My name at birth was Oliver, son of Thomas. I have lived my life by the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi.
I am known today as the Fat Friar, the Ghost of Hufflepuff. An irony, considering what a scrawny boy I once was.
The experience of magic was extraordinarily difficult for me to comprehend when I was a boy. I was Muggleborn, you see. No magical relative anywhere. Certainly, none that I had ever heard of.
I grew up as a child for whom God was always near, always present. A child of the Spirit, some would say. At the same time, I had the gift of magic, which I neither realized nor understood.
The combined effect of all this was that – and I am more ashamed of this than I have ever been of anything in my life – I imagined that I must be one of God’s chosen. I realize I was only a boy, a child. But, nevertheless, my hubris was so great that – oh, dear. Even now, it shames me so that I can barely tell it.
Things would happen, you see. I could levitate objects. I could move the petals of flowers. And my wrath, ah, my childish wrath would have terrible manifestations.
And so it happened that, when I was no more than nine years old, my brother Thomas seized my bread at supper and gobbled it up before I could snatch it back. Now he was eleven, much older and bigger than me, so my frustration can be imagined. There he was, standing with his back against the wall of our tiny house, laughing at me and chewing, while I stood hungry and shaking with fury. Suddenly, his head was knocked against the wall – once, twice thrice, until he fell insensate. My mother was screaming. It took her an eternity to revive him, as I brought rags and water, absolutely terrified. I was terrified because I knew I had caused it. I had no idea how, but I knew I did it.
When my brother finally, blessedly, revived, I ran from the house to a nearby clearing where I was accustomed to go alone, to pray. And I prayed. How I prayed. I gave myself up to prayer. Dearest Lord, if you have touched me with the ability to perform miracles – and then, in my deepest mind, I barely whispered my suspicion – Lord, if you have chosen me to be one of your Saints. The incomplete thought thrilled me, forced me to hesitate, as I imagined what it meant, my destiny. Because, if I could move objects, if I could move Thomas' head -- surely that was a miracle! Surely that was a sign that God had picked me out in a special way. Whatever else could it be? After a moment, I resumed my prayer. Make me worthy of you. Show me the way. In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.
The day after this – what shall I call it? A false epiphany? – I begged my mother to allow me to enter the Abbey that housed the local order of St. Francis. This Abbey was nearby, within the county. I knew it to be an order of preaching friars, rather than of cloistered monks; and I felt it my calling to share my experience, and my divine gift, with others, the better to encourage their salvation.
When I went to see the Abbot, and he asked me why, at my young age, I desired to give myself over to the work of Christ, I told him of my lifetime love for Our Lord but – oh, cowardice – hesitated at the rest. I feared that he might think me arrogant, or mad, or possessed.
Finally, after sitting silent for several moments, fearful of what he would say, I told him of my experience and of my belief that God had designated me as a vessel for his miracles. On this occasion, the Abbot gave a noncommittal smile. "Watch and pray, my son. Watch and pray. It is impossible to know the mind of God."
I lived at the Abbey for more than a year. Of course, I missed my family; but I did not regret it at all, for it was a beneficial change for me. For one thing, the brothers commenced teaching me to read. For another, I was assigned to help Brother Francis Peter with the tending of the garden, which, I found I enjoyed very much. The miracles I had experienced began to take the form of – quite remarkable! – an enhancement of the herbs and vegetables I cultivated in the garden with Brother Francis Peter. He was quite flabbergasted, but he clapped me on the shoulder and said, "Lord be praised!"
As I became proficient in reading and writing, I began, with Brother Francis Peter’s encouragement, to study books on herbalism. Brother Francis Peter was the doctor for the brothers at the abbey, as well as for much of the surrounding community and for the mendicants who stopped by; he had an astonishing knowledge. He began to teach me how to mix the herbs – what was good for what, what proportions to start with, how to brew or infuse them, how to create essential oils. I had never realized there was so much to learn.
One day my mother came by to visit me. It developed that my father was ill from something, a parasite. With Brother Francis Peter’s guidance, I made an infusion for him. Two months later, one of the traveling monks brought a letter from her. My father had been cured. Somehow, it made me feel wonderful.
