Disclaimer – I solemnly swear that JKR owns everything Harry Potter. Whether or not I am up to no good with her characters is for you to decide.
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Saturday, 31 August 1991
4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey
Harry Potter's face split into the widest of grins as he plucked the pencil stub off of his desk. Then, with his eyes sparkling in anticipation, he ticked off the second to last little square on the calendar that he'd made and pinned to his wall.
Just one more day, he thought, one more and I'll be leaving the Dursleys.
Harry's world had changed dramatically almost exactly one month ago on his eleventh birthday. Although, come to think of it, it had really started some days before that. That was when those mysterious envelopes addressed to him in green ink had started to arrive.
At first, it'd only been the one lying on the doorstep with the other mail and Harry, in his befuddled ignorance, had taken it to the breakfast table where he'd tried to open it in front of his aunt, uncle and cousin. A single look was all that it seemed to take for his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon to put a stop to that. Harry hadn't realised it at the time, but that one little letter had seriously scared his relatives.
That letter had been burned unopened without the chance for Harry to know who had written him his very first ever letter.
And then had begun the Battle of the Letters.
Every day after that, more and more letters began appearing. First one, then three, then twelve letters had arrived for Harry over the next few days. All addressed to Harry, and each time mentioning his exact room – firstly the cupboard under the stairs and then the smallest bedroom. Not even Uncle Vernon nailing the post flap shut had stopped them being delivered.
On Saturday, two dozen were delivered inside the eggs that Aunt Petunia tried to cook for breakfast. Even then, Harry had known that it had to have been done with magic, no matter how much Uncle Vernon had vehemently denied its existence. Thirty or forty letters had come shooting out of the fireplace on Sunday, the day that there was supposed to be no post at all.
That had started a chain reaction in Uncle Vernon that included a mad drive across the country and the family sleeping in the crudest of huts in the middle of the sea in the fiercest of storms. And at midnight, exactly when Harry turned eleven, he finally received his letter.
It'd been hand delivered by the biggest man that Harry had ever seen. Hagrid, for that was the giant of a man's name, had appeared at first and even second sight, to be incredibly scary, especially after he'd knocked the door flat to get into the hut, boomed his big voice at his relatives, plucked the shotgun out of Uncle Vernon's hand and tied it into a knot and finished with giving his cousin Dudley a pig's tail by magic.
After spending the day with Hagrid exploring the magical shops in Diagon Alley, Harry know knew that Hagrid really was a kind, gentle man. And how could he not think that after Hagrid had given him his first ever birthday cake and bought him his first ever gift – his best friend and owl, Hedwig. Hagrid had also introduced him to the world that his parents came from – the Wizarding world.
And now Harry knew that he himself was just like them; he, too, was a wizard. That was why freakish things always seemed to happen to him and around him. And to learn it all, Harry had to attend a magic school – Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in fact.
That thought brought him back to the scrap of paper that he'd turned into a calendar that he had pinned to his wall counting down the days until he could leave the Dursleys, if not for good, at least for the next ten months.
Plucking the train ticket that Hagrid had given him up from its place of honour at the top of his desk, Harry reread the details for what must have been the ten thousandth time. He was to leave from King's Cross Station, Platform Nine and Three Quarters, at eleven o'clock on Sunday September first.
Harry's eyes darted to the trunk sitting at the end of his bed. It was already completely packed: clothes, books, ink bottles and quills, cauldron and potion ingredients, even the little brass telescope. The only thing left sitting on top of it were the clothes that he'd wear tomorrow on this momentous journey.
With a last look at his ticket, Harry stuffed it into his pocket and went in search of his Uncle Vernon. If tomorrow was the day, then Harry figured that he'd better make sure that he could get to King's Cross Station. It simply wouldn't do to miss the train.
Creeping down the stairs, Harry nervously stuck his head into the living room where he could hear the blaring of the television. Sure enough, all three of his relatives were in there watching some quiz show. Taking one last swallow to gather his courage, Harry stepped into the room and nervously cleared his throat to announce his presence.
The second that the sound emerged, his cousin Dudley's head snapped around, his small, piggish eyes widened in fear and he bolted from the couch and room as fast as he could, both hands wrapped tightly to this fat bottom and his curly pig's tail.
Ignoring his cousin's now predictable behaviour for any time that he entered a room, Harry turned to face his Uncle.
"Er, Uncle Vernon?" he asked.
A grunt from the enormous man seated in his favourite armchair showed that he was at least listening.
"Er, I need to be at King's Cross tomorrow to … to go to Hogwarts."
Once again, Uncle Vernon grunted, encouraging Harry to continue.
"Would it be alright if you gave me a lift?" he asked.
At this, Uncle Vernon reached over to the remote and turned off the television before turning to face him. Harry took a half-step back at the expression of his uncle's face. There was a look of demented glee shining from his eyes and the ends of his bushy, walrus-like moustache were curled up with his smile.
