Author's Note: This story continues James Monroe's interactions in the life of Harry Potter. In Ex Machina II, James enters a universe just after Voldemort has killed James and Lily Potter, and Dumbledore has left the infant Harry with the Dursleys. In an effort to give Harry a chance to be a better wizard, James visits Vernon and Petunia, making them an offer they won't refuse.
Ex Machina II
Chapter 1 – A Bundle of Freaky Joy
A tall, thin, white-haired man appeared on the corner of Privet Drive, a few houses from where I was sitting. Nearby, in front of number 4, a tabby cat with square markings around its eyes sat stiffly on a garden wall, waiting. As the man appeared, the cat's tail twitched and its eyes narrowed. The cat, I knew, was Professor Minerva McGonagall, Transfiguration teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The white-haired man was the headmaster of the school, Professor Albus Dumbledore. Neither of them normally had any business in a quiet neighborhood in a small town in Surrey, England, such as this; but then, neither did I, really.
I watched as Dumbledore took what looked like a silver cigarette lighter from an inside pocket of his robes. Holding it in the air, he flipped it open and clicked it once. Instead of it lighting, however, a nearby street lamp went out with a small popping sound. Dumbledore clicked the device eleven more times, until all the nearby street lamps had gone out and Privet Drive was dark. The cat remained where it was, watching him steadily as he approached the garden wall and sat down next to it. Neither of them had noticed me, but I was invisible and shielded from any detection spell either of them might have cast. I sat on the steps of number 4 and listened to their conversation. Though they had obviously known each other a long time, you could hardly tell from listening to them talk, they spoke so formally at first.
It was late in the evening of November 1, 1981, and I already knew what Dumbledore was just now telling McGonagall: that James and Lily Potter were dead, but their infant son Harry was still alive. He had somehow survived a Killing Curse from Lord Voldemort, the Dark wizard who had been terrorizing the Wizarding community in Britain for almost eleven years now. Unspoken in their conversation were the sacrifices many witches and wizards who opposed Voldemort had endured, and the many deaths that had occurred during the dark decade of the 1970's, as Voldemort slowly built power and increased the ranks of his followers, the "Death Eaters."
Much had happened in the past two days; I wondered how much of it Dumbledore already knew, but hadn't informed McGonagall about. Peter Pettigrew, the Secret Keeper of the Fidelius Charm that concealed the location of James and Lily Potter, had betrayed them to his master, Lord Voldemort, who'd traveled to Godric's Hollow and attacked them. He'd killed James Potter, then warned Lily to step aside and allow him to kill their son, Harry. Lily refused and Voldemort killed her as well, though as she died she invoked an ancient magical bond, melding her life to Harry's, so that her death created an impenetrable magical protection within him against the person who had taken her life. When Voldemort cast the Killing Curse against Harry, it rebounded from this impenetrable charm, destroying the Dark Lord's body and rending his already tattered soul, leaving a small bit of it affixed to the point of impact of his curse and creating an unusual scar. Voldemort, in agony and unable to comprehend what had happened to him, fled the country, while Harry was left alone in the shattered house, hidden from Muggles and wizards alike: Muggles were unable to see the magically hidden home, and wizards could not locate the house due to the Fidelius Charm. It was fortunate, then, that Rubeus Hagrid, a longtime friend of both Lily and James, had been told beforehand by Pettigrew the location of the Fidelius Charmed-home.
Rubeus Hagrid, on orders from Dumbledore, had borrowed Sirius Black's motorcycle in order to transport the child from Godric's Hollow to Privet Drive, where Harry's only living relatives, the Dursleys, resided. Dumbledore may also have hoped that, without transportation, Sirius would have difficulty in locating Peter, once he'd worked out that Pettigrew must have betrayed James and Lily to Voldemort. But Sirius found Pettigrew anyway, confronting him in a London street, where Pettigrew cast a spell that blew up a section of the road between them, killing twelve innocent bystanders in the process. It seems Peter had done something to Sirius as well, perhaps Confunding him, since Sirius denied nothing when blamed for Pettigrew's death and the death of the twelve Muggles, and was taken into Wizarding custody and sentenced to life in Azkaban prison.
