Growing up, he had been given the most modest room in a modest house, furnished by only the most modest of things; many of them hand-me-downs from his cousin, many of them broken things, many of them stained, poorly calibrated, or for some other reason unwanted things.
When he was five he had come into the possession of one such "simply unwanted thing," a multitool. A rather large thing for his little hands, it had a set of pliers with a wire cutter, it had several screwdrivers and little knives, it had a file and it had a can opener. And the metal had a nice red finish, and it came with a nice red fake-leather pouch in which to store it. A gift by some well-meaning person to his cousin, or perhaps to his uncle - it was hard to know who had been its originally intended owner, but it was known that it had been unwanted, for it was only unwanted things that tended to find their way into his possession.
His multitool was his favorite thing he owned, because it allowed him to fix all of the other things he owned. There were very few simple toys or devices that could not be repaired with a multitool and a sound understanding of the device's intended functionality.
When Dudley said, "I don't want it," or "It's broken," or "It's dumb," Harry's ears perked up. Those words or some variation were uttered on a near-daily basis by his cousin, and Harry would always say, "Well, I'll take it if you don't want it." Harry knew that if it was broken, he could use his shiny red multitool to fix it, and if it was dumb then he could use his multitool to take it apart and see how it worked.
Eventually Dudley just began leaving broken and unwanted things in his room as a matter of course, as though it were the standard way of disposing of junk – and after a while, Dudley stopped saying "I don't want it," or "It's broken," or "It's dumb," and started saying instead, "I gave it to Harry," and that sentence meant the same thing.
Dudley always got a new thing, or a better thing, and Harry got the hand-me-down. It worked out very well for both of them, and it worked out well for Harry's aunt and uncle, too, who were glad that they never had to buy Harry anything new. That was just how things went in their house.
Harry was an incredibly quiet and well-mannered boy. He rarely spoke unless he was directly addressed, nor did he have any interest in being directly addressed. He spent his days in his room upstairs, tinkering with his broken things, quiet and out of the way, for all intents and purposes pretending not to exist at all, and his relatives were happy to pretend the same.
His talents were no small benefit to the Dursleys, though. When they weren't pretending he didn't exist, Harry's uncle, Vernon, would often set him on a project to fix or build something. He was more often than not pleased with the results. And after all, what could look more wholesome to the neighbors than a small kid eagerly helping his uncle build a new fence or some trellises for the vines? The results were good and the labor was completely free.
It was true that things were not always pleasant at Number Four, but things could have been much worse, all things considered. The little family, orphan nephew and all, lived quite peacefully.
Harry was aware, of course, that things would not be so peaceful if he had not been so useful to his family. But that bothered him not in the least, because he liked doing what he did. His efforts self-rewarding and sometimes his uncle would even thank him for his good work.
For Christmas 1997, Dudley received a personal computer, a business-class model built by IBM. Dudley was very excited about his new computer until he actually plugged it in on Boxing Day and he realized that it didn't come with any games. Dudley's friends all had Ataris at least, and some of them even had Nintendos, but all Dudley had, as he pointed out almost every day to his parents, was a dumb, useless, business computer.
As the months dragged on, Dudley continued to pester his parents and whine about how all the other boys in the neighborhood had a Nintendo, or at least something that could play decent games. And every time Dudley brought it up, Harry would silently cheer for his cousin, thinking convince them, convince them, convince them! Although Harry couldn't care less if Dudley was happy with his toys, he was rooting for his cousin every step of the way – because he knew that that computer would eventually be his. Harry would often remind his cousin about the computer, in case he should forget to whine one day, and he even helped Dudley come up with better arguments to use against his parents to get his way.
"It's educational," Vernon said gruffly one April evening over dinner when the conversation turned yet again towards Dudley's dissatisfaction. "Pretty soon the whole world will be running on those machines. We just had several dozen installed at Grunnings."
"I don't want something educational," Dudley pouted. "I want to play computer games."
"Well, Dudley, if you learn how to use that machine, it'll give you a serious advantage later on, you know," Vernon said.
Harry had rarely seen his aunt or uncle try so hard to convince Dudley of anything at all. But then, that computer, even though it had been discounted thanks to Vernon's office purchasing them in bulk, was still tremendously expensive, so it made sense that they would want him to at least give it a fair try. Although it was meaningless to the others present at the dinner table, Harry knew the specs for the machine. It really was quite the little work horse and he imagined that the personal computer would be an endless source of entertainment for him, once it was inevitably his, because unlike Dudley, Harry had no interest in Nintendo games.
Harry gave Dudley a bit of a kick under the table and caught his eye. Dudley was about to yell at Harry when he realized that Harry was trying to help him, and remembered his coaching. Dudley was just dim enough that while he could remember a plan of action, he might need to be reminded to actually do it – he also happened to be just at that precipice of dimness where he would appreciate Harry's help without analyzing Harry's private motivations for helping him. Harry rationalized that it was an arrangement that helped the both of them, and so Harry felt not the least pang of guilt for making good use of his cousin's dimwittedness.
"But mum," Dudley said, ignoring his father's argument. "Won't it look weird if I'm the only kid with this weird office appliance, instead of a Nintendo?"
Harry's Aunt Petunia was in some ways not a particularly bright woman. She had never worked, had no useful skills, almost never read books, and almost never had anything even a little bit insightful to say. When it came to social matters, however, Harry's aunt was a savant: Petunia analyzed all the possibilities more quickly than even the most state-of-the-art computer possibly could, considering all the variables of the neighborhood and the social situations at play, then she clicked her tongue and said, "I should think Mrs. Paddentry should take a lesson from us."
Neither of the boys had the faintest idea who that was, but they saw that the argument was a non-starter.
Harry might have been able to interject with a clever point here, but it would work against his interests to show that he had a horse in this race, so he remained mute, only giving Dudley another little kick to urge him to persist. They had, after all, prepared several different arguments.
"None of my friends will want to come around when I'm the only kid who hasn't got a Nintendo," Dudley said, inflecting sadness and social insecurity.
"Oh Diddy-dums!" Petunia exclaimed. "Oh, you couldn't possibly think that. Your friends will still come around, of course."
"I suppose I'll just have to go to Piers' house every day," Dudley said, seemingly consoling himself.
Harry saw the change in his aunt's eyes. That argument, it seemed, had worked. She would not want her darling son to want to spend all of his free time away at his friends houses, instead of here where she could dote on him – and perhaps even more importantly, she would not want Mrs. Polkiss to think that Dudley didn't like spending time at home. "Dear," Petunia said, turning to her husband. "Maybe we should get Dudley one of these Nintenders."
"Nintendos," the boys chorused.
"Nintendos, then," she agreed.
Vernon sighed gruffly, an admission of defeat. He had enough faith in his wife's social strategizing to know that she probably had a very good reason for changing her mind, and he wouldn't fight against it. Certainly not in front of the kids. "We'll see on your birthday, Dudley."
Two months later, it was Dudley's birthday. Dudley had some unique mental gifts of his own: somehow he was able to root through all thirty-odd packages to find the wrapped box that contained his prize, and opened it first. Harry grinned as Dudley gushed over the brand new Nintendo, which came complete with two controllers and several game cartridges. It might even be fun, Harry thought – but more importantly, in order to make room for the new device, there had been no choice but to move Dudley's 'old computer,' although it was still pristine other than a bit of dust and far from obsolete, into Harry's room.
And that evening, after Dudley's birthday festivities had drawn to a close, Harry connected the computer up, setting it up on the floor because he had no desk, and turned it on.
The machine was confusing, and it was frustrating. It came with an owner's manual, and Harry needed to consult it constantly at first, just to do simple things. But after a few days, he had figured out DOS, and he knew what he wanted to use the computer for. So he took the bus to the electronics store in Woking and purchased a C compiler made by Borland, called Turbo C 1.0, as well as a reference book. It was the most money he had ever spent in his life, and he was glad that he'd been saving the money people in the neighborhood gave him for fixing their lawnmowers and radios for years, because otherwise he wouldn't have been able to afford it. To think, he'd almost spent the money on new clothes! Within a few weeks he had already begun to make a computer game of his own.
Line by tedious line of code, he sketched out a text-based adventure game. Oh, it was poorly designed, being designed by an eight year old, but it worked, and it brought him endless satisfaction to tinker and toil all through the summer, fleshing out his little world, finding and squashing bugs. It was a simple game: you could type "east" to move east, and "west" to move west, and so on, and then a description of where you were would appear on the screen. And you could type in things like "attack deer" to do what you would expect that to do. And you would collect coins and trinkets and sell them back in town, and buy new equipment, and gain levels. And that was really about it – it was not complicated. Somehow he found it endlessly amusing anyway.
It became considerably more amusing when he went back to the start, and created a "Version 2", this time with an actual story-line. A simple story, mind you, composed primarily of tropes and generics – an adventurous hero, a damsel, an evil warlock, his orcish henchorcs, the mysterious tower, the labyrinthine catacomb, the rugged mountain pass, the city of gnomes, strange creatures detailed as well as he possibly could with textual descriptions, wonderful scenic vistas in the form of an eight-year-old's written description, items of great power and terrible names like the fabled Sword of Sorrow, and on and on and on he built and built and built a whole world.
"But it hasn't got any graphics," Dudley pointed out on one of the rare occasions that he voluntarily entered Harry's room just for company.
"No, it hasn't," Harry responded, not seeing any problem with that.
Dudley gave him a strange look. He said, "Well I wouldn't want to play a game without any graphics. Do you want to play Mario?"
Harry found Mario to be extraordinarily tedious. You jump about, sometimes landing on little mushrooms, or collecting coins. And you moved from left to right. That was really all there was going on; he couldn't understand how anyone would want to play it for more than a few minutes at a time. In his game, to do the same thing, you could just type "east east east east jump east east east east jump," and accomplish the same thing, except it would be utterly pointless. Yet Dudley was enraptured for weeks at a time doing exactly this.
