The Philosopher's Stone by eharville24 | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

Chapter 2: The Vanishing Glass

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June 1876

AUTHOR NOTE: I forgot to fix the Rose-as-redhead typo in this chapter. I've fixed it. Rose is blonde in later chapters. Sorry about that! ~~~

Summers in Belfast had short light nights. The sun was up before the maids and through supper. In the early morning, the light first brightened the hills to the east of the city, then laid its soft light upon the highest buildings, including a block of terraces along tree-lined Privet Drive. The light wells were bathed in golden rays that reflected light down into the house floor by floor, causing sleepy inhabitants to unconsciously turn over back into one last dream. Number Four faced the west, so the first rooms illuminated were the servant quarters, allowing the Master, both Mistresses, and children to remain lounging in their dreams while the staff prepared the house for them in hurried practice.

Mistress Marge was the first awake at eight in the morning, well after the rest of the staff had polished and primed the rooms and effects. Her Lady’s maid helped her don a riding habit and combed her hair back into a sensible bun while she smiled at the photo of her short-lived husband, Colonel Fubster, who she’d married just four years ago, and who had died over the winter.

“Do you miss him, ma’am?” the Lady’s maid inquired gently.

“I do miss his temperament,” Marge admitted. “He was very good with the dogs. But I knew he wouldn’t last long. He was three times my age and I’m no maiden flower.” She sighed. “A spinster’s life for me, I suppose.” The butler and footmen in the dining room paused in their breakfast setting to tip their heads to Mistress Marge as she took a slice of toast and passed through to the terrace into the stable where her horse was readied for her to ride across the East Bridge nearby to the Kennel where she raised dogs.

Master Dursley and Mistress Petunia were roused next. The valet dressed Master Dursley in a sensible suit tailored so as to try to hide his bulky and bulging figure in a temperate manner. Such cunning techniques were not needed for Mistress Petunia, whose seamstress instead had to pad out her figure extensively to avoid her looking like a Famine victim. She wore twice as many underlayers as other women her age, and a quite thick bum pad and bust enhancer so as to achieve the fashionable curvy and fertile silhouette.

As the lady’s maid and valet pushed and pulled and pinned and primmed the Master and Mistress, the nurse made her way upstairs into the nursery, which was still dark and quiet. Pictures along the shelves showed how much had changed and how much time had passed. Dudley Dursley had grown from a thin gutter-rat to a well-dressed sailor-suit by the river to a breached beau on a bike, and finally to a bloated beach-ball in a bonnet. His stomach protruded off the mattress of his sunken bed enough to suggest he’d eaten one of Mistress Marge’s dogs, and his blond hair and squinty blue eyes rustled unappreciatively as the nurse attempted to wake him.

His unattractive decline into obesity was starkly contrasted by photos and portraits of a sweet baby girl with big green eyes and blonde hair blossoming into a charming young lady in ruffled petticoats and Alice headbands. Rose Dursley was the beauty of the family, looking little like either her parents or her Aunt Marge. However, the former Housekeeper had been fired after commenting that she did look an awful lot like her late Aunt Lily.

From the arrangement of the beds and photos, one would never know that a third child resided in the nursery. But the stiff daybed shoved into the corner was not for a tired nurse to rest her feet. Under a thin blanket slept the Ward of the Dursleys.

“Harry,” the nurse gently cooed, petting his black hair that stuck up in an untamed manner. He woke on command, and his green eyes, exactly like his cousin’s, opened under long lashes. Unlike Dudley, he had a trim waist, a studious pair of spectacles, and lovely manners. The only strange thing about him was his narrow Asian eyes and the peculiar three-leaf clover birthmark on his right wrist.

“Yes, ma’am,” he dutifully responded, slipping out of bed and stretching nimbly.

“Did you have any pleasant dreams?” the nurse asked the children.

“Hm,” Dudley grunted, rolling out of bed and standing with a slight stomp.

“I did!” Rose chipperly nodded as the nurse brushed her hair. “I dreamt of the zoo! We’re going today! It’s my birthday!”

“Yes, it is, Miss Rose,” the nurse smiled. “Happy birthday! And you, Harry?”

“I dreamed of a flying carriage,” Harry said softly.

“Carriages don’t fly, idiot!” Dudley snapped, having inherited his father’s temper and disapproval for imagination or fantasy.

