I. The Wood
You are born into this world as a merry big babe small, black eyes which get lost in your large slab of a face. A blanket of black hair sprouts from the softest section of your scalp and your fists beat against your mother’s breast. When the pains ripped through her body she tore away into the woods, keening and bellowing as her organs squeezed and expanded, covering herself in leaves and dirt to hide the blood as the giantkind are apt to do. Words of pleading with the ancient warrior goddess catch in her thick tongue and her teeth like pond stones, and her body curls in the shapes of roots and trees, tough skin stretching across her contracting bones.
And so you are born, with the unclouded constellations dancing in your eyes and your loud bellow of a babe’s cry resounding against the forest. And even the woodland creatures who fled from your mother’s bare feet crunching on the stones and leaves cannot fear such a child. The brown of the blood enters into the roots of the trees: some day long away from now, when your mother is dead, her body shall burrow itself into the earth and the elements will rise up around her bones, plants stretching and weaving from the holes of her eyes. Such is the old way of the giants: to breathe with the earth and give to the coming buds of spring. Your mother was never to die alone, for the worms and the grubs would claim her flesh for their own in a way you and your father never could.
And perhaps, you like to imagine that your mother sang to you that brown-colored night, as she cradled you to her breast and stroked you in her clumsy hands with the soil beneath the nails, and that the ripples of her voice through your body offered you as a gift to the earth.
Yet in these moments the darkness reminds you that more likely, the giantess Fridwulfa lamented the curse of passion and misfortune that had led to her birthing a weakling abomination such as yourself.
Time passes, rains fall in the wood and are caught by the leaves, and you collect raindrops in your hardened palms. Your mother and father live in a very tall cottage in the heart of the wood where the honeysuckle tickles the air and each year the vines seem to creep even closer to the thatched roof and your father seems to grow tinier, his voice diminishing from a hum to a squeak, his hands tiny and delicate when you lead him to gather fresh water at the stream that only you know how to find. The top of his head is bald and very round and shines red after a long day spent trotting after you, and he wears overalls the colour of the mud. He chatters away to you in his small voice, and kisses your mother's hands as she eats with them, holds up a large wooden fork entreatingly, laughs nervously as she pokes at the meat with its prongs, her boulder face twisting and twisting, round and round, instinct and forced human politeness running round and round her slab of a mouth.
Your mother goes on walks through the wood, into the dark parts, and the trees rustle from far away when you climb up the hill to watch her path, sticking your tongue in your mouth. It tastes like soil and salt, and you use the fine edge of your teeth to grate the earth from under your fingernails, spitting onto a fern. The white saliva clumps and trickles over the jagged, thin leaves. Years later, you are never quite sure why she stayed so long: surely not out of a sense of marital duty. Giantesses are fiercely protective of their young like other wild creatures and of you were not home by a certain time she could be heard across the wood and grove as she flew into a panic, hurling clumps of mud and pieces I the garden into piles. Perhaps your father begged her to stay using the excuse that the giant hunts across England had raised their torches even higher in recent years, that she was safest here where they could not touch the family.
But she always comes back, and when she does, you find her hovering over you in the middle of the night, her fingers inching towards your face as if to ensure you are still breathing, her dark eyes round and shining against her earth-coloured face. When she is sure you are snug and safe in your blankets - the cold never truly could penetrate your skin, anyway - she slumps back outside to lie across the garden, her head nestled in a patch of ripening pumpkins.
Your very first friend is a little creature you find whimpering beneath the brush an hour's walk from your home, foot twisted and bleeding. The animal has black fur and a white stripe and very keen, sharp little teeth, and it nips at your hands as you free the beast and carefully cradle it in the walk home, wincing slightly as little toothmarks appear in your neck and arms.
"'ush, 'ush, we're going ter get ye fixed up," you whisper, thinking of your father's calm, quiet voice when you scraped the skin off your knee as a large, stumbling four year old. You bring your father into your voice, carry him on through your words. To your surprise, the animal seems to quieten. For two days you nurse it back to health, keeping him from beneath your mother's footsteps and her flailing fists as she stalks through the garden. You play with the little thing in the pumpkin patch and chuckle as he spins in circles, chasing his tail.
"Them snares means the villagers are getting farther inter the forest," your father says grimly when you show him the squirrel and explain where you found him. When the time comes you are pleased to let your pet go: he scampers eagerly back into the branches, nittering, and you smile, pleased to have returned a wild thing to its home.
Your father is concerned about the snares, and several times you catch him trying to engage your mother in conversation. But the harder he tries, spending hours patiently reaching for her hand - her hand, which could easily seize a boulder and smash it across his small, balding head - the more she seems to retreat outside of herself, drawing farther away into the constellations of stars which you count on your fingers and the thick leaves which protect the forest from other humans.
Meanwhile, your father seems to shrink down inside himself, like his very bones are grinding in.” As your dark, sloppy head of hair stretches towards the thatched eaves of the cottage you realize how small he is, a pygmy married to a giantess. You match your hands with his, your feet with hers, you are inbetween and out of the confines of either body. You are a body all your own yet you are alone, alone save for the little wood creatures which have grown to trust you and the snuffle of beasts in the undergrowth, the rich scents of pine needles and the musk of animals spreading through the hairs in your nose, entangling them.
