By the time we were released from our punishment – which was far longer than two weeks – Harry and I had each lost about three pounds we really couldn't spare, and Dudley was once again in the spotlight. Not that he ever really left it. This time it was because he'd been accepted to Smeltings, Uncle Vernon's old private school, where the students beat each other with knobby sticks to build character. For the first time, Harry and I would be free of Dudley in school, which was a good thing. My injuries had mostly healed, but my ankle still throbbed now and then.
We entered the kitchen one morning to find Aunt Petunia stirring a huge vat of what looked like dishwater on the stove.
"What's that?" I demanded before I could stop myself, repulsed.
Aunt Petunia gave me a dark look. "I'm dying some old things grey from your uniforms. It'll look like everyone else's."
"Doubt it," I muttered as Harry brushed past me to start on breakfast.
"What was that?"
"Thank you," I hastily corrected before making my escape to the juicer, preparing the orange juice.
Uncle Vernon and Dudley seemed about as thrilled with the smell coming from the uniforms as Harry and I were when they came in. They took seats at the table and Harry hastily supplied them with scrambled eggs and sliced fruits before starting on his own plate. He and I ate in the kitchen, sneaking bites as we manned the stove, scrambling more eggs when Dudley inevitably asked for seconds.
There was a sharp snap from the front door, signaling the arrival of the mail.
"Mail's here," Aunt Petunia announced unnecessarily.
"Get the mail, Dudley."
"Make Harry get it."
"Get the mail, Harry."
"Make Dudley do it."
"Whack him with your Smelting stick Dudley."
Harry dodged a swipe from the stick as he passed the table, heading for the front door. I watched him go and then turned back to the eggs, swirling them half-heartedly in the pan. I was surprised when, moments later, Harry returned to my side and dropped a letter onto the counter next to me.
A letter addressed to me. Miss L. Potter, The Cupboard Under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey. That was me.
I looked from it to him incredulously and noticed that Harry had his own letter clutched firmly in his hand, staring at it in awe. I snatched my own up greedily. The envelope was made of thick yellowish parchment that felt creamy in my fingers when I ran them over the green ink of the address. I flipped it over in trembling hands to see a purple wax seal holding it closed. It was a coat of arms with a lion, a snake, a badger, and an eagle around a large, ornate H.
I dimly heard Uncle Vernon say something as I slit the wax seal with a finger and tugged the actual letter free. I set the envelope aside and was about to unfold the parchment when Dudley yelled, "Dad, dad they've got something!"
In a surprising feat for someone so large, he'd managed to creep up behind us, probably because we were both so focused on the letters in our hands. He wrenched us around and snatched the letters from our hands, holding them over his head triumphantly as he waddled back towards the kitchen table.
"That's mine!" we protested in sync as Dudley proudly presented the letters to Uncle Vernon.
"Who'd be writing to you?" Uncle Vernon sneered, flipping one letter open. He froze, his face going from green to red to grey in the space of a few seconds. "P-P-Petunia!" he gasped. Dudley tried to snatch the letter from his father's hand, but Vernon held one out of his reach while passing the other to Petunia. She paled and grabbed onto the cabinet like she needed support.
"Vernon… oh my goodness Vernon!" she gasped.
They seemed to have forgotten that there were other people in the world, just staring at each other in horror. Dudley whacked his father with his Smelting stick and whined, "I want to read it!"
"Seeing as they're our letters-" I began, narrowing my eyes dangerously.
"-we want to read them," Harry finished furiously. Uncle Vernon stuffed the letters back into the envelope.
"Get out, all of you," he ordered.
"Let me see it!" Dudley protested.
"Give us our letters!" I shrieked. I felt something rise up in me and burst out. There was a hissing pop and one of the bulbs in the chandelier over the table exploded, raining down glass into the breakfast below. Aunt Petunia screamed and sagged against the wall, sliding down it weakly. Uncle Vernon looked like someone had just presented him with a dead animal.
"Out!" Uncle Vernon roared. He shot to his feet and seized Harry and Dudley by the backs of their necks, shoving them to the door. While he struggled with them I grabbed the envelope and shoved it down my shirt. Then Uncle Vernon turned back for me. I braced myself by the stove as he came at me.
"Who's writing us?" I demanded.
"No one, it was a mistake," Uncle Vernon snarled, reaching for my arm. I yanked it back, reaching behind me for something to fend him off with. I screamed as I inadvertently placed my hand down on the burner that had been used to make the bacon. It was still burning hot. I ripped my hand free and clutched it to my chest, eyes watering. Uncle Vernon took that opportunity to grab me by the hair and haul me towards the door, hurling me out into the hallway.
So much for not being injured anymore.
I smacked into Harry and we rammed into the wall. I gave a sob as my injured hand connected with the corner of a table. By the time we'd righted ourselves, Dudley had claimed the keyhole, so we were reduced to crouching on the floor listening at the gap below the door, with me still clutching my hand to my chest and trying to hold back whimpers. I was in pain, but no way was I missing out on this.
"Vernon," Aunt Petunia asked shakily. "Look at the address. How do they know where he sleeps?"
"Spying… watching the house… maybe following us," Uncle Vernon mumbled in response.
