Cryptophasia or Lack Thereof
After the aptly-dubbed ‘snake incident’ of Dudley’s eleventh birthday, Harry was confined to the cupboard for almost two weeks.
It was not the longest he had been made to stay inside and make his presence all but unknown, but it came very close. The record was still held by the time his teacher’s unfortunate hair color change had been attributed to him, and he was locked night and day in the cupboard for an impressive seventeen days in a row, the full duration of winter break. Even Aunt Petunia had felt bad for that time, however, and made him full breakfast and dinner each day. Harry had not been confined for longer than a week since then.
But Aunt Petunia was so very incensed about the Snake Incident. She had nearly fainted upon finding her son pawing uselessly at a glass window and screaming, wet from the little pond installed for the boa’s sake. She had pawed at it right back for minutes until the zookeepers had opened the door to the cage in great confusion and let Dudley out.
When Vernon had gone down on Harry after coming home, she had done very little to defend him.
Harry considered being locked in his cupboard for days not the most awful or annoying punishment he could be given at the Dursleys’ house, but one of the worst anyway. He was simply so bored. He was only let out during mealtime and in order to shower, and forced to spend the rest of his time squeezed in that dark and very narrow space. He had no toy to distract him either, save for what few of Dudley’s broken ones he had nicked over the years, and the little lamp which served as his main source of light had chosen this time to die out, making reading impossible.
He was, therefore, very happy when the summer holidays came around and he was allowed outside again.
It was almost a month and a half since then, and Harry could tell that he wasn’t quite forgiven yet. Aunt Petunia’s voice was shriller than warranted when she woke him in the morning, and Uncle Vernon followed him around with his beady little eyes narrowed suspiciously. As for Dudley, he had received another three birthday gifts after his terrible adventure with the snake and promptly forgotten the incident altogether, but his Smeltings stick still found the sides of Harry’s calves much too often.
Maybe that was just what Dudley would have done even without the snake, however.
On the morning of his own eleventh birthday, Harry woke up just the same as always. His aunt shrieked at him from the other side of the cupboard door, telling him to prepare tea and bacon for the rest of the family, then left to tend to her other duties. Harry quickly squirmed his cousin’s hand-me-down clothes onto himself. He peeked hopelessly at the slit of the mailbox for another of those green-inked letters he had received days ago and not been allowed to read, but there was nothing. Then his nose stung from a terribly acrid smell, and he pinched it quickly and made his way to the kitchen.
His aunt was there. She was poking at… something soaking in the sink. Harry squinted at it from behind his glasses and found that it was fabric, or at least something close to it. It looked like great lumps of elephant skin.
“What is that?” he asked, rubbing his nose and grimacing.
Aunt Petunia gave him barely a glance before looking away in disgust. She did that almost every time he was in her vicinity. “Your new school uniform,” she replied graciously.
Perhaps she felt inclined to talk to him because the thought of him wearing this atrocity put her in a good mood.
Harry only listened distractedly to her explanation. He stared in disgust at the pants leg peeking over the edge of the sink and tried not to think of how little anyone would want to speak to him while he was wearing it, regardless of Dudley being absent from his life for once. And he had hoped to make friends at his new school, too.
Morosely, he took to heating up the pan and boiling water for tea. He had known that his aunt and uncle and cousin would try to sabotage this new start in his life, even if they were not quite cross enough with him to put him in Dudley’s fancy boarding school. This was nothing more than expected. Harry pushed aside the coffee machine which Petunia never used except for guests she liked to judge for drinking coffee at all, grabbed the whistling kettle, and shoved the issue out of his mind.
He told himself that he had not been expecting anything for his birthday. The one and only time he had notified his relatives of it, he had been given a napkin as a gift. Last year, they had forgotten it entirely—which was not so bad, since it meant Dudley forgot to tease him for it. He watched Vernon and Dudley come down for breakfast, make a face at the awful smell coming out of the sink, and take their places for breakfast at the living-room table. He told himself it did not matter at all what they said or not about his turning eleven.
Harry nibbled at his breakfast toast and found very poor satisfaction in having let the tea steep for just that bit longer, the way he liked it, rather than what Aunt Petunia preferred.
Then the doorbell rang.
Vernon and Petunia’s heads turned toward the hallway at once. “Did you order something?” Uncle Vernon grumbled, annoyed.
“No,” Aunt Petunia said with her mouth pinched tightly.
“Dudley, get the door.”
“Make Harry get it,” Dudley grunted in reply.
He was watching the lit TV and shoving cereal into his mouth without ever looking at what he was doing. Several drops of milk had already stained his Smeltings bowtie.
“Harry, get the door,” Uncle Vernon said curtly.
Aunt Petunia glared at Harry with all her might, as if daring him to refuse. Harry, still freshly aware of the two weeks of mind-numbing boredom he had spent after the Snake Incident, got off his chair wisely.
He only rolled his eyes after turning his back to her.
It was a Wednesday morning, bright and hot with summer. Sunlight shone harshly upon Little Whinging, only sweetened by the harsh breeze risen the night before. It was warm already within the house, and stifling in the cupboard, so Harry braced himself for a second before opening the door, expecting a gush of hot wind to hit his front.
An odd shiver ran over his arm when he did. It was not the difference in temperature between the relatively cool air within number four, Privet Drive and the summer heat outside however; but rather a sliver of expectation, as if something had been waiting tensely for a long time and then relaxed, and Harry squinted at the bright sunlight and lifted his head to meet the eyes of the person standing at the doorstep, and froze.
