Chapter 3: The Enchanted Fortress
The next three hours were likely the most uncomfortable hours of Harry's short life. From the lobby, he was taken straight to a white tiled room lined with showers. While the pretty woman, who told him to call her 'Edith', waited outside, the large man, referred to as Mr. Mufflin, stood guard at the door and informed him in a tone the brooked no disobedience, exactly what he was to do. Reluctantly, Harry stripped off his ragged clothes and showered, scrubbing every nook and cranny until the man was satisfied.
Once he was done showering and thoroughly mortified, Mr. Mufflin flicked his wand about and muttered something, and Harry suddenly found himself dry. Another wand flick and mutter, and some clothes appeared at Harry's feet. They were only a pair of draw string shorts and shirt that had to be tied close, in identical pale blue. No socks or underwear appeared. He dressed quickly. The moment he tied his shirt close, the name 'Harold' suddenly appeared in dark blue stitching over his left breast.
From there, he was taken to another room that vaguely resembled a doctor's office. Only instead of cotton swabs and stethoscopes, there were shelves crammed with phials of different colored liquids and eye balls in jars that seemed to be moving. He sat on a stool as the boniest man he had ever seen hovered around him, holding up one of said eyeballs to his face and looking him over. Every so often he 'hhhmmm...' and gave him a phial to drink (he quickly came to dread that 'hhhmmm...') and scribbled something down. Finally, after what seemed like hours and twenty phials of liquified 'ick', Edith and Mr. Mufflin escorted him down a long corridor to a door the same pale blue as his clothes.
"Now, Harry," Edith said, crouching down so she could look him in the eye, "I know this must be very confusing and frightening for you, but I don't want you to worry. We'll make sure nothing bad happens to you. You trust me, don't you, Harry?"
Frankly, he didn't. He didn't know how she could expect him to trust anyone who participated in child abduction. Although, she did appear as if she was more experienced with children much younger and more gullible than him. In any event, he was tired and still embarrassed from the shower fiasco and just wanted to be left alone for a while, so he nodded.
"I'm glad. Now, I know you're probably very tired, so we're going to take you to the boy's dormitory. The others are sleeping right now, but we'll be sure to introduce you in the morning, okey-dokey?"
He nodded... or twitched. He wasn't entirely sure.
They opened the door, and from the light filtering in from the corridor, Harry could make out eight small bed in two columns along each wall. Seven of them had little bodies in them, and as they walked quietly towards the one empty bed, Harry could see they were little boys between the ages of five and eight.
Something painful clenched in his heart as he stared at their peaceful cherubic faces, thinking of the mothers and fathers who must be out there worrying and crying over each stolen child. In a soft whisper, Edith performed a spell on his newly assigned bed, and it grew in height and length.
Depressed and suddenly fearful of his future, he slowly crawled into the bed. He did not think sleep would be possible after his intoxicating, frightening, frustrating thrust into a world where magic was a common as sixpence. However, there must have been a spell on the bed, because as soon his head touched the pillow the world went dark, and he felt himself sink into a warm, quiet place.
The seven beds were empty when Harry woke the next morning. He blinked owlishly, his vision blurry without his glasses, and sat up. After a bit of floundering, he found his glasses sitting on a night stand that hadn't been there the night before and got a good look around. Sunlight filtered in through the two large windows that stretch almost floor to ceiling, through which he could see a peaceful countryside he knew could not possible exist since he knew WYRA was in a city. Each bed had an old-fashioned style gold bar head and foot boards with identical sets of dark blue and gold sheets, and a blue trunk with gold fastenings at the foot of the bed. If he looked closely he could just make out name plates on the trunk. Aside from that, only the colorful crayon drawings at the head of each bed differentiated them.
The rest of the room was decorated in creams, golds, and blues, from the furniture to the fixtures. A short shelf and an open toy chest revealed collection of children's toys, coloring books, and puzzles. A grandfather clock beside the door read seven ten. There was another smaller door across the room, that he assumed was either the bathroom or a closet.
