Chapter 1 - In which a boy receives a letter and learns of his extraordinary talent
Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Dursley were, at first glance, very normal, and were perfectly happy to keep it that way, thank you very much. They lived in a quiet neighbourhood in Little Whinging, a small utopian suburban neighbourhood. Their perfectly manicured lawn was the pride and joy of Mrs. Dursley, much to the continued annoyance of her neighbours, who never understood how the more than slightly sharpish woman had time to micromanage her garden. The house at 4 Privet Drive was the epitome of normal appearances: one front door (white), one porch (enclosed with mosquito netting), one garden (perfectly maintained), containing one family (normal, thank you very much). Mr. and Mrs. Dursley were hiding an unfortunately large secret - one so large that, while hidden, it had to be kept in the cupboard under the stairs. This secret's name was Harry Potter.
Harry Potter was a rather small boy at ten years old, and was shockingly pale. He had jet-black hair which refused to behave by conventional norms, whose bangs fell over his forehead and into his piercing, and, according to the Dursleys, more than slightly unnerving green eyes. Harry's hair was long at the front for a reason - to hide the scar on his forehead ("It's just so…abnormal," shuddered Mrs. Petunia Dursley), which was shaped like a bolt of lightning. Harry spent his time in the Dursleys' house, for the most part, pretending not to exist and doing chores for his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. These were Harry's only living relations, though how he came to be related to these people he could not imagine. Where Harry was small, Uncle Vernon and his son Dudley ("Dinky Diddikums" to his mother) were large. Where Harry had a pleasant manner, the Dursleys were sharp, conniving, and disagreeable. Harry was convinced that Aunt Petunia had gotten her long neck by spending so much time peering over her neighbours' hedges, eavesdropping. All things told, Harry was not sure exactly how it was that these people were his Aunt and Uncle, or by what relation that was possible - Harry knew neither his mother or his father, having been set on the Dursleys' doorstep shortly after his parents died. Harry had attempted to ask Aunt Petunia about them, but quickly discovered that the key to a peaceful and painless existence for him at Number 4 was to not ask questions.
Harry was used to strange things happening around him. He could never explain why, for instance, he had run away from a gang of bullies and appeared on the roof of his school, or why his hair had grown back overnight after a particularly frightful haircut attempted by Aunt Petunia. This made the Dursleys, who craved normality (or, in Harry's case, the appearance thereof) above all else, dislike Harry all the more. All this combined to surprise Harry all the more when he, yes Harry himself, received mail the summer before his eleventh birthday. One morning in July - a very hot July at that - the Dursleys were sitting at the table enjoying their breakfast while Harry scurried about, fetching bacon or orange juice. Uncle Vernon turned to Dudley. "Dudley, fetch the mail please."
"Aw daddy, make Harry do it." Dudley was thoroughly engrossed in his eggs and bacon.
"Harry, fetch the mail."
"Make Dudley do it." Harry knew he was pressing the limits, but it was worth a shot, wasn't it?
"Smack him with your Smeltings Stick, Dudley." Uncle Vernon was, of course, referring to the swagger stick that came as part of the uniform for Dudley's new school, Smeltings Academy. With that, Harry was off to the front door, where the mail lay in a pile on the floor. As he sorted through the mail - a postcard, a pile of bills, a pamphlet - he noticed an odd-looking envelope on the bottom. It was made from thicker paper than the rest, and Harry thought it looked like parchment, but that couldn't be right, could it? As he looked at the envelope more closely, he noticed something very strange indeed. The addressee was, surprisingly, Mr. H. J. Potter, the Cupboard Under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey. This was written in a loopy scrawl, and just when Harry thought it couldn't be any stranger, in green ink. He passed out the mail to Uncle Vernon, keeping his letter to himself in the hopes, however futile, that his relations would be too busy eating their breakfast to notice.
Unfortunately, Dudley was paying slightly more attention than Harry perhaps gave him credit for. "Daddy, Harry has a letter!" Harry winced, and Uncle Vernon turned a rather violent shade of pink.
