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Generated: Apr 26, 2018 9:51 PM
Post last updated: Feb 11, 2017 12:13 PM
the winds of change
Pottervor
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Nearly ten years have passed since the Dursleys woke up to find their nephew on the front step, but Privet Drive has hardly changed at all. The sun rises on the same tidy front gardens and lights up the brass number four on the Dursleys' front door; it creeps into their living room, which is almost exactly the same as it was on the night when Mr. Dursley saw that fateful news report about the owls. Only the photographs on the mantelpiece really show how much time has passed. Ten years ago, there were lots of pictures of what looked like a large pink beach ball wearing different-colored bonnets - but Dudley Dursley is no longer a baby, and now the photographs show a large blond boy riding his first bicycle, on a carousel at the fair, playing a computer game with his father, being hugged and kissed by his mother. The room holds no sign at all that another boy lives in the house, too.

Yet Victor Evans is still there, asleep at the moment, but not for long. His Aunt Petunia's awake and it's her shrill voice that makes the first noise of the day.

"Up! Get up! Now!"

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He's awake instantly, and out of the cupboard in fifteen seconds, three of which he spends carefully displacing the spider that was crawling across one of his socks.

"Good morning, Aunt Petunia," he says politely.

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She purses her lips, looking him over from head to toe when he exits the cupboard under the stairs, then says, "I want you to look after the bacon. And don't you dare let it burn, I want everything perfect on Duddy's birthday."

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"Yes, Aunt Petunia."

By 'look after the bacon', of course, she means 'make breakfast for everyone'. There is an exact science to making breakfast in the Dursley household. Today being Dudley's birthday, it is not a good moment to burn some of the bacon slightly so they'll let him have it; instead he cooks a few of the slices a little crisper than the rest and surreptitiously cracks them apart, leaving penny-sized fragments among the crumbs on the serving plate. Uncle Vernon gets three eggs sunny-side up with four rashers of bacon and one slice of toast; Aunt Petunia gets two eggs poached with two slices of toast and one rasher of bacon; Cousin Dudley gets four eggs over easy with four rashers of bacon and zero slices of toast; and Victor gets to sit on a stool at the kitchen counter and eat his one scrambled egg off the same plate he served the bacon from, fragments of paper towel and all.

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The table's almost hidden beneath all Dudley's birthday presents. It looks as though Dudley has gotten the new computer he wanted, not to mention the second television and the racing bike. Exactly why Dudley wants a racing bike is left as an exercise to the reader.

Victor's Uncle Vernon enters the kitchen as he's turning over the bacon. He inspects the process from afar, as if trying to spot a flaw and, not finding any, contents himself to sit on a chair, engulfing it with his backside, and read his newspaper.

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His cousin walks into the kitchen with Aunt Petunia a while later, and, after making sure Victor doesn't have as many eggs as he does, starts counting his presents, with a huge smile on his face.

Then it falls. "Thirty-six," he says, looking up at his parents. "That's two less than last year."

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"Darling, you haven't counted Auntie Marge's present, see, it's here under this big one from Mommy and Daddy."

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"All right, thirty-seven then," says Dudley, going red in the face.

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Victor sits quietly on his stool and eats quickly so that no one will notice the shards of crispy bacon hidden among his egg.

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No one's paying attention to Victor; all their attention is dedicated to preventing Dudley from exploding.

"And we'll buy you another two presents while we're out today. How's that, popkin? Two more presents. Is that all right?"

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Dudley squints and furrows his brows in concentration, then says slowly, "So I'll have thirty... thirty..."

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"Thirty-nine, sweetums."

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"Oh," he says, sitting back down heavily and grabbing the nearest parcel. "All right, then."

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Crisis averted, Vernon chuckles and ruffles Dudley's hair. "Little tyke wants his money's worth, just like his father. 'Atta boy, Dudley!"

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The phone rings, and Petunia goes to answer it.

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And Dudley starts unwrapping the presents.

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Victor finishes his breakfast and starts washing his plate immediately.

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Dudley proceeds to unwrap a racing bike, a video camera, a remote control airplane, sixteen new computer games, and a VCR. He's ripping the paper off a gold wristwatch -

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- when Petunia comes back from the telephone looking angry and worried. "Bad news, Vernon. Mrs. Figg's broken her leg. She can't take him," she says, jerking her head in Victor's direction.

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Poor Mrs. Figg. Her house isn't the most pleasant place in the world, but it does have the advantage of not containing any Dursleys.

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Dudley's mouth falls open in horror.

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"Now what?" she asks, looking furiously at Victor.

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"You could leave me at home," he suggests hesitantly.

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She looks like she swallowed a lemon. "And come back to find the house in ruins?"

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It would not be productive to respond to that.

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"We could phone Marge," he suggests.

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"Don't be silly, Vernon, she hates the boy."

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"What about what's-her-name, your friend - Yvonne?"

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"On vacation in Majorca," she snaps.

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They could also just take him along on Dudley's birthday trip, but he's hardly about to suggest that.

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"I suppose we could take him to the zoo," she says slowly, "...and leave him in the car..."

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Perhaps he'll die of heat stroke like he's heard happens to dogs when you do that. Wouldn't that be something. No, he shouldn't say that either.

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"That car's new, he's not sitting in it alone..."

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Dudley begins to cry. Or rather, he scrunches up his face and starts wailing - he hasn't really had a real cry in years.

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"Dinky Duddydums, don't cry, Mummy won't let him spoil your special day!" she says, flinging her arms around him. 

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"I... don't... want... him... t-t-to come!" he yells between huge, pretend sobs. "He always sp-spoils everything!" He shoots Victor a nasty grin through the gap in his mothers arms. 

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Victor looks back at him flatly, then looks away before Aunt Petunia or Uncle Vernon can catch him making what might be interpreted as an insolent expression.

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...he's honestly shocked, but before he can do anything about it the doorbell rings.

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"Oh, good Lord, they're here!" she says frantically and goes to answer the door.

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Dudley immediately stops pretending to cry to welcome his best friend, Piers Polkiss, the one who usually holds Dudley's victims' arms while he punches them.

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"You! Boy!" he says, looking at Victor. "Come here." And he saunters off to an out-of-the-way corner.

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"Yes, Uncle Vernon," he says, following.

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When he's sure no one else will hear, he turns his purple-faced fury to Victor. "I'm warning you," he says, putting his face right up close to Victor's, "I'm warning you now, boy - any funny business, anything at all - and you'll be in that cupboard from now until Christmas."

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It's no use trying to explain that he never does things, they just happen.

"Understood, sir. I won't do anything, I promise."

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He squints like he doesn't believe Victor but stands up straight and returns to the living room to talk to Piers' parents. Soon enough they have to go to the car.

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Out to the car they go. Victor sits in the back and makes himself as small as possible, which isn't difficult.

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Eventually they reach the zoo where Dudley and his friend were to spend the former's birthday. The Dursleys stop at an ice cream stand in front of the entrance and get large chocolate ice creams to Dudley and Piers, but before they can usher Victor away the lady inquires as to what he wants.

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—should he say he doesn't want anything—no, it'll confuse the lady and the Dursleys will be embarrassed and they'll blame him for making a scene—he scans the menu for the cheapest thing he can see and says quickly, "I'd like a lemon ice lolly, please."

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Vernon dutifully pays for it and doesn't even complain.

Into the zoo they go.

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The lemon ice lolly is actually kind of nice. The zoo is all right too. He walks a short distance away from the Dursleys and Piers, far enough that Dudley and Piers won't find it convenient to hit him but close enough that Vernon and Petunia won't suspect him of trying to run off.

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At lunchtime they eat at the restaurant, and Dudley throws a tantrum because his knickerbocker glory doesn't have enough ice cream on top, so Vernon buys him another one and Victor's allowed to finish the first.

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What a day. Victor thanks Vernon politely and eats his secondhand ice cream. He thinks he might've liked the lemon ice lolly better, but he's hardly in a position to complain.

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After lunch, they go to the reptile house. It's cool and dark in there, with lit windows all along the walls. Behind the glass, all sorts of lizards and snakes are crawling and slithering over bits of wood and stone. Dudley and Piers wanted to see huge, poisonous cobras and thick, man-crushing pythons. Dudley quickly finds the largest snake in the place. It could wrap its body twice around Uncle Vernon’s car and crush it into a trash can - but at the moment it doesn't look in the mood. In fact, it's fast asleep.

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Victor stands well back from the glass, mostly to stay out of range of Dudley. The snake doesn't bother him at all.

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Dudley stands with his nose pressed against the glass, staring at the glistening brown coils. "Make it move," he whines at his father.

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Uncle Vernon taps on the glass, but the snake doesn't budge.

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"Do it again," he orders.

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So he does, but the snake still doesn't react.

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"This is boring," Dudley moans. He shuffles away

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Victor feels a little sorry for the snake. He comes up to the enclosure once Dudley is a safe distance away.

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Slowly, very slowly, the snake raises its head until its eyes are on a level with Victor's.

It nods, slowly and meaningfully.

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...his first impulse is fear, because this is definitely something strange - he glances around to make sure the Dursleys aren't watching - good, they're occupied at the other end of the reptile house.

And it's not the snake's fault that Victor might get in trouble for its unusual behaviour.

Hesitantly, he nods back.

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The snake looks at the Dursleys, too, then raises its head as if it were looking at the ceiling. It seems to be saying, with its oddly expressive face, "I get that all the time."

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"I'm sorry," Victor murmurs. "I think I might know the feeling."

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It nods vigorously.

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He regards the snake sympathetically.

"Where are you from, anyway?" he wonders, looking around for a sign that might tell him this information.

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It helpfully points with its tail at a little sign next to the glass that says: "Boa Constrictor, Brazil."

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And in smaller text under that: This specimen bred in captivity.

"Oh," he says, subdued. "So you've never been outside the zoo before?"

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It shakes its head.

And then Piers' voice rings, making the snake do something that would be a jump if it had legs: "DUDLEY! MR. DURSLEY! COME AND LOOK AT THIS SNAKE! YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT IT'S DOING!"

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"Sorry," he whispers hurriedly to the snake, backing away from the enclosure in alarm. He wishes he could help it somehow, but all he's done is call Piers and Dudley's attention to it, and nobody deserves that -

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Dudley waddles towards them as fast as he can, leaning against the glass -

- and then he yelps and jumps back as the glass vanishes.

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Oh no—he didn't mean to—

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Too late.

The snake rapidly uncoils itself and slithers out onto the floor. People start screaming and running for the exits, but the snake pauses, looks at Victor, and says, "Brazil, here I come. Thankssss, amigo."

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...despite the sudden rush of terror, he can't help smiling at that. "You're welcome," he murmurs. "Good luck."

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Onwards it goes.

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"Were you talking to it?" Dudley screeches.

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"—Don't be silly, Dudley, people can't talk to snakes," he says quickly.

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Uncle Vernon does not look convinced.

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And the zoo director makes Petunia a cup of strong, sweet tea and apologises over and over again, but that's it for them. Back to the car.

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By which time Dudley's certain the snake nearly bit off his leg and Piers insists it tried to squeeze him to death.

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The snake never did anyone any harm and he—consciously stops himself from wishing they wouldn't tell such awful lies about it, because look how wishing things turned out for him last time.

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They get home and by then Vernon's playing along with Dudley and Piers' adventure story. The boy's parents arrive to pick him up soon after, and then he turns his previously concealed fury back to Victor.

"Go - cupboard - stay - no meals."

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Petunia runs over to the kitchen to get him some brandy.

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He'd really been starting to think he had it, that he'd never slip up again, never have another strange thing happen, never be locked in the cupboard again - it's been months since the last time, almost half a year, that's practically forever - he didn't do anything wrong - that poor snake probably got caught and put back in its enclosure as soon as they left...

He curls up in his tiny bed in his little cupboard and closes his eyes and tries not to cry. Things happen when he gets upset. It's important not to get upset.

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The snake actually somehow managed to escape the zoo, and that earns him his longest-ever punishment. By the time he's allowed out of the cupboard for anything other than school the summer holidays have started and Dudley has already broken his new video camera, crashed his remote control airplane, and, first time out on his racing bike, knocked down old Mrs. Figg as she crossed Privet Drive on her crutches.

The biggest problem with summer holidays is, of course, that Dudley's gang visits every day: Piers, Dennis, Malcolm, and Gordon, each bigger and stupider than the last, and Dudley, being the biggest and stupidest of the lot, is of course their leader. And their favourite sport: Victor hunting.

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Victor makes himself scarce as much as possible without neglecting his chores. The last thing he wants is to give Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia the idea that he's turned lazy or rebellious; that'll just get him locked in the cupboard again, and over summer holidays they wouldn't even have to let him out for school. Being locked in the cupboard for weeks at a time without school to go to gets... bad.

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In September, though, they're all going to secondary school. Dudley and Piers have been accepted to Uncle Vernon's old private school, Smeltings, but Victor's going to Stonewall High, the local state high school. Dudley finds this hilarious.

"They stuff people's heads down the toilet the first day at Stonewall," he tells Victor. "Want to come upstairs and practice?"