It was a rather depressing realization that this pseudo-orphanage was a lot nicer than his sad little room at the Dursley's or of any non-wizarding orphanage he had ever heard of. It was also a bit depressing to realize he had been placed in a nursery. Sighing, he climbed out of the bed intent on doing some exploration.
Something grabbed his ankles.
Harry immediately jumped back into the bed. A loud burst of giggles emanated from beneath him. Curious, he stuck his head under the bed to find seven impish faces grinning back at him. Somehow, all seven of his new dorm mates had squeezed underneath his bed to wait for him to wake up. He rather admired their resolve.
"Well, good morning to you too," he said. The boys all giggled and pulled themselves out of their hiding spot.
"We got you good!" said freckle-faced boy. "You yelled really loud!"
A blonde child with a cut on his nose, mimicked him by shouting out a 'gah' and jumping onto the bed next to him. That brought another round of giggles, and even Harry managed to crack a smile.
"Your name's Harold, ya?" the oldest boy of the lot asked. "That's what it says on your trunk."
Harry stood up and walked around the end of the bed. Sure enough, he had a trunk with the name 'Harold' engraved on the name plate. Where did these people get these things? Surely there weren't spells for every little thing, right? He looked at the other boys, who were now all crowding to sit on his bed and looking at him eagerly.
"Call me Harry."
"Just like me!" said the blond boy. "My trunk says 'William', but it's really Billy. No one but the nurses call me 'William'."
"Yeah, the nurses are weird like that," piped in another of the older boys. "My name's Nat, even though everything here says I'm 'Nathaniel'. Blah."
"So..." Harry said, pointing to the two boys. "Billy and Nat. And the rest of you lot?"
"Edgar!" called one the smallest boy, his smile missing half his teeth.
"Nice to meet you," Harry said politely.
"Hey, how come your so old? You're way older than Norton," cried Edgar. The boys all nodded in agreement, and Nat and Norton threw him a suspicious look. Harry felt suddenly nervous. He didn't have much experience with younger children, and for the life of him he could not remember what he was like when he was their age. He didn't remember being that hyper.
"I don't know. Snape said it was because I didn't come to England until I was older," he said finally. At the mention of his main kidnapper's name, the boys each shared a look of horrified disbelief.
"You actually talked to him?!"
"He didn't make you eat your tongue? He said he'd make me eat my tongue when I started asking questions!"
"Does his head really twist all the way around? Norton said he could turn it all the way around like an owl, but I don't believe him!" said Freddy, who had been quiet until then.
"How would you know, you got picked up by a girl!" Norton retorted.
"I still don't believe you!"
Seeing that things were quickly escalating into...something, Harry spoke up to distract them. "I didn't see his head turn all the way around, but he is a wizard. He could probably turn himself into an owl and do it for sure."
"Oh yeah, I didn't think of that," Freddy conceded.
"That would be brilliant! I want to turn into an owl!"
"I want to turn into a tiger!"
"When I'm a real wizard, I'm going to turn into whale and swim all over the world! Even to the bottom of the ocean!"
"What about on land, stupid! If you're a whale you can't climb a mountain or swim up a creek."
"Ha! I'd turn into a whale and a...a... dog! Or monkey! Or anything I want!"
Pretty soon the boys were all speculating on what sort of animals they would turn into and what sort of adventures they would go on. It wasn't long before they were all acting out their future plans, barking and flying and climbing all over the place. Harry sat on his bed and watched, baffled at his current predicament. How long was he going to be staying with this band of mayhem incarnate?
Just as Norton was about to be set upon by a pack of shapeshifting lions, the door opened and a jolly looking woman walked into the room dressed much like Edith had the night before. With her plump, rosey cheeks, Harry thought she looked like she should be serving cookies to Santa in the North Pole. The boys immediately stopped what they were doing, some of them looking rather guilty. The woman took a sweeping inventory of the room, put her hands on her hips, and scowled (and still managed to look cute while doing so).
