Author's Note: the characters of the Harry Potter novels are the property
of their creator, J.K. Rowling, and are used here without her knowledge
or permission. All other characters property of the author, with the exceptions
of Becca Morgan and her parents, who are themselves. November 2001. 35,000
For Becca, with love.
Chapter Eleven – Uncle Vernon's Mistake
The end of the school year was
always the saddest of times for Harry because he knew he'd have drag himself
through a summer on Privet Drive and would be cut off, except for the letters
and occasional phone call from his friends, from the entire wizarding world.
Exams came with their usual fervor of last-minute studying. The games
of Wizard War had tapered off as everyone buckled down and got serious
about passing with good marks. Hermione turned in a thick thesis on her
independent study project about the Witch's Rights Movement and it was
so well-received that she single-handedly earned Gryffindor a hundred points
and secured them the House Cup yet again.
Professor Ophidia Winterwind was
so zealous that she'd managed to squeeze an entire year's worth of Defense
Against the Dark Arts into half that time, and they also all still knew
how to cast a Great Ward into the bargain. Dumbledore did make good on
his intention to offer her the job full-time, and she did not hesitate
in accepting. This didn't set well with Snape, of course. Harry had occasion
to overhear the two of them in the corridor as he and Ron were on their
way back from a long studying session in the library.
"… would never do that to you,
Severus," Ophidia Winterwind was saying, and without even seeing her they
could tell she was pouting.
"You could have refused."
"But you heard Dumbledore. He
wasn't about to put the extra work on any of you. He's right, too. It is
a very challenging class."
"I've been teaching Potions for
years. I could do it in my sleep."
"I believe you."
"And why, why did you take
him up on the offer to continue on the staff?"
Her voice dropped to a breathy
whisper. "Why? Don't you like having me around?"
"That isn't the point, Ophidia.
Or you could have offered to take over Potions, if you were so eager."
"Severus, do you remember how
I did in Potions class? I was never very good at it, especially compared
to you. My water-breathing potion nearly cost me my life, and as for my
fire-proofing potion … some things don't bear thinking about. You're the
clever one with that subject. I could never fill your shoes."
They passed by, unaware of Harry
and Ron, who were becoming quite adept at finding hiding places in the
many alcoves and behind the many statues and tapestries that Hogwarts offered.
"She plays him like a harp," Ron
said, not without some admiration.
"Hermione can't stand her."
"Girls can get so jealous."
"We weren't much better when it
came to Lockhart," Harry reminded him.
"I was never jealous of him,"
Ron objected. "I thought he was a git."
All too soon, exams were done
and everyone had to pack and say their farewells. The seventh-years graduated
in great ceremony, preparing to leave school for good and go out to get
jobs. Some would be opening shops of their own in Diagon Alley or other
wizard places, some planned to apply to the Ministry of Magic, still others
meant to travel abroad and learn about magic in other parts of the world.
That last morning at breakfast,
one final feast before they all boarded the train, the owls swept in with
the mail and one of them swooped low over Becca to drop a thick envelope
into her hands. Harry recognized the various transoceanic runes on it,
having seen them on all the letters and parcels she got from her parents.
Quicksilver settled onto her shoulder and poked his head inquisitively
into the envelope as she was trying to get it open.
"Psst," she said, pushing his
head away. "Psst, oh, it hardly ever works on the cats and it doesn't work
on you either. All right, all right, let me look."
She tilted the envelope and a
packet of drake treats fell out. Quicksilver seized it eagerly up in his
clever little forepaws and tore it open, munching happily, as if he hadn't
been working his way through an entire dish of sausage and eggs.
"Letter from Mom and Dad," Becca
said. "They're coming to London to meet me at the train station, and then
we're going to vacation around Europe a little. Mom's always wanted to
go to Austria."
"If you're near Romania," Ron
said, slathering jam on a piece of toast, "stop by the dragon preserve
and say hi to my brother Charlie."