Harry observed that indeed, it was all down to the graphics. Just by putting some pixels on the screen, and having a controller to move them around, Harry's "east east east jump" was somehow transformed into the addictive action-packed experience that Dudley perceived it as.
"I suppose I'll add graphics in," Harry said after watching Dudley, glaze-eyed, enthralled, move east and jump sometimes for over half an hour.
Harry returned to his room and sat down on the floor in front of his computer ponderously for several minutes. He had absolutely no idea how to render images on the screen.
The next two years were spent developing a new piece of software that he called BitHeap. The name was due to the file format it output, which was a multi-layered bitmap, which would be ideal for the purposes of computer games development, where compression was not desirable.
"Uncle Vernon," he said one evening over dinner during a lull in his relatives' conversation. It was midsummer, 1990. It was rare for Harry to partake in the dinner chat, and even rarer for him to initiate a conversation, so all eyes were on him as soon as he spoke up, and he adjusted his new glasses nervously. "Ah," he hesitated momentarily. "Well, that is, Uncle Vernon, you're aware that I've been tinkering a bit with Dudley's old computer?"
His uncle laughed gruffly. Harry was glad that he had decided to bring this up on an evening where his uncle was already several glasses of sherry in by supper time. "That seems to be all you've been doing for the last two years, boy. Yes, I've noticed!"
"Well, I'm not sure if you're aware or not, but I've taken a bit of an interest in computer programming, and actually I've created a computer program that I think is rather good."
Harry's uncle nibbled thoughtfully on a chicken bone, staring pensively at his orphaned nephew. "So?" he finally said.
"So, well, that is, ah..."
"Spit it out, Harry."
"Right. Well, I think it could be sold. The program that is. In fact, I think it might be worth a good amount of money."
His uncle was suddenly in a bit of a coughing fit. His aunt tittered. "Oh, I hardly think," she said. "I hardly think a ten-year-old boy could have made a program like that."
"It's true," Dudley said. Everyone around the table was taken aback by his interjection. Usually he would have been so engrossed in his ingestion that he would hardly have been aware of the conversation around him, yet it was clear he was keenly interested in this. "I mean, I've seen his program. I think … I think it could be very useful to a lot of people."
"Let's have a look after supper, then," Vernon said.
And, after they ate, the whole family piled into Harry's bedroom in front of his computer, still sitting on the floor in the corner of the room, and he demonstrated BitHeap to them.
"I don't like the name," was his aunt's first impression, before the program was even loaded up.
But quickly they changed their opinions as Harry proceeded to demonstrate the application. "You see, I wanted just a simple thing to make graphics for the game I had been working on, but I found myself having more fun making this than I had been having with that game. So I just kept piling on more and more features, and optimizing it, and things. And now what I've got, I think, is probably the best program of its kind."
"I think we can do something with this," his uncle said. "I have a contact at work, let me look into it."
It turned out that Vernon's contact from work was the very same IBM representative who had initially sold them a hundred or so personal computers two years before. Vernon was able to arrange a meeting with him, since he was again in London.
"It's marvelous," the IBM salesman, Patrick Hamilton, told them as they crowded around a personal computer in IBM's London offices. Harry sat at the chair, demonstrating the program to Mr. Hamilton, and his uncle stood behind them both, seemingly equally nervous and eager.
"Show Patrick the transparency thing, Harry," Vernon instructed.
"So, one of the features of the BitHeap file format is that it supports transparency masks. You can create one bitmap layer, and set portions of it as transparent, and then seamlessly put it on top of another layer, like this – and in your software, for your game or whatever it might be, you don't have to worry about mucking about with deleting all magenta pixels, or anything like that. Which makes it much easier to deploy."
"Marvelous," Mr. Hamilton said again. "Simply marvelous. I can't believe a ten-year-old has developed this."
"I started working on it when I was eight," Harry said. "So it's taken a lot of work. There was a lot I needed to learn as I went."
"This program is actually just the thing for IBM," Mr. Hamilton disclosed. "You see, Adobe has recently come out with a similar application, although I wonder if it's quite as good. The trouble is that Adobe's application only works for Apple computers. It was starting to look like Adobe and Apple might take a stranglehold on the computer graphics sector, since our PCs don't have any comparable software. But this, this could change that. Here's an even better software application, and it's running on better hardware, on a better operating system, namely our operating system … with this, maybe we can reposition ourselves. It will be like this: yes, Apple and Adobe have a nice application, but if you want real, professional work, you're going to need real, professional software on a real, professional personal computer system by IBM."
"Then it seems the only thing left is to talk figures," Vernon said.
"I'm just a senior sales rep," Mr. Hamilton said. "I can't make any decisions. But look, I'll arrange for you folks to speak to the people in charge in New York."
Harry grinned at his uncle. "We're going to America!"
IBM paid their expenses for business-class seats on the plane, and for a nice but not over-the-top hotel. Vernon took a whole week off work, thinking that they might as well make this into an impromptu family vacation. And so they arrived in New York just four days after that meeting with Mr. Hamilton, and they met with some of the most important folks in the tech industry.
But, ultimately, IBM rejected the software. "It doesn't align with the direction of this company. While inarguable it's a very nice program, we just don't see it being part of the OS/2 ecosystem. We do not see OS/2 as an artsy sort of platform."
Harry was crestfallen and defeated, but his uncle was not prepared for defeat. "Did you hear that, boy?" he asked as they rode the elevator back down. "They like it, they just don't think it fits their business strategy."
"IBM bureaucracy got you down?" a fellow elevator-rider asked.
"They just don't know a good product when it's in front of them," Vernon complained. "Here we bring them a groundbreaking new software program, and they say it's great and everything, but it just doesn't fit their corporate strategies."
The man nodded. "That sounds about right. Honestly, I wonder almost every day if it was a mistake to go into business with these guys. They're just so stubborn, and they have their own ideas about every little thing, and even if you give them a perfect product, they'll say they don't like how your code looks, and tell you to fix it up. It already works – how can I fix it!"
The man rubbed his temples and sighed. "Sorry, I can see that you have your own problems without me unloading on you. I'm Bill, by the way."
"Vernon, Vernon Dursley. And this is my nephew, Harry Potter."
"So, Vernon, tell me about this software you've come all the way from England to show these fatcats."
"Well, Harry here designed it, actually. It's an image-editing software with some advanced features that even Adobe's product can't match."
Bill looked Harry over in a manner that seemed, somehow, both shrewd and friendly. "Tell me about those features."
Harry proceeded to outline every feature of his program in extreme detail, going in to how it made use of the 386 processor's advanced memory management, how it dynamically compressed bitmap layers that were not in use in order to be as efficient as possible, and how it allowed for automated gradiation, transparency masks, font smoothing, and dozens of other unique features.
"I have to see it work," Bill said. "Look, let me take you to Washington where my headquarters is, and show me what you showed those IBM guys."
It turned out that Bill had been referring to Washington State, not the city of Washington, so the Dursley family found themselves flying all the way across the United States that very evening – all arranged by Bill. The next morning, Harry and Vernon showed up at Microsoft headquarters and demonstrated their new software. Fortunately, Microsoft had plenty of OS/2 machines lying around for Harry to use for the demo.
"It's too damn bad you made it for OS/2," Bill said eventually. "Still, it won't take long to port it over to Windows. They're supposed to be compatible, after all."
And they struck a deal.
Harry stayed in Redmond, Washington, working side-by-side with the Microsoft people to port his software to their platform, in order to ensure the quickest possible release. Their target wasn't the currently-deployed Windows 2.x, but the still-in-the-oven Windows 3.0 – they hoped to release BitHeap at the same time as the new version of their system. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with such bigshots was a whole new experience for Harry – having them listen to him, and value his creative vision, was beyond what he had ever imagined. But these guys, it seemed, were willing to try new things, and willing to bet their corporation on a ten-year-old from the South English suburbs.
Microsoft, as it turned out, liked the name, and distributed the software as Microsoft BitHeap Image Editer, or simply BitHeap. It was bundled together with a simple sound-editing program, called BitBlast, and a graphical markup application called BitSheet, together called the Microsoft Artist Suite, and it was marketed as a flagship product on par with the Microsoft Office Suite.
Upon the announcement, and again upon the release, of Microsoft Windows 3.0 and the Microsoft Artist suite for Windows, Harry was suddenly extremely famous, not to mention flush with American money. The cover of Byte Magazine the month it was released had a picture of a grinning Harry and Bill and said, "Child Revolutionizes Computer Graphics," and Harry's face and name appeared in countless magazines and newspapers besides.
Harry had chosen to license the software to Microsoft in an agreement that would last for five years. During that time, Harry would be the sole owner of BitHeap, but Microsoft would be the sole distributor. It was an arrangement proposed to him by Bill, who told him, "It would make sense to just offer to buy it outright, Harry, but this is your baby, and you deserve to see it grow up." It worked out very well for all concerned.
And, as anyone watching the markets could see, it was a critical blow for Apple and Adobe, who had only months ago created a market that Harry's software was now poised to dominate.
When Harry finally went back to England, the Dursley family, flushed with tech boom cash, were able to move out of Surrey with that money. Incredibly, the Dursleys even had enough now to live the dream: a proper house right in London. It was a very nice place, and incredibly it even had a proper back yard and everything. It was right on Fitzjohn's Ave, just outside of beautiful Hampstead, and only a few blocks from Swiss Cottage Station. Bill and Ravi Mishra, who was the leader of the Artist Suite design team, even came to the house-warming party – it was Bill's first time in England.
