Harry only realizes how extraordinary he is when he mentions that Dudley’s parents make disgusting noises when they’re rolling around together on their bed, and Dudley stares at him with blank eyes and asks, “How did you see that?”
Then, of course, Dudley tries to beat Harry up for seeing that. But Harry slips around the corner and into a shadow that extends across the grass from the school building, and he winds up on the roof of the school while Dudley and his gang search in vain for him. When class is about to start again, Harry slips back down through the shadow of a tree and the shadow of a door, appearing calmly in the back of the teacher’s room just as Dudley is about to tell her a lie about Harry not being there.
So Harry doesn’t get in trouble that day. It doesn’t keep him from ever getting in trouble. The teachers don’t believe Dudley’s stories that Harry disappears when he’s always right there, but Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia do.
So Harry lies in his cupboard that night with his hands behind his head to cushion it a little, and thinks.
He thought everyone saw through the shadows, they just didn’t walk in them like he does. He’s only seven, how he can be all that different? But now he thinks about the way Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon call him “freak,” and he nods. So that’s what they mean. Shadows are his friends, and not theirs.
Harry turns on the light bulb inside the cupboard and slips under the door through the shadow the light bulb casts. As always, it feels slightly cool and soft on the back of his neck and shoulders, and he sees a grey path in front of him winding through walls of darkness. Then he’s standing in the kitchen, opening the fridge carefully. He can be gone in an instant if he wakes his aunt and uncle up, but that wouldn’t stop them from suspecting him.
Harry makes himself a slice of cheese and roast beef covered with mustard and eats it, thinking. Then he slips back through the shadows cast by the lights outside and into the cupboard, only having to switch once where the lights’ shadows cross the shadow of the cupboard.
Back inside the cupboard, Harry turns off the light and starts thinking. When he assumed everyone saw through the shadows, he never tried to do anything much with it. It’s walking that’s been more useful.
“It’s perfect marks! There’s no way he could get perfect marks in maths, Mum! I’m good at maths!”
Harry widens his eyes innocently while Aunt Petunia pats sobbing Dudley on the back and glares at him over Dudley’s shoulder. He never dared get perfect marks before, because Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon would punish him. And he probably couldn’t get them even with a lot of studying.
But he can get them when he goes through the shadows into the teacher’s office and looks at the exams before she hands them out.
And now he has a weapon to fight Aunt Petunia with.
So he only waits until she sends Dudley into the kitchen with the promise of a huge chocolate ice and turns to face him. “Boy,” she begins ominously. “You know that you’re not smarter than my Dudders, you must have cheated—”
“You make a lot of noise when you’re with Mr. Higgins from Number Three,” Harry says innocently. He’s had a lot of practice in sounding innocent, too. “More than you make when Uncle Vernon is on top of you.”
Aunt Petunia goes so white that Harry thinks she’s going to faint like Mrs. Verner did last year when her “blood sugar fell.” She reaches out and gets hold of the wall, though. She’s staring at him. “What?” she whispers.
“Sometimes you’re in your bedroom with Uncle Vernon on top of you, and sometimes it’s Mr. Higgins. It was yesterday when Uncle Vernon was at work.” Harry slipped back through the shadows from school yesterday during lunch to see it. It was kind of disgusting and really noisy, but right now it’s paying off.
Aunt Petunia swallows slowly. Then she says, “You didn’t see that.”
“Yes, I did. You were scratching at his back. And then he called you a tigress, Aunt Petunia. Are you a tigress?”
Aunt Petunia actually takes a step backwards, away from him. Harry is a little disappointed. He thought it would take more than that to scare her.
“Y-you’re not going to tell this to Vernon?”
“Why should I? As long as you don’t punish me for getting good marks!” Harry smiles at her. “You’re a tigress, and I’m a good student!”
After a second, Aunt Petunia gives him a shaky smile. Then she ushers him into the kitchen and announces that they’re going to go for ices, and Harry will sit in the back seat and be quiet and have a smaller one than Dudley.
Dudley starts whining at the prospect of Harry getting an ice at all, but Aunt Petunia tells him in a hushed voice that Harry will be upset because it’s a smaller one. And Harry does pretend to pout while he’s eating his strawberry one in the back of the car as they come back from the shops, and Dudley is appeased.
Harry goes to his cupboard happy that night, and planning a way to handle Uncle Vernon.
