- September, 1987 (7 Years Old) -
- Little Whinging, Surrey, England, Great Britain -
If you asked any of the children at St. Gregory’s Primary School what Harry Potter was like, they would probably look at you and ask: “Who?”
After a little prompting and maybe a short description of him (describing his messy jet-black hair, perpetually broken glasses, lightning bolt scar on his forehead, and poorly fitting clothing) you might receive a more elaborate answer of: “Oh, you mean The Freak.”
On the other hand, if you were to eavesdrop in on what the teachers said about him, you would probably hear their hushed voices whisper: “That poor child, but with an attitude like that…” or “Oh, haven’t you heard?? His aunt told me all about him. She warned me and now I have to keep an eagle eye on him in class so that he won’t cheat or steal.”
However, if you were to ask Harry Potter what Harry Potter was like, he would look at you with his owlishly large green eyes hidden behind ugly, thick broken glasses, hair all mussed and a smudge of dirt on his nose, and he would say, “I’m ordinary. I’m nobody. I’m nothing special at all.”
Harry Potter lived in a very ordinary house, according to the Dursleys and their neighbors, at Number 4 Privet Drive in Little Whinging, Surrey. There was nothing that made Number 4 stand out from any of the other houses at all. (This fact made the Dursleys very proud.) The house had an ordinary fence surrounding an ordinary garden in front of the ordinary house with an ordinary front door.
Despite the ordinariness, however, Harry’s Aunt Petunia could often be overheard speaking to her bridge partner about how her garden was the most fetching on the street. (She maintained, however, it was still well within the bounds of being ordinary.) Harry had a suspicion that the garden was only so well-tended and pleasant because he was the one who was doing all the work. Nevertheless, he would probably never get any of the credit from either his Aunt Petunia or her bridge partners.
The house itself looked fairly comfortable when one walked inside. There were framed pictures on the neutral cream walls of Harry’s Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and Cousin Dudley. There were more pictures of Cousin Dudley by himself than of the whole Dursley family together. (Obviously there were none of Harry.) Pictures of Dudley were given pride of place on the wall where everyone could see them when they walked into the house. His Aunt and Uncle were so very proud of their Dudders.
The house was spacious enough, with its neutral and ordinary color scheme. In fact, it was so spacious that Dudley was even bestowed two rooms: one for himself and one solely for his toys. Sometimes, when he was able to stop and think about it, Harry wished he had a toy. He obviously did not believe he was special enough to warrant a whole room of toys, since he was so ordinary and forgettable. He did think that having one toy would be nice, though.
As it was, Harry Potter had no toys. He barely had a place to sleep. He should be happy that his relatives even thought to give him the cupboard under the stairs to call home. He supposed they could have followed through on any one of their threats to have him sleep out in the garden shed or any other scary place. Although, when he thought about it, it would probably look bad to the neighbors if they saw a small, somewhat dirty, 7-year-old child living in a garden shed outside of a perfectly normal house. That might make the Dursleys look a little less normal and ordinary to their neighbors.
Harry lived what he thought was a typical life for a 7-year-old. He would wake up with his Aunt pounding on his cupboard door at 5 am, yelling that he needed to get up and get breakfast cooked for the family. She would unlock his cupboard so that he could emerge and quickly take care of his hygiene needs. (Very quickly.) Some days, however, she forgot to unlock the door and then blamed him for not moving fast enough. He hated those mornings. Those were the days that the daily hard strikes across his knuckles hurt the worst. They were also the days he would have to move as quickly as he could so that he would not anger his Aunt further, or worse, anger his Uncle at all.
After cooking breakfast for his family and making sure that they were satisfied, he would do the dishes while they chatted about their day. (He would listen, even though he was still quite hungry himself, having not been allowed to eat anything from the family breakfast.) Sometimes he would imagine chatting with someone about his day, but no one ever really wanted to talk to The Nobody… The Freak. So, he stayed silent.