II. The Churchyard
You will never be one for poetry, with thick fingers which clench and crush a quill and smudge the ink in angry smears upon the page, but one dew-damp morning you wander out of the forest, a boy nearly the size of a man, stepping deftly and carefully through the mazes of roots. These tendrils of the trees could tangle and trip up one smaller than you but instead you take care not to crush them, for the eager openness of your mother as she plunges blood red seeds into her tongue is not for you, half-man, great boy. Nature is something which has permitted an abomination like yourself to exist within it and you are very aware of that. You are never to be a boy for the creation of poetry nor song yet as your hair stops brushing the branches and the large shells of your ears touch the empty air a song reaches your thoughts, snakes itself into your bones.
Your mother has gone out for a long walk, and you have not seen nor heard her since the morning. Lost in thought you choose to wander a little farther through the wood, singing an old country ditty to yourself that your father hums as he does the washing up, or when he used to tickle your belly when you were a wee boy. And as the trees grow thinner and paler, the leaves seeming to wilt, it comes.
The choir's voice soars in the wake of the organ's resounding bellows, voices joined together - have you ever heard more than two voices at a time, your father's squeak and your mother's rumble? - and without hesitating you chase after the sound. Never have you heard something quite like this, it is quite alien yet your heartbeat quickens to a hummingbird hum within your chest.
Your father has taught you your letters and you can spell your name on a sheet of dried bark, so if you had paused to peer at the names on the stones in the churchyard you may have had cause for hesitation. One name would be achingly familiar to you, but before you can pause to dwell on this you have flung open the doors of the little parish chapel, and the shocked, pale faces - faces that have not known the sun - bearing neat white robes scatter before you.
"Erm, 'ello, I was just walking and I 'eard the music," you say, crossing one foot behind the other and shifting. A careful smile spreads across your face, and as you sway the top of your head brushes the rafters of the small church. At the front is what you will later be told is a shrine to a local county saint, Saint Ladore, who the local villagers make pilgrimages to, leaving bouquets of dried up rosemary tied with wee ribbons. Nobody quite knows what makes the saint so miraculous though death came through thistle points and rose thorns, and blood flowed in tiny trickles, according to the local lore. Yet Ledore is worshipped all the same, preserved in stone and glass, bones tied up in a shroud.
A woman with a cross face and a high, elegantly curved neck glides across the large cobbled stones towards you, hands on her hips. The choir has grounded to a halt, children nudging one another and staring at you. Somebody giggles, a pure and high-pitched sound - the culprit is a little round-faced girl with red braids.
"Hush, Olive," the matron says. She stands before you, her steel grey hairs evident from the very top of her head as you tower above her. You smile, fiddling with your sweaty hands. "And who are you, young man?" Her eyes travel the length of you, the girth of you, and Olive giggles again and you realize with a sharp tug inside your stomach that the children of the choir are different from you, that the matron thinks you are far too large, that, just as you feared around your father, you can never be quite right.
"Me name - Rubeus, Rubeus Hagrid," you tell her, spreading your teeth again towards her. One of your teeth is aching and you are worried it might be rotten from chewing too many sweet berries, like your father warned doing so might bring. You are suddenly very aware of the ache and the blackness of the tooth in question as the woman's face flinches through your name, her plum nose turning in on itself, lumps protruding from the thicks of her eyebrows. And her skin turns a pale shade of paste, dry and dank, giving her the look of a woman who has seen a ghost.
Olive, prodded by one of her companions, giggles again. "Matron, who is this strange, large boy?" She glares at you, impish. "Are you a monster or a hunchback? Or perhaps a devil - I always thought devils would take such a great form!"
"Shall we pray, matron?" a little boy lisps solemnly, sticking his thumb in his round mouth. "Mumma says always pray when we see mon-shters, it shends them back to 'ell."
You shrink inside yourself, as if you would draw away from these children and the dark-browed matron. Her mouth is turning and opening upon itself and her lips seem to form a word, a familiar word, over and over again. But the word is trapped inside her mouth and so you quickly retreat from the church, tucking your head down against your neck and running blindly back out towards the sanctuary of the woods.
Your large shoe with the open toe - your feet quickly grow too large for the shoes your father provides, and you prefer to run barefoot anyway - snags on one of the stones peeking up through the grass. Flowerheads are crushed beneath your weight, and hot, salty tears are filtered through your beard and mate with the freshly upturned ground. There is a large hole in the cemetery and you have nearly fallen into it, a grave awaiting a body, and you have nearly tumbled into this chasm and so you clench your fists into the dirt and push away, and your eyes sting until you reach the shelter of the wood.
But not before you catch a glimpse of the name on the large plot stone where the grave was opened: the name most familiar to yourself.
Upon your return, the ground around the cottage is shaking and several pumpkins are gasping their entrails to the heavens. A dusky chill settles over the wood and stings your eyes, and inside the cottage your mother has your father round the neck.
