Looking out over the town from his lofty vantage point, the small boy sitting on the roof of his school began to notice one detail that stood out. Everything was the same in every direction. The streets were all pointed North/South or East/West. The houses all had the same roofs, same four layouts, same meticulous yards, same fences, same, same, same. There was no variety, no room for expression, individuality, or creativity. And there was no room for deviation from the status quo. The sign on entering this little slice of beige stated 'Welcome to Little Whinging, a point of peace in this overly chaotic world, ' and almost everyone thought that was a wonderful way to live. The problem was that if everyone was supposed to be the same, then where did a "Freak" like him fit in here?
Harry James Potter had not even known his name until a little under two years ago when he started primary school. He had been taught to clean and cook from the time he could walk, often with the lessons being punctuated with a fist, belt, or on a few occasions, a frying pan. He was blamed for every bad thing that happened to his family, whether or not it was his fault. His Uncle missed out on a promotion at work, and he felt the brunt of his Uncle's anger at home that night. His Aunt didn't get the award for best yard in town, and he had to get stitches for 'falling' on a pair of garden shears. His cousin fell and scraped his knee because he was too fat to catch Harry while playing 'Harry Hunting, ' and Harry could expect a beating worse than if he had just let himself get caught by Dudley and his gang. Yet this was the only life that Harry knew was possible, that is until he learned to read.
Harry knew from very painful experience not to do better in school than Dudley, a good test result meant a severe beating on Friday so that he would have time to heal before school Monday. However, Harry learned early in his first year that there was one safe zone in the school or neighborhood that Dudley would not enter for any reason, that safe place was the Library. It wasn't because Dudley was afraid of books that he wouldn't go there; it was because of the Librarians. Ms. Prudence Ashington-Smythe and her dowager sister Lady Abigail Smythe-Covington ruled the local libraries as their own personal fiefdom. Those two sisters were both widowed during the war and moved back together for comfort and family. They decided after a few years of the social scene, that they would not re-marry but they felt that they wanted to be around children. With that purpose in mind they decided to work in the local libraries. Many a generation of schoolboy ran headlong into the Basilisk like stare of one of the sisters while causing disruption in one of 'their' libraries.
One day Dudley and his gang decided to corner Harry in the back of the school library and have a little fun with him while their class was having study time. Unfortunately for them, but very fortunately for Harry, both sisters were there to talk about a new way of keeping track of books using computers. The disturbance took place right outside a door in the back of the library that happened to be the office of Lady Abigail when she was in the library. Piers Polkiss was holding Harry from behind while Dudley was punching him and the rest of the gang was egging him on. Suddenly, like avenging Angels, The Smythe sisters came barreling out and grabbed Dudley and Piers by their ears and pulled them away from Harry. They proceeded to lecture them about library etiquette while dragging them outside. The whole class followed, not wanting to miss seeing Dudley, the bully, get in trouble. Outside the school library was a willow tree that Ms. Prudence headed toward while Lady Abigail held both squealing boys. Taking a moment, Ms. Prudence selected two nice and springy branches, and then pealed them of all leaves before breaking them off the tree. Each sister took a boy and sat down on a bench, getting ready to teach some manners to the two ruffians. It was at that moment that their teacher decided to speak up.
"You can't do that to those boys, that's Dudley Dursley. He wouldn't be involved with doing anything wrong; it was probably that troublemaker Potter that got them in trouble." Said the Teacher.
Now it should probably be noted that the teacher was not a bad person for saying that, even though he knew it not to be true. It was just that he had been brought in to replace the previous teacher who had asked too many questions and had made allegations of abuse against the boyhood friend of the Headmaster and local councilman. She was summarily dismissed and he was brought in to replace her, all while being told that it was not wise to accuse such an upstanding man of anything, when it was clearly lies spread by his troublemaking nephew who had been taken in out of the goodness of Vernon and Petunia Dursley's heart. And while he may have wanted to say something, he had a wife and a new child at their new home and could not afford to lose this job. So like many others in Harry's life, the teacher turned a blind eye to any abuse that Dudley caused to his 'troublemaker' cousin. The Smythe sisters though, were of an entirely different breed. They were beholden to no one and did not fear the wrath of any mere man.