"They also say …" Becca's eyes
got big. "Oh, wow!" At once, she shredded the rest of the padded envelope
until a smaller, creamy white one came into view. It had been written on
in rich silvery ink and the broken seal was wax with an emblem on it of
"What is it?" asked Hermione.
"I got in! They accepted me!"
Becca cried, waving the single sheet of parchment. Harry almost took the
corner in the eye, and snatched it from her hand.
"Dear Miss Morgan," he read. "We
are delighted to inform you of your admission to the Sterling Academy."
"What's the Sterling Academy?"
Ron asked. Out of habit, he looked at Hermione, but she shrugged and looked
just as curious.
"It's a school, a prep school,"
Becca explained. "In upstate New York, I think. You were wrong, Hermione,
to say that there aren't any magic schools in America. The Sterling
Academy, well, it's not totally magic-focused like Hogwarts, but sorcery
is part of the curriculum."
"Why didn't you get in before?"
"They wouldn't take me before.
It's very exclusive. Illuminati-run. Even though Dad's a member, they still
insist that you have to have a scholarly or practical magic background.
Except that when there's nowhere to learn it … kind of like how you can't
get a job unless you've got experience, and you can't get experience without
having a job."
"A year at Hogwarts has got to
be a good enough magical background," Harry said. "Congratulations, Becca."
"This is great! I was afraid I'd
have to go home and go back to regular school, which would be boring after
Hogwarts! They say the Sterling Academy has a couple of ghosts, and even
some real live gargoyles."
"That's splendid," said Hermione.
"You'll still write to us, won't you?"
"You bet!" Quicksilver, picking
up on her excitement, bumped his nose into hers and made a high trilling
noise. She petted him. "We're going to the Sterling Academy, Quicksilver!
I couldn't take a drake to ordinary Everett High."
"And you get to tour Europe, too,"
Ron said enviously.
"You just did at Christmas," Harry
pointed out, envious himself. "And you've been to Egypt. I'm the one who's
never been anywhere."
"Why don't you come with us?"
Becca suggested. "My parents wouldn't mind. We're going to Rome because
Dad wants to and the Black Forest because Mom wants to, and my grandparents
are on sabbatical in Russia so we're going to stop and see them too. It'd
be a blast!"
"I couldn't," Harry said. "It
sounds pretty expensive."
"Oh, pff," said Ron. "You've got
"In wizard cash, sure," Harry
said, thinking of the big vault at Gringotts. "What good will that do me
in the Muggle world?"
"Gringotts can change it into
any currency you want," Hermione said in her know-it-all manner. "There's
a shop on Diagon Alley, too, that can provide you passports and travel
papers to anywhere."
"See?" grinned Becca. "Not a problem."
"Except for the Dursleys. They'd
never let me go."
"I thought they knew by now that
standing in the way of your plans was a bad idea," said Ron, grinning himself
as he remembered the times the Weasleys had fetched him from Number Four
"You could at least ask," Becca
said. "All they can do is say no."
"And lock him in the cupboard,"
Hermione added. "And starve him. You have no idea how awful these people
are. Most Muggles don't have any idea about magic, but they know too much
and they actively hate it. They'd keep Harry chained in the attic if they
didn't know we'd all come break him out."
"Just think," said Ron. "A few
more years, and you won't have to put up with them at all. You'll be free
and can go anywhere you want. Assuming, that is, you survive Hogwarts.
But since nobody's tried to kill you this year, I'd say things are looking
"Thanks, Ron." Harry finished
his breakfast just as the doors opened and Hagrid announced it was time
The red and black train was waiting
at Hogsmeade Station, house-elf – or would they properly be called train-elves?
Harry wondered – baggage handlers waiting to help them load their trunks.