It is not an entirely rare sight but this is the first time you have seen your mother with such fire in her breath and hatred in her eyes. They seem to close in on themselves, losing their human pupils as black consumes blue, as if the dark animal within her would drive out the human, her two maternal selves entwined by a natural urge. Your father's face is purple and he gasps, flailing his hands in the air like the fish from the creek when they hop up onto the bank. You rush forward, tapping your mother on the arm with all of your strength, waving and showing you are here and well, shouting something in a roar which cannot match the hot thunder of your mother's rage.
Finally, your mother realizes, and she releases your father, patting your head and your shoulders with rough hands as if to ensure you are in one piece. You bite your tongue and try not to allow her to see the wince on your face - you are fragile, like a human, but she forgets this in her relief. When she has satisfied herself she slouches through the doors of the cottage, grunting as she sets herself down in the pumpkin patch. You turn to your father, offering him a nervous smile, unsure how to apologize.
"No 'arm done, me lad, yer mam just gets a wee worried," your father says, and you nod, and he goes to brew a pot of tea from bark which you have gathered, taking out his wand in a rare moment to light a fire beneath the water. It is very rare that he uses magic as it upsets your mother and frightens her, for from what you know she once experienced terrible anguish from a group of angry wizards who, as your father said, "did not understand." The tea is bitter but the hot water floods deliciously through the pores of your tongue and soothes you, and you dip your father's traditional hard-as-rocks stones which your mother so loves into the tea and let the moist bread dissolve in your mouth.
On a whim, you do not tell your father about the incident at the village churchyard - the children who called you a monster, the matron who looked at you with bewildered disgust. Me father must be ashamed ter 'ave a child like me, you whisper to yourself late that night when the thunder of your mother's snores mixes with the pitter-patter of your father's slumber.
You never quite know what drives her to leave. Perhaps she smells the scent of the church on your skin, the odour of the dirt which encloses the human dead beneath your fingernails from when you fell, crying, in the churchyard. Perhaps your mother, dumb yet perceptive, senses the resentment which you have slowly begun to harbour towards her since that day, for her blood which birthed you like an animal on the ground of these woods has created a monster and a voice inside your head which speaks to you, which narrates your very thoughts and actions, which sees your mother with the eyes of a man, not the adoring gaze of a little boy. You cannot be sure, but one day the pumpkin patch is empty, and the next day it is empty too, and the pumpkins slowly rot as the season sets in and the rains fall and watch away her footprints, twice the size of yours.
"All's well that ends well, Rubeus," your father says, and he uses magic to help him cook your favourite rock cookies and sits with you in the wood to look at the little animals. He coughs into his tea.
"Is me Mumma really gone, forever this time," you ask your father, voice trembling across your tongue. "Is she safe, or will the bad wizards catch 'er again?" You think of the pain on your mother's face on the rare occasions when your father brought out his wand, the blackness in her eyes when she was brought into a rage.
"I don't know, me boy," your father says, and he rests his eyes, tracing circles across his eyebrows. You know this sign: one of his headaches is arriving again. "I really don't know."
Though your heart is the size of your fist and as hot as a flame it beats like there is a hummingbird fluttering against your ribs, fragile and quick. Somewhere beyond the wood, your mother's feet crash the ground like lightning and her voice hollers like thunder.
Weeks pass without excitement, but on the sixth month since your mother's departure there is a disturbance in the woods. The animals tell you of it as they peek curiously around the broken fence which encloses the little pumpkin patch in the cottage clearing, as if they would take refuge here. The trees tell you in how they rustle and move. You are tending a hornet, keeping mind to protect your round fingers from its sting and trying to repair its broken wing. Your father, who hates the stinging insects, has refused to help you with magic and instead is doing the clothes washing in the little garden, which involves stirring a pile of gray and brown cloths in a barrel of creek water. Your mother is off wandering, so you alone wait to greet the first visitor to your little home.
She is wearing a robe of gray which travels from her neck to her ankles, and her leather shoes are patterned with muck. She is very thin and pale, like a tall glass of water, and her hair is wound up in the same steel-grey bun. On her sleeve is a black band of cloth, and somehow your eyes find this first. You stand hastily, for seeing her is nearly like a mirage or a ghost, and wipe off your bottom from where you have been crouched in the dusty garden.
"'ello there, can I be at yer service?" you say, clenching your hands behind your back and tugging on your fingers one by one - a strangely soothing gesture. The hornet you had been observing flares up and flutters a few yards away, coming to rest on a weed flower.
The matron from the church glances about the yard, furtively. "Are yer...yer parents 'ere, then?" she asks, curling her lip as her eyes search the sky.
"Me dad's in the back doing the washing, while me mumma's out wanderin," you say, resisting the urge to gnaw at your lip. "Would ye like me ter fetch 'im?"
Before the matron can respond your father appears behind you in the doorway, the old wood creaking on its hinges. He steps outside, and reaches up to put a hand on your shoulder - of course, his head barely reaches your elbow these days, and so he cannot quite reach, but the fatherly gesture warms you all the same. The matron blinks very slowly, then steps forward, her hands folded in front of her.
"'alright, Lobrias," she says shortly. "It 'as been a rather long time."