He was not entirely unused to meeting odd people. Aunt Petunia always had something nasty to say about the homeless or the visibly ill, and once or twice before someone had stared at Harry when he was outside, or come to shake his hands tearfully without explanation. Yet nothing could compare with the sight of the old man now standing at his front door.
He looked very, very old. That was Harry’s first thought. He wore a dress of sorts, made of velvety fabric in the color of deep sunsets, with stars sewn all over it and glinting discreetly. His white beard and hair spilled over his shoulders and down his front and back. Then Harry met the odd man’s bright blue eyes and thought, surprised, He doesn’t look so old after all.
“Hello,” said the man in a kind voice. “You must be Harry.”
“Er,” Harry replied eloquently.
He couldn’t quite move his hands from the door’s handle, nor could he stare away from the old man’s very blue eyes. He tried anyway, looking over his shoulder for help, before remembering exactly where he was and what his aunt and uncle would do if he made them talk to someone so visibly bizarre.
“I, ah,” he tried again. “We don’t want any solicitors—wait.” He squinted at the man, whose mouth lengthened into a smile and made his long beard shift over his chest. “How d’you know my name?”
“I make it a point to know the names of all my students, dear boy.”
Harry stared at him. “Students?” he repeated dumbly.
Uncle Vernon chose this moment to make his presence known again. “Boy!” he yelled from deep within the living-room, covering the sound of the TV and Dudley’s snickers both, which had wafted all the while to the entrance of the house.
Harry jumped and dropped the door handle.
“What’s taking you so long!”
“And this must be your uncle,” the odd man said merrily. “Very good, very good indeed. I have been meaning to speak with him and Petunia.”
He made as if to walk in, and Harry acted without thinking.
He blocked his path, his hands sweaty with sudden fear, his mind twisted between fascination for the stranger and fear of what his uncle would say if he saw him inside the house.
“You can’t go in,” he managed. “Er—sir,” he added. Something about the old man commanded respect, in spite of the weird outfit and beard and hair. “I don’t think my uncle would, um…”
The old man did not grow angry. If anything, the glint in his eyes became merrier. “I am well-aware of your uncle’s opinion of me, my boy,” he said. “However, I am here for rather important business, business which concerns you and your family.”
Harry could hardly speak through his surprise. “Me? But—”
They heard Uncle Vernon arrive before they saw him. Harry turned his back to the old man grimly, throwing one last glance to his ageless face and finding him looking to the end of the hallway, where Vernon appeared red-faced and stomping loudly.
“What the devil is taking you so long!?” he barked at Harry. “If you think you’re skipping out on cleaning up the dishes, you—”
Uncle Vernon saw their visitor, then.
Like Harry, he froze in his steps. Unlike Harry, his face became a sick-looking and furious crimson; then he paled as white as marble, and for some reason his words seemed to go down his throat and choke him.
Harry could not look away from it. His uncle, who so enjoyed yelling till breathless at door-to-door salesmen or homeless people, could not for some reason do so to the man in a dress and with a great long beard standing on their doorstep. Even better, his beady eyes started going all around in obvious fright, and he stuttered out: “P-P-Petunia!”
Harry hardly even noticed that the old man had stepped into the house and now stood beside him. He stared at his terrified uncle in fascination, and then his aunt walked into the hallway as well, holding a pile of dirty plates, which she promptly dropped to the floor.
They shattered, of course. Porcelain shards big and small spread over the spotless tiles, one coming as far as Harry’s own feet by the door. But Petunia, ever-fussing Petunia, did not even look down. No, instead, she stared at the newcomer not with fear like her husband, but with a look of hatred Harry had only ever seen directed to himself.
Who was this man?
“Oh dear,” said the old man, still looking happily onto the scene. “Such fine plates… Here, let me fix this for you, Petunia.”
Harry watched him start to take a long stick of carved wood out of one of his sleeves; then his head snapped to his aunt, for at the sight of the stick, Petunia had let out a scream so shrill that the windows seemed to shake.
“No!” she howled all of a sudden, craze-eyed, while her husband by her side seemed to want to shrink in on himself. “None of that—you—you—”
For a second she looked about to start foaming at the mouth, like a character from one of Dudley’s mind-numbing cartoons which Harry sometimes watched when he had nothing else to do. Her face was turning green.
To Harry’s surprise, she looked at him. “What have you told him?” she screeched at the old man.
“I hardly even had time to say hello,” the old man replied, tranquil. “I was hoping we could have this conversation somewhere a little cosier than the doorstep of your home—perhaps in young Harry’s bedroom, with a nice cup of tea?”
“No,” Petunia said again, as if taken in a trance. “No, I won’t—I refuse to let him—”
She lost her grip on words, but thankfully, Uncle Vernon was once more beet-red and ready to shout.
“Now see here!” he yelled at the old man. “We swore we wouldn’t allow this, this madness within our home when we took the boy in—we aren’t about to let ourselves be blown up like his sorry excuse for parents, are we!”
This shook Harry out of his own open-mouthed surprise.
“Blown up?” he asked sharply.
Both Vernon and Petunia cringed.
In the silence that followed, Harry forgot all about the weird old man standing beside him. Emboldened, he took a step forward and asked, “What do you mean, ‘blown up’? You always said my parents died in a car accident.”
Until now the arrival of the stranger had been fascinating to observe only, but now, anger churned in his belly and made his fists tense by his sides.
Had his aunt and uncle lied to him about this?