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"I don't think that would be very fair to the toilet," says Victor. And then he finishes dusting the mantelpiece and walks quickly out of the room, because somehow he doubts Dudley will be moved by this argument even if he manages to understand it.

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One day in July Aunt Petunia takes Dudley to London to buy his uniform and leaves Victor at Mrs. Figg's, who seems to have lost some of her erstwhile fondness for her cats given that she broke her leg tripping over one.

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That's a pity. He is as polite as ever, and asks if she needs any help cleaning up or anything, it's not fair for her to have to do everything for herself while she's injured.

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He's such a darling. Yes, she'd love some help, and here, have some chocolate.

(Which tastes like it might be a hundred years old.)

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Hundred-year-old chocolate is still an improvement on no chocolate at all. He tidies things up and washes dishes and vacuums carpets and brings Mrs. Figg a nice cup of tea and some toast with jam.

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He is such a charming, helpful young man, and Mrs. Figg is sure to tell his uncle and aunt this when he returns home.

That evening, Dudley parades around the living room for the family in his brand-​new uniform. Smeltings' boys wear maroon tailcoats, orange knickerbockers, and flat straw hats called boaters. They also carry knobbly sticks, used for hitting each other while the teachers aren't looking. This is supposed to be good training for later life.

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Dudley looks silly, but then, Dudley hardly ever manages not to.

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There's a horrible smell in the kitchen the next morning when Victor goes in for breakfast. It seems to be coming from a large metal tub in the sink.

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That's... mildly worrying?

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The tub seems to be full of what looks like dirty rags swimming in gray water.

Aunt Petunia walks into the kitchen and doesn't spare the tub a glance.

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All right then, he can assume it's none of his business and commence making breakfast.

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Dudley and -

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- Uncle Vernon come in, wearing identical expressions of disgust. Uncle Vernon opens his newspaper as usual and Dudley bangs his stick on the table as he's been wont to do lately.

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He makes sure that everything about breakfast is perfect in the hope that no one will choose to blame him for the horrible smell.

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They have possibly been informed of the source of the smell, because they don't complain. When he's done with breakfast they hear the click of the mail slot and the flop of letters on the doormat.

"Get the mail, Dudley," says Uncle Vernon from behind his paper.

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"Make Victor get it."

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"Get the mail, Victor."

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"Yes, Uncle Vernon."

He gets the mail.

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Three things lay on the doormat: a postcard from Uncle Vernon's sister Marge, who's vacationing on the Isle of Wight, a brown envelope that looks like a bill, and - a letter for Victor.

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...that's terrifying. Who would send Victor a letter?

He picks it up and reads the front:

Mr. V. Evans
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
Little Whinging
Surrey

So not only is someone sending him letters, they know about the cupboard. It has been very clear to Victor for a very long time that no one is to know about the cupboard. If he lets Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia see this, will they think he told? But if he tries to hide it, what if they know about it already?

The letter is very thick and heavy, the envelope made of a kind of paper he can't remember ever seeing before, yellowish and mysterious. It's addressed in emerald green ink, in fancy handwriting, and sealed in wax like something out of a storybook. There is no stamp. How did it get here? Letters need stamps on them to go through the post. Did someone just write it and put it through the mail slot? Is someone spying on him and writing him strange letters and putting them through the mail slot themselves? No, he doesn't think the Dursleys could possibly know about this. They aren't the sort of people who would be friends with anyone who would do that.

It's been a few seconds and any moment Uncle Vernon is going to yell at him. He makes up his mind. The postcard and the bill go in one hand, the letter in the other, and he walks quickly back to the kitchen and hands Uncle Vernon all of the post that is for him and turns to go to his cupboard, hoping that they will all just be ignoring him like they usually do and no one will ask what that is in his hand -

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No one spares him a glance.

"Marge's ill," Uncle Vernon informs Petunia. "Ate a funny whelk..."

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He gets the letter safely into his cupboard and sits on his bed and stares at it.

What should he do?

If he reads it - will the spy know? How are they spying on him? Will they cause trouble? If he doesn't read it will they cause more trouble? Maybe he should destroy it somehow and try to forget it ever happened.

Well, before he wastes any more time trying to decide, he should go wash the dishes. He stuffs the letter under his tiny mattress and goes back to the kitchen and cleans up his plate, pausing in front of the sink.

"Should I do the washing-up later so I don't interfere with... this?" he asks hesitantly, glancing at Aunt Petunia and gesturing to the metal tub full of horrible-smelling grey water and rags.

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"I'll do it. Those are your new school uniforms."

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...not worth commenting. He nods and goes back to his cupboard.

The letter is right there, under his mattress. Sealed with wax. Addressed in emerald green ink.

 

If there is someone spying on him, they might assume he's going to read the letter. And then they might do things based on that assumption, and they might be angry with him if it turns out to be false.

Carefully, hesitantly, he opens it.

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The inside is just as fancy as the outside, written with green ink. The first page reads:

HOGWARTS SCHOOL
of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY

Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock,
Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)

Dear Mr. Evans,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July.

Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall
Deputy Headmistress

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This is a problem.

They're expecting him to send an owl. He doesn't have an owl and would have no idea how to send one by post if he did. Or maybe the owls carry the post, and that's why there's no stamp? Who knows? They're wizards. Which is the second of the many problems that this is. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia are going to be so upset.

All right, think. What does he do. Does he - try to go to the magic school, somehow? No, even if he knew where to get an owl, the Dursleys would never let him attend such a ridiculous school. He'll just have to hide the letter and hope they don't send any more. And get the mail as soon as it arrives every single day from now on in case they do.

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There are more things in the envelope, if he cares to look.

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Yes, they mentioned a list of necessary books and equipment. He'd better read everything and memorize it all, just in case the wizards show up and want to know why he hasn't answered their letter.

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The list is also in fancy ink:

HOGWARTS SCHOOL
of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY

UNIFORM
First-year students will require

  1. Three sets of plain work robes (black)
  2. One plain pointed hat (black) for day wear
  3. One pair of protective gloves (dragon hide or similar)
  4. One winter cloak (black, with silver fastenings)

Please note that all pupils' clothes should carry name tags.

COURSE BOOKS
All students should have a copy of each of the following:
  The Standard Book of Spells (Grade 1) by Miranda Goshawk
  A History of Magic by Bathilda Bagshot
  Magical Theory by Adalbert Waffling
  A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration by Emeric Switch
  One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi by Phyllida Spore
  Magical Drafts and Potions by Arsenius Jigger
  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander
  The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection by Quentin Trimble

OTHER EQUIPMENT
  1 wand
  1 cauldron (pewter, standard size 2)
  1 set glass or crystal phials
  1 telescope
  1 set brass scales
Students may also bring, if they desire, an owl OR a cat OR a toad.

PARENTS ARE REMINDED THAT FIRST YEARS
ARE NOT ALLOWED THEIR OWN BROOMSTICK

Lucinda Thomsonicle-Pocus
Chief Attendant of Witchcraft Provisions

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...this is very weird.

But he memorizes the list and carefully folds it back up and puts it and the letter neatly back into the envelope and tucks in the flap since the seal isn't holding it shut anymore, and shoves the letter under his bed again and goes back out to do something useful with his time.

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The Dursleys did not actually miss him and don't notice anything out of the ordinary.

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Good.

Then he can just pretend it never happened.

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Except next morning there's mail again.

"Victor, go fetch the mail."

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"Yes, Uncle Vernon."

He goes and fetches the mail and hopes there isn't anything from the wizards.

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The only thing there is is, in fact, the letter from the wizards.

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...oh no.

And Uncle Vernon knows there's mail so he has to think quickly - should he lie and say there was nothing, lie and say it was just an advert - no, it's bad when they think he lied about something -

"It's got my name on it," he says in what he hopes is a puzzled tone of voice. "Must not be important. Should I throw it out?"

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The best description of what Vernon Dursley does then might be "guffaw," but that probably does not do justice to the full-body experience that was. "Who would be addressing letters to you, boy?"

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"I don't know."

Okay, that's as much misdirection as he can get away with. He comes into the kitchen and shows Vernon the letter.

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He glances at it dismissively -

- then stares, his face going from red to green faster than a set of traffic lights, and doesn't stop there, going all the way to the greyish white of old porridge. "P-P-Petunia!" he gasps.

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Dudley's attention is caught, and he tries to grab the envelope.

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But Petunia grabs it first, then looks at it and raises a hand to her mouth in shock. She opens it and reads the first line, and stops there.

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Victor stands nervously in the doorway between the kitchen and the hall, ready to bolt if it looks like someone is about to blame him for this. It is sometimes a good idea to run away when Uncle Vernon is angry.

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"I want to read that letter!"

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"Get out," she whispers, "both of you."

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Victor leaves the kitchen immediately.

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Dudley has a short-lived fight with his father and is promptly kicked out as well, and the door closes. He immediately puts his ear against the keyhole.

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He hesitates—

Yes, this is important enough to be disobedient for. He listens at the crack under the door.

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"Vernon," Petunia says, in a small voice, "perhaps we should -"

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"No, Petunia! I said I'd stamp out this nonsense and I will!"

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"I did say we shouldn't have put him in the cupboard, and now they..."

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"Yes! I know!"

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...she did?

Well. That's - useful information.

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"So what should we do Vernon?"

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"We'll... just ignore it. Yes. If they don't get an answer..."

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"But -"

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"I am not having one in the house, Petunia, and that's that!"

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"What did you do?" whispers Dudley.

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"I don't know!" he whispers back. "Someone wrote me a letter, who on earth would do that?"

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Vernon's steps can be heard walking back in the direction of the door -

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He retreats down the hall to his cupboard as quickly as possible.

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Dudley does likewise, running up the stairs to his bedroom as silently as his frame allows him to be, which is to say not very.

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But by some providence of Fate Vernon does not hear him and merely returns to the living room to read his newspaper and calm down.

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So. Ignoring the letter clearly doesn't work.

And - he has some sort of connection to these wizard people, and Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia know about it, it's not just some sort of strange crazy person spying on him and sending him weird letters, it's at very least a crazy person who's known him since he was a baby and is known to his aunt and uncle as the sort of person who'd send him a letter about wizard school - and Aunt Petunia didn't want to have him live in the cupboard -

Well. What does he do?

Try to preempt the mail next time, maybe, throw out the letter before Uncle Vernon can see it? But that won't help, they'll just send another one. He digs out the first letter and reads the whole thing over again in case he missed an instruction on how to send an owl. He did not. There is nothing. He folds it all back up neatly into its envelope and puts it away. Nothing to do but wait.

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That evening, after returning home from work, Uncle Vernon knocks on Victor's cupboard.

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He emerges immediately. "Yes, Uncle Vernon?"

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"...so, Victor, about this cupboard. Your aunt and I have been thinking... you're really getting a bit big for it... we think it might be nice if you moved into Dudley's second bedroom."

 

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What.

"All right. I'll move all my things there," he says as soon as he recovers from his surprise. "Thank you, Uncle Vernon."

Permalink Eye

"Yes, good, go do that," he says, then turns around and goes off somewhere.

Permalink Eye

From upstairs comes the sound of Dudley bawling at his mother, "I don't want him in there... I need that room... make him get out..."

Permalink Eye

Well.

He gets all his things, and makes sure the letter is hidden securely, and moves everything up to Dudley's second bedroom, and tries to disturb as few of the broken toys as possible.

Permalink Eye

He screams, whacks his father with his Smelting stick, is sick on purpose, kicks his mother, and throws his tortoise through the greenhouse roof, all to no avail; his parents don't budge.

Permalink Eye

In a way it's sort of comforting to know that no matter what other bizarre things might be going on, Dudley is still fundamentally Dudley. The dudliest of them all.

Sleeping outside of his cupboard makes him a little nervous, though. They said he's allowed, but it still doesn't quite feel like it.

Permalink Eye

They don't bother him, and are somewhat subdued the next morning. When mail arrives, Vernon tells Dudley to go get it, and he goes without complaining...

...only to cry, "There's three letters for him now! 'Mr. V. Evans, The Smallest Bedroom, 4 Privet Drive -"

Permalink Eye

Vernon yelps and leaps from his seat to run down the hall after Dudley.

Permalink Eye

Oh dear. Victor stays put.

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There is a brief sound of a scuffle, but Vernon emerges victorious, holding the three letters in his hand. He cuts it up in little pieces and throws them all away, with a self-satisfied smile.

Permalink Eye

Well, as long as Uncle Vernon is happy...

Something tells Victor that's not going to last, though.

Permalink Eye

Perhaps not; he spends the rest of the morning looking frazzled and even a day at work complaining about everyone else isn't enough to lift his spirits.

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Victor keeps out of his way as much as possible.

Are there more letters the next morning?

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Twelve of them.

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Oh dear.

"Maybe we should write back and tell them to stop?" he suggests tentatively.

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"No! We do not engage with these people." And then he adopts that look on his face he gets when he makes up his mind about something. "Petunia, I'm not going to work today." And he saunters off to the garage without giving anyone explanations for this behaviour.

Permalink Eye

 

...this seems bad.

Victor decides he will clean the kitchen.