"Aye, but I don't think that's any fault of me own," your father says, answering to the strange name. To you he has always been Dad, nothing more. "Finally decided ter come and meet yer grandson, eh, Mumma?"
"Upon the recent death of yer father, I found it prudent," the matron says. Her voice is unlike the thunder of your mother or the squeaking of your father: instead, she has a certain reedlike quality, and her voice sounds like your father's but with a different twang to it which slips in and out.
"I'd reckon ye'd be best ter come in, then," your father says, and, little balding head held high, he leads the matron into the cottage.
You sit at the window, as your father knows you would, and listen to their conversation. Your father has never been so cold. You learn that the matron is his mother, his old mother whom he has never spoken of, who lives in the village just down yonder. She and her husband - your late grandfather, and perhaps whose corpse was destined for the whole in the churchyard - commanded that your father withdraw from your family when he found your mother.
"Ye could've come back if ye'd not insisted on keeping the boy," the matron - for you cannot speak of her by any other name - says to your father, and shame spreads, hot and burning inside your chest. "We'd been 'oping, fer all these years, that ye might see sense."
"I would never 'ave left me boy," your father says fiercely. "Rubeus is a good lad, Mumma - ye'd be proud of 'im too if ye knew 'im like a grandmother should..."
"Enough. I 'ave no need to associate meself with the spawn of beasts and monsters," the matron says coldly. Outside the cottage, the skies tilt open and release a gentle patter of grey rain onto the garden, which settles on your hair and wets the soil beneath you. "But ye must keep the brute..."
There is a noise of hand meeting wood, as if your father has slammed his palm upon the table. The old, brown-stained teacups wobble and tinkle in their saucers.
"Very well - the boy must be kept away from the village, Lobrias. 'E nearly scared the good Christian children 'alf to death -"
"Then perhaps ye should educate the young witches and wizards a little better, then," your father replies, the new coldness taking hold of his words. "There are stranger things than Rubeus at 'ogwarts, mind."
"Yes. Well, that is part of the reason why I've come," the matron says. There is a sound of dry parchment sliding across the table. "The letter came to me 'ouse last month - I suppose ye'll need to venture out and take 'im ter London. I've provided a small allowance, otherwise the school board would be on me 'eels, they're in debt enough ter the wretched goblins as it is."
"Cheers," your father says, and the matron leaves. To your amusement despite the situation, she has brought a pink parasol with her, and shoots it up into the sky to protect her grey dress and black armband from the onslaught of gentle raindrops. She barely looks at you as she steps over the broken fence and returns the way she'd come from, but you watch as the patch of pink moves through the browns and greens of the wood, little branches being caught in its spokes, the matron muttering angrily to herself as water beats rhythms against it.
When you go inside, your father is dry-eyed and jolly again. He hands you a fat letter with green writing on the front and bounces a little pouch of gold. He tells you are going to school, and then you are going to London. He beams and pumps your hand vigourously, then hugs you round the waist.
"Me son is going ter 'ogwarts!" he crows, and sets down to make a list of all you need to purchase in London. His joy catches root in your confusion and soon you are both laughing together, and he throws away the untouched bark tea in the matron's cup and serves you up some of his fine, special ale instead.
III. The School
London is like nothing you've ever thought: a great, dirty big city that smells of the toilet and of strange fumes which sting and linger inside your nose, and people who rush by, their eyes stinging from the smoke, the tops of their hats brushing your shoulders, as you lead your father through the crowd like rats. The people both thrill and frighten you, these beings who are all smaller than you, smarter than you, the women in their knee-length skirts and their neat, slick hairstyles, the men in their suits - all older than you. You do not know this, but England, the country which holds your forest home yet to which you have never belonged, is in the midst of a financial crisis, of a social crisis, and there are reasons why buildings in London have crumbled to rubble and why the young men have scars on their faces and breathe very heavily. London: the crumbling city of a crumbling nation, and your father ushers you to move step over the folded legs of the beggars leaning back against black iron fences, and you gaze up at the great clock and the Houses of Parliament, the grandest things in the world.
Behind you, your father gives a little squeak and you awkwardly turn to see a rat-faced man slipping away into the crowd.
"'e's got me wallet!" your father cries out, his face very red, and without hesitating you shove through the crowd like you might move through the forest, but the bodies do not part for you the way the branches and vines might. By some miracle you reach over a child's head and capture the thief, grabbing him round the neck and shoving him against the fence, plucking your father's wallet back out of his pocket. It's a shabby, old thing, and the few coins the matron gave you jingle against one another, a poor man's tune.
"Dad, I've gotten it back!" you shout, and several impassive Londonheads turn in your direction, look you up and down with their small little eyes. They give you a slight berth as you move back to your father. "Reckon I'd best 'old onto it now, eh, Dad?"
You do not notice as a woman looks upon you and crosses herself, but your father does, and he frowns, taking your eleven-year-old hand and leading you across the street, where a few rickety cars are rushing past. He nibbles on his lip.
"Come, Rubeus - I should 'ave paid more mind ter me pocket." He glances behind you, where the thief is still lying on the ground, being stepped over by the pedestrians. "Come. We can make the lunch at the pub and get yer wand sorted before half two."
