July 1991 – Year 6
Harry wasn't sure or not whether the fact that school was over for the start of the summer holidays was a good thing or not. On one hand, he didn't have to maintain his gruelling schedule of study and chores. On the other hand though, there was no escaping Dudley's gang who visited the house every single day. Which was why Harry spent as much time as possible out of the house - either reading at the library or visiting the park. He liked to sit a little hidden in the little cubby house or up on a tree branch and daydream about going to Stonewall High when secondary school started in September. Dudley would be off to Uncle Vernon's old school, Smeltings. He'd whined to his mother that he wanted Harry to go to Smeltings with him too. Probably so Harry would continue doing his homework and making notes for him. Aunt Petunia had praised Dudley for being such a sweet, loving boy. But Uncle Vernon had put his foot down; it was too exclusive and expensive for Harry to go too. They weren't wasting the money on him, so Harry was off to the local comprehensive. Dudley sulked about it for weeks but Harry was quietly thrilled. He'd be able to get better marks if he wanted, without his grades being compared to Dudley's. Though his aunt and uncle's reactions would of course have to be taken into account. He was all ready with arguments prepared about how Smeltings had higher educational standards than a mere comprehensive, and thus Dudley's D was equivalent to his B. The very best part though was that Dudley would be boarding at Smeltings so wouldn't be around for most of the year to bully Harry, or make him do his homework for him. It was going to be fantastic.
Harry thought it was a little risky, but he'd increased his grade in Maths for Year 6 to a B. There were two reasons for that. Firstly, he wanted to satisfy his teacher Ms. Mitchell who kept encouraging him to do better – she seemed to know somehow that he was good at Maths despite his average test results. Probably he had made a mistake answering too many questions correctly in class when called on, Harry thought. And secondly, he had learned Stonewall High streamed students according to ability, and he didn't want to be bored silly in every single class.
It would also be a good test run to see how his aunt and uncle would cope with him getting better grades than Dudley. His teacher had been pleased, but his relatives hadn't been at all impressed. Dudley hadn't cared though, which seemed to take the edge off their disapproval. Dudley had warned him later, however, that he'd better not start swotting up and beating him in Physical Education, Art, or Technology if he wanted to keep all his teeth. Harry had promised not to, and that was that. "Nancy boy" subjects like Maths were apparently alright for him to excel in - at least from Dudley's point of view.
One day in July Aunt Petunia took Dudley to London to buy Dudley's new Smeltings uniform, while Harry had to suffer through a visit with Mrs Figg and her tasteless cake. Dudley was so proud of his maroon tailcoat and orange knickerbockers that he showed off to his parents, but Harry was put to some effort to not laugh out loud, and didn't trust himself to speak for quite some time as he tried desperately to drive out a mental image of an orange and red beachball Dudley used to own. Eventually he managed to calm himself enough to join the chorus of praise with the observation that Dudley looked like "a real young gentleman." Dudley looked suspiciously at him with piggy eyes, but his aunt and uncle seemed pleased.
The next morning he found Aunt Petunia with her sewing basket out in the lounge room, sewing up some holes in what must be his new school uniform. It looked rather grey and unattractive and he thought he saw a couple of paint stains. But at least he wouldn't have to wait until Christmas to get a proper uniform. She'd never let him help with any mending tasks before, so he offered up thanks in the way she liked best – chores. "Since you're so busy with sewing for me this morning Aunt Petunia, shall I start breakfast for you?" he volunteered. He was just putting the toast in the rack on the table when Uncle Vernon came in with his newspaper, and Dudley with his Smeltings stick which he'd been hitting everything with constantly ever since he got it. Harry moved quickly to avoid being tripped by it, alerted by Dudley's grin.
They heard the click of the letter-box and flop of letters on the doormat.
"Get the post, Dudley," said Uncle Vernon from behind his paper.
"Make Harry get it."
"Get the post, Harry."