He almost wanted to yell at them, but a look in his uncle’s eyes was enough to soften him up a bit for fear of retribution.
“Didn’t ask to be saddled with him, did we?” said Uncle Vernon loudly, balancing from one foot to the other with nerves. “Wasn’t our fault you decided to drop him on our doorstep instead of keeping him with his—”
“I think,” the stranger interrupted in a clear and undeniably authoritative voice, “that it would be better if young Harry and I could have a moment alone to speak.” Harry felt a hand land over his shoulder firmly. “If you would lead the way, my boy?”
Aunt Petunia’s eyes became wide and glistening; they moved thrice between Harry himself and the stairside where his cupboard lay, before fixing him thunderously. Tell him and you’ll be eating nothing but hard bread for a week, they said.
Harry himself felt rather conflicted. He wanted to ask more about his parents—how did they die, if not in a car crash? But an odd thought came to him of this fancily-dressed old man bending down to enter his cupboard with him, spiders crawling up his white beard or pulling thread into his starry robes, and he choked down a grunt of half-laughter, half-shame.
“Er, yeah, let’s go upstairs,” he said. “In my… bedroom.”
Vernon and Petunia’s eyes were now equally furious and equally wide.
A good thing the stranger had decided to leave their presence now, for Dudley’s heavy steps made themselves known as he came to inquire about what was taking his parents so long. Harry hurried to guide the old man up the stairs to avoid his questions; he did not trust Dudley not to announce to the first nice person Harry ever met in this household that his weird scrawny cousin actually lived in a cupboard.
Strangely enough, neither his aunt nor his uncle said anything about a complete stranger following Harry to his ‘room’. If it had been Dudley instead, Aunt Petunia would be halfway to the phone and screeching about calling the police.
Harry fancied for a second the idea of taking the old man to Dudley’s room and pretending it was his own, but the clothes undoubtedly strewn all over would be a dead giveaway that he did not belong there. Plus, Harry hated Dudley’s room. He took him instead to his cousin’s unused second bedroom, where all the stuff he did not want (mainly books and broken toys) rested.
He had vacuumed the upstairs the day before, thankfully.
“Here,” he said nervously. “That’s, er, my bedroom.”
“Thank you,” said the old man kindly.
Harry felt foolish, standing there and holding the door open, but the stranger simply entered the room and sat on the chair of the little desk by the bed. It was missing an armrest since the day Dudley had spectacularly thrown it down the stairs in a fit of anger two years ago.
Harry closed the door and stood in place nervously.
“Please take a seat, Harry.”
Harry tried to sit on the bed. He ended up falling on it a bit forcefully and biting his tongue in the process, and tried to pretend that no tears were welling up behind his glasses from the sudden pain.
The stranger said nothing to him at first: he looked leisurely around the room, his eyes resting on the bookshelves, on a broken telly shoved at the foot of the open closet, then on Harry himself. Harry shifted atop the bed and tugged discreetly on the bedcover to make sure the naked mattress under it could not be seen.
Finally, the stranger spoke. “Do you like to read, then, Harry?”
“Mmmyes,” Harry said.
It wasn’t a lie, exactly. The cupboard got very boring with nothing else to do. Harry just wished he had choices other than to read in order to escape the boredom.
“Very good,” mused the stranger with a smile. “I always tell our librarian how much I wish Hogwarts would offer more fiction for its students to read, but alas, she is not fond of Muggle literature, and our kind are not nearly as brilliant at it as they believe they are.”
Harry smiled awkwardly and tried to pretend he understood a single word of what the man had just said.
The man’s eyes seemed to grow even brighter. “Forgive me my manners,” he said. “I completely forgot to introduce myself, what with the, ah, meeting with your aunt and uncle downstairs. Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”
Harry nodded. Harry smiled. Harry kept a firm grip on the little voice inside him which wanted to slap itself across the face and wake up.
Was this a joke? Was this some elaborate plan from the Dursleys—some way of making his birthday more miserable? But no, he thought immediately, it could not be. Aunt Petunia had never been able to come up with something more imaginative than boiling vegetables, and Uncle Vernon and her would rather faint on the spot than have someone utter the words Witchcraft and Wizardry within their home.
Did Harry make someone else very mad by accident? Did he have some enemy out there he did not know of, who cared enough about making his birthday miserable to send a funny old man to number four, Privet Drive and talk about witchcraft to him?
“I’m Harry,” he said dumbly. “Harry Potter.”
“Yes, you are,” the man perhaps-but-perhaps-not called Albus Dumbledore replied, smiling. “And I can see that you have some questions for me.”
He had so many questions.
“Oh no,” Harry replied. “I’m good. Witchcraft and Wizardry.”
“I take it your Aunt and Uncle have not seen fit to tell you anything about yourself or your family.”
I know my dad was a drunkard and killed himself and my mum in a car accident, did not seem like the right answer here.
Thankfully, the old man did not wait for Harry to say anything. He touched his long beard absently, staring at a broken flower pot—Dudley’s once and only attempt at gardening—as if it could tell him the cure to the common cold.
“Your parents were wizards,” he said very evenly. “When they were eleven years old, they both went to Hogwarts to study magic for seven years. And you, Harry, are a wizard as well.”
“Right,” Harry let out.
Maybe-Dumbledore’s eyes were very blue. Harry had never been X-rayed in his life, but he thought perhaps the feeling was similar to being stared at by him. “You do not believe me,” Maybe-Dumbledore declared.
“It’s just,” Harry said delicately. “I never—er—can you… maybe, prove it?”
