Chapter 1 – Ten Autumns Gone
There is a well-held theory that the smallest events can have repercussions far beyond their size and importance. Thus, a butterfly beating its wings in Brazil can cause a tidal wave in Japan. Of course, the threads linking the two events are likely to be so thin and convoluted that they are barely worth considering. Furthermore, who is to say that the beating of the butterfly's wings is the instigating event? Why not the birth of the insect itself? Or a gust of wind that prevents the creature being eaten by a bird one day? Really, these things are not worth the effort of examining them.
But occasionally, there are small, seemingly unimportant events that can be directly traced to much greater things. And it is with one of these minor events that we start this story. In a small, insignificant English town a small boy accidently dropped a plate. The plate itself is almost immaterial. It was, after all, a white piece of china with a brown floral pattern on it, the like of which can be found all over the world. Of much greater significance was the unusual boy who dropped it.
But what started this particular chain of events? Was the plate slippery due to the washing-up liquid? Perhaps it was due to the weakened state of the boy himself, a result of years of malnutrition? These questions are not worth considering, however, the consequences definitely are.
Friday, 12 October 1990
Harry stood on tip-toes to try to reach the plate that sat on the draining board next to the sink. He had already washed all the dishes and was now drying them so he could put them away. Many people would think it unfair that a ten year-old boy should have to do this task unaided, but Harry was unaware of this. It was just the latest in a long list of chores that he had to perform if he expected to receive any food. As he had not eaten in over twenty-four hours, this was something in the very forefront of his mind.
He should have moved the box that he had been standing on when he was washing up. He would then have been able to reach the plate easily, but he was tired and the box was heavy. By rights, at his age he should have been able to reach the plate anyway. Unfortunately, the effects of his poor diet and being forced to sleep in such a confined space had left him short and skinny, unhealthily so, in fact. So instead, he stretched up and managed to get his fingertips around the edge of the plate so he could lift it. Then disaster struck.
Just has he managed to lift the plate clear of the draining board it slipped from his fingers. He watched in horror as it plummeted and smashed to pieces over the linoleum floor. For a second he dared not move.
"BOY!" came the piercing shout that he had been dreading, as his Uncle Vernon stormed into the kitchen. His face was red and his mouth was twisted into a snarl. Harry instantly knew he wasn't going to get away with this lightly. It would not matter to Uncle Vernon that the dropped plate was an accident. It was just further proof of Harry's uselessness and disrespect. Vernon's heavy fist contacted with the side of his head before Harry knew it was coming. It knocked him backwards and he twisted as he fell, banging his forehead on the edge of the kitchen sink.
His head impacted on the sharp corner of the sink unit, and caught him right where the scar was. The scar was a strange lightning bolt shape that he had had ever since he could remember. A reminder of the car crash that killed his parents, he had been told. Pain lanced through his skull on impact, and his head felt like it was splitting. This was not enough to satisfy Vernon's desire to punish him, unfortunately, and once again the man's meaty fist descended towards him. This time, however, it did not connect.
Albus Dumbledore sat in his office at Hogwarts, scratching away at various pieces of parchment. It seemed as if his days were increasingly filled with small, annoying tasks which he had to perform. More and more, the Board of Governors wanted to know every minute detail of the school's running, from the third years' Charms exam scores to this year's potion ingredient expenses. Although his Deputy Headmistress, Professor McGonagall, pulled together most of the raw data, he was the one who had to put it all together.
He increasingly felt that somehow he was making a massive mistake. After all, he was Supreme Mugwump and a key member of the International Confederation of Wizards. He had his fingers in many pies, and all of them were far more significant than anything in the report he was compiling. He felt he was rapidly losing sight of what was important.
As if in direct response to that thought, a small rotating device housed within a glass jar started chiming loudly in front of him. He stared at it for a split second before hurriedly leaning forward and checking the small counter situated in the base of the device. What he saw horrified him. Within a second he was on his feet and heading towards the Floo. Quickly he called out to his Deputy Head, cursing every wasted second it took her to respond. Eventually, her severe countenance appeared amongst the green flames.
"Minerva! I've just detected a massive surge of magical energy at Privet Drive. Harry Potter could be in danger. I will make my way there immediately. Please make contact with the relevant people at the Ministry and follow me when you can," he informed the shocked looking witch.