Uncle Vernon yells at Harry a few days later because he didn’t prune all of Aunt Petunia’s roses, and starts to grab his arm and shake him. Harry focuses on his face as best he can and gasps out, “Un-Uncle Vernon, why is there another man’s wallet in your pocket?”
Uncle Vernon is so perplexed he actually stops shouting. He does shake Harry again, but he asks, “What are you talking about, boy?”
“That wallet,” Harry says, and widens his eyes in the direction of Uncle Vernon’s jacket, which is hanging over the back of a dining room chair. “It looks shinier than your wallet!”
Uncle Vernon turns around and reaches into his jacket pocket without letting go of Harry’s arm. Then he shakes out the wallet and stares at it. There are pictures in there of children who are definitely not Dudley, and lots of and lots of fifty-pound notes.
Uncle Vernon wavers. Harry knows he probably wants to keep the fifty-pound notes and just get rid of the wallet somewhere. That won’t do at all. So Harry adds innocently, “It looks like it belongs to Mr. Juniper, right? From Number Seven? He was saying that he lost his wallet the other day!”
“If you tell anyone about this, boy, then I’ll just tell them you took it,” Uncle Vernon threatens him, and empties the money out of the wallet and goes out to throw it in the street.
Harry frowns after him. Well, that didn’t work the way he wanted it to. He probably needs to steal something more than money when he goes through shadows. Something that belongs to someone and has their name on it or something.
Harry grins at the thought. He knows just what he is going to do.
Well, after he goes through the shadows and takes a couple of the fifty-pound notes back. Uncle Vernon didn’t count them, and Harry considers some of them as rightfully his.
“What’s this, Aunt Petunia? It looks expensive!”
“What are you—that’s not mine! Put it down!”
Harry looks at her with innocent eyes. He has an emerald necklace in his hand that belongs to a woman who lives several streets away, but was in the middle of Aunt Petunia’s jewelry box. He also has a picture of a naked woman lying on a bed petting a dog with writing on the photo in the corner that says, “For V.” It took him a long time to find something like that. He doesn’t even know completely what it means, but the V could maybe stand for Vernon. And he knows adults think pictures like that are “dirty.”
Aunt Petunia catches on more quickly than Uncle Vernon. She swallows the way she did when Harry confronted her with Mr. Higgins and asks, “What do you want?”
Harry beams at her. “I want Uncle Vernon to stop shaking me. And I want Dudley’s second bedroom.”
Aunt Petunia doesn’t even blink, although Harry thought she would fuss about the second bedroom. She’s looking at the picture. “That doesn’t belong to Vernon,” she says, but her voice is weak.
Harry immediately comes up with a better plan than the one he had, which was to tell people that Uncle Vernon stole the necklace and the photograph. “Well, I don’t know,” he says, acting confused. “I found the picture under a bunch of Uncle Vernon’s socks in his sock drawer.”
Harry is the one who always takes care of the laundry, so Aunt Petunia can’t argue with that. She hesitates and then says, “You put it there.”
“No, really,” Harry says. “He had it shoved all the way back and it got kind of crumpled, see?” The photo is crumpled, although it was like that when Harry found it.
Aunt Petunia mutters, “You’re lying,” but Harry is watching her eyes. He’s got really really good at watching people’s eyes. Aunt Petunia wants to think he’s lying, but part of her believes him. She thinks Uncle Vernon went and rolled around on a bed with that woman and took the picture.
She’s suffering. Well, good. Harry wants to spread it around a bit.
“Please put the necklace back where you found it,” Aunt Petunia whispers. “Please. You can have Dudley’s second bedroom. I’ll talk to Vernon.”
“What about the picture, Aunt Petunia?”
“P-put that back where you found it, too.”
Harry takes the emerald necklace back to the woman a few streets away, and places it under her bed. She can think it fell there and that she really lost it instead of someone stealing it. Harry is thoughtful like that.
He puts the picture in Uncle Vernon’s sock drawer. Shoved way back, where Uncle Vernon barely ever reaches since he always grabs his socks from the top anyway.
Just in case.
Harry is ten when he finally terrifies Dudley into leaving him alone forever.
Some of Dudley’s friends won’t join him in beating Harry up anymore. Harry whispered secrets to them that they thought nobody else knew about, secrets he watched from the shadows of pictures or books or doors, secrets they have about touching themselves or stealing things or cheating on exams that they want buried. But Piers Polkiss still joins Dudley, and one dark night they corner Harry far away from a street light. He doesn’t have big enough shadows to slip away.