Due to all that he had done for them, the Dursleys had begun to treat Harry as an important family member. When his sister Marge had dared to insult Harry's parents during her first visit to their new house, Uncle Vernon had even asked her to leave, offering to pay for a hotel nearby. He was, above all, a practical man, and he would not let anyone, even his own sister, jeopardize his newly-improved relationship with his nephew. Marge visited them again some three months later, and actually apologized to Harry, although she did not make a big deal about it, and punished her dog when it tried to bite him.
Harry felt a new sense of confidence. Before, people had often said that he was a bit useless. He was so quiet and shy that some assumed he was dimwitted, and he spent most of his time alone in a poorly lit bedroom tinkering on his computer, or with the various toys and gadgets Dudley passed on to him. But now, things were different. Nobody, absolutely nobody, could call him useless. He was practically a national treasure, and the Dursleys knew it, and they made sure that everyone else knew it too. Whereas before, when a guest came over to their house, his aunt might say, "And that's Harry, my sister's son. We've raised him ever since he was a baby, when she and her husband were lost in a tragic accident," in order to elicit sympathy, and make that person think that they were saints – now, things were quite different. Harry's aunt would introduce him as, "And this, this child is my genius nephew, who you may have read about in the newspapers. Harry, come here, this is our neighbor Tabitha Bailey, she's been so eager to meet you." At their new school, even Dudley would brag about him – which, as he was still quite shy, was one of the only ways he would meet new people his age.
Aside from the new scenery, and the new cars, and Petunia's classy new friends, and everything, things soon began to settle down again for the Dusleys, and by the time Dudley's eleventh birthday rolled around, they were all well and truly settled in with their new lifestyle. Marge had come around again – she seemed to come around quite often, now that they lived so well – and, over breakfast, after Dudley had unwrapped his numerous gifts, she said, "So, Vernon, I suppose it's off to Smeltings with them next year?"
"Not for this one," Vernon said, indicating Harry. "He's been offered a spot at Eton. Well, you don't turn down Eton for Smeltings, do you? And as for Dudley, well, we're still not completely sold on Smeltings. There are plenty of very nice institutions right here in in London, so it seems a shame to send him way up north, just for Smeltings."
"But Vernon, isn't it a tradition? I mean, after all, you and Stuart both went there."
Vernon grunted. He never reacted well when Stuart was mentioned – something that Marge seemed to forget every time she visited. "Just because our late brother and I went there, that does not make it a family tradition," he said. "Our father sent us to the best school he could afford, and it just happened to be Smeltings. Perhaps that is the tradition."
Vernon excused himself from the table shortly. "Oh, Marge," Petunia said. "Must you really bring up Stuart?"
"Sorry about that, Pet," Marge said after a big slurp on her coffee. "After all these years, he still can't talk about him."
The boys were curious – they had no idea why Vernon didn't want to talk about his brother. But they knew better than to ask just then. Harry, seeking to return the mood to that of birthday cheer, said, "Actually, I've got a present for you as well, Dudders," and produced a newspaper-wrapped package from somewhere.
Dudley opened it up swiftly. "Wizardry vee-I," he read.
"That's 'six'," Harry corrected.
"Wizardry Six: Bane of the … er … Cosmic Forge."
"I've heard it's the best," Harry said, grinning.
"But Harry, I don't have a computer anymore! I gave it to you, remember?"
"It doesn't matter!" Petunia suddenly shrieked, alarming everybody with her abrupt virulence, which, considering how softly and cajolingly she had just been speaking to her sister-in-law, was especially startling. "You can't possibly play that game!"
Dudley, Harry and Marge were all nonplussed.
"But why, mum?" Dudley said.
"Because ..." Petunia started, then seemed to suddenly get ahold of her emotions. "Ah, well, because, Diddy-dums, as you said, you don't have a computer anymore."
"Oh, well that's only part of the gift!" Harry said gleefully. "I got the idea from an American TV show, see," he felt compelled to explain. "Where somebody gave their daughter a set of keys as a present. And she was like, well what are the keys for? And her father said, 'look outside!' and when she looked outside, there was a new car. Pretty great, right?"
"You got me a car?" Dudley said, baffled.
Harry laughed. "No, but look in the closet," he said, pointing.
In the closet, there was an obviously expensive computer system. "That's the real present, you see. Although, that game is supposed to be great."
"What a …" Dudley struggled to express himself. "What a typical gift from you," he finally settled on. Harry just laughed. He knew better than to expect an over-the-top expression of gratitude from his cousin – and he could tell that Dudley was, in fact, grateful for the gift. He might not be exclaiming 'thank you, thank you Harry!' or anything, but he was grinning. In any case, Harry was happy with this result.
"It's not a big deal," Harry said. "I was just shopping the other day for a new system, and it occurred to me that your birthday was coming up. And then I saw that game, and the whole plan sort of came together."
"Very good!" Vernon announced, appearing in the doorway. "Why, I wouldn't be surprised if soon this family has two computer geniuses."
Dudley laughed the loudest out of everyone.
Dudley's birthday celebration was not an over-the-top affair. A simple trip to the zoo with three of Dudleys friends – Joshua and Kieth from their new school and Piers Polkiss, whose mother had brought him from Surrey – along with Harry, of course, and Marge.
There, something a bit odd occurred. Harry had a conversation with a boa constrictor – a species who, he was quite sure, was not known for human speech. Regardless, when the snake told Harry that it had spent its entire life confined in plexiglass boxes, he told it, "I'm going to get you out of here."
When he got home that evening, Harry gave Bill a call, and together they decided to start a charitable organization called the Harry Potter and Bill Gates Tropical Species Foundation, whose sole mission was to buy up massive amounts of property in the Amazon and other rainforests around the world, to turn them into conservatories for native species, and, if possible, to purchase animals from zoos all over the world and release them back where they belong. The "Pottergates conservancies" would furthermore be protected from deforestation and other threats.
Their charity started with a big injection of their personal cash, but soon others were making charitable donations as well, and they were able to buy up an incredible amount of land, and employ local people as park rangers to watch for illegal poaching, lumbering and farming.
It was a few weeks after that phone call with Bill that one evening after supper, Vernon asked Dudley to go upstairs so that he could have a private word with his nephew.
"Look, Harry," his uncle began unsurely. Petunia was also there – she was silent, though, and her face was ashen. "Well, we had thought of hiding this from you, but you're too damn smart. And, well, these people are damn persistent. We probably couldn't have hidden it for long. So we've decided to tell you the truth."
"What?" Harry said slowly. "What are you talking about, Vernon?"
Vernon cleared his throat. He was still not fully used to his nephew addressing him just by his first name, but what could he do. Anyway, it wasn't important at the moment. "It's about your parents," he said. "And how they died."
Harry blinked rapidly. His aunt and uncle avoided talking about his uncle's dead brother, but more than anything, they avoided talking about his aunt's dead sister, and her husband. "The car crash, you mean?"
"They did not die in a car crash, Harry," his uncle said.
Something weird happened in Harry's mind – it seemed to go blank, and suddenly his aunt and uncle, right across the small table from him, began to look very far way, and getting further and further away by the second, and when he spoke his own voice had a strange metallic, echoing quality – "What do you mean?" he said.
"Show him the letter, Vernon!" Petunia said.
"All right." Vernon produced a letter from his coat pocket and handed it over to Harry. It was made of very thick paper – parchment? And written on the front, in dark green ink, was:
Mr. Harry Potter
Second room on the right upstairs
13 Fitzjohn's Avenue
"What is this?" he said, perplexed. Who would write an address that said which bedroom it was meant for?
"Just read it," his uncle said.
Harry flipped it over, and noted that the wax seal was already broken, presumably by his aunt and uncle. Inside he found several sheets of the thick paper. The top one read,
HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY
Headmaster: ALBUS DUMBLEDORE
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme 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.
"Is this a –" Harry began, but a look at his aunt and uncle's faces told him plainly that it was no joke. "What does this mean?"
"It means what it says!" Petunia screamed – and then hushedly, hurriedly continued, "You are a witch!"
"I'm a witch?" Harry repeated, dumbfounded.
"Just like Lily was, a witch, a magic-doer, a logic turn-arounder!"
"Hold on," Harry said. "My mum was a witch, and so am I? I don't follow – magic isn't real. 'Wizardry' isn't even a real word. It's just in that game!"
"It is a real word, and magic is real," Petunia said. "And it's terrible."
"Pet, dear, let me, please," Vernon said, stroking his bristly mustache. He wanted this conversation to continue in a less emotionally charged way. Vernon took a sip of his beverage, then he said, "Listen, Harry, it is very real, and there is a reason why your aunt hates it. You see, it's just like I said before. It all has to do with how your parents died."
"Right –" Harry said, amazed that he had allowed himself to be sidelined away from that topic. Surely, there was nothing more important, even this. "What were you saying before?"
"Lily – Petunia's sister – your mother, that is, as well as her husband James, were both killed by this magic business. They were only twenty-one years old. That's why Petunia – that's why we both dislike magic, and why we tried to raise you as a normal kid rather than one of these freaky people. But, well, it's genetic, you see. So really there was nothing we could do to prevent you from growing up to be a witch. But whether or not you go to this school – that is still your choice."
"Tell me how they died," Harry demanded. "I need to know."
"Look at this," Vernon said, producing a folded up piece of the same paper and handing it over to Harry.
Dear Mrs. Petunia Dursley,
It is with great sadness that I must inform you of the passing of your sister Lily along with her husband James late Halloween night. Lily and James Potter were murdered in their home at Godric's Hollow, Wales, by a terrorist known as the Dark Lord Voldemort.
"Murdered!" Harry erupted.
"Read the whole thing first, boy," his uncle instructed.
This Voldemort has been for the last decade culpable of countless tragedies all over the country. Your sister, along with her husband, were among those few left who stood against him, and they will always be remembered as heroic martyrs by our people, especially due to the peculiar and unprecedented circumstances of that night.