"Should we write back, tell them we don't want-?"
"No, we won't do anything. Just ignore them, that's best… Yeah… leave them alone…"
Aunt Petunia didn't sound convinced. "But-"
"I'm not having two in the house! Didn't we swore when we took them in that we'd put a stop to that nonsense?"
Uncle Vernon's shoes came closer to the door. Harry and I wisely fled into our cupboard. In the hallway, they could hear Dudley demanding to read the letter while Uncle Vernon told him to be quiet.
"I hate Dudley," Harry muttered spitefully, glaring at the floor as he stood in darkness. I tugged on the string of the little bare bulb that lit our cupboard with my good hand and flung myself down onto the bed, digging down my shirt with the same hand.
"What're you doing?" Harry asked, confused. I lifted up the envelope triumphantly. Harry grabbed at it desperately, looking it over. "It's got our cupboard on it."
"I know," I nodded. "Someone knows where we are. Someone wants to talk to us."
Harry held out the envelope to me. "Do you recognize this coat of arms?" he asked, pointing to the seal. I shook my head helplessly.
"I've got nothing."
Without thinking, I put my hand palm-down on the sheets. Immediately I let out a whine and tugged it back, clutching my wrist in my free hand and looking at the pink skin in distaste.
"Lorena!" Harry exclaimed. He tossed the envelope onto the bed carelessly and sat down next to me on the sheets. He gingerly tugged my hand towards him.
"I'm fine," I assured him.
"No, you're not!" he disagreed. "You need some… some aloe or something…"
"Right, like they'll let me get some," I scoffed.
Harry shook his head. "Wait here," he said, and headed for the door.
"Harry!" I hissed at him. It was stupid to try something when the Dursleys were already mad. But he was already gone. Not two minutes later he came back, holding a wad of toilet paper slathered in aloe gel and a bit of gauze.
"They'll see the gauze!" I hissed at him. "Are you stupid?"
"I'm mad," he countered, green eyes flashing behind his glasses. He sat down next to me again and took my hand, laying it in his lap. He was careful as he gently wiped it with the aloe. I sighed in relief at the pleasant cooling feeling.
"Feels amazing," I moaned.
"Right," Harry said, staring at the long length of gauze he'd smuggled out. "Let's see…"
In the end he wrapped my burned fingers individually and then my palm, knotting the ends behind my hand. It looked pretty clumsy, but for a couple of ten-year-olds it was a pretty decent patch job.
"Thanks," I said softly, leaning over onto Harry's chest and tugging my hand into my stomach. "That feels way better."
"What happened?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Was stupid. Accidentally put my hand down on the stove."
"It wasn't Uncle Vernon?" he checked. I shook my head again.
"No, just me."
But that was a lie, in a way. It was Uncle Vernon. If it weren't for years of systematic abuse my immediate reaction to someone reaching for me wouldn't be to find a weapon. If he hadn't come at me like that, I wouldn't have had my hand anywhere near the stove. Yet another injury to add to the tally the Dursleys had caused.
Uncle Vernon himself turned up at our cupboard that night after he got back from work, which was definitely a first. He had to squeeze through the door, almost filling the entire cupboard with his bulk.
"Where's my letter?" Harry demanded, holding me close to his side protectively. He was still mad about my hand.
"Who's writing us?" I pressed.
"No one, it was a mistake," Uncle Vernon said sharply. "I've burned them."
"It had our cupboard on it!" Harry protested angrily. "It wasn't a mistake."
"Silence!" Uncle Vernon snapped. He flinched and plastered on a smile. It looked in all honesty like he was being tortured. "Listen about… about this cupboard. Your aunt and I talked and… you're getting too big for it so… you'll be moving into Dudley's second bedroom."
I reared back, startled. "What?"
"Just take this stuff up there now!" Uncle Vernon ordered, making his escape from the cupboard before he could anything else that might be construed as nice.
"He didn't say anything about you stealing the gauze," I noticed, staring down at my hand.
"I know," Harry agreed.
"Something's really wrong."
'This stuff' was just clothes and a few cheap toys the Dursleys had given us over the years, things like bouncy balls or broken toy soldiers. We got it all upstairs in a matter of minutes.
Dudley's second bedroom was really just storage for all the things Dudley had broken but refused to let his parents throw away. There were shelves upon shelves of broken toys and gadgets, probably enough money combined to rent a flat. It made me angry just to look at it all. One of these things was probably worth more than everything Harry and I had ever owned, combined.
I tossed my clothes onto the floor in frustration and flung myself onto the bed, pulling out the envelope from up my sleeve. It was folded and bent a little now after a whole day hidden in my clothes, but the green ink still glimmered and you could still make out most of the details on the wax seal.
"Why didn't I put them in our cupboard before I came into the dining room?" Harry bemoaned as he sat down next to me, staring at the envelope longingly.
"You didn't know," I replied absently. I tucked the envelope under the pillow of the slightly larger bed and looked around at all the shelves. I stood up and ventured closer to the one shelf holding books. They were in pristine condition. "Look on the bright side." I jerked a thumb at them. "Reading material."
