The Art of Being Harry by gryffins_door



Summary: ***Winner of Best Overall, People's Choice, and Most Unexpected in the First Time for Everything Challenge*** The shiny red train was a great place to hide from his bullying cousin, but little Harry had no knowledge of its magical nature, had never seen a magical castle, and definitely no experience with magical paintings. And so began a great adventure exploring unexpected hidden places, all in plain sight...
Rating: PG-13 starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Alternate Universe, First Time for Everything Challenge (2019-2), First Time For Everything Challenge (2019-2)
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2019.08.11
Updated: 2019.08.19


Index

Chapter 1: The Potter Boy
Chapter 2: The Boy Who Lived?
Chapter 3: The Boy Who Returns
Chapter 4: The Escape Artist


Chapter 1: The Potter Boy

Author's Notes: In which our hero arrives at Hogwarts for the first time...


The Art of Being Harry

1. The Potter Boy

o
o
o

“I’m telling you, Vernon, that nephew of yours will be trouble one day. You can see it in those eyes...”

“Yes, Marge, we know,” sighed the rotund woman’s equally rotund brother, “but we do what we can.”

“It’s not like we had any choice in the matter,” muttered Petunia, standing stiffly next to her husband on the station platform.

“Of course, of course,” Marge intoned. “It’s a shame he couldn’t be more like your sweet Duddikins. Where is he, anyway? I wanted to get in one last goodbye hug. Ah! Here he comes... hurry along, there! Give your auntie a kissie!”

The pudgy seven-year-old trotted up, huffing as if he had run the length of the entire platform. He dutifully pecked his aunt’s proffered cheek and waved as she stepped aboard the train, greedily fisting the ten pound note she had slipped him.

Marge waved from the doorway. “I’d better find my seat — be good, Dudley, and don’t take any nonsense from your freakish cousin. I want to see how much you’ve grown when I visit next summer. Vernon, Petunia, until then.”

“Take care of yourself, Marge,” Vernon called as she waddled off to her compartment.

Petunia scowled as she surveyed the platform. “Speaking of the freak, where did that boy get off to?”

“We were playing hide ‘n seek,” whinged Dudley, “but he got away.”

“Oh, bother,” she groaned, “if it’s not one thing...”

“I’ll show you where he was!” said Dudley, grabbing his mother’s hand.

They waved one last time to Aunt Marge as they walked to end of the train and turned left.

“See, he was over there by the barrier, and then he was gone — just disappeared.”

“What?” Petunia gasped, her free hand shaking as she held her temple. She looked up in horror, confirming they were between platforms nine and ten. “Vernon, what day is it?”

“It’s the first of September, dearest, what’s the matter?”

Her eyes searched wildly around until they spied the station clock. It showed three minutes after eleven o’clock. She began to feel faint. “No...”

“Petunia! Here, sit down,” Vernon said, escorting his obviously shaken wife to a nearby bench. “Do you need something to drink?”

She sat with her eyes closed, trying to settle herself. “Vernon, we brought Lily here to King’s Cross every year on this day... to go off with her wretched lot… she would disappear right there...”

Vernon straightened in realization. “You mean —”

“I think he found it, too.”

Dudley didn’t like not knowing what was happening. “Where did the freak go?”

Petunia stared at her only son for a long moment, eventually making a decision. “He’s lost, sweetums. And we don’t know if he’ll come back or not.”

Dudley could only stare stupidly as he tried to process that shocking bit of news.

“So, he’s off with his own lot now?” Vernon asked. “What do we do?”

“Someone will ask questions if he doesn’t show up for school,” Petunia said listlessly. “We’ll need to report him missing.”

“What on earth do we tell them?”

“The truth, of course. He ran off. We think he may have wandered onto a train. We have no idea which one, and we’re so upset and don’t know what to do...”

Vernon began to get a malicious glint in his eye, marveling at his wife’s brilliant plan. “And they’ll look and look, and we’ll be suffering the loss of our poor helpless nephew... who knows what could happen to a young boy all alone, so tragic...”

Petunia tried to hide a smirk. “And we may never see him again...”

Yes, this could work out well all around, thank you very much.

o o o

The train jostled on its tracks, waking the small boy hidden in the luggage rack of the last compartment. Harry Potter had been napping on and off, but now hunger was gnawing at his belly, just like when Uncle Vernon would lock him in his cupboard for a whole weekend without food for punishment. Therefore, Harry decided he must have been on the train a long time and indeed, it was getting darker outside the window. The many buildings and roadways of the London area had long since disappeared, and the mountainous landscape was populated with only trees as best he could tell.

A voice suddenly enveloped him, seemingly from everywhere at once, that the train would shortly reach its destination and that everyone should be preparing for departure. Harry wasn’t sure what everything meant, except that the end of the ride was coming soon.

He had been astonished to somehow find himself on the other side of the barrier at the station. There were hundreds of young people hugging their parents like he sometimes saw at school — the way normal families acted, not like with freaks like him — in front of a fantastical scarlet steam engine just out of a storybook. They all had trunks; maybe they were off on a long stay somewhere, like when Aunt Marge came for her summer visit, she seemed to bring half her house with her. Even more strange, there were cats, owls, and other animals demanding attention throughout this chaos.

They were all clambering onto the train and Harry acted on impulse. He really wanted to escape Dudley, for hide-and-seek was more than a game to his bully of a cousin; getting caught was usually quite painful to Harry. The train would be a perfect hiding place, and it might carry him far away, his own storybook adventure. He had slipped into the last carriage, praying that no one would discover him hiding in an empty compartment.

He began to wonder what he would do next. Uncle Vernon probably would kill him after this stunt, just like he always threatened. Harry figured that returning to his relatives would not be a good idea, but he hadn’t thought about where else he could be. Maybe he could find a place to stay with all these other young people; they were only a little older than he was, weren’t they? Maybe he could hide among them and pretend to be one of them.

