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Characters:

Harrietta Jane Potter – Harry James Potter

Darcey Dursley – Dudley Dursley

Peter Dursley – Petunia Dursley

Veronica Dursley – Vernon Dursley

Liam Potter – Lily Potter

Jane Potter – James Potter

Lady Voldsdermant – Lord Voldemort

Alba Dumbledore – Albus Dumbledore

Metis McGonagall – Minerva McGonagall

Ruby Hagrid – Rubeus Hagrid

 

 

***Chapter 4

The Keeper of the Keys***

 

            BOOM. They knocked again. Darcey jerked awake.

            “Where’s the cannon?” she said stupidly.

            There was a crash behind them, and Aunt Veronica came skidding into the room. She was holding a rifle in her hands—now they knew what had been in the long, thin package she had brought with them.

            “Who’s there?” she shouted. “I warn you—I’m armed!”

            There was a pause. Then—

            SMASH!

            The door was hit with such force that it swung clean off its hinges and with a deafening crash, landed flat on the floor.

            A giant of a woman was standing in the doorway. Her face was almost completely hidden by a long, shaggy mane of hair, but you could make out her eyes, glinting like black beetles under all the hair.

            The giant squeezed her way into the hut, stooping so that her head just brushed the ceiling. She bent down, picked up the door, and fitted it easily back into its frame. The noise of the storm outside dropped a little. She turned to look at them all.

            “Couldn’t make us a cup o’ tea, could yeh? It’s not been an easy journey…”

            She strode over to the sofa where Darcey sat frozen with fear.

            “Budge up, yeh great lump,” said the stranger.

            Darcey squeaked and ran to hide behind her father, who looked clearly terrified, behind Aunt Veronica.

            “An’ here’s young Hetty!” said the giant.

            Harrietta looked up into the fierce, wild, shadowy face and saw that the beetle eyes were crinkled in a smile.

            “Hetty?” asked Harrietta “I’ve never been called that before.”

            “Yer parents called you that.” she said smiling. “Las’ time I saw you, you was only a baby,” said the giant. “Yeh look a lot like yer mum, but yeh’ve got yer dad’s eyes.”

            Aunt Veronica made a funny rasping noise.

            “I demand that you leave at once, ma’am!” she said. “You are breaking and entering!”

            “Ah, shut up, Dursley, yeh great prune,” said the giant; she reached over the back of the sofa, jerked the gun out of Aunt Veronica’s hands, bent it into a knot as easily as if it had been made of rubber, and threw it into a corner of the room.

            Aunt Veronica made another funny noise, like a mouse being trodden on.

            “Anyway—Hetty,” said the giant, turning her back on the Dursleys, “a very happy birthday to yeh. Got summat fer yeh here—I mighta sat on it at some point, but it’ll taste all right.”

            From an inside pocket of her black overcoat she pulled a slightly squashed box. Harrietta opened it with trembling finger. Inside was a large, sticky chocolate cake with Happy Birthday Hetty written on it in green icing.

            Harrietta looked up at the giant. She meant to say thank you, but the words got lost on the way to her mouth, and what she said instead was, “Who are you?”

            The giant chuckled.

            “True, I haven’t introduced myself, Ruby Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts.”

            She held out an enormous hand and shook Harrietta’s whole arm.

            “What about that tea then, eh?” she said, rubbing her hands together. “I’d not say no ter summat stronger if yeh’ve got it, mind.”

            Her eyes fell on the empty grate with the shriveled chip bags in it and she snorted. She bent down over the fireplace; they couldn’t see what she was doing but when she drew back a second later, there was a roaring fire there. It filled the whole damp hut with flickering light and Harrietta felt the warmth wash over her as though she’d sunk into a hot bath.

            The giant sat back down on the sofa, which sagged under her weight, and began taking all sorts of things out of the pockets of her coat: a copper kettle, a squashy package of sausage, a poker, a teapot, several chipped mugs, and a bottle of some amber liquid that she took a swig from before starting to make tea. Soon the hut was full of the sound and smell of sizzling sausage. Nobody said a thing while the giant was working, but as she slid the first six fat, juicy, slightly burnt sausages from the poker, Darcey fidgeted a little. Aunt Veronica said sharply, “Don’t touch anything she gives you, Darcey.”