Looking back, from this time of my life, I can barely stand to describe my own well-meaning misguidedness over those many months – more than a year. My powers continued, of course, as they do in all young people like myself.
One day near Christmas, my eleventh birthday came. Father James, the priest, had just finished the morning service, which in turn included a prayer for myself on the date of my birthday. It was the traditional prayer that I might grow in Christian service. All of a sudden, there was the sound of an approaching horseman outside.
This was a remarkable thing. It was December, and the ground was covered with snow. No one went abroad except by necessity. As it happened, there had been a storm the past several nights, and the roads were unusually treacherous. And yet, there was the unmistakable sound of a horse approaching at a gallop.
When I finally reached a window and looked out, I saw a man in a traveling cloak holding a large chestnut horse as a lay brother ran out to meet him; they conferred, and the brother led the horse away toward the stable and pens. Having seen to his mount, the man hurried into the front hall of our Abbey.
I ran down the hall so that I could see the man as he entered. He was a nobleman by all appearances. He cast his eyes on me, and immediately he smiled and was jolly.
"This is the very boy I came to see," he said. And he meant me.
I will never forget him. He was tall, comely of face; long-limbed, with hair and beard nearly the same chestnut color as his horse. He wore a red cloak trimmed in fur; underneath, he wore a gown of some fine-appearing red cloth interwoven with gold thread. He pulled off his gloves, and I saw that his fingers were long and slender.
The Abbot, Father James, Brother Francis Peter, and at least four dozen brothers crowded the entrance hall. It being nearly Christmas, many of the traveling brothers had returned to the Abbey for the holidays and the colder months.
I stood beside Brother Francis Peter.
"Are you kin to the boy?" asked the Abbot.
"Kin?" said the newcomer. "No. Not precisely kin. Kith, but not kin."
"I understand not, my lord," said the Abbot. "Perhaps you will be so kind as to more fully identify yourself, as you are a stranger here, so that we may appropriately do you honors."
"My name is Henry Gryffindor, and perhaps we might speak in private." He spoke directly to the Abbot, and it seemed to me that his voice was low and pleasing. More than that, his tone was urgent and persuasive. Even as the Abbot commenced to lead him up the steps to his private quarters, motioning Brother Francis Peter and myself and another brother to follow, I felt a tingle of apprehension that was not precisely fear.
The Abbot offered the visitor a chair, then took his seat behind his ancient desk. I had been in his personal office only once. It was sparsely furnished with oak furniture. There was a wooden crucifix on the wall, on which the figure of Our Lord had been lovingly and carefully carved by an unknown sculptor. The third brother, Old Brother Patrick Francis, was given a chair. He was the eldest brother living in the Abbey. For many years he been a wandering friar, but as he was now over sixty, he remained at the Abbey.
"You described yourself as ‘kith, but not kin,’ to the boy," said the Abbot. "I do not understand."
Henry of Gryffindor then proceeded to explain who he was and whence he came. There was a place in Scotland called Hogwarts. From what I heard, I gathered it to be a County dominated by a school or university. The ruling lord was a Master Peverell. He had four vassals, who denominated their discrete holdings as Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw. Our visitor was Lord of Gryffindor. Master Peverell and his vassals inhabited a huge fortress, each having their separate houses within the grounds. They had taken an oath to defend this place Hogwarts, to cultivate and preserve the vast grounds that surrounded it, and to teach the multitudes of students who came there seeking knowledge.
"That is very nearly correct," said Henry of Gryffindor, after I had been permitted to articulate my understanding. "There is a great university at Oxford. I do not know whether you know of it, young man. Hogwarts was founded at very nearly the same time. There are certain distinct similarities – it might be helpful to think of Hogwarts in that way."
The Abbot asked, "What brings you here, my lord?"
"I wish to invite young master Oliver to come to Hogwarts. We offer him an education."