The train slowed and eased to a stop, and Harry waited until he could hear no more movement inside the carriage. He slipped out to the now deserted platform, and he watched with amazement as everyone, dressed alike in black flowing things, was riding off in carriages without horses to pull them. Harry decided they must be electric powered imitations. He ran up as the last one started off and hung onto a railing on the back.

The carriage wound its way up a dark forested road, and Harry’s arms were starting to ache when it finally passed through some fancy gates and soon thereafter came to a stop. He could stand on solid ground again, but he waited until he heard all the young people get off and head into the building where they had arrived. Harry stepped out and nearly fell over, overcome by the sight of a tremendous castle, candlelit by hundreds of windows; it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

He gazed up in wonder, stumbling on the steps, and when he got to the ancient wooden doors, he found that they would not open for him. He both pulled and pushed on the ornate iron handle but there was no knob or latch that he could see. He was wondering if he would be forced to knock when he heard a commanding voice from the side.

“Ho there, boy, get thee over here.”

Startled at being caught, Harry turned to see some kind of window revealing a knight in full armor peering at him from under his helmet, beckoning him closer. Harry felt like bolting, but he obeyed.

“Ye’re not a student,” he said, matter-of-factly.

“No, sir,” Harry mumbled.

The knight stared thoughtfully at the small boy before him, then he came to a realization.

“Ye’re the Potter boy, are ye not?”

Harry looked up in shock. They already knew his name?

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, what the bloody hell are ye doing out there?” the knight cried as he extended a hand. “Get thee up here, and I’ll get thee where ye belong!”

Harry felt he had no choice but to stick his hand through the window — which felt like cold water — and he was bodily hoisted into a small stone room, which Harry determined was some kind of guard post, since he was right by the front door of the castle.

“This way, laddie.”

Suddenly Harry could see another room connected to this one, and they walked past an empty chair, positioned in front of another window, but this one looked into another larger room.

“Keep going…”

There was another space in front of Harry, but it was outdoors, a courtyard with animals like pigs and sheep, but there were no people anywhere. And the oddest thing — the sun was shining. He barely caught a glimpse of another window but was shuffled forward again before he could see through it.

Again and again, he was led through place after place, some small with an empty chair or two, some larger ones filled with furniture, either fancy or plain, or even outdoor spaces, one after another. Each of them had one of those windows that looked into a dark room.

And not a person was to be found anywhere. It was like they had dropped whatever they were doing and walked off.

“Where is everybody?” Harry finally got enough courage to ask.

The knight gave him a sideways look. “Tis the night of the firsting, ye know that. All go to watch.”

Harry had no idea what the knight was talking about, but he didn’t want to seem stupid. He had learned long ago with his relatives that it was usually better to keep his mouth shut, so he scurried to keep up with the knight, who had resumed his long strides.

After a time, they finally arrived in a space that looked like an old shed lined with shelves groaning with dishes, jars and bowls of every description and some odd contraptions spread about. Harry couldn’t help but notice the small oven in the corner that was so hot he could feel it across the room.

“The firsting will be done soon,” the knight said. “Ye wait here.”

Harry stared at the knight’s retreating back wondering what he had gotten himself into. Looking around, he tried to make out what the purpose of some of the contraptions were. The most unusual one was some sort of round table that had another round shelf near the floor. When he rubbed his hand along the top, he was surprised that both the top and lower shelf rotated together. It was too small and dirty to be a dining table, so he had no clue what it would be used for.

He was inspecting some of the fancier jars on the shelves when a man came bustling in, scratching the little bit of gray hair left atop his shiny round read.

“There you are,” he said boisterously, “I heard you’d finally returned.”

Harry was even more confused, surely the man wasn’t talking to him.

The man slipped into a dusty gray apron and fumbled in one of the pockets, finally withdrawing a round piece of glass that Harry would eventually learn was called a monocle. The man placed it in front of his left eye and peered at Harry.

“Oh,” he said with a sigh. “You’re not my boy. Though you do look very much like him. He’s been gone for so long; I think Sir Alfred may be forgiven for the confusion. But since you’re here, you may as well help me out. What’s your name, boy?”

“It’s Harry, sir.”

“Well, Harry-sir,” he said, winking at Harry who relaxed a bit, “I’m Potter. No other name, because that’s what I do.” He waved his arm around the shop. “I make pots.

“And until we find out what to do with ya, you will be the Potter boy.”

o

 

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Chapter 2: The Boy Who Lived?

Author's Notes: In which our hero discovers some of his history for the first time...


2. The Boy Who Lived?

o
o
o

Albus Dumbledore sat in his ornately decorated circular office in one of the smaller towers on the seventh floor of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, engaged in quiet conversations with several of the former occupants of said office as they looked down imperiously from their portraits above.

“The first years seem to lack the usual spunk this year, Albus,” said one.

“Aye,” agreed another, “your staff must crack the whip on this bunch, that’s a certainty.”

“I should remind you,” Dumbledore said as he reviewed expense report parchments across his expansive desk, “that it has been a very long time since we have allowed any literal whip-cracking, as you put it.”

“Oh, posh,” said a third, “you lot are letting these students go soft; they’ll never amount to anything without some physical reinforcement.”

Dumbledore was about to counter that argument when his fireplace flashed green and a woman’s face appeared in the flames. “Albus, are you there?” said the face.

“Arabella,” Dumbledore said, welcoming the interruption, “to what do I owe the pleasure? How are things with our young charge?”

“Oh, Albus,” she replied with agitation, “something terrible has happened. He’s missing, has been for at least a week. It’s in all the papers!”

“Oh, dear,” the headmaster said. “Please step back and I’ll come through.”

The woman complied and he walked into the fireplace and disappeared with a green whoosh of flame.

The portraits began discussing what had just occurred.

“What do you suppose that was all about?”

“If that was Arabella Figg, no doubt she’s lost one of her kneazle kitties again.”

“But why would that be worthy of news?”

“She’s a squib in the muggle world; who’s to say what makes news for them?”

“Quite right, old boy, quite right…”

o o o

Harry tried pressing and folding the clay as Potter had shown him, but it was a lot of work for someone his size.