Even though Dudley and Piers have never acted like they understand how he walks through shadows, they know something is different now. Their grins are bright as they wade towards him and bring up their fists.
Harry cowers, and feels something soft and slippery touch his ankles. He looks down.
A tiny shadow is forming into a dark grey snake. It rears up and gives Dudley and Piers an unimpressed look. Its eyes are bright burning grey and Harry can see through its scales. But its teeth are long when it bares them.
“Go!” Harry whispers, hardly daring to believe his luck.
The snake slithers away at high speed, towards Dudley and Piers. It’s so dark they don’t see it at first. But it curls cool around Piers’s leg, and Piers shakes his leg, then stamps, then kicks, then howls as it bites him.
“Dud!” Piers yells, and hops as it bites again.
Harry reaches out and wishes as hard as he can that another shadow will come. It does. A shadow as flat as a sting ray is right there, and Harry waves his hand at it and it flies towards Dudley and wraps around him.
Both Dudley and Piers are screaming, high-pitched sounds that make the little dark corner of the street ring and start windows opening and lights turning on. Harry immediately slips away to Number Four Privet Drive and into his cupboard.
Piers never joins Dudley in beating him up after that. Dudley tries one more time, but this time they’re in a lighted area and Harry calls up a shadow-dragon that breathes bright grey fire and gives Dudley a huge shiny pink scar on his arm. After that, Harry talks to Dudley, and they come to a sort of truce.
Dudley doesn’t beat Harry up. Harry doesn’t interfere with him beating other kids up. Neither of them tell Dudley’s parents. They go their own way.
Harry is pleased with the way everything is turning out.
When the Hogwarts letter comes, it’s not really a surprise, although Harry is disappointed that it says nothing about learning shadow magic. He thinks he could do even better with a teacher.
Aunt Petunia tells him the truth in a few short sentences—that his mum and dad were murdered by a wizard called Voldie-something, he survived with the scar on his head—and drives him to the Leaky Cauldron. She’s looking at him in so much fear when he gets out of the car that Harry feels compelled to reassure her.
“You don’t have to come get me, Aunt Petunia. I can find my own way home. Or if I can steal enough money here and find food and a place to stay, then I can stay here forever.”
Aunt Petunia smiles all over her face. “Oh, Harry, that would be the best. That would be the very best. I’ll tell Vernon and Dudley. It’s a great day. You should go be a powerful wizard, yes. With your magic. Yes.” She’s babbling, but Harry’s tolerant as he watches her back the car out and zoom away, then turns and enters the Leaky Cauldron.
No one seems to notice him at first. Then Harry catches the attention of the barman, Tom, and as he comes forwards to ask him what he wants, he gasps, “You’re Harry Potter!”
That sets off a huge scramble as people in the pub try to come up and see him and shake his hand and touch his hair. Harry is bewildered. He doesn’t think that he would be famous for shadow magic yet; he’s only just going to be eleven. But then someone says something about his scar, and he starts to pay more attention.
“Just where You-Know-Who put it,” someone whispers to someone else. They’re both older women, and honestly, except for the robes and pointed hats, they look a lot like Aunt Petunia. Harry listens to them and wonders if You-Know-Who is the same as the Voldie-something wizard his aunt told him about.
So, his scar is the reason he’s famous and the reason people can recognize him. Harry flattens his fringe over it and smiles up at Tom as the man finally lets him into the alley. Tom squeezes his shoulder and mutters something about “the one who saved us all.”
They think I’m a savior? Maybe that makes a little more sense, although Harry still doesn’t know the full story. But if this You-Know-Who was a frightening wizard and he somehow turned him back, then people would go crazy about him. Harry remembers seeing some people on the telly who got other people fussing over them because they dragged someone out of a river or saved them from a fire or something. People like heroes.
I’m not really a hero, Harry thinks doubtfully as he walks through the alley and tries not to gape at the brooms in the windows, the wands people are carrying, how their robes sway. But then he straightens his back and walks along without really meeting people’s eyes but smiling in a way that would convince them he did.
I’m good at making people think what I want about me, though.
Harry goes to the bank, because if he is going to steal money or something it seems like this would be the place to start. The small creatures in front of the bank surprise him so much that he stops and asks the first one, “Who are you?”
“My name is Granakiz,” says the creature, and gives him a disdainful glance. “Have you never seen a goblin before?”
