When Harry Potter was 4, he discovered a new world. This world was only a few streets away from Number 4, Privet Drive, where he and his relatives lived in relative peace. It was next to the grocery shop Aunt Petunia liked to go to twice a week, at 9 am, to make purchases for her home, and Harry had taken to being dragged along with her. With Uncle Vernon at work, and Dudley at Boxing Summer Camp, there was no one at home to leave Harry with. Therefore, he was dragged behind his aunt and made to stand outside in the sweltering heat which seemed to permeate into his head from the vaguely cloudy sky above and into the soles of his feet from the cement below.
The first day of this arrangement, Harry merely stood outside the shop for the three hours it took Petunia to gather her truck-load worthy amount of food, enough to feed five elephants or the two male Dursleys. He nearly fainted from the heat, and was allowed, in a rare show of mercy from his aunt, to skip his afternoon chores and collapse into bed after drinking a glass of water.
Summer without Dudley was at once better and worse than any summer previous. On one hand, Dudley wasn’t there to make Harry miserable with derogatory insults and increasingly sharper blows that Harry was learning through experience to escape and avoid. On the other, his Aunt and Uncle treated him like he was invisible and untouchable, barely a wisp unless he somehow displeased them. He did chores, ate, did more chores, slept, repeat. Every day, repeat, and Harry felt more and more that perhaps one day he would dissolve into the misty English air and no one would notice.
The second day of this arrangement, Petunia ushered Harry to the shop and told him that he should go out and find a patch of shade to stand under.
“I will not have you fainting on me while I am taking care of the groceries. Image what people would say!”
He was, of course, not to touch anything, not to speak to anyone and, most of all, not to get into trouble. He could go anywhere as long as he was back in front of the shop by the time Petunia came back out. He couldn’t go on along with her, because people inside knew her. She couldn’t be seen with him, of course. Harry nodded, and trotted off to the other side of the street, where a large building loomed with a great expanse of shadow on the steps leading inside it. He sat there and prepared to wait.
About 10 minutes later, he felt a tap on his shoulder, and he jumped slightly, turning to see a young woman standing above him.
“What are you doing here, little boy? Are you lost?”
Harry shook his head, then bit his lip. He didn’t want to break his aunt’s rule of not speaking, but thought that it was more important not to get into trouble.
“I’m waiting for my aunt. She’s buying groceries, and told me to stay out of trouble.”
The woman smiled down at him. “Well, why don’t you come on inside? It’s cooler there, and you can read something if you like.”
Harry smiled, then the smile slipped off. “I’m not allowed to read. Aunt Petunia says only stupid people like reading.”
The woman frowned, and Harry feared he’d upset her, his eyes growing wide.
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” the woman said, fiercely. Harry shrunk back, fearing her anger. Her face softened as she saw him recoil. “Not you, sweetheart. Your aunt. Books are wonderful. They open up new universes for you, all the information you could ever want, at the tip of your fingers.” Her eyes had glazed over and she seemed to be staring off into the sky. She then looked back at Harry. “What’s your name, dear?”
Harry hesitated, then decided saying his name didn’t go against any of Petunia’s rules he wasn’t already breaking. “Harry.”
“Well, Harry, do you like reading?”
Harry nodded hesitantly. Initially he’d read as much of Dudley’s books as he could, learning to read himself by sitting on the other side of the door when Petunia tried to teach her son. Although Harry wasn’t there with them, Dudley was so stubborn in his desire not to learn that Petunia had to teach each lesson over and over, slower and slower until he got it by sheer amount of repetition, and Harry was easily able to catch up and begin reading on his own after a few months. His aunt and uncle never bothered to teach him, and yet they never questioned his ability to be able to read. He suspected this was more because they’d never really noticed he could and he had decided, in a split moment of certainty, that this was one ability that was perhaps better they should never discover of him until he went to school and could claim came from there.
