Gather ’round, little ones, and let us tell you a story
Be careful, though, it might get a little gory.


The twins stomped again and the other students clapped again.  Harry, remembering the twins’ caterwauling of the school song at the Welcome Feast, leaned towards Ron and whispered, ‘I thought they couldn’t sing.’

Stunned by what he was seeing, Ron stared at his brothers and whispered back, ‘Same here.’

The twins stood up straight and held out their wands.  With all eyes on them, the boys cut through the air with their wands and stomped their feet again.  Plates and cutlery rose from the tables and, much to the surprise and delight of the first-years, music began to clang and play.

It’s a story about a caretaker and his cat
And one never told by the Sorting Hat


It starts a long, long time ago
When the winds were high and a family was dealt a blow


Filchy the Babe was born with a-bellow
His parents thought he’d be a fine fellow


Little did they know, those lovers true
That Filchy would grow up to hate me and you


He hides it well, our Filchy, the secret he has to bear
Don’t ask him now because he’ll never tell you
But the truth really is out there


Stalking and skulking through the corridors of this hallowed place
His appearance makes many turn about-face


Sucking out the fun and making things glum
We know no ladies would take him home to Mum


Some of the younger students said ‘aww’ and Fred and George gestured for them to listen.

‘Here are some of the things you need to know
As you finish your breakfasts and get ready to go


With his cat, Mrs Norris, often leaping into his arms
We remember being confused, wondering about his charms


Trust us when we tell you this
When you hear Mrs Norris mew and hiss


Run’

The twins and the older students roared the word and the first-years yelped and jumped.

‘Listen to us, all our words are true
If nothing else, this we promise you


At night, when all should be sleeping and without much to do
We wander about, as kids are wont to


With the lamps cooling and darkness creeping
Sometimes you wonder what you just stepped in


Then comes a whine and a shout that will definitely unnerve you
And you wonder if the bathrooms will have a free stall or two


Was it the Bloody Baron or Myrtle the Moany
Nearly-Headless Nick or the Friar all bonny


The shouts will come and your heart will flutter
And then you’ll hear that unmistakable mutter


The walls here hold secrets and places to hide
Where you can sit or stand for time to bide
We’re explorers, you see, and we like to wander
Come with us sometime, there are rooms to plunder


What’s the muttering, I see your eyes ask
It’s simple, really, Filchy has one little task
With students so many, and a few teachers, too
It falls to Ol’ Nosey to keep an eye on me and you


“Lead on, Mrs Norris,”
You’ll hear him sometimes stop and say
Then “What’s this?  I see you”
And you’ll think “no way!”


“Why so strict?” we’re sure you’re wondering
Alas, at Hogwarts, it can sometimes be a thing


“Forbidden is this place,” comes the decree now and then
But that’s just not fair for you nor me


And here’s the thing you need to be aware
Filchy, the old boy, don’t care for fair


So, then, with a growl and a roar
When he sees your head pop out the secret door
Filchy starts to hobble and run
In all honesty, that’s when things start to get fun


It’s hilarious to see, as we dash through the corridors
Sometimes even Peeves joins in
And starts slammin’ doors


He follows with a “Wheee” and a long hard giggle
But what you hear most are Filchy’s keys jiggle


We should probably stop there
Since we’re not rhyming and don’t care
With classes starting soon, we really should get out of here


We hope you listened to this
These words will be important to you


We thought about making it scary
We said so at the start
But we realised as we sang to you
That Ol’ Filchy already looks the part


The Great Hall erupted with cheers and laughter and some of the older students and the Weasley twins jeered as they pointed at Argus Filch who was stood, cradling a cat, by a wall near the High Table.  He glared at the Weasley twins and his lips moved as he muttered under his breath but it was Mrs Norris that unnerved the awkwardly clapping first years as her head turned and she looked over them all.

‘Why are you being mean to him?’ asked Harry, as the crowd dispersed and the students either continued with their breakfasts or started to leave the Hall.

‘It’s not being mean if it’s true,’ said George, and he hopped off the bench and sat opposite Harry.

Harry shook his head.  ‘Doesn’t matter if it is, it’s still mean.’

‘Trust us.  Filchy’s just around to make our lives miserable, so we just send it back to him.’