"I don't suppose you've all brushed your teeth?" she asked.
"No, Miss Marilyn," they replied in practiced unison.
"Have you washed your faces? Changed your clothes? Gotten your bags ready?"
"No, Miss Marilyn."
"Well, then hop to it!" she said, clapping her hands together. "Go! Go! Go!"
Or else I'll tell Santa to put you on the 'naughty' list, Harry mentally added.
The boys broke apart into well organized chaos, some heading for the second door which did turn out to be the bathroom, while others dived for their trunks. Harry just stood there, unsure what to do. Miss Marilyn, quick to spot him, marched right up to him.
"You must be Harold then," she began, a little less sternly than when she'd walked in. "You are a bit older than we're used to, but don't worry. I've been here since WYRA first started, and have seen young men and women older than you pass through these doors. You'll do fine."
"Ma'am, with all due respect... what exactly will I be doing 'fine' at?"
"They didn't tell you about WYRA when you came in? No, I suppose you came in a bit late... Well, just get ready for the day. I'll give you a proper introduction while the boys are having their lessons."
"Lessons? Like wizarding lessons?" he asked, eager to start those himself.
"Oh no, just reading, writing, and math. Spells and such aren't taught until they're at least eleven..."
"I'm almost eleven..." He couldn't hide the eagerness in his voice. For all the uncertainty of his future, he could not help but think that becoming a true wizard would somehow clear everything up. After all, there was a spell for everything. Certainly there were spells that help him get even with that Snape bastard and well on his way to Germany. Snape did say the German wizards were more liberal and didn't go around kidnaping children. He could be happy there, right?
"Yes, well... we'll talk about that later. Norton! Come here and help Harry. Show him what to do, just like you did with Edgar and Nathaniel, ok?"
She quickly wandered off to help some of the younger children dress and find their supplies, and Norton quickly appeared and led Harry away to the bathroom. Harry mimicked the younger boy as they prepared for the day. The bathroom had a low shelf with small baskets of personal hygiene items. They brushed their teeth, washed their faces, and Harry made a half hearted attempt to tame his hair. Back in the room, Norton opened Harry's trunk and pulled out a plain black school bag. As the younger boy started loading it with pencils, a notebook, and other items; Harry changed into the set of slightly darker, but otherwise identical set of clothes. They had just finished getting ready when Miss Marilyn called everyone to the hall.
The children all lined up from oldest to youngest (except for Harry who lingered in the back of line), and made there way single file through the hall, where they were joined another line of boys in green and two lines of girls in pink and purple. Altogether there were about forty children, five nurses, and two large 'guards' in the procession.
They all made their way through a series of corridors to a large dining hall, where two sets of parallel tables and one shorter table at their head. The girls went to one long table and boys to the other, while the adults took the short table so that they might oversee them all. The tables were all fully set and there were large dishes piled high with all sorts of breakfast sorts. When everyone had settled, everyone bowed their heads and took their neighbor's hand to pray.
"God bless Britain," Miss Marilyn began.
"God bless Britain," everyone repeated.
"God bless the Community of Magic. And God bless me, that I might grow powerful, wise, and fearless. Bless my brethren, that they may grow powerful, wise, and fearless beside me. And bless the Father of the New Wizardry of Britain, so that he may lead us to a world of glory and justice for all wizarding kind. Amen."
When the prayer was done, leaving Harry feeling strangely like a foreigner, the dining hall broke out into a wordless chaos as children eagerly gathered up food onto their plates and passed dishes around. Harry grabbed some waffles, eggs, and sausage as he realized how truly starving he was. He hadn't had anything but a few tomatoes the morning before. Gradually, as tummies filled, the children all started talking and gossiping.