And Maybe-Dumbledore took that wooden stick out of his sleeve again, tapped it gently to the small desk, and a tray appeared over it, with a steaming teapot and two matching cups and a plate full of scones.
Harry tried to stand up, but his legs felt like jelly. He ended up slipping back down onto the bed and biting his tongue again.
“Would you like some scones, Harry?”
“Ah, yes,” Harry breathed, not bothering to hide his tears this time. “Please.”
The magic plate full of magic scones floated over to him, bent down to allow him to pick one, whilst the magic tea poured itself into a cup which also floated magically to the bedside table.
Harry took a bite of the scone. It was warm and buttery and delicious, with cinnamon on top.
“Thanks,” he choked out.
“You’re very welcome.”
Definitely-Dumbledore took a sip of scalding tea while Harry swallowed both the scone and the fact that magic was real. Harry was thankful for the silence, truly. He needed time to think.
Plus, this tasted definitely better than his plain morning toast.
“So,” he said once he had licked the butter from his thumb and index finger. “Magic is real.”
“And I’m a wizard?”
“Yes, you are.”
Harry absorbed this as well.
“I can’t do—” he gestured to the silvery tray and nearly knocked his hand into the bedside lamp. “That. I’ve never done that in my life.”
“I should hope not,” Dumbledore replied pleasantly. “Making food appear is actually quite complex magic, and certainly not something a boy with no magical education could hope to do on his own.”
“No, you don’t understand, I—”
Harry felt only slightly ashamed of interrupting this, frankly, very kind man. But surely, if he were a wizard, he could have sent Dudley flying on his back or forced Aunt Petunia to season her meals or vanished Uncle Vernon entirely. The world could only be better without Uncle Vernon’s existence.
“I’m just Harry,” he said helplessly. “You—I think you’ve got… the wrong person.”
Dumbledore looked at him very intently before answering.
“I assure you, my boy,” he said softly, “you are a wizard. You are not the first to be apprehensive or doubtful. Many of Hogwarts’s students come from Muggle—ah, non-magical families, and they feel the same concerns that you do now.”
“But how do I know for sure?”
“Very simply. Can you ever recall a time something odd happened around you? Something impossible to explain or understand, when you were feeling some very strong emotion perhaps?”
“Oh,” said Harry.
Dumbledore nodded at him. “We call this phenomenon accidental magic,” he explained with a smile. “Wizards and witches too young to own a wand and attend school manifest it from time to time, often when their emotions are at their highest. It dissipates as they learn to control magic.”
“I see,” Harry said weakly.
He took a sip of the tea. It was delicious, too.
While he was busy recalling the Snake Incident, as well as the Teacher’s Hair Incident and the Suddenly on the Roof Incident, Dumbledore was taking something out of his other sleeve. Harry wondered how many hidden pockets his starry robes had.
He handed the object to Harry, who recognized it as one of the green-inked letters he had gotten for a few days.
Mr Harry Potter
The Cupboard Under the Stairs
Number 4, Privet Drive
Harry’s face heated at the incriminating words—The Cupboard Under the Stairs—and he hurried to tear open the smooth, thick-papered envelope to finally read his letter.
A few moments later, he asked Dumbledore: “I can bring a toad?”
“Toads are rather out of fashion now,” the professor replied jovially. “But yes, you may bring one if you wish to. Although I would recommend an owl, as they can carry letters, and I try to avoid cats as much as I can. I am a bit allergic, you see.”
Harry did not even know which bit of that to question first.
This was the best birthday of Harry’s life.
In fact, it was the best day of his life, period, he thought as he and Professor Dumbledore rode the tube in London—and Harry had dearly wanted to ask him if he was using a spell to make himself invisible, for no one seemed to care that he was so old and beardy and wearing a sunset-sky dress, but Dumbledore had winked at him and simply said, “The wonderful people of London have seen worse things than old men in robes on the tube.”
Then he started telling Harry that the forest around Hogwarts had unicorns in it, and Harry lost interest in anything else.
Harry was taken to a tavern called the Leaky Cauldron, where a heavy cloud of pipesmoke floated under the ceiling and made the back of his throat itch. He stared with wide eyes at the few customers here. One was entirely covered in cloth, and the space under their thick hood was so dark that Harry wondered if they had a face at all. Another was drinking out of a tall spiraling glass, which emitted puffs of pink smoke between each sip he took. The cause for the pipesmoke was a very short woman in night-blue robes—and the pipe itself was as long as her arm.
“Hello, Tom,” said Professor Dumbledore to the bald man behind the bar.
“Headmaster!” the man simpered. “Oh, how wonderful to see you—will you be having a glass of Ogden’s as usual?”
“I’m afraid not. I am simply passing through today, showing one Hogwarts’s new students around.”
“Welcome, young sir,” Tom greeted then, bending over the counter to see Harry better. “Professor, it is rare to see you do the rounds yourself—but, wait a second… is that…!”
Tom suddenly wore an awestruck expression. His small eyes stared into Harry’s in disbelief, watching over his face and forehead, and he gasped audibly.
He opened his mouth to speak, but Dumbledore lifted a hand: “Thank you,” he said, more loudly this time. “I’m certain Harry and I could do with some lunch later on, but for now, we must be going. There is much shopping to do.”
“Of course,” Tom stuttered, still looking flabbergasted. “Yes, I—oh, this is why the Weasleys wanted a room for this afternoon as well…”
Harry wanted to try and hear what Tom would say next, but the Professor held him by the shoulder and pushed him gently forward. They walked into a dark corridor by the side of the bar, and then into a bright-lit backyard surrounded by white stone walls.
