Disclaimer: I do not own any of JK Rowling's wonderful characters, although I have contributed a few of my own.
June 13, 2008
When a mother dies leaving behind small children, it is always unfortunate. But sometimes, for some children, it is something more. Sometimes it is tragic.
So it was for a ten year old boy named Alf Woodruff.
Alf stood beside his mother's grave, stony faced and silent. Beside him were two younger children, a girl and a boy eight and seven years of age. A large man, face worn with grief and exhaustion, tried to comfort the smaller children, while occasionally glaring at the elder boy.
Alf was pale, a fair child with blue eyes and vibrant red hair. He was slim but tall for his age, looking almost weedy in his too short dark pants and oversized jacket. The children beside him, like the man who stood over them all, were short and olive skinned, with neatly trimmed dark hair and sturdy builds. The difference in siblings was no surprise to anyone who had known the Woodruff family, for Alf was only Billy Woodruff's step-son.
Beyond him, Alf heard Old Mrs. Woodruff (for she was no grandmother to him) snicker about what the "little bastard" was going to do now.
Alf winced. His Mom, Katie Woodruff, had never told him much about his real father, except that he was dead. For a woman who was as good with a story as his Mum was, he'd always secretly wished she would at least spin a story of what his Dad was like. Was he tall, like Alf was? Was he also pale, and did he have red hair too? (His Mom didn't). Did he have the same lopsided smile and goofy sense of humor?
Didn't much look like he'd ever know now.
Now. Now he was stuck with a stepfather who no better than tolerated him and two half siblings who expected him to do his bidding like an entitlement. Well, maybe not Liv so much…she actually seemed to like him. But Len treated him like a glorified servant. With Mum there he'd been able to stand his ground a bit, but he had a feeling that was all in the past.
The minister spoke from the grave site.
"Kathleen Woodruff was a devoted mother, and a humble woman. A tirelessly hard worker who devoted herself to family…"
Alf tuned out the eulogy. It didn't half represent the mother he knew anyway, at least before the cancer got her and messed with her mind. The mum he knew was someone who could invent magnificent fairy tails to entertain her children for hours, stories of wizards and witches, both good and evil, and magical schools where the ceiling was enchanted and people played funny sports on brooms high in the air. And the main figure was this kid, Harry Potter, who wasn't so much older than Alf was, but who got into SUCH adventures!
Alf had always urged her to write the stuff down…it was good, so much better than the crap they gave you to read in school. She'd have made a mint, she would have, if she'd only listened to him. What kid wouldn't have wanted to read stories like that?
Len wouldn't. He answered himself. Len would always be the one when Mom was telling her stories who would frown, pout, and say, "But that isn't REAL, is it? There's no such thing as GHOSTS." Funny how a little kid could sound so scathing.
And Mum would sigh, and say, "Of course it isn't real, sweetie. It's just a story." But she'd look a little sad, like she wished it was real, or like she'd wish her kids would humor her. So Alf would pipe up, "Well, maybe it is real, somewhere else, like on Mars. Maybe there's magic on Mars, Mum!" And Liv would agree… "Yeah, mum…I bet there are flying cars on Mars."
"Get yer head out of the clouds, boy." His stepfather, holding hands with a sniffling Liv, was beside him suddenly. "Just like yer Mom, ye are…always dreaming about something else. We've got to get back home."
He followed quietly, glad to be away from the dark, depressing, upturned earth that assaulted his nose. Len bumped into him roughly. "Just like mum…except YOU'RE ugly." His younger brother smirked. Alf wanted to smack him, but he knew that right now his own place in the household was rather shaky. His step-dad had never been mean to him, but he'd always made it clear that Alf was NOT his son, and that he didn't think too much of him.
"Boy's lucky he HAS a home, he is." Old Mrs. Woodruff sniffed, coming up to hold Len's hand.
"Mum." Billy Woodruff said, sounding tired. "It's Katie's funeral. Now's not the place to address this thing."
"This thing." Alf thought. Great, just lovely. My Mum's dead, I have no father, and what family I have left hates my guts.
Reading his thoughts, Liv stretched her hand out to him from her father's shoulder, and Alf gave a half hearted smile and squeezed it, before digging his hands firmly into his pockets once more.
Nothing came to pass, however, until late that night.