Lady Abigail looked him in the eye and stated firmly, "What goes on in our Library is our domain. If you do not like that, or want to argue, stand quietly and when we are through with these ruffians, we will proceed to teaching you manners next."
Harry's teacher knew he was not about to let that happen, so he backed up and decided to get the headmaster. After all, it was above his pay grade, and he really did want Dudley to get shown what for. As he walked away though not with any particular hurry to inform the headmaster of what was going on, he smiled to himself as the two boys started squealing at their punishment. He thought to himself, 'Wow; that Dudley kid squeals like the pig he resembles.'
When he arrived back with the Headmaster, the two women were done with Dudley and Piers, making the young hoodlums stand facing the wall while they sat on either side of Harry Potter, deep in a very focused conversation. When Tim looked over at headmaster Douglas's face, and the red mottled color it had become, he decided to remove himself from the confrontation. After all, no matter who won the upcoming battle, it would probably be him that lost in the end.
Headmaster Brian Douglas had been a member of this community all his life. Even when he went away to Smelting's Boarding school, and then University with his friends, he always planned on coming back and being a leader in the community with his friends. He and his cohorts considered Little Whinging to be their town to deal with as they saw fit, no matter what anyone else's opinion was. Now here was his chance to rein in those two old battle axes who believed to that they could order their betters around. It was bad enough that they did not come to his staff meetings, but the fact that they felt that they could boss around men, being that they were women, was just unacceptable. And now they had gone too far. How dare they punish two fun-loving, irascible young bucks like Dudley and Piers for expressing the piss and vinegar of youth. And on top of that, to take the side of the ungrateful, lazy, troublemaking nephew of his best friend Vernon Dursley what something that he would not stand by and allow to happen.
The first inkling of approaching trouble that Harry, Ms. Prudence, and Lady Abigail had was when the rather large and corpulent shadow of the Headmaster seemed to block out the sun. The next sign of danger that the two ladies had, was Harry beginning to tremble like a leaf while trying to almost shrink into himself and make himself invisible. Then a ham sized fist reached between them to grab little Harry, and the yelling began.
"How dare you spread your lies and ungratefulness to those around you Potter! Everyone knows that you are a trouble maker and that you constantly abuse the good nature of your loving Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia by spreading untruths about their son Dudley. Well Boy, this time you have gone too far with your lies and I will be calling Vernon just as soon as you apologize to these ladies for causing them to error as to who the real delinquent in need of punishment is." Headmaster Douglas said all of this in one breath, expecting that his gruff and no nonsense approach would make sure no one would challenge him and his views of what was really going on.
Unfortunately for him, Ms. Prudence and Lady Abigail were not ones who could be so easily cowed. The first clue that things would not go his way was the fact that his hand was shoved away from Harry and across his considerable girth, making him lose his balance and have to stumble to remain upright. It also didn't help his mood and sense of authority when an anonymous voice at the back of the crowd shouted out, "Timber! Watch out for fatty, you will die if he crushes you." This was followed by much laughter, including Dudley and Piers. The second was when he felt an excruciating pain on his ear and he was led away from the crowd by two very irate sisters, both with a very determined set to their jaws.
The Headmaster opened his mouth to protest this treatment when Lady Abigail hissed, "You will be silent Brian Douglas until we have moved into the library to have a word with you. Don't think we don't remember you and your friends from when you were school boys." Anything else was lost to the onlookers as he was led into the library and the doors closed. After waiting for a few moments to see if anything more was going to happen, the crowd began to disperse into the school yard to find other pursuits to occupy their time. Soon only Harry was left, still sitting on the bench where he was placed. It was not that he wanted to stay, but since Dudley and Piers had left the wall and were out there, he knew that there was no chance of him being able to play with anyone anyway.