The next morning Dudley was shell-shocked. Despite him pulling out all the stops and throwing the tantrum to beat all tantrums, Harry and I hadn't been made to vacate his second bedroom. It was probably the first time in his life he'd ever been refused something. I couldn't help but be a little smug as I gave him his eggs the next morning.
"I slept really well last night!" I announced. Dudley glared up at me and tried to whack me across the shins with his Smelting stick. I leapt over it lightly and sashayed back to the kitchen.
"That's nice," Uncle Vernon said, sounding as if he thought the exact opposite. But he seemed to be trying to be nicer to us, so when the mail came, he made Dudley go get it. Dudley smacked his Smelting stick into things in the hall as he made his way to the door.
"There's another one!" he shouted suddenly. "Mr. and Miss Potter, the Smallest Bedroom-"
Uncle Vernon yelled and leapt to his feet, scrambling for the mail. Harry and I were hot on his heels. He tackled Dudley trying to get the letter from him and Harry wrapped an arm around Uncle Vernon's neck, trying to haul him free so that he could get at the letters. The Smelting stick swung wildly, nailing everyone at least twice. I took a certain vicious pleasure in angrily kicking my uncle and cousin.
Sadly, Harry and I were malnourished and skinny. We didn't stand a chance. Uncle Vernon emerged victorious, holding the letters above all of us.
"Potters, to your cupboard... I mean bedroom," he corrected hastily. "Dudley... go, just go…"
Bitter and sore, Harry and I trooped back up to the bedroom. I didn't even make it to the bed. I just flopped onto the carpet and growled, digging my fingers into the strands.
"What could be so bad?" I hissed. "What don't they want us to know?"
Harry slowly sat down on the edge of the bed, box springs creaking slightly. "You don't think…" he began slowly, then shook his head. "Nothing, never mind."
"What?" I pressed, rising up on my elbows to look at him. "What're you thinking?"
Harry was biting his lip, green eyes lowing behind his glasses. "Could it be… dad's family maybe?"
I went quiet. We knew for a fact that Aunt Petunia was our only family on their mom's side. But our dad was a bit of a mystery. I could count on one hand the number of times the Dursley's had mentioned him, and it had always been to insult him, not to impart any kind of useful information. For all we knew, we might have other uncles and aunts, maybe even grandparents.
When we were little, we used to amuse ourselves with fantasies straight out of a film. Some rich grandparents sweeping us away from Number 4 to live in a mansion, the Dursley's gaping after us as we drove off. Some kind of eccentric uncle coming back from an adventure in the Amazon to claim us, having just found out we existed.
Then there were the more realistic dreams. Some clean-cut, friendly man appearing on the doorstep with our poor vision and Harry's dark strands. A woman with two children hiding in her skirt demanding to see her niece and nephew.
In all of our dreams though, one thing was the same: we left. We left Privet Drive far behind and never looked back. We went from scrounging for crackers and sneaking into the kitchen at night to wandering in and making a sandwich whenever we wanted. We had our own rooms, our own possessions, things that hadn't belonged to other people first, things that actually fit. We had actual lives instead of being the Cinderella to the Dursley's Evil Stepmother.
"We will get our hands on one of those letters," I swore. "If they keep coming, sooner or later we'll get one, and then we'll know."
Harry brightened, leaning over to the alarm clock we'd managed to repair one summer. He set the clock to ring a little before six.
"We'll go down before anyone else and grab the mail when it comes through," he explained to me. I nodded approvingly.
"We will get those letters," I repeated.
The next morning our alarm went off just like Harry had set it. I shut it off to keep the beeping from waking up the Dursleys. We quickly dressed and crept downstairs in the darkness, heading for the mail slot. Harry took one final step and recoiled with a yelp.
I screamed as a huge shape loomed in front of us. I quickly realized it was Uncle Vernon, the sleeping bag still knotted around his legs. He'd passed out in front of the door to keep us from doing exactly what we'd planned.
The screaming lasted half an hour. It only stopped when the mail came through the flap and landed at Uncle Vernon's feet. He'd scooped up the three letters each addressed to us and was shredding them before Harry or I could even demand that he hand them over.
That day he stayed home, nailing the mail flap shut and whistling 'Tiptoe Through the Tulips.' But the nailed-shut letter flap didn't perturb whoever was writing the letters. They were shoved through the cracks in the doors and even through the window in the bathroom. Then the letters came in somehow pristine eggs that their milkman had passed through the window. Aunt Petunia shredded those in her food processor.
By the time Sunday came around, battle lines had been drawn. I was glaring at the Dursleys any time one of them was in my line of sight and I was making snotty remarks I usually wouldn't have dared to. Even Harry was getting short. He'd snapped at Aunt Petunia the other day to 'carry her own groceries' before stalking up to our bedroom and shutting himself inside. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon were both looking wrung out, and Dudley was still pouting over the fact that he hadn't been allowed to see the letters either.
"No post on Sundays," Uncle Vernon muttered at the breakfast table, looking happier than he had in days. "Not a single letter-"
A single letter came rocketing out of the fireplace and gave him a paper cut across the back of the head. The fireplace began to spew letters, thirty or forty at first, them more. I dove to the floor, scrambling to get my hands on one. Uncle Vernon grabbed a handful of my hair and wrenched me to my feet. Aunt Petunia had hustled out of the kitchen with Dudley and our uncle threw Harry and I out into the hall after them, slamming the kitchen door behind him.