Alf had done what seemed like a mountain of dishes; his hands were raw from the soapy hot water. Amazing how much people could eat after a funeral, and somewhat pathetic that they expected to be fed by the family of the dead. He was just drying the last of the tea cups, and thinking bed was going to be nice tonight.
They were all gone now, all the friends and relatives, even snarky Old Mrs. Woodruff. Only his siblings and his step-dad remained. Liv and Len were in bed now, and Alf set his shoulders as he heard Billy's heavy steps come down the stairs.
"Arr." The older man gave his familiar expression of pure exhaustion. He sank down at the kitchen table and put his head in his hands, then shook himself slightly and looked over at Alf. "Best we had a discussion, Alfred. Suppose now is as good a time as any."
"Yessir." Alf said, wiping his hands on the dish towel and coming to sit down as well.
There was silence for a few moments, and not a comfortable one. Alf noticed that a manila envelope, puffed out with its contents, sat before his step-father, but he had no idea what it was. And given that the man had been the one to initiate this talk, it was probably a good idea for him to wait before asking questions.
Finally, Billy spoke. "Yer mom…she was powerful sick these past months. Lots of drugs in her, trying to keep the pain down. Know you spent a lot of time in with her…you were a good son to her, I'll give you that." He wiped his hand over his stubbled face. "What'd she talk to you about, all that time, Alf?"
"Er…" Alf swallowed hard. "Sorry, Sir…she was mostly…well, the meds got her, I guess. She sounded pretty out there towards the end…didn't know what she was saying, I expect." He stammered out.
His step father's brown eyes bored into him now, the man suddenly less tired and more sharp. "WHAT did she say, Alfred?" He asked again, demanding an answer.
"She…you know those fairy tails she used to tell? She started trying to insist that they were real." Alf blinked, saddened to think his Mum had lost her last grip on reality towards the end.
"It's all real, Alfred. Hogwarts and Harry. There was a wizard called Voldemort, but we didn't care when we were kids…well, just a little, but it seemed like a game. Until it wasn't a game any more. But oh, it was a wonderful world, and it's your world…your dad was a wizard, one of the best, and he died a hero in the war. It was all true. Every story I ever told. That's your world, Son…only…only…I had to protect you. Had to bring you here. You do understand, don't you? I couldn't go back. Once I realized what you were, that you were…different… I had to protect you."
She hadn't been clear by what she meant on that…exactly how he was different. But didn't matter much anyway, right? His Dad a wizard, and her coming from a world where there was a magic war that had killed him. She could have said it was on Mars, and it would have been the same thing, really. Mum had gone barmy.
"Right." Billy spoke slowly. "Bit of a shock to you, I suppose. Hearing it was true."
Alf could only gape at his step-father incredulously as he pushed the envelope forward. Because he knew nobody less barmy, less imaginative, than Billy Woodruff.
"She left me a letter…and asked me to give you this. G'on, open it."
With shaking hands, Alf spilled the envelope's contents on the table.
Two letter sized envelopes spilled out, one thin, one thick. The thin one was addressed to him; the thick one was addressed to someone named George Weasley and had "confidential" underlined heavily beneath it. Also spilling out of the manila envelope was a wooden stick, slightly bumpy, about twelve inches long. He put it to the side, wondering at the very, very faint tingle that it gave him when he picked it up.
His envelope contained a letter…written in his mother's neat hand. The back side of the letter had a diagram of a street on it, an address, and a drawing of a brick wall with the numbers 1-5 circled on certain bricks.
He read slowly.
Alfred my son:
I know what I am about to tell you will come as a shock to you…and knowing how I have brought you up, I have only myself to blame. It was I who made the decision to raise you far away from the world of magic, to protect you from those who might despise you. It was a mistake; I can see that now; you have never fit in, quite, with the muggle (non magic) world, and your step-father, good man though he is, has never really taken to you. Whatever else the magic world might offer you, it would have offered you real family, and I took you away from that.
You think I have been rambling from the drugs they have given me, but I tell you nothing but the truth. I have refused drugs the past five days, so I could be clear headed when I wrote this.
Your father was a wizard, and I was…am…a witch. We fell in love at school, and started a relationship shortly afterwards. I found out I was pregnant just as the war got on. I begged your dad to leave, without telling him why…begged him to remove himself from the danger he faced, because I knew I could not put my unborn child in harm's way. But your father was stubborn, and he had family…a big family…all of whom were just as active in fighting the evil wizard Voldemort as he. Since I didn't tell him you existed, he didn't realize he had something to protect beyond his family. So I left, not just your father, but the wizarding world. I thought you would be safe here.