When the bell rang and they had not returned, Harry slowly made his way back to class, each step heavier than the last. All through the rest of the day, Harry dreaded what was to come, knowing that his Uncle Vernon would punish him for getting poor little Dudley in trouble. When a note came to his classroom telling him to go to the library, he knew that his judgment time had come. He gathered his meager belongings, and made his way toward his doom.
Harry finally arrived at the doors of the school library, and with a sigh, entered in to where he felt his fate lay. The assistant librarian at the front desk looked at the sad and fearful boy who stood before her, and then motioned him to go to the back of the library where all the trouble had begun. Looking out the back office door, Ms. Prudence spotted him and waved for him to enter in. When he came in, he could no longer contain his sorrow and he dropped to his knees and sobbed out his pain.
"I am so sorry for making you lose your jobs." Harry cried. "I should have stayed quiet while they had their fun. After all, that is what a freak like me is good for. But now, Uncle Vernon will come and make you both leave like my last teacher when she said I was being abused. Uncle Vernon and his friends explained after she left that I couldn't be abused because I wasn't a normal child. I was a freak." Harry's sobs intensified and they could no longer understand what he was trying to say.
Both of the sisters felt their hearts go out to this lost little boy and they dropped to their knees on either side of him and wrapped him in their arms. They spent the next fifteen minutes rocking him back and forth and whispering encouraging words into his ears. Finally he calmed down and they raised him off the ground and seated him in a chair. Lady Abigail handed him a couple of tissue, and then began to speak.
"Harry, dear boy, we both thank you for your concern, but we did not lose our jobs, nor are we going anywhere. We had you sent here to talk to you about the options you have that you do not know you have." She paused before continuing. "While you are at school Harry, you are to consider the library here as your refuge, your escape from any pressures outside in the school yard. We looked up your records from your first month and you were above and beyond anyone else in your class. Can you tell us what changed and why?"
Harry at first didn't want to answer, but seeing the kindness in their eyes, the story came pouring out, as once he began Harry found that he couldn't stop. He told his story to these two kind ladies, not noticing that they became steadily more horrified as his story went on. He told them about learning to clean and then cook for his family. About pushing the mower across the grass in the heat of summer and ripping his hands up as he pruned the roses with no gloves. He told them about the stories that his family told him about his parents being drunks and shiftless lay abouts who were on the Dole. He talked about his cupboard, the beatings, Harry hunting, and Aunt Marge's dogs. With each word that he uttered his shoulders seemed to lift as if free from an overwhelming weight, while the two sisters struggled to hide their horror at what this sweet boy had gone through. Finally his story arrived at him entering school. He was so excited to be attending school, he had dreamed what it was like from Dudley's talk about Pre-school. He overheard his Aunt and Uncle debating on whether or not they could get away with keeping him home and never sending him, saying that they could say that he was mentally challenged and would not fit in. He apparently ruined that plan by talking to a police officer while he was cleaning up the weeds that were in the front flowerbed. Then he talked about the joy of finding out his name was Harry, not boy or freak. His first day of school was one of wonder and excitement. He didn't know there were this many kids in the whole world, and there were adults that had a kind word for everyone, even someone like him.
Harry continued to talk to his captivated audience about the joys of learning. After two weeks of school, Harry was absorbing knowledge at a prodigious rate. He was constantly asking questions, since he was taught not to ask any at home. He read every book in the classroom and had many a discussion with his wonderful and kind teacher about what the world was like and what he could do. Then came the day of the class's first test. Harry was excited as he knew all the answers without even having to struggle. At the end of school the next day, Harry got his test back and at the top was a very large A* written in red ink with a smiley face and a good job written next to it. Harry felt lighter than air as he ran home, easily out running Dudley and his friends. He had seen Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia's reactions to Dudley's acceptable reports from the year before and felt that for once they might be proud of him. When he got home, his Aunt had a list of chores that he had to do because they were having guests for dinner and she needed to run to the store. Harry carefully put his first test into his cupboard and then got so busy that he forgot to bring it up before he was locked into his cupboard for the night so as not to disturb Vernon's guests. Dudley was shuffled off for the night to his friend Piers house, since the guests were an older couple who did not have much use for children.