He yanked frantically at his moustache, face rapidly alternating between red and white in a way that couldn't be healthy. "Go upstairs and pack… only the essentials… we're leaving in five minutes!"
He looked so close to a heart attack that none of us said anything. Harry and I had no trouble packing up our clothes and climbing into the back seat of the car, but Dudley didn't take it nearly so well. Uncle Vernon hit him around the head when he tried to pack up the electronics in his room.
Harry looked out the window at the night sky as we sped down the highway. I sat in the middle, leaning my head on his shoulder sleepily. Dudley was pouting in the last seat, giving us dark looks every now and then.
We stopped for the night at a gloomy hotel. Dudley, Harry, and I had to share a room. Dudley snored loudly in his sagging twin bed, but I curled up in the sheets and joined Harry on the windowsill, staring out at the cars passing by.
"Do you think the letters will keep coming?" I whispered, leaning my forehead on the cool window.
"They haven't stopped yet," Harry replied. I touched the envelope, which was hidden up my sleeve. It was like some kind of silent prayer: please keep coming. If the letters kept coming, then eventually we'd get a hold of one. Eventually, we'd find out who wanted to talk to us so desperately.
The next morning's breakfast was toast and cold tomatoes. As we were eating, the owner came up and asked, "I'm looking for H and L Potter? I've got 'bout a hundred of these at the front desk." He held up one of the letters. I opened my mouth desperately, but Uncle Vernon was already on his feet, hustling the man away and loudly announcing, "I'll take them!"
Our impromptu road trip didn't get any better. Uncle Vernon stopped the car several times, got out, looked around, shook his head, and took off again. They did this in a forest, the middle of a field, the top of a parking garage, and an abandoned parking lot. Finally he stopped by the coast and locked us into the car, vanishing into a store.
"Daddy's gone mad, hasn't he?" Dudley mumbled. Aunt Petunia hissed at him to hush the front seat. "I want to stay somewhere with a hotel!" he whined. "It's Monday, the Great Humberto's on tonight!"
I blinked. Dudley always knew the date because of the truly staggering number of TV shows that he watched religiously. And if it really was Monday, then that meant…
My hand reached out, settling on top of Harry's.
"We're almost eleven," Harry whispered, following my train of thought.
"Tomorrow," I agreed.
Our birthdays were never fun. We didn't get to go to the zoo like Dudley did, we didn't get huge chocolate cakes, and we didn't have any friends to invite over. Last year on our birthday, Harry had gotten a travel package of tissues and I received a pair of Aunt Petunia's old stockings full of holes.
This year we definitely wouldn't get anything, even something that bad. But still, at least we'd gotten to go somewhere, I mused. It may not have been fun sitting in the awkward silence of the Dursley's car as Uncle Vernon drove frantically and muttered, "Shake 'em off…" but I had Harry and there was some pretty countryside to see every now and then, so all in all, it wasn't the worst birthday we'd ever had.
Uncle Vernon returned then, and this time he was smiling widely and holding a long, thin package and a grocery bag. I couldn't decide if the smile was a good sign or a bad one.
"Found a place for us to stay tonight!" he announced, thrusting a finger proudly towards a rock way out to sea with a broken-down old shack on it. "And this fellow," he gestured to the toothless old man who had followed him to the car, "has agreed to let us use his boat."
The sea spray dampened our clothes as we rowed out to the rock, making the wind that whipped around us seem even colder. Harry and I were made to take point, so we took most of the spray. We huddled together desperately for warmth, but it didn't help much. By the time we arrived at the rock, we were shuddering with cold.
The shack itself wasn't anything special, and it definitely didn't have a television. In fact, it didn't even have electricity. There were only two rooms and a fireplace to provide warmth. The cracks in the walls rendered a fire pretty much useless though. The whole place reeked of seaweed and old fish.
The grocery bag held a bag of chips each and four bananas. We ate quietly, turning over our chip bags when we'd finished to Uncle Vernon, who tried to use them to start a fire. They just smoked and curled.
"Shame there's a storm forecast! We could use some of those letters now, eh?" he announced jovially. Clearly, he was relying on the bad weather to keep the post from getting through to us.
I narrowed my eyes at him angrily and raised my banana peel. Harry caught my wrist hastily and yanked the peel away from me.
"I wasn't gonna actually throw it," I mumbled, glaring at my uncle.
"Can never tell with you," Harry countered.
We bedded down that night in some moldy blankets that Aunt Petunia found in the second room. It was a bedroom, which she and Uncle Vernon claimed. Dudley took the couch, burrowed under thick blankets. Of course Harry and I were left with a thin, ragged sheet and a patch of floor for our beds. We curled up together in a corner that was mostly free of holes to try and preserve as much warmth as possible.
That night the storm came. Between the wind whistling through the cracks in the walls and rattling the windows, the thunder that rolled in around ten, and Dudley's snoring that could have woken the dead, there was no way we were getting any sleep.
"This sucks," I muttered, draping one leg over Harry's side and scooting closer, trying to fight off the shivers that had started up again. "Think if I grabbed one of Dudley's blankets he'd notice?"
