The first chapter was already published as a short story name "A Beam of Light". This story is much more than that. Still, as my loyal readers have already read that chapter, I'm going to publish the next one almost immediately following the first.
Father Dylan Roberts was standing that mid-September Thursday at the window, contemplating his sermon for the coming Sunday. He didn't lack subjects, really. The Little Whinging community was supplying him ample subjects to speak about: greed, gossip, vandalism and many more. Of course, looking superficially, all seemed normal, but one only needed to look a bit deeper to see all the ugliness. Well, part of the problem was that very few went to church, and even they were far from perfect, very far.
Some movement caught his eyes. A small child, wearing way too large clothes, was moving along the street, stopping every few steps and looking around, as if making sure that nobody was following him or noticing him. After another glance along the street, the child hurried into the church that was across the street, pushed the door open, walked quickly in and closed it behind him.
Father Roberts frowned. His church had suffered from vandalism, lately. While nothing was stolen – well, there was nothing of value in there – the vandals broke benches and windows, causing some unexpected expenses that his meager budget could hardly contain. Another act of vandalism would exhaust the budget and he wasn't sure he could request more. While he didn't get the feeling that this child was prone to vandalism, he'd rather err on the cautious side. He quickly left his house, crossed the road and used a side door to go into the church. It was invisible from the main hall and its hinges were well oiled, making no noise. Just in case the child was praying, he didn't want to startle him or her, and if the child was doing some wrong, he wanted to catch that child.
The interior of the church was dimly lit, except for the altar area, where he normally conducted the ceremonies. There, the sunlight penetrated through the painted glass windows and threw some color patches. A particularly bright beam seem to land in front of the statue of the Madonna and child, illuminating the small child he'd seen before. That child was kneeling, looking at the mother statue with some tears in his eyes. Dylan stayed hidden and tried to listen, glad that his hunch about the child proved correct.
It took a bit longer before the child, and Dylan wasn't really sure if it was a boy or a girl, spoke, barely louder than a whisper. "I'm not quite sure why I'm here. We were learning at school about the Bible and about God. I'm not convinced, though. You see, the way my relatives treat me, God should have already punished them, and quite severely. Still, if you, as a mother, can hear me..."
The child seemed to stop and think of how to say what he was thinking or feeling. "I didn't even know my name was Harry until I had to go to school. They either call me 'boy' or 'freak'. Well, maybe I am a freak. Sometime, weird things happen to me or around me, things I can't explain. Last week, Dudley and his gang tried to corner me and beat me. I had nowhere to run and I was desperate. It hurt for more than a week the previous time they did it, but Aunt Petunia made me do the chores as if I was in full health and starved me when I couldn't do it quickly enough. So, when I found out I had been cornered, I wished I could be somewhere else, and suddenly I was on the top of the school, on the roof."
The boy, as now was clear, stopped for a moment and grimaced. "It didn't help me much. Once the adults got me down, I was severely punished and didn't get any food."
The boy looked down to the floor, looking extremely miserable, and then lifted his eyes back to the Madonna with a bit of hope in them. "I don't ask you to punish my relatives, even if they deserve punishment. I only ask that they let me eat enough and not punish me for everything that goes wrong, in their opinion. Please make them treat me fairly. I know they may never love me and I wouldn't even like them to treat me the way they treat Dudley, but why do they punish me if I get better grades than Dudley? Uncle Vernon said I was cheating, but I didn't. I didn't even try very hard, really. Can you help me? Please..."
The boy lowered his head and there were definitely tears on his cheeks. Father Roberts thought it was the right time to make his presence known. He coughed lightly and then moved fully into the hall, walking slowly, so as not to frighten the child.
Harry lifted his head, looking frightened at the sound, but then seemed to calm down when he saw it was the vicar. Dylan was glad that he made a habit of always wearing his official clothing. He approached the boy, who was still kneeling in front of the Madonna, and crouched at his side. "Do you know what this is?" he asked, waving his hand to indicate the whole building.
"It's a church, where people pray. Do you think God can really listen to them? If there is a God, that is."
Dylan cringed internally. After hearing what the boy was suffering, his questions were quite expected. "I believe there is a God and he's listening to our prayers. I also believe that the ways he acts are obscure, so we can't usually understand them. For example: I know you came here to ask for some help. I believe God was listening to you and made me come here, so I can help you." He then sighed. "You see, God's intervention is rarely direct. That's why we can't prove anything; we need to believe. Now, if indeed God wants me to help you, I need to know some more about you and your situation. God almighty knows everything, but I'm just a man who tries to serve to the best of his abilities and I need you to help me help you. Do you understand."
The boy seemed to think about his words and then nodded hesitantly, as if not quite sure he really understood.
"Now, if you don't mind, let's find a more comfortable place to talk. There's a small waiting room in the back, where I get ready for ceremonies. We can use it. We can even have some tea and biscuits there, if you like."