The next day when Harry was let out, there was again no time for him to share as he needed to weed the garden as judging for best yard would happen later in the coming week. Finally Dudley came home and dumped his backpack on the floor in front of the stairs and went to get a snack. Aunt Petunia was about to yell at Harry to take the bag to her precious Duddems room, when she decided to organize it for him and take out his clothes from the day before. When she found Dudley's test marked with a D, she went and gave him a big hug and told him she was proud of him. Vernon came in at that moment and ruffled his son's hair and said they would go and eat out as reward. Harry, seeing his chance and hoping to be allowed to go with them, ran to his cupboard and brought out his A* that he was so proud of and wanted to share with his family.
Harry paused for a moment and then his whole body shivered as he remembered, though not clearly, what happened next. Harry brought his test in, and shyly handed it to his Uncle, while looking down at his toes. He was hoping for a kind word, and maybe even a hug from them for his effort. What he got was an explosion of stars behind his eyes as his Uncle's fist crashed into the side of his head, knocking him to the ground. What followed was a truly brutal beating as his Uncle accused him of cheating by switching tests with Dudley. He was told that there was no way that a freak could out score a normal kid like Dudley. Harry felt his arm snap from Uncle Vernon's foot coming down on it, and then he collapsed into darkness. Harry woke up in his cupboard, and he could barely move without crying out and he knew not to do that from past experience. He made himself as comfortable as he could and then went to sleep knowing he would heal eventually.
Harry missed school on Monday, but was healed enough to go on Tuesday. When the teacher noticed that he was favoring his right arm and writing with his left, she decided to talk to him at lunch. When he told her what had happened, at first she didn't believe it, but later in the week she heard Dudley bragging about how his dad had shown the freak that stealing his test would do him no good. Being a conscientious teacher, she went to her supervisor to report her suspicions of abuse in Harry's home. The headmaster came to her a week later along with Vernon Dursley, Mark Hammond from Children's Health and Welfare, and Chauncey Jones from the local constabulary. They cornered her in her classroom and told her that she was fired unless she wanted to be their plaything and ignore whatever she thought was going on. When she refused, they began to close in on her. Only the passing of a teacher and some students saved her, and she used the distraction to get out. The next day she caught Harry on his way home and told him she was sorry and that she was leaving. When Harry asked why, she told him about the day before, and told him to hide his intelligence and keep himself safe until he could escape. She tearfully said goodbye, apologizing again for not being able to help keep him safe from harm. She then climbed into her car and drove off, forcing herself not to look in the mirror for fear that she would go back and take Harry with her as she escaped this town and the evil it hid behind its façade of normalcy; Harry never saw her again. After that, Harry learned to do the same or worse than Dudley, and to never stand out, asking no questions and just trying to blend in with the background.
Lady Abigail was the first to break the silence after he finished, and her response was very unladylike. "Those sons of bi--," Her voice trailed off as she tried to get her anger under control. "Harry, I want you to take your old teachers advice and keep your head down. Not only will this library be a haven for you, but also there is a library about six blocks from your house that you can come to on weekends and during the holidays. We will look into other ways to help you, but for now, just focus on staying safe."
She then turned to her sister. "Pru, I am going to give Harry a ride to my library and then walk him home so he knows how to get there. Meet me there when you close up and we will talk more." The Lady looked once again at Harry and continued, "Come with me Harry, adventure awaits." And to his utter surprise, Harry believed her.