"Uncle Vernon would in the morning," Harry pointed out. I huffed, then did it again when my breath warmed up my fingers.
"Right," I grumbled. I sent a glance over my shoulder towards Dudley. "But if we freeze to death it won't matter," I pointed out, emerging from the sheets. I shuddered as the parts of me that I'd managed to keep warm immediately froze in the cold air. I crept closer to Dudley, hand outstretched towards his top blanket.
"Lorena, don't!" Harry hissed.
"I've got it!" I snapped back, taking the top of the blanket and pulling it down slowly. Dudley grunted in his sleep and grabbed the blanket away from me, clutching it to his chest. "Greedy pig," I growled, thwarted. I glanced down at the hand holding the blankets, wondering if I could work them free of his sausage-like fingers.
"We're eleven in ten minutes," I commented.
"Great, now get back here," Harry said, lifting the sheet up. I hustled back to our corner and joined him under our ratty blanket, tucking the end under my side so that my back wasn't exposed. Harry wrapped his arms around me protectively and I cuddled into his skinny chest.
"Do think they'll even remember?" I mused aloud, absently twisting a bit of my red hair around a finger.
"Doubt it," Harry murmured back. "I didn't see anything else in the grocery bag."
I snorted. "I'm sure they're just holding out to surprise us!" I chirped sarcastically.
"Right," Harry scoffed. We were silent for a moment, and then he asked, "D'you think the letters ever stopped shooting out of the fireplace?"
I giggled. "Maybe when we open the door we'll get drowned in letters. We could definitely get a hold of one then." I fingered the envelope, which was tucked into the waistband of my pants for safekeeping.
Please don't stop, I silently begged.
I flinched, turning ,y head towards the door.
"What is it?" Harry asked.
"I could have sworn…" There is was again, the crunch of gravel outside, and a slapping sound. "Listen!" I hissed, sitting up. Harry sat up as well, both of us staring at the door and trying to hear over the sound of the storm and our cousin.
The knock on the door rattled the whole cottage. Harry and I curled into balls in our corner, trying to make ourselves as small as possible.
It came again. Whatever was outside wanted in.
Dudley jerked awake, muttering stupidly, "Where's the cannon?"
Uncle Vernon burst out of the bedroom with a rifle held in his hand – the mysterious package explained – and Petunia huddled behind his bulk.
"I warn you, I'm armed!" he yelled towards the door. His voice had gone about two octaves higher than normal.
There was a pause, and then-
The door flew off its hinges and crashed against the floor, sending up a crowd of dust. In the empty frame loomed a giant of a man with wild, curly hair and beard, glittering beetle-black eyes, and hands like shovels. With surprising gentleness, he eased his bulk through the entrance. When he straightened up he was even taller than the door frame.
"Couldn' make a cuppa, could yeh? It's not been an easy journey?" he announced, like he'd been expected. His eyes settled on the couch. "Budge up," he requested.
Dudley gave a squeak of fear and tumbled off the couch, sprinting to take cover behind Uncle Vernon as fast as he was able.
"An' there's the twins!" The giant beamed at us, huddled in our corner. My eyes widened. This man knew us? I snatched Harry's hand for support as he continued, "Las' time I saw yeh you were both jus' babies. Spittin' image o' James an' Lily, you are, but with Lily's eyes."
"I demand that you leave at once!" Uncle Vernon ordered, swelling up with indignation and brandishing his gun threateningly. "You are breaking and entering!"
"Dry up Dursley, yeh great prune," the man scoffed, reaching over the back of the couch to snatch the rifle away from Uncle Vernon. With a screech of metal he bent the barrel into an L and tossed it into a corner.
Uncle Vernon squeaked. I gaped in awe.
"Got summat for you," the giant continued, nodding to Harry and I. "Migh' be a bi' squished, bu' it should taste alright." He dug into his black overcoat and tugged out a white box that was indeed slightly squished. He offered it to us.
Slowly, I got to my feet, the sheet falling around my ankles. I felt Harry stand up next to me and take a few steps out of the corner. I followed him as Harry stretched out a hand and took the box. He held it out for me to see. Curious despite years of being told not to except gifts from stranger, I peeked into the box as Harry opened it. Inside was a large, sticky chocolate cake with oddly chunky green icing that read Happy Birthday Harry and Lorena!
I choked on my breath in surprise. The Dursleys probably didn't even know it was our birthday, so how did this man that we'd never met before? Why did he care enough about us to go through the trouble of baking a cake? He even iced our names on it for god's sake!
"Who are you?" Harry breathed, sounding as startled as I was. I took the box from him and closed it, setting it on a nearby windowsill. We'd come back to it later.
The man chuckled good-naturedly. "True, I haven' introduced myself yet. Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts." He reached out and clasped both of our hands between his ginormous mitts, pumping them up and down enthusiastically. "Now, how 'bout that tea?" he boomed. "I wouldn' say no to summat stronger if yeh've got it, mind."
He looked at the fireplace and snorted at the shriveled chip bags. He was tall enough that he only needed to lean forwards to reach the hearth. His bulk concealed whatever he was doing, but when he leaned back, there was a fire blazing in the grate. Warmth filled the room and I sighed in relief as my shivers finally abated.