“Who’s the Weasleys?” Harry asked, watching eagerly as the Professor took out his stick again—his wand—and tapped it thrice on a brick of the farthest wall.
“All questions in due time,” Dumbledore replied.
Then the wall opened before them onto a paved street lined with colorful shops.
If Harry still harbored any doubts as to whether Dumbledore was a real wizard come to take him to a wizarding school or just a very convincing daydream, they vanished on the spot.
He walked open-mouthed and entirely silent past a shop selling owls, another selling the same kind of robes which all people roaming the street wore, one whose devanture showed various viscous and eerie substances. There was a shop full of flying broomsticks, one for dead creature parts, one for jokes and toys where a lot of teenagers had gathered already.
The blue sky above Harry’s head rang with hoots, and shadows in the shape of spread wings sometimes made sunlight blink out of his eyes.
Professor Dumbledore stopped only once on their way to the whitest and tallest of the buildings, the wizarding bank Gringotts, to greet a pale-eyed man wearing a purple turban.
“This is Professor Quirrell, your Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher,” he told the very distracted Harry.
“Nice to meet you,” said Harry, who looked only briefly at the man shaking his hands before staring again at the front window of a huge bookstore.
Some of the books seemed to be struggling to get out of their shelves. As he watched, one flew off and hit a vendor in the back of the head; the man started yelling at it extensively, judging by the red color of his face.
The hand which shook Harry’s was cold, but unlike Professor Quirrell’s voice, it did not shake. A shiver not unlike the one that had taken Harry when he opened the front door of number four, Privet Drive that morning ran up his arm.
“A pleasure,” said the nervous Professor. “N-Not that you n-need any learning from me, Mr P-Potter.”
His thin lips widened on a pale and toothless smile.
The wizarding bank was even more amazing. Harry spent a good minute standing still at the front of it, reading the riddle engraved in gold over the doors and trying not stare at the little creatures standing guard on either side of it. Dumbledore left him to it, and busied himself by conversing with one of them in a rough, guttural language Harry had never heard before.
“Um, Professor,” Harry said timidly once they were within the bank.
It was one thing to look at it from the outside, and another to be standing here in Dudley’s cast-me-downs, walking on marble floor lined with golden guichets. Some of the creatures—goblins—were busy measuring gemstones or gold coins, while others spoke softly to wizards and witches in fancy robes. Harry had never felt more out of place in his life.
“How am I gonna pay for everything on the list?” He bit his lip and told himself he was not above begging if it got him to Hogwarts. “I don’t have any money,” he explained.
Perhaps he could take out a loan from Dumbledore, and pay him back later somehow? The Dursleys would never agree to buy him an owl or a magic wand, that was for sure.
But Professor Dumbledore was still smiling. “Not to worry,” he said, and took a step forward when the lady standing before them in the queue finally left. “Your parents left you with more than enough money to pay for your school supplies for the next seven years, and then some. Ah, Griphook, good morning.”
“Professor Dumbledore,” the goblin at the counter greeted in a deep and gravelly voice. “How may I help you today?”
“Two things,” Dumbledore replied. “I should like to access vault 713, as we agreed in our last exchange, and I am here with Mr Harry Potter, who wishes to make a withdrawal.”
The old Professor had started handing an envelope to Griphook, but the goblin suddenly stopped with his hand upon it without taking it from him. His eyes flew down to Harry; like Tom the bartender, he seemed to be looking for something over his face.
Harry was starting to feel a little awkward under that lidless stare, but thankfully, Griphook spoke again. “I see,” he said simply. “Well then, follow me.”
And thus, Harry discovered that he was actually rich.
Well, maybe not rich. After all, the money system explained by Griphook on the way over the cart—Professor Dumbledore had taken another one to the vault he wished to visit—made little sense to him, and Griphook did not seem inclined to explain how much a Galleon was worth in pounds. But the thick pile of golden coins spread in that small stone-walled chamber did look like a lot to Harry. Having never had any money of his own, except for the accidental spare change he sometimes found lining his coat pockets after running errands for Aunt Petunia, he was quite satisfied.
He could hardly lose his smile during the hours that followed.
He got all of his text books from the bookstore he had noticed on the way to the bank—though he was disappointed to learn that the struggling book was not among them. Professor Dumbledore himself spent a while browsing, and handed him a book of fairy tales he said all wizarding children knew, as well as several more books of wizarding fiction he told Harry were “not as awful as the rest.” He answered patiently when Harry wanted to know the difference between Charms and Transfiguration; he told him first years were not allowed a broom, but still followed Harry within the store selling them to let him look around.
Harry wanted to see so many things, to ask so many questions, that an hour and a half had almost gone by without him taking the time to acquire most of the items on his list. His stomach started groaning around eleven-thirty, and Professor Dumbledore took him to Florean Fortescue’s, an ice cream parlor selling flavors as varied as ‘Sunset Barbecue Gone Wrong’, ‘Trollflowers’, and ‘Overcooked Pumpkin Pie’.
“I don’t understand why wizards need potions,” Harry said in-between two mouthfuls of lemon sorbet. “Why potions if spells can do anything?”
He was reading over his list again, though he knew it by heart already. A pewter cauldron, a glass stirrer, two different Potions books.