You see, after Voldemort had killed James and then Lily, he turned his wand against young Harry, and something truly miraculous occurred – the spell that Voldemort used was reflected back upon himself, and Voldemort was vanquished. I bid you please to ensure that Harry has a quiet and normal childhood with you in the muggle world, for when he returns into the fold of the wizarding world he will doubtlessly be treated as a hero beyond compare.
You absolutely must keep Harry and raise him, for there are protective magicks at work which will ensure the safety of both this boy and your family as long as he remains with you. I fear that both Harry and yourself will be vulnerable to attacks of revenge if these magicks are not reinforced.
Albus P.W.B. Dumbledore
"The same Dumbledore?" was Harry's first response after he had finished reading the whole letter.
"That man is no simple schoolteacher, Harry," his uncle said. "It seems that he led some sort of army against this Dark Voldy-individual. An army that your parents were part of."
"I just ..." Harry began, not knowing where to go from there. "I just don't believe a word of it. Magic?"
"But it's all true!" Petunia said. "It's true."
"Look, boy, don't you remember that time when your aunt gave you that terrible haircut, and all your hair just grew right back straight away?"
Harry searched his memory. "I guess. Vaguely. But that's not magic, surely?"
"How else can you explain it?"
Harry couldn't. "But there must be some explanation," he tried.
"I've just told you the explanation!" Petunia said. "You. Are. A. Witch!"
Suddenly there was a bang in the hallway and everyone's attention was drawn to the noise. Vernon and Harry got up and found Dudley in the hall. Vernon sighed. "You might as well come in," he said.
"What do you mean he's a witch?" Dudley asked his mother. "Witches are girls!"
Everyone paused. Harry blinked a few times in shock, then started laughing – and then, for some reason, he started crying too, while still laughing.
It took several minutes for him to regain his self-control. When he finally did, he said to his cousin, "Really, that's your biggest problem with this whole thing?"
"I think there is some other word for a male witch. I don't know," Petunia said. "It doesn't matter."
"Seriously though, Dudley. You just found out that magic is real. And that's your response?"
"Well, I've always known you were weird," Dudley said. "This is just another way you're weird."
Despite having just called him weird twice, Dudley's comment somehow made the whole situation seem less weird. Dudley was right, after all – this was just another thing to deal with. Just another aspect of his already complicated identity – just another thing to file away. Suddenly he was able to look at this whole thing more pragmatically. "This Hogwarts school, is it any good?" he said. "I mean, I have a ticket to Eton."
"I don't really know," Vernon said, looking to his wife.
"It's the best in the country," she said. "For what it is."
"Do they have normal subjects there, too, or just magic?"
Petunia shrugged. "I never really asked about that," she realized. "I don't know."
"I need to know more about this school," Harry decided. "Like, where can I even buy all of these things? Cauldrons? Spell books? A wand? A toad?"
"There is a hidden marketplace downtown," Petunia told him in a strained voice. "Not far from Charring Cross."
"That's absurd," Harry pointed out. "Where would they sell cauldrons in downtown London?"
"I told you, it's hidden. Only witches can find the entrance."
Harry thought that over. It sort of made sense, he supposed. It could be some sort of underground facility, with some sort of witches-only security at the entrance.
"Can we go?" Dudley asked eagerly. "I'd like to see this!"
Petunia groaned in apparent pain. "Harry, I don't want you to go to this school," she said.
"I haven't decided to go, Petunia. But I need to see what this is all about for myself."
So, the very next day, they walked down to Swiss Cottage Station and took the underground to Charring Cross, just a few blocks away from which there was a pub which apparently neither Petunia nor Dudley could actually see, although Petunia knew roughly where it was supposed to be. "But it's right here!" Harry exclaimed, pointing at the building. Which was absurd of course, because it was a whole pub that they were apparently unable to see.
"Ah, right, so it is," Petunia said. "Dudley, do you see it?"
"Okay, well just take my hand and follow closely. Harry, lead the way please."
A bit confused, Harry did as he was told, and led them into the dark and dingy pub. "It's protected so that normal people can't see it. But if a witch points it out to them, then they can see it, but only as long as they keep their eyes on it – and it sort of makes your eyes feel dry and itchy, so that's hard to do for long. It didn't work on me when I was Dudley's age, either. I think it's harder for kids to stare at something that makes their eyes feel like that…."
"All right," Harry said. He didn't know what else to say.
"Ah, this might be tricky," Petunia realized. "Since you haven't got a wand yet. Let's see if the barman will let us through."
They walked up to the bar, where the barman took one look at them and said, "Muggleborns, eh? Well, ye did good finding the place. I'll show ye through."
The barman came around and led them through a door through which there was a small, undecorated room which, strangely, had one of its walls made of brick instead of old-style wood slat panels like the rest of the pub.
"Now, who's the young wizard? Or is it both of them?" the barman asked.
"That would be me, I guess," said Harry.
"All right, lad, now there's no trick to this, ye've just got to know which brick to tap. Use this black brick here as a reference, then go three up and two over. Here. Give it a tap with yer wand, and –"
The brick wiggled a bit, then a hole appeared in it, and the hole spread until it formed an archway that was big enough for them all to pass through it. And beyond, there was the most bizarre sight Harry or Dudley had ever beheld, for there were scores of strangely dressed people milling about and doing errands, errands which consisted of buying the most peculiar things from the strangest sorts of shops.
"Ah, I love this part," the barman said, grinning. "It's always a joy to see them get their first sight of it. But it looks like ye've been here before, is that right madam?"
"Yes," Petunia said shortly. "My sister was one. A witch, that is."
"I see, I see! And now yer son is. Wonderful, wonderful. My name is Tom, by the way, and I'm always here at the bar in case ye ever need advice – or would just like a chat," he added with a wink, and then he made his way back into his pub before Harry's aunt could formulate a response.
"The nerve of him!" Petunia said.
They made their way along the alley, stopping occasionally for the boys to gawk at something particularly unbelievable, until they came to a rather out-of-place looking white marble building, neither Roman nor Greek in design per se, but definitely classical. "What is this place?" Harry asked.
"The bank," Petunia said shortly. Then she sighed and elaborated: "The bank is run by goblins. Horrible, horrible creatures. Pointed little teeth – smell like low tide – and they're mean. But they are the bank. So you must always be polite, even if they are rude. If they ever decide to deny you service, that's a huge problem. How much cash did you take out, Harry?"
"Two thousand pounds," he said.
"That should cover a few books and things," Petunia said thoughtfully.
"Excuse me?" Harry exclaimed.
"Oh – well that's the other thing about the goblins. They hate the financial system in the normal world. They consider it terribly unstable. They're not entirely wrong, to be honest. But well, to them 'inflation' is a dirty word, and as our normal money is constantly inflating, it's not that different from funny money in the eyes of the goblins – and most witches. So when we go in there, we're basically asking for them to convert Monopoly money into gold. And they will, because they are legally mandated to. However, those laws stipulate that they can do the conversion not against current exchange rates, but against forecasted exchange rates, specifically the rate that they expect in 2025, which is when the treaty between the witches and the goblins expires. That way, in theory, they won't lose any money on the conversions."
"I see," Harry said slowly. "That actually kind of makes sense," he allowed.
"Hardly!" Petunia balked. "But that's the agreement they have with the witchy government. Lily researched all of this constantly and subjected the whole family to ever more intricately detailed rants about it every year – it made her feel better about throwing away so much of our parents' money, ranting about it all the time. Our parents took out student loans for the actual tuition and board, but it didn't cover the supplies, you see. So I know more about this financial corruption than I would like. But the moral of the story is that the goblins give normal families a completely crooked deal, and the government tacitly endorses the whole thing. You know, it's not as if the goblins are just going to sit on that money until 2025 – they're going to turn around and invest it in non-magical businesses, and by the time 2025 rolls around they'll have made a mint."
In the end, they came out of the bank with forty-two gold galleons and some change and a red-in-the-face Petunia.
"Infuriating!" she kept repeating under her breath. "Absolutely outrageous!"
"Ah – Petunia?" Harry tried. "Where can we get some information?"
Harry's aunt cleared her throat and straightened her clothes, composing herself for the most part, although her face was still quite pink. "There is only one bookstore here that I know of," she said, and proceeded to lead them to it.
The bookstore was a massive shop, clearly one of the biggest in the whole shopping center. At its center was a small building which seemed to have gradually acquired and grown into several of its neighbors, and as each wall was knocked down they maintained the facade of the old shop that had been there, so that the outwards appearance of the place was a discordant jumble.
"Interesting place," Harry remarked as they entered.
But the threshold, it seemed, was where the chaos really began. For a bookstore, it was absurdly noisy. In the back of the shop there was a small café where people sat smoking, drinking and generally making quite a lot of noise and smells, and near to that was a shop-within-a-shop that sold stationary items like paper and ink. There were tons of customers, many of whom were inappropriately raucous for being in a bookstore, as well as a few wizards apparently trying to market their own books to the customers, yelling at passersby that their book could help get that nasty stain out of their shirts. There was also one man delivering what seemed to be a political speech having something to do with dragon breeding, and a boy belting out the headlines of the newspaper, trying to make a sale. Amidst the chaos, it was hard to believe that the place was a bookshop at all – except for all of the books. There were a lot of books. Shelves upon shelves, sometimes so close together it was hard to see how anyone could even get between them, sometimes cutting each other off and intersecting, as though fighting each other for space, and where there weren't any shelves there were often books stacked haphazardly on the ground.
Harry could see why this shop was so popular, and he could see why his aunt did not like the place. "Let's not dawdle here too long," Petunia said. "I hate this … shop." Harry could see where she was coming from. Although he liked the place, it was undeniably a sensory overload in the extreme.
"What are we looking for?" an attendant said, appearing out of nowhere. He was very tall, ginger-bearded, and dressed in a teal robe and pointed hat with a fluffy feather in it.