            The giant chuckled darkly.

            “Yer great puddin’ of a daughter don’ need fattenin’ anymore, Dursley, don’ worry.”

            She passed the sausages to Harrietta, who was so hungry she had never tasted anything so wonderful, but she still couldn’t take her eyes off the giant. Finally, as nobody seemed about to explain anything, she said, “I’m sorry, but I still don’t really know who you are.”

            The giant took a gulp of tea and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.

            “Call me Hagrid,” she said, “everyone does. An’ like I told yeh, I’m Keeper of Keys at Hogwarts—yeh’ll know all about Hogwarts, o’course.”

            “Er—no,” said Harrietta.

            Hagrid looked shocked.

            “Sorry,” Harrietta said quickly.

            “Sorry?” barked Hagrid, turning to stare at the Dursleys, who shrank back into the shadows. “It’s them as should be sorry! I knew yeh weren’t getting’ yer letter but I never thought yeh wouldn’t even know abou’ Hogwarts, fer cryin’ out loud! Did yeh never wonder where ya parents learned it all?”

            “All what?” asked Harrietta.

            “ALL WHAT?” Hagrid thundered. “Now wait jus’ one second!”

            She had leapt to her feet. In her anger she seemed to fill the whole hut. The Dursleys were cowering against the wall.

            “Do you mean ter tell me,” she growled at the Dursleys, “that this girl—this girl! – knows nothin’ abou’—about ANYTHING?”

            Harrietta thought this was going a bit far. She had been to school, after all, and her marks weren’t bad.

            “I know some things,” she said. “I can, you know, do math and stuff.”

            But Hagrid simply waved her hand and said, “About our world, I mean. Your world. My world. Yer parents’ world.”

            “What world?”

            Hagrid looked as if she was about to explode.

            “DURSLEY!” she boomed.

            Aunt Veronica, who had gone very pale, whispered something that sounded like “Mimblewimble.” Hagrid stared wildly at Harrietta.

            “But yeh must know about yer mum and dad,” she said, “I mean, they’re famous. You’re famous.

            “What? My—my mum and dad weren’t famous, were they?”

            “Yeh don’ know… yeh don’ know…” Hagrid ran her fingers through her hair, fixing Harrietta with a bewildered stare.

            “Yeh don’ know what yeh are?” she said finally.

            Aunt Veronica suddenly found her voice.

            “Stop!” she commanded. “Stop right there, ma’am! I forbid you to tell the girl anything!”

            A braver woman than Veronica Dursley would have quailed under the furious look Hagrid now gave her; when Hagrid spoke, her every syllable trembled with rage.

            “You never told her? Never told her what was in the letter Dumbledore left fer her? I was there! I saw Dumbledore leave it, Dursley! An’ you’ve kept it from her all these years?”

            “Kept what from me?” said Harrietta eagerly.

            “STOP! I FORBID YOU!” yelled Aunt Veronica in panic.

            Uncle Peter gave a gasp of horror.

            “Ah, go boil yer heads, both of yeh,” said Hagrid. “Hetty—yer a witch.”

            There was silence inside the hut. Only the sea and the whistling wind could be heard.

            “I’m a what?” gasped Harrietta.

            “A witch, o’ course,” said Hagrid, sitting back down on the sofa, which groaned and sank even lower, “an’ a thumpin’ good’un, I’d say, once yeh’ve been trained up a bit. With a mum an’ dad like yours, what else would yeh be? An’ I reckon it’s abou’ time yeh read yer letter.”

            Harrietta stretched out her hand at last to take the yellowish envelope, addressed in emerald green to Miss. H. Potter, The Floor, Hut-on-the-Rock, The Sea. She pulled out a letter and read:

 

HOGWARTS SCHOOL

of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY

 

Headmistress: ALBA DUMBLEDORE

(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock,

Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)

 

            Dear Miss. Potter,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

            Term begins on September 1. We await your owl by no later than July 31.

Yours sincerely,

Metis McGonagall

Metis McGonagall,

Deputy Headmaster

 

Questions exploded inside Harrietta’s head like fireworks and she couldn’t decide which to ask first. After a few minutes she stammered, “What does it mean, they await my owl?”