Permalink Eye

So he will witness his uncle returning from the garage carrying some planks of wood, nails, and a hammer.

Permalink Eye

Is he going to... nail a plank of wood to something...?

Not Victor's business. This kitchen is going to be so clean.

Permalink Eye

So clean!

Shortly before he's done, his aunt grabs some fruitcake to bring to her husband, who's been at it for a while.

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"See," Victor can hear him explaining to Petunia when she wonders what on Earth he's doing, "if they can't deliver them they'll just give up."

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"...I'm not sure that'll work, Vernon."

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"Oh, these people's minds work in strange ways, Petunia, they're not like you and me," he says, trying to knock in a nail with the piece of fruitcake Aunt Petunia has just brought him.

Permalink Eye

...

That just seems like a really bad way to solve this problem.

But it's still not Victor's business.

Permalink Eye

On Saturday there are twenty-four letters rolled up and hidden inside each of the two dozen eggs the milkman brings. Vernon spends the day calling the post office and the dairy trying to find someone to complain to.

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"Who on Earth wants to talk to you this badly?"

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"Someone who can put letters into eggshells, apparently!"

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On Sunday morning, Uncle Vernon sits down at the breakfast table looking tired and rather ill, but happy. "No post on Sundays," he reminds them cheerfully as he spreads marmalade on his newspapers, "no damn letters today -"

Something comes whizzing down the kitchen chimney as he speaks and catches him sharply on the back of the head. Next moment, thirty or forty letters come pelting out of the fireplace like bullets.

Permalink Eye

...that's not good, that's not good at all - Victor freezes in place. He can't think of anything to do that seems like it might be a good idea.

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"Out! OUT!"

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Petunia and Dudley duck and use their arms to protect their faces as they try to dodge the letters and escape the kitchen.

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It takes Victor a moment to unfreeze, and then he runs for the back door. This is not a good time to be near Uncle Vernon.

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"Not that way, boy!" he bellows, grabbing Victor by the waist and carrying him to the hallway before slamming the door shut.

Permalink Eye

He will have no trouble carrying his terrified nephew anywhere he likes.

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No, he won't. "That does it," he says, trying to speak calmly but pulling great tufts out of his moustache at the same time. "I want you all back here in five minutes ready to leave. We're going away. Just pack some clothes. No arguments!"

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Victor is certainly not going to argue with his uncle in this sort of mood. He goes upstairs and packs some clothes and surreptitiously throws his hoarded letter out the window, and he's back downstairs two minutes later.

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His uncle hits Dudley round the head when he holds them up trying to pack his television, VCR, and computer in his sports bag, and in ten minutes they're in the car and driving.

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While he sniffles quietly in the backseat.

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Not much Victor can do about Dudley sniffling. Not much Victor can do about any of this, really. Why couldn't they have just provided a way for him to send an owl...?

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They drive. And they drive. Even Aunt Petunia doesn't dare ask where they were going. Every now and then Uncle Vernon takes a sharp turn and drives in the opposite direction for a while. "Shake 'em off... shake 'em off," he mutters whenever he does this.

They don't stop to eat or drink all day. By nightfall Dudley's howling. He's never had such a bad day in his life. He's hungry, he missed five television programs he wanted to see, and he's never gone so long without blowing up an alien on his computer. Uncle Vernon stops at last outside a gloomy-looking hotel on the outskirts of a big city. Dudley and Victor have to share a room with twin beds and damp, musty sheets.

Permalink Eye

Whoever cleans this room is not good at it. If there even is anyone who cleans this room. Maybe Victor should clean this room.

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Dudley will not offer to. He will try to sleep, and snore loudly when he finally manages to.

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The room is spotless by the time Victor finally goes to sleep.

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Which is nearing sunup, and he gets very little actual sleep before Vernon wakes them up and drags them to eat stale cornflakes and cold tinned tomatoes on toast for breakfast in the morning.

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It's not the best morning Victor has ever had, but also by no means the worst.

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Dudley begs to differ.

They've just finished when the owner of the hotel comes over to their table.

"'Scuse me, but is one of you Mr. V. Evans? Only I got about an ’undred of these at the front desk." She holds up a letter so they can read the green ink address:

Mr. V. Evans
Room 17
Railview Hotel
Cokeworth

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...Uncle Vernon is not going to respond sensibly to this, is he.

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"I'll take them," he says simply, and follows her to the front desk.

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And now he's going to want them all to get in a plane and fly to New Zealand or something, right?

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It doesn't seem to get that far - yet. Rather, he drives them for several hours still, into the middle of a forest, to the middle of a plowed field, halfway across a suspension bridge, and to the top of a multilevel parking garage. Finally, they reach the coast, where Vernon parks, exits and locks them all inside the car, and disappears.

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"Daddy's gone mad, hasn't he?" he asks Aunt Petunia.

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With Uncle Vernon not around...

"Aunt Petunia," he says hesitantly, "do you think you could say something to him...? We can't keep doing this forever, can we?"

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"Perhaps," she says hesitantly. "I'll mention something when he comes back..."

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It starts to rain, great drops beating on the roof of the car.

Dudley snivels. "It's Monday," he tells his mother. "The Great Humberto's on tonight. I want to stay somewhere with a television."

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At this point Victor will be happy if they stay somewhere with a roof.

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But presently Uncle Vernon returns, smiling and carrying a long, thin package. He ignores Petunia's pleas and says, "Found the perfect place! Come on, everyone out!" He seems oblivious to the heavy drops of rain pelting his face.

Permalink Eye

Please let there be a roof...

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It's very cold outside the car. Uncle Vernon points at what looks like a large rock way out at sea. Perched on top of the rock is the most miserable little shack one could imagine. One thing's certain, there is no television in there.

"Storm forecast for tonight!" says Uncle Vernon gleefully, clapping his hands together. "And this gentleman's kindly agreed to lend us his boat!"

A toothless old man comes ambling up to them, pointing, with a rather wicked grin, at an old rowboat bobbing in the iron-gray water below them.

"I've already got us some rations," says Uncle Vernon, "so all aboard!"

Permalink Eye

...it does, technically, have a roof. If only Victor had been more specific.

Into the boat he gets.

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It's freezing in the boat. Icy sea spray and rain creep down their necks and a chilly wind whips their faces. After what seem like hours they reach the rock, where Uncle Vernon, slipping and sliding, leads the way to the broken-down house.

The inside is horrible; it smells strongly of seaweed, the wind whistles through the gaps in the wooden walls, and the fireplace is damp and empty. There are only two rooms.

 

Permalink Eye

 

This place is beyond any help Victor could give it.

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Uncle Vernon's rations turn out to be a bag of chips each and four bananas. He tries to start a fire but the empty chip bags just smoke and shrivel up.

"Could do with some of those letters now, eh?" he says cheerfully.

He's in a very good mood, probably thinking nobody stands a chance of reaching them here in a storm to deliver mail. 

Permalink Eye

Victor hopes they don't send any owls. The owls would probably die.

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As night falls, the promised storm blows up around them. Spray from the high waves splatter the walls of the hut and a fierce wind rattles the filthy windows. Aunt Petunia finds a few mouldy blankets in the second room and makes up a bed for Dudley on the moth-eaten sofa. She and Uncle Vernon go off to the lumpy bed next door, and Victor's left to find the softest bit of floor he can and to curl up under the thinnest, most ragged blanket.

Permalink Eye

It's his birthday tomorrow. He'll be eleven.

Happy birthday to him.

Permalink Eye

The storm rages more and more ferociously as the night goes on. Dudley's snores are drowned by the low rolls of thunder that start near midnight.

And then Victor can hear something creak outside...

Permalink Eye

 

 

Did the wizards send some sort of monster to deliver the next letter. Is that what is happening.

Permalink Eye

Is that the sea, slapping hard on the rock like that? And what's that funny crunching noise? Is the rock crumbling?

Permalink Eye

 

 

He gets up and goes to the door and opens it.

Permalink Eye

A giant of a man is tying his boat to the rock. His face is almost completely hidden by a long, shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard, but one can make out his eyes, glinting like black beetles under all the hair. He looks up at Victor when the boy opens the door.

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"Um. Hello."

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"Well!" he booms. "If it ain't Victor himself! Yah's grown, boy! Las' time I saw you, you was only a baby!"

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"Where's the cannon?" comes Uncle Vernon's cry from inside the shack.

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"Sorry, I don't know your name," he says to the giant. "Are you here about the letters? I think Uncle Vernon would really like you to stop sending them."

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"Aye, he would, wouldn't he?" the giant says, with a twinkle in his eye. "I'm Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts. Now let's head inside, shall we, I don' reckon stayin' outside's gonna be good for me health or yours, eh?"

Permalink Eye

"Victor Antares Evans what do you think you're doing?!" comes Uncle Vernon's shriek when he notices the boy standing in the doorway. "Get back inside right this instant!"

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"Ah, shouldn't keep the old prune waitin', eh?"

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"Yes, Uncle Vernon," he says, going inside immediately. "I thought if I asked politely maybe they'd stop."

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Vernon's expression shifts from frothing rage to abject terror once he sees the giant of a man squeezing into the hut after his nephew. The rifle he's holding - so that's what was in that long, thin package he got earlier! - shakes in his grip, but he doesn't shoot.

Permalink Eye

"Couldn't make us a cup o' tea, could yeh? It's not been an easy journey..."

Permalink Eye

...Uncle Vernon is holding a deadly weapon. Uncle Vernon is holding a deadly weapon and he's terrified.

There is probably a productive response to this but Victor has no idea what it is and doesn't think he could make use of it even if he did, because he is frozen to the spot.

Permalink Eye

Hagrid seems unintimidated. "Budge up, yeh great lump," he tells Dudley as he walks over to the sofa.

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Dudley squeaks and runs to hide behind his mother.

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Who's looking at Hagrid with a strange mixture of fear and curiosity.

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Victor is still kind of preoccupied with the part where Uncle Vernon has a rifle.

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"I demand that you leave at once, sir!" Vernon squeaks. "You are breaking and entering!"

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"Vernon -"

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"Ah, shut up, Dursley," says the giant; he reaches over the back of the sofa, jerks the gun out of Uncle Vernon's hands, bends it into a knot as easily as if it's made of rubber, and throws it into a corner of the room. 

Permalink Eye

He makes a noise like a mouse that's been trodded on.

Permalink Eye

...well that's frightening in an entirely different way.

But at least the giant is not Uncle Vernon. Not being Uncle Vernon is an important quality to have.

What does he do, what does he say

"I'm sorry, Mr. Hagrid, but we don't have any tea."

Permalink Eye

The man throws his head back and starts laughing, and it's the kind of warm, happy laughter that tends to make people laugh along, even when they're not sure what it's about.

Permalink Eye

 

...that's probably good?

Permalink Eye

The laughter eventually dies down, and he looks at Victor with a smile. "Anyway - Victor, a very happy birthday to yeh. Got summat fer yeh here - I mighta sat on it at some point, but it'll taste all right."

From an inside pocket of his black overcoat he pulls a slightly squashed box.

Permalink Eye

Victor blinks at the slightly squashed box.

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"Go on, take it," he says, offering the box.

Permalink Eye

 

...okay.

He accepts the box and tentatively opens it.

Permalink Eye

It contains an enormous, sticky chocolate cake with Happy Birthday Victor written on it in green icing.

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"Thank you very much, Mr. Hagrid, this is lovely," he says earnestly.

Permalink Eye

He beams. "What about that tea then, eh?" he says, rubbing his hands together. "I'd not say no ter summat stronger if yeh've got it, mind."

His eyes fall on the empty grate with the shriveled chip bags in it and he snorts. He gets up from the couch and bends down over the fireplace; they can't see what he's doing but when he draws back a second later, there's a roaring fire there. It fills the whole damp hut with flickering light and Victor can feel the warmth wash over him.

Permalink Eye

Wow.

But -

Things like this just don't happen to him. What's going on? Maybe this is like the day of the zoo trip, and it's all going to end horribly. He darts a glance at Uncle Vernon. As soon as the giant leaves... he doesn't know what will happen but he's sure it will be bad.

Permalink Eye

Vernon honestly looks terrified almost out of his trousers. He's decided huddling close to his family in a half-defiant stance is the best he can do.

Permalink Eye

Petunia is, oddly enough, the least scared of the lot, looking more concerned for her family than afraid of the man.

Permalink Eye

The giant sits back down on the sofa, which sags under his weight, and begins taking all sorts of things out of the pockets of his coat: a copper kettle, a squashy package of sausages, a poker, a teapot, several chipped mugs, and a bottle of some amber liquid that he takes a swig from before starting to make tea.

Permalink Eye

It's sort of fascinating. Victor wonders if he is allowed to eat his cake.

Permalink Eye

When the giant finally notices he hasn't actually eaten his cake he says, "I know it's not very pretty ter look at, but it's very tasty. Promise."

 

Permalink Eye

And at that Dudley twitches, leaning over to look at the cake and licking his lips.

Permalink Eye

"Don't touch any of that, Dudley."

Permalink Eye

The giant snorts.

Permalink Eye

Well. He wouldn't want to be insulting. He tries the cake.