Harry sighed and went and fetched the post. Aside from some rather ordinary mail, there was a letter for Harry – a yellowish envelope of some kind of heavy paper, with emerald green ink. He'd never had a letter before in his whole life, not even an overdue note from the library (he was allowed to visit there but not join, lest he lose books and the Dursleys be charged to replace them). The letter was definitely for him though, addressed so plainly there could be no mistake:
Mr H. Potter
The Smallest Bedroom
4 Privet Drive
But it was only in his hands for a few moments. He'd only just opened it and caught a glimpse of more heavy parchment when a curious Uncle Vernon snatched it out of his hand.
The next few days were decidedly odd. Harry wanted to know what was going on, and he and Dudley put some effort into eavesdropping on conversations but they didn't find much out. And after the first few days Harry found it all a bit frightening. He didn't want a letter that came into the house in an egg. It just wasn't proper. Was someone trying to scare them? He noticed there was a bit of a numerical pattern to it as well. After the first couple of days, it became clear the number of letters doubled with every day that passed. There were six on Thursday. Twelve letters for him on Friday, pushed under the door and through the window of the downstairs toilet, since the letterbox was nailed up. The twenty-four letters hidden inside eggs on Saturday were what convinced Harry to stop trying to get a copy of his letter. On Sunday when about forty (Harry suspected forty-eight) letters whizzed down the kitchen chimney and pelted out of the fireplace like bullets Harry ducked and scrambled worriedly out of the room just as quickly as the Dursleys did.
The miserable day long drive (with no breaks for food) to a gloomy-looking hotel in Cokeworth was the last straw. When the hotel owner delivered "about an 'undred" ("ninety-six", thought Harry) letters for Harry at breakfast, Uncle Vernon announced plans to pack up for another long drive to an unspecified destination. Harry wasn't going to stand for it. Tomorrow there would be almost two hundred letters, and within a few more days they'd be literally buried under massive piles of letters if the progression stayed consistent. He decided to approach Aunt Petunia about the matter, since she seemed to be taking things more calmly than his uncle.
He waited until Uncle Vernon was off buying a road map and "supplies" and went to talk to Aunt Petunia in her hotel room while she packed. "Errr…. Aunt Petunia," he started hesitantly, "I don't… I know it's not up to me, but I think whoever these crazy people are who are sending all these letters aren't going to stop. In fact, I think the number of letters is doubling each day. In a few days we're going to be buried under thousands of letters. Wouldn't it be better to just read and write back and maybe get them to stop? Or we could go to the police? Because this is just ridiculous. We have to put a stop to this nonsense."
Petunia sat down on the musty beige flower-patterned bedcovers with a resigned look. "They just won't stop," she muttered, almost to herself.
"They will if we make them, though. We can't have crazy people sending an avalanche of letters every day," encouraged Harry. "I could write back, and tell them to stop if you think it will help."
Petunia raised her head and gave him a very thoughtful look. It was unusually intent. Usually when she looked at him she didn't really see him. She was just looking in his direction to get his attention, or looking at some flaw - not gazing like she was now. Like she was trying to figure him out.
"I'll talk to Vernon," she said, slowly and thoughtfully. "If he agrees we'll let you read one of your letters. You may as well. I think… it's possible you might be smart enough to know the right way to respond to them."
When Uncle Vernon returned that morning from his shopping expedition with a map and a plan (that he didn't share) he was raring to go, but Aunt Petunia pulled him aside for a quiet conference. Dudley and Harry were given some money to buy snacks from a vending machine. Dudley let Harry have the flavoured peanuts that he decided were too spicy, and spent all the rest of the money on himself. Harry wasn't impressed, but decided it wasn't worth making a fuss over. Dudley was cross after missing out on so many meals the day before, and was likely to be looking for someone or something to take out his frustrations on. Harry didn't want it to be him.
When they emerged, Aunt Petunia quietly retrieved an extra couple of copies of his letter from the front desk, and told him they were going for a private talk. Uncle Vernon glared at him as they passed. "You'd better think smart about this, boy," he said threateningly. "You listen to your aunt." Harry promised he would. He had no idea what his aunt was going to say, but he knew better than to question Uncle Vernon any time he used that particular tone of voice.