"Of course, Albus. I'll be there as soon as I've talked to the Ministry," she replied in her brisk, no-nonsense manner before disappearing. Knowing he could rely on her to pacify any agitated Ministry official who tried to get involved, he waved his wand and created a Portkey to take him to the house in Surrey. He just hoped that whatever had happened there, he wouldn't be too late to stop it.
Dumbledore landed smoothly at the end of Privet Drive, approximately a hundred yards from where the Dursleys lived. Even from here he could tell things were not right. A curious blue light pulsed out the windows of the house, and he could feel the vibrations through the concrete of the pavement. People were already spilling out of the neighbouring houses and looking around in fear. Wasting no more time, he headed directly to the house.
Before he had gone more than a few steps, a thunderous explosion was heard and every window in the street shattered. Albus began to run as he heard screams coming from everywhere. People were starting to panic and run in opposite directions; no-one had the slightest idea what was going on or where the threat came from. Dodging past several crying women, he managed to reach the front door and, in order to save valuable time, he blew it off its hinges with a wave of his wand. He ran into the hallway and then turned into the living room. What he saw dumbfounded him.
A young boy with his eyes closed floated in the air. Around him was a strange blue glow which crackled with magical energy. The power radiating from the boy nearly took the air from Dumbledore's lungs and left a burnt taste on his tongue. From his black hair and general resemblance to his father, Dumbledore realised that the boy was Harry Potter. The scar that would have confirmed his identity was not visible due to the blood plastered on the boy's forehead.
The destruction of the room was nearly total. Furniture had been shredded and pictures ripped from the walls. The molten remains of what had probably been a television set sat against the far wall. In a corner, with terror on their faces, huddled the Dursleys. Vernon Dursley appeared to have been injured, and blood was dripping from his nose, while Petunia just clung to her husband with her eyes closed. The chubby boy, Dudley, was crying loudly and trying to crawl behind his parents.
For a second, Dumbledore had absolutely no idea what had happened or what to do about it. Young Potter was channelling enough magical energy to fry the brains of the average witch or wizard but, apart from the head wound, he appeared largely unharmed. Dumbledore could not envisage what possible event could have caused such a display, but he knew he had to stop it quickly or the boy's magical core would become drained and permanently damaged.
"Harry!" he yelled over the crackling that filled the air, but the boy made no response. Reluctantly, he aimed his wand and shot a stunning spell at the floating child. It appeared to have no visible effect, and the red light of the spell was just absorbed into the swirling blue mist. Stealing himself, Dumbledore cast the spell again but on this occasion put as much power into it as he dared. This time it worked.
The blue light vanished and the body of the boy crashed to the ground. Dumbledore hurried over to him and was relived to find a pulse. He cast a few medical diagnosis spells, but didn't understand the results he was getting. Blood was still dripping from the scar on his forehead, and there were no signs of young Potter being aware of his surroundings. He needed medical help immediately.
"Kill him!" cried a voice.
Looking up, Dumbledore saw Vernon Dursley struggling to his feet.
"Kill that freak before he wakes up and tries to kill us all again!"
Dumbledore quickly stood to block the large man's path to the boy. "Calm yourself, Mr Dursley. There is no further danger. Young Harry here just had a rather large outpouring of accidental magic. We can fix everything up without any problem," he said, trying to calm the large man.
Vernon hardly appeared to have heard his words. "That little freak has been a danger ever since he came here! I never wanted him. He should have been drowned at birth along with all the other freaks!" Dursley then tried to shoulder past Dumbledore to get at the boy's unconscious body.
The old wizard raised his wand and Dursley was pushed back against the wall. The big man's words had unsettled Dumbledore and he was determined to see the truth for himself.
"Legilimens!" he cried. Within seconds he was in Dursley's mind and what he saw appalled him.
Images flittered through the man's vapid mind rapidly, and it was easy to pick out ones featuring the Potter boy. Dumbledore saw the regular beatings Dursley inflicted on him for the slightest of reasons. Harry was worked from morning to night and was treated worse than the lowest of house elves. He was forced to sleep in a cramped cupboard under the stairs and wear the cast-offs of his huge cousin. He was fed the meanest of diets and food was frequently withheld as a punishment.