It is tasty. He looks up at the giant with a tiny, tentative smile.

Permalink Eye

He's very happy Victor likes it.

Soon the hut is full of the sound and smell of sizzling sausage. He slides the first six fat, juicy, slightly burnt sausages from the poker, and Dudley fidgets even more.

When they're done, he passes some to Victor.

Permalink Eye

"Oh - thank you very much," he says. The sausages are delicious. He'd suggest that the giant give some to Dudley, except that it seems likely to upset Uncle Vernon and he would really rather not upset Uncle Vernon any further.

Permalink Eye

"Yer quite welcome!"

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Tiny smile.

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"So! What's been happenin' ter yer letters?"

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"They've been very upsetting to everyone and I think Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia would like you to stop sending them," says Victor.

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"Stop... sending? But how else are yeh gonna go ter Hogwarts?"

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"What do you mean?"

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"Yer eleven! Yer supposed ter be in school in a month!"

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"I think Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia want to send me to a different school that doesn't send such frightening letters."

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"Other school? But Hogwarts' the finest wizardin' school there is! What other school?"

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"It's called Stonewall and it's not a wizarding school."

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"What?" he asks, shocked. "Not a wizardin' school?"

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"I - I don't think I understand why you want me to go to a wizarding school," he says. "Sorry."

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"Because yer a wizard! Don't yeh wanna learn all that as yer parents did?"

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"...My parents were wizards?"

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"What?" he cries, jumping to his feet and turning to face the Dursleys.

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Vernon squeals.

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"Do you mean ter tell me," he growls at the Dursleys, "that this boy - this boy! - knows nothin' abou' - about ANYTHING?"

Permalink Eye

...oh dear.

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"We couldn't just - tell him - encourage it -"

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He whirls to face Victor again.

"But yeh must know about yer mom and dad," he says. "I mean, they're famous. You're famous."

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He shakes his head hesitantly. "I'm sorry, I don't know anything about that," he says. "I just know that my mother was Aunt Petunia's sister and they died."

Supposedly they died in a car crash, but in light of this new information about wizards he's not even sure that's true anymore.

Permalink Eye

"DURSLEY!" He explodes again, turning to look at them. "So yeh've never told him nothin' at all? Never told him what was in the letter Dumbledore left fer him? I was there! I saw Dumbledore leave it, Dursley! An' you’ve kept it from him all these years?"

Permalink Eye

"We - we swore we would - we would never -"

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He doesn't know what to do. He almost wants to try to help them somehow, but he doesn't know what to do, doesn't know what he can say that won't get the giant angry at him.

Permalink Eye

He turns his back on them again and looks at Victor, his expression softening, then reaches inside a coat pocket to hand him the letter. "Well. I reckon it's abou' time yeh read yer letter."

Permalink Eye

 

"...I don't think I understand this," he says, reading it carefully, exactly as though he's never seen it before.

Permalink Eye

"Hogwarts is the finest school o' wizardin' an' witchcraft yeh will find, and yeh's been enrolled there since yeh were a baby. Yer parents went there, and it's where ev'ry self-respectin' witch and wizard in Britain goes."

Permalink Eye

"I - I don't know anything about being a wizard," he says hesitantly. "Are you sure there hasn't been - some sort of mistake?"

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"No one does, at yer age! That's what Hogwarts' fer!" he laughs. "But no, no mistake. Yeh's yer father and mother's son, alright. I delivered yeh to their door meself."

Permalink Eye

 

 

"What were they like?"

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"Ah, that's a hard question alright," he says, sitting on the sofa again. "Yer mum... yer mum was one of the brightest witches I've met, an' I've met plenty. And she understood people, she coulda looked right into yeh and figured yeh out like not even yeh coulda. Yer dad was... a troublemaker, but I reckon she set him right."

Permalink Eye

"Were they good people?"

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"Aye. The best. They're heroes."

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He blinks several times, looking down at his partly-nibbled cake.

"I - I think I'd like to go to wizard school," he whispers.

Permalink Eye

His uncle finally finds enough courage to say something, walking up to them. "No! I do not allow it! He is not going to that, that freakhouse!"

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The giant snorts. "I'd like ter see a great muggle like you stop him," he says.

Permalink Eye

Victor flinches slightly at his uncle's outburst.

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"We swore when we took him in we'd put a stop to that rubbish," says Uncle Vernon, "swore we'd stamp it out of him! Wizard indeed!"

Permalink Eye

...so that's why they blame him whenever something strange happens - it is somehow his fault -

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"Yeh can't stamp out magic from him," he scoffs. "That's like... like... like trying ter stamp out his skin or summat. It's part o' him."

Permalink Eye

 

He can't quite decide whether that's reassuring or terrifying.

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"No matter, I do not allow him to go!"

Permalink Eye

He looks at Victor. "Yeh want ter go, right?"

Permalink Eye

He glances nervously at Uncle Vernon, and stares down at his cake, and nods a tiny nod.

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"Haven’t I told you he's not going?" he hisses. "He's going to Stonewall High and he'll be grateful for it. I've read those letters and he needs all sorts of rubbish - spell books and wands and -"

Permalink Eye

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"If he wants ter go, a great Muggle like you won’t stop him," growls Hagrid. "Stop Sirius an' Dahlia Evans' son goin' ter Hogwarts! Yer mad. His name's been down ever since he was born."

Permalink Eye

"I - I do want to go," he says, edging away from Uncle Vernon slightly.

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"See? He's off ter the finest school of witchcraft and wizardry in the world. Seven years there and he won’t know himself. He'll be with youngsters of his own sort, fer a change, an' he'll be under the greatest headmaster Hogwarts ever had, Albus Dumbled -"

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"I AM NOT PAYING FOR SOME CRACKPOT OLD FOOL TO TEACH HIM MAGIC TRICKS!" yells Uncle Vernon. 

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But he's finally gone too far. Hagrid seizes his umbrella and whirls it over his head.

"NEVER -" he thunders, "- INSULT - ALBUS - DUMBLEDORE - IN - FRONT - OF - ME!"

He brings the umbrella swishing down through the air to point at Dudley - there's a flash of violet light, a sound like a firecracker, a sharp squeal -

Permalink Eye

- and the next second, Dudley's dancing on the spot with his hands clasped over his fat bottom, howling in pain. When he turns his back on them, he reveals a curly pig's tail poking through a hole in his trousers. 

Permalink Eye

 

Victor takes a deep breath, and looks up at Hagrid.

"I don't think you should have done that," he says quietly.

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He hides behind his mum and continues wailing.

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And Uncle Vernon roars in anger, quickly rushing over to Dudley's side to pull him and Petunia to the other room -

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- but she doesn't go. "Please undo that."

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The giant... looks very ashamed. "Yer right. Shouldn'ta lost me temper... but I can't undo that."

Permalink Eye

Victor Evans looks a lot like his father. The shape of his face, his hazel eyes. There's no single feature you could pick out to connect him to his mother.

But the person looking up at Hagrid right now is definitely Dahlia's son.

"Is there anyone else who can?"

Permalink Eye

He looks down at his feet. "Mebbe. But, er... see, I'm not supposed ter do magic, strictly speakin'. I was allowed ter do a bit ter follow yeh an' get yer letters to yeh an' stuff - one o' the reasons I was so keen ter take on the job - but a muggle doctor should be able ter fix it."

Permalink Eye

"Can wizard doctors fix it better?"

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"We are not letting any more - freaks anywhere near our son!" Uncle Vernon declares, and finally succeeds at pulling the rest of his family back into the other room, slamming the door shut after shooting one final fearful glance at the giant.

Permalink Eye

 

Victor looks down at his cake again. Whatever shade of his mother was present in him a minute ago, it's gone now.

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"...sorry."

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"What do I need to do to go to magic school? I don't think Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia are going to help."

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"Right!" He stands up. "We go ter London."

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He carefully closes the box with the cake. "All right. Thank you for helping."

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"Oh, I almost forgot -" From a pocket inside his overcoat he pulls an owl - a real, live, rather ruffled-looking owl - a long quill, and a roll of parchment. He sits back down from a moment and, with his tongue between his teeth, scribbles a note that Victor can read upside down:

Dear Professor Dumbledore,

Given Victor his letter.
Taking him to buy his things tomorrow. Weather's horrible.
Hope you're Well.

Hagrid

He rolls up the note, gives it to the owl, which clamps it in its beak, goes to the door, and throws the owl out into the storm.

"Are yeh ready to go?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes. Is the owl going to be okay?"

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"Aye, she'll be fine." He peers at the storm. "But we might not be... Might be better ter sleep here an' wait fer the storm to pass..."

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"That sounds like a good idea," he agrees.

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"Right, then!" He takes off his overcoat and offers it to Victor. "You can kip under that. Don' mind if it wriggles a bit, I think I still got a couple o' dormice in one o' the pockets."

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"...okay. Thank you," he says, because it seems like it wouldn't be productive to ask him why there are dormice in his pockets. And the coat looks very warm. He curls up on the floor and nests in it and it is the warmest he's been since they got in the boat.

Permalink Eye

It is in fact very warm! And Hagrid does not take long to fall asleep.

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Victor sleeps kind of astonishingly well, all things considered.

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He will wake up to the sounds of an owl rapping on the window.

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...okay.

He goes to the window and opens it.

Permalink Eye

It's a bright and clear day out, the storm having abated completely. The giant is still asleep on a collapsed sofa, snoring.

The owl swoops in and drops a newspaper it had been holding in its beak on top of Hagrid, who doesn't wake up. It then flutters onto the floor and begins to attack Hagrid's coat.

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"Um, excuse me, Mr. Hagrid," says Victor, "but there's an owl attacking your coat."

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"Pay him," Hagrid grunts into the sofa.

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...

Victor approaches the coat and tries to start looking through its pockets.

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Hagrid's coat seems to be made of nothing but pockets - bunches of keys, slug pellets, balls of string, peppermint humbugs, teabags... there, a handful of strange-looking coins.

"Give him five Knuts," says Hagrid sleepily. 

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Well - do any of these strange-looking coins have names on them?

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Yes! The small bronze ones have 'Knut' written on them and the silver ones have 'Sickle' instead.

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He counts out five Knuts. Now how does he go about giving them to the owl?

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When it sees him counting coins it holds out its leg to show him a small leather pouch attached to it.

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Well that's fairly straightforward. Okay. He pays the owl.

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It bows its little owl head and takes off. Hagrid yawns loudly, sits up, and stretches. "Best be off, Victor, lots ter do today, gotta get up ter London an' buy all yer stuff fer school."

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"Okay."

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He draws himself up to his full height and stretches, loudly cracking his joints. "Yeh ready?"

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He nods.

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"Come on, then."

Hagrid steps out onto the rock. The sky's quite clear now and the sea gleams in the sunlight. The boat Uncle Vernon hired is still there, with a lot of water in the bottom after the storm.

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Victor follows him.

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He settles in the boat, and -

"Seems a shame ter row, though," he says, giving Victor a sideways look. "If I was ter - er - speed things up a bit, would yeh mind not mentionin' it at Hogwarts?"

Permalink Eye

"I won't get you in trouble, I promise," he says seriously.

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Hagrid pulls out the pink umbrella again, taps it twice on the side of the boat, and they speed off toward land.

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Victor sits quietly.

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"Summat on yer mind?"

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...he blinks up at him. "Um..."

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"It's all right if yeh don't wanna talk, jus' thought I should ask."

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"I'm worried that I won't do well in magic school," he says.

That's not quite the biggest problem on his mind, but it's in the neighbourhood. And he doesn't want to say that he's pretty sure Uncle Vernon will turn him out of the house over this.

Permalink Eye

"Ah, yeh'll be a thumpin' good'un, I'd say, once yeh've been trained up a bit. With a mum an' dad like yours, what else would yeh be?"

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He smiles hesitantly. "Okay."

Permalink Eye

He beams, then opens his newspaper, the Daily Prophet, and starts reading it.

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Victor sits quietly in a less depressing way.

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"Ministry o' Magic messin' things up as usual," he mutters, turning the page. 

Permalink Eye

There's a Ministry of Magic...? He doesn't quite feel brave enough to ask.

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He doesn't say anything else to himself for the rest of the trip, and eventually the boat bumps gently into the harbor wall. Hagrid folds up his newspaper and clambers up the stone steps onto the street.

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Victor follows him. Quietly.

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They make their way to the station, but on the way Hagrid points at a parking meter with delight and says, "See that, Victor? Things these muggles dream up, eh?"

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...He blinks at the parking meter. It's a parking meter.

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"An' that, eh?" he says, pointing at a wall clock. "Muggles invented those."

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"I didn't know that."

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"Lotsa stuff was muggles! Gets some folks right mad, that."

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He nods. That makes sense. Uncle Vernon would probably throw out all the clocks in the house if he found out they were invented by wizards.

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They continue walking through the little town, and passersby stare a lot at Hagrid as they do, both due to the fact that he's twice as tall as anyone else and due to comments like those.

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Hagrid doesn't seem to mind, so that's okay.

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He doesn't! He's very cheerful about everything.