Now, as Dumbledore finished his meager explanation of what had happened, and laid out his plans for Harry to stay with the Dursleys, we heard the low rumble of a motorcycle engine; not, as one might expect, from the nearby street, but from the air above us. Looking up, we saw a large motorcycle drop out of the sky, landing on the road in front of number 4, and the even larger man, whom I knew was Hagrid himself, sitting upon it, a bundle of blankets held in one muscular arm.
As I watched, invisible, Dumbledore took the child from Hagrid and brought it to the Dursley doorstep, placing him there and putting a letter in an envelope inside the blankets with him. I followed them as they walked back to the curb, Hagrid crying into his tablecloth-sized handkerchief, McGonagall sniffling and blinking furiously, and Dumbledore looking very subdued and downcast. Hagrid muttered something about taking the motorcycle back to Sirius Black, then got on it and shot into the air. Leaving McGonagall blowing her nose at the curb, Dumbledore returned to the corner of Privet Drive, where he removed the silver lighter from his pocket and returned the street lamps to their former brilliance, then muttered a farewell to Harry and turned on his heel, Disapparating on the spot.
As things stood now, this situation was unacceptable. The way things originally went for Harry, he spent a decade living as a Muggle in Surrey, completely unaware of his history, the prophecy about him, or Voldemort. His aunt and uncle treated him horribly, neglecting him to the point of abuse, and he was mostly friendless in school due to the other children being afraid of befriending him; Dudley and his gang, who bullied Harry and anyone around him, saw to that. He also had no idea of the plans Dumbledore had for him, and while some considered Dumbledore to be as abusive as the Dursleys, in his own way, I thought that his primary failure with Harry was not to give Harry enough credit for his own intelligence, nor to give him the chance to develop it. Harry's parents, James Potter and Lily Evans, were two of the brightest wizards of their day at Hogwarts; yet Dumbledore made no effort to cultivate that intelligence in Harry. That was a mistake I planned not to repeat.
The first thing I had decided to do was talk to the Dursleys shortly after they found Harry, and give them some reasons to help Harry grow up in a more nurturing, caring environment. These reasons, I suspected, would be based on greed, self-interest, and obsessive nosiness. But then, that was what the Dursleys were all about.
The next morning, November 2, began much like the day before had — dull, gray and cloudy. Vernon Dursley got ready for work, as usual, while Petunia wrestled a screaming Dudley over his morning cereal and bombarded Vernon with the latest gossip from the day before.
Before leaving for work, Vernon glanced out the front window, checking the garden wall for any sign of the strange tabby cat that had been sitting there yesterday as he left for work. There was no sign of it, however, and Vernon whistled happily as he put on his second most boring tie (he had picked up the one he'd worn yesterday, but remembering all the strange things that had happened, had replaced it on his tie rack and chosen another one). Today, he was determined, would be a regular, boring day.
Pecking Petunia on the cheek, he turned to give Dudley one as well, but instead received a spoonful of cereal across his cheek as Dudley screamed and flung his cereal about. "Little tyke," he managed to laugh, wiping the cereal off his face, then grabbing his briefcase and heading for the door.
However, Dursley managed less than a step before he froze, horrified, at what he nearly trod on: a child in a bundle of blankets. On his front doorstep! "Petunia," he muttered weakly, then again, more loudly: "Petunia!"
"What's the matter, Vernon?" his wife asked, hurrying to the front door. "What are you — oh, my lord!" She pointed at the bundle under Vernon's hovering foot. "What is that?" she hissed.
"I was going to ask you that!" Vernon said, pulling his foot back and stepping away from the door. "What's it doing there on our doorstep?"
"I don't know!" Petunia snapped, looking at the child as if it were an impertinent stain on her kitchen floor. "What should we do, Vernon?!"
"Get it inside, before someone notices and starts asking questions!" Vernon said, shakily, and Petunia reached down, gingerly, pulling the bundle by a corner until it was far enough inside for her to quickly shut the door.
Standing outside on the front steps, still invisible, I watched the door of number 4 slam shut. I glanced around, checking to see if anyone had been watching, but it was still early, and Mrs. Next Door and Mr. Busybody, the Dursleys' neighbors, weren't up yet. Passing ghostlike through the door, I watched as the Dursleys dragged the bundle containing Harry into the front room, then stood staring at each other, confused and upset.
