Disclaimer: Harry Potter Publishing Rights © J.K.R. Note the opinions in this story are my own and in no way represent the owners of this site. This story subject to copyright law under transformative use. No compensation is made for this work.
There are many things in the world that humanity does not, and will never understand. One such example is fate. In a place inconceivable to mere humans, the collected beings known as 'The Gods' all stood in their places around a huge, circular, stone table. The slab of rock was a full hundred feet in circumference and approximately thirty feet across its diameter. Covering the entire table top was a map of the world, complete with mountains and seas, weather systems and cities. It wasn't the usual view of the world, as one might expect to see in an atlas, but was marked up as the wizarding world. Cities of importance to the magical community were shown, as were the twelve magical schools that existed around the globe. Those Gods around the table were the powers that ruled over it, determining the fate of witches and wizards everywhere. These were the powers-that-be, the beings who controlled fate. At one position around the table stood the God for Hate, and he was grumbling to himself.
"Come on, Hate, it's been three and a half years," called the God for Love from a few places down the table. "And it's not as if your guy didn't have a good run before then anyway."
"Be quiet, Love. And just you wait. My champion will return, and when he does, he's going to make yours suffer." Hate growled evilly at his opposite in the celestial host.
"What? You've already bound his powers to a condition that he falls in love before they are unleashed. Chances are your champion will have found a way back before mine has even had the chance to love anyone."
"Exactly, Love. You aren't as stupid as I thought."
"Stuff it, Hate. Love always triumphs over hate and you know it…."
From across the table, another god watched this exchange with curiosity. The God for Fauna was generally loathed to get mixed up in the petty squabbling that had perpetuated over the millennia between Love and Hate. Usually, she played little part in this game of life, concerned only when catastrophic events threatened her beloved animal kingdom. At this time, however, completely on a whim, Fauna decided to have a bit of fun. She would not be helping either cause, for her actions could be seen as either a curse or a blessing, depending on your point of view. She waited patiently until the dice of fate was in her hands…
Raymond Smith was a man in his late twenties, although his greying hair, thin physique and wearied face gave the impression he was nearing his fortieth year. Life had clearly taken its toll on this young man, a life which had had its fill of tests, tragedies and betrayals. There was little of value left in Raymond Smith's life, but what little there was he would protect with his life. He had to; there was no-one else left.
Ray, as he was known to those he worked with and for, worked a night shift as a security guard on an industrial complex in an uninspiring town in Surrey. The pay wasn't substantial, but it was enough to get through the week until next little brown envelope was passed his way. Armed with a torch and his wits, five nights a week Ray Smith wandered around the silent warehouses and factory buildings, passing the hours patiently until morning, when he could resume his vigil, watching over the boy.
During the daytime, and throughout the weekend, Ray sat in his car and watched the house where the boy lived. Several years ago, he had acquired a second-hand Ford Sierra for this very purpose. Every day, the white saloon car with the beginnings of rust forming around the wheel arches parked in a road called Privet Drive, outside number seven. The residents obviously could see the car, but strangely no-one ever paid it any heed, as if some strange force compelled them not to notice it. This meant, of course, that Raymond Smith could spend as long as he wanted simply watching the house where the boy lived with his relatives – number four.
One resident, however, did notice Ray's car. It was of course, the boy that Ray himself was watching. Each weekday morning, as the woman, her fat, blond-haired son and the boy left the house to walk to the local school, the boy's startling green eyes would stare across the street to the battered white car. Ray's tired brown eyes met the boy's piercing green, and for a split second each day they seemed to share this moment of solidarity. The boy never spoke of the strange man in the old white car to his guardians. He never spoke to them or anyone hardly at all, as it happened, for reasons Ray Smith would not discover for several years.
July 31st 1985 was the boy's fifth birthday. It wouldn't be celebrated as a child's birthday should be. There were to be no balloons, or a party, or cards and presents. No, the boy's guardians, his aunt and uncle, would not acknowledge this day at all. The boy himself was as oblivious as his relatives were dismissive. This day would not be a day of celebration, although that did not stop it from being exceptional, and perhaps one of the most important days in the young boy's life.