Soon they teach the station. There's a train to London in five minutes' time and Hagrid, who doesn't understand "Muggle money," gives the bills to Victor so he can buy their tickets.

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Victor understands Muggle money well enough to accomplish this task! He is very polite to the ticket vendor.

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People stare more than ever on the train. Hagrid takes up two seats and sits knitting what looks like a canary-yellow circus tent. 

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Going places with Hagrid is an experience.

It's not bad, though.

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"Have yeh seen yer list o' school materials?" he asks at some point.

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"Yes. It was in the letter. I brought it along."

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"Good, good. We'll be goin' to Gringotts, the bank, and gettin' yer money there ter buy everythin' at Diagon Alley."

Permalink Eye

Nod nod.

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Eventually they arrive in London, and while Hagrid clearly has a destination in mind, he does not have an easy time getting there the ordinary way, what with ticket barriers and such.

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Victor looks for opportunities to be helpful.

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There will be several of those, and he will complain loudly about the Underground seats being too small and the trains too slow.

Permalink Eye

Victor can be a little bit helpful there too. He can be comforting at least.

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Hagrid is so huge that he parts the crowd easily. They pass bookshops and music stores, hamburger restaurants and cinemas, but nowhere that looks as if it could sell you a magic wand. This is just an ordinary street full of ordinary people.

"This is it," he says eventually, however, coming to a halt in front of a tiny, grubby-looking pub. "The Leaky Cauldron. It's a famous place."

It's unremarkable to the point that the people hurrying by don't glance at it. Their eyes slid from the big book shop on one side to the record shop on the other as if they can't see the Leaky Cauldron at all.

Permalink Eye

 

That is not unremarkable at all.

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Hagrid steers Victor inside. For a famous place, it's very dark and shabby. A few old women are sitting in a corner, drinking tiny glasses of sherry. One of them is smoking a long pipe. A little man in a top hat's talking to the old bartender, who's quite bald and looks like a toothless walnut. The low buzz of chatter stops when they walk in. Everyone seems to know Hagrid; they wave and smile at him, and the bartender reaches for a glass, saying, "The usual, Hagrid?"

"Can't, Tom, I'm on Hogwarts business," says Hagrid, clapping his great hand on Victor's shoulder.

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Victor tries to look unimportant. He's been appreciating how travelling with Hagrid makes people overlook him and he does not want that state of affairs to come to an end.

Permalink Eye

Too bad.

"Good Lord," says the bartender, peering at Victor, "is this - can this be -?" The Leaky Cauldron suddenly goes completely still and silent. "Bless my soul," whispers the old bartender, "Victor Evans... what an honor." He hurries out from behind the bar, rushes toward Victor and seizes his hand, tears in his eyes. "Welcome back, Mr. Evans, welcome back."

Permalink Eye

 

He freezes.

What does he do, what does he do -

For lack of a better idea, he hesitantly shakes the man's hand. "Thank you," he says very quietly.

Permalink Eye

Everyone is looking at him. The old woman with the pipe's puffing on it without realizing it has gone out. Hagrid's beaming.

Then there's a great scraping of chairs and the next moment everyone in the Leaky Cauldron wants to shake hands with him.

Permalink Eye

 

Okay. He can do that.

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"Doris Crockford, Mr. Evans, can't believe I’m meeting you at last."

"So proud, Mr. Evans, I’m just so proud."

"Always wanted to shake your hand - I'm all of a flutter."

"Delighted, Mr. Evans, just can't tell you, Diggle's the name, Dedalus Diggle," says a man... who once a long time ago bowed to Victor in a shop.

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"...I remember you," he says. "You saw me in a shop and bowed."

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"He remembers!” cries Dedalus Diggle, his top hat falling as he turns to look around at everyone. "Did you hear that? He remembers me!"

More people want to shake his hand - Doris Crockford keeps coming back for more - until a pale young man makes his way forward, very nervously. One of his eyes is twitching.

"Professor Quirrell!" says Hagrid. "Victor, Professor Quirrell will be one of your teachers at Hogwarts."

"E-E-Evans," stammers Professor Quirrell, grasping Victor's hand, "c-can't t-tell you how p-pleased I am to meet you."

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"Thank you," he says, since that seems to be a safe reaction.

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Quirrell laughs nervously. "You'll be g-getting all your equipment, I suppose? I've g-got to p-pick up a new b-book on vampires, m-myself." He looks terrified at the very thought. 

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"Yes," he agrees, "that's why we're here, to get me my things for school."

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"O-o-of course."

But the others won't let Professor Quirrell keep Victor to himself. It takes almost ten minutes to get away from them all. At last, Hagrid manages to make himself heard over the babble.

"Must get on - lots ter buy. Come on, Victor."

Permalink Eye

Victor follows Hagrid quietly out of the crowd, trying not to give any sign that he's desperate to get away.

Permalink Eye

Doris Crockford shakes Victor's hand one last time, and Hagrid leads them through the bar and out into a small, walled courtyard, where there's nothing but a trash can and a few weeds. He grins at Victor.

"Told yeh, didn't I? Told yeh you was famous. Even Professor Quirrell was tremblin' ter meet yeh - mind you, he's usually tremblin'."

Permalink Eye

"Yes, I noticed that."

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He then turns to look at the brick wall. "Three up... two across..." he mutters. "Right, stand back, Victor."

He taps the wall three times with the point of his umbrella. The brick he touched quivers - it wriggles - in the middle, a small hole appears - it grows wider and wider - a second later they're facing an archway large enough even for Hagrid, an archway onto a cobbled street that twists and turns out of sight.

"Welcome," says Hagrid, "to Diagon Alley."

Permalink Eye

 

"It's magic," he says softly, smiling a very small smile.

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"Aye, an' there's more where this came from."

He leads Victor through, and the archway shrinks instantly back into solid wall. The sun shines brightly on a stack of cauldrons outside the nearest shop. Cauldrons - All Sizes - Copper, Brass, Pewter, Silver - Self-Stirring - Collapsible, says a sign hanging over them.

"Yeah, you'll be needin' one," he says, "but we gotta get yer money first."

Permalink Eye

He nods.

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They walk on, passing by a myriad stores and shops. A plump woman outside an Apothecary is shaking her head as they pass, saying, "Dragon liver, sixteen Sickles an ounce, they're mad."

A low, soft hooting comes from a dark shop with a sign saying Eeylops Owl Emporium - Tawny, Screech, Barn, Brown, and Snowy. Several boys of about Victor's age have their noses pressed against a window with broomsticks in it. "Look," one of them says, "the new Nimbus Two Thousand - fastest ever -"

There are shops selling robes, shops selling telescopes and strange silver instruments Victor's never seen before, windows stacked with barrels of bat spleens and eels' eyes, tottering piles of spell books, quills, and rolls of parchment, potion bottles, globes of the moon...

Permalink Eye

He watches and listens in fascination.

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Eventually: "Gringotts," says Hagrid. It's a snow-white building that towers over the other little shops. Standing beside its burnished bronze doors, wearing a uniform of scarlet and gold, is a humanoid, about a head shorter than Victor. He has a swarthy, clever face, a pointed beard and very long fingers and feet. He bows as they walk inside.

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Victor isn't sure if he's supposed to bow back. He settles for looking very serious, which is something of a default anyway.

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"That's a goblin," Hagrid whispers to Victor once they're clear of earshot.

Now they're facing a second pair of doors, silver this time, with words engraved upon them: 

Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed,
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.

"Yeh'd be mad ter try an' rob it," he says.

Permalink Eye

"I see that."

Permalink Eye

A pair of goblins bow them through the silver doors and they're in a vast marble hall. About a hundred more goblins are sitting on high stools behind a long counter, scribbling in large ledgers, weighing coins in brass scales, examining precious stones through eyeglasses. There are too many doors to count leading off the hall, and yet more goblins are showing people in and out of these. Hagrid makes for the counter.

"Morning," he says to a free goblin. "We've come ter take some money outta Mr. Victor Evans' safe."

"You have his key, sir?"

"Got it here somewhere," says Hagrid, and he starts emptying his pockets onto the counter, scattering a handful of moldy dog biscuits over the goblin's book of numbers. The goblin wrinkles his nose.

Permalink Eye

Victor thinks he remembers this one from when he paid the owl. "Try your left front pocket, Mr. Hagrid," he suggests diffidently, reaching up to the counter to clean the miscellaneous pocket contents off the goblin's ledger.

Permalink Eye

He looks there and finds it: a tiny golden key. "Thanks!" he says, and holds it up.

The goblin looks at it closely. "That seems to be in order."

"An' I've also got a letter here from Professor Dumbledore," he says importantly, throwing out his chest. "It’s about the You-Know-What in vault seven hundred and thirteen."

The goblin reads the letter carefully. "Very well," he says, handing it back to Hagrid.

Permalink Eye

He's almost got everything back into the pockets it came from - there, that's the last crumb. He looks apologetically up at the goblin.

Permalink Eye

The goblin peers down at Victor suspiciously but doesn't comment. "I will have someone take you down to both vaults. Griphook!"

Griphook is, apparently, yet another goblin. Hagrid follows him to a door, and he holds it open for them. On the other side, there is a narrow stone passageway lit with flaming torches. It slopes steeply downward and there are little railway tracks on the floor. Griphook whistles and a small cart comes hurtling up the tracks toward them. Hagrid climbs in with some difficulty.

Permalink Eye

Okay then. Victor gets in the cart.

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They're off.

At first they just hurtle through a maze of twisting passages. Left, right, right, left, middle fork, right, left, it soon becomes untenable to keep track of the path. The rattling cart seems to know its own way, because Griphook isn't steering.

Cold air rushes past them, and at one point there's something that looks a lot like a burst of fire at the end of a passage but they plunge deeper too fast for much more detail to be made out. They pass an underground lake where huge stalactites and stalagmites grow from the ceiling and floor.

When the cart stops at last beside a small door in the passage wall, Hagrid gets out and has to lean against the wall to stop his knees from trembling. He's looking positively green.

Permalink Eye

Well that wasn't the most pleasant ten minutes of Victor's life, but he's at least much better off than Hagrid.

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Griphook unlocks the door. A lot of green smoke comes billowing out, and as it clears, Victor can see the vault's contents: mounds of gold coins, columns of silver, heaps of little bronze Knuts.

"All yours," smiles Hagrid. 

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"I don't know how much I'm going to need for all my school supplies," he confesses.

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"Ah, we'll get some fer a couple o' terms and change so yeh can buy stuff yeh like." He starts grabbing some gold and silver and bronze and putting it into a bag, not caring much to count. "The gold ones are Galleons," he explains. "Seventeen silver Sickles to a Galleon and twenty-nine Knuts to a Sickle, it's easy enough."

Permalink Eye

That's completely insane, but it seems unproductive to say so.

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He turns to Griphook. "Vault seven hundred and thirteen now, please, and can we go more slowly?"

"One speed only," says the goblin.

They board, and the cart starts again. They go even deeper now and gather speed. The air becomes colder and colder as they hurtle round tight corners. They go rattling over an underground ravine, deep enough the bottom's out of sight.

Permalink Eye

Victor holds onto his bag of money and hopes that Hagrid will be okay.

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They soon reach vault seven hundred and thirteen... which has no keyhole.

"Stand back," says Griphook importantly. He strokes the door gently with one of his long fingers and it simply melts away. "If anyone but a Gringotts goblin tried that, they'd be sucked through the door and trapped in there," the goblin says.

Permalink Eye

...That seems like, as ways to prevent theft go, it could use some improvement. What if someone waited until they knew the vault was going to be opened, and snuck inside through the magic door and waited for a Gringotts goblin to open it for them and then ran away?

Permalink Eye

Griphook does not respond to his unvoiced thoughts. He stands out of the way, and inside of the vault there is...

Nothing.

Or, wait, there's a grubby little package wrapped up in brown paper lying on the floor, there. Hagrid picks it up and tucks it deep inside his coat.

"Come on, back in this infernal cart," says the giant.

Permalink Eye

For a moment it looks like the vault has already been robbed, and he's afraid for no good reason that they're going to find some way to blame him -

But no. Everything is fine.

Back in the infernal cart they go, then, Victor with his bag of gold and Hagrid with his grubby little paper package.

Permalink Eye

One wild cart ride later they stand in the sunlight outside Gringotts.

"Might as well get yer uniform," says Hagrid, nodding toward Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions. "Listen, Victor, would yeh mind if I slipped off fer a pick-me-up in the Leaky Cauldron? I hate them Gringotts carts." He does still look a bit green around the gills.

Permalink Eye

"No, of course I don't mind," he says. "I'll wait for you here if I finish getting my robes before you get back."

Permalink Eye

"Nah, I won't be long."

Off he goes.

Permalink Eye

So Victor goes into the robe shop, somewhat nervously.

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Madam Malkin is a squat, smiling witch dressed all in mauve. 

"Hogwarts, dear?" she says as soon as she spots him. "Got the lot here - another young man being fitted up just now, in fact."

In the back of the shop, a boy with a pale, pointed face is standing on a footstool while a second witch pins up his long black robes. 

Permalink Eye

He nods shyly at presumably-Madam-Malkin.