"Dudley, that's preposterous. Who would want to send that freak a letter?" While Uncle Vernon chortled away to himself behind his newspaper, and Dudley puzzled over this question, Harry slipped out of the kitchen and into his cupboard. He tore open the heavy envelope and struggled through the low light to read the green lettering.
Dear Mr. Potter,
It is our pleasure to inform you that you have been accepted to Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed your list of required equipment and texts. A professor from the School shall be visiting shortly to confirm your registration and answer any questions you may have.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
Harry blinked. Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore? This was, by far, the strangest name he had ever come across. He was sure that Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia would not take well to his letter. The raven-haired youth sat in his cupboard under the stairs for as long as he thought he would be able to get away with. When he emerged, he found the world outside his cupboard to be even stranger than in it. Standing in the middle of Aunt Petunia's pristine kitchen was a tall woman wearing what could only be described as a rather battered witch's hat, and a forest-green cloak. Uncle Vernon, who had turned a rather impressive shade of puce, seemed to have been struck dumb by whatever the woman had said. She seemed to sense his eyes on her, and turned to face the boy. "Hello, Mr. Potter." Harry couldn't do anything but stare up at the woman. She continued to speak. "My name is Minerva McGonagall, and I am a professor at Hogwart's School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. I trust you have received your letter?" Here she paused and looked at Harry inquiringly. He nodded again. "Then I am here to make sure you understand what is in it, and help you purchase your supplies."
Uncle Vernon seemed to have recovered his voice. "He'll not be going! I won't pay for him to go to some freak school and learn magic tricks!"
Professor McGonagall fixed Uncle Vernon with a cold glare, reminding Harry of the way a cat eyes a particularly troublesome chihuahua. The air seemed to grow colder, and the professor appeared to become larger, looming in the doorway menacingly. "Mr. Dursley, are you truly so self-deluded and full of your own perceived worth that you think that you are in a position to stop him? If Harry wishes it, he will attend." She turned back to Harry, once more appearing for all the world like a regular, though slightly oddly dressed, woman. "So, Mr. Potter, what do you think?"
Harry, for the first time, found his voice. "Ma'am, I'd really like to go, but -" He looked at the ground, suddenly interested in his shoes. "I don't have any money to pay for it."
The elder woman's gaze softened. "Well, we'll have to see about that, won't we, Mr. Potter? Why don't I take you out for the day?" With that, Professor McGonagall offered her arm to Harry, who took it. She turned on her heel, and both she and Harry vanished in a swirl of the green cloak, leaving behind a very angry Uncle Vernon.
Harry and Professor McGonagall appeared in an alley in London. "How did you like that, Harry?" The professor looked concerned. When Harry grimaced, trying to find words to describe the feeling of being pushed through a very small tube, she let a small smile grace her visage. "What I just did is called Apparition. It's one of the things you'll learn at Hogwart's, when you're old enough, of course." She began striding toward the street, and continued speaking in her rich Scottish burr. "There are many places in London, Harry, that muggles cannot see. We are very near Diagon Alley, where you will be able to purchase all your school supplies."
"I'm sorry, Professor," Harry looked up at her with wide eyes, "but what are muggles? And isn't 'diagonally' a direction? How can I shop there?"
The Scot paused for a moment to let Harry catch up. "Wizarding folk call non-magical people 'muggles', Harry. And it is not 'diagonally', but Diagon Alley, a part of London hidden from muggles and containing a variety of wizarding shops." Her gaze softened as she took in her green-eyed charge's confusion. "You'll see soon enough, Mr Potter. Come along now, and stay close: we are going to have to be quick if we wish to make our way through the Leaky Cauldron unannounced." When Harry looked like he was about to ask another question, she added hastily, "You'll soon see for yourself, Mr Potter." And with that, she walked toward a building that Harry could have sworn had appeared out of nowhere from in between a bookstore and a record shop. A sign over the door, ratty and worn out, read The Leaky Cauldron. Professor McGonagall pulled the door open and ushered Harry inside.