As usual, he woke when the vast forms of his uncle and cousin started crashing about on the upper floor. Both being extensively overweight, it gave the impression that a herd of elephants were stomping about in the rooms above. In the cupboard under the stairs, the light of the early morning sun filtered through the air-vent in the door, and the boy watched the particles of dust as they danced in the rays of light, blown every way as he exhaled. It was only when a swift movement caught his eye that the boy's attention moved from the dancing dust to a spider that was making its way silently along his left arm.
The boy had grown used to spiders, having spent the last few years sleeping in the house's under stairs cupboard, and at first glance this one didn't seem particularly different. It was a bit bigger than usual, perhaps, and maybe a different shape, but in the dingy light, the five year old did not notice these things. What he did notice, however, was very strange. Very strange indeed.
As the spider stepped lightly along the boy's arm, it was not the feelings of tiny feet on his skin that he could sense, but the feeling of soft skin against his own feet. For a boy of only a few years, it was extremely difficult to understand. It was as if he was experiencing the spider's own sense of touch. Unable to remain still, the boy's arm moved involuntarily, yet he experienced the feeling of unsteady ground. As the spider stepped deftly from the boy's exposed forearm onto the fabric of his nightwear, the sensation changed. The boy could feel the new texture underfoot. Hard to accept, though it was, and nowhere near knowing why or how, the small boy concluded that he was definitely feeling whatever the spider was touching.
The birthday boy wished that the spider would climb down on to the wooden floorboards at the bottom of the cupboard door, just to be sure of his conclusions. To his astonishment, the spider obliged, and crossed the boys slender torso, clambered over his other arm and lowered itself to the floor. Instantly, the sensation changed from fabric to nothing, as it descended, to the cold dusty wood. The spider would go, the boy learned, wherever he willed it to, and he was so absorbed with his interaction with the eight-legged beast that he didn't even notice the pachydermal steps of his uncle coming down the stairs.
"BOY!" yelled Vernon Dursley. "GET OUT HERE NOW!"
"I guess you'd better go away somewhere," thought the boy, thinking of the spider and hoping that it would reappear later. What the boy did not expect, was for the arachnid to dart back onto his body, up his left arm and onto his shoulder at the base of his neck. The sensation of soft skin under his feet returned as the spider crossed his narrow shoulder, but then evaporated. Instinctively, the boy reached his right hand up to his left shoulder where the spider had been a moment before, but it appeared to have gone. Maybe it had carried on down his back and into the dark corners of the cupboard.
It was only as the young boy climbed out of the dank and dark of the Dursley's under stairs cupboard that he noticed something. Something that was going to cause an almighty rumpus in the Dursley household. Coiling around Harry's right wrist was a snake, or at least an image of one. The head of the serpent stretched down his tiny hand, its mouth open, fangs bared and tongue flicking outwards. The body then coiled twice around his narrow wrist and forearm before the tail rested half way towards the elbow.
The boy knew at once that he would be in trouble. Of course, he had played no part in the arrival of this tattoo, which had appeared during the night. Trying desperately to cover the black ink with his left hand, he stole as quietly as possible into the kitchen, in answer to his uncle's summons. Vernon Dursley was hidden behind a vast newspaper as the boy crept towards his place at the table. Petunia Dursley was bustling around the oven and hob, preparing a veritable feast for her husband and son, who was yet to appear downstairs for breakfast. The wooden kitchen chair was too heavy for the small boy to lift, and his enforced dragging of the seat across the tiled floor made a squeaking noise that caused Vernon Dursley to look over his paper at his nephew.
"What are you doing boy? Don't drag the chair across the floor like that, I'm trying to read."
The nervous boy looked sheepish as he climbed awkwardly into the chair, still trying to cover the snake tattoo on his right wrist and hand with his left.
"What are you fumbling about for, boy?" continued the unpleasant ogre of a man. "And what's that guilty look on your face? What have you done now boy?" Vernon asked menacingly.