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She stands Victor on a stool next to the boy, slips a long robe over his head, and begins to pin it to the right length.

"Hello," says the boy. "Hogwarts, too?"

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"Yes," Victor agrees. "Hello."

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"My father's next door buying my books and Mother's up the street looking at wands," he says. He has a bored, drawling voice. "Then I'm going to drag them off to look at racing brooms. I don't see why first years can't have their own. I think I'll bully Father into getting me one and I'll smuggle it in somehow. Have you got your own broom?"

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He shakes his head.

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"Play Quidditch at all?"

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He shakes his head again.

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"I do - Father says it's a crime if I'm not picked to play for my House, and I must say, I agree. Know what House you'll be in yet?"

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"No." He seems... friendly, more or less; it's probably safe to ask questions - "Do you?"

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"Well, no one really knows until they get there, do they, but I know I'll be in Slytherin, all our family have been - imagine being in Hufflepuff, I think I'd leave, wouldn't you?"

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"I've heard Hogwarts is the best school," he says, because he has no idea what the other boy is talking about and this is the safest response he can think of. "I wouldn't want to go to a worse one."

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"Can't be that good if it put me in Hufflepuff. Father would probably just send me to Durmstrang. I say, look at that man!" he says, nodding towards the front window -

Permalink Eye

- where a familiar giant can be seen, grinning at Victor and pointing at two large ice creams to show he can't come in. 

Permalink Eye

Victor looks at Hagrid and smiles slightly to show he noticed.

Permalink Eye

Draco notices. "You know him?"

Permalink Eye

He nods. "His name is Rubeus Hagrid and he's the Hogwarts groundskeeper," he explains.

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"Oh," says the boy. "I heard he's a sort of savage - lives in a hut on the school grounds and every now and then he gets drunk, tries to do magic, and ends up setting fire to his bed."

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"I haven't seen him set fire to anything," says Victor.

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"Is he with you? Where are your parents?"

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"Yes. They're dead."

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"Oh, sorry," he says, not sounding sorry at all. "But they were our kind, weren't they?"

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"Yes."

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"I really don't think they should let the other sort in, do you? They're just not the same, they've never been brought up to know our ways. Some of them have never even heard of Hogwarts until they get the letter, imagine. I think they should keep it in the old wizarding families. What's your surname, anyway?"

But before he can answer, Madam Malkin says to Victor, "That's you done, my dear."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you," he says to Madam Malkin, very politely.

And - he's going to see this blond boy and his opinions again at school, he's not getting out of this, for all he knows it's a common name - "Evans. Sorry, I have to go."

Permalink Eye

"Evans?" he squeaks as Victor goes.

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He pays for his robes and goes out to meet with Hagrid, smiling again as he approaches the ice creams.

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Chocolate and raspberry with chopped nuts! Hagrid starts leading the way to the next store.

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Ice cream is good. Going shopping for school supplies with Hagrid is good.

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Next up: parchment and quills. Students are supposed to only use regular ones but there are all sorts of fancy quills: quills that take dictation, quills that produce their own ink, ink that changes colour, invisible ink...

Permalink Eye

Victor will get listed supplies in reasonable quantities. Although he will allow himself a minute to look at the interesting quills. And if the self-inking quills look reasonably priced, well, that's useful, he could use that.

Permalink Eye

"Yeh know, we got more money than yeh strictly need fer supplies, if yeh want ter buy anythin' fer yerself."

Permalink Eye

"I think I will get a self-inking quill."

He adds one to the pile.

Permalink Eye

He can have the self-inking quill! Is there anything else he'd like to buy here?

Permalink Eye

No, they can go to the next place now.

Permalink Eye

Next place is a bookstore called Flourish and Blotts. The shelves are stacked to the ceiling with books as large as paving stones bound in leather; books the size of postage stamps in covers of silk; books full of peculiar symbols and a few books with nothing in them at all.

Permalink Eye

 

He goes through the bookstore and very conscientiously collects only and exactly the books he will need for school.

 

Then he goes through the bookstore again looking for books that look like they might have particularly useful information about how the wizarding world works.

Permalink Eye

There are those! Hogwarts: A History might have a lot of information about the school, as might A History of Magic, both by Bathilda Bagshot. Beyond that, there is a myriad books about herbs, creatures, spells, potions, history, politics, law, self-help books...

Permalink Eye

He gets those two and one about law. It's important to know the rules.

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Cauldrons are next on the list!

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Probably he will not be tempted to get any extras when it comes to cauldrons.

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Really? Not even this solid gold cauldron that he can easily afford and which cuts potion preparation time in half compared to the pewter that's on his school list?

Permalink Eye

The school list says pewter. He will get pewter.

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Pewter it is! Then they can get a collapsible brass telescope and a set of scales for weighing potions ingredients, and after that they can go to the Apothecary, which smells of bad eggs and rotten cabbages. It is otherwise fascinating, though: barrels of slimy stuff stand on the floor; jars of herbs, dried roots, and bright powders line the walls; bundles of feathers, strings of fangs, and snarled claws hang from the ceiling. Hagrid asks the man behind the counter for a supply of some basic potion ingredients for Victor.

Permalink Eye

Wow. That's... that's something.

He is not at all tempted to linger in the Apothecary.

Permalink Eye

Once outside the Apothecary, Hagrid checks Victor's list again.

"Just yer wand left - oh yeah, an' I still haven't got yeh a birthday present."

Permalink Eye

...he smiles slightly.

"It's okay, you don't have to," he says.

Permalink Eye

"I know I don't have to. Tell yeh what, I'll get yer animal. Not a toad, toads went outta fashion years ago, yeh'd be laughed at - an' I don' like cats, they make me sneeze. I'll get yer an owl. All the kids want owls, they're dead useful, carry yer mail an' everythin'."

Permalink Eye

"Okay," he says, smiling. "Thank you."

Permalink Eye

So they go to the Eeylops Owl Emporium. It's dark and full of rustling and flickering, jewel-bright eyes staring at them for a myriad cages and perched around the store.

Permalink Eye

It's a little bit intimidating. He avoids the larger birds and drifts toward the back, among the elf owls and little owls and...

...that's not an owl.

"That's not an owl," he observes to Hagrid, pointing at the sleek black raven perched in a cage at the very back of the shop.

Permalink Eye

The raven makes a sound remarkably like a snicker.

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Hagrid frowns at it. "It isn't," he agrees. "Yeh should prob'ly not get that one, it's owls that do mail, an' Hogwarts doesn't accept ravens."

Permalink Eye

"Eeylops Owl Emporium would never offer a bird that couldn't carry mail!" says the shopkeeper, hurrying over. "Poor Muninn can't help how he's made."

The raven snickers again.

"I assure you, there'll be no trouble about it at Hogwarts."

"No trouble," echoes the bird in his croaking raven voice.

Permalink Eye

Victor looks hesitantly at Muninn.

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And Hagrid looks at Victor. "Yeh want that one? I can get it fer yeh."

Permalink Eye

He nods.

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Then after a short transaction he will be the proud owner of the weirdest owl ever.

Permalink Eye

There is a nameplate on the cage that says Muninn. It looks very wizardly. Victor is happy.

Permalink Eye

If Victor's happy then Hagrid's happy.

"Just Ollivanders left now - only place fer wands, Ollivanders, and yeh gotta have the best wand."

Permalink Eye

"All right."

Permalink Eye

The last shop is narrow and shabby. Peeling gold letters over the door read Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382b.c. A single wand lays on a faded purple cushion in the dusty window.

A tinkling bell rings somewhere in the depths of the shop as they step inside. It's a tiny place, empty except for a single, spindly chair that Hagrid sits on to wait.

Permalink Eye

...goodness.

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"Nice place you got here," croaks Muninn.

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There also seem to be thousands of narrow boxes piled neatly right up to the ceiling. For some reason, the back of Victor's neck prickles. The very dust and silence in here seem to tingle with some secret magic. 

"Good afternoon," says a soft voice. An old man is standing before them, his wide, pale eyes shining like moons through the gloom of the shop.

Permalink Eye

(There's a loud crunching noise and Hagrid gets quickly off the spindly chair.)

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"Good afternoon," says Victor politely.

Permalink Eye

"Ah yes," says the man. "Yes, yes. I thought I'd be seeing you soon. Victor Evans." It's not a question. "You look just like your father. It seems only yesterday he was in here himself, buying his first wand. Twelve and a quarter inches long, supple, made of hawthorn. Nice wand for healing... and for curses." Mr. Ollivander moves closer to Victor. "Your mother, on the other hand, favoured a pear wand. Thirteen and a half inches. Springy. Very powerful, and resilient. Well, I say your mother favoured it - it's really the wand that chooses the wizard, of course."

Permalink Eye

This is an intimidating person.

"You have a very good memory," says Victor.

Permalink Eye

Mr. Ollivander has come so close that he and Victor are almost nose to nose.

"Thank you," he says, smiling. "And that's where..." Mr. Ollivander touches the lightning scar on Victor's forehead with a long, white finger. "I'm sorry to say I sold the wand that did it," he says softly. "Thirteen-and-a-half inches. Yew. Powerful wand, very powerful, and in the wrong hands... well, if I'd known what that wand was going out into the world to do..."

Permalink Eye

 

Victor takes a small step back.

Permalink Eye

He shakes his head and finally spots Hagrid. The failure to do so immediately is probably a record of some sort. "Rubeus! Rubeus Hagrid! How nice to see you again... Oak, sixteen inches, rather bendy, wasn't it?"

Permalink Eye

"It was, sir, yes."

Permalink Eye

"Good wand, that one. But I suppose they snapped it in half when you got expelled?" says Mr. Ollivander, suddenly stern.

Permalink Eye

"Er - yes, they did, yes," says Hagrid, shuffling his feet. "I've still got the pieces, though," he adds brightly. 

Permalink Eye

"But you don't use them?" he says sharply.

Permalink Eye

"Oh, no, sir," says Hagrid quickly. Victor might notice he grips his pink umbrella very tightly as he speaks.

Permalink Eye

Victor wouldn't dream of noticing such a thing.

Permalink Eye

"Hmmm," says Mr. Ollivander, giving Hagrid a piercing look, before turning back to Victor. "Well, now - Mr. Evans. Let me see." He pulls a long tape measure with silver markings out of his pocket. "Which is your wand arm?"

Permalink Eye

"Er, I'm right-handed," he says, hoping this is the correct answer.

Permalink Eye

"Hold out your arm. That's it." He measures Victor from shoulder to finger, then wrist to elbow, shoulder to floor, knee to armpit and round his head. As he measures, he says, "Every Ollivander wand has a core of a powerful magical substance, Mr. Evans. We use unicorn hairs, phoenix tail feathers, and the heartstrings of dragons. No two Ollivander wands are the same, just as no two unicorns, dragons, or phoenixes are quite the same. And of course, you will never get such good results with another wizard's wand." The tape measure, which is measuring between his nostrils, is doing this on its own. Mr. Ollivander's flitting around the shelves, taking down boxes. "That will do," he says, and the tape measure crumples into a heap on the floor. "Right then, Mr. Evans. Try this one. Beechwood and dragon heartstring. Nine inches. Nice and flexible. Just take it and give it a wave."

Permalink Eye

...He hesitantly waves the wand.

Permalink Eye

And Ollivander promptly snatches it out of his hand, grabbing another wand and handing it to Victor. "Maple and phoenix feather. Seven inches. Quite whippy. Try this one."

Permalink Eye

Okay, he can wave that one too.

Permalink Eye

The wandmaker takes that one before Victor's even finished raising it. "No, no - here, ebony and unicorn hair, eight and a half inches, springy. Go on, go on, try it out."

Permalink Eye

He... attempts to wave that one too...?

Permalink Eye

Not that one, either. Or the next one, or the next, or the next. The pile of tried wands mounts higher and higher on the spindly chair, but the more wands Mr. Ollivander pulls from the shelves, the happier he seems to become.

"Tricky customer, eh? Not to worry, we'll find the perfect match here somewhere - I wonder, now - yes, why not - unusual combination - fir and phoenix feather, eleven and a half inches, rather solid."

Permalink Eye

...Victor tries this one too, hardly expecting Mr. Ollivander to leave it in his hand long enough for him to wave it.

The tip of the wand leaves a trail of gently glowing blue mist in the air. He blinks at it. Is that good?

Permalink Eye

"Oh, bravo! Yes, indeed, oh, very good. Well, well, well... how curious... how very curious..." He puts Victor's wand back into its box and wraps it in brown paper, still muttering, "Curious... curious..."

Permalink Eye

"Curiouser and curiouser," croaks Muninn from his cage.

Permalink Eye

"Er, what's curious?"

Permalink Eye

"I remember every wand I've ever sold, Mr. Evans. Every single wand. It so happens that the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather - just one other. It is very curious indeed that you should be destined for this wand when its brother - why, its brother gave you that scar." He peers at Victor again. "Yes, thirteen-and-a-half inches. Yew. Curious indeed how these things happen. The wand chooses the wizard, remember... I think we must expect great things from you, Mr. Evans... After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things - terrible, yes, but great."