‘Doubled,’ said Fred.

‘They’ve been doing this ever since he caught them in their first year,’ said Percy.

‘You’re one to talk,’ said Fred, ‘he hauled you to Dumbledore, too.’

Percy’s face reddened.  ‘That was a complete misunderstanding.  Ms Prince-’

‘Ms Prince Ms Prince Ms Prince’ mocked George, and Percy glared at him, his face reddened even more, and stormed off.

Harry picked up the sheet of parchment Percy had placed next to him on the table before the twins’ song.  Across the top it said Gryffindor First Years and the words in the table glowed or sparkled or bubbled.  Harry closed his eyes and rubbed them for a few seconds and then looked at the glossy parchment again and saw that the strange effects had stopped.  Something else caught his eye and he frowned.

‘We have classes at night?’ he whispered.

‘You didn’t think the telescope was for show, did you?’ said Hermione, and she rolled her eyes a little.

‘Well, no, but it says it’s at midnight and for two hours.’

‘Two periods,’ corrected Hermione.  ‘So?’

‘What about sleep?’

‘There’s time to nap.’

Harry set the timetable down on the table again.  ‘Two hours of just looking at the sky.’

‘It’s more than that.  We’re looking at the stars and the planets and how they move.’

‘I’ve been to the Planetarium, Hermione.’

‘So have I, but this is different.’

‘Different how?  They didn’t even assign a book to study.’

She frowned a little at that and nodded twice, agreeing with him, but then she shrugged and spooned some porridge.  ‘We’ll find out.’

The Great Hall started to get emptier and quieter as the rest of the students began to follow the Ravenclaws and make their way to their dormitories and get ready for their first classes.  Harry glanced over at the tables where the Slytherins were seated and saw that a small group of their first-years were huddled together.  He got up and started walking towards the Slytherins.

‘Harry, where are you going?’ asked Ron.

‘I’ll just be a minute.’

‘The dorms are this way,’ said Neville, but Harry kept walking.

Pansy Parkinson, one of the Slytherin first-years, spotted Harry approaching and directed her housemates’ attention towards him.

Malfoy turned and smirked a little.  ‘You lost, Potter?  Changed your mind about Gryffindor?’

Harry looked at the other first years seated around Malfoy and tugged on the sleeves of his robes and tried to stand a little straighter.  ‘Hi Draco.  My Uncle often tells me not to hold grudges.’  He held out his right hand.  ‘It’s our first day, let’s start over?’

Malfoy frowned and shook his head.  ‘‘Why would I listen to the advice of a Muggle?’

‘Why should we fight?’  Harry shrugged.

‘Because you’re one of them,’ said Draco, gesturing at the Gryffindor table with his chin, ‘when you could have been one of us.’

‘We could be friends,’ said Harry, and he let his hand hover.

‘You decided not to be,’ said Draco, and he turned away from Harry and picked up his goblet of orange juice.

‘Okay,’ said Harry, and he turned and started walking away.  ‘See you in class.’

‘What?’

‘We have potions together.’

Malfoy grabbed a parchment from Crabb’s hands and ran his finger over the timetable.  ‘And flying, too,eh?’ he muttered.

Noticing that the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs had been watching everything, Harry lowered his head and hurried back to his seat, grabbed his timetable and headed towards the doors.

‘Wait for us,’ urged Ron, his voice muffled by the blueberry muffin he had taken a bite of, and the rest of the dorm-mates grabbed their timetables and a few bits of food and followed Harry.

Percy’s voice echoed through the Great Hall and the dormitories: ‘Classes start in twenty minutes.  Plenty of time for you to get your books and be ready.’

Back in the dormitory, Harry picked up the pouch containing the note to Dudley and then scribbled a quick note on another small piece of parchment:

D

Got my timetable just now.  I have a class at night!  Guess what it is.  Staring at the sky.  I think being chased by Ripper would be better.

Breakfast was like a buffet.  I think even Aunt Marge would like it.  I had French toast stuffed with fruit.

Harry quickly stuffed the note into the pouch and placed it in his satchel together with the one for his Aunt and Uncle.







