For all those who continue to be disgusted with the tales of the brave, valiant, strong as an ox and half as smart hero that is Harry Potter, I give you this...
Hero of a Thousand Retreating Backs: Harry Potter
The Dursleys were sensible, no-nonsense sorts of folk... albeit a bit hidebound and unimaginative. The sort of people who would rather use a nearby hammer to pound a screw into the wall, rather than hunt for a screwdriver. And if that didn't work, then the obvious solution was to find a bigger hammer. They knew of the existence of people who were... abnormal, in their opinion. Were in fact related to such people. They compensated by attempting to project the most mind numbingly boring sense of normality possible into their every action.
Naturally, one would think that this would be the last place to send a magical child to grow up. So you just had to wonder what Albus was thinking when he left Harry Potter on their doorstep.
Maybe since he knew that the lad would have important parts to play in the scheme of things in the future, and so was going for the 'strength through adversity' angle. Tempering his courage and will and whatnot to create a blade of higher stock, to mix a few metaphors.
If that was his intention, then he failed. Drastically, completely, and horribly.
Harry Potter had a reputation as a coward. That suited him just fine. He'd rather have people pointing at him and whispering for him running at the first sign of trouble than actually being around when the trouble arrived.
His Aunt and Uncle didn't like him at all. They dealt with it, however, as he was rarely stupid enough to leave himself in their direct line of sight. And 'out of sight, out of mind' proved surprisingly apt. So long as their meals were sitting at the table when they sat down and the house was kept clean, they usually didn't bother going to the effort of hunting him down to make his life miserable. Their son, however, was more than happy to make the attempt.(1)
Harry spent his free time... well, running away from things, mostly. His portly cousin. His cousins friends. Mean teenagers. Dogs that had slipped their chain. Swarms of bees and wasps. A lion, once, that had escaped from a nearby circus. A tiger, same. As well as a duo of angry, screeching monkeys. Actually, circuses soon learned to avoid Little Whinging altogether, as their animals would at one point or another figure out how to escape their cages. Harry'd never worked up the courage to visit a zoo, knowing that it would simply introduce a whole new variety of angry beasties to chase him. Then there were... Cars that people forgot to leave in park, and ended up rolling down the street towards him at a good clip. Large mobs of children throwing rocks and clumps of dirt at him. A drunk man in an alley had tossed a bottle at him which smashed against the wall by his head. There were more, and less likely, things as well.(2)
He'd considered once, the possibility that the world was out to get him. Having no opposing evidence to bring to bear, that hypothesis was eventually accepted by his subconcious to be fact. On the plus side, he was very good at running. And dodging. He had to be, else he'd have been dead long since. Speaking of which...
"I Have The Chess Set And A Bag Of Fried Potato Wedges This Month. What Did You Bring?"
Yeah, there was him. Bones, scythe, and all. Nobody could see him but Harry, and he seemed uninclined to attempt grievous bodily harm upon Harry at the moment. For the ten, soon to be eleven year old, that perfectly qualified the Grim Reaper for the slot of 'invisible friend'.(3)
"Got a jug of some sort of sweet tea. Supposed to go over ice, I think, but I couldn't get ahold of any. Got glasses, though."
"Excellent. Shall We Begin?"
The game night had become something of a monthly ritual with them, ever since the first time they met.(4) Death had actually had an explanation for why Harry's life was so horrible... apparently, he was supposed to be dead, but wasn't, and the world was trying its best to rectify this error.(5) He said no more on the matter, but Harry'd already pieced it together with the car accident that had claimed his birth parents and given him his scar. Thankfully, Death was patient and the only steps he took towards ensuring Harry's demise was to bring terribly unhealthy and fattening food to their get togethers.
Given that Harry typically got by on what he could furtively eat while he was cooking the Dursley's food and could scavenge enough lost change to pay for at a grocery store, which usually wasn't much, this wasn't exactly the most malevolent of plans about.
Nobody ever came to this section of the park, built with lots of little tables and chairs for retired people to play chess in the sunlight. However, most retired people chose to move out of the area rather than in. That was good, because there wouldn't be people staring at the boy playing chess by himself, or noting that the pieces on the other side would move on their own.