As Vernon Dursley stared aggressively at his nephew, trying to discern what heinous crimes against normality the boy had committed, the boy looked down at the grain of the pine table, and kept his hands hidden in his lap. Suddenly, Petunia Dursley shrieked, in a mixture of fright, horror and surprise.
"V...V…Vernon look. There….on the boy's neck." The long-faced woman was still stood across the kitchen by the stove. One hand clasped to her mouth in a gesture of shock, the other was pointing shakily at the back of the boy's neck. Unknown to the boy himself, a second tattoo was there.
"What is it Petunia? Turn around boy so I can see," ordered Vernon. The five year old boy swivelled around in the chair so that his back was towards his uncle. This meant that he was now facing his aunt, and could clearly see the look of revulsion that had replaced the shock from moments before.
"What have you done, you little freak?" hissed Vernon Dursley. The boy instinctively reached his left hand up to the side of his neck, trying to feel what had caused such consternation with his relatives, but of course there was nothing to feel. Ashamed of whatever was now on his neck, the boy's hand stayed there, vainly trying to cover what was causing offence.
"Answer me boy! What did you do?" commanded the reddening Vernon Dursley. As the boy began to shake his head in response, Petunia gave another cry, before stalking over to the table and grabbing her nephew's right arm and forcibly lifting it into the air.
"Another one, Vernon. And just as disgusting as the thing on his neck."
At this point, the young boy guessed that he must have another picture on his neck, like the one that had appeared on his wrist. He was too young to deduce that this may be connected to that strange spider. He began to wonder what this second picture might be, when his aunt's shrill voice continued its rant.
"Did you draw these…these…abominations on yourself to frighten Dudley? You must have stolen the pens. Not only are you a disgusting freak but a thief as well." The boy shook his head throughout his aunt's diatribe, barely resisting the urge to break down and cry at her harsh words.
"Is that it or are there any more?" continued the horse-faced woman. "Take off your shirt so we can see what other disfigurements you've inflicted upon us."
The boy was now stood with his back to the kitchen doorway. Petunia and Vernon Dursley stepped back so they could get a good look at him, as if he were some side-show freak to be gawked at. In their ignorance, they were also reluctant to get too close in case they were infected with this new level of freakishness, despite Petunia's assumption that the images were drawn on with a pen.
Petunia's revolted face contorted even further if that was possible as her nephew removed his too-big t-shirt. Vernon huffed and puffed in disgust as the boy's exposed torso revealed a further two images. On his chest, covering most of his undeveloped right pectoral muscle was a black wolf. The image was 'drawn' from the side, showing the beast's flank and legs. Its head was turned to the side, so was looking out from the boy's body, rather than looking forward and in profile. The confused and frightened child looked down at the wolf, and saw a shaggy black dog. He was busy staring down at his own chest when his aunt's voice spoke again.
"There, on his other arm…"
On the outside of his left upper arm, just down from the shoulder a fourth image resided. This one depicted a falcon of some kind. Like the wolf and the snake, it too was black. The bird was shown as if in flight, its talons outstretched towards some unseen prey and its beak open in full battle cry.
It was at this point that Dudley Dursley, the boy's obese and spoiled cousin, arrived in the kitchen doorway. His usual call asking what was for breakfast was cut off mid flow when he saw his smaller cousin's bare back a few feet into the kitchen.
"It's alright, Popkin," called Petunia to her beloved son. Dudley did not respond to her, however, but simply raised his hand at pointed at his cousin's back, a look of incredulity on his face.
"What is it Dudders?" asked Vernon, but without waiting for an answer he bellowed at his nephew. "TURN AROUND."
The boy slowly turned so he was facing his cousin, and away from his aunt and uncle. Dudley gasped in surprise when he saw the wolf, but that was nothing compared to Petunia's half scream and Vernon's whispered "Oh my God."
Covering almost his entire back was the face of a black panther. The face was staring straight out from his back, its mouth open in aggression, and teeth bared.