Permalink Eye

 

...he is not sure he wants great things to be expected of him.

But he's very sure he doesn't want to say that to Mr. Ollivander.

He hesitates, unable to think of anything to say.

Permalink Eye

Nothing's supposed to be said, apparently; Hagrid pays for the wand, a somber look on his face, and as they walk out of the shop he smacks his forehead. "Blimey, Victor, I just thought - did those Dursleys ever tell yeh what really happened to yer parents?"

Permalink Eye

 

Victor shakes his head.

Permalink Eye

His face grows even darker. "Not here. We need privacy."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

They return to the pub, Hagrid more taciturn than usual, and he rents them a room. Once there he sits on a bed, which creaks dangerously under his weight, and looks at Victor, gravelly. Or nervously, one of those.

Permalink Eye

Victor sits on a small chair and waits.

Permalink Eye

"It begins, I suppose, with - with a person called - but it's incredible yeh don't know his name, everyone in our world knows -"

Permalink Eye

"I didn't grow up in your world," he points out quietly.

Permalink Eye

"Right," he agrees, then swallows. "Well - I don' like sayin' the name if I can help it. No one does."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe you could write it down?" he suggests.

Permalink Eye

"Nah - can't spell it. All right - Voldemort." Hagrid shudders. "Don' make me say it again. Anyway, this - this wizard, about twenty years ago now, started lookin' fer followers. Got 'em, too - some were afraid, some just wanted a bit o' his power, 'cause he was gettin' himself power, all right. Dark days, Victor. Didn't know who ter trust, didn't dare get friendly with strange wizards or witches... terrible things happened. He was takin' over. 'Course, some stood up to him - an' he killed 'em. Horribly. One o' the only safe places left was Hogwarts. Reckon Dumbledore's the only one You-Know-Who was afraid of. Didn't dare try takin' the school, not jus' then, anyway."

Permalink Eye

Victor listens solemnly to this explanation.

Permalink Eye

"Now, yer mum an' dad were as good a witch an' wizard as I ever knew. Head boy an' girl at Hogwarts in their day! Suppose the myst'ry is why You-Know-Who never tried to get 'em on his side before ...probably knew they were too close ter Dumbledore ter want anythin' ter do with the Dark Side.

"Maybe he thought he could persuade 'em... maybe he just wanted 'em outta the way. All anyone knows is, he turned up in the village where you was all living, on Halloween ten years ago. You was just a year old. He came ter yer house an' - an' -"

Hagrid suddenly pulls out a very dirty, spotted handkerchief and blows his nose with a sound like a foghorn. 

Permalink Eye

 

"I understand," murmurs Victor.

Permalink Eye

"Sorry," he says. "But it's that sad - knew yer mum an' dad, an' nicer people yeh couldn't find - anyway...

"You-Know-Who killed 'em. An' then - an' this is the real myst'ry of the thing - he tried to kill you, too. Wanted ter make a clean job of it, I suppose, or maybe he just liked killin' by then. But he couldn't do it. Never wondered how you got that mark on yer forehead? That was no ordinary cut. That's what yeh get when a powerful, evil curse touches yeh - took care of yer mum an' dad an' yer house, even - but it didn't work on you, an' that's why yer famous, Victor. No one ever lived after he decided ter kill 'em, no one except you, an' he'd killed some o' the best witches an' wizards of the age - the McKinnons, the Bones, the Prewetts - an' you was only a baby, an' you lived."

Permalink Eye

 

"And no one knows why...?"

Permalink Eye

He shakes his head. "No one. I took yeh from the ruined house myself, on Dumbledore's orders. Brought yeh ter the Dursleys... If I'd known..."

Permalink Eye

...He isn't sure how to respond to that.

Permalink Eye

"An' You-Know-Who... disappeared. Vanished. Same night he tried ter kill you. Makes yeh even more famous. That's the biggest myst'ry, see... he was gettin' more an' more powerful - why'd he go?"

Permalink Eye

"That's very strange."

Permalink Eye

"Some say he died. Codswallop, in my opinion. Dunno if he had enough human left in him to die. Some say he's still out there, bidin' his time, like, but I don' believe it. People who was on his side came back ter ours. Some of 'em came outta kinda trances. Don' reckon they could've done if he was comin' back.

"Most of us reckon he's still out there somewhere but lost his powers. Too weak to carry on. 'Cause somethin' about you finished him, Victor. There was somethin' goin' on that night he hadn't counted on - I dunno what it was, no one does - but somethin' about you stumped him, all right."

Hagrid looks at Victor with warmth and respect blazing in his eyes.

Permalink Eye

...that is a whole new kind of frightening.

But -

If he somehow defeated this evil wizard when he was just a baby, he had better act like the sort of person who can defeat evil wizards, hadn't he?

Permalink Eye

"So, er, ev'ryone knows about yeh, and when they see the scar they'll know who yeh are. That's why they want ter meet yeh, shake yer hand. Yer a hero."

Permalink Eye

He nods thoughtfully.

"I see. Thank you for explaining."

Permalink Eye

"O' course." He gets up again and stretches, and the sounds his joints make at the crack are even more ominous than the ones made by the chair. He seems unperturbed by this, and says, "Well, we should get goin', then, but we got time fer a bite to eat before yer train leaves."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you," says Victor.

Permalink Eye

The afternoon is winding down as they make their way through London (after bidding an empty Leaky Cauldron and its bartender Tom farewell), and they stop so buy a hamburger and sit on plastic seats to eat them. 

Permalink Eye

This is good.

Permalink Eye

They finish eating and finally return to the station. Hagrid helps Victor onto the train that will take him back to the Dursleys, then hands him an envelope.

"Yer ticket fer Hogwarts," he says. "First o' September - King's Cross - it's all on yer ticket. Any problems with the Dursleys, send me a letter with yer... raven... he'll know where ter find me... See yeh soon, Victor "

Permalink Eye

This is... less good.

But there's not much he can do about it.

"Thank you," he says. "See you in September."

Permalink Eye

Victor's last month with the Dursleys is... different. Dudley's now so scared of Victor he won't stay in the same room, while Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon don't shut Victor in his cupboard, force him to do anything, or shout at him - in fact, they barely speak to him at all (although a few times he catches what look suspiciously like guilty looks from Aunt Petunia). They act as though any chair with Victor in it is empty.

Permalink Eye

This is somewhat unsettling but much better than it could've gone. He does all his chores without being asked, and takes very good care of his raven.

Permalink Eye

The raven is particularly terrifying. They stay well away from it.

And eventually it's August thirty-first.

Permalink Eye

"I need to be at King's Cross Station in London tomorrow at eleven o'clock to catch my train," he says, in case his aunt and uncle need reminding.

Permalink Eye

Uncle Vernon grunts.

Permalink Eye

That will have to do, he supposes.

Permalink Eye

Uncle Vernon actually speaks before he leaves, though.

"Funny way to get to a wizards' school, the train. Magic carpets all got punctures, have they?"

Permalink Eye

It seems safest not to respond to that one.

Permalink Eye

"Where is this school, anyway?"

Permalink Eye

"I think it's in Scotland."

Permalink Eye

"How do you get there? Which train?"

Permalink Eye

"My ticket says Hogwarts Express, eleven o'clock."

Permalink Eye

"King's Cross, eh?" He grumbles a bit more, then says, "All right, we'll take you. We're going up to London tomorrow anyway, or I wouldn't bother."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you, Uncle Vernon."

Permalink Eye

The Dursleys resume ignoring him for the rest of the day.

Permalink Eye

That's all right. As long as he gets to the train on time.

Permalink Eye

They get in the car at seven in the morning (Aunt Petunia convinces Dudley to sit next to Victor) and arrive at King's Cross at half past ten. "What's your platform, boy?"

Permalink Eye

"Nine and three-quarters."

Permalink Eye

His aunt and uncle stare. "Platform what?"

Permalink Eye

"Nine and three-quarters. It's a magic platform," he says, because with a number like nine and three-quarters that seems obvious.

Permalink Eye

"Barking," he says, "howling mad, the lot of them. Alright." He loads Victor's trunk onto a cart (but stays well away from the cage with the creepy bird) and starts wheeling it towards the station for him.

Permalink Eye

"Thank you, Uncle Vernon," he says, because Uncle Vernon could after all have left Victor to push his luggage trolley by himself. He carries Muninn's cage and a bag he packed that morning with his wand and a set of robes and some books for the train.

Permalink Eye

Uncle Vernon stops dead as they reach the platforms, facing them with a nasty grin on his face.

"Well, there you are, boy. Platform nine - platform ten. Your platform should be somewhere in the middle." There is indeed a big plastic number nine over one platform and a big plastic number ten over the one next to it, and in the middle, nothing at all. "Have a good term," he says with an even nastier smile. He leaves without another word. 

Permalink Eye

Aunt Petunia looks over her shoulder at him as she follows Uncle Vernon, but doesn't say anything, either.

Permalink Eye

He sets Muninn's cage down atop his luggage trolley.

"Suggestions?" he asks, only half joking. Muninn is a smart bird.

Permalink Eye

He calmly picks the lock on his cage, nudges the door open, hops out, and flutters to the floor in front of the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Then he walks through it like it isn't there.

A second later, with, if possible, a smug look on his feathered face, he strolls back through the barrier and flies up to perch on Victor's shoulder.

Permalink Eye

"...Thank you, Muninn."

He pushes the trolley through the barrier.

Permalink Eye

And on the other side:

A scarlet steam engine waits next to a platform packed with people. A sign overhead says Hogwarts Express, eleven o'clock. Behind him there's a wrought-iron archway where the barrier was, with the words Platform Nine and Three-Quarters on it.

Smoke from the engine drifts over the heads of the chattering crowd, while cats of every color wound here and there between their legs. Owls hoot to one another in a disgruntled sort of way over the babble and the scraping of heavy trunks.

The first few carriages are already packed with students, some hanging out of the window to talk to their families, some fighting over seats. 

Permalink Eye

He'd better get on the train and find a deserted compartment, then.

He does that.

Permalink Eye

There are a small but nonzero number of those!

Permalink Eye

He claims one and sits down and gets Hogwarts: A History out of his bag and starts reading it from where he left off.

Permalink Eye

Muninn is probably not reading over his shoulder, because ravens aren't literate. Right?

Permalink Eye

Well, mail-carrying birds have to be able to detect addresses somehow...

Permalink Eye

And a few minutes later a boy knocks on his compartment door and opens it. "Hi, can I stay here? Most of the other compartments are full."

Permalink Eye

"Yes, all right," says Victor.

Permalink Eye

Muninn peers up at the newcomer with bright black eyes.

Permalink Eye

"I'm Dayo," he introduces himself as he drags his trunk inside. "Nice to meet you."

Permalink Eye

"I'm Victor. And this is Muninn."

Permalink Eye

"Nice to meet you." Peer. "Are you Victor Evans?"

Permalink Eye

 

"Yes," he says, looking away.

Permalink Eye

"Cool! I read about you in Modern Magical History!"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, I've read that one too," he says, sounding like he is not entirely happy about appearing in history books.

Permalink Eye

"- I can not talk about it if you'd rather," he says, stowing his trunk somewhere and taking a seat.

Permalink Eye

"...thank you," he says. "I shouldn't be so ungrateful. I'm sure lots of people would like to be famous."

Permalink Eye

"I would, but not for just about any reason. Getting rid of an evil magical serial killer would be a thing I'd like to be famous for. Although doing it when I was one year old would make it a bit sour, it's not like you had much agency then - and this is not shutting up, I'll shut up now."

Permalink Eye

Victor smiles slightly. "Thank you," he repeats.

Permalink Eye

Muninn looks at Dayo. The thoughtful air in the way he tilts his head is probably just the work of cultural stereotypes surrounding ravens.

Permalink Eye

Maybe, but...

"Are you a magical raven?" he asks.

Permalink Eye

"What's it to you?" he croaks.

Permalink Eye

"I got him from the owl shop. I've heard ravens can talk like parrots; I think magical ravens can talk a little better than parrots," says Victor.

Permalink Eye

"Owl shop?"

Permalink Eye

"The person at the shop said he's a certified mail-carrying bird, just like an owl."

Permalink Eye

"Why were you in an owl shop?" he asks Muninn directly.

Permalink Eye

"What's it to you?" he repeats.

Permalink Eye

"I'm just an extremely curious person," he explains.

Permalink Eye

"He doesn't exactly hold conversations," says Victor. "It's hard to tell how much he understands."

Permalink Eye

"I'm the prettiest," says Muninn.

Permalink Eye

"See, that sounded a lot like deflection. I can not ask about your lurid past if you'd rather," he informs the bird.

Permalink Eye

"What sounded like deflection?"

Permalink Eye

"Him saying he's the prettiest."

Permalink Eye

"It's me!" says Muninn.

Permalink Eye

"No, he just says that a lot," says Victor.

Permalink Eye

"Right but that'd just make it plausibly deniable."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not sure ravens understand plausible deniability," says Victor.

Permalink Eye

"Regular ravens don't, but who knows what magical ravens are like? I don't."

Permalink Eye

"He doesn't talk that much better than a parrot."