The pub is an old building through which you have to stoop, but so do many of the other patrons: the doorways were clearly built for people who were much smaller. The barman stares at you as your father orders two plates of fish and chips, counting out the silver Sickles in a trembling hand from the recovered purse, but the barman's lad, who has a hunchback and is bent over so that he can only move and lift very slowly, smiles at you and introduces himself as Tom.
"Off to Hogwarts, are you?" he asks, wiping down the bar with a wave of his wand. The empty glasses of the wizards settled there float down in a graceful procession. "Graduated eight year ago, I did. Which house are you hoping for?"
"Anywhere but Slytherin, I reckon," you tell him shyly. Your father has told you all about the school which will soon be your new home: tales of flying broomsticks and turning mice into teacups, and moving stairways and, most exciting, wild beasts who lurk in the forest. "Dad says never a wizard gone bad who wasn't in Slytherin."
Tom the barman laughs. "Oi, me girl was a Slytherin - I'd like to think they's not all bad, though maybe she's got a little bit of a devil in her, you know." He winks at you, and you smile hesitatingly back, not really understanding the joke.
Privately, you wonder if the matron was a Slytherin too.
The rest of your shopping trip is beset with a few blunders and awkward moments, like when your father leads you to the very back of the bookshop, where the books are stuck together with twine and glue, and in the wand shop, where you knock over a teetering pile of boxes when you step back from a prying, ageless man with moon spectacles and piercing blue eyes. He sighs and says no matter, but you fumble around in an attempt to pick up the boxes, nearly squashing them in the process, and your protruding rear end hits the counter, sending some wands which were sitting in a pile - no doubt the failed attempts of the last customer - clattering down. Your father chirps and the wandmaker sighs, and mentions to your father how you two are cutting the time quite close to September, all the other children have come and bought their wands. And you realize that your father hasn't only brought you to London to buy your things, but also to say goodbye.
You stay the night in a cramped room above the pub, and the noises of the wizards speaking and the clinking of glasses keeps you from sleep. You bear uneasy company with the monsters of your thoughts, counting your father's wheezing snores from the cot by the window.
The next morning, a hulking figure poking out of the crowd of students, you pick your father up for the last time, hugging him tightly around the waist. He tells you to be good, and to write. You ask him to send news of your mother, if she returns. He smiles, coughing into his old hankerchief which he sewed himself, and pats you on the back.
You spend the train trip alone in a compartment, watching the green fields and market towns rush by through the windows. The train is wondrous, a most bewildering yet interesting machine, yet what truly holds your attention is the small boy across the hall who has a pet cat which he has let roam free in his compartment. You watch the cat, wondering if you were to squeeze out of the compartment and introduce yourself, if perhaps the boy would let you pet the cat and if the two of you could perhaps talk about animals. You could tell him about the badgers and squirrels and sparrows and owls from the woods and he could tell you about the cat, and perhaps the long journey away from your father and into the next stage of your life would not feel so lingering and make you so small.
By the time you arrive on the platform, you are bleary-eyed and feeling hungry and heavy from the long trip, and would welcome nothing more than a warm broth made over the fire and some rock hard biscuits, followed by a warm and quiet bed. But there is a castle in front of you, looming up over a shining lake which has captured the moon, and the air smells like steam and fish and trees, that wonderful smell of trees and wilderness. The groundskeeper, a withered old man with a twisted spine and a hooked nose, mutters to himself when he sees you before leading you over to a single boat, larger than the others, urging you inside - though his hands always stay a few inches away from you, as if you have a disease he is afraid to catch.
Your boat drags behind the rest as they move across the lake, the lights from the castle glimmering on the water and the stars - a little different from the stars of your woods, from the stars beneath which your mother birthed you - catching in the silver ripples. You think of your father, making the trip back to the little cottage in the woods, which much feel far larger now that both you and your mother have left him. In front of you, the boy with the cat is chatting happily with the three other occupants of his boat, and the cat itself has settled down into his lap, tail twitching and tickling his chin.
When the boats arrive at the docks, the other first years scamper out with ease, and in your careful attempt not to tip or upset your own vessel you find yourself quite left behind. You hurry up after the tittering first years but by the time you reach the doors of the castle you have tug open the doors yourself, and there is nobody in the entrance hall but a pale-skinned boy who strikes you as being very handsome, with high, thin cheekbones protruding from his face.
"Hello there," he says, voice cool and polite. "Can I be of assistance? I was just about to head into the Great Hall for the sorting."
"Oh, I'm s'posed ter be in there getting sorted!" you blurt out, panting from the walk. Your robes are sticking to your legs with perspiration and your thick, black hair feels heavy on the back of your neck.
"Well, come on in, then," the handsome boy says pleasantly. "I'll walk with you to the front - my name is Tom, Tom Riddle, and I'm a prefect this year, you see." He holds out his hand for you to shake: his skin is very cool and smooth, and you have to bend down a little to reach - he does not hold his arm up to make it easier for you, you notice..
"I'm Rubeus," you explain. "I'm a firs' year - just got stuck in the little boat is all."