The boy still looked a bit frightened. "I can't stay long, or my aunt would punish me," he said.
Father Roberts nodded understandingly and stood up, helping the boy to his feet, and gave him his hand. "Let's try and solve one problem at a time."
The back room they ended in was quite small. It contained a desk, only large enough to write some letters, several upholstered chairs, a sofa, a small coffee table and a low cupboard with some cups, tea, coffee, sugar and an electric kettle full of water on its top. Dylan pointed at the sofa and turned on the kettle. He unlocked the cupboard and took out a tin box, which he put on the coffee table. "How do you like your tea?" he asked the boy. He then remembered his name.
Harry shrugged with some surprise. "Nobody ever asked me. Sweet, with some milk, if it's not too much of a bother."
Father Roberts looked apologetically at him. "I don't keep milk here, as it would spoil without a refrigerator. Will powdered milk do?"
Harry nodded. Dylan had the impression that this was the first time anybody asked the boy for his preferences. He busied himself preparing the tea and tried to recall the names that Harry had mentioned. None was among the regulars, but he thought they had come once, for the Christmas mass. On the other hand, he'd heard quite a lot of gossip about that family. Vernon Dursley was a corpulent man, as small minded as his body was large. Very greedy and very prejudiced, according to the gossip. Petunia Dursley was very different, physically. She was tall and slim with a horse-like face and a long neck. She was just as greedy and prejudiced as her husband and a true gossip monger. Their child, Dudley, was also very big for his age and a spoiled bully, if what he heard was right. Dylan wasn't proud of listening to gossip, but he considered the information gained this way to be important for his job. He never propagated gossip, but he was very attentive to what people were talking near him. As a pastor he needed to know his community as well as he could.
With the two cups of tea in his hands, he approached the sofa, put the cups on the table and sat at Harry's side. He opened the tin box and waved at Harry to serve himself. Then, sipping the tea slowly, he took a better look at the child.
Judging by his size, he would have thought that Harry was only five, but the boy said he was at school, so he must be at least six. He was wearing used clothes that were almost falling apart, although quite clean, way bigger than his small size. His trousers had been folded several times to not come in his way, and so were his sleeves. A rope was holding is trousers from falling. Had he not known better, he would have thought that the boy was living with a very poor family, yet the Dursleys were quite well off, according to gossip. Well, if believing gossip, this boy, their nephew, was deranged, dangerous and an idiot. Dylan couldn't see any of that in the polite, though slightly frightened boy at his side. Actually, it fitted the Dursley boy, Dudley, much better. His gaze wandered to the boy's shoes. These were much worse than the clothes. Even charity wouldn't have accepted them. This brought a certain idea to his mind, but it was too early to talk of that.
He then noticed the way the boy was eating the biscuits. Well, children usually liked biscuits, but this one seemed to make sure that no crumbs fell, like they were too precious to waste. It looked like he was starved more often than not. Dylan felt some righteous fury rise within him. Maybe he was really meant to help this boy.
"Can you tell me a bit about yourself?" he asked.
"What do you want to know?" the boy asked.
"Well, let's start with your name and your family, if it's alright with you."
The grimace was evident. "Well, I'm Harry. I live with my Aunt and Uncle, Petunia and Vernon Dursley, since my parents died. They live at No.4 Privet Drive. They have a son, Dudley, who is a few months older than me."
"And how old are you?"
"Oh, sorry. I'm seven. I reached that age at the end of July."
He was way too small for a seven years old boy. Dylan kept his interested, benign expression. "Do you know the exact date?"
Harry seemed to search his memory. "The last day of the month, the 31st."
"And why do you live with your aunt and uncle?"
Harry moved on the sofa, as if this was bothering him. "Well, my parents both died in a car accident when I was a bit over one year old. I got this scar." He lifted his bangs, showing a lightening shaped scar on his forehead. It looked raw, as if he only got it a few hours earlier.
Dylan gasped. Although he'd left his family many years ago, he was still in contact with some of his relatives. He'd heard a bit about a boy with a lightening shaped scar. Could it be this boy?
"Do you know when that happened, I mean the date."
The boy shrugged. "It was at Halloween. I was brought to my aunt a day or two later. Left on the doorstep, so she says."
"You didn't yet tell me your last name," the vicar commented.
"Oh, it's..." the boy scrunched his face, as if trying to remember something almost forgotten. "Potter. I rarely use it. I didn't even know it until I went to school." He sounded apologetic.
That fitted. Dylan didn't understand how anybody could treat a child this way, and more so – one who was considered a hero. Well, it was in the other world – he had to remind himself.
"Can you tell me a bit about your life at home?"
Harry shrugged. "I have no home, if I understand it correctly. Home is where one feels relaxed and safe, isn't it? I'm never relaxed there and I feel safer anywhere else."