"What were they thinking?" Vernon said distractedly, pacing back and forth between the front door and Petunia, who'd bent over and was looking through blankets swaddling Harry. "Why would someone just leave a ruddy child on our doorstep? Aren't there places for this sort of thing? Now we'll have to call the authorities, get them involved in this — bloody nuisance, what will the neighbors think —"
"Oh, dear," Petunia said softly. She'd found and opened the envelope from Dumbledore and was reading the letter inside, her expression pale.
"What is it?" Vernon asked. "Where did you get that?" he asked, pointing at the letter in her hand. At the look on her face the vein in his forehead had begun to throb, turning purple.
"It's a letter —" Petunia began.
"I can see that, Petunia! Who's it from?!"
"It's — it's from the — the headmaster of the school Lily went to," Petunia stammered.
"What — that ruddy freak school?" Vernon snarled. "What's that school got to do with this — this child?"
Petunia was staring at the letter, her eyes widening with shock and surprise as she read. "Vernon," she gasped. "This is her son — it's Harry Potter!"
"Harry Potter!" Vernon repeated. "I heard someone mention his name, yesterday," he muttered. "A little freak, just like his parents. What's he doing here?" he snarled, looking at the small, black-haired child for the first time. He started, then looked closer — on the boy's forehead was an odd mark, like a scar, in the shape of a lightning bolt. "What's that on his head?"
But Petunia reached out, grabbing Vernon's arm so tightly that he looked at her in shock. "Vernon — listen!" she said urgently, then read:
1 November 1981
My Dearest Petunia,
I trust this letter finds you well. It has been some time since our last correspondence, and I hope there are no unpleasant feelings held over from my inability to allow you to attend Hogwarts with your sister, Lily.
Unfortunately, the situation we find ourselves in today is much more grave and troubling than educational eligibility. Your sister and her husband have become the victims of a dreadful attack by an individual calling himself Lord Voldemort — an attack that has left them both, tragically, deceased.
Their son, Harry, whom you have no doubt by this time found among these blankets at your front door, was able to survive an attack by this Voldemort due to the selfless sacrifice of your sister, who gave up her life to protect her son. His attacker has left England, his power broken, perhaps forever.
However, this leaves young Harry in the unenviable position of being parentless at a time when he requires much care, not the adulation and praise of our Wizarding community, who will certainly see him as a hero and will place him, needlessly, in the spotlight for years to come. It is my wish that Harry's life be as normal as possible, and to this end I request that you look after him in your home as if he were your own child, not as a hero of the Wizarding World.
I have another reason for asking this of you, Petunia — as his mother's sister, I have extended the magical protection his mother's blood sacrifice has given him to you, so that as long as he can call your home his as well, that protection will continue until he reaches his majority.
When the time is ripe, I will contact you once again, in order to give Harry the opportunity to return to the Wizarding world and to his destiny in our community. With utmost gratitude for your understanding and cooperation.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
Petunia looked up from the letter. Vernon was eyeing her with a combination of confusion and annoyance. "What the ruddy hell does all that mean?" he snorted. "It sounds like he's dropped off your sister's whelp at our door, expecting us to shoulder the burden for him!"
"Vernon —" Petunia began, but Vernon, his face growing more and more purple by the moment, cut her off angrily.
"Nah-ah! None of that, Petunia!" he growled, wagging a beefy finger in her face. "I don't want to hear anything about 'she's my sister' or 'he's my nephew'! You've never had a good word to say about any of them before this — I don't expect you to go soft on me now, just because they've had a bit of hard luck!"
"But, they're dead, Vernon —"
"And whose fault is that?" Vernon blustered. "Not mine, I should say! And not yours, either! You've got to look at the big picture here," he pointed out. "We've got Dudley to think about!"
Petunia looked into the kitchen, where their son was busy flinging cereal over everything in sight. It would take her the rest of the morning to get things cleaned up again, she knew. Petunia looked back at her husband, her horsey face filled with indecision. "Of course I agree, dear — but…"
"What else is there to think about, then?" Vernon pressed, sensing he had the upper hand now. "Nothing is as important as our Duddykins, Petunia!"
"No, of course not…" she trailed off, looking at Harry in the bundle of blankets. Her expression was unsure, conflicted — I imagined that her mother's instinct was fighting against what Vernon wanted her to do, which was, in effect, to ignore Dumbledore's wishes and hand Harry over to the authorities or to an orphanage. She had no way of knowing, of course, that doing to would create another point of similarity between Harry and Voldemort, who grew up in an orphanage after his mother Merope gave birth to him in one, somewhere in London.
