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A New Kind of Normal

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31st July 1991

Everyone was glad to be home from Cokeworth. And the next morning on Harry’s birthday (not that any birthday greetings were offered) the deluge of letters fearfully anticipated had failed to eventuate. Harry thought that no-one was gladder about it than him. His aunt went out shopping that morning, while Dudley played on his computer. Uncle Vernon spent an enjoyable morning boasting again to the neighbours about Dudley’s acceptance to Smeltings and supervising Harry washing and polishing the car back to a sparkling shine.

After lunch, Aunt Petunia returned from her shopping expedition bearing gifts. As well as new groceries, she’d bought a small store bought iced sponge cake that they shared for Harry’s birthday. No-one sang “Happy Birthday” to him and there weren’t any candles, but it was Harry’s first ever birthday cake so he found it all quite exciting anyway. And there were great presents for him this year! He got plenty of supplies for school: the school uniforms for Stonewall that Aunt Petunia had mended, a brand new schoolbag with the Stonewall High crest on it, and a pile of schoolbooks and some empty binders and folders for keeping notes in (“It’s a disgraceful mess on your desk and bookshelf, tidy up those notes of yours or so help me you’ll be in for it”). He also got some extra presents that weren’t needed for school! Some new glasses (narrow rectangular lenses with a thin silver frame), small sized gardening gloves that fit him with real leather lined palms, and a library card (“Maybe now you’ll stop wasting so much time at that place”).

Harry got to have a quiet afternoon pruning in the garden (with new gloves!) and tidying his room up, and Dudley didn’t seem inclined to bother interfering with either task. He was too engrossed in catching up on the phone with his friends about the programmes on the television he’d missed, and eating half his bodyweight in junk food to make up for the deprivation of the past few days.

And late that afternoon Harry’s peaceful life was ruined for good.

Two visitors arrived while he was up in his room, and despite having the door slammed in their face by Uncle Vernon the first time they knocked they somehow made it inside. And when Harry was called downstairs by a sour-faced Aunt Petunia, the visitors were sitting on the sofa having tea.

Dudley had a twenty pound note pressed into his hand by an anxious Uncle Vernon. “Better go out and have some fun with your friends, Dudley. This might take a while. Going to be very boring.” Dudley was never one to refuse a bribe and left happily and obliviously, not a bit curious about the guests.

Harry thought they were very strange looking guests. The old man was wearing a purple velvet waistcoat with shiny brass buttons and lots of red and gold embroidery, snug matching trousers, a puffy white shirt like Harry thought a pirate might wear, and high-heeled, buckled boots. He had a long, silvery white beard, and the longest hair Harry had ever seen on a man. The woman was wearing a long bottle green dress made out of some kind of heavy-looking material, which buttoned up tight right up to the neck. Her black hair was done up in a tight bun, and she was peering disapprovingly around the house, through square shaped glasses. Harry joined them warily.

“Harry, my boy!” the man greeted cheerfully. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you, you’re looking well. Very well indeed. Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Professor Albus Dumbledore, and I’m the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And this,” he gestured with an odd wave of his hand at the woman, “is Professor Minerva McGonagall, my deputy. She teaches Transfiguration at Hogwarts.”

Harry looked to his uncle and aunt for guidance, but their stony disapproving faces didn’t give a lot of clues as to how he was supposed to act. “It’s nice to meet you,” he said politely. They nodded their heads in response. “Did you get my letter?”

“Ah, yes,” said Dumbledore, “but of course there must be some kind of misunderstanding. Perhaps you weren’t sure magic is real!” He chuckled. “I can assure you this isn’t a joke, magic really does exist and you really have been invited to come and study at our most prestigious school. You’re a wizard, Harry!”

“Perhaps a small demonstration is in order,” offered McGonagall. And promptly turned the teapot into a kitten.

Petunia shrieked, and Vernon yelled, “Not in my house! Stop that right this minute!” Professor McGonagall just sighed with exasperation and turned the kitten back into a teapot.