“I know that,” Harry rolled his eyes. “It was just a dream.”

The nurse helped the children dress – breaches for Dudley, a frilly frock for Rose, and a sailor collar and skirt for Harry – and led them all the way down the stairs to the dining room.

“Happy birthday, darling!” Aunt Petunia cooed to her daughter as she skipped into the room.

“Good morning, Dudley!” Uncle Vernon smiled to his son.

“Comb your hair!” Aunt Marge hissed at Harry.

At least once a week, one of the Dursleys snapped at Harry about his unruly black hair. Harry suspected that it was both the unruliness and the colour that displeased them, as both set him further apart from the family and led to odd stares at times. It was clear that he was not a true-blooded Irish boy, after all, and the Dursleys so despised anything that led to gossip.

As tense as life at the Dursleys was, it was the only life that Harry knew. He couldn’t remember anything about his parents or life before the nursery, though he knew from Dudley that they’d lived somewhere else before. How very curious it was that he couldn’t recall half of his life – for it was almost half of his life now that he was to turn eight in September.

“Presents!” Rose demanded, rousing Harry from his depressed thoughts as a footman placed his plate before him on the table.

“But if you open your presents now,” Aunt Petunia reasoned, “then you’ll want to play with them, and we won’t be able to go to the Zoo like you wanted.”

“Hmmm,” Rose thought, “Okay, but we have to get a picture!”

“Of course, dear,” Uncle Vernon smiled.

“With Harry!” Rose added.

Uncle Vernon’s smiled vanished so quickly that Harry wondered if it had even been there. Aunt Petunia pursed her lips in disapproval and Aunt Marge’s moustache ruffled.

The Dursleys took photographs at least once a season, especially of Dudley and Rose, but Petunia only allowed Harry to be photographed every May, though he really didn’t know why. She never hung up the photographs, and he never saw where she put them. It couldn’t possibly be in an album or a frame in her bedroom, so he didn’t know where they vanished off to.

“But, sweetheart,” Aunt Petunia blinked quickly, “he just had a photo last month.”

“So?” Rose asked, raising an eyebrow sceptically.

“Well, they’re very expensive and they take so much time – wouldn’t you rather spend time at the zoo and with your presents here at home?”

“I guess,” she conceded, causing Harry to sigh quietly in relief.

An hour later, the six of them were in the barouche with two horses drawing them through town to the new zoo. The Belfast zoo wasn’t nearly as large as the famous Regent’s Zoo in London, but it was large enough to delight the children of the town, including Rose, who loved animals.

It was sunny Wednesday, so the zoo wasn’t too full of families whose parents had to work. Uncle Vernon bought Dudley and Rose large chocolate ice creams at the entrance and then, because the smiling man at the cart asked what Harry wanted before they could hurry away, Rose ordered a strawberry tarte. Harry adored strawberries and couldn’t help but smiling as he happily munched it down while watching a gorilla scratching his head and looking remarkably like Dudley but brunet.

Harry had the best morning he’d had in a long time. He was careful to stay close to Rose and away from Dudley so that when Dudley got bored, he wouldn’t return to his favourite hobby of hitting him. They ate at the zoo restaurant and when Dudley had a tantrum because his second ice cream wasn’t big enough, Harry and Rose finished it while Dudley got a new one.

After lunch, they went to the reptile house. It was a bright and shimmering conservatory with glass tanks situated around the walls. Behind the glass, all sorts of lizards and snakes were crawling and slithering over bits of wood and stone. Snakes were a marvel to the Irish since St. Patrick had chased them all out of the country hundreds of years ago. They seemed so foreign and exotic to the children.

Dudley, of course, wanted to see huge, poisonous cobras and thick, man-crushing pythons, while Rose was more interested in colour-changing chameleons. Dudley quickly found the largest snake in the place. It could have wrapped its body around Uncle Vernon’s carriage and crushed it into a dustbin – but at the moment, it didn’t look in the mood. In fact, it was asleep.

Dudley stood with his nose pressed against the glass, staring at the glistening brown coils. “Make it move!” he whined at his father. Uncle Vernon tapped on the glass, but the snake didn’t budge. “Do it again!” Dudley ordered. Uncle Vernon rapped the glass smartly with his knuckles, but the snake just snoozed on. “This is boring!” Dudley moaned, shuffling away.