            “Gallopin’ Gorgons, that reminds me,” said Hagrid, clapping a hand to her forehead with enough force to knock over a cart horse, and from yet another pocket inside her overcoat she pulled an owl—a real, live, rather ruffled-looking owl—a long quill, and a roll of parchment. With her tongue between her teeth she scribbled a note that Harrietta could read upside down:

 

                        Dear Professor Dumbledore,

                Given Hetty her letter.

                Taking her to buy her things tomorrow.

                Weather’s horrible. Hope you’re well.

                Hagrid

 

Hagrid rolled up the note, gave it to the owl, which clamped it in its beak, went to the door, and threw the owl out into the storm. Then she came back and sat down as though this was as normal as talking on the telephone.

            Harrietta realized her mouth was open and closed it quickly.

            “Where was I?” said Hagrid, but at that moment, Aunt Veronica, still ashen faced but looking very angry, moved into the firelight.

            “She’s not going,” she said

            Hagrid grunted.

            “I’d like ter see a great Muggle like you stop her,” she said.

            “A what?” said Harrietta, interested.

            “A Muggle,” said Hagrid, “it’s what we call nonmagic folk like them. An’ it’s your bad luck you grew up in a family o’ the biggest Muggles I ever laid eyes on.”

            “We swore when we took her in, we’d put a stop to that rubbish,” said Aunt Veronica, “swore we’d stamp it out of her! Witch indeed!”

            “You knew?” said Harrietta. “You knew I’m a—a witch?”

            “Knew!” shrieked Uncle Peter suddenly. “Knew! Of course, we knew! How could you not be, my dratted brother being what he was? Oh, he got a letter just like that and disappeared off to that—that school—and came home every vacation with his pockets full of frog spawn, turning teacups into rats. I was the only one who saw him for what he was—a freak! But for my mother and father, oh no, it was Liam this and Liam that, they were proud of having a wizard in the family!”

            He stopped to draw a deep breath and then went ranting on. It seemed he had been wanting to say all this for years.

            “Then he met that Potter at school, and they left and got married and of course being as improper as they were, he took her last name, and not Dursley. Then they had you, and I knew you’d be just the same, just as strange, just as—as—abnormal—and then, if you please, he went and got himself blown up and we got landed with you!”

            Harrietta had gone very white. As soon as she found she said, “Blown up? You told me they died in a car crash!”

            “CAR CRASH!” roared Hagrid, jumping up so angrily that the Dursleys scuttled back to their corner. “How could a car crash kill Liam an’ Jane Potter? It’s an outrage! A scandal! Harrietta Potter not knowin’ her own story when each kid in our world knows her name!”

            “But why? What happened?” Harrietta asked urgently.

            The anger faded from Hagrid’s face. She looked suddenly anxious.

            “I never expected this,” she said, in a low, worried voice. “I had no idea, when Dumbledore told me there might be trouble getting’ hold of yeh, how much yeh didn’t know. Ah, Hetty, I don’ know if I’m the right person to tell yeh—but someone’s gotta—yeh can’t go off ter Hogwarts not knowin’.”

            She threw a dirty look at the Dursleys.

            “Well, it’s best yeh known as much as I can tell yeh—mind, I can’t tell yeh everythin’, it’s a great myst’ry, parts of it…”

            She sat down, stared into the fire for a few seconds, and then said, “It begins, I suppose, with—with a person called—but it’s incredible yeh don’t know her name, everyone in our world knows—”

            “Who?”

            “Well—I don’ like sayin’ the name if I can help it. No one does.”

            “Why not?”

            “Gulpin’ gargoyles, Hetty, people are still scared. Blimey, this is difficult. See, there was this witch who went…bad. As bad as you can go. Worse. Worse than worse. Her name…”

            Hagrid gulped, but no words came out.

            “Could you write it down?” Harrietta suggested.

            “Nah—can’t spell it. All right—Voldsdermant.” Hagrid shuddered. “Don’ make me say it again. Anyway, this—this witch, about twenty year ago now, started lookin’ for followers. Got ‘em, too—some were afraid, some just wanted a bit o’ her power, ‘cause she was getting’ herself power, all right. Dark days, Hetty. Didn’t know who ter trust, didn’t dare get friendly with strange witched or wizards… terrible things happened. She was takin’ over. ‘Course, some stood up to her—an’ she killed ‘em. Horribly. One o’ the only safe places left was Hogwarts. Reckon Dumbledore’s the only one You-Know-Who was afraid of. Didn’t dare try takin’ the school, not jus’ then, anyway.