Finally, Dumbledore witnessed the events of that day. He saw Vernon smashing his fist against Potter's head for dropping the plate, sending the boy spinning until he fell and caught his head on the sink edge. With blood dripping from his forehead, the boy screamed in pain. This was not enough for Dursley who advanced on him with fists raised. He swung a second punch at the boy's head but it never connected. Instead, a blue light formed around Harry and as soon as Dursley's fist hit it he was blown backwards. The boy continued to scream as his body started to float into the air. Suddenly, a massive wave of magical energy burst from his young body, shattering furniture and blowing out windows. At this point he passed out, but he continued to float while energy crackled around him.
Having seen enough, Dumbledore left Dursley's mind. Never in his life had he been so angry at a person. He had trusted this man to look after his own young nephew, instead he had done nothing but abuse him. Suddenly, the anger turned to guilt. He had placed Harry with his Uncle despite Minerva's advice that these were 'the worst kind of Muggles.' In addition, he had done nothing to check up on the boy's welfare, trusting on magical instruments to ensure that he was safe. Unfortunately, those instruments were designed to warn against attack from outside the house, not from within. Even Mrs Figg, the squib charged with watching over him, had repeatedly described the boy as scrawny, which he had ignored. Small boys were often scrawny at that age, weren't they?
Shame and anger battled within him. He stared at the Dursleys as they huddled together and he fought the desire to blast them into oblivion. Never had he wanted to hurt someone so much. But before he could act, a memory came to him. In his mind he saw his own father being led away to Azkaban for the torture and murder of a group of Muggles. Of course, his father had had good reason for his actions, but Albus had always held the belief that nothing could justify the murder of the young men in that manner, not even the attack on his sister. Revenge was always an empty, hollow thing. Now he found himself in a similar situation, with the burning urge to dispense justice on these foul people. Breathing in deeply, he forced down his anger and lowered his wand.
"You are all despicable. To have inflicted such suffering on your own flesh and blood is inexcusable. I pray that one day you will realise the magnitude of your crimes and feel remorse for your actions." Without another word Dumbledore turned and picked up the unconscious body of the boy. He carried him through the front door and out of the house. As he walked outside, he saw that officials from the Ministry had started to arrive to undo the damage Harry had caused. Quickly, he activated his Portkey and was gone before anyone noticed his presence.
Saturday, 13 October 1990
The next day Dumbledore made his way to the Hospital Wing of Hogwarts. Entering through the wide double doors, he was greeted by the reassuring sight of Madam Pomfrey going about her business. She spotted him as he entered and paused in her task, awaiting him.
"How is our young visitor?" he enquired of the Mediwitch.
"As well as can be expected," she answered primly. "As well as anyone who had suffered years of malnutrition and physical abuse can be expected to be. That boy has been beaten black and blue over the years! His left arm alone has been broken three times and…" Albus cut her off before she could work herself into a rage.
"Poppy, I'm well aware of the terrible suffering inflicted on the boy. It is what we can do to help him now that I'm primarily interested in," he said calmly. The Mediwitch nodded and returned to her normal professional demeanour.
"He is small and weak. For his age he should be at least three or four inches taller and maybe a stone heavier. He's skin and bones. His eyesight is appalling, mainly as his glasses were completely the wrong prescription for him and were making things worse. I had to re-break his left arm as it had been badly reset several times. There are treatments that could help the boy, but they are frightfully expensive."
Dumbledore nodded without comment. The boy had a destiny to fulfil, and he needed to be strong and healthy. A plan began to form in his mind.
Madam Pomfrey continued, "There's more, Headmaster. A much more serious problem, in fact. While his body is weak, Mr Potter's magical core is enormously strong. Quite the strongest I've ever seen, actually. I suspect that he only survived the multiple injuries he suffered over the years because his magic was healing his body. But while his magic saved him in the past, it is in serious danger of killing him now. As you know, children's magical cores begin to grow significantly at this age; but normally their bodies are also growing at an equivalent rate. This poor boy's core is growing at an unprecedented rate while his body is lagging dramatically behind. Simply put, he may soon be in the situation where his body is unable to contain his magic. It could well kill him, Headmaster."
Dumbledore frowned. This certainly fit in with the display of accidental magic he had witnessed the previous day. Potter's magic had spilled out of him and he was physically too weak to control it. This was extremely serious.
"We could try and put a block on his magical core, limit his power," he mused.