The first thing Harry noticed as they neared the massive greenhouses was the smell.  The second thing was that it made him regret having had three stuffed French toasts for breakfast.  Some of the students waved their hands in front of their faces but most of them covered their mouths and noses with the sleeves of their robes.  Eyes watering, they entered the first greenhouse.

The far end of the greenhouse was a wall of green leaves and vines that seemed to writhe and pulsate.  Strange whispers seemed to emanate from a row of small potted plants on some shelves near the door and the wood and tiled floor was littered with soil.  A dozen rows of workbenches stood in the middle of the room, three abreast, and each one had three stools placed just underneath.  Seeing the stools, the students hurried in, set their bags down and placed their wands, quills and parchments in front of them.

‘Good morning, boys and girls,’ said a voice from somewhere within the wall of green.  ‘My name is Professor Sprout.  Welcome to Greenhouse One, welcome to Hogwarts, and welcome… to Herbology.  Now, before we start, I just wanted to say a few words.’

A mass of green detached itself from the far wall and plump woman dressed in green robes and a green not-so-pointy hat turned and faced the class.  Some of the students picked up their quills and looked at Professor Sprout attentively as she walked through the middle of the greenhouse, some others yawned, but most sat, eyes watering, struggling to breathe through the fabric of their robes.

‘For the most part, you won’t be using your wands in the greenhouses but they may come in useful - it will be up to you to know when.  For now, wands away.’

Professor Sprout began pacing along the back of the large greenhouse, tickling one collection of plants and gently stroking another.  Dried mud clung to her fingers and the front of her thick robes were a myriad of colours and stains.  The plants she had tickled and stroked shuddered and a faint mist drifted through the greenhouse.

‘Herbology is a core subject at Hogwarts and every other school other school of wizarding and witchcraft, and for good reason.  Many of you, if not all of you, have walked through fields or smelled flowers, perhaps cut your hand on nettles.’ She pointed to a number of small labelled bottles and plants, Dittany and Wormwood and roses and daisies among them.  ‘Some of you may have been given medicines and brews made from plants in your gardens, some of you may have had frightening experiences and boils and spots and your tongue sticking out of your mouth for a week.

‘Many of you will have those experiences over these next five years - accidents happen and allergies exist - but if you pay attention to what I teach you, the lessons will serve you well for the rest of your lives.

‘Like many things in life, Herbology is safe but it can be dangerous.  Pot a rose in the wrong type of soil or with some dragon manure and you can easily have something with nettles as big as the flower.  Pot a mandrake in the wrong type of pot and you can end up with a bundle of roots for a soup and nothing more.

‘Now, some things to note:

‘Greenhouse One is safe.  Some of the plants may cling to you but they are not dangerous.  Some may spit at you but they should not kill you. There are masks for those of you with allergies or,’ she lifted up a large glass container holding a thick purple liquid, ‘you can drink this before each class and work to your heart’s content.

‘Greenhouse Two is mostly safe.  There have been occasions, like the time with Priscilla when she let a Leaching Libonia get to her, but I think you’ll all be sensible about things like that.  Won’t you?’

‘Yes, Professor Sprout,’ answered the children, some of them nervously looking at each other.

‘Greenhouses Three to Seven are forbidden to all first and second years.  No exceptions.  Not even if you are related to Phyllida Spore.’

For the rest of the lesson, Professor Sprout detailed the various properties of soil from different parts of the world and then divided the class into groups to study and present on them.







D

This place is so strange!  The plants move and some of them even hiss.  Apparently, some are like a Venus Flytrap but for people!

Hedwig just got back.  Will let her rest and then send this out to you.

H







The following morning, the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall showed that the sky outside was cloudless and blue.  The Gryffindor first years sat together looking over their copies of The Standard Book of Spells.

‘Professor Flitwick is legendary,’ said Fred.  He plonked himself down next to them and placed layers of bacon on a buttered roll.

‘You’re going to love him,’ said George, and he bit into a sandwich made of bread-slice-sized hash browns and three sausages.

‘Better than Dumbledore?’ asked Harry.

‘Different,’ said the twins, covering their mouths so as to avoid spraying food.

‘Both geniuses, though,’ said George.

‘Oh, definitely geniuses,’ agreed Fred.

Ron looked at his brothers warily but relaxed when Percy confirmed Professor Flitwick’s esteemed status.  ‘He’s a little too cheery at times,’ said Percy, ‘but he’ll always try to help you.’