“Put all your weight into it, boy,” the older man said. “If it ain’t wedged proper-like, it never throws right on the wheel. And air pockets can destroy a pot when you fire it.”

Even though it was hard work, Harry was glad he finally convinced Potter to let him try a few things. So far, breaking up the wild clay had been the most fun, but he was really looking forward to when he could actually throw a pot. He watched in fascination as Potter would sit at the potter’s wheel, kicking the bottom wheel to make it rotate, and place his wet hands on a large roundish lump of clay on the spinning table. He shoved it around to get it centered, slowly flattened it, drove a hole into its center, then began to pulling it upward like a cylindrical plant was growing out of the shapeless blob. Once, twice, sometimes three or four times, the clay magically transformed according to the direction of Potter’s hands before the final shaping was done.

Harry was less enthusiastic about the firing process. Setting the freshly made pottery inside the oven was one thing, but getting it ridiculously hot was a little scary. Harry made the mistake of picking up a jar that had recently been fired, not knowing that it wouldn’t cool off quickly, and felt searing pain shoot through his fingers and palm. The jar suffered as well, shattering upon impact with the stone floor when Harry dropped it.

Potter wasn’t upset about it, saying something like if you never did anything wrong, how would you know when you were doing it right?

Harry had looked at his hands curiously. He remembered burning himself on the stove when Aunt Petunia was trying to teach him to cook; he had a welt and blisters and took over a week to heal. This burn had hurt much more, but a couple of minutes afterwards the skin looked normal and he felt no more pain. It was like it never happened.

o o o

Albus Dumbledore stepped out of his office fireplace and hurried to the shelf where dozens of little instruments spun, whirred, puffed, or some combination thereof, and sought the one that indicated the status of one Harry Potter who, if those dratted Dursleys were correct, had somehow climbed aboard the Hogwarts Express. The headmaster had at first attributed their high emotional state to anxiety over their lost nephew, but soon realized that it was anger at himself and the wizarding world in general for leaving the boy in their care. He was family, and Dumbledore could not fathom how they could be so cruel to an innocent child. He could probably have them tried for abuse in the muggle courts, and he told them as much, but it wouldn’t help him find the poor lad now. He should have listened to the warnings Minerva had given him about those people.

He finally found the spindly silver contraption and studied its stutters and spins. His brow furrowed and he prodded it slightly with the tip of his wand. What he saw made absolutely no sense.

He looked up at the headmaster portraits, but they had all either dozed off or left for another painting elsewhere while he was out.

He called for the head Hogwarts house-elf.

“Tipsy,” he said to wrinkly little creature with floppy ears and comical bulging eyes, “are you aware of anyone in the castle that is not a student or staff?”

“No, Master Headsie, sir,” Tipsy said, shaking his ancient head slowly. “No strangers in Hoggie-warts.”

“Hmm, I thought as much,” mused Dumbledore. “Would you instruct all the house-elves to be watchful for a boy too young to be a student? It is important that he be found as soon as possible.”

“Tipsy will do, sir,” the elf said with a bow, before popping away with a crack, just as he had popped in.

Dumbledore slowly returned to his desk and collapsed into his chair, massaging his temples. This was a situation that would take much thought; that was the only thing certain to him now.

Harry Potter was indeed alive and moving around, but how that was possible without a beating heart or drawing breath, Dumbledore had no idea.

o o o

“So, you’re the new Potter boy?”

Occasionally Harry would see some young people in black robes passing by his window, following some kind of passageway lit by torches. Most paid him no mind, but a few would stop and chat if they saw him standing there looking.

“Yes,” Harry said. He was beginning to feel like the name fit him the longer he worked with Potter. “It’s hard work but lots of fun too. Who are you?”

“My name’s Charles and this is Steven,” the boy said, indicating his companion. “We’re both fourth year ‘Puffs. Haven’t seen you here before, so thought we’d say hello.”

“Thank you,” Harry said. “It’s nice to meet you.”

The boys waved and moved on beyond the view of his window.

Harry turned back to Potter. “What’s a Puff?”

“Ah, that means they belong to house Hufflepuff. When they arrive at the firsting, the Sorting Hat tells them which house they belong to; there’s four of them. Besides Hufflepuff, there’s Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Gryffindor. Not sure why they bother splitting them up.”

“What do they do?”

“They go to different rooms and have adults shove things in their brains that weren’t usually there before.”

Harry thought that sounded a lot like school. Was that what this place was?

“What kinds of things?” he asked.

“They write lots, but mostly it’s how to wave their fancy sticks and do fancy tricks.”

“Fancy sticks? What are those?”

“You should go watch them some time; much easier than me trying to explain it.”

“How do I do that?” Harry asked. Ever since he’d been with Potter, he’d never been anyplace other than Potter’s shed. They’d been so busy making pots that he hardly thought about anything else to do. In fact, other than stopping to nap when they got tired, they hadn’t done anything at all except make pots. They didn’t even stop to eat! Not that Harry was ever hungry anymore…

“Well, you just need to think about where you want to go,” said Potter, “and then go. Eventually you get there.”

That didn’t make much sense to Harry, until he started to think about wanting to see a room with people waving fancy sticks. He turned to see a high-ceilinged parlor room he’d never noticed before. Four rowdy men were playing some kind of card game and seemed to be enjoying arguing with each other. One of them noticed Harry.

“Hey-yo, laddie!” he said. “We’d about given up on you ever droppin’ by to say hello to us finer gentlemen, here!”

“That’s the truth, it is!” said another. “Wasn’t I sayin’ that the Potter lad’s too good for the likes of us? Wasn’t I?”

“Aye, that you were. Now come on over here, lad, and give us a proper greeting!”

Harry nervously walked up and gave a small bow. “I’m sorry, sirs,” he said, “I would have stopped by sooner, but I didn’t know you were here.”

“Well, how about that, a formal hello and apology, all in one go! This lad’s got his manners, he does!”

They continued their jovial talk for some time, and Harry mostly just stood and watched, never knowing what to say. Eventually he thought about the people he wanted to see again, and he saw an escape on the far side of the parlor. He said a polite excuse and made a hasty exit.