Petunia Dursley was the first to recover. "Listen to me, you little freak. Get upstairs to the bathroom and start scrubbing. You'd better pray that whatever you've done to yourself comes off again." The boy didn't need a second invitation to get out of that kitchen, away from the staring eyes of his 'family'. He raced upstairs to the bathroom and reached up to turn on the taps. Glancing to his left towards the mirror, he caught a glimpse of the image on his neck. It was a spider's web, and in the centre was a spider.
The child still did not realise that the spider he had played with earlier was identical to the image on his back left side of his neck. He quickly returned to the job at hand though, and took a flannel from the side of the bath and began scrubbing at the snake tattoo. Obviously the scouring had no effect on the presence of the dark pigment.
"Please come off," thought the boy desperately, as he paused to hold the flannel under the running water. Unbelievably, the image of the spider became more solid, if that was possible. In fact, it should not have been, but the inked image steadily became more lifelike, until it looked more like a two dimensional, but nonetheless real snake wrapped around his lower arm. All of a sudden, the two dimensional snake was solid – a real snake coiled around the boy's slender wrist. He watched in amazement as the snake's fangs folded back and its mouth closed. The serpent's head lifted from the back of his hand and turned to stare into the boys eyes, its tongue flicking ceaselessly. Where its head had been, there was no hint of a tattoo remaining on the boy's skin. The serpent was virtually black in colour, was perhaps eighteen inches long and about an inch in diameter. The boy was surprised by the dry warmth of the animal's body, still being of an age that thought snakes were cold and slimy creatures.
In the same way the boy had felt what the spider felt, he now seemed to be tasting what the snake could taste. The darting tongue could discern taste of the boy's sweat in the air, the heady scents of a perfumed soap, and the chemical aroma of a man's shampoo. At first, the odd sensations threatened to overwhelm the boy, leaving him feeling nauseous, but the feeling was forgotten when the snake hissed.
He could understand the snake. He knew it had hissed and not spoken, for that would be impossible. Even a five year old understood that a snake could not speak like a person. His naïve thought processes were soon interrupted when the heavy footsteps of the boy's over-sized cousin pounded up the stairs. Unsure of what to do about the snake, the boy looked towards the bathroom door, through which his cousin was likely to burst at any moment. The thudding steps reached the landing and approached the bathroom. The door was pushed open with a bang.
"Daddy says you're to get back down to the kitchen now, freak."
The smaller child looked back at his wrist, and was relieved to see that the real snake had gone, and was a picture on his hand and wrist once more.
The boy shivered slightly in the coolness of the early morning. The height of summer it may be, but the mornings were still fresh before the sun raised high in the sky. From around eleven o'clock, the heat would begin to feel uncomfortable, but that was still a few hours away, and the five year old boy's shirt lay on the kitchen floor where it had been dropped as he bolted from the room. He followed his unkind cousin down the stairs, trembling with cold but mostly from terrified anticipation. His aunt and uncle were not forgiving people, except when their own son was concerned, and the boy fully expected to be punished heavily for this unexplainable occurrence.
"Well?" snapped Petunia Dursley as the boy followed his waddling cousin back into the kitchen. The small child with hair as black as coal looked down at the floor and shook his head.
"You little freak! You did this on purpose to cause us trouble didn't you?" Petunia marched towards her nephew and grabbed his arm, causing his face to contort in pain. As she dragged him towards the cupboard under the stairs, her rant continued.
"You will stay in there until your uncle and I decide what to do with you." There was venom in her voice by now, pure unadulterated hatred. Despite the precarious nature of his situation, and the likelihood of an extremely unpleasant punishment to follow, the boy was relieved to be back in the dark of the cupboard. This was his space, more so than any other. At least for a few moments he was away from the loathing, staring eyes of his 'family' and hidden away in the one place that was familiar and comforting to him. His aunt had closed the ventilation grill on the cupboard door, so that the only light was that which crept through the crack at the bottom of the door. In the dusty gloom, the boy could vaguely make out darkness on his wrist where the snake picture lay. As he lay down on his tiny bed, the boy remembered the spider that he played with earlier.
"Spider?" he thought to himself. After barely a moment, he felt it. The sensation of soft skin under his feet.