The Charms Corridor was bright and filled with the sounds of birds singing and chirping.  Small trees lined the walls and flowers bloomed and faded and bloomed again.  It was far different to the other corridors they had been in and each student remarked on how, somehow, it smelled of their homes.  Even Harry was convinced he was could smell the aroma of his Aunt’s Beef Wellington wafting down the hallway.

The room their class was being held in had a view of a massive field, in the centre of which appeared to be a huge stadium draped in the colours of the four houses.  The desks were arranged as two long rows, with the second one set higher than the first row so the students’ view would be unobstructed.  Professor Flitwick’s desk stretched along the other side of the room and had piles of books at various intervals set along it.

The Professor hovered in the middle of the room, his hands behind his back as he stood on a thick leather-bound book.

‘Hands up,’ he said, his voice slightly high in pitch but melodious and soothing, ‘those of you who remember how it felt when you first held your wand.’

Most of the students, including Harry, smiled and raised their hands.  A few of them, Ron and Neville among them, look forlornly at their wands.

‘You remember the warmth?  The comfort?’

The students quietly nodded and their smiles grew wider.

‘It’s something I want you to try to find each time you use your wands.  Each time you practice.  Find that warmth.  Find that belonging and togetherness.  It sounds strange now but, in time, it will make sense.  I have had my wand since I was your age and we have had many adventures together over the years.  I have used other wands, too, and have often found emptiness.  There was magic but it wasn’t quite right.’

A murmur spread across the classroom: The wand chooses the wizard.

‘Precisely.  We don’t know how and we don’t know why but we do know that they do.  Your wand chose you.  Most of you.  Something about you made that wand want to be with you and when it found you, when you held it and raised your hand high-’

Sparks and fireworks filled the air above the Professor’s head and came together to form the shape of an egg, which then ‘cracked’ and released a golden dragon that spread its wings.

‘You knew.’

The dragon turned into red and gold sparks and then a series of multi-coloured light which then fizzled out and the room quietened again.  Professor Flitwick looked over the room of gaping students and chuckled a little.

‘Wands can be fickle, too, though,’ he warned.  They want you to work for their attention.  To focus.  I know some of you are wondering why you couldn’t get your wands to work when you got home or even when you finally arrived here at Hogwarts - and I can see that some of you most certainly did get your wands to work for you, and quite well, too.  Bravo.’

Some of the students stood or leaned forwards and backwards to see who had impressed the Professor, and he waited patiently for them all to settle again.

‘Focus.  Put simply, you have to will it to happen.’

The thick book he was standing on drifted backwards and towards the middle of his desk.

‘Now then: charms.’

He hopped off the book and onto the desk.

‘Charms are an act of giving.  When you charm a cup - or a book - to fly you are gifting it flight.

‘The charm can be enduring and last centuries or it can be fleeting and last seconds, either way, it is a gift.  You are giving of yourself, of your words and the magic in you and around you, and gifting it to the object or person or creature…’

At the end of the class, as the rubbed their sore arms and flexed their aching fingers, the students all agreed that Professor Flitwick was, simply put, amazing.  Harry also realised something: the twins hadn’t made any jokes about Professor Flitwick’s height.

‘What are you thinking, Harry?’ asked Ron as he shouldered his bag.

‘That we can make a magic carpet and fly.’

Confused, Ron asked, ‘Why?  We have brooms.’

‘I really don’t see my Uncle riding a broom.  Maybe a sofa…’







There was a hum of subdued anticipation in North Tower as Harry and the others gathered for their first Defence Against the Dark Arts class.  All night, they had been hearing stories of adventures the older students’ friends and relatives had had over the years in putting a stop to one monster or another but their expectations had already been lowered that morning when they had overheard the third and fourth year students complain about the class not being as exciting as the ones from the year before.

‘I honestly didn’t believe it when they said she wasn’t coming back,’ Harry had heard someone say, ‘didn’t think the curse was real, but with Quirrell…’

‘Quirrell was all about the Muggles,’ someone else had said.  ‘I don’t care if he says he chased a vampire last year, he’d fall apart if a doxy jumped on his face.’

