Hero of a Thousand Retreating Backs: Harry Potter
Harry flicked the latest in a long series of bits of wood and was completely unsurprised when absolutely nothing happened and the old man in charge of the shop snatched it out of his hands.
"My my... you are a tricky customer indeed, Mr. Potter. Not to worry, we'll find your match soon enough. How about this one... ebony and powdered dragon talon, nine and a half inches, rather rigid."
Harry grunted and waved the stick, bored out of his mind, but glad to be in a relatively safe place. The bank had terrified him. Nobody else had noticed, but the very first time any goblin saw him, they would jerk slighty forward, their hands either stretching out in claws to go for his neck or snapping to their weapons before they would bite off the snarl that had started somewhere deep in their throat and force themselves to relax and be civil. Then there were the rickety carts that traveled at ungodly speeds on rails that looked ready to collapse at the slightest weight. He'd become happy for that speed though, as there had been dragons in those tunnels, and they would only get one snap at him or gout of flame off before they were well out of range.
For some reason, Hagrid had been absolutely delighted to see all the vicious monsters up close.(1)
Following their stop at the bank had been the potions shop, which had seemed innocent at first. Then Harry'd flipped through one of the little free flyers they had in the front of the store while Hagrid picked out the freshest rat spleens or the most fragrant pot of pickled slugs or whatever. As it turned out, the leaflet he'd selected at random was the one describing what happened when certain things not meant to be mixed were mixed. Brutal descriptions. With illustrations. Moving ones.
Needless to say, by the time Hagrid ushered him up to pay, he was so pale that his hair had begun to turn white at the tips, and he was careful to move the large cauldron with as few jostles and bumps as possible. He'd also prudently snagged one each of the rest of the little flyers before he left.
They were sitting in the cauldron with the rest of his things, directly behind him, just in case one of these little sticks ever happened to do anything. By this point, he was just barely twitching each bit of wood, rather than the flamboyant, sweeping swishes he'd started out with.
"No, no I can see that won't do at all. Mmm. Yes... yes I think I have it."
The old man, Ollivander, left for the back room, leaving Harry momentarily alone with the many wands and a snoring Hagrid, who'd drifted off sometime after the twentieth wand had failed to make any response at all. Harry didn't fidget as he waited for Ollivander's return, as he'd found that it wasted the energy that he might end up needing to flee for his life. After a minute, Ollivander stepped back out with a small box in his hand.
"Nine inches of holly, with a phoenix feather core. A supple wand. Go on... take it out and give it a wave."
Harry did not sigh, although he wanted too. Carefully removing the lid and lifting the wand inside out, he twitched it slightly, expecting nothing to happen, just like all the previous times before...
And a single, golden spark floated out of the tip of the wand, accompanied by the sound of a pealing bell.(2)
"Ha! Well done... I think we've found our match. Still... it's a bit odd that this wand should be the one best suited to you when..."
Ollivander paused in his muttering to trace one long finger over Harry's forehead.
"When its brother... why, it's brother was the one to leave this scar."
Harry stiffened slightly.
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about." He countered. "The scar you refer to is a memento of the car crash that took my parents. Nothing more."
Ollivander's eyebrows slowly climbed his brow as he listened, and he stroked his chin.
"A car crash? Is that what... I see. Rubeus didn't... He must have assumed you knew."
Ollivander's eyes turned to meet Harry's.
"I'm not the best person to tell you this, but it seems it has been forgotten by others. Mr. Potter, I'm afraid that whoever it was that claimed your parents died in something as mundane as a simple car crash lied to you."
Harry couldn't help but be slightly curious at that, but did his best to tamp it down.
"If so... then how did they die?"
"They were murdered. Ah... forgive me for being so blunt. Suffice to say, ten years or so ago a Dark Lord ran rampant over Europe, but based most of his operations here in Britain. I shall only speak his name this once, so listen closely. It was... Voldemort. At that time, his name was so feared that to merely utter it aloud was enough to cause stout hearted men to faint away. But there were those who opposed him. Your parents were figureheads, of a sort. They opposed him more often and more publicly than any others."