The goblin looks him over again. His face is more neutral this time, at least as far as Harry can read the expression of someone who isn’t human. He nods at Harry and says, “Goblins are the keepers of the wizarding world’s money. See that you don’t be so rude again.”
“I promise,” Harry says, with his favorite smile, and walks into the bank. He sees the warning about stealing from goblins. He shrugs a little. He can’t see anyone speaking to the shadows or moving through them around him. He will still try to take money if he can’t get it here legally somehow, because he has to have money to go to school.
When he gets inside, he sees a queue of wizards, and he gets in it. He supposes that he can learn this way if he can get money from the bank just by asking or not.
The queue seems to last forever, but Harry entertains himself by sending his mind questing through the shadows around him. He doesn’t see a whole lot that’s interesting, except goblins counting gold and silver into chests, and the openings of stone tunnels lit by torches. It seems the bank goes down much further underground than it rises above the street.
Harry isn’t worried. If there’s fire in those underground tunnels, there are also shadows. In fact, it might be easier to move around inside the wizarding world than it is outside. He’s never been a big fan of the kind of Muggle lights that fill a room with such brightness that he can barely move around.
Finally, it’s Harry’s turn to step in front of a goblin, who sneers at him. That’s all right. Harry doesn’t think they like anybody. “Who are you?” the goblin snaps.
“Harry Potter,” Harry says, and pushes back the fringe so the goblin can see his scar. That seems to be the way people recognize him.
The goblin narrows his eyes. “Key?”
“Do I have money here?” Harry asks, blinking. “I didn’t know I did. I don’t have a key.”
He thinks it’s a simple statement—either they do know who he is and they give him some money because it’s his, or they deny who he is and he steals it—but instead, it sets off a furious whispering and bustling in the goblins behind the counter. Harry stands there and waits. Wizards glare at him. Harry doesn’t care. This is fascinating, although sadly the shadows can tell him nothing more because the goblins are all talking in a language he doesn’t know.
Finally the goblin who asked him the question in the first place comes back and glares at him and says, “Come with me.” Then he leads Harry back into the bank and makes him walk several times through an iron door that has no shadows around it at all, but a big chain hanging out of it. Harry wonders if it’s like a metal detector at an airport.
Finally, the goblins seem satisfied that Harry is who he says he is, and they take him on a wild ride into the bank. Harry laughs as the cart hurtles along curving, deep, and best of all, shadowy roadways into the earth. He walks around his vault when they get there and smiles at the heaps of gold and silver and copper.
When he asks about the names of the coins and the exchange rate, the goblin sneers at him and recites the numbers in a bored way. They sound a little bewildering. Well, that’s all right. Harry will make sure that he can work the numbers automatically by the time he goes to Hogwarts.
He takes enough Galleons to satisfy him, and on the way up, asks the goblin what they do to thieves, using the lie that he wants to know his money is safe.
The goblin nods to a lump that’s lying in the darkness off the track. Harry squints, but they’re past it too quickly for him to be sure what it is. “See that?”
“All that’s left of someone who tried to come down here without a guide,” the goblin says with the same relish Dudley used to use for talking about beating people up.
Harry nods thoughtfully. He will have to make sure that he can move from shadow to shadow without popping up the way he does when one ends. It will work as long as the shadows overlap.
Harry spends the rest of the day in Diagon Alley. He buys books—including books about You-Know-Who, although there aren’t many of those—and robes and a cauldron and scales and a Potions kit and a pointed hat. He thinks about buying a pet, but he isn’t sure which one would be best; anyway, they would probably get left behind when he goes through shadows, and he wants one that can keep up. Then he goes back to the Leaky Cauldron and asks Tom for a room.
“All on your own, Harry?” Tom asks him, with a baffled frown that makes Harry remember when the nicer primary school teachers tried to take an interest in him.
Harry nods shyly. “My family are Muggles. They don’t feel welcome here. But I’ll go home sometimes just to tell them I’m fine, and then I can be in London when the train leaves on the first.”
No explanation more than that is necessary to satisfy Tom; Harry thought it wouldn’t be. Adults see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. Soon he is in a room at the Leaky Cauldron, having tea, and reading in a book about You-Know-Who that his real name was Voldemort and Harry somehow defeated him when he was one year old.
That doesn’t sound very likely, Harry thinks. Maybe the shadows actually defeated him.
But he has time to worry about it later. He switches to another book that’s more fun, about the wizarding sport called Quidditch, and reads long into the night, in his very own room with his very own money and a low fire that casts shadows everywhere.