He found himself in a field beside a lake, and the sky was full of very large birds — no, these weren’t birds, they were much too big, and they were breathing fire! Were these dragons? Harry hurried on, for they looked very dangerous, like they could roast him with a breath, or eat him whole in a single bite, roasted or not. He didn’t really want to know either way.

Next was an old man just sleeping in a chair. His window looked into a passageway similar to the one in Potter’s shed and the others he’d seen, so he slid through as quietly as he could.

Finally, Harry arrived in a sitting room where two women were knitting. They greeted him warmly and invited him to look through their window.

“That’s transfiguration they’re learning,” one of them said.

“It’s always fascinating to watch,” added the other woman, “no matter how many times they do it. Of course, some of them have the most marvelous mistakes, too.”

As the two knitters began to reminisce about the students who had the funniest and most dramatic accidents, Harry stood in front of the window and marveled at the scene before him.

Several rows of black-robed teenagers were indeed waving fancy sticks and saying funny words, focused on a mirror in front of themselves, and then their hair would do funny things. Sometimes it would go curly or stand straight up, a few were turning ghastly shades of purple, yellow or green, and occasionally someone’s head would light on fire as if one of those dragons had made its way into the classroom.

Harry had never seen anything like it and struggled to not cry out in amazed laughter.

A tall, stern-looking woman with a pointy hat wandered between the students, putting out fiery hairdos and giving instructions, occasionally shaking her head at those who had really made a mess of themselves.

Alas, it was over all too soon, and everyone left through a door on one side of the classroom.

Harry found out from the knitting ladies that there were other classrooms in this building called Hogwarts and the types of things they would do. From that point on, Harry would travel about to these other classrooms whenever Potter napped and watch the young people wave their fancy sticks. Of course, they frequently sat and listened to somebody drone on and on about theory or some such thing that Harry didn’t understand, so he would leave for a more exciting lesson somewhere else.

Harry found it all quite magical.

o o o

Eventually there came a time when there were no more classes, and students were nowhere to be found. This had happened a couple of times before, but Harry could always find a couple of them in one of his favorite windows.

“We’re on Christmas break,” one of them said the first time he asked. The next time they said it was Easter break. Now there was no one to ask.

Why do all his windows empty when a break happens?

Harry asked Potter about it.

“It’s just the way things are with them,” he said, brushing the glaze on a particularly tall vase. “They come, they go. They disappear for awhile and come back different for another firsting. Right now is the break before the next firsting. After a half dozen firstings, they don’t come back at all. If you ever see them again, they have become old and even weak. That’s when they’re close to disappearing forever. It all seems rather pointless, if you ask me.”

Harry sat thinking. “Why do they do it, then?”

“No idea. For them, nothing stays. It’s here, it’s gone. All temporary. Just like themselves.”

“It seems kinda sad.”

“I agree. But it doesn’t do to fret over it much. We’ve got plenty to do here.”

Harry looked around the shed. Yes, they had plenty to do, and they had made quite a lot of pottery since Harry had arrived. Now that he thought about it, it seemed curious that there was always just enough room on the shelves for the new pieces, even though he had never seen any of them taken anywhere else.

“Potter, how long have you been here?” Harry asked.

“Hmm, not sure. Lost count of the firstings long ago.”

“Where did you learn to make pots?”

“I didn’t learn it. I already knew when I came here, and I started making pots.”

“What did you do when you were little?”

Potter finally looked up at Harry. “Little? Like you?” he chuckled. “Why ever would I want to be like that?”

o o o

Harry was so excited; he was beside himself. Potter finally took him to a firsting, and it was glorious. He stood before a window he had never seen before and looked into a huge room full of the young people — they had returned at last — and watched as the smallest ones got to sit on a stool and wear a ragged old hat that would yell out a name and there would be lots of cheering and back-slapping, and then loads of food would appear on all the tables at once.

And everyone ate and drank and had a great time feasting.

Back in the shed afterwards, Harry wondered about that. He remembered that he used to eat some at his relative’s house but it wasn’t much and it certainly wasn’t fun. Some of the places he visited had people eating and they would always invite him to join them, but he had no appetite for it. It seemed odd that the feasting students enjoyed it so much.

In his wanderings from then on, he would sometimes include visits to the Great Hall to watch the students all together. He knew he was missing something, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.

He got to visit several more firstings after that. The second one was the funniest. Two boys with red hair that looked exactly alike kept arguing about which one of them was Fred and was supposed to sit on the stool first.

The stern transfiguration teacher that ran the sorting finally lost patience with them. She pulled her fancy stick out and the closest redhead went flying to the stool and she shoved the hat on his head.

The students all cheered at their theatrics.

It got even louder when the hat actually laughed, “Gryffindor, the both of them!”

Harry eventually saw them pass by the window he was visiting at the moment and called out to them.

“Hey, Fred and whatever your other name is, I saw you get sorted. You were pretty funny.”

The two boys walked over close to his window.

“Thanks, kid,” one of them said, “it’s one of our missions in life, to be the best pranksters Hogwarts has ever seen.”

“One of our other missions,” said the other in a lower voice, “is to find the Boy Who Lived.”

“The Boy Who Lived?” said Harry. “Who’s that?”

The two redheads began to spin a tale of an evil wizard who killed anybody he didn’t like, especially if they weren’t something called ‘pureblooded,’ until he attacked this one family and killed the parents, but the little boy somehow didn’t die when he was attacked. Instead, the evil wizard disappeared, and the boy was proclaimed a hero. Unfortunately, he went missing a couple of years earlier and no one had been able to locate him since.

“He would be a little older than you if you happen to spot him wandering about.”

“How would I know who he is?” Harry asked.

“The word is that the attack left him with a special scar, a lightning bolt on his forehead,” said one.

“And his name is Harry Potter,” said the twin. “Well, we’re late for class. See ya!”

