Though they were far too young to rationalize that, the other kids felt the instinctive fear that humans had always felt when faced with the eyes of a witch-born. When he asked to play with them the first few times, they refused and turned their backs on him, as much from fear as spite. Harry learned quickly to stop asking, and usually returned to his desk while the others played their games.
The teacher watched, but when he looked at her, she looked away with a visible shudder and said nothing. Dudley's gang did their utmost in school to ensure his isolation was complete, though even those attempts stopped altogether four weeks into school when Piers Polkiss cocked back his right foot for an especially strong kick against Harry one day, only for the entire school yard to hear a cringe-inducing snap when his foot struck Harry's back.
The snap was followed a moment later by a blood-curdling scream as Piers fell to the ground, clutching a leg that was not only broken, but broken so badly, that a shard of bone stuck out clearly from his shin. Dudley and the other gang members backed away in horror, while Harry picked himself, scuffed but otherwise unharmed. He walked closer to Piers and stared down at the bloody, broken leg.
Harry shrugged and walked away; Dudley's friends backed out of his way to let him go, and that was the last of the beatings he got at school. Soon word spread, and the other kids became even more frightened. Harry Potter was truly, undoubtedly, a freak. By Year 1, Harry no longer tried to make friends, even with the new kids.
They learned quickly enough to leave the freak alone. Instead, he read his books and spoke with the animals that would occasionally come visit—ravens or large striped cats, mainly, although he also met several friendly garden snakes. He made sure not to speak to his animal friends where anyone could see him, since he knew the other kids would not understand. Over time he gained a reputation of someone who liked to lurk in corners and shun human company. The fact that it was the other way around made no difference to the end result of Harry being alone. At least he was able to eat more at school.
Near the end of that first year of school, Harry sat in his customary place on the edge of the school yard when a stranger stepped through the gate of the playground and started striding across the grounds. To seven year-old Harry, the man looked tall and gaunt, though he was actually not much taller than Ms Chattara, the minder for that recess. He wore a long, odd black shirt that hung to his knees, and black trousers under that.
His hair was thin, but his eyes gleamed with a terrible, brown light, as if he had flashlights behind his eyes. More than that, though, his chest gleamed with an odd, watery…something. Harry wasn't sure if he was seeing something inside the man, or feeling something, but the man felt dark, damp and cold despite the warmth of the day. Harry stood up and backed up a step, only for his back to come against the gate. He tried to call for Ms Chattara, but his voice came out only as a terrified, closed off croak.
The man moved closer, and hefted the knife in his hand. Harry desperately looked about the school yard, desperate for someone—anyone—to notice what was happening.
The man growled like an animal as he rushed forward, only to stop a foot from Harry. His eyes widened, and within the coil of cold blue that resided in his chest, a spark of bright red appeared. He gurgled and dropped the knife—it fell with a dull thud against the packed dirt of the play area.
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The red in his chest expanded rapidly, until it became a raging flame that boiled away the wet. The man reared his head back and tried to scream, but only a gurgle came out, before his entire body burst into flames.
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A moment later, a cloud of ash floated gently to the dirt. Harry took a deep, stunned breath. Around him, kids continued to play as if nothing had happened at all. He jumped again when two people appeared from the air with a pair of Pops , both wearing red robes.
It was, in fact, the ugliest man Harry had ever seen, with a strangely spinning false eye and scars enough for twenty faces, much less just the one. Go on now, Emmy. I'll take care of the lad. The woman removed a stick and waved it around the cloud of ash. It rose up into the air, collected itself into a ball, and disappeared into a large glass phial.
She disappeared as quickly as she came. The ugly man grabbed the knife from the ground, nodded to himself, and tucked it into his odd red cloak. But don't worry lad, you won't remember it. On Dudley's ninth birthday, Aunt Petunia walked Harry across the street by the sleeve of his shirt to make sure she did not touch him.
With a sharp rap on the door, Petunia stepped back and waited impatiently. The door opened to reveal a wide-faced woman of indeterminate age dressed in a terry-cloth robe. Her mousy brown hair was done up in rollers. Without waiting for affirmation, she said, "I understand from the neighbours that you are agreeable to watching children for a fee?
It looks like something's trying to shine through, like a light in a paper bag.
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Arabella chuckled. I wasn't expecting company. Have a seat—you're welcome to watch the telly if you want. I need to finish getting ready. When she returned half an hour later, Harry was on his stomach in the middle of the floor playing with what he thought were cats. Arabella kept half a dozen of the creatures, who were family to her. She was about to warn him to be gentle with them when he turned and meowed at one of the kittens who was trying to claw her way up the side of Arabella's second-hand sofa. It was a shockingly realistic sound.
More shocking still, the kitten's mother came running from the kitchen and caught the kitten by the scruff of her neck, with which she carried her to Harry, deposited her, and returned to her milk in the kitchen. With a sly smile, Arabella stepped out of the hall and said, "What was Percival doing? He pointed to another kitten and said, "That's Percival, though he doesn't like the name.
He'd rather be Rufus. They can sometimes even understand what I'm saying, though I believe it is more in terms of tone and body language than words. I don't speak kneazle, you know. Do you think you could ask Samantha to come sit with me? She warms my lap quite nicely. Harry meowed, and the mother kneazle walked back in at a more sedate pace than before, hopped up onto Arabella's lap, and curled into a warm, purring ball of contentment. Within the box is a crystal that you might like to look at. It's really quite extraordinary.
Shrugging, Harry opened the box, reached in and pulled out a golf-ball-sized polished crystal. He peered deep into the crystal, his tongue sticking out as he concentrated. Although he could not see it, the air around his head shimmered before taking on a faint glow, as if he were surrounded in a halo of golden mist. Harry's eyes dilated so wide his irises looked black, and his jaw hung slack.
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