Old Brother Patrick, gaunt, white-haired, and serious, sat taking it all in with an expression of incredulity mixed with distaste. "And what exactly do you expect to do with this child?" he asked, his sarcastic tone leaving no doubt what he thought about Gryffindor’s suggestion.
The visitor looked over the room. I had the impression he was deciding what he was willing to say in front of this audience. Then he motioned me over. I walked to his chair and stood next to him.
"Young man," he began. "Today is your birthday. Am I not correct?"
I nodded, amazed.
"Now tell me, and tell me truthfully. Have there been times – moments, experiences – over the past few years when you felt as though you had extraordinary powers?"
I gasped. I heard a soft murmur from the Abbot and Brother Francis Peter. He knows my secret. How did he know my secret? "Yes, sir," I answered. "But, sir, please, how could you know that?"
"Some children are gifted in that way."
"Gifted?" Inquired the Abbot, as my eyes were filling up. "Some children?"
"You were aware of his talents, I see," said Gryffindor, turning to the Abbot.
And I was thinking to myself, I have a talent. I am not special to God. All I have is some ability, shared by others.
"But, my lord," I said, softly and miserably as my world slowly crashed before me, "I thought those things came from God. I thought I was" – I could barely bring myself to say it, especially with Brother Patrick sitting right there – "chosen."
"You must not think yourself less unique because you are not alone. And, your gift indeed comes from God."
"Not all gifts come from God." Brother Patrick spoke. "The devil tempts with fair gifts. How do we know that the Evil One is not offering this boy a false gift in order to tempt him into sin? For that matter, how do we know you are not the devil’s emissary?"
"I assure you," said the man, smiling, "that we are not. I am no more the devil’s emissary than any other person in this room."
"Are you not?" asked Brother Patrick in a acidly. "You state that you are kith to the boy. In what way, precisely? This commonality that you share with him – what is it called?"
"The name we commonly assign to ourselves, to one another, will not endear me to you, but I will tell you. We customarily refer to ourselves as Witches and Wizards."
"I knew it! I knew it!" Brother Patrick looked around the room. "What more do you want? Boot him out of here, before he calls down the fires of hell on all of us!"
The Abbot, fortunately for me, was a thoughtful man who never acted without first obtaining all possible information. "Explanation, sir?" I could see, however, that the Abbot, behind his desk, had pushed himself up out of his chair.
"It is, in some way, a highly unfortunate choice of words, and there is surely an vanity underlying the tradition of their use. These words suggest a mage, a wise man or woman; whereas, in truth, our community consists of people who were either blessed by an accident of birth or people born into certain families. To be a witch, to be a wizard, within our meaning, one needs only a potential. A talent, if you will. But knowledge has no part of it, at least at the beginning.’
Brother Patrick was out of his chair, beside himself. "Do you hear him, Abbot?" He turned to Brother Francis Peter. "Brother? He himself admits that they practice witchcraft. Does anyone here question what the Scripture says?"
"I am as aware as anyone of what our Scripture tells us, about those who go by the name of Witch. But I will tell you that the Holy Writ applies not to individuals such as us. We summon no devils. We employ no spirits, friendly or unfriendly. We utilize nothing other than the very powers with which we were born." He turned to his detractor. "Brother Patrick."
"How did you know my name, Sorcerer?"
"I did not undertake this trip without advance planning. In your younger days, you had a great talent in preaching. More than that, you were said to have a voice so magnificent that you could be heard on a windy day, from a hundred yards away. And your sermons! They were brilliant, notably brilliant. You produced more converts than any man of your day. You preached in four languages."
"I did, yes."
"And yet, there were, nevertheless, detractors, who said you must have made some accommodation with the Evil One, for no ordinary man’s voice could carry so extraordinarily well, and no preacher could put together words in so convincing a manner."
"Nonsense! The detractors were jealous members of other orders." He seemed too angry to even mention his rivals’ names. "I inherited my father’s bellow; that gave me a natural advantage. Beyond that, I practiced every day, from the time I was a boy. If Our Lord could speak to the multitude, I was determined to do the best I could. And, as for my sermons; God inspired me. That, and I worked on them every day of my life while I was still able to walk the lands and preach."