They trotted off down the passageway, and Harry could only gape after them as he idly reached up under his fringe and fingered the shape he had almost forgotten about, his lightning-bolt scar.

o

 

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Chapter 3: The Boy Who Returns

Author's Notes: In which our hero is under the Sorting Hat for the first time...


3. The Boy Who Returns

o
o
o

After talking with the redheads, Harry was unsure of who he was anymore or even where he was. He had vague memories of being in a world that changed from day to night, warm to cold, rainy to dry, but he could only get that now by walking into those places where it was one way all the time. And they hardly seemed like normal places, even after spending a long time wandering through many of them. He tried to ask Potter about it, but he seemed to have no idea what Harry was talking about.

One time, Harry began a discussion with one of the old men who sat by themselves in front of their window.

“I’m not sure if I belong here,” Harry said. “Everything was different before I rode the train to get here.”

The old man looked at him sagely. “You are from outside the castle?”

“Yeah, the castle… I remember seeing it after I rode up from the station on those funny carriages. I couldn’t open the door and this knight made me come in through his window.”

The old man began to chuckle. “Then Sir Alfred is the one responsible for your current state. He is the entrance guardian, and that ‘window’ as you call it is actually the magical painting in which he resides.”

“That was a painting? How did I go through it?”

“Yes, but you must understand, it is a magical painting, and you did not go through it, but inside it. Magical paintings are incredible duplications of a certain place and time, and the residents therein are free to move about as if they were actually alive. Those who never existed as living people prior to being included in portraiture have very little knowledge of the world beyond the paintings they have visited.”

“You mean people like Potter?”

“Yes, indeed. He has existed in his pottery shed for nearly five hundred years doing the same things he always has and that he will continue as long as his painting hangs on the walls of Hogwarts.”

That explained a lot of the things Potter said, but that he lived in a piece of artwork was hard to comprehend. “His shed is just a painting that hangs on a real wall somewhere?”

“Of course. What you see from his shed is the corridor in which his painting is mounted. As you can see in front of me, this is the third-floor landing of the grand staircase of the castle.”

“But I don’t see any stairs going down.”

“That’s because Hogwarts is a magical castle, and the stairs will move from time to time to keep things lively. The creators of the school had a wonderfully quirky sense of humor.”

Harry thought it was very weird, but he liked it that way. He remembered the ‘normal’ life at his relatives’ house, and wanted things as different as possible. Quirky was good.

And it helped him realize another thing that had been growing in the back of his mind — the school was magical, so the students must be learning to do magic, and those ‘fancy sticks’ were real magic wands!

“How come you know so much?” Harry asked.

The man gave a wry smile. “I was once a live person, just as those you see through the windows — which are actually the frames of the paintings you visit. I taught Charms here in the thirteenth century, so I would have been long ago forgotten had there been no portrait created of me. Of course, it is rare enough that a student is inquisitive enough to read my nameplate or ask my identity that I may as well be forgotten. Yet because I once knew a life in the real world, I have a perspective beyond those who were simply products of a magical artist’s brushstrokes.”

Harry was beginning to grasp the bizarre reality of his existence and talked to the old professor for a long time. He learned how passage from one painting to another was possible only if the paintings were placed within the same real-world structure, such as those inside Hogwarts castle. The exception was a person with multiple portraits could pass back and forth between their own frames, instead of being several places at once.

“Do you miss being alive?” Harry wanted to know.

“Hmm, I haven’t really thought about it in so long… I suppose to an old person like me, this existence is pleasantly comfortable, without the intensity of real life experiences, but we don’t really feel anything —  it’s a bland reality. I don’t suffer pain or heartache, but I do without real joy or love or anything that true living can abound in. But sometimes it’s the simple things; I’ll never get to taste a butterbeer, for instance… I’ve heard they’re quite delectable…”

On his way back to Potter’s shed he passed through the parlor with the rowdy men playing cards, who always stopped their game to give him a lively greeting.

“Look here, it’s the Potter boy, come to pay us a wee visit, he has!”

“Top o’ the morning to ya, laddie! What can we do for ya?”

“Well,” Harry said with hesitation, “before you came here, were you ever — you know — alive?”

“Oh, no,” they said, “not us lads. We’ve always been here and just here. An’ happy for it, too!”

“Aye, we’re just pigments of some overactive imagination, we are!”

“Oh, don’t listen to him, he meant figments…”

“No, you buffoon, I meant what I said — “

Harry couldn’t help but laugh as he walked on through. They were all buffoons, whatever that meant, but it sounded right to Harry, and he liked them a lot.

From then on, Harry began paying more attention to the view in front of each painting he passed through and eventually learned more about Hogwarts than almost anyone except the headmaster himself, and a few things that even he did not know.

Harry managed to work his way to the portraits hanging in each of the four common rooms. Their occupants weren’t very friendly, merely scowling at him whenever he visited, but he got to know the students better that way, since these places were their havens of relaxation.

The snake painting in the castle dungeons was one of the scariest he came across, until Harry discovered that it would talk back when Harry spoke to it. It was very matter-of-fact and expressed almost no emotion at all. Harry was therefore very surprised when the snake calmly described the situation of a boy being trapped in an unknown part of the castle for a very long time by a former student who could talk to snakes, nearly fifty firstings ago.

Harry made a valiant effort using code phrases taught him by the snake, and eventually reached a painting that looked more like a jail cell than anything else Harry could imagine. He looked out of it to see a tremendous columned hall, and barely visible in the slight greenish glow was a colossal statue at one end that reminded him of the man who looked over the Slytherin common room.

Harry returned his attention to the corner where lay sleeping a young boy that resembled himself.

“Hello?” Harry said. “Can you wake up?”

“Huh? What?” the boy said, startled. Upon seeing Harry, he leapt up.

“I don’t believe it! Someone has finally come to save me. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“Who are you?” Harry asked.

“Well, I don’t have a real name, but I work with Potter, at least I did, so they just call me the Potter boy.”

Potter was very pleased that his original boy was returned to his proper place, but no one made a big fuss about him either.