"Then we had best get you back with the rest of the first years, Hagrid," Tom says, naming you by your father's surname, and you nod dumbly and follow his confident through into the Great Hall, where the other first years are waiting at the front of the hall, and where several eyes pierce through you on your slow lumber towards the high table. But with Tom Riddle leading the way, his charming smile calling attention, you are not so alone.
You are sorted into Gryffindor, which your father said was the house for the brave, and are pleased enough about this. But the Gryffindor boys' dormitory does not quite seem to fit you: the six other boys are unsure how to act around you. You have never flown a broom, only been to London once, you do not follow any teams. The boy with the cat, who also became a Gryffindor, pulls his pet away from you nervously, as if worried you might squeeze it too hard.
Worse, some of the first years recognize you as the blundering boy who burst into the local church outside of the wood, when you first met the matron. Olive, the girl who giggled and suggested that they should pray you away, was Sorted into Ravenclaw, and one of the boys in your dormitory boldly asks if you have fallen into any graves lately, then chortles. The other boys, sensing a joke, join in.
"Will you even fit in the bed, Hagrid?" One of the asks with feigned concern, then dissolves into fits of laughter. Though this is a legitimate question: one of the others has already claimed the four-poster which is quite a bit longer and wider than the others, in a more secluded and spacey corner of the room. He's already taken off his socks and put them on the pillow as if to stake his right to it, and dragged his trunk in front of it. Your own, worn out trunk is sitting alone in the center of the room, and so you pull it over to the last bed - over which your feet will certainly dangle.
"I'll be righ' back in a bit," you say quietly, though none seem to hear you, and make your careful way down the set of spiral stairs to the common room, sitting on one of the sofas which creaks in protest. The common room is populated by little cloisters of older students, and one tiny, delicate girl, who is sitting by the empty fireplace and tapping a rhythm on the hard cover of a book with her delicate fingers. You recognize her as one of the other first years who was just Sorted into Gryffindor, and, for want of anything else to do, move along the sofa towards the chair where she is sitting.
"Hullo, you alright?" you ask her, wondering if she, too, will move past your words and straight into teasing you. You hesitate as her mouth seems to be moving in whispered words, and she clenches her hands against her chest for a moment before moving them up and down, and then left and right in front of her heart.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she says sweetly. "Yes, I'm quite alright. I've just got to bless every person I meet before I can speak to them, you see. Just in case."
"In case of what?" you ask. Her birdlike hands again catch your attention: they are pale and thin, and your eyes move up to her face, which is very thin as well, with little teeth and pale blue eyes blending into her white skin. Her hair is mouse-brown and tied into two neat braids which hang over her shoulders like vines.
"In case you are in need of it," she says simply, then smiles. "Every time my parents take me for a drive, I am always sure to bless the sheep in the fields by our village. For they live hard, long lives in the fields, always being shorn and herded about from one paddock to the other, poor things. I thought you might be in need for a blessing."
"Well, thank you then!" you say, a surprising sensation of peace and warmth wrapping its way around your heart. "Me name is Rubeus, what's yours?"
"Oh, I am just Anne," she says. "Do you like sheep? Lovely sheep - oh, I always bless them when we go for drives in the country. They are like lovely little clouds."
You find out much about Anne that night: that she comes from a wealthy Muggle family (a fact which she states most blatantly), that she has a brother and a sister, neither of whom are magical, that she has a lovely dog named Pat whom she loves very much, that her father loves his motorcar more than he loves her mother, that she has a lovely nurse who always taught her seperate lessons from her siblings.
"I'm different, you see," she says, looking down again. "I'm better-looking than my siblings but different, they always said, so I need more help."
"Different isn't always so bad," you tell her, and she smiles, showing a missing tooth. Saliva drips between the two levels of her gums.
"Different, but better looking," she echoes. "They say I'm touched, but my mum doesn't mind. She's only worried because I've always been smaller and weaker than my brother and my sister, and the doctors say it should do me good, to be learning magic. They thought being magic was what made me different but they don't really know."
"Ah," you say, not really sure of what to say. Anne may be different but she is the kindest person you've met today, and talking to her is keeping the longing for your father at bay, the image of your father sitting alone in the dank little cottage from your head.
"Yes. Now, where do you live in the north? Do you have a lovely farm?"
You tell her about wood and your mother and your father, and how your mother left but you hope she's coming home someday. Anne solemnly says she will pray for her, and you again feel warm inside. Finally, a prefect comes over and suggests you both go to sleep, as the morrow is bound to be quite busy.
"And you'd be best to keep the noise down - those students over there are trying to study," the prefect adds.
"Study? Why, it's only the first day!" you cry out, and Anne smiles again, revealing her missing teeth.
"That voice is precisely what I meant," the prefect says tersely, and you frown, turning to Anne.
"I reckon she doesn't like me voice," you say. "Doesn't seem like I can do much right round 'ere."
"Why, you have a very lovely voice," Anne says solemnly. "I think your voice... your voice is lovely. It sounds like warmth, and something strong - I believe your voice is like warm thunder."