Harry moved in front of the tank and sighed at the snake, looking around at the cage. “Not much room, huh?” he asked quietly. “You must be bored, no company except stupid prats drumming their fingers on the glass trying to wake you up all day, expecting you to entertain them all the—”

The snake had moved. It had opened is beady eyes and raised its head to Harry's level, staring intently at him as if entranced. Harry tipped his head to the side, glancing around, but no one was looking.

“Sorry,” he said. “Did I wake you?”

The snake shook his head.

“Sorry about Dudley. He’s not very nice.”

The snake looked to where Dudley was watching frogs leap around an aquarium and raised his eyes to the ceiling. It gave Harry a look that said quite plainly ‘I get that all the time’.

“I know,” Harry murmured, shrugging and connecting his hands behind his back. “It must be really annoying though.”

The snake nodded vigorously.

“Where do you come from, anyway?” Harry asked. The snake jabbed its tail at a little sign next to the glass. Harry peered at it. “Boa Constrictor, Brazil. Wow! Was it nice there?”

The snake nodded, and it looked almost like it was smiling as it flickered its tongue to smell Harry.

“You must miss it,” Harry said compassionately. “I don’t remember my home. I wonder if it was nice.”

“DAD! AUNT MARGE! COME LOOK AT THIS SNAKE! YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT IT’S DOING!”

Dudley came waddling towards them as fast as he could while Harry rubbed his ear.

“Out of the way, brat!” Dudley snarled, shoving Harry out of the way. Harry yelped as he fell hard onto the concrete floor.

What came next happened so fast that no one saw it happen. One second, Dudley was leaning hard against the glass. The next, he was collapsing into the bottom of the tank, which crumbled under his weight and dropped rocks, dirt, and sticks onto the floor.

Harry gasped. The glass of the tank seemed to have vanished! The Boa Constrictor was uncoiling itself rapidly from the branch it had clung to, slithering onto Dudley’s round belly and hissing at the oversized boy.

People throughout the reptile house screamed and started running for the exit in a panic. Rose hurried over to Harry's side, but Harry was frozen stiff as he stared at the Boa slide off of a petrified Dudley and turn his head to the green-eyed children.

“Thanksssss, amigo,” a low hissing voice said that Harry could have sworn came from the serpent. The Boa slithered incredibly fast out of the conservatory.

The keeper of the reptile house ran over to the children in shock. “But the glass…where did the glass go?”

 

The zoo director himself made Aunt Petunia a cup of sweet tea while he apologized over and over again. Dudley was in shock, wrapped in the blanket and mumbling about how he'd nearly died, which Rose giggled in the corner, clearly amused by her brother’s traumatized state. She was certainly unphased and excitedly skipped into the house to open her presents awaiting her in the day nursery.

Harry never got to see what she got for her birthday. The second that the door was closed, Aunt Marge snatched up Harry's arm in a tight, unforgiving grip and yanked him through the dining room onto the back terrace. Harry was bewildered. “I don’t understand,” he yelped. “Am I in trouble?”

“Of course, you are, you little freak,” she snapped, dragging him closer to her face. “This was your fault!”

“Huh!?” Harry asked in shock. “But I didn’t do anything!”

“Liar!” she growled, shaking him.

“But I had nothing to do with the glass—”

“I knew you were trouble the minute you came into the house, you little heathen bastard!” Aunt Marge roared. “I should have thrown you in the orphanage that night, sent you to a workhouse or a mine! You’ve grown cocky enough to think that you can injure the heir of this family – what, you think you can pick us off, marry Rose, and take over the family, do you!?”

“What?” Harry gasped in confusion, horrified by her cruelty. Aunt Marge had never been kind to him, but she’d never been cruel either.

“I’ll never allow it! You need to learn your place, you useless orphan filth!”

 She hauled him into the stable house and up the stairs to the male servant quarters, throwing open the door to a narrow cupboard beside the stairs. She tossed him roughly into the cupboard and towered over him at the door.

“This will be your room from now on, brat. Get used to it. And don’t even think of leaving here until I say so, or I’ll take you to the workhouse myself. No meals today.” She snapped the door closed, making Harry jump, and he looked around at the spider-infested cupboard before curling up and sobbing quietly. 

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