"Come down here to the bottom of the door so I can see you," he thought. The boy felt various sensations as the spider obediently moved across the boy's shoulders and down his arm to the floorboards and into the chink of light at the foot of the cupboard door, where it stood expectantly. The boy shuffled around so he was lying on his right side, propped on his right elbow and saw the arachnid properly for the first time. He tried talking to it, but nothing happened unless he was giving an instruction to do something, but in the dark of the cupboard there wasn't much the spider could do. The spider didn't need to be spoken to out loud anyway. The boy could merely think his instructions for the spider to obey him.
Concluding the spider did not speak, he thought once again about the snake. The snake had definitely spoken to him, or at least he had understood the snake's hiss.
"I wish the snake were here again," he thought to himself and within a few moments, he felt the warm sensation against his wrist once more, as the snake tattoo morphed into reality. The boy's naïve mind failed to grasp the enormity of what had just transpired, and consequently he responded to the snake's presence quite like one might greet a playmate.
"You mussst sssspeak in thissss language, chossssen one."
"Jusssst want to do it."
The boy screwed up his face in concentration, desperately trying to understand how to comply with the snake's instruction.
"Issss thissss right?"
"Yessss, you are now sssspeaking like one of us."
"Why can I talk ssssnake? I couldn't talk to the sssspider."
"I know not why. You can command the sssspider, the wolf, the falcon, the panther and mysssself with your thoughtssss, but how you can talk to me issss a mysssstery."
The spider, which had been forgotten by the boy as his attention focussed on the snake instead, had returned to its position its web – the tattooed web on the boy's neck. It was fortunate that it had returned, for the boy had not heard the leaden footsteps of his uncle pound across the hall to the stairs.
The enraged man yanked open the cupboard door with such vehemence that the boy jumped in alarm, which is hard to do when half-lying down inside a small cupboard. Expecting to feel the fullest extent of his uncle's wrath, the boy tried in vain to shrink back into the cupboard. The strong podgy fingers closed around his upper left arm, however, and heft him out of the cupboard and onto his feet in the hall in one swift, practiced motion.
Unable to suppress his emotion as the pain of his uncle's grip seized his slender shoulder, the boy grimaced, but desperately managed to fight back the whimper that was longing to escape his lips.
"What was all that hissing about, boy?" demanded the great whale of a man. As the frightened boy quivered in his uncle's shadow, the bullying man continued to railroad his nephew. "More of your disgusting freakiness, I'll bet. Now then you little waste of space, get in the kitchen so your aunt and I can talk to you." With that instruction, Vernon Dursley turned on his heel and marched into the kitchen.
The boy followed obediently, and instantly went to retrieve his t-shirt from where it had previously been discarded. Dudley Dursley sat at the kitchen table, gleefully stuffing his already multi-chinned face with crumpets. Petunia Dursley was in her usual place – leaning against the units to the right of the oven. Her arms were crossed and her lips drawn tightly. Her usual pale complexion was unusually tinged with red; the day's revelations had clearly been distressing for such a well-to-do member of the community.
Vernon Dursley took his place at the table and reached for a crumpet for himself. The boy stood to the side of the table and struggled into the old t-shirt that he wore practically all the time. In fact, he only really took it off when it was being washed, a task which his aunt conceded had to be done occasionally. Eventually, when the boy was clothed once more, and Vernon Dursley had consumed his buttered crumpet, Petunia spoke. Her tone of voice wasn't the sweet, sickly one she reserved for Dudley, or even the spiteful tone the boy usually received. This time, for the first time, Petunia Dursley spoke with complete indifference.
"We have put up with your unnaturalness for too long, and we will have it no longer. You no longer live here. You're a freak, like your parents. I hope I never have to see you again."
The boy looked up at his aunt in horror. He didn't like his aunt and uncle, and was old enough to realise that they didn't like him, but his barely five year old mind couldn't comprehend the meaning of his aunt's words. Where did he live then? The answer soon became apparent, as Vernon Dursley shot up from the table, melted butter dribbling down his moustache and snatched up his car keys from the kitchen worktop.