Any remaining excitement the first years had had for their Defence Against the Dark Arts class vanished as soon as the thick wooden door to the classroom opened.  The corridor had been dark and ominous and had given weight to the twins’ warnings of disembodied hands scuttling along the stone floor, and so expectations had been quite high.  The floor of the large room was so brightly lit that it was almost impossible to see any shadows.  It also, as Hermione pointed out, made it ‘very difficult to write anything down’.

Professor Quirrell seemed to be a nervous man.  Rumours, started by the twins, had begun to spread that he was really a zombie with half his head missing, which was why he was wearing the strange turban.

‘The dark arts,’ said Professor Quirrell as the class sat at their desks and squinted at him, ‘can be p-p-performed in many ways.  Even mundane ways.’

In all the other classes and introductions they had had in those first few days, Harry had just been Harry.  Another first year.  He had heard the whispers through the corridors and in the Great Hall and felt dozens of eyes watching him all through the day but everyone had left him, The Boy Who Lived, alone, and he had been grateful for that.  Within minutes of their Defence Against the Dark Arts class, however, Harry found himself to be the centre of attention, and he didn’t like it.

‘It’s been m-m-many years since there has been a n-n-need for t-t-training against the Dark Arts.  There are experts and aurors and so on, of c-c-course, and most of your p-p-parents likely know the basics of warding off simple c-c-curses, but to defend against something like the Killing Curse is only achieved through immense power.’

Harry kept his head down and closed his eyes.  He could feel his classmates looking at him but the bright light from the floor made him feel queasy.

‘Of course,’ continued the Professor, ‘a baby would have no idea how to c-c-counter such p-p-powerful magic, but it is curious.

‘Anyway, today’s lesson is a simple one, and all about light.  Specifically, the Wand-Lighting Charm.  Certainly this is something Professor Flitwick would teach you but it is something which can help in some defence against darker creatures.

‘Does anyone here know what a Gytrash is?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Miss Granger?’

‘A vicious white dog that roams at night, usually in pairs or in packs of up to six,’ said Hermione.

‘Good, very g-g-good.

‘A gytrash is a hunter and is very q-q-quick.  It’s white but it blends into darkness… and a few b-b-bites are enough to k-k-kill a twelve year old.

‘There are a few w-w-wandering the Forbidden F-f-forest.  But, a gytrash is sensitive to light.  S-s-so, the Wand-Lighting Charm...’







Much like the Charms Corridor, but unlike the DADA classroom, the room the students were gathered in for their Transfiguration class was comfortably well-lit.  The only warning the twins had given Harry and Ron about the class was one that they both readily accepted and knew to be true: Professor McGonagall was strict, firm, and fair.

‘Transfiguration and Transmutation are not the same thing,’ said Professor McGonagall.  ‘Although many interchange the use of the words, it is important that you understand and accept their differences.  Transfiguration changes the outward appearance of something.  A skilled practitioner can make themselves look like an armchair but they are still that person.  A mouse can be changed to look like a glass goblet but it remains a mouse, so you do not drop it,’ she said, sternly, looking at the pupils over the top of her glasses.  She gestured at the blackboard behind her and a piece of chalk hovered in the air, waiting for her instruction.  ‘As difficult as transfiguration can be,’ she continued, ‘transmutation is much more so, but what you will be learning here will try you and exhaust you and, frankly, frustrate you.’

She gestured with her wand and the objects on her desk - a snail, a matchstick, a feather and a rose - all transformed into something else - a teapot, a needle, a cushion and a bonsai tree.

‘Elements of what you will learn with Professor Flitwick will help you with your transfiguration spells.  There are many overlapping elements in the two disciplines so you shouldn’t favour one over the other.’  She paused and looked at the students scribbling away on their parchments.  ‘The same goes for the other disciplines you’re learning.  This includes,’ she said, catching their attention with her slightly firmer tone and prompting some of them, especially Hermione and Neville, to look at her, ‘Herbology.  I grant you, there are many spells and items that have… made things easier, in certain respects, but a good grounding in Herbology will serve you immensely, should you ever wish to be like someone such as Theseus Scamander.’

‘Really?’ asked Dean.  ‘Herbology as well?’

‘Herbology as well, Mr Thomas.  Now, are there any questions?’

A dark-haired girl raised her hand.