"A book about Hogwarts, and other schools," Harry said.
"Muggleborns, are we?" the young man said knowingly. "Well, I've got just the thing right over here, if you'll follow me."
The book he showed them was called The Ultimate Survival Guide to the Wizarding World for Muggleborns by Muggleborns. "This might be useful," Harry said with a quirked eyebrow. "But this isn't what I was looking for."
"Oh, trust me, trust me, lad," the attendant said. "I'm a muggleborn myself, believe it or not!" – and Harry did not – "But with the help of this little book, why, just look at me today. I'm a complete native. You know, I've actually forgotten the rules of football? I highly recommend this book!"
"Oh. Well, er –" Harry didn't know what to say to that. A book that helps one forget things? What? "The thing is, I'm not entirely sure if I want to go to Hogwarts or not."
"Oh, lad, oh-ho-ho, oh lad!" the enthusiastic young man said.
"If you've been accepted at Hogwarts, you must go. You simply must. It is the finest school in Britain – nay, dare I say? – the world. Why, if I had gone to Hogwarts," he added wistfully, "I would not be working here today, I can assure you!"
The attendant, laughing merrily, patted Harry on the shoulder and wandered off to help another customer.
"That was weird," Dudley observed.
Harry nodded fervently. He cracked open the book, and skipped past the introduction.
1., the book's first chapter began,
The first thing you need to know is that you need to forget everything you know, the book told him. Everything. "But what about all of the useful things I know?" you might ask. To which I say, you know nothing useful, and you know a lot of things that will only get in your way. So throw it all out!
"This book is pretty rude," Harry said, snapping it shut and replacing it on the shelf.
"Here we are," Petunia said, pulling a thick book off the shelf. "I guess he led us to the right area after all."
A Tour of Magical Education in Europe and the Colonies, the book's title read.
"Let's just purchase it and be on our way – good lord!" Petunia said. "Look at that!"
The price tag read 2G 16S 28K. "Pricey," Harry agreed. "Still, though."
"We hardly have any choice," Petunia agreed.
They purchased the book and, at Petunia's urging, made haste out of the quirky shopping district known as Diagon Alley. Since Dudley was hungry again by then, they went into a fish-and-chips shop down the road. The greasy food wasn't exactly ideal for brand new books, but it was close and it was cheap.
"According to this," Harry said, "Hogwarts was the best school in Europe but recently it's been on the decline. Mind you, it doesn't actually say that. While a French school is now widely regarded as the best in Europe."
"Hmn," Petunia said, uninterested.
"Furthermore, Hogwarts tuition has been skyrocketing, driving poor families and muggleborn students to seek their educations elsewhere. There are government-run schools."
"I see," she said.
"I don't know if I want to leave Britain though. I barely speak any French. And I don't want to go to a public school. That's just distasteful."
"That's up to you."
Harry scrunched his face. It was, indeed, quite clear that she had reached her limit and was no longer willing to talk about magical things for a while. Harry deliberated on this fact and decided not to notice it. "Although the book is called a Tour of Europe and the Colonies, it doesn't say anything about American schools," he lamented. "It only briefly mentions Australian schools, and it's just a summary. It's really focused on Hogwarts and the schools in Europe."
"False advertising really is terrible," Harry's aunt said with almost physically palpable disinterest, now staring at the traffic out the window.
"Excuse me," someone said. Harry looked up. Standing above him, staring not at him but at his book – which, as it had an animated picture open for anyone to see, he snapped shut and put away – was a girl his age. "Excuse me, but did I hear you say Hogwarts a bit ago?"
"Possibly," Harry said cagily, making sure his book was now out of sight.
"What of it?" Petunia snapped at the girl.
"Oh – well –"
She was clearly quite taken aback by Harry's caginess and his aunt's open hostility.
"Hm?" Harry prodded. The girl's parents were now walking over.
"Well, it's just, I'm off to Hogwarts this September."
"Please excuse her," the girl's mother said sheepishly. "She really can't contain herself sometimes."
"I'm Tobias Granger, my lovely wife Elizabeth, and our chipper daughter Hermione," the man said.
"I see," Petunia said.
Harry, now feeling a smidge embarrassed by his aunt's recalcitrance, intervened. "Oh, well, nice to meet you. Sorry about that. We're not used to the whole idea yet, you see. I'm Harry Potter, and this is my aunt Petunia Dursley and my cousin Dudley."
"Harry Potter?" the girl said. She scrunched up her eyes as if to get a better look. "Surely, not the Harry Potter, of Microsoft?"
Harry coughed. He went to a very nice school where people were generally quite polite about the fact that he was filthy rich and famous. But every now and then someone would react like this – while it was a bit uncomfortable for people to always know him before he knew them, he was starting to get used to the idea. "Afraid so," he said faux-apologetically.
"You're a wizard?" she exclaimed.
"Hermione, dear, not so loud," her mother reminded her.
"Of course, sorry mum – I'm just so surprised!"
"Well, to be honest, it came as quite a surprise to me as well. See, I only found out about all of this yesterday evening."
"Really! Well, why weren't you on the tour?" Hermione asked.
"Tour?" Of course, that made sense. There must be some sort of introduction to all of this for newcomers. And, of course, as a legacy (technically), he wouldn't be invited to that sort of thing, since he wasn't expected to need it. "Oh, well, I opted out," he improvised. "I thought it would be more fun just to sort of check it out myself."
"Don't lie," Dudley said.
Harry sent him a very reproachful look. "Actually," he admitted, "My parents were wizards, but I've only just found out. I suppose the government, or the school or whatever, didn't think that I would need a tour, since I'm a legacy."
"Hermione, we should be going," Elizabeth Granger said with a pained look at Harry's aunt, who was very clearly much displeased with this situation on a number of levels.
"Oh, but mum!"
"Listen," Harry said, "Are you here in London?"
"Croydon," she said.
"Perfect. Ah, let's see." He took out the book again, and wrote his name and phone number on one of the pages, then ripped that part off and passed it to her.
"Isn't that a brand new book?" she exclaimed.
"Oh, yes. Look, here's my phone number, give me a ring sometime and we can chat about this whole thing a bit further."
"I'll definitely call!" she said, beaming.
"Right. Looking forward to it. Well, it was nice meeting you all."
"Let's go, Hermione," her mother said, dragging her away. "Nice meeting you, Mrs. Dursley, Mr. Potter."
"Am I invisible?" Dudley muttered. Then he shrugged and started eating Harry's chips.
Harry heaved a sigh of relief as the family Granger departed the restaurant.
"Why on earth would you do that?" his aunt demanded.
"Do you really want that queer girl ringing you any time of the day?"
"Oh, that. Don't worry, Petunia. I'm not completely daft. I put an '8' instead of a '5' for the last digit."
Dudley laughed, the bits of chips that were ejected from his mouth narrowly missing Harry. "You berk!" he said. "You'll break her heart!"
Ignoring the potato debris, Harry explained, "This way, if by some weird chain of events I end up going to school with her, and we're friends, I can always just say, 'oh, how daft of me! I messed up my own phone number!' and it will be fine. On the other hand, if I don't go to school with her, or if we're not friends, then I can forget all about this episode."
"You know," his aunt said, looking at him with a keen eye and a touch of a smirk, "you're pretty clever about other things, besides computers."
Now that he knew where the entrance to the magical world was, Harry could go there by himself any time he liked, and did so on several occasions throughout July. He purchased a wand for himself so that he wouldn't need to keep asking the barman at the pub to let him through. He even bought a book on basic charms and, taking it to the nice little park in the wizarding district, tried a couple of them out. It was really quite marvelous to make a leaf hover, and even dance around; it filled him with a sense of wonder on par with or even above that of finally getting the last bug out of a program and seeing it run flawlessly.
He was, in short, hooked.
It was plain to see that he would not be able to simply ignore this aspect of himself – he would definitely be studying magic. But Hogwarts? Although it was a very well-regarded school by all – or at least most – accounts, it wasn't Eton.
Still, did he really want to be an Etonian? The old-fashioned tailcoats, the aristocratic drama, the strict regulations – all of that aspect of Britain's finest school for boys put him off. Hogwarts, too, catered to the rich, but it also had scholarship programs for poor students, and was, based on the information he had gathered from the alumni that lived and worked in Diagon, a very, very fun school, in addition to being academically demanding.
They each had their pros and their cons, and he wavered indecisively between them for two weeks following the arrival of that emerald-inked envelope.
Finally, at dinnertime on the sixteenth of July, he announced his decision to his relatives. "I've decided to attend that wizardry school," he told them abruptly during a lull in the conversation.
"Of course you have," his aunt said with a sigh, seemingly having long since admitted defeat in this argument.
"You knew?" Harry asked; he was honestly surprised, since he had only himself made his final decision hours before.
"You are my sister's son," she said, her tone bittersweet.
"I wish I could go too," Dudley pouted. "I'm jealous."
"Don't be jealous, dear," his mother said. "Magic isn't all it's cracked up to be."
"You keep saying things like that, Petunia, but magic really is amazing," Harry said. "I can make things hover and do what I say … and I'll be able to transfigure things, that means change their shape … not to mention the medical potions – they have a cure for cancer, you know?"
"I know about the cure for cancer," Petunia said. "Lily told me about it so many times. The wizards had cured cancer back before normal people even knew what it was. But look at what those wizards do with their cure for cancer – they hoard it for themselves, wrap it up in their Statute of Secrecy, along with all of their other miracles."
"But they must!" Harry objected. "The witches can't be opening up cancer clinics."
"I know," Petunia said. "But you know, every now and again the witches do interact with normal people – by playing wicked tricks on them, or just slaughtering them. Their secrecy never stopped them from hurting us."