The atmosphere was all very amicable, and Harry wondered how these children couldn't be even a little distressed at being ripped away from their families. Certainly all their parents hadn't been nearly as wretchedly selfish and neglectful as the Dursley's had been to him. Yet no one mentioned their father or mother or siblings or past friends or pets. It was as if they had completely forgotten about their life outside of WYRA.
He had a dreadful premonition that it was a sort of magic, and as he looked down at his wonderfully delicious breakfast he couldn't help but wonder if it was enchanted somehow. If he stayed at WYRA long enough, would he too forget about his family? He certainly wouldn't miss the last three years spent cloistered at number four, Privet Drive with the Dursley's, but what about his parents? What about the memories of summers they'd spent together wandering the beach, spring festivals, and Christmas? What about all the quiet moments they spent together in the studio, his mother teaching him about perspective and proportions, and his father teaching him the proper way to mold clay?
Only half done, Harry pushed his plate away.
He spent the rest of breakfast listening to the other children, and piecing together what life was going to be like at WYRA. It all seemed a bit like boarding school. Everyone got up at the same time, went to breakfast at the same time, took lessons on generic subjects like math and geography, had lunch, had recesses and activity times for play, a story time, study and homework time, a shower just before dinner, a nightly prep, and finally lights out. Although it wasn't said directly, he got the impression there were no weekends or holidays. And then he overheard a conversation at the girl's table involving 'quarantine'.
"Miss Rachel says I'll be done with quarantine this Friday. I'll get to go with you guys next Saturday if I don't get sick," said an eight-year old girl with ebony hair pulled up into pig-tails and a purple outfit. Her friend in pink beside her squealed in delight, and started speaking in an Irish accent.
"Tha's great! It's non fun going anywhere without ya. Beth picks on me when yar gone."
"If she tries it while I'm there I'll pop her in the nose, and then see who wants to adopt her!" The little girls laughed and started talking about Beth and all the mean pranks they could pull on her when the adults weren't looking. Harry turned to Norton.
"What happens on Saturdays?"
Norton made an unpleasant face. "Adoption parties. They're a real drag. We just wander around a room and adults talk to us about stuff. Sometimes a kid gets adopted, but mostly it's a waste of time. The food is always really weird too."
"Adoption parties? Who adopts us? Who get's adopted? What's quarantine?"
"Gosh, I don't know. Quarantine is just us waiting around to see if we get sick. Sometimes a kid gets something like chicken pox, only they get blue spots and the lights turn off every time they sneeze. If you go so long without getting sick, you get to go to the parties. I don't know who adopts us... wizards and witches I guess."
"How long does it usually take to get adopted?"
"I dunno. The younger kids usually get picked up pretty quick, though. I've been here three months, and I've been here the longest of our class," he said, fairly glowing with pride. He didn't seem to release that him being there so long meant no one wanted to take him home. Harry didn't have the heart to suggest it to him. Frankly, he was probably in the same boat. Who would want to adopt someone as old as him? If it was as Snape suggested, he would going off to school soon, so there really wasn't much point was there?
Breakfast ended, and while the nurses and guards escorted the children to their lessons, Miss Marilyn pulled him into a small office for a private chat. The office looked like an office, only it ran itself. The mail slot seemed to be having an ongoing battle with the filing cabinet, spitting out or swallowing pieces of parchment as they zipped through the air. A diagram on the wall depicted WYRA headquarters in its entirety with little colored dots that moved about it. Harry suspected each dot was a person, which seemed to be confirmed by the blue dot and the black dot that occupied the room they were currently residing in.
"Now Harry, I just wanted to take a moment to see how you are doing and explain a few things. You seemed be taking everything in stride so far, but I'm sure this must be disconcerting for you," she said.
"Oh...well, yes... I dunno. It's strange... kinda scary, but... not too strange really... not yet anyway. The kids all seem well taken care of, even if you do kidnap them."