Although the platform was crowded with students, Harry had no trouble making
out the sleek blond head of Draco Malfoy. And wonder of wonders, instead
of looking to cause trouble for others, Malfoy and his two thugs, Crabbe
and Goyle, were having a heated argument of their own. Harry elbowed Ron
and they looked on, snickering, as the three bickered among themselves.
"She likes me best," Goyle, who
had an unnervingly deep voice for his age, said firmly.
"No, she likes me, I told you!"
Crabbe whacked him on the upper arm, not quite a punch but not far removed.
"You're both fools," sneered Draco.
"She told me, specifically, how much she was looking forward to seeing
me next year."
"You can't be her favorite," Goyle
grumbled. "You're already Snape's."
"Oh, how revolting." Hermione
and Becca had caught up with Harry and Ron. "They're talking about her,
"It's absurd," said Ron.
"I'm glad to see you're finally
"That's right. I'm going to be
It wasn't often Hermione was at
a loss for words. She settled for giving Ron an utterly disgusted look
and hurried onto the train to find them a compartment.
Several hours and a lot of Chocolate
Frogs and boxes of Snapcorn and cups of iced pumpkin juice later, the train
pulled into King's Cross Station at Platform 9 ¾.
Harry had another glimpse of Malfoy,
looking very disheveled and sporting a fresh bruise, and surmised that
the argument had only gotten worse. When he also saw Crabbe, whose entire
head had been Transfigured into a sort of sluggish, squiddish monstrosity
oozing slime from a mass of tentacles over where his mouth should have
been, and Goyle never got off the train at all but was found by a porter
unconscious and stuffed onto an overhead luggage shelf, he knew Malfoy
had gotten the better of the fight.
Mrs. Weasley was waiting for her
younger children, meeting them with hugs and bustling around fussing over
how much they'd all grown. She said hello to Harry and Hermione as well,
reminding them of their traditional visit at the end of the summer and
their joint shopping trip to Diagon Alley, and then the Weasleys were on
Hermione's parents felt more comfortable
waiting in the station proper rather than plunge through what looked like
a solid wall to get to Platform 9 ¾. Harry and Becca followed her
through, spacing it so that they didn't attract too much Muggle attention
when they appeared out of seemingly nowhere. The Grangers were on time,
and with more hugs – it felt decidedly awkward to be hugging Hermione,
even more than it had been to be kissed by Ginny at Christmas – and good-byes
and promises to write, Hermione was gone.
Harry looked around for Uncle
Vernon, who usually came alone to pick him up. He didn't want to expose
Aunt Petunia or Dudley to any more of this upsetting business than he had
to. Every time, Harry thought that this would be the time Uncle Vernon
wouldn't show up. He'd leave Harry to find some other way back to Privet
Drive, and in his bleaker moments, Harry imagined arriving to find that
the house had been sold and the Dursleys moved far away. While this would
have been a fantastic stroke of luck for him, he wasn't sure what he would
do then unless it was to barge in on the Weasleys for the entire summer.
Uncle Vernon was nowhere in sight.
Becca's parents were, though, coming toward them waving, with luggage of
their own on trolleys. Quicksilver had vanished, which was probably for
the best, since Harry was getting weird enough looks by virtue of having
Hedwig in her cage strapped to his trunk.
As it turned out, the Morgans
were catching another train in a couple of hours. They invited Harry to
come to the café and have a bit of lunch, something solid to counter
all the junk food they'd gorged on. As they ate, Harry kept an eye out
for Uncle Vernon, tensing every time he saw a portly man bulling his way
through the crowds.
And then, there he was. Ruddy-faced
and out of breath, his hands stained with grease. He saw Harry sitting
in the café and came up to him, looking very disgruntled.
"Had a blowout," he grunted. He
took in the Morgans, and some of the lines in his face smoothed out as
he saw how non-peculiar, how mundanely Muggle, they looked.
Harry made the introductions.