A chill ran up Harry's spine. It was true, and he could not deny it, nor was he prepared to stand up for a society of which he was still just a tourist. He had read a little bit of their history, and so he knew that the witches had gone into seclusion long ago because they were afraid of the muggles, but every few decades some witches would emerge from that shroud of secrecy like a pack of wolves from the dark.
There was a silence. Dudley and Vernon exchanged wide-eyed looks, then turned back to their plates. They did not want to get in the middle of this exchange.
"They killed your grandparents," Petunia finally said after two minutes or so of silence. Harry dropped his fork in surprise. "My parents, I mean. Before they killed Lily and her husband, they killed my parents. Those dark witches, during their civil war."
"Voldemort," Harry said, remembering the name from Dumbledore's letter.
His aunt nodded slowly, but she said, "Not just him. He had his own little army, you know. They had some disgusting name for themselves – the Death Eaters, I think. And those people, they saw us muggles as nothing but vermin to be eradicated. Worse than vermin, since they live in hiding from us, when usually vermin would be the ones hiding. They killed thousands of people. They collapsed bridges and blew up clocktowers and things, and then they would sometimes just massacre a whole village somewhere. All for no reason other than hate."
"They aren't all like that," Harry said weakly, thinking about some of the nice, if odd, people he had talked to in Diagon Alley.
"They don't have to all be like that," Petunia said. "Only a hundred or so of them caused so much damage. You know, their favorite targets were the families of muggleborns. That's why they killed my parents – just to get to Lily.
"I'm not trying to change your mind," she continued. "I know that I can't change your mind. Your brain works a lot like Lily's did. But I just want you to be careful, Harry. I know that I've not always been the nicest person to you -"
"No, Petunia, don't -"
"It's true, and you know it. When you first showed up on our doorstep … But you've grown on me. And I want you to be safe. I want you to be careful out there, and to always keep in mind that these witches are dangerous, unpredictable people."
Harry felt like he might cry. For his aunt, 'you've grown on me,' was about as close as it would ever get to 'I love you,' and he knew that that was what she meant. But Harry didn't cry – he nodded, and he said, "I will be careful."
His aunt nodded primly, and began clearing the table.
"I don't think I'm jealous anymore," Dudley said later that evening. They were sitting on the floor in Harry's bedroom. The room was lit only by a small lamp and two computer monitors. Harry, having grown accustomed to sitting on the floor over the past few years, had eschewed desks and set up his computers on the floor again in this house. Besides his bed, the only furniture he had were several book cases and a tall dresser. His aunt thought it was perfectly ridiculous, but that was how he was comfortable, and it made the room seem bigger, which was nice. "That school of yours … do they have telephones there?"
"I'm sure they have telephones," Harry answered. "I'm not going back in time or anything."
"Right – dumb question," Dudley said laughing. "Well, give us a ring every now and again. Just so I know you haven't been murdered or something."
Harry laughed. "I will, I will."
"So, how's Version Three coming along?" Dudley asked, referring to Harry's new game, which he had finally started working on after two years of his other project taking up all his time.
Harry grinned, thankful for his cousin's change to a happier topic, and started listing all of the features he was planning to put into his game. "Right now it's not much," he said. "You can just sort of walk around and swing your sword. But I have everything planned out already. It's going to be groundbreaking, revolutionary. It's going to blow your mind. You'll need a mop for this game – to clean up all the brains that are exploding," he added to help his cousin.
Harry went again to Diagon the next morning. "A galleon thirteen. That works out to over sixty pounds! Why are these books so damn expensive?" he muttered to himself as he found himself once again drawn to that bookstore.
"So true," the same teal-clad attendant said, appearing behind Harry and causing him to jump in shock. This early in the morning, the bookstore did not yet have the boisterous atmosphere that it did in the afternoons. A few early risers had come to read a newspaper in the little café area, but other than that it was almost devoid of customers. So it really shouldn't have surprised Harry that he soon got the attention of that overeager employee.
"You again!" he said. "Er – that is, I mean – hello again."
"Oswald," the attendant said, bowing. "Oswald Fitzgerald-Fitzpatrick."
"Lovely," Harry said as he struggled to see what about his previous 'greeting' had implied that he wanted to know the man's name. "Oh, and I'm Harry, and I didn't mean for anyone to hear that. It's not that expensive."
"Oh, I know who you are, Mr. Potter," the attendant said, then pointed at his own forehead. "Don't worry – I'm very discrete."
Harry took in the man's appearance afresh. Teal robes, teal hat with poofy purple feather out from which spilled an orange waterfall of hair, and purple boots with expensive-looking silver clasps. "Right," he said skeptically. "You seem discrete. How did you know who I am?"
"The scar?" the attendant asked, taking on the affectation of one trying to speak English to a simple-minded foreigner. "You know, that scar there."
"Ah, right." Harry rarely thought about his scar, but he had read that it was the result of Voldemort's attack, and so of course it was widely known. "Of course. Silly me."
"Oh-ho-ho! Fret not, it's early in the morning! I'm an early bird myself, but I'm quite understanding of folks who are not. Yes, it seems many folks are only half-awake at this early hour," Oswald Fitzgerald-Fitzpatrick revealed, as if it were something that he alone had observed. "And, fret further not, about your remark – for it's true! Things in this world are very expensive – or they can be, if you are trying to use muggle currency to pay for things. Why, those goblins …! Oh, but perhaps I shouldn't say it in the workplace. But Mr. Potter, I must inquire, whyever would you of all people pay for things with muggle currency?"
Now Harry was about at his limit for feeling foolish while talking to this absurd person, but, exasperated though he was, he knew that he was about to be made a fool of once again when he said, "What do you mean by that?"
"What do I mean?" Oswald Fitzgerald-Fitzpatrick said, apparently shocked. "What do I mean, what do I mean, whatever could I possibly mean – why! I should think it's rather obvious, even at this early hour, just what I mean."
Harry, by now thoroughly despising this person, grit his teeth and said, "Pretend that you're speaking to a complete moron."
"Oh-ho-ho! You're really too much, Mr. Potter!" Oswald Fitzgerald-Fitzpatrick said. "Too much, too much for my thin blood. Are you serious?"
"Yes, I am truly serious," Harry said very slowly, trying to keep his tone measured.
Seemingly oblivious to the massive irritation he was causing, Oswald Fitzgerald-Fitzpatrick finally explained. "Oh-ho-ho, oh-ho-ho! Indeed, pretend I'm speaking to a moron. Right away, Mr. Potter, right away. I shall pretend that you are a complete simpleton presently! I was referring, of course, to your family fortune!"
"My family fortune," Harry echoed.
"Being one of the great and ancient families, the House of Potter naturally have a great and ancient pile of gold," Oswald Fitzgerald-Fitzpatrick explained, speaking slowly for Harry's benefit. "Unless I am very much mistaken – and oh-ho-ho! I so rarely am! – there should be a rather large sum sitting some two hundred meters below the surface of Gringotts in one of their most great and ancient vaults!"
"I see. Thank you." Harry replaced the book on the shelf and left the shop, heading to the bank.
The bank, too, was quite empty at this hour. Harry was beginning to think that witches were perhaps a bit prone to lying in – it was already almost nine in the morning, and yet nobody was about. Perhaps they all stayed up late brewing potions under the moonlight, or something witchy like that. "Good morning," he said to the nearest teller.
The goblin glanced up at him briefly, said "Please wait," and proceeded to continue reading the parchment in front of him, making the occasional tick mark or jotting down a sum. Finally, about two minutes later, the goblin looked up again and said, "Yes?"
"I'm here to make a withdrawal," Harry said. "But I don't know my account number."
The goblin scrunched its face in obvious irritation but said, "No problem. Name?"
"13 Fitzjohn's Ave, London. The first bedroom on the right on the first storey," he added, remembering the Hogwarts letter.
"I see," the goblin said, then walked away and through a door behind him. Harry stood there awkwardly, peering over the counter at the door, waiting for the next ten minutes before the goblin returned. "This way," the goblin said.
The goblin walked behind him, as if to keep him in sight at all times, and ushered him through the same door and down a long, strangely curving hallway to a door with a placard that said "Account Reclamation Dept," along with some strange writing presumably in the goblin language.
The goblin rapt on the door in a specific and intricate pattern, then told Harry, "Wait here," and left.
After waiting there for another twenty minutes or so, during which Harry first wished that there was a chair and then started eyeing the marble floor and evaluating how much posterior comfort it might offer, he heard a scratchy voice call, "Enter!"
He entered the room and found, to his surprise, that there was a human being sitting behind the goblin-sized desk inside.
"Potter?" the man said curtly, referencing a long scroll. "Sit."
"Thank you," Harry said unsurely, sitting.
"Let me see," the man said. Harry noted that the banker, or accountant, or whatever the man was, had still at no point actually looked at Harry. "Let me see," he said again, then was silent for quite a while as he looked over what were presumably the details of Harry's accounts. He went over every line, of which there were many on the long scroll.
"And you say you have lost your key?" the man asked suddenly, looking at Harry for the first time. Harry noted that the man's brown eyes had a slightly bird-like quality – sharply clever, but at the same time somewhat alien. They made Harry feel strange. Harry wondered if it was the result of working for the goblins for many years.
"Ah – yes, that is correct," he said.
"I find that quite odd, Mr. Potter," the man said pointedly. "Considering that you scheduled a large transfer of gold only sixteen days ago."
"Is something awry? Hm?" the man said, leaning forward just slightly, seemingly intensifying the sharpness of his gaze even further.
"It's just that I never authorized any such transfer," Harry said calmly. "Who has it been transferred to?"
"Whom," the man corrected. Then, ignoring his question, he said, "Let's see your blood, then."
"My blood?" Harry repeated, alarmed.
"A half teaspoon will do," the banker said, producing a rather ornate silver bowl and a matching dagger. "Go on."