            “Now, yer mum an’ dad were as good a witch an’ wizard as I ever knew. Head boy an’ girl at Hogwarts in their day! Suppose the myst’ry is why You-Know-Who never tried to get ‘em on her side before… probably knew they were too close ter Dumbledore ter want anythin’ ter do with the Dark Side.

            “Maybe she thought she could persuade ‘em… maybe she just wanted ‘em outta the way. All anyone knows is, she turned up in the village where you was living, on Halloween ten years ago. You was just a year old. She came ter yer house an’—an’—”

            Hagrid suddenly pulled out a very dirty, spotted handkerchief and blew her nose with a sound like a foghorn.

            “Sorry,” she said. “But it’s that sad—knew yer mum an’ dad, an’ nicer people yeh couldn’t find—anyway…

            “You-Know-Who killed ‘em. An’ then—an’ this is the real myst’ry of the thing—she tried to kill you, too. Wanted ter make a clean job of it, I suppose, or maybe she just liked killin’ by then. But she couldn’t do it. Never wondered how you got that mark on yer forehead? That was no ordinary cut. That’s what yeh get when a powerful, evil curse touches yeh—took care of yer mum an’ dad an’ yer house, even—but it didn’t work on you, an’ that’s why yer famous, Hetty. No one ever lived after she’d decided to kill ‘em, no one except you, an’ she’d killed some o’ the best witches an’ wizards of the age—the McKinnon’s, the Bones’, the Prewett’s—an’ you was only a baby, an’ you lived.”

            Something very painful was going on in Harrietta’s mind. As Hagrid’s story came to a close, she saw again the blinding flash of green light, more clearly than she had ever remembered it before—and she remembered something else, for the first time in her life; a high, cold, cruel laugh.

            Hagrid was watching her sadly.

            “Took yeh from the ruined house myself, on Dumbledore’s orders. Brought yer ter this lot…”

            “Loads of old tosh,” said Aunt Veronica. Harrietta jumped; she had almost forgotten that the Dursleys were there. Aunt Veronica certainly seemed to have got back her courage. She was glaring at Hagrid and her fists were clenched.

            “Now, you listen here, girl,” she snarled, “I accept there’s something strange about you, probably nothing a good beating wouldn’t have cured—and as for all this about your parents, well, they were weirdos, no denying it, and the world’s better off without them in my opinion—asked for all they got getting mixed up with these wizarding types—just what I expected, always knew they’d come to a sticky end—”

            But at that moment, Hagrid leapt from the sofa and drew a battered pink umbrella from inside her coat. Pointing this at Aunt Veronica like a sword, she said, “I’m warning you, Dursley—I’m warning you—one more word…”

            In danger of being speared on the end of an umbrella by a giant, Aunt Veronica’s courage failed again; she flattened herself against the wall and fell silent.

            “That’s better,” said Hagrid, breathing heavily and sitting back down on the sofa, which this time sagged right down to the floor.

            Harrietta, meanwhile, still had questions to ask, hundreds of them.

            “But what happened to Vol-, sorry—I mean, You-Know-Who?”

            “Good question, Hetty. Disappeared. Vanished. Same night she tried ter kill you. Makes yeh even more famous. That’s the biggest myst’ry, see… she was gettin’ more powerful—why’d she go?

            “Some say she died. Codswallop, in my opinion. Dunno if she had enough human left in her to die. Some say she’s still out there, bidin’ her time, like, but I don’ believe it. People who was on her side came back ter ours. Some of ‘em came outta kinda traces. Don’ reckon they could’ve done if she was comin’ back.

            “Most of us reckon she’s still out there somewhere but lost her powers. Too weak to carry on. ‘Cause somethin’ about you finished her, Hetty. There was somethin’ goin’ on that night she hadn’t counted on—I dunno what it was, no one does—but somethin’ about you stumped her, all right.”