‘Yes, Miss Patil?’

‘I know this will be a silly question…’ she looked at Kellah and then at a couple of the other students, who all nodded at her, encouragingly, ‘but can you make a suit of armour walk and fight?’

Hearing the question, everyone, including Harry, sat up a little straighter.

Professor McGonagall cast her eye over the class and pursed her lips a little.  ‘Ooh that Angela and the things she told the Muggle-borns,’ she muttered.  ‘Are they still showing that ridiculous piece of “entertainment”?  The short answer to your question, Miss Patil, is “yes”, but it takes far more than a few words and a little song.’  The piece of chalk that had been hovering in front of the blackboard started to move and words appeared as Professor McGonagall spoke: ‘I’m sure most of you have seen your parents do the washing and cooking while being busy with other things.  The principles are similar but the energies and focus are different.’

She gestured with her left hand and the children gasped as a series of small statues and figures of cats and dragons and phoenixes leapt and flew from the shelves lining one of the walls and darted along the floor or through the air.

At the end of the class, as the students filed out, Professor M heard a few of them humming and singing and sighed.  ‘“Substitutiary locomotion”.  Every year.’  She gestured with her wand and all the materials used in the class gently rose up from the desks and floated over to an open cupboard.  ‘That woman.’







D

I have so much homework.  Is it homework when it’s not being done at home?  Is this home now?

Are you ready for Smeltings?

I miss you, D.  I miss you all.







It took half an hour for the students to get to the top of the Astronomy Tower and, as much as they had resented Percy and the other prefects forcing them out of the dormitory a little before half eleven, they were all grateful that they had.  They were also grateful that Hermione had been practicing a Floating Spell and had helped some of them ‘carry’ their telescopes up the winding stairs to the open roof and the study area that was lit by softly glowing stones in the walls.

Smiling at them as they arrived, Professor Sinistra showed them how to set up their telescopes and then magicked a number of stools for the students to sit on.

The glowing stones dimmed and the students watched as the darkness enveloped them.  Professor Sinister didn’t say anything as she walked along the wall of the tower and round the seated students.  Then a low gasp began to spread as their eyes adjusted to the lack of light and they saw the blanket of stars in the sky.

‘When the Founders chose this site for the school,’ she said, ‘they did so for many reasons.  This Tower - its size and location - is here precisely because of the opportunities it allows to study the sky above.’

She gestured and a large roll of parchment rose from an open wooden chest and unfurled itself to display images of clusters of stars.  The borders of the images were covered with calculations and descriptions.

‘For thousands of years, for example, astronomers have studied Algol.  The Demon Star.  We have observed its variations in light.  We have studied its dips and eclipses.  And we barely know anything.’

She gestured against the parchment rolled itself back up and returned to the wooden chest.

‘You will learn from the teachings and approaches of Eratosthenes.  You will look to Mercury and Mars and the other Wanderers and understand their journeys and where they will be tomorrow or next week or next year or centuries from now, and where they were yesterday or last year or when this Tower was established and before.

‘Astronomy is not to be confused with Astrology.  They both observe the stars and planets but they are not the same.  Astrology tries to show how the motions and positions of the planets and so on affect us here on Earth, on a personal level, in a different way, and if any of you are interested in Divination then you can learn more about it there.’

She smiled and held her arms out wide, just as a stream of shooting stars cut across the sky behind her.

Everyone gasped.

‘Astronomy is about history - the past and the future - and sometimes you can look ahead enough to know how to make things a little more exciting.’







D

I was wrong.  The night sky is amazing.  If Smeltings has a class like it DO IT.

No idea who keeps tidying up our room.

‘Who do you keep writing to?’ asked Neville as they got ready for bed.

‘My family,’ said Harry, and he tucked the note in the empty pouch Hedwig had returned with earlier that day.

‘Never seen you receive any post.’

‘They haven’t written back yet.’

‘Maybe they’re busy.’

‘Yeah, they must be,’ agreed Harry.  He held the pouch in his hands a little longer and then placed it on the bedside cabinet.  ‘What about yours?’ he suddenly asked.

‘Mine?’ Neville’s eyes widened a little.

‘You keep mentioning your Nan.  What about your parents?’