"What is this for?"
"I can't do anything at all until I confirm your identity. Go on."
Harry, feeling extremely skeptical and defensive, nonetheless did as he was instructed, taking the knife and making a cut on his palm, dripping the blood into the silver dish. The banker offered Harry a handkerchief and produced his wand, then began casting some spells over Harry's blood. Harry, nursing his cut, watched attentively as the banker worked.
"Fifty percent match with James Potter. You are his son," the banker finally announced. "You will be requiring a new key?"
"Who has my old key?" Harry asked. "Who authorized that transaction, and to whom was the money transferred?"
"The first two questions are unfortunately beyond me. To protect the privacy of our customers, Gringotts Bank does not keep track of such things. Since your identity has been confirmed, I'm now authorized to tell you that the money was transferred to Hogwarts School, on the date of July the first. It appears to be a standard tuition fee."
"But I haven't accepted my invitation to Hogwarts yet," Harry said.
"Hm. Well, whoever has your account's key seems to believe otherwise."
"I want my locks to be changed so that that key will no longer work," Harry stated firmly. "I don't know who has it but they have no right to be dipping into my vault."
"Of course," the banker said. He did not seem scandalized in the slightest by the revelation that someone had been using Harry Potter's money without authorization. He got up and retrieved a form from one of his shelves and began filling it out.
"And you will be wanting a new key?" the banker said after completing the form.
"Yes, I will be wanting a new key for the new lock," Harry said.
"Of course," the man said, and began filling out another form.
After the new form was completed, the man passed Harry a quill and spread the parchments out before him, saying, "Just sign here, here, here, and here. Initial here, here and here. And thumbprint there and there."
"Where is the ink?" Harry said when he got to the thumbprint part. The banker pushed forward the silver dish of blood. "Right, obviously. Why would it be with ink?"
"Indeed," the man said, ignoring Harry's tone. Harry made the signatures, initials and thumbprints in blood, and the man snatched the parchment forms from him, rapidly folded them up, stuck them in an envelope, and sealed the envelope with wax, all in an extremely well-practiced motion.
"Wait outside this office for an attendant," the man said. "They will be with you shortly."
Harry, feeling it was quite rude to be asked to wait outside of the office, had no choice but to comply. After only a few moments, a goblin appeared and instructed Harry to follow further along the hall. Eventually they came to a door whose English label said simply, "Keys," and the goblin told Harry to wait outside.
After a few minutes a voice called for him to enter, and Harry was startled to find that the room was no office, but a forge. A single ancient-looking goblin was inside. "Let me see that," the goblin said, snatching the envelope from Harry's hand.
After looking over the forms, the goblin said, "Let's see your blood."
"Again?" Harry asked, aghast. Who knew that banking could be such bloody work.
"One and one third ounces, if you please," the goblin said. Harry was forced to make another slice in his hand, and let the blood drip into a small golden cup. This time, no handkerchief was provided, and he was left using his already blood-soaked one to staunch the flow, which led to a mess of blood on the floor. Looking around the place, Harry noted that several more blood stains were already present on the floor.
The goblin dropped the golden cup and its bloody contents into the small forge. The cast he had set up seemed to be designed to fashion the lock and key at the same time. In short order, the goblin retrieved the newly minted key from the cast, polished off some of the rough edges, and handed it over to Harry, who was forced to hold it with his bloody handkerchief since it was still extremely hot.
"Er – thank you?" Harry said. This whole experience with goblin banking was quite strange, and he was now feeling rather off-kilter.
"The lock shall be installed within six business days, during which time you will be unable to access its contents," stated the wizened, liver-spotted goblin, "Please wait outside."
Harry was again left to wait outside of the room for a third goblin handler to come and pick him up. The goblin took him back to the front area of the bank. "Will that be all?" the goblin said stiffly, although it was already turning around to do something else.
"Er – yes," Harry said. The goblin was already walking away. Harry left the bank.
"Goblins," he said bitterly as soon as he was far enough away to be sure that none of the creatures could hear him.
Harry wanted to get a book on healing charms to heal his cut up hand, but he could hardly go into a bookstore and handle new books with bloody hands. So he settled for going to a potion shop and buying an ointment to cure the wounds. It was rather expensive, but it was hardly as though he had any options. The shopkeeper allowed him to use the shop's restroom to clean up.
Now with a new appreciation for the uses of blood in magic, Harry decided to pocket his bloody handkerchief instead of throwing it in a rubbish bin, having a mind towards incinerating it later. Who knew what some ill-meaning person could do with his blood?
Harry thanked the potionsmaker for the use of his water closet and promised to return to the shop soon to buy his school things there, and left the shop.
Standing outside the shop, he looked up and down the street, wondering what to do next. He was very low on galleons, now, but couldn't justify converting more muggle money when he would have access to his bank account the next week. There were several shops that he wanted to investigate further, but he didn't want to be one of those people that just goes into shops, touches everything, and leaves without purchasing anything. And, knowing that there was always the risk that someone would recognize him, like that bookstore employee had done, made him want to be on his way soon. Instead of leaving, however, he thought that a good use of his last few gold coins might be to remedy that problem by purchasing some witchy clothing, so that he would stand out less – and a hat to keep his scar covered up. At least the people in this world only knew what his scar looked like, and not his face, Harry reflected.
There were several clothing shops on the street, so he selected the one that seemed like it might have the cheapest attire.
Looking around at the articles on the racks, he soon realized that every single item was far too big for him. Feeling embarrassed, he asked an attendant where the children's section was.
"Muggleborn?" the woman asked him in what seemed like a purposefully neutral tone.
"Yeah," Harry said, flattening his hair over his forehead. He could hardly explain his particular circumstances to every person he encountered. It was just easier to say that he was a muggleborn.
"In the wizarding world, clothes are not mass-produced in standardized sizes, as they are in the muggle world," the witch lectured authoritatively. "Instead, clothes are made in one large size, then tailored to fit the customer. This way, we can ensure that every article is a perfect fit for every customer."
"I see," Harry said. It seemed rather pointless, since wizards wore such baggy clothes that they hardly needed to be a perfect fit, but he was hardly going to voice this opinion. "Look, can you help me find something that's fashionable but not too expensive?"
"Of course," the witch said, leading him to a particular corner of the shop. "These robes here are all part of the Oddities Collection by Marie Le Pointe. As you can see, the cut of the robes is very trendy, but the fabric is inexpensive. These robes are made specifically for people in your – er – circumstances."
Perhaps, Harry thought, saying that he was a muggleborn was not the best move. It seemed to be almost exactly the same as saying that he was dirt poor and probably couldn't afford anything – these robes were the cheapest in the shop by a good margin. Even so, the fact was that for the moment he was poor, if only because he refused to convert more money with the extortionist goblins. "I'll take one set in royal blue, and a hat," he said, consulting his coin purse.
"Of course," the witch said, and Harry caught her rolling her eyes.
Considering that it took a good fifteen minutes for her to tailor the robes for him, and that the robes were only about half a galleon, Harry supposed that she was actually being rather patient with him. Although that could also be attributed to the fact that he was the only customer in the shop. Harry asked her to keep the change from a galleon for her trouble, they thanked each other, and, wearing his new robes and hat, he left the shop.
Wizarding robes, he quickly realized, had several very nifty features. First and foremost, even his cheap robes had weak heating and cooling charms built in. Nowhere in the muggle world could you find clothes that made you cooler instead of warmer – and on this July day, that was just what the doctor ordered.
Harry made his way to the post office next. They sold parchment and let you use their quills and ink for free, which he thought was pretty good service. He drafted his acceptance letter for Hogwarts and sent it off. After all, it was already paid for, according to the man-who-works-for-goblins, and he had already told his relatives his decision, so it was time to formally submit his intent to attend.
The matter of who had been using his funds was something that he decided to put out of mind for now. He had put an end to it, and Gringotts did not keep records of who had used his key, and were quite cagey about how it had been used, so there was very little he could do to find out who it had been. Besides which, as far as he knew they had only used the money to pay for his school, which was an appropriate, if presumptive, expenditure. He would set the outrage to one side for now.
Wanting to continue to observe the witches without spending any more money, Harry went again to the park at the end of the alley and set about practicing the charms that he knew. Unfortunately he had not brought his book with him, so he was only able to do the same few spells over and over again, but that wasn't a terrible thing as he still had room to improve them.
"You know, I never knew that you were Pakistani," someone said. Harry was suddenly aware of Hermione Granger standing over him.
"What?" he said, perplexed by this off-the-wall conversation starter.
"Well, when I called the number you gave me, the person on the other end hardly spoke a word of English."
"Ah," Harry said, pinking in embarrassment. "I see."
"I'm not upset," Hermione said firmly. "I just would like to know why."
"Well – that is –"
"Why bother giving me a fake number? I didn't even ask for your phone number."
"Now, hang on," he said. This conversation was definitely not going well for him. He needed to recover what remained of his dignity, fast. "I never gave you a fake number."
"020 72899 128," Hermione said, crossing her arms.
"Five," Harry said. "The last digit was a five, not an eight."
Hermione blinked. "It looked like an eight," she said.
"Oh, well, my handwriting is pretty shit," Harry explained. "I've been marked down in school before for it. Sorry."
"That had better be your real number this time," Hermione said. "If it is, then I forgive you."
"Okay," Harry said cautiously. "That's good, then."
"I saw you doing some magic. Let's see it."
"Okay," Harry said again. "Er … Right. Wingardium Leviosa!"
The leaf he was pointing his wand at rose up into the air and hovered there. Hermione stared at it. Harry stared at Hermione as she stared at it. This was getting awkward, fast. "Er..." he said.
"That's very good," Hermione decided. "Just look how steady it is. Mine still wobbles about a bit."