"It's settled, then," Vernon announced, not giving his wife a chance to reconsider. He shot a look at Harry that clearly indicated the sooner the boy was out of the house, the better. "We'll call the authorities, explain that the boy was left on our doorstep, with no idea who he is, and let them deal with it!"
"Yes…" Petunia said slowly, "It's — it's for the best, really…"
"Of course it is!" Vernon boomed, going to find the phone directory himself. There was a knock on the door. Petunia looked around wildly, nearly at her wit's end, about to panic at all of the things happening at once. "Get rid of whoever it is!" Vernon hissed at her.
Petunia had picked up the bundle containing Harry, perhaps thinking to hide him somewhere. Dudley, now out of cereal, had thrown his spoon on the floor and was wailing for attention. Petunia looked around, trying to decide what to do with Harry, while Vernon hunted feverishly for the number to ring up the authorities to come and take the boy. The doorbell rang again.
"For mercy's sake, Petunia!" Vernon stomped back into the front room. "Bring the boy into the kitchen — I'll sort out who's at the front door!" Watching until she was out of sight, he then rushed over to the front door — stopping at the last moment to compose himself, then opened it and said, somewhat crossly, "Well, what is it —?"
What he found at the front door was me — it had been me knocking — dressed in a gray suit not unlike his own, though I had carefully kept its quality just below the one Vernon was wearing. I was carrying a small brown briefcase, similar to Vernon's own — although, as with the suit, it was slightly less polished than his. I also had a walking cane in my right hand, even though I appeared to be not much older than Vernon himself.
"Mister Dursley, good morning!" I said, as if I'd expected him to answer the door. "Sorry I'm late, but it's been a hectic morning getting everything prepared."
"Er — what?" Vernon was looking at me, his expression one of complete puzzlement and confusion. "Do I — do I know you?"
"We haven't met," I said, slipping inside the house; Vernon instinctively stepped away from me, but I grabbed his right hand and pumped it vigorously, confusing him even more. "James Monroe, but you can call me Uncle Jimmy. I'm sure Professor Dumbledore mentioned me in the letter he sent you."
"Excuse me — who did you say you were?" Vernon looked irritated by all of the names I'd mentioned, none of whom I'd wager he recognized. "And who sent you, exactly?"
"I'm Uncle Jimmy," I said smoothly, walking into the front room of the house and looking around as if seeing it for the first time. "No actual relation to young Harry, of course — you and your wife have that distinction! — but I hope both you and he will come to regard me as a member, someday soon!"
"Wait a minute." Vernon was waving his hands, trying to regain control of the situation. "I have no ruddy idea who you are, but if you're here about the Potter boy, you can just take him right now — we can't keep him."
"Can't keep him?" I looked up, an expression of surprise across my face — I had sat down on the divan and had opened my briefcase. "My dear Mr. Dursley, are you quite sure? Professor Dumbledore seemed to think you would have no objections."
"It's quite impossible," Vernon declared, hands on his hips.
"Oh, dear," I said, looking unhappy. "Well, let me just get your signature on the refusal form," I said. As I did so, I piled several stacks of pound notes on the coffee table, ignoring Vernon's gurgle of surprise at the cash suddenly appearing in his living room. "A shame, too — as his only living relatives, Professor Dumbledore was prepared to pay you handsomely to take care of your nephew — that was in the letter as well, wasn't it? Surely you didn't think Dumbledore expected you to care for Harry for free, did you?" I finally pulled a form out of the briefcase. "Ah, here we are! Now, Mr. Dursley, just sign this and Harry and I will be on our way."
Vernon was eyeing the money on his coffee table with a curious look in his eyes. "Sorry, I don't think Petunia quite got round to reading that part of the letter," he said, an odd lilt in his voice. "How — how — how much was Dumbledore going to pay us to take care of little Harry, did you say?"
I pulled another sheaf of papers out of the briefcase. "Five hundred pounds per month," I said, reading off the documents.
"Per — per — per — month, did you say?" Vernon's eyebrows shot up, and he looked back and forth between me and the kitchen; obviously, the idea of an extra six thousand pounds a year appealed mightily to him.
"The payments will be made directly to you, on the first of each month. It will be up to you," I added casually, "to make your own tax arrangements."
