2. The Boy Who Lived?
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.