"Get your shoes on, boy," growled the man, as he strode past the shell-shocked child and headed into the hall. The boy obeyed mechanically, as he had been conditioned to do over the last few years. Disobedience led to punishment; that was a lesson that a five year old could understand. Barely a few minutes later, Vernon Dursley's car pulled out of the driveway of number four, Privet Drive. One small passenger sat in the back seat, alone and confused. The Dursley's shiny silver Volvo moved slowly passed an old white Ford Sierra. Vernon Dursley scarcely noticed the other vehicle, but his passenger stared pleadingly at the brown-eyed man who sat in the driver's seat. For the briefest of moments their eyes met, and Raymond Smith knew at once that something important had transpired. Immediately he started up the engine of his old car, and prepared to follow the boy, wherever they were headed.
Vernon Dursley drove north towards London, completely unaware that he had been followed the entire way by a brown haired man in an old white Ford Sierra. He was more concerned with the activities of his passenger, his five year old nephew. The boy was characteristically still and silent, and passed the majority of the journey staring dispassionately out of the car's windows.
The boy watched with little interest as the suburban drabness of Little Whinging was quickly left behind. The arable fields of the South-Eastern county followed, but these were soon superseded by the conurbations that marked the beginnings of London. The regular houses and town buildings gave way to imposing streets in the centre of the city, as Vernon Dursley guided the silver Volvo through the traffic of central London.
The boy regarded all the different buildings and monuments in the city with curiousity, having never been out of Little Whinging before today. He wondered at the enormity of everything. Every street was lined with shops, houses or offices that were all four or five stories high at least. Then there were the apartment blocks that rose high into the sky, and the office blocks, and a huge church with a giant dome on the top. Everything in London was on a grand scale, and as the boy realised his uncle was now looking for somewhere specific, the size of everything began to frighten him. Surely they were not expecting him to live here?
After several minutes of muttering and grumbling, Vernon Dursley brought the car to a halt at the side of a wide road. They had driven through the commercial district and had come to a more residential area of London. Occasional houses were being used as offices for small professional firms, accountancy practices, law firms and the like. The houses that lined both sides of this street made up a resplendent looking Georgian terrace. Each individual dwelling was tall, with five stories, and narrow. They would no doubt go back a long way from the road as well. The door to the house outside which uncle and nephew were now parked was painted black, although the paint was old and peeling at the edges. To the side of the door, on the stone of the surround, was a brass sign, etched into which were the words:
ST CHRISTOPHER'S ORPHANAGE
A HOME FOR LOST SOULS
Vernon Dursley twisted his bulky frame around so that he could talk to the silent boy.
"Listen, boy. You get out of the car and go up to that black door. You wait until you can't see the car anymore before you knock on the door. Do you understand?"
The boy nodded vaguely, choosing to remain silent as usual.
"Finally we'll be rid of you. Now get out, you worthless little freak, and remember what I just told you." Vernon Dursley almost had glee in his voice as his spoke to his nephew for the very last time. As the boy struggled to push open the heavy door of the large car, Vernon Dursley turned back round in his seat and put the car into gear. As soon as he heard the thud of the door closing, he took off, without a second glance or thought to the five year old boy he had just heartlessly abandoned at an orphanage in the middle of London.
The boy stood on the pavement watching the silver car disappearing up the wide street. Even after his uncle had long gone, he stood there, waiting for the Volvo to return. After about twenty minutes, the boy wiped away a tear that had begun to slide down his cheek, and turned to look at the building he was to live in for the next few years.
The house was made of a grey stone, rather than the bright, modern bricks of his aunt and uncle's house. There were six steps up to the black front door with the peeling paint, such that the ground floor was well above street level. A gate in a metal railing led to steps down to another door into the house and a basement window. The door was unused and boarded over however, and rubbish and leaves from the street above collected in the small space at the foot of the stone steps.
Including the basement, the building appeared to have five floors, each with large, old sash windows facing onto the street. As with the front door, the window frames were tired and in need of attention, as they were dirty, peeling and rotten in occasional places. This was attention that a church funded orphanage could not afford, however. Although the boy could not tell this from the outside, this house and the two to its left were knocked through inside to become one address. The orphanage took up three of these old Georgian townhouses, from their basements to rooftop gardens. Eventually, after several further minutes of deliberation, the boy crossed the wide pavement and slowly climbed the steps. At the top, he stretched up to reach an ornate but tarnished door knocker.