Warm thunder. This small comfort and kindness from a little girl carries you through the first few months of the bizarre and bewildering world of your first year at Hogwarts. You sleep curled up with your feet tucked up on the small bed, one arm dangling off, not minding when your dormmates complain about your loud snoring. It carries you through the classes where the teachers sigh at your poor skills of pronunciation and mediocre wandwork: though you are not, by far, the worst in the class your disasters seem far larger than the others, and your classmates snicker and housemates grown when your poor monitoring of your potion leads to five house points being lost. The warmth carries you through the boy with the cat - Alexander - and the boy who took the largest bed - Demetrius - creeping into the bathroom during your careful, slow shower and stealing your clothes so you have to change, humiliated, in front of the other boys.
To your disappointment, Anne is not often well enough to attend lessons. But when she feels up to it, she is sure to sit with you, making comments about the lovely colours of the spells and blessing the teachers when they come to speak with her in hushed, careful tones which they would never afford to you. No, to you their voices are like icy rain, concise and cool like one might speak to a simpleton. You use the quiet moments in classes to tell Anne about your mother - how she smelled when she could come in from the woods, like soil and leaves - how she was furious at your father when you were missing upon her return. Anne's own mother is lovely, she says: her eyes are full of dew and her voice is full of soft honey.
"When she sings songs all the bees and the lovely little creatures, like voles and churchmice, pause to listen," Anne tells you. Anne is always trying to find poetic ways to harness the winds reigning in her thoughts and turning them into words.
But she is not there to distract nor protect you with her sweet innocence when Olive Hornby, the girl from the church who was in the matron's choir, comes to taunt you with a small group of other students who witnessed the incident. Soon, you find them waiting for you everywhere in the halls, hands clasped in mocking prayers, thumping their fingers in the sign of the cross against your heart, whispering fervent, sniggering prayers along the lines of ridding the school of the demons within.
Yet you resist the instinct to charge after the other students when they do this. You are larger than them: you are stronger than them, and many spats around the school have been resolved through fighting like common Muggles or arranged wizard duels in the dungeons or on the outskirts of the forest. But you remember the fearful, disappointed look on your father's face when the Muggle thief in London did not stand up, and you look down and do not push them, nor hit them, nor lay a finger on those who are so cruel to you. This is the way of a truly brave wizard, a Gryffindor, you whisper to yourself when Olive's laughing sneer or Demetrius' glinting eyes appear before you, and your skin, thicker than any other student, grows stronger by the day.
One man who is kind to you is the Transfiguration professor, Dumbledore, a gray-bearded man with twinkling blue eyes and a patient way of approaching his students. One time, he spends nearly half the class showing you how to properly hold your wand when casting a spell, but by the end of it you feel much more comfortable with the little thing.
"The big oaf shouldn't be counted as a real wizard," one of the Slytherins whispers at the end of the class. You flush, but Dumbledore hears this, and puts a gentle hand up to stop the class.
"I believe any student who has been chosen by a wand has an equal right to be trained as a wizard, Mulciber," he says serenely, and the Slytherin scowls but says nothing more against you.
"He is very perceptive, Professor Dumbledore," Anne says to you later that night. "He is so lovely - I like to believe he knows everything which happens in this castle, he's been here so long. He was the one who came to speak with my parents and deliver my Hogwarts letter - he was ever so kind."
"Yer, I s'pose," you mutter in return, though the old professor lone intervention will likely result to nothing. He's far from being a great man, like your father is.
But right before Christmas - the worst of news.
You break the headmaster's chair when he is turned towards the window, the wretched words just leaving his lips and misting the glass pane separating him from the outside chill. The chair was too small and so you had been balancing the bulk of your weight on your feet but as his words reach your ears a loud, guttural grunt of pain escapes from your chest and your legs cease to support you, cracking the delicate wooden chair down its spine. The headmaster whirls, eyes flashing with irritation, and thick, hot tears pool upon your cheeks.
"Thanks fer everything, professor," you mutter, and to your horror a large glob of bogeys trickles out your nose, falling, falling and planting itself firmly in the deep purple of the headmaster's rich carpet. There are indignant scoffs and mutters from the portraits behind you, and you shuffle away, taking the steps two at a time until you are outside, at the edge of the forest where the leaves are not in danger of ticking your head like the stones of the castle, where the creatures who flit among the branches or slink in the spaces between the trees cannot speak nor laugh at your rough country accent or your sloppy spellwork as you fiddle with the tiny wand which does not quite fit inside your fingers.
You are permitted to stay at the school over Christmas, since you no longer have a home to go to, and you pass the time wandering about the empty castle, counting stones. Around New Years, you receive a crisp letter from the matron telling you that a quick service was held for your father and he was placed in the family plot in the churchyard outside of the woods where he had lived for the past twelve years. You cannot help but sense from her formal words that there is no place in the family plot for an oversized body like yours.
She tells you more than the headmaster could: that your father's delicate constitution led to his eventual death, but you cannot forget the horrible sight of when you came home to find your mother had pinned your father against the wall, bellowing for her child, more animal than human. Giantesses are fiercely protecting over their young. Perhaps, though you can barely stand to think of it, your mother had at last returned for you, only to find the cottage empty of anyone but your weak, small father.
When Anne comes back from the holidays you tell her what has happened, and she blesses you and says a little, sweet prayer for your father's soul.