The giant began to dig in his huge coat again. He pulled out a teapot and tea bags, a package of sausages, a kettle, a couple of mugs, and a poker. He set about making tea and put the sausages onto the pokers. Soon the sound of sizzling and the smell of cooked meats filled the shack, and it didn't seem quite so dreary.
Dudley whimpered as Hagrid tested one of the sausages and, finding it fully cooked, plucked it free.
"Don't take anything he gives you, Dudley!" Uncle Vernon snapped.
Hagrid snorted. "Yer son doesn' need any more fattenin' up, Dursley," he scoffed, and passed the sausage to Harry. I eagerly took the one he handed me and bit into it, whimpering happily. We rarely got hot food unless we snuck it while cooking, and I was hungry enough that the sausage tasted like heaven, even if it was hot enough to singe my fingers a little.
"Sorry," Harry finally said. "But I don't really know who you are." I nodded in agreement.
"Call me Hagrid, everyone does," Hagrid invited. "An like I said, I'm the Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts. Yeh'll know all abou' Hogwarts."
Harry and I exchanged looks. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what Hogwarts might be, nor why it had enough keys that they required a keeper. Harry shook his head and I shrugged apologetically. "Sorry, no."
Hagrid bristled angrily. "Sorry? It's them that should be sorry!" He rounded on the Dursley's, who cowered back into the corner Harry and I had recently vacated. I smiled slightly at the abject fear on Aunt Petunia's face and Dudley's continued whimpers.
"I knew yeh weren't getting' yer letters, but I didn't know yeh didn't know about Hogwarts. Did yeh never wonder where yer mum and dad learnt it all?" he asked.
I stared at him blankly.
"All what?" Harry asked.
"All what?" Hagrid thundered incredulously. "Yeh mean ter tell me that these kids – these kids – don' know nothin' abou'… abou' nothin'?"
"Hold on!" Harry protested indignantly. "We can read and do math and all that!"
Hagrid waved that away like it was nothing. "I mean about our world. Yer world. My world. Yer parents' world."
"What world?" I demanded, frustrated with the fact that we were making so little progress. I wished Hagrid would just come out and say what he was dancing around instead of asking what we didn't know.
That was apparently the wrong thing to say. Hagrid swelled up with rage and roared, "DURSLEY!"
Uncle Vernon said something very close to "Mimblewimble."
Hagrid looked at us earnestly. "Yeh must know abou' yer mum and dad, I mean, they're famous! Yer famous."
Harry blinked incredulously, and I was right there with him. When Aunt Petunia spoke about her sister, she always talked like Lily Evans had run off with a bum to live some sub-par life. And this man said they were famous?
"Our parents… were famous?" Harry asked blankly.
"Yeh don't know, yeh don't know!" Hagrid seemed bewildered. He just stared at us, finally asking, "Yeh don't know what yeh are?"
Uncle Vernon finally found his voice. "Stop it!" he commanded. "I forbid you to tell them anything!"
Hagrid gave him a look that would have made a brave man cry for his mummy. "Yeh never told 'em what was in tha' letter Dumbledore left all those years ago? I was there, I saw him leave it! An' you've kept it from them all these years?"
I leaned forwards, clenching Harry's arm in a vice-grip. He didn't seem to care, eagerly asking, "Kept what from us?"
"I forbid you!" Uncle Vernon shouted desperately.
"Go boil yer heads," Hagrid scoffed. "Harry, Lorena… yer magic."
Silence, and then I repeated faintly, "M-Magic?"
"A witch and wizard," Hagrid nodded. "An' thumpin' good'uns I'd wager, once yeh've been trained up a bit. Anyway I reckon it's about time yeh read yer letters."
He reached into his coat again and pulled out two parchment envelopes identical to the one I had hidden in my pants. He offered them to us, and we stepped forwards and snatched them up eagerly. I stared at the address.
Miss L Potter, The Floor, Hut-On-The-Rock, The Sea.
I couldn't help but smile at the address for a second before I ripped the envelope open and tugged the parchment free. I held my breath as I finally opened the letter. My eyes widened at the letterhead.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Underneath it was the Headmaster, with a list of titles that I had never seen before. It was the Dumbledore Hagrid had mentioned earlier. The letter itself was signed by a Minerva McGonagall, the Deputy Headmistress. It was an invitation to the school. Behind that was a list of equipment. Spell books, robes, cauldrons, and telescopes.
The magic school.
"What does it mean they await my owl?" Harry asked, pointing to the last line.
Hagrid smacked a hand to his forehead. "Gallopin' Gorgons, that reminds me!" From inside his overcoat he plucked an owl. A living, breathing, distinctly annoyed owl. He tugged out a parchment, quill, and ink and scribbled a letter to the headmaster, saying that he'd given us our letters and was going to take us to get our supplies. I looked back down at the list of supplies eagerly.
Hagrid attached the letter to the owl and tossed the bird out into the storm as if it was perfectly normal, then returned to the couch. I reached over and pushed up on Harry's chin, closing his mouth.
"Now where was I?" Hagrid mused.