After you were born, I heard your Dad had been killed in the final battle. And then I realized you were special…different…forgive me for not explaining to you how, but I think it would come better from someone else. And I might be wrong. But I thought you would be better off in the muggle world. Then I met Billy, and he's a good man. He loved me, and I thought he would come to love you. I am sorry that never happened, but it hasn't been such a bad life, has it? Then I got this muggle disease, and I began to think about what I maybe should have done. Particularly as you get older…you look so much like your Dad that it makes my heart break.
There's an address on the back of this letter for a pub in London called the Leaky Cauldron. Most muggles can't see it…you will be able to because you have the address. You need to take the wand I have left you (my old wand, cypress wood and swan feather) and tap the bricks in the alley behind the pub in the order I have listed. My magic imprint will only flow within the wand for two weeks after my death,, so you must do it soon.
A passageway will open to a street called Diagon Alley. It's the Wizard section of London. Lots of boys not much older than you will be there getting supplies for school, so you will not look out of place. Just head down the street to the mid point, and a place called Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. Ask for George Weasley, and give him the other envelope. I am quite certain that it will all be okay then. George will take care of you…how could he not?
Be well on your journey, my son. I wish I could have done better by you, but I have given you what I could. Including…
All My Love.
Katie Bell Woodruff
Alf swallowed hard, feeling anger building within him. "Just like I always thought…" He said, bitterly. Looking up he caught the tired eye of his step-father. "She'd have made a fortune if she'd ever published this stuff."
The man didn't speak at all, though his face grew red. He slowly pulled out his wallet, and counted out a hundred pounds, and passed it forward. "This should get you to London, boy. Know there's a train around 10 or so that would get you there for around 4pm."
Alf felt his stomach drop. "So that's IT then?" He snapped off. "You're using Mum's rambling story to get rid of me? Not that I'm surprised, Sir, but couldn't you at least have gone with military school or something?"
Billy stood, towering over Alf, controlling his anger. "She was your mother, and she loved you!" He growled. "You're going to do what she said!"
Alf stood and stared back defiantly. "She was my mother, and she loved me, but thanks to the cancer she was FLAT OUT BARMY!"
The slap knocked him flat off his feet, taking him by surprise, as did the below of rage from his step father. Billy certain sure didn't love him, but he'd never struck him before either. Before Alf could recover he felt another stinging blow…his step father was beating him with his belt, punctuating ever pause for breath with a forceful lash.
"She…was…your…MOTHER!" He screamed. "She…loved…you…She…loved…your…father!" He paused as Alf lay still, arms defensively over his head, shaking with pain and fear. Then Billy began again, flailing even harder.
"LIKE…SHE…NEVER…LOVED…ME!" And he went on six or seven more blows before dropping the belt with a thud and stumbling out of the room, crying himself.
Alf lay there for some time, sobbing into his arms. Why had his mum done this, played this cruel joke that tortured him with the promise of escape, tortured his step-father with the promise of relief? They were both of them barmy, couldn't they see that? But no, he was being tossed out and told to remove himself to a place that didn't even exist. How far would a hundred pounds last him in London? And then what would he do?
If it were true…oh, if it only could be…then it would be wonderful, of course. Only it wasn't, couldn't be, would never be. There was no such thing as witches, or wizards, or magic, and tomorrow he would be homeless in London with no where to go, and nowhere to go home to.
Weary with pain and grief, Alf pulled himself up to the stairs, for what he though might be the last night of his life.
He woke up the next morning, with Liv curled up beside him…he wasn't sure when she'd come in, but he vaguely remembered her kissing his forehead and saying something about "Daddy not meaning it."
Wincing, Alf hardly agreed…he was quite certain his step father had meant every blow, and further had been holding the desire to do it deep inside for some time.
He cringed abruptly backwards when the door opened and Billy, dark eyed and haunted, stumbled in. He was carrying the manila envelope, now repacked and re-sealed.
Liv woke up then, and scrambled protectively over Alf, somehow managing to press every bruise he had further into the hard mattress.
Billy sighed and reached forward, picking Liv off of Alf gently. "There now, Missy, I'm not in a state anymore…ye don't have to be Alf's personal shield."