"I am sure he is in heaven, and he looks down on you every day," she says softly. "I know it. He is an angel in heaven and him and our Father love you still. Perhaps you will hear him in the sound of the rains pattering on the forest, or in the lull of far-off thunder." Her pale blue eyes become very round and pale in her face.
Dumbledore pulls you aside shortly after the holidays to inform you that he's had a word with the matron, and that she'll be taking you in the summers from now on. Your heart sinks at this, and Dumbledore seems to realize, for he reaches up and pats your shoulder, sympathy shining from behind his spectacles.
Tom Riddle, the handsome prefect who greeted you the first day at Hogwarts, also seeks you out to offer his condolences.
"I too lost my parents very young, Hagrid. I quite hope you're handling it well," he says politely, shaking your hand again. His skin seems colder than the last time you touched. Behind him hovers a small posse of older Slytherins, who glance out the slits of their eyes as if wondering what their popular ringleader is doing, speaking with an inferior first-year like yourself.
But Tom Riddle is very well liked, and you are only one in a series of students he has sought out and offered some small kindness. And you accept it whole-heartedly: you bask in his attentions and pump his hand, and feel much as you did the first time Anne blessed you: warm and attended upon.
As the year progresses and moves towards the dreaded summer, Anne grows more and more poorly. She rarely attends classes, and the girls in her dormitory whisper that she spends most nights in the hospital wing. You go to visit her one evening to find her very glassy-eyed and pale, and so weak that she can hardly lift her little goblet of water.
"I always knew that my body was different," she tells you, her bird hands limp on the coverlet which is thick despite the warming weather. "Weak, but lovely, like a little helpless, lovely creature."
You sit with her, and when her parents arrive, their wide-eyed concern for their daughter trumping their wonder at the magical castle, Anne blesses you once more, her hand stroking up and down, then left and right across her heart.
She dies soon after, and you hear the news from the girls from her dormitory, who were never Anne's friends. And you wonder whether Anne too is a little angel looking down from a lovely place in heaven, and if she has met your father there.
Summer with the matron is dull and orderly. She has made up a room and bed for you in her house, set with a flowery coverlet and a set of children's books set uneasily on the little desk which is far too small for you. But in the covers in a neat script your father's name has been carefully printed, and this makes the books precious to you.
The first week, you ask the matron for directions to the churchyard so that you may visit your father's grave. She relents, even conjuring a bouquet of flowers to place over the stone, and lending you her favourite pink parasol to shelter yourself from the rain. Feeling a little ridiculous yet loathe to reject this gift, you pick your way through the muddy roads and fields and find the scene of your earlier humiliation last year, bowing your head over the grave of your father and whispering a last message of love, wishing you could scoop him up in your arms again, hear his squeaking laugh again. There is no sign of your mother, not from the matron, who refuses to speak of her, nor any whispers in the village.
You and the matron form a strange pattern where she feeds you and washes your laundry, and you help her in the garden and with the little flock of magical chickens she keeps in the garden. You learn to tenderly handle the eggs and soothe the flighty beasts, who are prone to breathing fire when agitated, and you do not complain when the matron goes to teach the choir and the Sunday school and does not invite you to come along. At the end of the two months she arranges your passage to London and you board the train alone.
Your second year is even lonelier than the first, though thankfully after a few mocking remarks to make up for lost time the other boys in the dormitory seemed to have run out of things to say. But in October, you get Aragog.
It is Tom Riddle who helps you out this time. Riddle is a sixth year now and has his fingers dipped into every pot. He knows everything that goes on in the school, whether against the rules or not, and he does quite well with introducing you to somebody who can give you what you want. What you want is a friend, and Riddle introduces you to a wrinkled old man down at the village outside the school.
"Robson, Hagrid here has a liking for rare creatures - I mentioned that little experiment you've got in your pocket," Riddle says, clapping you on the shoulder. Even through your robes, his touch feels cold. "I imagine you would not want to charge too much for it, due to the restrictions from the Ministry with the recent appointment to the Department of Export of Magical Creatures. If Hagrid is interested, of course."
You nod your head vigourously, eyeing the old man's pocket. And for a pittance he drops into your hand a round, firm egg, which soon hatches into the most precious little creature you've ever held - a tiny monster with eight legs and clattering pincers, a little beastly, a little dangerous, like you always knew you could be. The sort of creature others flee from and recoil in disgust, just like the faces on the children the day you burst into the church.
A large grin spreads across your face. You christen him Aragog, and for the first time since your mother's abandonment, since your father's death, since Anne's journey to the angels, you are no longer alone.
Author's Note: Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this story in second person from the POV of Rubeus Hagrid. This was inspired by and written for two challenges, the Second Person Point of View challenge by patronus_charm and the No Shortcuts challenge by Lady Asphodel. Thanks for the awesome challenges, guys, and I hope you enjoyed this very long first chapter. I'll be working on the next chapters - there will either be one or two more, depending on what works out, focusing on Hagrid's young adulthood and eventually his time during the war and his death. Thanks again!
This line: Dad says never a wizard gone bad who wasn't in Slytherin. was adapted from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling.
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