"Then, ten years ago on Halloween night, he finally tracked them down to their home in Godrics Hollow, with the aid of a traitor. Without that aid, he could have pressed his face up against their dining room dinner as they ate and still never known they were there. Nobody knows exactly what happened then, although some theories have been written in the history books, but what we do know is this. The Dark Lord entered the house, but never left. Inside, he certainly killed your parents, for they were found dead, and doubtless meant to kill you as well. But somehow he failed, and that failure not only ended his reign of terror and his mortal existence, but also left behind an unusually shaped scar on an infant's brow. Of course... there are those who whisper that he did not die that night... that he had delved too deep into the darkest of arts, given up too much of his humanity, to simply die like that. They say that he clings to a half-life now, less than even the least troublesome ghost, but still lingering on. Watching. Waiting. Biding his time and seeking a way to return to power."
Ollivander paused to stare once more at Harry's scar, and he felt the uncomfortable urge to shove his bangs down over it. He didn't.
"And now, the brother to his wand has chosen you. I think... yes, we must expect great things from you, Mr. Potter. After all, He-who-shall-not-be-named did great things as well. Terrible, horrifying, yes... but great. Ahem. Now, if you will, that will be seven galleons for the wand and I'll thank you to wake Rubeus. It's drawing close to time for my luncheon."
As Harry and his guide left, it could be noted that his wariness seemed to have diminished slightly, and he no longer jumped at every loud noise. He'd relaxed a little... after all, he'd just discovered the catch.
(1) On the other hand, Harry was much happier to see them shrinking into pinpricks in the distance.
(2) Harry would later deny staring transfixed and wide-eyed for several moments on that sparkling mote of light, his first experience of the magic that might one day be at his beck and call.
"So... Hogwart's, huh? What house do you think you'll end up in?"
Harry did his best to ignore the chatty redhead as he held everything below his neck perfectly motionless. He knew full well that the pins wouldn't hurt that much, it was just... he had a thing about sharp, pointy bits of metal. Namely, he preferred them to be as far away from his skin as possible.
The redhead took his silence to be either shyness or confusion and continued on.
"You're a muggleborn then? You should try for Gryffindor... it's the best of the four houses. All the bravest and strongest go there... My family are all Gryffindors. Still, you should do fine in Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw, if that's where you end up. Just remember to keep away from the bloody Slytherins. Slimy snakes are all rotten to the core and untrustworthy. You'll see soon enough."
Harry thought that was a bit unfair. So far, snakes were listed as one of the few animals that hadn't gone out of their way to attack him. Of course, he hadn't actually encountered any snakes yet, so it was more by default than anything else.
"Anyway, I can't wait for next year. Second years in Hogwarts get to bring their brooms and try out for the Quidditch teams. Do you play Quidditch at... right, muggleborn, I forgot. Anyway, Quidditch is the wizarding sport, although the yankees are messing about with something called Quodpot. It's played on brooms and there are seven people to a team. Three chasers, two beaters, a keeper and a seeker each. There are four balls... the quaffle, two bludgers, and the golden snitch, which is about the size of a walnut with wings. You get me so far?"
Harry nodded, having given up on the notion that if he ignored the redhead, he might go away, and was instead only halfway listening.
"All right. Now the chasers pass the quaffle around as they fly and try to toss it through one of the other team's three goals, which are set on top of fifty-foot tall poles.(1) The keeper flies around the goals to try to block their shots. While they're doing that, the other balls are flying around on their own and the Bludgers, coconut sized balls made of solid iron wrapped in leather, try to knock people off their brooms. It's the job of the Beaters to use their bats to knock the bludgers away from their team and towards the opposing team. While this is going on, the seekers look for the golden snitch. The game doesn't end until the snitch is caught, and the seeker who catches the snitch earns his team a hundred and fifty points, so they usually win. That's why seekers get fouled so often."
Harry privately decided that it sounded like a dangerous game indeed.
"Does anyone ever get hurt when they play?" He wondered aloud, and the talkative redhead didn't dissappoint.
"Hurt? Blimey! Of course people get hurt playing quidditch, that's why the rules were changed to always have a healer within a certain distance of the game. Oh don't worry, though... nobody's died in years and the healers can fix most everything else up sooner or later."(2)
Silently, Harry confirmed his decision to avoid this game like the plague. He could find other ways to spend his free time, with infinitely less chance of personal injury. But the redhead was still talking.
"I play best as keeper. What do you-?"
"There you go Mr. Weasley." Interrupted Madame Malkin. "Those robes should fit you much more comfortably now. Run along and catch up with your brothers, I'll put this on your family tab."
A dark scowl crossed over the redhead's face for a moment before he brushed it off. Madame Malkin seemed not to notice, but sighed as he left.
"Poor boy. Sixth of seven children, the Weasley family budget is terribly strained. Everything he gets is secondhand and used and the best his parents can afford to make him feel a little better about it is to have his old robes professionally retailored. He seems like a good boy, though."