"Oh, thank you." Despite the extreme awkwardness he was feeling, it was nice to hear that his wand handiwork – wandiwork? – was good. Hermione performed the charm on another leaf and raised it up to the level Harry's leaf was hovering at. Sure enough, it wobbled a bit.
"That's still really good," Harry said. "I've been practicing a lot."
"You know, I've read all about you," she said.
Harry coughed. "You mean that Byte Magazine article?"
"No, not that. Well, yes, I've seen that too. But no, I meant in Modern Magical History."
"Ah," Harry said, recognizing the name of a book that he had flipped through at Flourish and Blott's without buying. "That's a lot of speculation," he said. "They don't even cite their sources."
"I started reading that the day after I bumped into you in that fish and chips place. And I was thinking, well, it's a common enough name. Surely it can't be the same Harry Potter. There must be two Harry Potters that just happen to be the same age. Then I finished the first paragraph. It said you had this funny scar. And I remembered noticing that scar – I see you've got it covered up with a hat now, that's probably smart. And anyway, I thought, wow, it really is him."
Harry didn't know what to say. Fortunately for him, Hermione wasn't done talking.
"So I called you up – or I tried to – and, well. And you know. And you know, I was really quite angry with you, but I thought maybe that's just something famous people have to do – giving out wrong numbers. But I'm glad it was just a mistake."
Harry let his leaf fall to the ground, and Hermione did too. "Sorry again about that," he said, now feeling very guilty for how he'd abused her. "Where are your parents?" he asked suddenly, looking around.
"At work, of course," she said.
"Are you supposed to be here by yourself?" he asked.
"Are you?" she retorted.
"Well, actually, yes. My relatives let me do what I want for the most part."
"Oh," she said, coming up short. "I snuck out, actually."
"Babysitter?" he asked.
"I'm so responsible, my parents don't think I need a babysitter. Normally they would be right. Summer days like this, before I know, I would just sit in the back yard with a book all day. But how could I resist coming back here? They didn't want to come back unless we needed to, so I snuck out!"
"You don't seem like the type," Harry observed.
"Well you, Harry Potter, don't seem like the type to be world-famous in two different worlds!"
Harry nodded, acknowledging the point. Hermione sat down on the lawn next to him. It was a bit of a relief to not have her standing above him anymore, but at the same time he was a bit taken aback by her just joining him like that.
"It's a nice day," she said, apparently not knowing how to proceed with their dialog from there.
"Yes." Harry wracked his brain for something to say, then noticed her backpack. "You have any spellbooks in there?" he asked, gesturing.
Despite thinking that Hermione was a pretty weird girl, and more than a bit presumptuous, Harry had to admit that he had a lot of fun sitting around in that witchy park with her, casting spells on leaves and twigs and pinecones. In fact, he soon found himself letting his guard down with her, speaking to her as though she were a very smart version of Dudley. When she abruptly realized that it was time for her to leave, they even made a plan to meet there again the next Wednesday.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. Hermione called him up the next day and informed him that she had gotten home a bit too late, and her father had gotten off work a bit too early, and, long story short, she would no longer be left alone at the house while they were at work. The Granger parents, it seemed, were keenly aware of the potential dangers of the magical world, and were very uncomfortable with the idea of their little girl wandering around unsupervised in it. Fortunately, Hermione didn't mention that she had met Harry there, so they were not mad at him. To Harry's surprise, he found himself disappointed that they wouldn't be able to see each other again until September. Of course, he realized finally that it would be his birthday the following week, and the Grangers were much too nice to forbid their daughter from attending a friend's birthday party.
This was Harry's first birthday since he had truly earned the appreciation and respect of his relatives. It was the first birthday that they really treated him like he was important to them. So, it was a very good birthday to share with friends, even new ones. He also invited Ravi Mishra, his old team leader at Microsoft, who happened to be in England on business, and he let Dudley invite two of his friends.
The British Museum was every bit as amazing as Harry thought it would be, although now that he was aware of the magical world he couldn't help but wonder what role the magical world had played in the events surrounding all of those ancient relics and pieces of art. Something about the way Hermione looked at the various exhibits gave him the impression that she had similar thoughts going around in her head. He wished that they could sneak away from Ravi and Dudley's friends and talk about it all, but of course that would have been terribly rude, and Harry really wanted to catch up with his friend from Microsoft. They would be attending boarding school together, so naturally they would have plenty of time to discuss such things later.
Things at Microsoft were going very, very well it seemed. "We didn't set out to monopolize the market," Ravi said. "Bill doesn't even want that. But, well…."
Yes, they were doing pretty good back in Redmond.
Upon her realization of just who Harry's older American friend was, Hermione proceeded to pepper him with questions as her father rolled his eyes behind her (her mother was at work).
"So, what are you working on these days?" Ravi asked Harry once Hermione seemed to run out of questions for the software engineer.
"Oh, well, being the carefree kid that you know me to be –" Ravi laughed "– I've gone back to game design."
"Game design?" Ravi asked. He seemed skeptical.
"That's why I made BitHeap," Harry explained. "I needed a good application for video game graphics."
This had the American cracking up. "You made BitHeap to help you make video games?" he asked, amazed. Apparently Harry had never really told the people at Microsoft this, other than Bill.
"Well, yeah. Dudley said my game needed graphics to be fun. But the tools available were shit –"
"Language!" his aunt interrupted.
"– so I made my own. But I got a bit carried away and added some features I didn't even really need."
Ravi shook his head in amazement. "Kids are weird," he finally said, directing the remark at a nearby bronze of Henry V. "Don't you think? Well, Harry, let me know when your game is ready. I bet it'll be worth playing."
"I'll send you an early release," Harry promised.
All in all, it was a very nice birthday – followed by the longest month of Harry's life.
Oh, he had plenty to do – more, really, than he could possibly find time for. But no matter how busy he stayed, the minutes and hours and days seemed to pass at a snail's pace. He read all of his school books, and then he read a number of history books, and then he read arithmancy books – a subject not unlike maths except that it had magic numbers and auspicious geometry. He worked on his game a bit here and there, although his introduction to a real magical world seemed to take a bit of the wind out of his sails for creating his own fantasy world. He spoke to Hermione on the phone often, and they compared notes, and she read to him over the phone all the mentions she had found of him in books, since she had purchased several books on modern history. He made several more trips to Diagon Alley, buying more books and clothes and a few random things that caught his eye. But in spite of all of the activity, the month somehow seemed to dragged on and on.
On the last day of August, Harry's relatives treated him to a dinner at a trendy teppanyaki place, and they had a great time – but even then, Harry couldn't help but look at his watch every few minutes, amazed at how little time had passed, how little the distance between the present and 10:00 AM the following day had closed.
He knew that he would not feel like this if he were going to Eton College.
That night, he stared up at his ceiling, illuminated wonderfully orangely and in stripes by the streetlights that filtered through his pinewood Venetian blinds, feeling his anticipation flirting with the bounds of outright anxiety, and a strange series of images played vividly before his glassesless eyes: a green light, two oblong red orbs, soundlessly swimming, growing further and closer and away again, spiraling upwards into a tunnel he fell down into. Drowsiness wooled his perception. A wolf – a vase shattering – someone screaming – numbers of no discernible function – stars shimmering stunningly in the blue sky of day – a clawed hand, grasping at his heart, fingers all cold – escaping, fleeing, going nowhere, not escaping –
Somehow, he fell asleep.
And then it was September – September, September – in his barely-awake mind, it wasn't just September, but September, September, September –
He had things to do.
He got out of bed and showered and put everything out of his mind; the trance-inducing hot water on his face not cleansing him, but separating him from whatever that had been.
He felt strange, but he no longer knew why. He ate breakfast – eggs and toast. It tasted the same as always. He considered the salt, but only came to the conclusion that the eggs needed it after the meal was done.
"You're gone," Dudley said. The first words he heard that day. He realized that he was in a daze as he snapped out of it
"After today, you're going to be gone for the whole year," his cousin said.
"Yeah, I suppose so. Well, there's Christmas break."
A wolf –
"I hope our breaks are at the same time," Dudley said.
"Christmas break is always at the same time, Dud," he replied, laughing. Why was he laughing – why was it strange that he was laughing –
His cousin laughed too. "Yeah, I guess it is."
Some time passed. He was packing his computer – his new one, beige instead of gray, the latest processor. His aunt came into his room. She looked at it pointedly, and Harry thought it would be nice if she offered a hand with it, but she said instead, "What do you plan to do with that?"
"What do you mean?"
"There's no electricity at Hogwarts."
Harry blinked. Then he blinked again, three times. And then he blinked. And he said, "What?"
"You won't be able to use those things there."
It seemed as though he were still trying to process the meaning of the phrase "no electricity at Hogwarts," the words echoing louder and louder in a strange spiral that reminded him of a wolf, when he found himself at King's Cross Station, standing before a great pillar of yellow bricks.
"You just go through there," his aunt told him, pointing at the pillar. It looked unyielding.
"Okay," he said. "Well. Okay. I'll see you Christmas. Thank you."
"Be safe," his aunt said again. Again? That's right – she had said that a dozen times, now. The car ride over started to enter his memory, jarring its sharply pointed way into his mind.
"I will," he said, and he offered his aunt his best smile, and his teary cousin a sloppy little salute, and he walked through the brick wall.
The Dursley family, who value normalcy above all else, would of course never dream of keeping their orphan nephew in a cupboard when they have a perfectly good spare room in addition to the guest room Marge frequently stays in. Nor would they resort to screaming loud enough for their neighbors to hear under any circumstances, nor would they make a spectacle of their orphan nephew by dressing him poorly or working him excessively, or do anything else to call attention to him.
They treated him not amazingly well, no. But they treated him as a human being, a family member who had some kind of value, even if they didn't want him.
Just that little bit – what could it do?
Thank you for checking out my story.