Petunia came into the room, carrying Harry in the bundle of blankets he'd been wrapped in when left on the Dursleys' doorstep. "He's ready to go, Vernon." She looked at me, surprised. "Oh! Are you here to collect the boy already?"
"Petunia," Vernon said in a tone of indignation, as if the idea that Harry was leaving them was completely preposterous. "Young Harry Potter isn't going anywhere today."
"What?" Petunia looked completely baffled by his sudden about face.
"Mr. Monroe here was just explaining to me the terms of Harry's stay," Vernon said. He picked up the agreement I'd laid on the coffee table, pointing out the monthly payment to his wife. Her eyes widened, and she looked back and forth between her husband and me. "Your Professor Dumbledore apparently forgot to mention in the letter you read that we'd be paid to take care of Harry," Vernon said, dropping the papers back on the coffee table.
"I — I don't know, Vernon," Petunia said uncertainly. "Dumbledore never seemed one to forget anything."
"Hmph," Vernon snorted. "In any event, however," he went on imperiously, giving me a calculating look, "Five hundred pounds is much too low a payment to adequately care for the boy, Monroe. The amount should be more like a thousand pounds a month."
"The amount is more than adequate," I said mildly.
"It's an insult!" Vernon blustered, trying to bully his way into more money.
"There is a provision," I said, picking up the documents from the coffee table once again and flipping further back in the agreement. "Every year on August first, the monthly payment will increase by fifty pounds, adding another six hundred pounds to the yearly amount paid. By the time Harry turns seventeen, your monthly payment will be 1300 pounds per month."
"Thirteen hundred pounds!" Petunia exclaimed. "Oh my goodness!"
"And what happens when he turns eighteen?" Vernon demanded.
"By age eighteen, Harry would be an adult, and the payments would cease," I replied. I didn't bother to mention that payments would actually stop when he turned seventeen.
"We wouldn't be required to keep him here, after that?" Vernon asked warily.
"No, after that he would be on his own," I replied. Vernon and Petunia looked at each other; both of them had small smiles on their faces, as if they knew exactly what they could do with that extra income. "So, do we have a deal?" I asked.
Petunia gave a slight nod, and Vernon took the agreement out of my hand. "We have a deal," he said brusquely. "But I'll expect a cheque promptly on the first of each month, or we'll drop the boy off at an orphanage before the day's over."
I pointed out the lines for both of them to sign and date the agreement, then dropped it into my briefcase. I picked up the stack of pound notes on the coffee table and handed them to Vernon. "An envelope will be delivered on the first of each month with the money inside. As I said before, since we'll be paying in cash, you'll have to make your own tax arrangements. Also, Dumbledore suggested that the agreement be retroactive to Harry's first birthday, so you have a one-time payment of fifteen hundred pounds, as well as this month's payment of five hundred."
Vernon and Petunia stared at the handful of pounds in Vernon's hands, hardly believing their luck. "Yes, that's very well and good," Vernon said, ungraciously. "Just make sure that you pay promptly."
"Not a problem," I said. I closed up my briefcase, nodded to both of them, and walked to the front door. "Just one more thing," I said as I opened the door to leave. "As with the authorities, I may drop in from time to time, during the year, to make sure that Harry is being adequately cared for."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Petunia said, indignantly. "Do you think we'd mistreat the boy?"
"I'm sure you wouldn't," I replied, blandly, "but you would be surprised at what goes on in some foster homes — they force the child to do all the chores around the house, underfeed them — why, some people even keep them locked up in cupboards instead of their own room!" Vernon and Petunia glanced at each other; from their expressions, they'd been contemplating such ideas, even as I'd mentioned them.
"How ghastly," Vernon snorted, as if he were outraged that people would treat children in such a cruel manner. "And — by the way — what would normally happen if a family — not us, of course! — were to treat Har— er, that is, a child like Harry, that way?"
"Well, I'm sure Child Services would take a dim view of such people," I said, matter-of-factly. "But then, we aren't Child Services, so we would probably take such things much more seriously."
"Oh?" Vernon was trying desperately to sound casual. "How seriously?"
"Oh, nothing violent or anything like that, Mr. Dursley," I assured him. "We would just remove Harry from the environment immediately."
"I see," Vernon said, sounding relieved.
"— And report all the income paid to the Tax Authority," I added, smiling as Vernon and Petunia's eyes both widened in horror at that idea. "Good day to you both. Enjoy your time with Harry. I'll ring you up when I'm in the neighborhood and plan to drop by." I walked out the front door and promptly vanished.