"It was therefore your own God-given talent, honed by your own hard work."
"Certainly it was, young man. However, the distinction is that I was not a wizard, my lord, but a humble friar."
He was unconvinced. For myself, I was so preoccupied by misery that I barely heard him. My manner of thinking about myself, for such a very long time, had been taken away. I felt bereaved. A prayer for guidance went up from my heart. I tried to think, but it was difficult to make my mind work clearly. I was being offered some sort of education, which I took to be a very good thing – I supposed it could only help me to be a better servant of the Lord and, certainly, a better preacher.
"What will I be taught, sir?"
"Is it a Christian school?" Brother Patrick again. "What about his formation?"
Henry of Gryffindor answered the last speaker first. "The school follows the religion of its students and faculty, all of whom come from Britain and Ireland. Since nearly all who dwell in these lands are Christian, you may draw the logical inference about the school itself. Suffice to say, this young man will have sufficient access to a priest and to the sacraments. Each year there are a few young people attending the school who will also be entering holy orders. Some have taken vows. Oliver, here, will not be alone."
"How many?" asked the Abbot.
"In the school as a whole, there are three and twenty, spanning all the years." Gryffindor now turned to me. "As to what we will teach you, we will teach you to control the unusual powers that you possess. Much like a musician learning to control his hands and his voice, so as to produce music rather than noise."
Brother Peter Francis, standing beside me, had been listening attentively all of this time. Now he spoke up. "Young Oliver has been entrusted by his parents to this Abbey and its brothers, and we feel that he is a ward to all of us. I hope I do not speak out of turn, Brother Abbot–" he turned to the Abbot, who gestured to him to continue, "but we would desire any decision regarding our young brother’s education to be made with all eyes open, so to speak. We do not intend to cast him into a lion’s den, as Brother Patrick very prudently warns. Yet, on the other hand, we do not wish to deny him an opportunity without cause. So I ask – is it possible for one of us to view this Hogwarts and decide thereafter?"
"It is," said Gryffindor. "It is, indeed. But it were best you come in the spring, after the snows have abated. In April or May, the classes will still be in session, but the travel will be far easier and the grounds more readily viewed."
It was arranged that, in the Spring, I would go with the Abbot and Brother Peter Francis and Brother Patrick. The visitor stayed the night, as he desired to rest his horse before continuing.
I was assigned to show our visitor to his room. It was the best room in the Abbey; it had its own fireplace. I laid the fire, leaving him to light it, and set a meal. As I turned to leave, he said,
"Wait, boy." He took something from his cloak. It was like a long twig, but carved. He pointed it at the fireplace and, suddenly, the logs in the fireplace burst into flame.
"I show you that, Oliver, because you have the same ability. You will visit in the spring, and you will see."
I went then to Vespers, and all I remember was how hard it was for me to concentrate on my prayers.
The next morning, the visitor was gone. Brother Peter Francis, Brother Patrick, the Abbot, I myself – we seemed to conspire together to say nothing of him. I tried to put him out of my mind – him and that wondrous school. But now, every time my mind wondered, I would see that fireplace bursting into flame, untouched by any hand.
I worked, trying to keep myself tired. I prayed in earnest, begging God to grant me direction.
And then, the spring came. April, and the blossoms and the planting. I saw the time passing, and I wondered whether anything would come.
And then, out of nowhere, there appeared a brother in a white habit. He was not of our order. "A Carmelite!" exclaimed Brother Peter, amazed.
"I am Brother Simon," he said. "I was summoned to take you to Hogwarts."
"You?" asked Peter. "I mean – oh, dear. Oliver, fetch the Abbot."
When the Abbot arrived, with Brother Patrick close behind him, the Carmelite brother explained. "I am myself a graduate of Hogwart. The headmaster thought it might be more acceptable to you, Abbot, and you, my brothers, if I were the one to conduct you there."
It was a long journey. There was no magic; it would not have seemed well to the brothers or the Abbot, had magic been employed. So we traveled by wagon – no luxury, but a modest wagon – for weeks. Much of the time, I did not ride, but walked alongside Brother Simon, who also walked. And I could not resist asking him questions. His answers were mostly the same – wait and see.
