4. The Escape Artist
“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.
“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.
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!