"I'm not sure that would work," the Mediwitch disagreed. "His magical power has already been unleashed and it would be virtually impossible to partially block it. It would have to be all or nothing and, to be quite honest, with the amount of magical energy the boy is generating, I'm not sure we would be able to completely block it anyway."
"So, we need to strengthen his body urgently then," Dumbledore confirmed. This fit in with his plan perfectly.
"Well, yes. I have a few potions that will help a little, but in this case I don't think…" Pomfrey began.
"Don't worry, Poppy. I think I know someone who will be able to help young Harry," he assured her. Pomfrey nodded but didn't look placated.
"But what will happen to the poor boy? He can't be sent back to those Muggles. He needs to learn to control his power and that will require a very powerful witch or wizard to help him," she pointed out.
"Indeed. Even if the Muggles had proved to be loving guardians, which they have not, Harry couldn't be sent back there. As you say, one burst of magical energy from him could flatten the entire house he was living in, possibly the whole street. Normally, I would ask a trustworthy magical family to help; the Diggorys perhaps, or maybe the Weasleys. But in this case I think we need someone with a little more experience. Let me know when the boy awakens, Poppy." With that he turned and left the hospital wing. He had an old friend he needed to speak with.
Nicolas Flamel breathed deeply as he took in the salty air. The Atlantic Ocean glittered in the May sunshine and brought a smile to the old man's lips. In the six hundred or so years he had walked the earth, this was the one sight that never failed to bring him peace. Lately, that was something he desperately needed.
Few people would ever believe that he was unhappy. He was, after all, the creator of the Philosopher's Stone which gave him eternal life and as much wealth as he could ever want. He lived with his precious wife, Perenelle, in sumptuous comfort. What more could he possibly need?
But lately he had begun to feel…wrong. He felt if his life was being pulled thin and that his time was fast approaching. He was beginning to strongly suspect that the Stone did not, in fact, grant eternal life. It just stretched it out to a previously unknown longevity. Perenelle, of course, felt the same. They shared every thought and emotion so naturally they would share these feelings as well. Soon it would be time to destroy the Philosopher's Stone and let nature take its course. Nicholas was almost looking forward to it. If nothing else, it would stop Albus Dumbledore nagging him about it.
As if summoned by the very thought of him, the Floo flamed into life and Nicholas could hear the esteemed wizard calling him. He sighed as he tore his gaze away from the view of the Cornish coastline he had from his living room window and walked over to the Floo.
"Hello, Albus," he greeted the man. "Calling to give me my monthly lecture on how dangerous the Philosopher's Stone would be if it fell into the wrong hands?"
"Greetings, Nicolas. Actually, I'm calling for a completely different reason. Would it be possible for me to come through?" Albus asked. Nicolas moved backwards to allow the man through the Floo.
"Thank you for agreeing to see me, Nicolas," Albus said after he had entered the room. "I wonder, is Perenelle about? This would concern her too."
With some curiosity Nicolas went to the door and called to his wife, who he knew would be in the library. After a short while Perenelle entered the room and noticed Dumbledore's presence with guarded interest.
"Hello, Albus," she said. "Nicholas didn't mention we were expecting guests."
"You will have to forgive my unexpected visit, Perenelle," Dumbledore apologised. "I'm afraid I have something of an emergency on my hands and the life of a young boy hangs in the balance. I desperately need your help."
Nicholas frowned. "Albus, I have told you many times that we have no wish to involve ourselves in the troubles of the world any longer," he sighed. The days when he and Perenelle involved themselves in the day-to-day problems of Wizarding society were long gone. In the long run, no matter what they did, it never seemed to make any lasting difference. As much as he would wish it to be otherwise, people didn't change.
"You misunderstand me, my dear chap," Albus smiled, "I do not wish you to re-enter the Wizarding world. Quite the opposite, in fact. No, it is your unique skills, your compassion and, indeed, your remoteness that I seek."
"I think you need to explain yourself a little more clearly," Perenelle frowned. She had always been somewhat colder to Albus than Nicholas had been. She made no secret of the fact she did not always approve of his methods, a point of view she had converted Nicholas to over time. Dumbledore nodded in acquiescence.
"I find myself a slave to prophecy…"he began.
"Prophecy!" Perenelle snorted. "You want to waste our time with some prophetic mumbo-jumbo some idiot came up with while staring into a crystal ball?" Of the two of them, Perenelle was always the practical one and never had much faith in Divination. Nicholas was more of a believer, but even he didn't think that more than one in fifty prophecies made had any substance to them.