As such, he’d taken to taking any of the books he could find into his cupboard, and reading there. No one noticed the missing books, because no one bothered to look for them. He didn’t understand many of the words, but as he read more and more he began to understand some of them through context. At the moment he was half-way through Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. He’d been working on the book for the past few weeks, but the Old English was at once harder and more entertaining to attempt to decipher. Unfortunately for Harry, given the dislike the Dursleys felt for books, the only ones they owned where either for teaching, as with Dudley, or for show, such as the complete works of Shakespeare. They owned many cooking books, thankfully, and those served to at least partly bridge the gap between the two extremes. Harry, obviously, still only at best understood half of what he read but it was enough to get the gist of what was happening. He hadn’t any idea about how complex the book he was reading were, for he knew of no other books. Therefore, he didn’t feel discouraged as he traipsed through, only decided to eventually understand it all.
“How long until your aunt needs you back?”
“Three hours, ma’am.”
The woman smiled thinly, clearly displeased at the notion that Harry’s aunt would leave such a young boy alone for that amount of time. “Well, then, Harry, why don’t you come inside? You can grab any book you like, and read until you have to go.”
Harry’s eyes widened, surprised at her offer. No one had ever said anything like that to him, had made it appear like they actually wanted him around. Usually he was either ignored or told to go someplace else.
“Really?” he said. She smiled.
She took his hand and led him inside the building, and Harry could see that above the door the letters read, ‘Library’.
The air inside was indeed cooler than outside, but what struck Harry was the sheer quiet of the place. He was accustomed to the usual hustle and bustle from the town and the vague sense of people needing to be places and seeing things that usually came along with being on the streets. In the house there was always the sound of a TV on or, when Dudley was home, of screaming and the constant thrum of his waddling about the house. Vernon could often be heard either laughing or speaking thunderously, and although Petunia was quieter she was still often muttering under her breath.
Harry absorbed the clear smell of the Library, decided he liked it, and smiled. He turned to the woman, feeling excited about the future for the first time since he could remember.
She smiled down at him. “My name is Sandra Smith. You may call me Sandy. What kind of books do you like, Harry?”
“I’m half-way through The Merchant of Venice. It’s by a man called Sh…Shake…”
“Shakespeare?” she finished for him, he brow furrowed and her voice light with disbelief. “You’re reading Shakespeare?” She then smiled lightly at him. “It’s okay, Harry. I mean, what are you actually reading?”
Harry frowned at her, not understanding her question. He was reading the book…unless reading involved doing something else? Maybe he’d misunderstood what reading meant?
“I…I am. I mean. I am?” he said, unsure. She sighed, thinking that the boy had heard of Shakespeare and was trying to sound smarter than he was by claiming to read some of it. She’d met some kids who did that, although to his credit they weren’t 4, and didn’t try to claim Shakespeare.
“Well, then, what’s the plot?” she asked. If she was to help the boy she’d rather give him something he’d actually enjoy, rather than something he’d try to read only to feel upset when he failed.
“What’s a plot?” Harry asked. He’d never seen or heard that word before.
“I mean, what’s the story about?”
Harry understood then that she was testing him. He still wasn’t sure why she was doing that, except that she obviously thought he was lying.
“Well, I’m only halfway through…” he said, softly, looking at his feet. Sandy smiled and crouched down.
“It’s okay. Just tell me up until what you know.” Sandy knew that calling children a liar to their faces was never the way to go. It was better to have the children admit their faults and then help them get through them.
“Okay then. There’s a man, a merchant. He’s called Antonio.” Harry’s brow furrowed as he tried to remember the words he’d read, the proper terms to recount the…plot. “He has a friend called Bass…Bassanio? I think? He needs money for a girl, but Antonio has no money, I didn’t really understand why. And there’s another guy called Shylock, who lends money, although he’s not very good at it. He’s a Jew.” Here Harry paused. “What does ‘Jew’ mean?”
Sandy had gone quiet and her face was blank, but she hurried to answer him. “It means that you believe in the God of Israel. Originally, they speak Hebrew.”
“What’s Hebrew? And why do Antonio and Shylock hate each other so much?”
