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The Definition of Normal

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September 1987 – Year 3

Harry sat very quietly on a chair in the back corner of the almost empty classroom trying to be invisible. Not that he could of course. That was impossible; magic wasn’t real, as Uncle Vernon felt the need to continually point out. Harry resented that. He might only be seven but he knew the difference between reality and fantasy. Anyway, even if you couldn’t really be invisible the world was still a safer place if adults paid as little attention to you as possible. So he stayed still and quiet, and tried not to be noticed while Aunt Petunia talked to Mrs. Smith, his teacher for Year 3 at St. Grogory’s Primary School in Little Whinging.

Harry wasn’t sure if she’d been happy or upset to be called up for a parent teacher conference about his recent poor performance on his History project. While her bitter ranting at him for the inconvenience of having to go into school suggested she was angry, her smug smile suggested she felt pleased to be justified in her consistently poor opinion of him. It seemed he could never do anything to make her happy. She was angry if he did better than Dudley on his school work, but doing poorly was making her angry too.

He couldn’t have done any better on this particular project if he'd wanted to though. He simply didn’t know enough about his family to write a proper family tree. Aunt Petunia had berated him for being a “lazy boy who should do his own work” and sent him to weed the garden at his single hesitant halting request for help with his homework. Her precious Dudders got cooed over and an almost endless supply of biscuits to sustain him whenever he grudgingly decided it was time to get his homework done, which mostly consisted of writing down whatever his mother told him the answers were.

His efforts to pretend invisibility seemed to be going quite well, for the adults were starting to talk loudly enough for him to hear what they were saying when he listened carefully. He carefully didn’t look in their direction so they wouldn’t notice he was paying attention.

“…Why should he be proud of them, they died in a car crash, his father was dead drunk just like usual…,” Aunt Petunia ranted, starting a refrain he’d heard plenty of times before.

“That as may be,” Mrs Smith interjected with a raised voice, “but an orphan is expected to idolize and miss his parents. That’s a perfectly normal response. What’s not normal is not even knowing enough about them to fill in the most simplistic family tree chart. He didn’t know his grandparents’ names, or his mother’s maiden name. And he put question marks for everyone’s middle names including his own. This is supposed to be a cooperative project done with the help of his guardians.”

“The boy’s just lazy. Dudley did his. Harry didn’t even bother about it; he did anything and everything rather than work on his family tree. He’s ashamed of his family as well he should be.” Petunia retorted stubbornly, and very unfairly, in Harry’s opinion. Not that anyone cared what he thought.

“Frankly Mrs. Dursley, I think if that’s the case then Harry should be referred to a child psychologist for counselling. The loss of his parents and his poor attitude towards them may be the driving psychological cause behind his poor performance in class and his problems in bullying other children in the playground. Would you like me to start the referral process? We can go through the school system and get a school based counsellor in, unless you’d like to make private arrangements. Goodness knows our chaplain hasn’t even been able to make Harry admit to his role as a bully or to smarten up his appearance, let alone make progress on any other issues with him. A professional counsellor will be much better at getting to the real root of any problems.”

Petunia looked put out, and Harry thought she seemed oddly hesitant in her response. “I… I don’t think that would be necessary.”

“Well something needs to be done to bring that boy into a more normal mindset and appropriate attitude to his family, his schoolwork and his behaviour,” Mrs Smith insisted.

“Yes, yes you’re right of course. The boy should have a better attitude about his parents, that would be normal. A more normal attitude… indeed. I’ll talk to him about it,” his aunt said, perplexing Harry greatly. He’d never heard her say anything ever to suggest that he should be proud of his parents. And now she was agreeing with his teacher. His teacher thought he should be proud of his family! And now Aunt Petunia agreed! It was a wonder beyond his comprehension.

Their voices dropped to a lower volume after that and Harry could only catch snippets, but there seemed to be an agreement that no counsellor was needed yet and that he’d have to redo his History project. There was some kind of complaint about his school clothes, and later something was said about a wedding that made Aunt Petunia look upset while she was talking about it, but he didn’t catch the details.

Harry wondered if there was something to be proud of about his parents after all. And if Aunt Petunia would really help him with his History homework now. And most importantly of all, he wondered why she’d changed her mind. He’d have to think about it some more.