Dishes done, he would ensure that his morning chores were complete before trying to run out of the house to catch the bus to his primary school. Of course, Dudders often tried to trip him up, either figuratively or literally, so that he would miss his ride. This would, of course, cause him to have to run the many blocks from Number 4 to St. Gregory’s Primary School, usually causing him to be late. Of course his teachers took notice of this. They frowned at him when he rushed into the classroom to sit down. He would drop his eyes to his desktop and slouch down in an attempt to go unnoticed. It never worked. Cousin Dudley always pointed out how late he was and that he should probably get some sort of punishment.
He was lucky to be attending St. Gregory’s though, according to his Aunt and Uncle. (And the teachers… and his Uncle Vernon’s horrible sister Marge.) He should be attending St Brutus's Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys, or so his Uncle said. Harry wondered why he was not at St. Brutus’s, but he thought it might have to do with the fact that he was not considered “criminal” enough. He was not quite sure what that entailed, so he would have to do some more investigating as to what a “criminal” was.
Maybe that school would be better than the one he currently attended. They probably did not throw rocks at you or play “Harry Hunting” or push you down to the ground when you passed them by. Maybe they didn’t treat you like a Freak. When Harry first started attending St. Gregory’s, he thought he might get a small break from people treating him in such a hurtful manner. Unfortunately for Harry, though, he found that all of those hurtful behaviors from inside his home were in the outside world as well. And they became quite… ordinary.
Between ducking away from the other children on the playground who liked to hit, punch and kick, and keeping his head down in class so that his teachers did not sneer or turn their noses up to sniff at how positively odd he was, Harry tried to stay out of trouble as much as he could. His life at Number 4 consisted of being as quiet as he could in order to avoid any undue interaction with his relatives. If he completed all his chores, and did not make any noise, they often forgot his existence. This only came back to bite him in the rear a couple times when he was out gardening after dinner and his Aunt and Uncle locked him out of the house, forgetting that he existed.
Now, Harry was not necessarily sad that they forgot about him, it was just a cold evening and he ended up having to huddle under the bushes to keep warm. (Spoiler alert: the bushes did not provide much warmth at all.) The next morning the whacks on his knuckles were extra hard because he had purposely hidden away from Aunt Petunia (according to her) and was a “filthy, naughty little Freak.”
One day, while Harry was running away from his Cousin and his Cousin’s horrible friends (because, although they were relishing the current game of “Harry Hunting”, Harry was definitely not enjoying it at all) he ducked into a wonderfully ancient looking, huge building. Swinging the doors open, he quickly dashed inside and shut them quickly behind himself. The smell of rich musty old books and a bit of dust immediately hit his nose. Harry looked around and noticed rows and rows and stacks and stacks of books. It looked like there was a book on every subject in the whole world in this building! He never got to read enough in school. The teachers said he was consistently being antisocial by keeping his nose in a book (whatever that meant) and needed to interact with others more. (This usually led to more people sneering at him and calling him a Freak. Frankly, he thought, if that was “interacting”… they could keep it!)
Harry gasped as he walked further into the building. Looking to his right, he saw a large wooden desk with a thin-ish, older woman behind it. Her hair was an ashy gray and piled high in a frizzy, messy bun on her head. (Harry would later describe her hair as more of a gunmetal shade of gray – his favorite color – but he hadn’t quite forayed into the world of firearms at this point in his young life.) She had a colorful polka dot bandana tied around her head to match an equally garish colorful beaded necklace. Her dress was more like a smock, Harry supposed, tie-dyed with pinks and purples, oranges and blues. Harry quite liked the way that she looked. She did not look… ordinary. Not at all.
She regarded him with kind eyes and a soft smile and beckoned him over to talk with her. Harry slowly walked forward, making sure to be quiet and seem respectful. He did not want to do anything that might make her tell him to leave this wonderful place with all these books!
“Hello there, young man,” the kind looking old lady said. “Welcome to the Little Whinging Library. Did you come here alone?”
Harry peered up at the woman through his messy bangs that had fallen in his eyes. “Yes ma’am. I was just running by and thought I might stop inside this building. You have a lot of books in here.” He looked around again as he said that, his eyes growing larger as he saw just how vast the number of books really was.