Aunt Petunia paused and looked back at Vernon. "Don't book us in for another night, dear," Aunt Petunia said to Vernon. "Whether this works or not, we may as well head home. Or at least somewhere more comfortable than this horrid place." The clerk at the front desk rolled his eyes at that, but Aunt Petunia didn't even notice.
Once up in the hotel room, Harry at last got to open his letter, under the apprehensive eyes of his aunt. "It's not a joke," she said nervously, as he broke the strange wax seal on the back of the letter, which was addressed to him in Room 17 at the Railview Hotel, Cokeworth. "It sounds like it, but it's not."
Harry read with puzzlement about his invitation to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and quickly skimmed through the list of required supplies. He desperately wanted to ask if this was a joke, but Aunt Petunia had already told him it wasn't. So he didn't know what to say, really.
"So… there's some people who think magic is real, and they want me to go to a school for magicians?" he hazarded.
Aunt Petunia looked distinctly sour about the whole conversation. "You never wondered why so many freakish things happen around you? There is… magic. It's horrible, and useless, and brings nothing but grief. But it is, sadly, real. It stole my sister. Ruined our family. And my career. Got both your parents killed. Don't go thinking this is a good thing. It will bring you nothing but trouble." She leaned forward with an intent gaze. "You have dreams? Maybe to be a lawyer? A doctor? Work with computers? You choose magic and you give that up forever. Their world, their backwards bigoted world will swallow you up and you'll never escape. They don't even have those jobs."
"How did you know I want to be a doctor?" asked Harry, amazed. He'd never said a word to her about his ambitions. And it seemed a safer question than asking about magic.
"You had to have something in mind, with the amount you study," she explained logically. "You start at their school and you'll never come back to the ordinary world. It's not a happy dreamland. It's not some other magical world full of rainbows. It's just weird freaks living in their backwards ghettos hidden inside our towns, banning pens because they're too modern and only quills will do, and never learning to drive cars. Most of them don't even know what a car is."
"Did you say it stole mum? Was she special? I don't think... I don't think I'm a wizard, Aunt Petunia. I haven't done anything unusual," he said worriedly. It was never good to admit to anything unusual. But he thought about the snake at the zoo. And the time his hair wouldn't behave. And the shrinking jumper. And he knew he might be a freak, after all. Despite every effort he'd made to be normal.
"We both know you have," she sniffed. "And yes, your mum turned out to be one of them. Oh, she got a letter just like that one and then disappeared off to – that school – and came home every holiday with her pockets full of frog-spawn, turning teacups into rats." Aunt Petunia took a deep breath before she continued. "Thought she was better than us. Our parents thought so too. There was a lot less money at home after that. That school's even more expensive than Smeltings. After years of that there was no money for me to go to university. Not that I needed to, after I met Vernon. But the point is it all went on Lily. Learning useless spells and how to treat everyone like they were inferior to her just because she could wave a magic wand around. And then she went and got herself blown up, killed in their stupid war. Full of torture and death and wizards acting like normal people were just… just animals, either silly little animals to protect because they're so stupid and can't look after themselves, or dangerous animals you needed to kill but not real, nothing real that can think for itself, decide things for itself. Not anything as good as precious Lily and her boorish bully of a husband and all the other witches and wizards in the world," Aunt Petunia was practically shrieking by the end of her rant. It seemed like she'd been wanting to say all this for years, and was all just pouring out of her like a dam had burst.
Harry's head was reeling. Magic was real? His mother was a witch, a real witch, and she'd been what – blown up?
"It's all real, really? And my mum was blown up? In a war? Not a car crash?" he asked weakly.