One night, after much travel, we were standing in the moonlight, which just seemed to illuminate the outlines of a ruined castle. I was just about to ask how much more travel, for I was exhausted, and I felt I had no business complaining. But then –
Brother Simon, who was holding a stick, made a flick with his wrist. And suddenly, the ruin was no longer a ruin. It was ablaze with lights, a magnificent castle, huge and glowing, like a place of legend.
"Hogwarts, my brothers," he said, as he led us toward it.
We were met at a gate by Henry of Gryffindor, who welcomed up. Because the hour was late, he showed up to rooms – two fine rooms, like rooms for a prince. Neither I nor Brother Peter Francis had ever stayed in such a place. Food was there, already for us. I didn’t know whether to be overjoyed or suspicious, because it seemed too good to be true.
The following day, we were conducted through Hogwarts. There were students, including some my age, all over. Some were girls, which distressed the brothers no end; they feared that the presence of females would lead me into temptation – or marriage, which was nearly as bad, as it would lead me astray of my vocation. I met a half-dozen boys who were intended for holy orders. Some, attending, had already taken their vows but were permitted to continue their education, returning to their communities every year. Some of the girls, I learned, were sisters who would return to their convents.
I met the headmaster, Lord Peverell, who explained, almost exactly as Master Gryffindor had. "Hogwarts has always been, and will always be, a fair sampling of Britain. In these times, Britain is a religious country, a country of churchmen and women. Hogwarts does nothing more than reflect that."
"What happens to the students who belong to Orders after they graduate?" I asked.
"They return to their monastic life, or to their mendicant life, their abilities enhanced by what they have learned here. We think of witches and wizards, as we call ourselves, as a unique asset to all communities."
We saw the classes being taught. I was particularly fascinated by the Potions Master and the marvelous brews that he managed to mix – imagine what healing these potions must accomplish! But Brother Peter Francis, once he saw the gardens where the Herbology Mistress cultivated her plants, set aside any objections.
"You must learn to grow plants like that, Oliver! You must!"
"It is wrong, simply wrong for women to be teaching men," said Brother Patrick.
In the end, they let me go. I arrived at Hogwarts on September 1, 1417. The Sorting Hat sent me straightaway to Hufflepuff House.
When I was fourteen, I took my Holy Vows. To be honest, the Abbot encouraged me not to wait. I think he was afraid that, if I did, I would think about marrying one of those witches I now saw so much of. But he needn’t have worried.
That same year, God answered my prayers. I am convinced of it.
I was in the chapel at the Abbey. It was a few days away from my departure for Hogwarts, to begin my Fifth Year. It came to me. I had been praying for direction. Ever since I had to realize that my powers were symptoms of my being a magical person, and not a sign that the Lord had necessarily chosen me as one of his saints, I wondered – ceaselessly – what my real purpose was.
I realized that there was no one to minister to the students of Hogwarts. The students who were religious would return to their communities; but there was no one to stay, to attend to the school itself. And I knew. That was my calling, my life. That was my ministry.
So many new children coming, year after year, needed someone like them – someone magical – to speak the Word to them. Perhaps more importantly, they needed someone like them to live the Word, as an example to them. Maybe that was the reason I was sent to Hogwarts, after all.
And, also, I could live the example of Helga Hufflepuff, who accepted everyone, who venerated fairness, kindness and humanity.
I went on to become head of Hufflepuff House. I held the position for nearly fifty years. When a fever took me, I should have gone on. But I looked around and saw that there was no one to take my place. The Lord hasn’t found me a replacement yet. And so, I’ve stayed on. Someday, I’ll have to go. Just, not yet.
1. Thanks to Girldetective85 and the HPFF staff for coming up with Staff Challenge Number 3, without which this story would never have been written. For those unfamiliar, it's all about the Ghosts of Hogwarts.
2. The fabulous graphic is by the very talented Lyn Midnight @ TDA, for whom I have nothing but praise.
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