After rescuing the real Potter boy, Harry found that he wasn’t needed in the shed with Potter as much, so he spent more and more of his time wandering. He struck up conversations with students whenever they didn’t seem to be in a hurry, and he even talked with some of the professors when they didn’t have classes in session. They always seemed amused that a little boy in a painting would be interested in their subject, but they were teachers at heart, so they told him whatever he wanted to know. He eventually grew in understanding enough to enjoy their theory classes almost as much as the practicals.

Harry also sought out the portrait subjects who once had real lives and learned a great deal of history of the magical world through the ages. He was naturally inquisitive and most of the portraits — having nothing better to do — loved to talk about their time outside.

o o o

Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress and Professor of Transfiguration, was the most unflappable member of the Hogwarts staff, which was why Headmaster Albus Dumbledore was genuinely surprised to see her burst wildly through his office door like a whirling dervish.

“I waited and looked for it, just like you asked, and it was there, but Albus, I just don’t understand!”

“Calm yourself, Minerva, would some tea help? How about a lemon drop?” he added, holding out the dish of tart yellow sweets.

“No, no, Albus, look at this!” she said, slamming a fine parchment envelope on the desk in front of him. “It has his address, but I don’t know what to make of it, and no owl will deliver it!”

Dumbledore glanced down at the letter, and then he did a double-take. It was one of the standard letters of invitation and acceptance for attendance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, just like dozens of others that the deputy headmistress sent out every summer.

However, this one had an anxiously awaited name along with an address, and just like his deputy, Dumbledore didn’t know what to make of it either, for there was no town or other locality listed.

It read simply, “Harry Potter, Potter’s Shed.”

o o o

Albus Dumbledore strode up to the podium of the Great Hall and looked out at the gathered students, the professors sitting at either side, and the crowds of portrait onlookers in the magical paintings that adorned the spaces between the windows, high on the walls.

“Welcome to another year at Hogwarts! If Professor McGonagall would kindly lead our new first years in to be sorted, we may begin.”

The headmaster carefully surveyed each one of the young students as they approached the Head Table, wondering if one of them could possibly be the long-lost Boy Who Lived. They had been frustrated numerous times on every attempt to get the boy his Hogwarts letter, but he held out a glimmer of hope based solely on the fact that the letter had actually been created.

Only time would tell, and the sorting seemed to go on and on.

Finally, they were sorting the students with last names beginning with “P” — the Parkinson girl was sorted into Slytherin, of course; two Indian twins named Patil went to different houses, something interesting to keep an eye on; then a girl named “Perks” was sorted…

McGonagall looked down once again at her list and took a deep breath. “Harry Potter,” she called out.

There was an uneasy rustle throughout the hall, whispers rising as no one answered the call.

“Harry Potter, if you are here, come and be sorted,” McGonagall said commandingly.

No one noticed the small bustle in the painting second from the rear of the hall, where one old former charms professor had pulled aside a small boy.

“That’s you they’re asking for, is it not?”

“Yes,” Harry said meekly, “that’s my real name, but I don’t know what to do.”

“We must get you to be sorted, that’s what we do.”

The professor led him away to an empty portrait located in what Harry knew to be the Entrance Hall.

“All you have to do is jump out,” said the professor.

“Really?” Harry said. “That’s it?”

“Yes, best get a run at it.”

Harry stepped back and leapt through the window that was actually the frame of the painting, feeling like he was passing through cold water, and crashed to the floor.

The professor sat back as he watched the young boy clumsily rise and stumble to the doors of the Great Hall. “Well,” he muttered with amusement, “it’s not a typical day that I still learn something new. That actually worked.”

o o o

Professor McGonagall was giving the boy every chance to appear that she could, but it seemed to be a lost cause. She was just about to call the next name when she thought she heard something in the Entrance Hall and one of the doors at the back of the hall was pushed slowly aside.

“I’m here!” came a small voice, and all eyes were widened at the sight of a little boy trotting up the center aisle, dressed in rags and covered head to toe in gray dust.

Mutterings of recognition and debate followed him; all the older students recognized the Potter boy, but how was he not in a painting and appeared to be as real as they were?

The boy finally huffed to a stop in front of an astonished Professor McGonagall. “I’m Harry Potter,” he announced, breathing heavily, “here to be sorted.”

He struggled to climb atop the stool and then, knowing the routine, grabbed the Sorting Hat from McGonagall’s still unmoving hands and thrust it upon his own head.

Everyone held their breath, wanting to hear the verdict of the hat’s deliberations — was this small child really the Boy Who Lived, and would he go to Gryffindor as his parents did, or was he proving to be a Slytherin by staying well hidden for the last four years? Was there a possibility he belonged in Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw?

The Sorting Hat itself did not seem to be exhibiting its normal behavior. Its wrinkles had disappeared, standing at full alert, as if startled about something.

Then the boy started wobbling on the chair, and the Sorting Hat made its decision loudly, almost panicked, as the boy tumbled bonelessly to the floor and created a small foul-smelling puddle on the flagstone beneath him.

“HOSPITAL WING!!!”

o

 

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Chapter 4: The Escape Artist

Author's Notes: In which our hero encounters real confrontations, but not necessarily for the first time...


4. The Escape Artist

o
o
o

“I swear, Albus, I had no idea that little potter boy was our Harry Potter; I’ve come to know him over the past two or three years — I even discussed Gamp’s Law with him this summer — and I never even suspected — ”

“Minerva, do not trouble yourself,” said the headmaster as they both hurried toward the hospital wing. They had left the feast as soon as they could after seeing the student body off to their common rooms. “This was simply a case of mistaken identity and incorrect assumptions on all our parts; we could not see what was clearly present before us because we had no context for such an occurrence. The head girl just related to me how the little portrait boy would listen in on their discussions in the Ravenclaw common room.”

“Sitting in Rowena’s portrait?”

“I understand the night she finally let him sit in her lap nearly brought all revising to a standstill.”

McGonagall shook her head. “I can hardly imagine…”

“Probably because this whole situation is quite unimaginable… ah, here we are…”

Dumbledore paused at the hospital wing door only long enough to allow his deputy passage before entering the room himself.