He hadn't been very good at chess to start, but he'd learned enough to delay losing for a while. He'd never won, of course, and had no idea just how good of a player he'd become. Death had been playing since the dawn of time, after all. You had to be pretty good to drag a game with him out longer than ten, twenty minutes or so.(6)
Harry was having an off day. Barely fifteen minutes after the game began, he sighed and poked his king over to signify checkmate as he chewed on a wedge of potato. Could do with a dab of ketchup, but aside from that it was pretty good.
"Your Mind Seemed Elsewhere During The Game."
A statement with a carefully hidden question inside, as well as a demand for an answer. Death was good at that sort of thing.
"It's nothing. Uncle Vernon came across something in the post this morning that seemed to disturb him. He tried to hide it, but he immediately afterward ordered Dudley to clean out his second bedroom(7) and me to move in."
One bony hand moved up to scratch something under Death's cowl. That did make sense. If anything really good happened to Harry, he tended to be on edge afterwards.(8) If he'd been moved out of his cupboard and into a real bedroom this morning, he'd have had all day to ponder increasingly uncomfortable scenarios... Ah. Death took a moment to recall the time of year and Harry's age.
"I See. It's That Time Already, Is It?"
Harry hesitated, then started to ask... too late. Death had left already, and taken his chessboard with him. Typical. He had, however, left behind the sack of potato wedges, which Harry quickly polished off and washed down with the tea. Then, dropping the sack and plastic jug in a nearby bin that smelled as if there was a small dead animal at the bottom, he brushed the crumbs off Dudley's old shirt and began a slow walk away.
(1) Fortunately, their son was also nearly as wide as he was tall, and was therefore easy to outrun in most conditions. Those conditions being everything except downhill, in which case gravity would raise its ugly head to amplify Dudley's speed. And he'd go even faster if he tripped and started rolling.
(2) Such as the time he was savagely attacked by Mrs. Figg's entire small herd of housecats all at once. A nasty incident that he still did his best to forget about.
(3) In contrast to 'invisible enemy', of which he had none... yet.
(4) A young Dudley had casually pushed Harry down the stairs, where he'd come very close to breaking his neck in the landing. His collarbone did break, prompting Harry's first visit to a doctor of any sort. Incidentally, it was during this visit that it was discovered that he needed glasses, which had quickly been siezed upon by the Dursleys as an explanation for how he'd fallen down the stairs in the first place that didn't implicate their precious Duddiekins.
(5) ASAP, and with interest.
(6) On a good day, Harry could stretch a game out well over an hour, placing him firmly in the category of 'grandmaster chess strategist'. Ironic, considering that since Death was the only person he played with, he'd never yet won a game.
(7) Complete with a second bed, just in case the stress of supporting Dudley's bulk became too much to bear and the first one gave out in the night.
(8) Until he figured out what the catch was, anyway.
The next morning, Aunt Petunia screamed, shrill and loud, as she picked up the mail. Dudley and Harry both had been tossed out of the room as she and Vernon conversed in short whispers. Dudley was listening at the keyhole as Harry stepped back and quietly chewed on the slice of bacon he'd nicked off the table. (1)
Later, Vernon hammered the mail slot shut for some reason.(2)
Naturally, the next day a confused mailman gave them their post through the window. Harry handed it off to Vernon, who took three heavy envelopes out of the group and set them alight without opening them. The next day was sunday, with no post.
So instead of being handed in by the mailman, dozens of heavy envelopes whizzed down the chimney. Vernon burned them all and insisted they pile into the car. They drove all day and stopped at a motel for the night. Harry had to admit that he was getting slightly curious about those odd letters. (3)
In the morning there was a knock at the door and Vernon let the man who'd checked them in through.
"Is dere an 'Arry Potter in 'ere?" he asked, waving a familiar sort of envelope about. "It's only dat I got about an 'undred of dese up at da front desk..."
Vernon quickly rushed the man out, claiming that he would take care of it, and Harry frowned. They were adressed to him? His curiosity had died at that, knowing that it could be nothing good if so, and he stewed in his thoughts as Vernon piled them back in the car.