"No, no, I don't think so," Uncle Vernon stated simply. "We've got other plans, you see."
"What?" Harry blinked in shock.
"Yes," Uncle Vernon continued in a voice so absolutely calm that it made Harry's skin crawl. "Tomorrow we have an appointment at the hospital to get that ruddy tail removed that that giant freak of an oaf gave Dudley."
"But, but how will I get to King's Cross then?" Harry asked.
"Oh, that's easy," Uncle Vernon replied as his face morphed into a vicious scowl. "You see, you're not. You don't need to go to King's Cross because you're not going to that freak school."
"But, but you told Hagrid …" Harry began.
"I did no such thing!" Uncle Vernon bellowed suddenly, leaning forward in his chair. "I did no such thing! And no freak, no matter how big he is, is going to tell me what to do!"
"No, boy, you'll be going to Stonewall High, just like we planned," Aunt Petunia stated with a single nod of her horsey head as she weighed into the discussion.
"But …" Harry tried again, unsure exactly what he was going to say.
"No 'buts', boy," Uncle Vernon growled. "Those ruddy freaks left you on our doorstep, burdened us with your care for ten years already. We've given you good clothes, a place to sleep, good food and even a ruddy pair of glasses."
Harry's mouth opened and closed at this but no sound came out. Dudley's old cast offs were good clothes? He guessed that technically the cupboard under the stairs counted as a place to sleep and as for food, well he did eat good food, after all, he'd cooked it all – it was simply the fact that it consisted of whatever leftover scraps that he could manage to scrounge that he had an issue with.
"No, boy," Uncle Vernon continued, "your Aunt Petunia and I are your guardians and we're the ones who get to say what you'll be doing. And we say that you won't be going to any freak school. You'll go a good, decent, normal school. Yes. Yes. Stonewall High's where you'll be going. Some place where there's no freakishness for you get even more corrupted than your good-for-nothing parents already made you."
"But they'll be expecting me," Harry managed to whisper.
"You're right, there, boy," Uncle Vernon stated, before twisting his enormous body to pluck up an envelope that was resting beside his mug of tea. "But we've already thought of that. We've written those freaks a letter. You can get that ruddy owl to take it to them. That is how freaks like to have their mail delivered, isn't it?"
All Harry could do was nod his head, the rest of him, his thoughts included, had frozen at what his Uncle had just told him.
"Perhaps you should read it to him, Vernon, to make sure that he believes us," Aunt Petunia suggested.
"Good idea, Pet, good idea," Uncle Vernon replied, eyes gleaming in obvious anticipation.
Thick, pudgy fingers fished out a clean, crisp piece of paper before snapping it open.
"To whom it may concern," Uncle Vernon read, "We, the undersigned, as legal guardians for our nephew, Harry James Potter, declare that he shall notbe attending your school. Do not attempt to contact us in any way for we shall not be changing our decision and any attempt to do so will result in legal action being taken.
Signed Vernon Dudley Dursely and Petunia Rose Dursely.
August thirty-one, nineteen ninety-one.
PS – Do not send the bird back; doing so will only result in it having its neck wrung.
A shocked gasp escaped Harry and it was only by putting one hand out to grasp the doorframe that stopped him from crashing to the ground on his suddenly unsteady legs.
"So, you see, boy," Uncle Vernon continued, his eyes dancing with glee, "we've taken care of that for you. No freak school for you; no more bloody owl messing up my house and waking us up at godforsaken hours of the night and no more freakishness."
Harry peeled his eyes off of the man and looked to his aunt, but if he expected any help from that quarter, he was sadly mistaken. His Aunt Petunia's long neck was on display as she held her head high, looking down her nose at him from where she sat.
"Now, I want you to go and get all of your freakish … stuff and bring it down here – I'll take it to the incinerator after we get back from the hospital tomorrow," Uncle Vernon told him. "For now, you can put it in your old bedroom. When you're in there, you'll find a stack of Dudley's old school exercise books and things. We've even been kind enough to rip out the pages that Dudley'd already used. Take it all back to your room – you'll need them for when you go to Stonewall tomorrow."
"Yes, Uncle Vernon," Harry answered automatically, his brain still not completely processing just how fast his world was crashing around him.
"And once Dudley goes off to Smeltings next week after he … heals up, it'll just be the three of us in the house," Uncle Vernon continued, "and I'll not have you getting in your Aunt's way. So, things are going to change a bit."
Harry's eyes darted between the two adults as a cold shiver of dread rushed down his spine.
"You'll still have all your normal chores, of course," Uncle Vernon instructed, "but on top of that, I've found you a job."
"A … a job?" Harry asked.
"That's right. A fine, respectable job that'll help you earn you keep," Uncle Vernon beamed.
"What sort of job?" Harry managed to ask.