“Yes, we do, young man. Do you have a library card?”
Harry looked back at the woman in confusion. “No ma’am. No, I don’t. Do I need one to be inside this building?”
The woman gave a slight chuckle, her eyes crinkling at the sides as she continued to smile at him.
Harry felt something uncomfortably warm inside him at the smile. He did not know what was making him feel that way. Upon consideration, historically he did not really know what to do when someone smiled at you. It hadn’t happened that often in his short life. He wasn’t too sure he liked it, as it made him feel a little embarrassed. Feeling a little awkward, he figured he would treat it like everything else and ignore it. After all, it was easier to just not take notice of any of his feelings. (Besides, the Dursleys never took any notice of him having feelings about anything.) Strong feelings, or really any feelings coming from Harry, according to Aunt Petunia, were just too “freakish” … just like him. They were not ordinary and just not done.
“You do not need a library card to be in here, no, but you do need one if you are going to take any of the books home with you to read,” she explained to him.
Harry snapped his head up in surprise. “You mean I could take one of these books home with me? And you wouldn’t yell?” He exclaimed in awe.
She nodded and explained that he would need to have an adult come and fill out a library card and sign it for him so that there would be a record of where the books were going. This would also show where they could reach him if one of their books did not get returned in time.
Harry’s heart sunk at that news. No adult he knew would sign for him to have a library card. His Aunt and Uncle would certainly not sign anything for him. He offered to give his address (as he was smart and had learned it a two years earlier) but she kindly, yet sternly, insisted that an adult would have to sign for him.
Despondent at the news, Harry felt all his dreams of reading these wonderful books slipping through his fingers. The woman looked down at Harry and said, “You know, just because you can’t take a book from the library to your house, young man, does not in any way mean that you cannot enjoy reading it while you are here.”
Harry looked up at her with a kernel of hope growing in his chest. He could stay. He could stay here and read! He could stay here, away from those horrible children who wanted to hurt him, and read to his heart’s content. Here, Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon would not find him. Here, Dudley and those horrible children would definitely not find him. And here, maybe, just maybe, he might find a little reprieve from his life.
The nice lady took him from place to place in the library, giving him a tour and showing him all the sections of the different genres of books. From fiction to nonfiction. From very hard to read at his age, to very baby-ish books that he had already outgrown. Harry was in heaven.
When she went back to her desk, Harry went to the section where he could find a dictionary. He looked up the word criminal, having asked the nice old lady to verify how to spell it. “Crim-i-nal: a person who has committed a crime. ‘These men are dangerous criminals.’ See also: villain, lawbreaker, evil, bad.”
Harry looked at the definition of the word criminal for a long time. This was what they thought of him? They thought he was bad? A villain? They thought he was evil?
Pondering this, Harry moved from the dictionary to the section where he had seen the wonderful picture stories. He loved comics and picture stories. He didn’t get to read them very often, but it looked like this library had quite the selection. He thumbed through the typical hero books about Batman and Superman, thinking that they were good if you liked that sort of thing. He looked a little longer at Spiderman because it seemed cool to be able to shoot webs from your wrists to incapacitate villains. (And apparently Harry was a villain, so maybe he shouldn’t be rooting for the heroes so much.)
And then, toward the back of the stack, misfiled and pushed behind the other comics after the s’s, there was a comic that caught Harry’s eye. The cover was black with a white skull on it. The skull seemed to be melting, like it was made of white blood or maybe drying paint. Harry wasn’t quite sure. He plopped himself down in front of the shelf, crossed his legs and leaned over the comic book. He had just begun to open the comic when he heard someone quietly clear their throat somewhere close to him. Guiltily slamming the comic shut and jerking his head up, he frantically looked around. He saw nothing there, so he quickly turned his head to the side where another quiet, brusque cough had come from. Harry’s mouth fell open as he took in the man who had made the noise. Standing there, with a stern look on his face, was the biggest man he had ever seen in his whole life.