“Spells cannot do everything,” Dumbledore replied. “Although we are far from reaching the limits of magical knowledge, and many spells have yet to be invented. Potions are a very complex and useful art, with which a wizard can make use of magic in much more subtle or precise ways than just by wand.”
“Healing, for one. Much of the healing in our world is done by the way of potions. But potions can transfigure objects, erect protective wards… make sure students do not cheat during exams,” and here his bright eyes looked at Harry again and made him blush, “and many other useful things. We are very lucky to have a master of the art teaching Potions at Hogwarts, though his pedagogy leaves… something to be desired. Now let us hurry, my boy, we don’t want the food Tom makes us to grow cold before we arrive.”
Harry shoveled his ice cream in as quickly as he could, and thought again that making potions seemed like a waste of time when a flick of the wand could make cinnamon scones appear.
Harry got measured for school robes next. Dumbledore let him go on his own, for Madam Malkin’s was right next to Fortescue’s ice cream parlor, and the Professor seemed eager to speak with Florean himself, who had been a student of his. Harry thus found himself next to a blond boy with a pointy nose, who seemed plenty confident for someone wearing measuring tape all over his arms and legs.
“You’re going to Hogwarts too?” said the blond boy with what might have been a smile but looked more like a sneer to Harry.
“Er, yeah,” Harry mumbled in reply.
“My mother’s off to buy my books, and my father’s gone to look at wands. Did you see that rule about no Quidditch for first years?” The sneer got more pronounced. “Father says it did not exist when he was a student. If I were allowed to try, no doubt I’d make the team this year.”
“Hmm,” said Harry.
He had no idea what Quidditch was.
“Anyway,” the sneery boy went on as if Harry did not exist—or rather, as if he couldn’t understand that one could find the sound of his voice tiring. “Do you know what House you’ll be in?”
House? “No,” Harry replied. “What about you?”
The boy looked at him as if Harry had just grown another head. “Slytherin, of course,” he scoffed. “Well, I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if I ended up in Ravenclaw—mother says she almost ended up there herself—but imagine landing in Hufflepuff or Gryffindor. Awful.
“Hey, by the way, what’s your—”
“All done, dearie,” said Madam Malkin, walking back into the front of the shop. She had a pile of black robes and dress shirts in hand, and she handed them to Harry with a tired smile. “You’re in luck—I had some in exactly your size left.”
Harry paid her and thanked her, and hurried back outside to reach Dumbledore’s side again. He was happy to leave the side of the blond boy, who anyway seemed to have forgotten about him the moment the matron turned to take some more measurements from him.
He found the professor standing face-to-face with another blond—a woman this time, with the same pointy nose as the boy inside. She had a purse seemingly made of snakeskin clutched between her manicured fingers, and her robes were a deep blue.
“Professor Dumbledore,” she was greeting coldly as Harry approached. “It is… rare, to see you in Diagon Alley.”
“Not at all,” the Professor denied kindly. “Though I admit my visits tend to be late at night rather than midday.”
“What brings you here midday then, if I may ask?”
Dumbledore looked at Harry fleetingly. The woman, not missing it, turned her head to look at him also.
Harry stepped to the Professor’s side, holding his packed-up robes, trying not to fidget. The hand Dumbledore put on his shoulder again felt very welcome.
“Ah,” the woman said.
Her eyes widened ever-so-slightly. They flicked, as Tom and the goblin’s had, to his forehead.
Then, oddly enough, she asked: “And which one is he?”
But before either Dumbledore or Harry could answer, the blond boy exited Madam Malkin’s and called, “Mother! I thought you were looking for books?”
“I have them all here, Draco,” the woman said, patting her purse. It looked much too small to be holding the pile of books Harry had gotten out of Flourish and Blotts, but then again, Dumbledore had shrunk the books and put them in his sleeves, too. The woman turned to the Professor again and declared, “The advantages of ordering early.”
“Of course,” Draco said, his nose upturned again. “They wouldn’t dare make us wait in line.”
When he and his mother stood side by side, their resemblance was shocking.
“Come here, my son,” she said, extending a delicate hand toward him. She pulled him forth so that he stood between her and Harry. “Come meet your future classmate.”
“I already met him while I was buying my clothes,” Draco said in boredom.
But the woman did not heed him. “This is… Harry, I suppose,” she said. “As I do not see a horde of redheads following behind you, Headmaster.”
Harry looked at Dumbledore in askance and vague panic, but the man was staring at the woman. He seemed almost somber. “Yes,” he replied simply.
The woman’s smile widened. It did not look very friendly or warm. “I see you’ve already met my son, Draco Malfoy,” she told Harry then. “Draco, this is Harry Potter.”
Draco’s mouth opened in a very un-sneery way.
He closed it when Mrs Malfoy gently nudged his shoulder. “You are?” he asked Harry in disbelief.
“What does that mean? Are you not sure? How can you be not sure who you are—”
“Draco,” Mrs Malfoy said mildly.
Draco shut up again.
Thankfully, Professor Dumbledore picked this moment to speak again. “It was lovely meeting you and the young Mr Malfoy, Narcissa,” he said, bowing his head slightly. “But I’m afraid Harry and I must be going; we still have much shopping to do.”
“I’m sure,” Mrs Malfoy murmured. “My husband sends his regards, Headmaster.”
“Of course, of course. Please do tell Lucius I am eager to see him during the next school board reunion.”
Draco, who was still looking breathlessly at Harry, had to be tugged away by his mother physically. Even at a distance, Harry saw him look over his shoulder to stare, and then turn to talk excitedly at her.