Today, Vernon was not satisfied with simply driving in one direction. He zigged and zagged, changed lanes often, would pull swift and sudden U-turns and chose his turns apparently randomly towards an unknown goal.
(1) This isn't to say that Harry had a problem with eavesdropping. In fact, he'd be listening as well if he decided that it was worth attempting to shove Dudley's bulk out of the way.
(2) With an old fruitcake, while he distractedly muttered under his breath and gnawed at a hammer handle.
(3) Not nearly enough to make an attempt at getting ahold of one, but slightly.
Above, the sky had grown thick and heavy with dark stormclouds. It would begin raining soon, and directly above his patch of floor in this shack on the rocky little island were a handful of termite eaten holes through the roof, through which the pouring rain would leak like a sieve.
Harry'd really expected nothing less. With the way his luck was running recently, the shack would be hit by lightning and burn to the ground and they'd all catch pneumonia and die. A perfect end to the debacle.
And it was his birthday too, he recalled, after a moment of effort. He didn't know why he bothered to remember it... the Dursleys never did.
The rain started and began trickling through the roof and onto his face. He sighed and sat up, but there was nowhere else for his blanket to go. He decided to look at his watch instead. An hour to midnight. Half an hour. Fifteen minutes. Ten. The rain had let up. Maybe if his blanket wasn't too soaked, he could get some sleep. Five minutes. One minute. Thirty seconds. Fifteen. Ten. Nine. Eight... what was that crunching noise? Like something was moving about on the gravel outside... Four. Three. Two. One-
There was a booming knock at the door, followed by a second and a third. Then came a loud voice.
"Arry? Yeh in there, Arry Potter? I'm comin' in!"
Shock and suprise was replaced with blind terror. This was it then. This was the person who'd been sending those letters, for which he had mentally assigned ever more and more dire purposes as he'd not read any of them. He sank into the shadows as the big... huge hairy man kicked the door off its hinges and stepped through, while Vernon came out of the bedroom with a shotgun. Ignoring the oddity of his uncle pulling a gun on his behalf,(1) Harry slowly edged along the wall and towards the still-open door. If he could get past the man and had a running start, then he could undo the tie to the rowboat and begin towards the beach before the lumbering giant of a man was back out the door. Maybe longer, if Vernon stalled him with the gun long enough.(2)
That plan was put to rest as he stopped, despite himself, to watch the huge man bend the barrel of Vernon's shotgun into a U shape, then turn around to fit the door back into its frame. Then his eyes turned to Harry, who mentally cursed. That was the only door, and naturally this little shack had only one window, too small to jump through. He was caught like a rat in a trap, and now...
"'Appy Birthday, 'Arry! I brought yeh a cake... don't min' if it's a little squashed... I think I mighta sat on it at some point." the giant said, removing a... yes it was a cake, though the box was flattened in the middle.
Harry stiffened in horror. This was worse than he thought... the man was so sure of himself that he was actually being nice about things.
(1) Rather than threatening him with it, which he was much more used to.
(2) Not that he was at all counting on this. Rather the opposite, really.
Harry still wasn't convinced of Hagrids good intentions towards him, but this letter, ridiculous as the contents were, had been corroborated with angry invecture from Vernon. Hagrid had retaliated by waving his umbrella, causing Dudley's hair to turn a lovely shade of pink and a tail to sprout from his backside.(1)
So that at least proved that magic was real. Although Hagrid had been stymied when he'd discovered that nothing unexplainable had ever happened around Harry. He'd apparently expected some sort of 'accidental' use of magic. The only unusual thing he'd ever seen, aside from the many, many wild beasts out to get him, was Death, who was a perfectly natural phenomenon. Even if most people usually only met him the once.
He swallowed the last bite of sausage and drifted off to a wary, fitful sleep. He awoke what seemed like minutes later to a tapping at the window, where an owl sat. He thought it over for a moment before deciding to see what the animal wanted.
"Ow ow ow owowow! Get off, you feathery vermin!"
Big mistake. The owl had stared at him for a moment as he opened the window, then launched itself at him in a flurry of feathery wingbeats, talons, and beak. He was sporting at least a half dozen new nicks and scratches. Somehow he wasn't surprised.