‘Dean keeps mentioning his Nan, too,’ Neville mumbled.

‘He also talks about his stepdad and how-’

‘I forgot,’ interrupted Nevill, his cheeks had started to redden, ‘I need to go to the library.’

‘But,’ protested Harry as Neville dashed out of the room, ‘it’s bedtime.’







Friday morning did not go as planned.  Neville’s toad had escaped the dorm room and, after failing to find him, Ron and Harry had taken a wrong turn on their way to breakfast… and had gotten themselves lost.  Nothing around them was familiar, the ceiling was lower than any of the other corridors they had walked along, and a cold draft seemed to have found its way under their robes and made their toes feel strange.

‘Ron,’ whispered Harry as he glanced out of a narrow window, ‘isn’t this the third floor?’

‘Yeah?’ said Ron, uncertainly.

‘We’re not supposed to be on the third floor.’

The walls shifted around them and bricks and paving slabs scratched and scraped and the long corridor became more oval in shape.

‘Oh blimey,’ Ron exclaimed, ‘this place never makes up its mind.’

Several door appeared nearby and the boys dashed towards them.  As Ron reached out for the handle on one of the doors he noticed something and hissed, ‘Harry.’

‘What?’

‘Isn’t that Mrs Norris?’

‘Where?’

The cat scowled at them and then darted away.

‘Let’s get through this door and head down-’

‘Got ya, ya creepers.’  Harry and Ron yelped and grabbed onto each other as Filch and Mrs Norris leapt out of somewhere and stood next to them.

‘We’re sorry, sir,’ said Harry, pushing himself away from Ron and holding his hands up in the air in surrender, ‘we got lost.’

‘“Lost”?’ taunted Filch.  He paced back and forth in front of the two boys, the keys in his coat pocket weighing heavy on the material and making it seem as if he had one shoulder higher than the other.  ‘Hear that excuse all the time.  First years, fifth years, always lost.’

‘We were trying to get to-’

Filch waved his hand dismissively.  ‘Come on, let’s get you to the Headmaster.  Let him deal with you.’

Just as Filch was about to grab hold of the boys’ arms, a choked whisper drifted along the corridor.

‘Harry P-P-Potter.  What are you two doing here?’

‘Could ask the same of you, Professor Quirrell.’  Filch snarled a little and Mrs Norris hissed at the teacher.

‘Now, now, Mr F-F-Filch, no need for that.’

‘Third time you’ve been up here.’

‘I t-t-told you, the corridors aren’t like I r-r-remember.’

‘First years, fifth years, even teachers.  “Lost”.  Forbidden is forbidden, Professor.’  He frowned a little as he noticed Mrs Norris bound towards another doorway and then look back at him.  He glanced at the two boys and then at Professor Quirrell and said, ‘but I’ll let you deal with these two.  A game is afoot!’

‘Sorry about this, Professor.’

‘Non-nonsense.’  He looked at the door the two boys had tried to open and then tucked his hands into his robes and started to walk away.

‘Where did you get lost?’ asked Ron, as he and Harry hurried to catch up with him.

‘Somewhere near the staircase with the missing step, I think.’







Everyday since the Welcome Feast, a few times at breakfast but always at dinner, Harry had felt a tingling around his head, as if something was brushing against it.  He hadn’t told anyone about it as, other than the occasional burning sensation in his scar, the tingling never hurt and he wondered if it was because he was surrounded by magic now.

On Friday morning, after receiving a note from Hagrid, carried by a small fluffy owl, wondering where Hedwig kept flying off to and asking if he wanted to have some tea with him that afternoon - to which Harry, of course, replied ‘Yes’ - the tingling had been particularly persistent.  He looked around the room and over the throng of eating students and locked eyes with Professor Snape.  He was sitting next to Professor Vector, who was animatedly describing something with a ball of light and hovering letters and calculations.

‘Arithmancy,’ said Hermione, ‘Penelope Clearwater, in Ravenclaw, says it’s a really interesting class.’

‘Is it like Maths?’ asked Harry.

‘A little.  I think.  I don’t really know.’

The tingles faded and Harry smiled and stirred some chocolate into his porridge.

