The Art of Being Harry
1. The Potter Boy
“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?
“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.
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.”