Getting the Dursleys to treat Harry halfway decently was the first part of my plan. I knew the extra income would probably buy Dudley a lot more presents than he might get, otherwise, but Vernon and Petunia would have to be wary of my visits, which could bring everything crashing down around their heads. The more they relied on the additional income, the more they were invested in Harry's welfare, whether they liked it or not.
Dumbledore either thought the Dursleys were more typical Muggles, generally oblivious to magic but fascinated or drawn to it once they learned of its existence, or he really wanted Harry as isolated from magical folks and the Wizarding community as possible. I'm not sure which painted him a more unflattering light. Either way, I could be relatively sure that the Dursleys wouldn't contact him to verify anything I'd told them about his part in the deal I'd worked out with them. I could be virtually certain Dursley wasn't going to question where his five hundred pounds per month were coming from — and I'd worked out a nice little arrangement for that, as a sort of ace-in-the-hole, should I need to put some leverage on him.
It would have been simple to arrange for the creation and exchange of enough gold each month to procure the five hundred pounds. Instead of doing that, however, I arranged for the accountancy department at Grunnings, the company where Vernon Dursley worked, to make the necessary payment to an account each month; the paperwork showed the transaction as an insurance payment. Just before the first of each month, I went to an ATM, withdrew the money for the Dursleys' payment, and dropped it into their mail slot in the early hours of the morning on the first of each month. It all looked very proper and legal, and would remain so, unless I needed a bargaining chip against Vernon. The ATM card and account were in Vernon's name, so if it ever came up during an audit, it would lead directly back to Dursley. However, that wouldn't happen unless I allowed it.
So, everything was set. For the next seven years I looked in on Harry every few months or so, making sure the Dursleys weren't abusing him too badly. I called upon them a couple of times a year for the first four or five years, until Harry got into primary school, just to keep Vernon on his toes. They had settled into a more or less stable arrangement — Dudley and Harry tolerating each other as sort-of siblings, and Vernon and Petunia consistently favoring their son over their nephew, but at least not locking him in the cupboard or pretending he didn't exist. Dudley and his gang of buddies still bullied Harry, but there were enough "incidents," I learned by listening to various conversations in and around the Dursley house, that kept them off-balance enough so they didn't go after him all the time. That also gave Harry the opportunity to make friends at the school he went to, something he didn't have much opportunity to do in the original story, since everyone was afraid of Dudley and his gang.
I also kept myself busy during this period, preparing for the time when Harry would have the freedom to get away from his relatives' house. I purchased a house in Little Whinging, a few blocks away from where the Dursleys lived on Privet Drive, on Magnolia Crescent, near the alley between it and Wisteria Walk. Much of my time not spent watching the Dursleys was taken up traveling around Wizarding Britain looking for interesting spell books and magical items, anticipating the time when I would be helping Harry with his magical education. It had always seemed that a failure on Dumbledore's part not to allow Harry the opportunity to become acquainted with magic well before he began attending Hogwarts. Perhaps there was some reasoning behind what Dumbledore had done, but for my own part, I would rather have known as much as I could, going in, than having to start from scratch. It had been implied in the books that some students learned about magic before attending Hogwarts; I couldn't see a reason why Harry shouldn't have that same opportunity.
By the time Harry's eighth birthday rolled around, I'd spent over six years in Little Whinging, making trips across Britain and abroad, amassing a huge library of magical books and devices, and I'd also kept abreast of other magical developments going on in the neighborhood. Mrs. Figg had moved into a house on Wisteria Walk around the same time I'd come into the neighborhood, along with her collection of cat-Kneazle hybrids. She knew me only as another one of the Muggles living in the neighborhood; I made sure her cats never saw me doing anything unusual. In fact, hardly anyone in the neighborhood ever saw me — I was the "mysterious Mr. Monroe," the recluse who lived on Magnolia Crescent, according to some of the neighborhood children and a few of the nosier adults. I'm sure most of my neighbors wondered how I kept my house and lawn in such good condition, but when it took only a small exertion of will to fix any problems with the house, or keep the grass watered and fertilized, I didn't spend much time on maintenance.
It had been several months since my last visit to the Dursleys, and as July 31 neared, I planned another visit. This visit, however, would be different: this time I planned to speak directly to Harry, to get him to know me and see how much interest he had in learning some things about himself.