“Hebrew is an old language, like Latin, although Latin is dead. As for Shylock…that’s rather complicated. Lots of years of hatred between Christians, those who believe in the New Testament, and Christ, and Jews, who believe in the Old Testament, and that the Prophet has yet to come.”
Harry was lost half-way between her explanation, but he gathered enough to understand that Shylock and Antonio’s rivalry would not easily be resolved, if at all.
“What do you mean, Latin is dead? How can a language die?”
Sandy smiled ruefully. “I mean, no one speaks it anymore. Those that know it only do for scholarly purposes, such as deciphering old texts. It’s a real pity, too. It’s a very beautiful language, and is the mother of many modern languages. Triste est quia mortuus est.”
Harry’s eyes widened at her words. For some reason, they sent a shiver down his spine, and he felt suddenly that this language, that beautiful sound that had flowed from Sandy’s mouth, was something he had to learn for himself. He felt it from somewhere deep inside and, with the same determination that he’d used to plow through Shakespeare, he knew that this dead language, Latin, was one he had to know.
“Triste est quia mortuus est,” he repeated, haltingly. He winced at his pronunciation, knowing instinctively that it was awful, and vowed to correct it. The taste of the words in his mouth was like nothing he’d ever felt before, though, a pleasure unequalled by any food he’d ever eaten and only vague approached by the pleasure of learning a new word. In his 4 year old mind, he’d found his ambrosia, and there was nothing better.
Sandy was looking at him with surprise.
“That was Latin. Do you speak Latin?” he asked, eyes wide and smile grand.
Sandy looked startled at how excited he suddenly looked. “Well…yes. I studied Latin in university. It’s like school for older people.”
“Will you teach me?”
Sandy’s eyes grew incredibly wide before she laughed. “Oh, Harry. Latin is a very difficult language, more so because no one speaks it anymore. There’s no real reason to learn it, really, just for deciphering old texts or as a particularly quaint party trick. It’s not just something you can learn in a day, it takes many months, maybe even years to learn properly.”
Harry nodded vigorously. Her words did not deter him; if there was one thing Harry had, it was time. Besides, he saw the entire process not as a fault, but a gain. He loved learning new words; learning English, a process he considered still ongoing, was already interesting enough, despite how terrible Aunt Petunia was at teaching, and Dudley at learning. Harry learned.
“Triste est quia mortuus est,” he said, once again, more sure this time. His mouth broke into a grin. He loved the sound! “Please, Sandy, ma’am. Please, I’ll do anything!”
Sandy, despite her misgivings and feeling sure that Harry would give up within the week, nonetheless felt she must allow the child to reach his limits himself. She smiled. After all, he had been reading Shakespeare! As ridiculous as it may seem, he clearly knew the plot, and from what he’d said about his aunt Sandy doubted the woman had been the one to read it to him. A thought suddenly hit her.
“Harry, where are you parents?”
Harry shrunk into himself. “They’re dead. They died when I was 1, in a car crash.”
Then he looked up at her with eyes filled with hope and joy. “Please, please. Will you teach me Latin?”
And Sandy couldn’t say no. She was torn between the shocking news of this child’s parents and the sheer childish glee at such a ridiculous notion as learning Latin. She nodded, and watched in amazement as Harry smiled beatifically at her.
“Thank you, thank you so much!”
Sandy smiled again. She almost felt like she was betraying him, as she led him over to her desk, where she kept all her books. Soon, the boy would realize that learning the language wasn’t fun at all, and he’d give up easily, and all his joy would be lost. It felt horrible, but she knew she couldn’t deny him when he looked so happy at the prospect.
She took out a book, one of the first ones given to her by her Latin teacher many years ago, which was exceedingly simple and which she felt comfortable Harry could understand on his own. She then took him to sit with her at one of the tables near her desk. As the librarian, she was still at work, and so would eventually need to actually do something. While there was nothing else to do, she’d help Harry. If nothing else, it was rather more entertaining than sitting at her desk working on her thesis. There was, however, enough work to keep her occupied throughout the day, so she couldn’t simply sit down and teach Harry herself, though she might want to.