Uncle Vernon seemed to have finally regained his courage. He stepped forwards, ashen-faced, and managed to grit out angrily, "They're not going!"
"Oh, and I suppose a great Muggle like yeh's gonna stop 'em," Hagrid said, unimpressed.
"Muggle?" I repeated, liking the vaguely insulting tone of the word.
"Wha' we call non-magic folk," Hagrid explained. "It's yer misfortune yeh grew up with some o' the biggest Muggles I've ever seen."
"We swore when we took them in that we'd put a stop to it!" Uncle Vernon bellowed. "We swore! Magic indeed."
I rounded on our aunt and uncle as Harry demanded, "You knew?"
"Knew?" Aunt Petunia shrieked. "Of course we knew! How could you not be, my dratted sister being what she was! She got the same letter and ran off to that- that school! She'd come back over the summer with frog spawn in her pockets, turning rats into tea cups! Our parents were so proud, it was always Lily this and Lily that!" Aunt Petunia heaved a breath, like she'd been bottling that up for years, and continued. "And then she met that Potter at school. They got married and had you and I knew you'd both be just as strange, just as… as abnormal. And then, if you please, she went and got herself blown up, and we got landed with you two!"
"Blown up?" I demanded. "You said our parents died in a car crash!"
"A car crash?" Hagrid demanded. "A car crash, kill Lily an James Potter? It's an outrage! A scandal! Harry an' Lorena Potter not knowin' their own story when every child in our world knows their names!"
"But why?" Harry pressed. "What happened?"
Hagrid now seemed to deflate from angry to concerned. "I never expected this. When Dumbledore said there migh' be some trouble getting' a hold of yeh, I never realized how much yeh didn' know. Ah, I don' know if I'm the righ' person to tell yeh… But someone's gotta, yeh can't go off to Hogwarts not knowin'."
He gave a dirty look to the Dursleys before staring into the fire. "It's best yeh know as much as I can tell yeh… Mind yeh, I can' tell yeh ev'rythin'. It's still a great myst'ry, parts of it. It starts, I suppose, with a man called… but I can't believe yeh don' know his name, ev'ryone knows…"
"Who?" I pressed.
"I don' like sayin' his name if I can help it," Hagrid admitted. "No one does."
"Why?" Harry asked.
"Gallopin' Gargoyles, people're still scared! Blimey, this is difficult. See, there was a wizard who went… bad. Bad as yeh can go. Worse. Worse than worse. His name was…" Hagrid gulped, like the word was stuck in his throat.
"You could write it down?" Harry suggested.
"Nah, can't spell it." Hagrid shook his head. He took a great breath, steeling himself, and then whispered, "Alright… Voldemort." Hagrid shuddered violently, making the couch shake with him. "Don't make me say it again. Anyway, this wizard, about twenty years, he went lookin' fer power. Got it too. Started gatherin' followers. Some wanted power, some were afraid. It was dark times, yeh understan', dark times. Yeh didn' know who to trust. People were vanishin' an' turnin' up dead. He was takin over. 'Course, some stood up the him. An' he killed 'em. Horribly. Only safe place was Hogwarts. I reckon it's because he was always scared o' Dumbledore.
"Now, yer mum and dad were as good a witch and wizard as they come. Head boy and girl at Hogwarts in their day! I s'pose the myst'ry is why he didn't try to get them on his side. Prolly know they were too close ter Dumbledore to get them on his side.
"All anyone knows fer sure is that he turned up in the village yeh were livin' in ten years ago. Yeh were only a year old. Maybe he wanted them out o' the way. Maybe he jus' liked killin' by that point, but…"
Hagrid suddenly tugged a huge handkerchief from inside his pocket and blew his nose like a trumpet. I flinched at the sudden loud noise after Hagrid's hushed voice.
"Sorry, it's jus' that sad," he apologized. "I knew yer mum an' dad, an' nicer people yeh couldn' find. Anway, he killed, an' then – an' this is the real myst'ry – he tried to kill yeh." Hagrid nodded at Harry. "Maybe he wanted to make a clean slate of it, maybe he was jus' in a mood. But a scar like that," he thrust a finger at the scar on Harry's forehead, "only comes from bein' touched by a powerful curse, an evil one. That spell took care o' both o' yer parents, yer house even, but fer some reason, he couldn't kill yeh. Only a baby, an' he couldn' kill yeh. No one lived after he decide to kill 'em… no one, 'cept you."
I closed my eyes and let out a long breath. Behind my eyes flashed a brilliant green light. I could hear a high, cold voice laughing, hear it whispering softly in my ear. The words were indistinguishable, but the malice in them… it drove the warmth from my bones and chilled me to the core.
Pain suddenly lanced through my left cheek. I clapped a hand to it, wincing. Hagrid looked at me sympathetically.
"An' that's another myst'ry," he said, nodding to my cheek. I ducked my head self-consciously. My hair had been concealing the large s-shaped scar on my cheek this whole time, but I got the feeling Hagrid knew it was there.
"Did he try and use that spell on me too?" I asked softly.