"I'm afraid that this prophecy has already proved itself partly accurate," Dumbledore assured them. "Perhaps if you have a Pensieve handy? It may save some time.
Reluctantly, Nicholas went and retrieved their Pensieve from the other room and set it up. Dumbledore took his wand and retrieved a memory which he then dropped into the water. The three of them submerged themselves in the memory. Before Nicholas appeared a rather odd looking women wearing numerous shawls and strings of beads. Her eyes were grotesquely magnified by her oversized glasses. She spoke in a strange, otherworldly voice.
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches ... Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies ... And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not ... And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives ... The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies..."
The image faded and the three of them stood once again in the Flamels' front room. Nicholas looked at Dumbledore. "You say that part of this prophecy has already come true?"
Dumbledore nodded in confirmation.
"Then I take it that the Dark Lord referred to would be Voldemort? And the one with the power to overcome him, that would be the young Potter boy?" Perenelle asked.
"Very astute, Perenelle," Dumbledore confirmed. "And herein lays the problem. Until very recently Harry Potter lived with his Muggle Aunt and Uncle. Unfortunately, it has not proved to be a good environment for the poor boy, and he has been badly abused. Harry has been starved and beaten by his own relatives to the point that his growth has been stunted and he is physically very weak. His eyesight is dreadful and I also fear for his mental state. At the same time his magical core has grown to unprecedented levels, and his frail body is struggling to contain it. Basically, the boy is dying."
Nicholas and Perenelle looked at each other in shock. That this would happen to any child was bad enough, but how had a boy with such an important destiny been allowed to be abused in this manner? It was unthinkable.
"So what are you asking us to do, Albus?" Nicholas asked carefully.
"I ask for two things, my friend. Harry's young body needs to be healed and strengthened urgently. There are, of course, potions that can achieve this but there are few with sufficient skill to create them potent enough for our purpose. Needless to say, you and Perenelle are among those few. I beg you to use your unmatched skills to create the necessary strengthening and growth potions to save young Harry's life," Dumbledore asked hopefully.
Nicholas looked at Perenelle and she gave the faintest of nods. Nicholas turned back to Dumbledore. "What you ask will be difficult but not impossible. The ingredients required are extremely expensive and hard to obtain, but we may be able to help you. What is the second thing you ask?" Even if he and his wife had decided to help the boy he was not prepared to appear too willing to Dumbledore. The man could be far too manipulative at times.
"This, I fear, will be more of an imposition on you." Dumbledore looked rather concerned. "As I said the boy has enormous magical potential and, untrained, he is a huge risk to himself and others. He will need to be educated and taught to control his power. It would be, however, far too dangerous to do this in a regular school environment. The boy is also now effectively homeless with few options offering the security he needs. I ask that you take young Harry in to your home and educate him."
Nicholas felt his jaw drop. Take a strange boy, one who was a potential risk at that, into his home? Surely Dumbledore couldn't be serious? Besides, even if he and Perenelle wanted to, there was still the issue of the Philosopher's Stone and the decision they had taken to destroy it. Once that happened, they would probably only have a few years at most. He decided to come clean on the matter.
"Dumbledore, I think I should tell you something. You have been encouraging me to destroy the Philosopher's Stone for some time now, and your perseverance has paid off. Both Perenelle and I feel our time is drawing to a close, and we will soon be ready to move on to whatever is next. Once the stone is destroyed, we will have only a few years at most. I'm not sure that…"
Suddenly, Perenelle interrupted him. "Nicholas, I want to do this," she announced.
Nicholas looked at her in surprise.
"While I agree that our time is fast running out, I've this…feeling that there was something I had to do before I departed from this world. I think this is it. I think this is what I need to do to find that sense of completion that I want. This poor boy needs our help, and even if it is for just a few years, we should do it. We can heal him and help him grow. We can teach him to control his power and make him safe to be around. Oh, Nicholas, there is so much we can teach him. If we stock up of the elixir before we destroy the stone, we might be able to be with him until he reaches adulthood. Let's do this, please?"
In the face of this impassioned plea from the woman he loved more than anything in the world, there was no way he could ever say no. He turned to Dumbledore and nodded his agreement. He just wished the damn man didn't have to look quite so smug about it.