Harry remained silent as the seamstress turned her full attention to him.
"All tight now, just give me a minute to finish up with this and I can get started on making your school robes. Will there be anything else, Mr. Potter?"
Harry opened his mouth to decline before pausing. Why not? It wasn't like he didn't have money, and come to think about it he didn't really want to be stuck with nothing to wear on a day off except either a uniform or Dudley's castoffs.
"Actually... could I see your catalog?"
She picked it up, obviously pleased that there was a possibility of a larger sale, and flipped through it for him. After a couple of minutes he twitched his hand to signal her to take it away, still not moving anything past his wrist.
"Two leisure robes, in forest green and charcoal, one walking robe in brown, one dress robe made of fairy silk in black with silver embroidered trim... cut it large enough so that I can grow into it, but stitch it up to fit me now, and I'll bring it back to let the hems out or something if I happen to stretch out of it..."
Madame Malkin's smile grew broader with every point he requested. He could already feel his wallet cringing.
"... and I don't suppose you might happen to know where I could find a good trunk before I meet up with my guide again?"
(1) Harry's eyebrows arched somewhat at this tidbit. It wasn't that he didn't like heights, nor was he afraid of falling. Neither were scary at all, really. No, it was the ground that would kill you.
(2) That last bit might have been meant to reassure Harry. It didn't.
"If I didn't know any better, Albus, I'd say that the boy was very nearly a squib."
Dumbledore crunched down hard on the lemon candy in his mouth at this disturbing news, quickly replacing it with another from the dish at his side. Ollivanders point was immediately seconded by Hagrid.
"I ask'd 'im about 'is accidental magic, subtle like... 'E didn' know what I was talkin' 'bout! Claimed nuthin' odd or magical 'ad ever 'appened to 'im 'fore 'is acceptance letters started showin' up! Ev'ryone 'as accidental magic outbreaks, Dumbledore!"
Dumbledore raised a hand to silence Rubeus' upset spiel as he popped another lemon drop in his mouth. This was going to be one of those years, wasn't it.
"This news is... disturbing. He is, of course, not a squib, am I right Ollivander? He does, in fact, have a wand?"
"He does, yes, and it was indeed the wand you suggested... but he seems very weak. He only managed to produce a single spark and tone. A very nice spark and tone, but still... an average Hogwarts student can produce between five and ten of each with their first wand... in all honesty, I was expecting The Boy Who Lived to produce dozens!"
"Say, 'Eadmaster..." Hagrid looked stricken with a sudden thought. "Yeh don' suppose... I mean, yeh don' suppose that maybe that night... Summin Yeh-Know-Oo did messed wit' little 'Arry's magic?"
Dumbledore's brow furrowed and he sucked harshly at his candy.
"I suppose it is possible... There has, after all, never before been an incident of someone surviving the killing curse unharmed.(1) You must understand, of course, that young Harry would be in grave danger indeed if word were to get out about his... below average ability."
They both solemnly nodded and left, Ollivander pulling his head out of the floo, and Hagrid heading for the Three Broomsticks for a quick flagon of mead(2) before heading back to meet with Harry.
Naturally, by the time he left, just about everyone in the castle had begun to hear the whispered rumors about Potter's 'little problem'. Snape in particular looked like it had been declared by the ministry that every day for the next year would be christmas.
(1) Note- 'unharmed'. There had, actually, been the rare case beforehand where someone would survive the killing curse. It was just that they probably would have been happier to have been dead.
(2) Or two. Or three even. Maybe one more for the road? Suffice to say, when he met up with Harry again he would be in a much better mood than his meeting had left him in, albeit a bit wobbly.
A.N. Yes, yes, it's a little short this time, but I'll be making up for that with the next chapter. Probably. So long as I don't get side-tracked by something else, anyway.
One little tidbit I'll drop in advance... unless something in my plans changes drastically before the sorting, Harry will be neither a Gryffindor or a Slytherin. Why would he? Either way, he would be making immediate enemies with everyone in the opposing house, and that runs directly counter to the grain. Actually, he'll probably end up in Ravenclaw. And not just from Vetinari's influence... Rincewind himself gives the impression that he's at least relatively intelligent and knows a great deal about magic. He can't use it himself, but that doesn't stop him from picking up the book knowledge. Like how you don't need your own computer to know how to surf the web. It certainly helps, but isn't absolutely neccessary.