“Professor?” Harry asked. “What was that about?”
Professor Dumbledore looked into the cheerful crowd around them for a moment before answering. His piercing blue eyes suddenly seemed very far away. “You shall know in a little while, Harry,” he replied at last. “But for now, I suggest we get your wand and then return to the Leaky Cauldron for a well-deserved lunch. I promise, I’ll answer all your questions then.”
Harry’s stomach growled again; he acquiesced and followed the Headmaster down the Alley once more.
As they walked, he recalled what Draco Malfoy had told him about in Madam Malkin’s shop. “Professor?” he asked again, despite Dumbledore’s promise to answer him later. “Do you know what Houses are?”
He almost wanted to take the question back, as Dumbledore still looked deep in thought; but then the old man smiled at him and said, “Of course. Hogwarts students are divided between four Houses in the castle. Each House prizes some specific qualities in students, and your housemates will share a dorm with you as well as your classes. They are called Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor and Slytherin.”
“How do you pick one?”
“That is a surprise for you to discover on September first.”
It was another refusal, but not one that made Harry feel as awkward as the one before had.
“I bet I won’t fit in with any of the Houses,” he could not help but say.
“Oh, I don’t believe this at all. I can already think of one House which should be lucky to count you among its numbers.”
Harry was about to ask which one, but Dumbledore stopped before a door to pull it open and press him inside.
Ollivander’s was a shabby little shop at the very edge of Diagon Alley, dark and dusty and smelling strongly of wood. A bell rang twice as Harry and Professor Dumbledore entered, and Harry spent the silent moment that followed looking over rows and rows of long and narrow boxes, shelved atop one another in no order that he could see.
“Welcome,” said a faint and breezy voice.
Harry almost jumped in surprise. A man had suddenly appeared behind the counter up front, and was staring at him with bulbous, near-white eyes.
If Dumbledore seemed ageless in spite of his white hair and beard and the wrinkles around his eyes, this man seemed much too old to be able to move so silently and quickly. His hair was thin, his skin translucent in places, marbled with blue veins and cut with such deep lines that shadows dug into them, as if to tear them open. The hand he rose to touch his chin in thought was spotted with brown.
“Albus,” the man said. “Yew, dragon heartstring, twelve inches, rigid. Excellent for Transfigurations. Of course,” his nostrils flared in disdain, “you chose to discard such excellent craftsmanship for another.”
“I still use it from time to time,” Dumbledore replied pleasantly.
The man—he must be Ollivander himself—inhaled as though he were breathing in something very stinky. “Elderwood, Albus. You traded it for an elderwood wand. Such fickle, unreliable material, and if you allowed me to look at it at last I could tell you that its core is far below my standards—”
“We are not here to examine my choice in wands, Garrick, but to acquire one for this young man.”
Ollivander turned to Harry, almost spinning in place.
“Yes,” he said in a breath. “Harry Potter. I thought I might be seeing you very soon.”
“You did?” Harry replied uneasily.
The man did not answer: he simply looked at him for a moment before turning away.
Harry risked a glance toward Dumbledore, but the Professor was now deeply absorbed in reading the paper tags stuck to the boxes in the shop window.
“It seems only a week ago that your mother and father came to get their own wands, Mr Potter,” said Ollivander quickly as he pulled box after box toward him, examined them, and then discarded them. His weak voice carried over even when he vanished in the back of the shop between ceiling-high shelves, making Harry suspect the use of some magic. “Of course, the wands who chose them at eleven served them their whole tragically short lives—we, at Ollivander’s, sell only the best and most appropriate wands.”
Harry was feeling more and more awkward in the stuffy little store. “The wands that chose them? Don’t you mean—”
Ollivander reappeared at his right so suddenly that Harry did jump this time. He was bending to look level with him, carrying in his arms a dozen boxes with their tags all askew. “The wand chooses the wizard, Mr Potter,” he declared cryptically.
What followed were a few minutes of Harry being measured again, although these measurements would have been of no use to Madam Malkin. He almost wondered if the wand-seller was making fun of him when he asked to measure the space between his eyes, between his nostrils, or the millimeter-exact length of each of his right-hand fingers. Then Harry was made to hold over a dozen wands, except that Ollivander nearly tore each one out of his hand before he could even look at it from up close.
“Difficult, very difficult,” Ollivander muttered to himself. His pallid face had taken on an ill-looking blush, but although his desk was now cluttered with wands and Harry nowhere near having one of his own, his excitement was palpable. “Oh, I should not have expected any less after yesterday—”
“Garrick,” Dumbledore interrupted gently. “I think Harry and I could soon do with some lunch. If you could hurry…”
Ollivander stilled as if turned to stone; then he exhaled a breath like a dying man’s, and said, “Of course, Headmaster. I wonder…”
He looked at Harry again with a frown. Shaking his head and mumbling to himself, he walked to the back of the shop once more, disappearing between the high wooden shelves.
Harry’s excitement from the day was starting to wane. He was truly hungry now, the scone and piece of toast from the morning long gone from his stomach, and he felt almost cold despite the summer heat within the shadowed little shop.
Part of him could not help but wonder if Dumbledore had been wrong, after all; if that accidental magic he had supposedly done when Dudley fell in the snake vivarium or he turned his teacher’s hair blue had another explanation altogether. If he was no wizard, or not enough of one to have a wand of his own.
He risked a look at Dumbledore, who smiled encouragingly at him but remained silent.
Ollivander was not long to return. He held only a single box this time, and took out of it a wand made of cheerfully reddish wood. When he handed it over, Harry took it half-heartedly.