The woman coughed into her hand at his last statement. "Yes, well... there are good reasons for that, I assure you. Most importantly, it's dangerous, for both the child and their non-magical families to suddenly have a witch or wizard in the family. Neither one understands what is happening and the outcome can be... tragic. Before WYRA was founded there were a lot of horror stories about wizarding children being abused or killed by parents who mistook their magic as a sign of demonic possession or the anti-christ. You understand, I hope, that all the children here, you included, were removed for your protection?"
He didn't like it.
Parents should at least be given a chance, he thought. The idea that his parents could possibly reject him because he had magic seemed absurd to him. He couldn't help but think they would have been delighted at the idea. At the same time, his parents had been artists. They were weird by most people's standards. The Dursley's certainly wouldn't have been a safe place for a child with any unusual talents. Would they have doted on Dudley if he'd started levitating things or turned into a owl or something? And of course, WYRA did seem to think they were doing what was best for the children.
Except for maybe Snape. How that callous, lying, greasy bastard could be allowed anywhere near children was beyond him.
"Of course, Ma'am."
"I'm glad you understand. Now, I know you didn't get a proper explanation about what we do here at WYRA when you came in. Basically, we're a transition center. Children who display magical abilities are brought here from all over Britain. First we register them as citizens of the Wizarding Community of Britain, they're given a thorough health exam, vaccinated- I'm sure you recall all those awful potions you had to drink when you first arrive?- and then held over a period of three weeks to make sure you don't get sick. Understand that despite the vaccines, a lot of children still get Blue Pox or the latest magical flu. This waiting period also helps children adjust to being away from their families, become used to magic, and the like. Our main purpose, however, is to place all the children here into proper wizarding homes."
"So that's what the adoption parties are for?"
"Ah, so you heard a little something about those?"
"I heard the younger children are the first to get adopted. I can't help but think I'll be here for a very long time."
She gave him a sympathetic smile.
"That's what I really wanted to talk to you about, Harold. I'm afraid the chances of you being adopted are... well, very slim. The good news, however, is that you'll be old enough to attend a wizarding school come September. Since you are old enough that childhood ailments are less of a concern, we'll let you skip the quarantine period and attend some of the adoption parties- just to give you a fair opportunity- but if you're not adopted, then when you go to receive your education, you'll become a ward of the Community and under the guardianship of your school's administration. Do you understand?"
"If I'm not adopted by a wizard family, I'll be adopted by a school... Do I get to keep my last name then?"
"Of course. I must say, young man, you're taking this all rather well."
Harry gave her a sardonic smile. "I'm used to big, sudden changes in my life."
It wouldn't be until later that evening, as she settled down to more carefully review Harold James Potter's file, that Miss Marilyn fully appreciated exactly what he meant. His records played out like war-time drama. His parents turned out to be wizards, which would have been a major benefit to his future, if it weren't for the fact that they had both been very high on You-Know-Who's Most Wanted list. They had been in league with Dumbledore, James Potter was even an auror, but they had pulled out of the country and the fight shortly after their son was born.
No one knew what had happened to them. There were apparently some reports that they had gotten to France, but after that there was no documented information. Snape's report suggested they had hidden themselves from the wizarding world completely, living as muggle artists in a studio apartment in Cologne. Harry didn't know anything about it either.
They had died with their secrets, and without anyone knowing Harry was a wizard, he had been returned to England to live with his muggle relatives. And what a wretched lot they seemed to be! Padlocks on the bedroom door, no formal education, and Dr. Helm found evidence of malnutrition!
It was cases like this that made Miss Marilyn proud to have supported You-Know-Who during the war and taken on a position at WYRA. Who knows what would have happened to poor Harold? Raised by abusive relatives to be an ordinary muggle, never comprehending the strange things that followed him through his life. On the off chance the former government had spotted him, he would have been thrust into society without a leg to stand on, and likely failed miserably into the dredges of society.
With WYRA hard at work though, no child was ever left hungry or floundering for guidance. They would raise all their children to be obedient, productive, proud members of society. How fortunate Harold was, how all wizarding children were, to have such a compassionate ruler as You-Know-Who!