A man with a long, sweeping beard and star spangled robes stood in Privet Drive. With him, stood a witch with square spectacles and her hair in a tight bun. They were so intent on their own conversation, that they did not realise they were being watched by a shadowy shape crouched behind the dustbins. The eavesdropper listened to them closely. She was practiced at keeping a low profile.
"I've come to bring Harry to his aunt and uncle. They're the only family he has left now," said Dumbledore.
"You don't mean-you can't mean – the people who live here?" Cried McGonagall pointing at number four. "You can't. I've seen them. I've been watching them all day. You couldn't find two people less like us – and as for their son… I saw him kicking his mother and screaming for sweets all the way up the street. Harry Potter, live here!"
"It's the best place for him. His aunt and uncle will be able to explain everything to him. I've written them a letter," said Dumbledore firmly.
The eavesdropper shifted in surprise. Why indeed would anyone think it a good idea to put a magical child with the muggliest muggles of them all? And to her greater surprise, McGonagall capitulated. Did Dumbledore have her under some kind of mind control?
A low rumbling sound filled the air and a motorbike alighted on the road. The driver was a twice the height of a man, and five times as wide. Clearly a half-giant, but it seemed he was good at blending in with wizards and concealing his true heritage. Not all those of giant descent could do that. The hidden eavesdropper knew this all too well. In his vast arms, she saw the half-giant carried a little bundle swaddled in blankets. Her heart swelled with emotion. He was a half-giant, and yet he was allowed to hold the child… And the poor child. He'd lost his family and now Dumbledore was going to dump him with those awful muggles and would go off and enjoy the celebrations with no further thought? This could not be.
Dumbledore reignited the street lamps and the eavesdropper wrapped herself tighter in her cloak to stay hidden. The half-giant left on the bike, McGonagall turned into a cat and left and Dumbledore was gone with a swish of his cloak. They were actually leaving the baby outdoors in Surrey in November! With foxes and other scavengers around. Including the eavesdropper herself. Outrageous…
The listener crept out of her hiding place and gazed down at the sleeping baby.
"You can't stay here, chubby little thing," she murmured in her husky voice. "It's dangerous. But you can't stay with those awful, muggly muggles. They're terrible. I know. I go through their dustbins sometimes and I've seen them. Huh. McGonagall knew and she didn't care. But I'm the lonely scavenger and I do care."
The baby was so delicate… so perfect, even with that scar on his forehead. She felt indignation rise up in her. "I won't be alone anymore. I'm sick of being alone and unloved. Well no more. We're going to be happy."
Her green hands reached out from under her cloak and she picked the baby up, holding him close to her face. "I'll be your mother… your sister… your friend."
Ten Years Later
Harry was having the nightmare he frequently did. A flash of green light, and a high, cold, cruel laugh. He woke up in a cold sweat and his mother gathered him in her arms. "There, there, sweetling…" Her long, green face framed by flaming red hair, smiled down at him. Such a clash of bright colours.
His mother was the hag, Cora Coldfire. She had rescued him when he was very small. He knew his story, of course. A terrible, evil wizard, one who styled himself 'Lord Voldemort' had killed his human parents, and he had had no magical family. Albus Dumbledore, Head of the Wizengamot, had been going to dump him on a muggle household.
Harry and Cora pressed their noses together as they always did to show they loved each other. Cora's face was cold and clammy. He was wrapped in his bed of animal skins in her cave in the sewers. She rocked him. "That old monster is gone now. It was you who did that," she crooned. "My special little boy."
A beetle crawled onto Harry's bed of animal furs. "Ooh no you don't," said Cora, and snatched the beetle up in her long green fingers, popped it in her mouth and started crunching. Living in the sewers, Cora could never get rid of all the vermin in their cave, but she could eat any that bothered Harry.
"There. Nothing's going to bother my boy. Hello, what's this?"
There was a hooting sound and an owl flew into the cave. "What are you doing down here, little owl?" said Cora. "What've you got there?" The owl dropped a letter in her lap and flew out of the cave again.