"No," Hagrid said, shaking his head. "An' no one can figure out why. Near as we can tell, he cut that mark into yer face, then set yeh aside and turned on Harry. No one knows why he stopped or didn' try to kill yeh. Maybe he just wanted to do Harry first?" Hagrid shrugged. "I pulled yeh from the house myself an' brought yeh ter this lot, Dumbledore's orders-"
"Load of old tosh." Once again, Uncle Vernon had gathered enough courage to speak up. Now, it seemed, he had a good head of steam up, because he started ranting, "You listen here, brats. I admit there's something off about you – probably nothing a good beating wouldn't have fixed. But as for your parents –well, they were weirdos, no denying, the world's better without them in it – they deserved what they got, getting mixed up with those wizarding types. Just as I expected, always thought they'd meet a sticky end-"
Hagrid lunged to his feet, brandishing as pink umbrella like a broadsword, but I beat him to it. I stepped forwards now, glaring hatefully at Uncle Vernon as my anger surged. I felt heat bathe my back and heard the crackle of flames as the fire blazed higher behind me.
"Shut up," I hissed. "You shut your fat face, you ass!" Uncle Vernon swelled with rage, but before he could say anything, I swept a hand through the air angrily. I felt the fire behind me shift, lunging in the direction I'd pointed, and he immediately backed down, eyes widening in fear. "Those are my parents you're talking about and I don't care what they did, wizards or not, they have to be better than you! All my life you treated me – us - like there was something wrong with us, like we were something shameful. Now I see though. Every time I blew a light bulb, every time you tried to cut Harry's hair and it grew back – you knew what was going on! You knew we were doing magic! You beat us down because you were afraid of us! Of what we might do to you!"
Behind me, I heard Hagrid chortling. "Tha's the way it usually is with Muggles, scared o' what we magical folk could do."
I was panting heavily and glaring at the Dursleys. I paused as a fragile hand slid into mine and squeezed.
"Lorena," Harry murmured. I slumped, exhausted by my rant and the emotional roller coaster the night had turned into. I took a step back, leaning against Harry's shoulder wearily.
"Hagrid?" Harry asked quietly. "What ever happed to Vol – to him?"
"Good question." Hagrid nodded approvingly, still looking at the successfully-cowed Dursleys in amusement. "Disappeared. Vanished, same night he tried ter kill yeh. Same night he tried ter kill yeh. It's part o' why yer famous. Soemthin' about yeh finished him. Some say he died. Codswallop in my opinion. Don't know if he had enough human left in him to die. Most of us reckon he's out there still, lost his powers too weak the carry on. Somethin' happened that night – no one knos what – but somethin' abou' yeh stumped him that night."
Hagrid stared at us, warmth and respect blazing in his eyes. I hunched in on myself. I didn't feel like I deserved any of it. Whatever had made that Voldemort tuck tail and run, it was Harry who'd done it, not me. What had I managed that night? Getting my face sliced open? It was hardly something to be proud of.
"Just yeh wait!" Hagrid said proudly. "Yeh'll be famous at Hogwarts."
Uncle Vernon put in a last stand. "Haven't I told you?" he growled. "They're going to Stonewall High and be grateful for it. I've seen the things they need. Cauldrons… spell books… nonsense!"
"If they want to go," Hagrid said slowly, "a great Muggle like you won' stop 'em! Lily an' James's kids not go to Hogwarts! They'll be goin' to the finest school of witchcraft and wizardry in the world. Seven years there an' they won't know themselves. They'll be with youngsters of their own sort fer a change and they'll be studyin' under the finest headmaster Hogwarts has ever seen-"
"I am not paying for some crackpot old fool to teach them magic tricks!" Uncle Vernon shouted.
Hagrid yelled and jumped to his feet, brandishing his umbrella once more. Uncle Vernon retreated on pain of death by impalement.
"Never insult Albus Dumbledore in front of me!" Hagrid roared. He brought the umbrella swinging down. There was a flash of violet light and a sound like a squealing pig. Dudley yelped and clutched his bottom, a curly pink pig's tail bursting from the seam in his pajamas. Aunt Petunia wailed and clutched her son. Uncle Vernon gave Hagrid one horrified look and dragged his family back into the bedroom, slamming the door behind them.
Hagrid observed the door thoughtfully. "Meant to turn him into a whole pig," he admitted. "But I guess there wasn' much left." He glanced at us, flushing slightly. "I'd appreciate it if yeh didn' mention that to anyone at the school. Strictly speakin', I'm not allowed to use magic outside o' the school. I was allowed to do a bit ter keep up with yeh and get yer letters to yeh – one of the reasons I was so keen ter take the job."
"Why can't you do magic outside of the school?" Harry asked curiously.
Hagrid winced. "Oh, er, I was at Hogwarts myself but I… got expelled," he admitted. "In me third year. They snapped my wand an' everythin'. Dumbledore let me stay on as groundskeeper. Great man, Dumbledore!" he blustered.
"Why were you expelled?" Harry pressed curiously. I nudged him violently with an elbow.
"Got a long day tomorrow!" Hagrid announced loudly. "Lots ter buy, gotta go into town fer yer supplies." He tossed his overcoat at us. It took both of us to catch the thing without being bowled over. "Yeh can kip under that. Don' mind if it wiggles, still got a couple of dormice in the pockets."