They bustled to the rear where a curtain was placed around a bed containing the unconscious form of the smallest student to grace Hogwarts since Filius Flitwick, attended to by the school mediwitch.

“Poppy,” said Dumbledore, “what do you have to report?”

Poppy Pomphrey turned an icy glare to the headmaster. “Can you explain to me why this young man, depending which charm I use to determine his age, tells me that he is either seven, eleven, or mere hours? And why my diagnostic spells report no intake of food or liquid nor any waste production for several years? And this after an extended period of extreme undernourishment? This boy should not even be alive! He has responded well to the nutrients spelled directly into his stomach, but I need some kind of background before I can even begin any sort of real treatment for him.”

“Ah, yes,” Dumbledore began, “unbelievable as it may seem, there is a logical explanation for all your findings. To my best understanding, Harry was not treated well by his relatives, and a lack of adequate food was just one example of their abuse. However, during a visit to Kings Cross Station four years ago Harry accidentally stumbled onto Platform Nine and Three Quarters and secreted himself aboard the Hogwarts Express. Somehow, without anyone — at least any live beings — knowing of his arrival at Hogwarts, he was able to enter a hitherto unknown state of suspended animation that ended just this evening.”

“What in Merlin’s name are you talking about?”

“By a method we have yet to ascertain, Harry Potter entered the magical paintings of the castle and became the boy helper in the portrait of the potter in the Muggle Studies hallway.”

The mediwitch scowled at him. “Impossible.”

“I’m afraid it’s true,” McGonagall added. “We’ve all seen him and just didn’t recognize him.”

Pomphrey turned back to her patient with a gasp. “You’re right — he is that potter boy from the paintings — no wonder he was so dirty… How did I miss it?”

Dumbledore sighed. “We all missed it, Poppy, we all missed it…”

“Will he recover?” asked McGonagall.

“I certainly believe so. There’s nothing really wrong with him that a healthy diet wouldn’t fix. I believe he fainted from the shock of restarting all his bodily systems so suddenly. I have him on dreamless sleep potion to give him time to rest.”

“And the fact that he is physically four years’ growth behind his peers?” asked Dumbledore.

“It is too early to tell how his body will respond…”

“What peers, Albus?” said McGonagall. “He’s attended all the classes we offer and could probably pass the written parts of his OWLs right now. Yet he has been stripped of any kind of a normal childhood; I have no idea how he will relate to his fellow students in whatever house he joins.”

“Hmm, yes,” Dumbledore said, stroking his long beard thoughtfully. “You are indeed correct. We have failed in rather spectacular fashion his care up to this point. We must do better. I think the proper place to begin is an audience with him when he is feeling up to it.”

o o o

Harry was finally released from Madame Pomphrey’s care three days later, but only after much pleading and promising to eat until full at each and every meal, and he spent a brilliant afternoon in Diagon Alley, the wizarding world’s shopping district, getting all sorts of goodies for the school year, including a wonderful holly and phoenix feather wand from the very creepy old man in the very old and creepy wand shop.

He was sorted into Gryffindor, house of the brave, just like his parents, but the Sorting Hat told him Rowena wanted him to visit Ravenclaw whenever he could.

Class lectures with the first years were a breeze, but he still had to learn to actually perform the spells. It took a little getting used to, but his teachers were very encouraging and eager to move him up a year as soon as he was able.

At least most of the teachers were; the exception was potions class.

On Harry’s first day out of hospital, Professor Severus Snape gave him the most intense sneer Harry had ever seen from the man. “Mr. Potter,” he said, lip curling in disdain, “you may find that merely observing a class is very far removed from learning the precise movements and skills necessary in the creation of even a minimally passable potion. If, as I suspect, you are no more talented than your dimwitted father, you will not be accelerated into the next year group; you will be challenged just keeping up with these other dunderheads.”

Of course, Harry had seen Professor Snape insult and belittle students many times before and was not too bothered. He knew that the sour man never physically hurt any of his students, frequently going out of his way to actually protect them from injury.

Yet Harry could not reason why he was subjected to such a cruel remark; it’s not like he knew his father. Regardless, he was no stranger to cruelty. Harry figured that they had so much in common, if they ever met, Professor Snape and his Aunt Petunia would get along really well.

As for the students, the older Gryffs seemed to treat him like a house mascot and always looked out for him. The red headed twins, Fred and George, weren’t at all upset that Harry hadn’t told them the truth. Instead, they complimented him on what they thought was a most excellent prank.

The other first year Gryffindors had never seen him in the portraits — and most doubted the story anyway — so they were more standoffish to the little boy that knew more in class than he should. One swotty girl named Hermione Granger always appeared conflicted about befriending the precocious little boy, at least until Halloween rolled around.

The useless defense professor, a coward named Quirrell, had run into the middle of the Great Hall during the feast declaring a troll was in the dungeons, and Hermione was unaware, crying in the bathroom over some ridiculous drama created by a rude classmate earlier in the day.

Harry determined the fastest way to her location was through the Entrance Hall portrait he had leapt out of just a few weeks earlier, exiting another painting near the girls’ room she was supposed to be occupying.

“Hermione, are you in here?” he called. “There’s a loose troll — we have to leave!”

She was slow to convince, and by the time they were back in the corridor, the troll was there as well. Oddly, he was chasing Ron Weasley, the same rude boy who caused that morning’s drama. The redhead prat managed to dodge one wild swing of the troll’s heavy club when Harry cried out to him.

“Ron, quick! Over here!”

Ron Weasley had no idea what little Harry Potter was doing here with Hermione, nor why the kid had one arm half buried in the portrait next to him and the other arm held in a death grip by the girl he had come to offer an apology and a warning that turned out to be much too late.

“Hermione, grab his arm! Now!”

She obeyed even through her terror, but then all three of them were passing through a wall of something like cold water. The troll was staring at them from the other side of a window and appeared very confused.

“He can still see us; we need to move on so he doesn’t attack.”