I showed up at the Dursley house around five p.m., just after Vernon arrived home from Grunnings. Normally, I called ahead to let them know I was coming, to give them a chance to straighten things up and "hide the dirty laundry," so to speak — to let them make things appear to be more normal than they actually were. The Dursleys spoiled Dudley horribly, spending quite a bit of the money they received every month on presents or activities for their son, or on trips for themselves (during which times they left Harry at Mrs. Figg's home). I had expected no less of them — the Dursleys were nothing if not predictable. But they were still obliged to keep things looking more-or-less normal, and in general it was easier to actually provide basic comforts for Harry rather than changing everything around just for my infrequent visits. The second bedroom upstairs, the one that had been filled with Dudley's toys in the original story, was Harry's room now — the Dursleys had never moved him into the cupboard after he'd outgrown his crib. It was true that quite a bit of the room was taken up with Dudley's toys, but they were mostly his cast-offs; Dudley would never allow Harry access to a toy he was actually interested in.
Vernon blanched as he opened the door and saw me there, smiling genially at him. "What the blazes are you doing here?" he demanded, unnerved. "You're supposed to call before you come over!"
"Sorry," I said, in a deferential tone that usually put Dursley at ease, since he felt vindicated whenever I sounded sorry for bothering them. "Last minute thing. I was in the neighborhood and thought I might have a chat with Harry."
"What's that you say?" Vernon said, looking suddenly nervous. "What d'you need to speak to the boy for? I can assure you that we've done nothing inappropriate, Mr. Monroe!"
"Oh, I've no doubt," I said easily. "But I also have a present for him, for his birthday."
Vernon looked startled. "It's his birthday? I hadn't realized…"
I held out the book for him to look at. He scanned the title; to him, the cover of the book said, A History of British Birdwatching. He reached it saying, "I can give that to him," but I pulled it back, just out of his reach.
"I'd prefer to give it to him in person," I said, still smiling.
"We've just sat down to eat," Vernon objected. "You could come back tomorrow, perhaps — or next week, preferably."
"I'll only be a minute," I said. "I can give it to him at the table, then be on my way."
"Er —" Vernon dithered, probably realizing what would happen if Dudley saw Harry getting a present — it was a sure bet Dudley would throw a tantrum, until he got a present as well. "Why don't you talk in the front room. The boy can join us in the kitchen when you're done. Oh — have him take the book up to his room first," Vernon added, reluctantly letting me into the house.
Leading me into the front room, he muttered, "I'll send him right out," and disappeared into the kitchen, where I heard him telling Harry in a low tone to talk to the man in the front room, to not tell him anything or accept anything from him, and to get rid of him as quickly as possible. Harry wanted to know what I was there for, and I heard Vernon say, very quietly, that I might be there to take him to a work house or prison if he didn't like where he was now. Dudley said, "Cool!" and Vernon hushed him up. I chuckled to myself at the lengths Vernon Dursley was prepared to go, to try and hide the shabby way he, his wife and son treated Harry. Well, that was about to change.
Harry walked slowly into the front room, looking at me warily. At eight, he was a small, scrawny slip of a boy, with unruly black hair and round, black horn-rimmed glasses. There was cellophane tape on one of the temples of his glasses. "Hello, Harry," I said to him, smiling. "I'm James Monroe. You can call me Uncle Jimmy."
Harry nodded. "I've heard them talk about you. My — my uncle said you wanted to talk to me," he said, his eyes downcast. I wondered how much he believed of what Vernon had told him.
"Yes," I said gently. "I wanted to see how you're getting along here with your aunt, uncle and cousin."
Harry shrugged. "No problems," he said finally, looking up at me. "We get along f-fine." He looked back toward the kitchen. "They're waiting for me, to eat..."
"I don't think so," I said softly. "You rarely eat when they do — you're usually too busy serving them to have time to feed yourself."
Harry's eyes widened in surprise. "How — how'd you know that?"
"You're pretty thin," I observed. "Are you getting enough to eat?"
"U-usually," Harry said, sounding a bit defensive. "I don't eat much."
"How are things at school?" I asked. "Do you like it there?"
Harry shrugged again. "I guess," he said. "It's just school."
"Anything…unusual happen there, or around here?"