Some instinct urged him not to mention that Becca was a fellow student
from Hogwarts, so he made it sound as if they'd just struck up an acquaintance
here at the station. More lines vanished as Uncle Vernon heard the pronounced
accents of the Morgans, clearly identifying them as Americans. He'd made
the same presumption that Hermione had: Americans being the Muggliest Muggles
of them all.
"About time you met some decent
folks," Vernon muttered to Harry, and took Mrs. Morgan up on her offer
to sit down and join them for a cup of tea. "Good, solid, dependable, un-freak-ish
Becca nudged Harry under the table
and showed him what looked like a thick bracelet on her arm. It was Quicksilver's
tail, wrapping her wrist and extending up the sleeve of her blouse, which
lay perfectly flat as if the drake's body were curled in some magical pocket.
She raised an impish eyebrow as if to ask if she should drag Quicksilver
out of hiding and give Uncle Vernon a real shock.
Harry signaled her not to, because
the last thing he needed was Uncle Vernon having a heart attack right in
the middle of the train station. He nearly dropped his spoon a moment later
as Mrs. Morgan, who'd been detailing their vacation travel plans, quite
smoothly mentioned that Becca's Aunt Kathy was supposed to have come with
them but had to change her plans at the last minute, and so they had an
extra set of tickets.
"It would be a shame to waste
them," she said. "Would you mind if we gave them to your nephew? He told
us he doesn't have any plans for the summer."
"Hum, well, that's very kind of
you," said Uncle Vernon. "But …"
"Oh, I know. We've just met, we're
total strangers, and here we are wanting to steal Harry away for three
weeks. I'm sure your family already had plans."
A slow, cunning light dawned in
Uncle Vernon's beady eyes. Harry could just see the wheels turning in his
head, the abacus beads sliding as he did the math. Three weeks now, plus
the usual two he spent at the Burrow, and that was a big chunk of the summer
in which the Dursleys wouldn't have to put up with Harry. No owls in the
night. No disastrous dinners when Marge came to visit. Harry could be well
out of his hair for a good while.
"Nothing pressing," he said. "Nothing
pressing at all. A generous offer. It'd do him good to spend some time
in the company of regular people."
"Regular people?" repeated Becca's
mother with just the right air of quizzical concern. "What do you mean
Uncle Vernon coughed and rumbled.
"Nothing, figure of speech, pay it no mind."
"Maybe we should see what Harry
thinks," said Mr. Morgan.
"I think it'd be grand," Harry
said, and didn't have to fake the gratitude and excitement he felt. "Thank
you! I won't be any trouble."
"I'd like to believe that,"
mumbled Uncle Vernon.
"Looks like it's settled, then."
Mr. Morgan shook hands, first with Harry and then with Uncle Vernon. "Here's
a copy of our itinerary if you need to get in touch with us."
Uncle Vernon put the piece of
paper, unlooked-at, in his pocket. Harry couldn't imagine any circumstance,
including a death in the family, that would lead him to try to contact
Harry anyway. With the onus of his orphan nephew lifted, however temporarily,
a lightness seemed to have come over him. He got up with a spring in his
step, flat tire forgotten, and looked like he could skip all the way home
to tell Aunt Petunia the good news.
"Regular people," Mrs. Morgan
said again, aggravated, once Uncle Vernon was gone. "Talk about an insult."
"He just doesn't know you like
we do," her husband teased.
After a whirlwind-fast trip to
Diagon Alley to swap some Galleons for Muggle money and pick up a passport
at the Ministry of Magic's branch office, and hiring post-owls to send
off with letters to Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid right away so they wouldn't
bother writing him at the Dursleys for a few weeks, Harry found himself
on another train, this one headed for the coast and the wide world beyond.
Coming Soon – "Harry Potter and the Fifth House," in which a
new first year is Sorted into a House that isn't Gryffindor, Slytherin,
Ravenclaw, or Hufflepuff. What's in the mysterious West Tower, and what's
the secret about the students who live there?
2001 / Christine Morgan / http://www.christine-morgan.org