Harry said thanks to a man in deep purple robes, the only other person in the room, and led them through several other spaces until they came to another man who looked very familiar. He waved to his window, and there was their common room before them, and Harry was telling them to jump down. Not knowing what else to do, they complied, and stood there below the portrait of Godric Gryffindor wondering what in bloody hell just happened.

The rest of their house began entering just then, and Ron’s older brother Percy was asking him how they managed to arrive before them.

Ron and Hermione stared at each other, slowly coming to the realization that not only was every story ever told about the Boy Who Lived probably true, he had just saved their arses big time.

o o o

Professor Quirinus Quirrell stared at the huge mirror in consternation, exhausting every diagnostic spell he knew and even some suggested by his master, who was becoming more and more frustrated. Since said master was currently residing in the back of his head, Lord Voldemort’s frustration was amplified with his own.

Suddenly he heard a rustle and the shuffle of feet in the vicinity of the old painting on the side wall.

Someone approaches in an invisibility cloak,” hissed his master.

Quirrell summoned the cloak with a jab of his wand and tossed it aside. He chuckled at the sight of the pitiful Gryffindor baby that had been spying on him many times throughout the year, always from a portrait in his office or classroom. He immediately had him trussed up in ropes.

“Harry Potter, come to play the hero once again, I see. You may find that you are quite powerless against my master, one of the greatest wizards who ever lived.”

The boy said nothing, so he returned to studying the mirror, trying to discern the best method to remove the Philosopher’s Stone from its unusual enchantments.

Use the boy,” came the hiss from his master.

“Of course,” said Quirrell. He released the boy’s ropes. “Come over here before this mirror and tell me what you see.”

The lad, who was supposed to be nearly twelve years old but didn’t look a day over nine, slowly approached and stood staring into its depths. His eyes widened.

“Well?” Quirrell prompted impatiently.

“I see myself in a large portrait. And there’s my parents with me, and that’s Potter with them, and…”

He stopped short.

“Yes?”

“I’m getting the quidditch trophy from Dumbledore.”

He lies…” hissed the back of his head.

Suddenly Potter burst off running toward the painting on the wall.

After him! Don’t let him get to the portrait!

Quirrell tried a summoning spell, but the boy managed to sidestep it. He charged after him. The boy reached the painting and was miraculously climbing into it. Quirrell was able to just grab his ankle before he was completely through.

Quirrell felt searing pain where his hand was in contact with Potter, causing him to release his grip, but not before he himself had passed into the painting as well.

“Amazing,” he said, looking down at his now painless palm.

He’s getting away!

Quirrell attempted a curse, but his wand had become a fancy powerless stick.

Magic doesn’t work here, fool!

Forced to chase the fleet-footed youngster, Quirrell attempted to at least keep him in sight as they passed through room after room, upsetting their residents but caring not a jot.

Finally, he almost caught up with him in front of an old man who was rising out of his chair.

“Tell Dumbledore, it’s happening! Quickly!” said the boy, just before he leapt out into the familiar scene of the Hogwarts Entrance Hall.

“Right-o!” replied the old man, sauntering off in another direction.

Quirrell surveyed the window separating him from Potter, who was waving his own wand and reciting some unknown incantation.

“Master, I don’t understand this magic. How do I pass through?”

Suddenly the view window transformed into solid wall.

It’s a trap! Move!

But before Quirrell could retreat the way he came, the world was turned sideways and he went tumbling up the wall, then across the ceiling. As he tried to get his bearings, the spaces around him vanished as well.

There was nowhere else to go. He was alone with a single chair sporting a newly broken leg.

Lord Voldemort was extremely displeased, and he proceeded to show it.

o o o

Albus Dumbledore stood on the lawn of the great castle that afforded an expansive view of the pristine Black Lake reflecting the cloudless sky from below. Yet he could only marvel at the sight of a broken portrait frame surrounding an image of his defense professor in obvious pain. Sitting on the grass beside it was a grinning Harry Potter.

“It worked, Professor! He followed me and I locked him in before taking this out here and breaking it. He can’t go anywhere if he’s not in a building with other paintings.”

“And you’re certain that he was being possessed?”

“Oh, yeah, butt-ugly face on the back of his own head.” Harry shivered. “Really creepy, that was. Oh, I got this by the way,” he added, handing the headmaster a ruby red stone. “And my cloak is in the mirror chamber when you get down there.”

“Of course, my boy. It will be no trouble to fetch it for you.”

Dumbledore shook his head in amazement. This young man had surmounted every obstacle placed before him in his short life and was on his way to be the youngest Hogwarts graduate ever. He had already been interviewed by the head of the Ministry’s Department of Mysteries for a highly lucrative and unique job opportunity. Some of their research could not be realized because it had to be performed by an underage wizard and they had never had anyone qualified before.

And if he decided research was not his cup of tea, there was always quidditch. The lad was an absolute natural on a broom, and Dumbledore doubted getting some more bulk as he grew would dampen his prowess as a seeker; a professional career was certainly within his reach.

But the clincher lay here at his feet, Voldemort’s spirit was caged indefinitely and Dumbledore could finally look more closely at the rituals he used to maintain his presence on this plane of existence.

Dumbledore recalled the words of a certain seer over a dozen years ago and smiled. Who would have guessed the ‘power he knows not’ involved magical portraiture?

“Harry, why don’t we see if Hagrid would appreciate some new art for his walls, and then we stroll to Hogsmeade for a butterbeer?”

“Sounds great, Professor!” He remembered someone telling him that butterbeer was delectable, and there was a first time for everything.

So off they went, the bearded old headmaster and the boisterous young lad, telling each other improbable stories that got sillier and more grandiose the longer they talked.

o
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o

A/N: And that’s it. This was updated 8 Sep, 2019 (post-challenge) for tweaks in mechanics and style. I appreciate everyone’s lovely comments, along with the accolades and favorites. This idea had never intended to go beyond Voldy’s capture, but due to several inquiries, I started thinking about the unfinished business in the chamber, the plight of Sirius, that tournament thingie, so many possibilities, but a sequel won’t be happening anytime soon. I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

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