However, the owl had settled down on the arm of the couch and looked a bit sheepish now, as though it had no idea what had come over it. Just one more instance of the world being out to get him. Mother Nature was a bitch.
The owl pulled a rolled up newspaper out of a tube on its leg and hooted softly before flying off in... embarassment? Maybe. How odd.
Hagrid began slowly waking up at this point, probably hearing the crinkling of the paper. After starting a fire and heating a few more sausages, Harry followed the giant man out of the shack and onto the rock proper. The boat Vernon had rented to get them out to the shack was naturally filled with water and dangerously close to sinking beneath the surface of the sea. Harry was quite surprised that it hadn't, yet. And it was the only boat.
"If you don't mind my asking, just how did you...?"
"Flew." Hagrid grunted.
"Yup. We'll be goin' back in this though. Not s'pposed ter use magic now I've got yeh, see. Shame ter row, though. Don' s'ppose yeh'd mind not mentionin' it at Hogwarts if I was to... eh... speed thin's up a bit?"
Harry shrugged, keeping an eye out on the water for suspicious dorsal fins. He'd never so much as seen a shark before, but all that meant was that he was long overdue to be attacked by one. The trip across the water went unimpeded though, probably because of how very fast the waterlogged boat traveled after Hagrid tapped it a couple of times with his umbrella.
The trip on land went well enough too. Not one traffic accident occured nearby as they walked to the little town's station, which was odd, but almost made up for in sheer embarassment when Hagrid would point out things like parking meters and exclaim loudly about the odd things 'Muggles' dreamt up.
While they were actually on the train they still drew stares, as Hagrid took up two seats and begun working on a knitting project that appeared to be some sort of large tent.
"Still got yer letter, 'Arry? Good... there should be a list with it, of everythin' yeh'll need."
So there was. The list of books was amusing, when taken in context with the names of the people who wrote them. Some of the items required were rather outlandish.
"They... sell all this in London, do they?"
"Sure they do... If yeh know where te look for it. Jes' through here now..."
Hagrid's vice-like grip on his shoulder led him quickly into a dingy little pub that he hadn't noticed on first glance over the street, and through a morass of interesting(3) people to the back door and a small alleyway where Hagrid pointed his umbrella at a wall, counting out bricks. Two up and three across. And then the wall opened.
"'Ere we are, 'Arry... Diagon Alley."
Harry took a long, curious look around and was impressed. It was like he was in a renaissance fair. A really accurate one, where they hired people to put on makeup to give the appearance of grievous illness or to deliberately smear muck and slime through their hair and all over their skin to give the appearance of the dregs of poverty... and brought animals through for the specific reason of having them leave shit on the cobbles at random intervals.
So in short, he wasn't really impressed at all.
(1) Actually, Harry decided he looked better this way.
(2) Feel free to assign whatever measure of doubt or curiosity to this statement that you prefer. In truth, it was a hefty measure of both. Hagrid, after all, did not appear at first glance to be the most aerodynamic shape around.
(3) 'Interesting' in this case directly translates to 'odd'. There was a man with a rack of antlers, ten points at least, a woman with three eyes, and an ancient crone who used neither her hands nor cutlery to eat her meal but instead used her three foot long, prehensile tongue. And that's just what Harry caught in his first glance.
Someone suggested that I write a Discworld crossover and that's what this started as. But once again, somewhere after the first couple of sentences, my brain disengaged and my hands started typing on their own. I awoke six hours later with this all neatly typed out and my computer belching out a cloud of foul-smelling green smoke and leering at me. Except that it wasn't and what I just typed is bullshit. Whatever.
Anyway, Harry is pretty much a blend of certain Disc characters. Really heavy on Rincewind, as you can probably tell, but with a good bit of Vetinari and Moist von Lipwig thrown into the mix. Which you probably can't tell.
And the whole thing where the world is trying to correct the fact that Harry is supposed to be dead? I really don't know where that came from. I just knew that I needed something to mold Harry's personality properly in his formative years, and this is what I got.
One more thing... I fully intend to involve the Luggage, or a reasonable fascimile thereof, and a golem or two in this somewhere. Just a little heads-up.