"It's real, more's the pity. And yes, your parents both died fighting in one of their ridiculous terrorist skirmishes over who's the biggest lot of bigots who deserve to rule over normal people. Your father too. It wasn't a car crash. Simpler to say that. We swore we'd raise you to be normal. And you've done well," she said in a more normal tone of voice, calming down a bit. "You're doing well in school, do your chores, help in the garden. You don't do as much freakish stuff as you used to, either. You might not do as well as Dudley does, but you're doing… alright. Do you want to throw all that away to learn a bunch of magic tricks from an old crackpot? They don't care about you, you know. Dumped you on our doorstep one night without so much as a by your leave. Didn't even bother to knock on the door to tell me my own sister was dead. Normal people don't matter to them. So you listen to me, and listen well. You write a letter, right now. Tell them you won't go, and you come back home with us to a normal life with normal people. Then you study hard and get a scholarship and go to university. Or else you throw it all away to live with a bunch of crazy bigoted cultists. You pick that and you forget about ever living a normal life, and we'll wash our hands of you for good. You go live with them at boarding school year round. If they'll pay for you, that is. They might have a scholarship for orphans, I don't know."
Harry had sometimes wished something wonderful would happen to take him away from the Dursleys. That maybe his parents were still alive, or a long lost relative would claim him. Now he had a chance to leave, but he didn't know if it would really take him somewhere better or not. He asked Petunia a few more questions, about what the school was like and what really happened to his parents. She didn't know how they died except that they were "instrumental in the defeat of the dark lord Voldemort", which she only knew because she got a letter announcing their posthumous receipt of "Order of Merlin" medals, as the next of kin. The school was run by a crazy old man and a bunch of ghosts, and half the subjects didn't even need you to be magical to be able to learn them. But normal people were forbidden to learn their secret wizard business, she explained with a bitter tone of voice. He thought about it some more but in the end his path was clear.
He wrote a letter, which Aunt Petunia took with a very sour face. She promised to get it to Hogwarts as soon as possible but she refused to explain how, or what it had to do with owls. Harry was handed over to his Uncle's tender care which consisted of taking himself and the two boys to the pub for hot chips. And maybe "just a drink or two" for his uncle, and lemonade for them. Aunt Petunia reappeared after lunch and with a curt nod to Harry indicated that the "nasty business with the letter" was done, and they all packed into the car to return home. Harry looked at the frowns on his family's faces at the whole sorry business, and knew he'd made the right choice.
In Dumbledore's office at Hogwarts Hagrid was listening to Dumbledore's explanation about Harry's situation and how he'd like Hagrid to retrieve Harry from the overprotective clutches of his aunt and uncle that evening, and take him shopping the next day. Hagrid was beaming and nattered about his plans to bake a lovely birthday cake for Harry. Dumbledore glanced over to the door, just before it opened to reveal Snape sweeping in with a sneer and a swirl of his dark robes.
"It appears I have been appointed to the august position of being a priority messenger owl for the convenience of one of the most spoiled brats likely to ever attend this institution," he complained, tossing a rather ordinary looking envelope addressed to "Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, Hogwarts, Scotland" onto Dumbledore's rather crowded desk. Dumbledore looked at the reverse of the envelope with delighted surprise to find it was from Harry Potter.
"Well Severus," he said merrily, "I suppose we should have considered that the dear boy might've been put to some trouble to locate a magical owl to carry his response! It certainly explains why we haven't heard back yet. How enterprising of them to approach you. I had no idea you were in contact with them, hmm? I thought we talked about that long ago – for Harry's safety."
"I am not in contact with the brat or his family at all. This is an exceptional circumstance, obviously," sneered Snape.
Dumbledore slit the letter open with a silver handled bone letter opener, but the twinkle in his eyes didn't last as he read Harry's response.
With a voice of unbelieving surprise he announced, "Harry Potter is not coming to Hogwarts."
A/N: And that's the final chapter! I hope you've enjoyed the story - please leave a review if you feel inclined. Thank you to all my lovely readers who've left reviews, added this story to their favourites, or followed it for chapter updates. It's so encouraging! :)
Sorry about the cliffhanger but never fear, there's a sequel! If you want to read more, please check out part two of the "Perfectly Normal" series, called "A New Kind of Normal", and "follow" it (if you're inclined) for twice weekly updates of new chapters that will be uploaded on Tuesday and Friday mornings, Australian time. It similarly contains no pairings and is suitable for all ages.