Potions classes were held in the dungeons.  Harry and Dean had thought it was a joke to describe them that way but quickly realised how real it was as they walked down the torch-lit stairs and saw the Slytherin first-years lined up against one of the corridor walls.  Everyone stood silently, wholly aware of Professor Snape’s detention-giving nature, and waited for the door to open.

The classroom was dark but surprisingly warm.  Flasks and cauldrons bubbled on a table and Professor Snape stood by his desk as the class filed in.  Harry shivered and almost fell off his stool as the tingles returned.

‘I don’t tolerate class clowns, Mr Potter,’ said Professor Snape, and the snickering Harry’s fumble had elicited quickly stopped.  Snape conducted the roll call and then told them that their wands would not be required for this first class.

‘Tell me, Potter, what would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?’

Everyone turned to look at Harry and he swallowed the bitter taste of the orange juice he had had for breakfast returning to his throat.

‘Something like the Draught of Living Death, sir?’

Something strange happened then but Harry couldn’t be sure that he saw what he thought he saw.  Professor Snape’s eyes softened.  It was for barely a second but Harry was convinced - or, rather, as convinced as he could be - that there had been a change in the intensity with which Snape had been looking at him.

Snape’s mouth tightened and his strange smile vanished.  ‘It seems we have something like what I believe Muggles call a swot.’

The Slytherin tables laughed and the Gryffindor students, although bemused, looked at each other uncomfortably.

‘So,’ said Snape, ‘since Mr Potter seems to be a know-it-all, perhaps he can tell us where a Bezoar can be found?’

‘The stomach of a goat,’ Harry immediately answered.

‘The Muggles have a dull life if you did all that reading,’ jeered Malfoy.

‘I was just… interested.’

Harry’s head began to throb and his scar ached and he felt his morning’s porridge tickle his throat.

‘Aww widdle Harry didn’t know ‘bout magic and missed his Mummy and Daddy.’

‘Ouch,’ Harry hissed, and he grabbed his head and squeezed it a little.

‘No need to cry, Potter.’

‘That’s quite enough, Malfoy,’ said Professor Snape, and the pain in Harry’s head stopped.  He walked along the rows of desks and looked straight at Harry.  ‘Potions are more than book learning.  Magic is more than just book learning.  Dangerous.  Beautiful.  Precise.’  He turned on his heel and cast a gaze over the class.  ‘A mispronounced charm and you might end up with a buffalo sitting on your chest or a mouse-tail growing from your nose, but an incorrect potion can be death… or worse.

‘It’s interesting, though, that most of you don’t see any point in noting my words.’ Professor Snape said the last three words slowly and every student in the room, including Malfoy, hunched over their parchments and began writing.

As Harry noted down Professor Snape’s advice to ‘think ahead and think around’ he had an unnerving sensation that someone was parting the hair on the back of his head one strand at a time.  He resisted the urge to touch his head and bit on his lower lip as his scar began to burn a little.  He shuddered as the sensations passed and then he wiped his clammy hands on his robes.







Tea with Hagrid and Ron had been interesting but what Harry had enjoyed most about it was that he felt that he could relax.  Hagrid had been the one to introduce him to the world of magic but he had also seen how Harry’s life had been in the Muggle world and, with all the new things around him and the silence from his family, Harry needed a little reminder of home.

Two things Harry knew for certain were that Aunt Marge would not approve of Fang, Hagrid’s dog, or consider him to be of good pedigree and, with that realisation, Harry had felt a sense of connection with the massive boarhound.

The first week at Hogwarts had been far harder and more exhausting than any of the first years had expected.  Jaws and wrists and voices were sore from repeated incantations and practising wand movements, and the dinner tables where they were seated were mostly quiet.

A few owls casually drifted into the Great Hall and Hedwig, much to Harry’s surprise, was among them.  She landed in front of Harry and held out her right leg.  Harry grinned as he read the note.

H

M was here all week.  Had to keep Hedwig safe and out of sight.

Don’t send her out so much.

Jealous about all the food. Learn to cook and then feed us.

Rachel came to see you.  So did Sarah?  She said she used to sit next to you in class?  Didn’t believe me when I said you were gone.

Christmas?

D

 

 

(Author's note: the 'wand chooses the wizard' is a reference to Ollivander's words and both it and the questions Snape asks Harry are from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's (Sorcerer's) Stone))


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