"You'll be working at Keating's Wood n Furniture. I've already arranged it with Mister Keating. He's an old friend of mine. More than willing to have a fit, young lad like you around to help out. It'll mostly be cleaning and sweeping and keeping the place tidy and whatever else Terry can come up with. You'll be there from seven in the morning until seven at night, every Saturday and Sunday and then every day every school holiday. That'll give you plenty of time to still cook our breakfast and dinner and do all of your normal chores every night."
"But … but what about homework?" Harry gasped, trying to wrap his mind around this new situation.
"That's your look-out, isn't it?" Uncle Vernon grinned. "Oh, and don't worry about needing to collect your wages. Terry and I've come to a nice little arrangement. He'll be giving me whatever you earn directly. I should think that simply getting the opportunity to learn some real skills so that you don't turn out like your freak parents will be payment enough for you."
Harry's mouth opened and closed. A job. He'd been given a job. Any chance of having any free time had simply evaporated. He'd always liked the chance to get out of the house on the weekends, even if it did mostly end up meaning that he had to run from Dudley and his gang. At least it'd been a chance to relax and get away from his chores. Now, even that simple pleasure had been taken from him.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" Uncle Vernon asked, his eyes narrowing, "an engraved invitation? Get upstairs and bring down that freakishness. And make sure that you get all of it – books, clothes, cauldron and especially that ruddy stick."
At the first sign of a twitch from his Uncle's hand, Harry scampered.
Entering his room, Harry skidded across the floor before falling to his knees in front of his new trunk. Twin trembling hands gently caressed the smooth wood before he closed his eyes and threw open the lid, sending his old Dudley hand-me-downs that he'd planned on wearing tomorrow sliding to the floor.
Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes and stared inside the trunk. His breath hitched at what he was about to give up. All of the dreams that he'd had the past month were about to go up in flames – sitting in classes learning how to do magic, how to make things float and change, how to protect himself and all of the wondrous potions that he would have learnt to brew.
His hands ran over the spines of the books that he'd already read through, sometimes more than once. There was the thick A History of Magic, the book that he'd found Hedwig's name in; there was the Standard Book of Spells that excited him so much; and there was Magical Draughts and Potions that he'd found so interesting.
Quickly dashing his sleeve under his nose, Harry briefly touched the telescope and cauldron before his hand closed around his wand. He remembered the strange man, Mister Ollivander, telling him that it was "holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches, nice and supple." He gave it a single determined wave, eliciting red and gold sparks out of the end of it and creating a small smile on his face before he gentle placed it back.
For a fraction of a second, Harry considered hiding the wand but even before the thought had fully formed, he knew that it was pointless – Uncle Vernon would be sure to check to make sure that it was in the trunk before he had it all destroyed.
But there was one thing that Harry knew that his aunt and uncle knew nothing about. Something that was small enough to hide and important enough to risk any sort of wrath. Digging into his trunk, Harry's fist closed around the small metallic object before he quickly scuttled to the loose floorboard that he'd discovered under his bed. Lifting it up, Harry dropped the tiny, golden key into the hidey hole. At least his key to his vault was safe, even if he wouldn't be able to use it again for seven years or so.
"Hurry up, boy!" Uncle Vernon bellowed up the stairs.
"Coming, Uncle Vernon," Harry called back, before slamming the lip of the trunk closed and grabbing the handle.
He heaved the heavy trunk down the stairs, causing both his aunt and uncle to scowl at him as it thunked on each step. Then, after opening the door to his old room, he wiggled the trunk backwards and forwards until it was all the way in the tiny cupboard under the stairs. There, as promised, he found the stack of old exercise books along with a tatty pencil case that he assumed was filled with half-chewed and broken pencils sitting on top of an old faded brown knapsack.
"Bring that owl down here," Uncle Vernon instructed, "and then we can get that letter sent off to the freaks."
"Yes, Uncle Vernon," Harry replied, picking up the pile that he'd been eyeing with disgust.
Harry found Hedwig exactly where he'd left her, sitting on the perch in her cage, her head tucked under one wing as she slept.
"Hedwig," Harry said sadly.
In response, the beautiful snowy white owl ruffled her feathers and swivelled her head to look at him.
"Come on, girl. Uncle Vernon's got a letter for you to deliver," he said.
Immediately, Hedwig preened.
"And I'm sorry girl, but you can't come back afterwards," Harry told her. "Uncle Vernon said that he'd kill you if you did. Perhaps you could stay with Hagrid? He was nice and he did buy you after all."
Hedwig stretched forward and nibbled on Harry's fingers.
Knowing that it was useless to delay, Harry lifted his best friend out of her cage and carried her downstairs. As soon as he arrived in the living room, the letter was thrust into his chest. Taking it, Harry attached it to Hedwig's leg with shaking fingers.
Fighting back tears, Harry took his owl across to the open window and bent down so that she could hop from his shoulder to the windowsill.
"You need to take the letter to Hogwarts. Good bye, Hedwig," he whispered brokenly.
Then, with a last nip of his fingers, Hedwig spread her wings and soared away through the window, taking all of the wondrous thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams that Harry'd had for the past month with her.