Permalink Eye

He squints at Muninn. "I'm onto you, mister."

Permalink Eye

"I'm the prettiest!"

Permalink Eye

Victor smiles.

Permalink Eye

"See, when we need him most because our lives are in dire peril and the only thing that could save us is a well-placed talking bird, he will reveal his true intelligence and then be smug forevermore."

Permalink Eye

"That does sound like exactly the sort of thing he would do if he were as intelligent as you think he is."

Permalink Eye

"Does it? I didn't know I was good with birds. Wicked."

Permalink Eye

"Well, it might still be a coincidence."

Permalink Eye

"Nope, I am henceforth Dayo, the Bird King."

Permalink Eye

Victor turns his head slightly to address Muninn and asks, "Do you want him as your king?"

Permalink Eye

"What's it to you?"

Permalink Eye

He laughs softly.

Permalink Eye

"No, see, you're getting the systems of government confused, here. It's a monarchy not a democracy."

Permalink Eye

"Liberté, égalité, fraternité!" croaks Muninn.

Permalink Eye

Victor looks slightly puzzled. Was that French? He's not sure.

Permalink Eye

"Did you just quote the motto of France. Did you just make a reference to the French Revolution?"

Permalink Eye

"Did he?" blinks Victor.

Permalink Eye

"Yes! Yes he did!"

Permalink Eye

"Muninn," he says, "did you just make a reference to the French Revolution?"

Permalink Eye

 

 

Muninn makes a noise remarkably like a sigh.

"That's what I get for making assumptions about your education," he says. "But don't tell anybody. I'm living like this for a reason."

Permalink Eye

"Yes! I win! I'm totally bird king! What's the reason?"

Permalink Eye

"Have you seen how they treat people who aren't human around here? Owls have it better."

Permalink Eye

"I have not, actually, seen that. I'm muggleborn, I only just joined this world. Although A History does paint a fairly bleak picture, if you read between the lines."

Permalink Eye

"Exactly," says Muninn. "I want none of that. If everybody thinks I'm a chatty owl, I'm safe from that nonsense."

He preens Victor's hair with his beak. "I was going to tell you eventually," he says. "Actually I thought you might've guessed already."

Permalink Eye

"It... seemed like, if you were smarter than you looked, you must have a good reason for not wanting to look as smart as you were."

Permalink Eye

"You should probably not reference the French Revolution if you want people not to think you're as smart as you are, but mum's the word."

Permalink Eye

"Yes, yes, shame on me for assuming an eleven-year-old knows less history than I do," he says.

Permalink Eye

He attempts not to grin. "To be fair most eleven-year-olds wouldn't, I just had a lot of free time and school is boring so I decided to study something cool instead."

Permalink Eye

"Good choice!"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, but now with magic school I don't know if there'll be anything that's not cool."

Permalink Eye

"Don't get your hopes up," he advises. "Well, you can if you want."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, maybe Care of Magical Creatures -" Pause. "You don't hate me!" he speaks the realisation out loud, as if it's the most surprising thing to happen since he walked into the compartment.

Permalink Eye

"...Am I supposed to?"

Permalink Eye

"Well literally all other animals do."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. That doesn't sound like fun."

Permalink Eye

"It's not very."

Permalink Eye

"Well, now you're friends with a raven. Congratulations."

Permalink Eye

"Now don't be sarcastic at me, I'm your king."

Permalink Eye

The door of the compartment suddenly slides open and an extremely red-haired boy sticks his head in.

"Anyone sitting there?" he asks, pointing at a seat opposite Victor. "Everywhere else is full."

Permalink Eye

"No, no one is sitting there."

Permalink Eye

He drags his trunk in and sits, then. He has a black mark on his nose.

"I'm Ron. Weasley."

Permalink Eye

"Dayo."

Permalink Eye

"Victor. It's nice to meet you."

Permalink Eye

He notices Muninn. "Are you allowed a raven? I didn't know."

Permalink Eye

"The person at the owl shop said he was just like an owl and there wouldn't be any trouble over it."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, I guess," he says, and then - pauses. "Whoa. Wait. Are you...?" he asks, squinting at Victor.

Permalink Eye

 

He sighs.

"Yes, I'm Victor Evans," he says.

Permalink Eye

"So that's where you -" he starts, looking at the scar.

Permalink Eye

"He doesn't like to talk about it."

Permalink Eye

"Why not?"

Permalink Eye

"Because my parents died," he says, which is a reason if not the only one.

Permalink Eye

"Oh. Right. Sorry."

Permalink Eye

"So you were raised by muggles, too?" Dayo asks Victor, trying to change the subject.

Permalink Eye

"Yes. My Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. They don't know very much about magic, so I didn't learn anything about it until last month when I got my letter."

Permalink Eye

"Muggle pals!" he says, offering a fist for a fist bump.

Permalink Eye

He blinks, then hesitantly bumps it.

Permalink Eye

Ron also blinks at this bizarre display of muggleness. "What are muggles like?"

Permalink Eye

"Well, what are wizards like?"

Permalink Eye

"Well they're all different!"

Permalink Eye

"So are Muggles."

Permalink Eye

"...okay, I guess. What about the ones you lived with?"

Permalink Eye

"I think they're afraid of magic," he says. "And they like everything to be neat and orderly."

Permalink Eye

"How about you?" he asks Dayo, as the train starts moving.

Permalink Eye

"It's only Mum, and she's great and I love her very much and she treats me like a real person and listens to me and is great."

Permalink Eye

"What do you mean, 'like a real person'?"

Permalink Eye

"Teachers don't treat me like a real person, for example. They treat me like a nuisance that happens to be able to talk. They do that to all kids, sure. Mum doesn't."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. Yes, I think I see what you mean now."

Permalink Eye

"My mum's nice about that, I guess. But it's kinda hard 'cause - I have five older brothers."

Permalink Eye

Victor is not sure he can imagine what having five older brothers is like. It sounds... busy.

Permalink Eye

"Hard how?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm the sixth in our family to go to Hogwarts. You could say I've got a lot to live up to. Bill and Charlie have already left - Bill was head boy and Charlie was captain of Quidditch. Now Percy's a prefect. Fred and George mess around a lot, but they still get really good grades and everyone thinks they're really funny. Everyone expects me to do as well as the others, but if I do, it's no big deal, because they did it first. You never get anything new, either, with five brothers. I've got Bill's old robes, Charlie's old wand, and Percy's old rat."

He reaches inside his jacket and pulls out a fat gray rat, which is asleep.

"His name's Scabbers and he's useless, he hardly ever wakes up. Percy got an owl from my dad for being made a prefect, but they couldn't aff- I mean, I got Scabbers instead." Ron's ears go pink.

Permalink Eye

Victor inspects the rat.

Permalink Eye

Muninn also inspects the rat.

Permalink Eye

"I get a lot of my cousin Dudley's old things," says Victor, "but I had to get all new magic things because Dudley's a Muggle and didn't have any."

Permalink Eye

"Mum sorta had to raise me on her own and she doesn't make a lot of money all year. I'm gonna use magic to get rich, though. But I always knew I would."

Permalink Eye

"...You always knew you would make a lot of money with magic? How?"

Permalink Eye

"So you know how kids always have accidental displays of magic? Mine were flashier. I'm a metamorphmagus. Means I can basically look like whatever I want."

Permalink Eye

"Wicked! Show us something!"

Permalink Eye

"How about this?"

Permalink Eye

...Victor blinks. He is not sure how to respond to this.

Permalink Eye

Ron's startled. "You can change even that?"

Permalink Eye

"Mum says the first magic I did when I was one year old was shift like this," he explains, morphing back. "So I never really... you know, decided to just be a single gender."

Permalink Eye

...well, okay, that seems fairly straightforward.

Permalink Eye

"So wait, you're not a boy?"

Permalink Eye

"Right now I am. Some days I won't be."

Permalink Eye

"Can you change other things too?" he wonders hesitantly. It's an interesting power.

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, pretty much anything -" And now he has chameleon eyes.

Permalink Eye

He yelps.

Permalink Eye

"That's interesting," says Victor.

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He giggles and is back to regular human. "I can't turn all of myself into an animal, though. Just bits. Not my brain, for sure."

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"Really? Why not?"

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"Probably 'cause if I did then I'd be that animal and wouldn't be smart enough to go back."

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"But animagi can do it."

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"Yeah and it's a special type of magic and they don't even get to pick the animal they turn into, it's not just regular transfiguration."

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"I don't know what those are," says Victor.

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"There's a type of magic you can learn which lets you turn into an animal but still think like a person. People who can do that are animagi. You don't get to pick the animal, though, and it's really hard to learn, and if you're an animagus you have to register your animagus form with the government. If you learn it you don't need to use a wand to do it and it's really easy, though."

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"If you were an animagus could you turn yourself into different animals then?" he wonders.

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"I have no idea!"

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"Do you think you'll try it?"

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"I don't know, it takes a long time and lots of work and I don't know what other things I could be doing with my time."

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He nods. This seems sensible.

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"I think I wanna learn a lot of spells and transfiguration and potions. They sound like fun."

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"Potions sound a lot like cooking, and I'm good at cooking," says Victor. "I'm not sure about the rest."

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Ron squirms uncomfortably and looks out the window.

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Victor blinks uncertainly at him.

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And Dayo decides it's time to change the subject so he starts speculating about stuff he read in Hogwarts: A History. They apparently have a giant squid!!

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"Yes, I read that too."

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How cool is that? Dayo hopes it doesn't hate him, and explains to Ron why it might when he expresses confusion over this point. This successfully distracts Ron from his earlier discomfort.

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That's a good thing for Dayo to be doing.

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Around half past twelve there's a great clattering outside in the corridor and a smiling, dimpled woman slides back their door and says, "Anything off the cart, dears?"

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Victor looks uncertainly at the cart.

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It contains Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, Chocolate Frogs, Pumpkin Pasties, Cauldron Cakes, Licorice Wands, and a number of other strange things Victor has probably never seen in his life.

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Ron mumbles something about having brought sandwiches, going pink.

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Dayo looks interested, however.

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Victor inspects the selection, calculates prices in his head, glances at his companions, and then says, "Three of everything, please."

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"You really don't have to," he says as the witch starts filling a bag with Victor's order.

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"No, but I want to," he says. "I've never gotten to give someone candy before."

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"If you insist."

The transaction is completed and he now has: a ton of magical junk food.

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Ron stares at it.

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"And now we can each have one of everything," says Victor.

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Ron looks at his lumpy packages and decides to accept. He reaches for a purple pentagonal box with "chocolate frog" written on it and starts opening it.

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Well, Dayo follows suit, then.

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Okay, chocolate frogs it is.

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"See what the card is, I'm missing Agrippa."

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Dayo's frog jumps, causing him to jump.

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Victor's frog attempts to escape. Muninn captures it, bites its head off, and deposits the rest in Victor's hand.

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Victor giggles softly.

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Dayo catches his and glares at it, then puts it whole in his mouth.

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"Aw, man, I got Morgana," Ron says of the little pentagonal card that came with his frog. "I have like six of those. What did you get?" he asks the other two.

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Dayo mumbles something unintelligible.

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He inspects the card. "Albus Dumbledore."

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Swallow. "Says Merlin, but there's no one in the frame."

And just as Dayo says this, Dumbledore leaves Victor's card's frame.

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"Maybe he will come back later."

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"Well, you can't expect them to hang around all day."

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"Muggle pictures and paintings don't have any magic making them- oh, he's back. And he's actually moving." He looks up at Ron. "Erm, are pictures people?"

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"What?"

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...that's a good question but he's not sure Ron is equipped to answer it. He's not sure who is. Maybe Hagrid, if he approached it the right way.

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"- never mind."

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"Well, anyway, I have bunches of this, do either of you want it?" he asks, offering his Morgana card.

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Victor glances at Dayo to see whether he wants it or not.

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Seems pretty indifferent.

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"Yes, thank you," he says, holding out his hand for the card.

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Ron gives it to him, and eyes the pile of stuff Victor's bought again.

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"What should we try next?"

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"...Every Flavour Beans?" he suggests.

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"You want to be careful with those," Ron warns. "When they say every flavor, they mean every flavor - you know, you get all the ordinary ones like chocolate and peppermint and marmalade, but then you can get spinach and liver and tripe. George reckons he had a booger-flavored one once."

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"All right," says Victor. "Well, let's see."

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Ron takes one and "Bleaaargh - see? Sprouts."

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"I got toast."

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"Almond," concludes Victor of his brown-flecked white bean. "That's interesting. I like these."

He tries another one. "I don't recognize that flavour."

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"This one's grass."

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"Chocolate!"

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Another one. "...coffee, I think."

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That goes on for a bit while the countryside flying past the window becomes wilder, the neat fields replaced by woods, twisting rivers, and dark green hills.

There's a knock on the door of their compartment and a round-faced boy comes in, looking tearful. "Sorry," he says, "but have you seen a toad at all?"

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Victor shakes his head. "I'm sorry, I haven't. Did you lose one?"

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He wails. "Yes! He keeps getting away from me!"

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"I could help you look," he offers.

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"Would you?"