Warmth spread through his fingers and ran up the length of his arm. He took a sudden and sharp breath at the feeling, recognizing the same tingling he had felt as he opened the door this very morning; some faraway light seemed to brighten the dim inside of the shop, and golden sparks ran out of the end of the wand.
“Ah!” Ollivander exclaimed, clapping his hands together and giving Harry back his smile. “Wonderful! Holly and phoenix feather, yes, a very good wand, Mr Potter. It shall serve you nicely. And yet…”
Harry saw Dumbledore shift from his side of the shop; when he looked at him, he found the old man’s face suddenly very serious.
“How odd,” Ollivander wondered out loud. “How very, very odd.”
He took the wand back from Harry and put it in its box again. The deep lines of his face seemed even darker now that he was no longer lit in the wand’s golden glow.
“What’s odd?” Harry asked as the silence lingered.
Ollivander stared at him with pale and unnerving eyes.
“I remember each and every wand I have made and sold, Mr Potter,” he said. “I only use phoenix feather, dragon heartstring, and unicorn hair in the making of these wands, and each wand is entirely unique. No hair or string from the same dragon or unicorn, no feather from the same phoenix. And yet…”
He took a step closer, so that his pale, pale face seemed almost ghostly in front of Harry’s eyes.
“The phoenix which gave one of his feathers for your wand gave another feather,” Ollivander murmured. “Just one. Yew, inflexible, a very powerful wand in very powerful hands. Of course, at the time, I had no inkling of the things this wand would one day achieve, but it is odd that its brother should go to you… when its owner gave you that scar.”
Ollivander raised a hand as if to touch Harry’s forehead, where the silvery scar spread over his skin in the shape of lightning tearing the sky; then seemed to think better of it as Harry recoiled slightly.
“I think we may expect great things of you, Mr Potter,” Ollivander carried on after another silence. “After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things. Terrible, yes, but—”
“Garrick,” Dumbledore said.
There was no mistaking the darkness in his voice then. Harry felt it along his spine like cold water dripping down.
Ollivander shook himself out of whatever trance had caught him. “Forgive me. I was terribly out of line. This old man is not often surprised so.”
Dumbledore nodded to him, understanding, but his eyes were no longer cheerful.
Ollivander carried on with small talk as Harry paid for the wand, speaking of famous people he had done business with, trying once more to make the Professor show him his own wand and accepting his refusal in bad humor. Harry was starting to think that, not unlike the Malfoy boy he had met in Madam Malkin’s shop, Ollivander enjoyed the sound of his own voice very much.
“I do wonder why I did not think sooner to make you try this wand, Mr Potter,” he was saying as he walked Harry and Professor Dumbledore out. “Or your brother, for that matter, who was here only yesterday. A difficult client also. He found his match in a pinewood wand—a very odd match as well, for pine is very rarely used in wandmaking, too common a wood, you see, the pine has to be of extraordinary quality to be worked into a wand—”
But Harry was not listening anymore.
He had stilled on the single step descending to the paved street outside, halfway out of the door, his heart beating wildly against his chest and throat.
“My brother?” he asked.
His voice hardly sounded like his own. It came out as a croak of sorts, and Harry could not even feel embarrassed for it, or notice the hand which Professor Dumbledore put over his shoulder once more.
Ollivander blinked at him. “Why, yes,” he said. “I was surprised to see him come without you. Surely he has shown you the wand I sold him? I assure you, the pine I crafted it out of was marvellous—a tree as great as a manor, home to the biggest colony of bowtruckles I had ever seen.”
Nervous laughter almost erupted out of Harry then. He wanted to ask what bowtruckles were, and to tell the senile old man that he must be confusing him with someone else. He looked to Dumbledore, expecting to see him shake his head at Ollivander’s oddness, but the old Headmaster was instead looking at him.
“Harry,” he said quietly.
Harry’s heart beat, and beat, and beat.
“I don’t have a,” he said.
He could not find the words to go on.
Ollivander looked between the both of them and, with one last nod Dumbledore’s way, wisely chose to go back inside the shop and close the door. Harry went down the step so as not to be in the way of it.
Around him, the street was full of people, parents taking their children shopping for supplies, couples wandering hand in hand, old men and women arguing over the price of newt eyes or toad livers. But the noise they made now seemed faint and faded; the shadows cast by owls flying low overhead went unseen by Harry; and the sunlit summer smells, so clean after London’s polluted air, felt to him as if he were breathing water.
“Harry,” Dumbledore said again.
Harry looked at him mutedly.
The Professor put a hand over his shoulder again. It squeezed it gently. A modicum of warmth there made Harry blink and breathe.
“I think we should head for our lunch now,” said Dumbledore slowly. “You need feeding and some rest, and then, I promise, I will answer any questions you have to the best of my abilities.”
He opened his mouth to say more, then closed it silently. After another second of silence, he finally asked: “May I ask for your trust in this?”
Harry thought of Uncle Vernon’s fury this morning and Aunt Petunia’s tangible fear. He thought of Dumbledore giving him his letter and taking him shopping, telling him of the school he would soon be in where his parents had studied magic.
He remembered a plateful of scones floating to him in Dudley’s second bedroom, and the taste of butter and cinnamon on his tongue, and the way Dumbledore had smiled and said he was a wizard.
“Yes,” he said, and took a step forward. “I trust you.”
He did not know why the Headmaster’s smile then made his throat so tight or his eyes so warm.