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