Little Harry was practically vibrating in his chair as she opened up Latin for Beginners. As a technical book, the entire first section was devoted to understanding the basic grammatical and syntactic rules of Latin, and giving a background on the language. She turned the book towards Harry, who immediately leaned forwards and began to look.
“Do you want me to read it to you?” she asked. Harry looked up at her.
“You don’t need to. You have chores, right?” She nodded, faintly amused at his word choice. “I can read through this on my own. Thank you very much for the book, it looks wonderful.”
Sandy didn’t know if she’d call it that, but nodded as she stood. “Call me if you need clarification with anything. I’ll be sitting right over there.” She pointed to her desk. “If you want, you can look at any other books too.”
Harry nodded, smiled again, and then pulled the book closer to him and began to read. Sandy watched with fascination as his eyes moved from side to side at an astounding speed for a 4-year-old, although she could feel that every once in a while he would trip over a word. She then went and got Harry a dictionary.
“it’s for when you don’t know what a word means,” she said, when Harry looked at her questioningly. She showed him how to use it, and when she was done Harry looked like he might hug the dictionary.
“That is the greatest book I’ve ever seen!” He exclaimed in fascination, and Sandy wondered what kind of small little boy Harry was that he was excited by a dictionary.
She left Harry to his own devices, wondering when he would come up to her. She soon became absorbed in her own work, and time flew past the two of them.
A while later, Sandy glanced at her watch and saw that it was 11:50. She looked up, amazed to still see Harry crouched over the Latin text, with the dictionary open haphazardly next to him. She stood and came up next to him, tapping his shoulder. Harry took a moment to react, looking up at her slowly, as it dragging his mind out from the book.
“Harry, it’s 10 to 12. Your aunt will be looking for you soon.”
Harry once again took a moment to react, then set down the Latin text reverently, gazing at it as one might a beloved friend. He then gathered the dictionary close, and looked up at Sandy haltingly, hesitantly. She smiled softly at him.
“What is it, dear?”
“Sandy, do you…do you think I could borrow this book?” He must have recognized Sandy’s expression of shock, for he quickly elaborated. “It’s just, it has so many words in it! And it’s so long, and I could use it to better read The Merchant of Venice, and all the other books with words I don’t know, and the Dursleys don’t have one, and it’s so wonderful, and it explains everything so well and I loved reading it and…”
“Harry,” she interrupted him softly. “It’s alright, you may have it. I have many dictionaries, one less will not many any difference. Besides, few people use them. I gift it to you so that you may continue to read and love reading.”
Harry’s eyes had widened comically as she spoke. Then he smiled grandly. “I…thank you. Thank you so much! I mean…you don’t have to…I can just return it in a few days…I don’t…” he seemed to trip on his words. He clearly wished to own the book, but didn’t want to seem like he wanted to. Sandy placed a hand on his shoulder.
“It’s alright, Harry. A gift from me to you. Of course, you can still come here whenever you want. I can’t give you the Latin text, but you can read it here as often as you wish.”
Harry nodded, and it looked like he was about to burst into tears. “Thank you, thank you, thank you so much.” He then stood. “I have to go. But thank you. I will be back this Saturday. I will be coming here Wednesdays and Saturdays. Is that alright?”
Sandy walked him to the door. “That’s perfectly alright, sweetheart.” He nodded, smiling, then walked out the door, down the steps and over to stand in front of the grocery shop. Sandy watched him with curiosity as, when he reached the other side, he quickly slipped the dictionary under his large shirt. She wondered if this had to do with his aunt saying that only stupid people read, and shook her head in disgust at the fact that some people believed that, more so that Harry, that wonderful boy, had to live with people like that.
A woman stepped out of the shop a minute later, turning to Harry and saying something sharply. Sandy knew this must be his aunt, and watched them hurrying down the street to disappear a few moments later.
She hoped Harry would be back. She’d never met a little boy like him, and wondered that she ever would again.