Liv stood before him, looking an awful lot like mum. "Promise?" She asked, arms folded.
"Aye, promise." He said, solemnly. "Now, get yerself downstairs fer your breakfast."
With a sigh, and one last look at Alf, she did as told, leaving the two of them alone.
Billy sat on the side of the bed, and handed the envelope back to Alf, along with the forgotten money. Alf accepted it without words, hardly daring to speak.
"Sorry bout last night, boy." Billy spoke gruffly. "Always promised your mother I'd treat you fair, I did. And that wasn't fair at all."
Alf didn't reply, thinking that "not fair" was a pretty mild way of describing it.
"That's why, you see. Why you have to go. I'm not a violent man, Alf, but I can't guarantee it won't happen again. I tried, right enough, to be decent to you at least, but I can't keep to it with her gone. Not your fault, I know…but not mine, either boy." He stood quickly, running his hands through his hair. "Ye can't know…what it's like, looking at you, knowing who you must look like. I loved her with every piece of me, but she never could stop loving the man who fathered you. I wasn't ever quite enough for her, and every time I look at you it hurts, all over again, until I just want to…" Billy stood, stock still, knuckles white in fists, and Alf held his breath.
Counting to ten, Billy relaxed with some resolve. "There, you see what I mean? She'd hate me for doing it, but that wouldn't stop me, not with her dead."
Alf found his voice. "What happens when I get to London, and it isn't true?"
Billy let out a deep breath. "It is true…she showed me her magic, once or twice, when you were a babe, then told me she had to put all that aside, that she wanted to live a non-magical life. I suppose it's too much to believe that, for you, but…but I believe in HER, always did. But truth is, even if it isn't true…Alfred, you just can't be here. Because I'll destroy you, with my fists or my words or both. And I don't want that to happen."
Me either, thought Alf, though he still didn't believe a word of it.
"Cmon, pack your things…a rucksack should do. I'll take you to the station."
"Right. Can I say goodbye to Liv?" He asked.
Billy shook his head. "Don't want a scene…my Mum's picking her and Len up from downstairs now. Once you get where yer going, you can write her…she'll believe, she will. Len never would, but she will." Billy went to leave. "I'll pack you a lunch too."
Here's a sandwich and a hundred pounds, kid. Now get out of my sight before I beat you into oblivion. Oh, and have a nice day.
Alf smirked, and rose slowly, wincing. He recognized the truth in what Billy said, and knew that Billy believed the story to be true; last night's attack aside, he really was a decent man. And he had loved Mum. But the fact that Billy had loved Mum enough to believe this nonsense didn't make Alf's lot any easier.
With a mischievous grin, he opened up the larger envelope and removed the second, thick letter envelope. The one addressed to George Weasley.
He'd been in too much shock to recognize it last night, but the name was familiar to him from Mum's stories. Although he didn't remember a George, specifically. He remembered Ron Weasley…he was in the Harry Potter stories a lot. And a Percy Weasley, who was a real prat. Ginny, who would go on to be Harry's girlfriend. And a duo known always and only as THE WEASLEY TWINS. If she'd ever mentioned specific names, he didn't remember.
"You could always tell a Weasley…" Mum had said, looking dreamy. "They all had bright red hair and smiles that could pierce the greatest darkness."
He'd always suspected that she'd added that bit in for him, because he'd always felt a bit of a freak about his hair.
Well, no reason why he shouldn't see what Mum had written to this fictional Weasley, was there? Sure, it said confidential, but since he didn't believe in George Weasley, why not open his letter?
The paper wouldn't rip. Not with his finger nail, not with a pair of scissors. He shook it, beat it against the desk, even poked it with that silly stick (cypress and swan feather my arse!). Only the stick got it to do anything, revealing some stupid trick ink, in his mother's handwriting.
"Confidential for George Weasley ONLY, darling!"
Huffing, he stuffed the offending document in the rucksack with a couple changes of clothes and some photos of Mum. He placed his own letter and the stick in the front pocket, along with the money Billy had given him. Feeling a fool, he looked around the only room he knew his whole life.
"Harry Potter grew up in a muggle household, and he used to sleep in the cupboard under the stairs."
Right. No cupboard here. No, he was sad to leave his safe little room, cold comfort though it offered him now. And no matter what anyone else believed, he didn't think there was any magic that would make his muggle life better, like had happened to Harry Potter.