“Now, now Petunia,” said Dumbledore soothingly, “no harm done. See, the teapot is back to normal.” He poured himself another cup of tea as proof, and beamed at everyone.

Harry stared at the teapot. It was true – magic was real. He’d thought it was, it seemed to make a crazy kind of sense but he’d doubted a little, all the same. Still, it didn’t change his mind. “I do appreciate the demonstration,” he said, “and the offer of a place at your school, but actually I think on the whole I’d rather go to Stonewall High.”

McGonagall stared at him disbelievingly, and Dumbledore looked worried. But his aunt and uncle looked pleased. “You see,” said Aunt Petunia, “I told you he wasn’t going. So you can be on your way, then.”

“I don’t think you understand…” started McGonagall.

“We’re not idiots, we understand just fine, and he’s not going!” yelled Petunia.

“It’s not as simple as that,” she retorted, voice rising a little, “if he doesn’t train his magic he will continue having outbursts of accidental magic. He’ll draw attention to himself with odd things happening around him. To leave him untrained puts our world at risk, the Statute of Secrecy must be maintained!”

“And of course,” added Dumbledore, “Petunia you and your family have known about our world for far too long for Obliviation to be effective. The damage to your mind should the Obliviators try to put a block on Harry’s magic and then erase all knowledge of magic and the wizarding world from your mind would be immense. You could be left a drooling scatterbrain.”

“Don’t you threaten my wife!” shouted Vernon.

“Oh no, no, no! I wasn’t threatening,” insisted Dumbledore. “I was just explaining why that wouldn’t be an option. Harry must come to Hogwarts - you see it’s the only reasonable alternative.” Petunia’s face still looked pale and frightened, despite his attempts to explain. Vernon kept his arm around her shoulders protectively.

“Why don’t you take Harry for a little chat upstairs, Minerva, while I talk a bit more with his aunt and uncle about how disruptive accidental magic can be,” suggested Dumbledore.

“Aunt Petunia?” Harry asked hesitantly, looking for approval. She nodded jerkily, so he followed the woman upstairs to his room.

“Don’t you want to learn magic, Harry?” asked McGonagall, sitting down at his desk chair. Harry sat on his bed.

“Not really,” he replied. “I’d rather go to school and become a doctor, actually.”

“Well if you study at our school, you can be a better kind of doctor. A mediwizard or a Healer, who can cure diseases and injuries with a single potion, or a wave of a wand and a whispered spell. Don’t you think that would be a good career too?”

“So I could cure a broken bone in an instant?” he asked, curious.

“Exactly!”

“Wouldn’t the hospitals think that was a bit… odd?” he wondered. “If patients recovered too quickly?”

“Well, of course you couldn’t practise in a Muggle hospital,” she explained, “only at St. Mungo’s or another wizarding hospital. We can’t risk Muggles finding out about our world, of course, and healing someone like that would be a dead giveaway.”

“What’s a Muggle? Is that a normal person?”

“Yes, I suppose so. It refers to people without magic, born to parents who also don’t have magic. Your parents of course were a witch and a wizard - you’re a wizard too. And you need training, Harry,” she said seriously. “If you don’t get training for your magic, it will continue to escape your control in unpredictable outbursts of accidental magic. How well do you think you will manage in school if your table flies up in the air when you’re angry? Or if you set the school hall on fire because you’re jealous your girlfriend is talking to another boy?”

“I don’t have a girlfriend! I’m only eleven!” he said, appalled.

“It’s just an example. I’m not saying you have a girlfriend at the moment. And you know you won’t be eleven for ever,” she said. “What if you hurt someone by accident? What if you hurt your family? How do you think they’d feel about that, knowing you could’ve trained your magic and avoided the whole situation in the first place?"

Harry thought about what Uncle Vernon would do if he got mad enough at Dudley pushing him around to make him fly away from him through the air and smash into a wall, and maybe break his arm. It wasn’t a pretty thought. Uncle Vernon’s fury was a terror to behold.