"Don't they love you at all?"
Harry's face turned bitter, an expression nobody expected from such a young child. "Love? Maybe my parents loved me. I couldn't know. I was too young when they died. I don't think that the Dursleys even know what love is. They pamper their child and spoil him, but I don't think they really love him."
That could also be a problem, but not as acute, Dylan thought. He first needed to take care of this boy. "Don't you want some better fitting clothes?" he asked.
Harry shrugged. "They only give me Dudley's old clothes when they become too small or too old for him, and he's much bigger than me."
"Don't your relatives have enough money?" he actually knew the answer, but he needed to know how it was presented to the boy.
"Oh, they have more than enough, but they don't want to spend any money on 'the freak' – that's me."
"You're not a freak!" Dylan had to control himself not to shout that. "You're a boy with some very special talents that your relatives may not understand, but you're certainly not a freak!" He took a few calming breathes, not wanting to frighten the child. "Well, I think there are some used clothes given to charity that look better than these and could also fit you better. We can exchange your clothes with some of that. What do you say?"
Harry frowned. "My relatives wouldn't be content. Dudley will surely tear them to pieces and then I'll have nothing to wear."
Dylan cringed inside, trying to keep his calm expression. It was becoming harder and harder. "Maybe I should accompany you and talk with your relatives. I'm sure I can persuade them to treat you a bit better." If not, he still had his wand somewhere. Maybe he should take it with him, just in case…
Harry considered the offer. Dylan hoped that his clergy clothing would have the desired effect both on the child and on his relatives. The boy seemed to reach a decision. "Alright. I'll see if there are better clothes there, if you come to the Dursleys' with me." His phrasing made it evident that the place was not "home" for him.
Dylan led the child to another room at the back of the church, where several big carton boxes were full with clothing, sorted by size. Some other contained shoes. "Why don't we start with the shoes?" Dylan suggested.
Harry nodded solemnly. He then sat on the floor and took off his shoes, exposing a pair of threadbare socks, also larger than his feet. Dylan sighed internally and moved to the pile of socks first. A few minutes later, Harry was wearing his "new" pair of shoes over a fitting pair of socks. His smile lighted the room. 'It's moments like this that make my job worthwhile,' Dylan thought.
Finding a better pair of trousers was also no problem, although Harry had to take off his new shoes, and did it very reluctantly. "We now need to find a shirt for you," Dylan said jovially. "Why don't you take off your shirt so we can see what fits?"
The boy looked suddenly frightened. "This one is not very big," he said, evidently unhappy at taking off his shirt. It only made Dylan more determined. "Nonsense! You could almost fit twice in this one. Let me help you now, if you want."
"No! I can do it myself!"
It was evident that Harry made sure to face Dylan while taking his shirt off. He probably failed to notice the large mirror on the other wall, the one he was turning his back to. Dylan had to stop himself from gasping when he saw Harry's back. The lines crisscrossing his back were evident signs of abuse. He wondered why none of the teachers at school noticed the boy's misery. Well, whoever put him with the Dursleys was probably making sure he stayed there. Dylan was still determined to improve Harry's life, even if he couldn't take him away from that house.
It only took a short while to find an appropriate shirt. Dylan made sure to choose one that had no recognizable design, so that no child could say, 'This used to be mine,' and embarrass Harry.
"Leave your old clothes in the corner. Some volunteers take all donations, repair and wash as needed before giving them back for charity." Actually, these clothes were going to the garbage bin as soon as he could do it, without Harry seeing it, that is.
"What time is it?" Harry asked, looking suddenly afraid.
Dylan checked his watch. "It's half past three. Are you in a hurry?"
"My aunt will punish me if I don't start preparing Dinner by four. If I'm late, she won't even let me eat any and send me to my cupboard without a meal," Harry explained.
Once again, Dylan had to keep tight control, not to show how angry he was becoming. The boy might not understand it and be frightened. Instead, he took the boy's hand in his and smiled. "I'll escort you back. I might even have a chat with your aunt. You know, as a pastor, I need to get to know the people in my community."
Harry nodded and smiled. Dylan really hoped things would become better for the boy. He prayed in his heart that his mission would succeed. This boy deserved much better. Well, any boy deserved better.
His mind started scheming. He'd not been a Slytherin for nothing, after all. Cunning was natural for him. He reviewed all he knew about the Dursleys. It looked like they wanted to seem as "Normal" as possible. He would point out that pampering one boy and neglecting another, even if he was only an orphan left on their doorstep, was not normal, and that the neighbors might think they were poor, if they let the boy wear hand-me-downs. He would also point that both boys should have similar rooms and perform similar chores. As for the school grades… He would have to think some more of that. And he'd ask to see them at church each Sunday, since that's what "normal" families do, all wearing their best. Yes, that had a good chance of working. If not, he could always take his wand with him on the next visit…