Down the street, Raymond Smith watched the heart-breaking scene unfold with a lump in his throat. Having realised where the Dursley brute was bringing the boy, Ray willed him to walk up the steps to the orphanage. It was far too dangerous for a five year old boy to wander off into London – he would be safe here. As the small figure finally chose to knock on the black door, Ray felt a sense of relief. He felt guilty that he could not offer the boy a place to stay, it was simply too dangerous. He needed to make some modifications to his house in Devon first, and then he would return and see about taking the boy to live with him.
The main office to the St. Christopher's orphanage was situated in the first room off the hallway, on the right hand side as you faced the building. It was a large, high room; with space enough for four desks, cupboards, book shelves and filing cabinets. The furniture was generally old and tatty, and largely reflected the state of the outside of the building. Clearly St. Christopher's did not have spare cash to lavish on soft furnishings or outward appearances. Midday sunlight streamed through the large sash window in the front wall of the office. An old, slatted blind hung awkwardly across the top quarter of the glass, but its tangled cord and apparent fragility meant it was never touched, even on the brightest of days.
Each of the four desks was laden with files, in-trays and other typical office paraphernalia. It was behind one of these busy desks that Elizabeth Rutherford was sitting, as she read through one of several files that were scattered in front of her. Occasionally she would make a note in it, or jot down a comment on a notepad. Mrs. Rutherford had been an orphan herself, but now, as she approached her sixtieth year, it was of little consequence. She was a tall, striking woman with mostly grey hair that was lazily pulled back into a ponytail. Her brown eyes gave a soft, comforting quality to her round face.
She had spent her early years in an orphanage such as this, before moving on to a foster family at the age of eleven. From then on, she had had a good life, full of opportunities. Her foster parents were God-fearing folk, sensible and kind. They believed in the teachings of the bible and brought up Elizabeth with traditional Christian values. She was always provided with everything she needed, and occasionally received some of the things she wanted, too. Elizabeth studied theology at university, where she met the man who was to become her husband. They lived happy, fulfilling lives until Mark Rutherford succumbed to cancer, while only in his late forties. Relying on her faith, and the support of her church, Elizabeth soon started on building a new dream – St. Christopher's Orphanage, and now, after fourteen years, she was looking after thirty-two young orphans, although many more had come and gone in that time.
It was just after noon when she was disturbed from her reading by the clunking sound of someone knocking on the front door, so she concisely placed her file down on the desk and headed towards the hallway. The inside of the peeling black door was equally shabby as the front. Dust and cobwebs gathered in the corners of the hall, and old grey carpet was worn and dirty. Mrs. Rutherford released the catch on the lock, and tugged open the heavy door, overcoming the stiff and rusted hinges with a well practiced yank.
It took a moment for the woman to glance down and notice the small boy looking up at her. For an instant, she was mesmerised by the intensity in the child's fiercely green eyes; their depth utterly absorbing. With a shake of her head, the orphanage's principal forced herself to regard the rest of the boy – he was young, perhaps four or five and dressed in ill-fitting and dirty clothes. His unkempt hair and distressed features suggested a recent traumatic experience for the poor lad. Of course, Elizabeth Rutherford did not realise that every single day had been potentially traumatic for this particular child.
"Hello young man," Mrs Rutherford began in her friendliest tone. "Can I help you with something?"
The black haired boy said nothing, but continued to stare pleadingly up at the kindly middle-aged lady before him.
"Do you know what this place is?"
The boy shook his head slightly, his gaze instantly snapping back to meet the eyes of the woman above him.
"How did you get here?"
Again the boy with the messy black hair and startling eyes said nothing, but at this question his head turned and he looked wistfully up the street for a few seconds, before turning back to kind lady.