The hag picked up the letter in her long green fingers and read aloud:
"Dear Mr Potter,
We are pleased to inform you that you have a place at Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of necessary books and equipment. Term begins on 1st September. We await your owl by no later than 31st July."
Cora let out a sigh.
"What's wrong, Mum?" asked Harry, taking her clammy green hand in both of his.
"I knew this day would come, my love… your magical gift is different to mine, so there isn't much I can teach you about it. Mine grew in me from birth and I could always control it, but you my boy… You have to go to that place to learn how to control the magic in you, or it could hurt your health. I've read about such things. We don't have a choice… I'd rather you go away to school than your magic hurt you."
Harry touched her cold cheek. "Don't be sad, Mum."
She ruffled his hair. "I am sad, but it can't be helped."
After they had breakfasted on fish – Cora's raw and Harry's fried – Cora wrapped herself tightly in her hooded cloak, they made their way through the streets of London, holding hands. Cora kept her head down so her hood wouldn't slip. They found the Leaky Cauldron, and sighing in relief, Cora crossed the threshold and threw back her hood.
It was a tiny, grubby pub, dark and shabby, like the sewers. The barman looked like a gummy walnut. He looked up. "Good Lord… Harry Potter… what an honour!"
Ignoring Cora, the patrons crowded round Harry, shaking his hand and patting him on the back. Harry knew he was famous in the hidden magical community, although it was still weird to experience it first hand.
"So proud Mr Potter…"
"My names Dedalus Diggle," said a little man in a top hat. He bowed low and his hat fell off.
"Hello!" said Harry beaming. He seemed like a nice little guy.
A pale, twitching man made his way forward, but then at the sight of Cora, he gasped and dived under the table.
"Don't worry, Professor Quirrell had trouble with a wicked hag at some point," said Dedalus.
Cora sniffed and folded her arms. "I'm not wicked. Come, Harry."
She led Harry into Diagon Alley. They had been here before. Cora didn't have to wear her cloak and hood here. Several boys around Harry's age were crowded around a shop window with a mahogany broomstick on display. "Look! Nimbus 2000. Fastest ever."
Cora stopped to watch them. "Awwww… human boys are adorable. I always thought so. Look how excited they are over an old broom."
"Come on, Mum, I wanna see Gringotts," said Harry, tugging her arm.
They reached a snow white building that towered over the little shops. They walked up a pair of white, stone steps, passed through a pair of bronze doors and came to a pair of silver doors, with this poem 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.
"Scary, eh?" muttered Cora, leading Harry passed a pair of swarthy goblins and into the bank.
"Hello, there," said Cora to a free goblin, "can you take us to Mr Potter's vault?"
The goblin gazed at Harry. "Very well. That is Harry Potter, even though you are a hag."
Cora scowled and brushed her long red hair away from her green face. "I'm his bloody mother. We're just here to get enough for his school things."
The goblin snapped his fingers. "Griphook! Take Mr Potter down to his vault. See the hag doesn't pinch anything."
Cora scowled and folded her arms.
Griphook led them through a pair of double doors and into a rough, stone passage with crude railway tracks. They crowded into a cart which rolled down and down, through the winding passage and into a dank cavern with stalactites and stalagmites. This far beneath the ground, the air was damp and chill, like in the sewers. Harry peered curiously over the side, but Cora grabbed him and hauled him back, keeping her strong arms tight around him. "Don't be daft," she growled. "This cart is … it's awful."
"You get motion sickness," said Griphook. "That's why you're green, hag?"
"Ha ha. Don't call me 'hag.' My name is Cora, but to you, it can be Miss Coldfire."
Griphook ignored her. They plunged deeper into the earth and into another cavern, lit up ghostly green by some freak property of the rocks. Then they saw a gout of searing flame… "The dragon is loose," gasped Griphook. "There is an intruder here…" They heard the beating of huge wings and the shadow of huge, bat shaped wings loomed over them.