"What do you mean?" Harry said, now wary again. The Dursleys didn't like it when anything "unusual" happened around Harry. He'd been in trouble more than once because of strange things happening around him at home or in school.
"Weird things," I said. "Things you wouldn't normally expect to happen to an eight-year old boy," I smiled. "Anything interesting…" I added, hoping that putting the question to him in a positive tone would encourage him to speak up.
"Well…" Harry paused. "There was this time my aunt got tired of my hair sticking up all the time, and she cut it off, so it was real short." He looked at me in wonderment. "But the next morning, it was back to normal length! She got real upset about that — I had to do extra chores around the house for a week."
"Did that frighten you?" I asked him.
"No," he said, looking back toward the kitchen, then continuing in a softer voice. "I thought it was really interesting, but I didn't know how to explain it! Other things have happened to me as well — Dudley and his friends were chasing me after school once, and I wished I could hide somewhere they couldn't find me. All of a sudden, I was on top of the school." His eyes had a glow of excitement in them, remembering the story. "They couldn't find me, but I didn't know how to get down. One of the school workers finally saw me, and came and got me down and called my aunt and uncle. I was in trouble for a month after that."
"I brought you a present for your birthday," I said, bringing out the book I'd shown Vernon.
"A present — for me?" Harry looked surprised. "Why would you buy a present for me?"
I grinned. "Well, for one thing," I told him. "It's your birthday today — right?"
"Yeah," Harry said, in a tone that tried to imply it was no big deal, even though I could tell he was excited that someone had gotten him a real present for his birthday. "By why would you buy me a present — are we related or something?"
"No," I shook my head. "I just thought you'd find this useful." I handed him the book. He looked at the title — A History of British Birdwatching — then back at me, clearly unimpressed with what I'd given him.
"Er — thanks," he said, looking at it, an expression of disappointment written across his face. "It's a nice present."
"Nicer than you think," I said softly. "Look at the front of the book." Harry did so. "Now concentrate on it, trying to look a bit deeper, like you're trying to see just under the cover."
As Harry did so, the cover of the book changed, becoming something else entirely — it was a copy of A Young Wizard's Guide to Wandless Magic, by Neufyte Thamaturg. "Whoa," Harry exclaimed. In the kitchen, I heard Dudley snicker softly and sneer that Harry must like his present, and his aunt and uncle laughing along with him.
Harry was now looking up at me with a combination of bewilderment and excitement. "What — what kind of book is this, sir?" he asked. His voice went very low. "What's it mean by a — a 'wizard'?"
"A wizard is a person who can do magic, Harry," I told him. "Someone who can make things happen just by thinking about them. Someone like you."
"Like me?" Harry gulped. He looked like he'd forgotten to breathe.
"It's how you ended up on the roof of the school that day," I told him, "and how your hair grew back in one night."
"How — how'd I get to be a wizard?" Harry asked breathlessly.
"That's a longer story than we have time for now," I said. I pointed up the stairs in the front hall. "For now, you'd better take that upstairs to your room, and don't let your cousin see it. He won't be able to see the real title of the book, like you can, but he might want to take it from you. Don't let him."
"I won't," Harry said, looking at the book as if it were a priceless treasure he'd just discovered. I leaned over to speak quietly to him as we moved toward the front hall.
"Read the book," I said quickly. "Try out the techniques in it and see if they help develop your abilities. Don't show it to Mrs. Figg," I warned him, "or any of her cats." Harry looked at me quizzically. "Just trust me on that one, Harry. I'll be around next year on your birthday, to see what you've learned.
"And tell them I believed what you said about living here, that you're happy and don't want to live anywhere else," I nodded toward the kitchen, where Vernon and Petunia were straining, unsuccessfully, to hear what I was saying to Harry.
Harry nodded. "Thanks," he said, holding up the book, then ran upstairs. I let myself out the front door, walking a few streets north to Wisteria Walk, then heading west toward Magnolia Road. When I came to the alley between Wisteria Walk and Magnolia Crescent, I cut through it and went into my house. None of Mrs. Figg's cats were around, and I knew that nobody from the Order had yet begun watching Harry's house, so no one would have seen me leave the Dursleys.
Now, it would just be a matter of seeing how interested Harry was in magic, and how much he would learn from the book I'd given him. I hoped that by next year, he would be bursting with questions about magic and wizards. At nine, I figured, he would be about ready to hear more about magic, and a little more independent.