            Hagrid looked at Harrietta with warmth and respect blazing in her eyes, but Harrietta, instead of feeling pleased and proud, felt quite sure there had been a horrible mistake. A witch? Her? How could she possibly be? She’d spent her life being clouted by Darcey, and bullied by Uncle Peter and Aunt Veronica; if she was really a witch, why hadn’t they been turned into warty toads every time they’d tried to lock her in her cupboard? If she’d once defeated the greatest sorceress in the world, how come Darcey had always been able to kick her around like a football?

            “Hagrid,” she said quietly, “I think you must have made a mistake. I don’t think I can be a witch.”

            To her surprise, Hagrid chuckled.

            “Not a witch, eh? Never made things happen when you was scared or angry?”

            Harrietta looked into the fire. Now she came to think about it… every odd thing that had ever made her aunt and uncle furious with her had happened when she, Harrietta, had been upset or angry… chased by Darcey’s gang, she had somehow found herself out of their reach… dreading going to school with that ridiculous haircut, she’d managed to make it grow back… and the very last time Darcey had hit her, hadn’t she got her revenge, without even realizing she was doing it? Hadn’t she set a boa constrictor on her?

            Harrietta looked back at Hagrid, smiling, and saw that Hagrid was positively beaming at her.

            “See?” said Hagrid. “Harrietta Potter, not a witch—you wait, you’ll be right famous at Hogwarts.”

            But Aunt Veronica wasn’t going to give in without a fight.

            “Haven’t I told you she’s not going?” she hissed. “She’s going to Stonewall High and she’ll be grateful for it. I’ve read those letters and she needs all sorts of rubbish—spell books and wands and—”

            “If she wants ter go, a great Muggle like you won’t stop her,” growled Hagrid. “Stop Liam an’ Jane Potter’s daughter goin’ ter Hogwarts! Yer mad. Her name’s been down ever since she was born. She’s off ter the finest school of witchcraft and wizardry in the world. Seven years there and she won’t know herself. She’ll be with youngsters of her own sort, fer a change, an’ she’ll be under the greatest headmistress Hogwarts ever had, Alba Dumbled—”

            “I AM NOT PAYING FOR SOME CRACKPOT OLD FOOL TO TEACH HER MAGIC TRICKS!” yelled Aunt Veronica.

            But she had finally gone too far. Hagrid seized her umbrella and whirled it over her head. “NEVER—” she thundered, “—INSULT—ALBA—DUMBLEDORE—IN—FRONT—OF—ME!”

            She brought the umbrella swishing down through the air to point at Darcey—there was a flash of violet light, a sound like a firecracker, a sharp squeal, and the next second, Darcey was dancing on the spot with her hands clasped over her fat bottom, howling in pain. When she turned her back on them, Harrietta saw a curly pig’s tail poking through a hole in her nightgown.

            Aunt Veronica roared. Pulling Uncle Peter and Darcey into the other room, she cast one last terrified look at Hagrid and slammed the door behind them.

            Hagrid looked down at her umbrella and fixed her hair.

            “Shouldn’ta lost me temper,” she said ruefully. “but it didn’t work anyway. Meant ter turn her into a pig, but I suppose she was so much like a pig anyway there wasn’t much left ter do.”

            She cast a sideways look at Harrietta under her long eyelashes.

            “Be grateful if yeh didn’t mention that ter anyone at Hogwarts,” she said. “I’m—er—not supposed ter do magic, strictly speakin’. I was allowed ter do a bit er follow yeh an’ get yer letters to yeh an’ stuff—one o’ the reasons I was so keen ter take on the job—”

            “Why aren’t you supposed to do magic?” asked Harrietta.

            “Oh, well—I was at Hogwarts meself but I—er—got expelled, ter tell yeh the truth. In me third year. They snapped me wand in half an’ everything. But Dumbledore let me stay on as gamekeeper. Great woman, Dumbledore.”

            “Why were you expelled?”

            “It’s getting’ late and we’ve got lots ter do tomorrow,” said Hagrid loudly. “Gotta get up ter town, get all yer books an’ that.”

            She took off her thick black coat and threw it to Harrietta.

            “You can kip under that,” she said. “Don’ mind if it wriggles a bit, I think I still got a couple o’ dormice in one o’ the pockets.”

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