“The thing is,” he said, in a quiet voice, “I don’t want to be killed by a crazy wizard. Your world - it sounds dangerous. I guess I wouldn’t mind learning enough magic so that freaky stuff doesn’t happen around me. But I don’t want to leave everything behind and go to your hidden world and never come back. Or get killed like my mum and dad.”

“Oh Harry,” she said, pityingly. “You-Know-Who is long gone, you saw to that yourself. He died when the killing curse rebounded off you, and he’s gone for good, no threat to you I promise. The world is at peace now. And you can come back to the Muggle world for holidays of course, and when your schooling is finished if you don’t want to stay in the wizarding world you don’t have to.” She gave him a trembling encouraging smile.

“Do I… do I really have a choice?” he asked.

“Not really, no,” she said. And that seemed to be that. Harry would be going to Hogwarts after all. Regardless of his feelings on the matter.

When they rejoined the Dursleys downstairs, his aunt and uncle agreed that it was necessary too. Vernon refused to shake Dumbledore’s offered hand as he tried to say goodbye, he just grunted and folded his arms. Dumbledore gave him a sweeping bow instead. Professor McGonagall said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Mr. Potter. At nine in the morning I’ll come by to pick you up and take you shopping for your school things.”

“I won’t be paying a cent,” warned Uncle Vernon.

“It will all be taken care of,” Dumbledore assured him.

After the two strange visitors had gone, Vernon settled down in front of the television with a bottle of scotch to watch some sport, and Aunt Petunia got Harry to help her tidy away the teacups and plates.

“You see how they are,” she said bitterly, “you go if they want you to go, you stay away if they want you to stay away. It’s not up to you to choose - they act like it is but it’s not. You have no idea, no idea how nasty they can be if you don’t do what they want.”

“People want to go who don’t get to?” he asked curiously.

“I did, once,” she said, very quietly. “I missed my sister so much. Lily was there almost the whole year round, and we’d never been apart for so long. We were close, once, before they took her away from me.”

“Are you a witch, Aunt Petunia?”

“Of course not!” she said, insulted. “But you know, there’s plenty of subjects that I could have studied there, all the same. They spit the word ‘Muggle’ like it means you’re silly, incompetent. But normal people could learn at least half of the things they study there, even without magic. History of Magic is just all theory, Care of Magical Creatures is no different from learning about any other animals, and Potions is all about mixing things together to follow a recipe. And Astronomy! Seven years of Astronomy, like it’s so important,” she sniffed dismissively. “I’m not saying I would’ve wanted to study Astronomy, but you don’t need magic to look through a telescope or learn the constellations now, do you?”

“Of course not, Aunt Petunia,” Harry said soothingly. “I’m sure you would’ve been very good at it if you’d wanted. If they’d let you.”

“I wanted to learn Herbology, and Potions. They sounded the most interesting. Rare plants and making tremendous things. But that knowledge is forbidden to my type. We’re not good enough to learn it, they say.”

“If I went, when I go, I could share my books with you if you wanted, Aunt Petunia,” offered Harry hesitantly.

“That’s a kind thought boy, but no. They don’t want you sharing that kind of information. They won’t even let you show anyone any spells who’s not a wizard or witch – or who doesn’t already know about their world. You’re banned from doing that, and if you break that law,” she lowered her voice forebodingly, “they come for you. They track you, you see. They’ll follow you, and erase the memories of magic from anyone who sees it. If you do it too often, they’ll throw you in the most torturous prison, guarded by terrifying creatures straight out of your worst nightmares.” She shuddered at the thought of it. “No, I’m happy with my life. I don’t want to know anything more about magic. Or that wretched school. Just, don’t forget. Don’t forget the rot beneath the surface of that horrible place. You study what you have to, do what you’re told, and if you have the willpower and the intelligence, you leave that world and walk away as soon as you can.”

“When?” he asked.

“I don’t know!” she snapped. “I don’t know anything about their world. You find out. Maybe when you finish school. It’s seven years.”

“They said I have to go. That I don’t have a choice.”

“None of us have a choice. People pretend you have a choice, but it’s all a lie,” she complained bitterly.