The inside of the building was dark, dusty, and lit, Harry noted curiously, by torchlight. It was crowded, with people in variously coloured robes sitting at a bar and at tables scattered around the room. As McGonagall followed him in, the bartender looked up, and greeted her. "Hello, Professor. Another young one for Hogwarts?"
Professor McGonagall nodded. "Yes indeed, Tom. We'll be on our way now."
Tom smiled. "Good luck, Professor."
Harry followed the professor through to the back of the building, where the woman pulled a long stick out of one of her pockets, and tapped it on the wall. Harry eyed her dubiously, wondering how on earth a small stick might change a brick wall, but he held his tongue and waited. To his astonishment, the wall started to shift. A hole, first small, but growing rapidly, appeared in the middle. With many scraping noises and chips falling, an archway appeared. Harry was speechless. The elderly Scot gazed down at him, an amused twinkle in her eyes. "Mr. Potter, welcome to Diagon Alley." She stepped forward, walking Harry, still beyond words, into a new world.
Diagon Alley was teeming with activity. Harry could scarcely keep up with Professor McGonagall, who was cutting through the crowds at a brisk, efficient clip. Everywhere he looked, something extraordinary was being sold ("Newt eyes, twenty sickles a jar!"), consumed (was that a real frog?), or displayed ("That's a Nimbus Two Thousand - the fastest racing broom yet!"). As he looked ahead, he spotted a large building made entirely of white marble looming ahead of him. Lettered in black rock above the gleaming golden doors was Gringott's Bank. The scotswoman paused, and gazed at Harry over her spectacles. "This, Mr. Potter, is the wizarding bank. It is owned and operated by goblins. These creatures, while small, do not enjoy the company of wizards. Please stay close." Harry nodded, and followed her up to the teller, which was occupied by a creature unlike any the boy had seen before. It was short, and squat, with a long, pointed nose, thin black hair, and spindly, grasping fingers that each finished in a black, pointed nail. The creature (a goblin, Harry supposed) had coal-black eyes that sparkled, as if lit with an inner fire. The aging professor stepped up to the counter. "Mr. Harry Potter would like to make a withdrawal."
The goblin looked at Harry, who gulped, and stepped closer to McGonagall. "Does Mr. Harry Potter have his key?" The goblin, whose name tag read "Griphook", sported a positively predatory grin. Harry blinked. Key? He looked up at the professor questioningly, and saw that she was holding a very small golden key out to Griphook, a twinkle in her eye. Once the goblin had examined the key (very thoroughly from Harry's perspective), he returned it to McGonagall, who in turn handed it to Harry and told him to keep it safe. They then turned and followed Griphook, who bade them into what appeared to be a mine cart, and told them to hold on.
It was a good thing, Harry decided, that the diminutive goblin had told both himself and the professor (who, he noted, looked like she had been here before) to hold on. The words had barely left Griphook’s mouth when the cart took off abruptly, sliding along rails that were so black they looked like they had been carved out of obsidian. The cart picked up speed quickly, jostling its occupants violently, and almost throwing Harry out. He was very thankful to be sitting next to the experienced professor, as she made sure to keep an arm on him at all times. Eventually the unlikely and somewhat, in Harry’s opinion, unsafe vehicle stopped outside a platform that bore the number 687. Griphook clambered out of the cart and grabbed the lamp that he had attached to the pole at the side of the cart while McGonagall ushered Harry onto the landing, and Harry, looking about, saw an immense cavern, seemingly bottomless, with tracks crisscrossing every direction into the darkness that surrounded them. Turning toward the wall, he frowned at what appeared to be a plain dark metal door set into the stone of the wall, with a single golden keyhole adorning its surface. Griphook asked for Harry’s key again, and, having received it, slid it into the lock and performed a complicated series of twists before stepping back, removing Harry’s key, and pulling the door open.