"Did someone leave you here?" she asked with a resigned sigh, knowing full well that this boy was about to join her collection of waifs and strays. The orphanage was already full, running on the goodwill of the church and struggling to find staff, but this boy's gaze had hypnotised Elizabeth Rutherford. She doubted if she would ever be able to say no to this boy.
As the boy began to nod, she crouched down to address him on his own level. "Well then, young man, I think perhaps you had better come inside."
The older woman led the silent child into the office, where she cleared a stack of files from an old wooden chair with a padded seat and gestured to him that he should sit down. The boy's eyes darted around the room as the lady busied herself clearing one of the desks and then retrieving some items from a cupboard. As his hands gripped the wooden armrests of the chair, the boy could feel the grain of the wood, how it was worn smooth by many hundreds of hands, over the years. The air in this funny house tasted very slightly dusty in his mouth, a stark contrast to the pristine cleanliness of his aunt and uncle's home, under stairs cupboard excepting.
After a few minutes of shuffling things about, locating specific pieces of paper and, to the boy's pleasant surprise, a half-eaten packet of biscuits which she placed on the edge of the desk, in front of where the boy was sitting, Mrs. Rutherford sat at her desk.
"Please help yourself to a Rich Tea," the lady said, as she began to sort her newly acquired sheets of paper into an empty file. The boy reached forward nervously and fumbled for a moment with the packet, trying to work one of the smooth, pale biscuits loose. Finally, he sat back in the seat with his prize, and began to nibble gingerly around the edge, clearly trying to make it last as long as possible.
"Now then, young man. Will you tell me your name please?" The boy looked blankly back at the woman.
"Your name? What is your name?" Still the boy did not respond, but continued to look straight back at her. In her surprise at not getting an answer, she missed the boy's slight shrug. With many years' worth of experience dealing with difficult and unresponsive children, Elizabeth Rutherford changed her approach.
"Would you like to live here, have a nice warm bed, plenty of meals, and lots of other boys and girls to make friends with?" She spoke with the kindest, softest voice she could muster, and looked back at the boy with a tender smile and kind eyes. The boy's eyes bore into her own, but Mrs. Rutherford held his gaze, silently thanking the Lord for giving her strength and willpower. Eventually, after what may have been as long as a few minutes, the boy spoke for the first time that day, in the quietest of whispers.
The voice was soft and quiet, yes, but still it was determined and hopeful at the same time. Letting out a long sigh, the old administrator beamed at her new charge.
"You're still going to have to tell me your name, I'm afraid."
"I…I…don't know." The boy stumbled over these three simple words, almost as if ashamed of himself. Mrs. Rutherford was shocked by the boy's lack of self-awareness and esteem.
"The people who left you here, what did they call you?"
The small child looked down into his lap. After a pause, and a hitch of his shoulders, he spoke for a third time, but this time was the quietest of all.
The aging woman feigned deafness as she struggled to deal internally with the words that had just managed to escape the boy's lips. Hiding her anger that humanity could be so cruel to a tiny child, she forged on, deliberately not acknowledging the boy's answer.
"Well, how about we call you Adam, that's a good biblical name for a handsome young boy. Adam…Black. How does that sound? I have to have names to put in the files so we get funding…"
The boy didn't really understand the old woman's words about funding and files. He liked his new name though – Adam Black. After the woman had spent a few minutes writing on forms and talking about things the boy didn't comprehend, she suddenly shut her file, placed a lid on her pen and pushed her seat back from the desk.
"Come, young Adam Black, let us go and find you a room to sleep in, some clean clothes to wear and someone your own age to be your friend." Elizabeth Rutherford took Black gently by the hand, and led him back out into the hallway, up the stairs and into the heart of the orphanage.
Meanwhile, outside on the street, Raymond Smith was waiting. He had watched the woman have a conversation with the boy, and he had seen how she compassionately welcomed him inside. Now he was waiting to make sure the boy wasn't to be ejected again, and be left alone on the streets of London. After several hours of conflicting emotions, Raymond Smith turned the key of his old Sierra, revved the engine, and set off to do battle with the traffic of England's capital city, leaving the boy he had been watching for the last few years in the capable hands of St. Christopher.