For my section of English 108P: Popular Potter last semester, undergraduate student Renuka Raja wrote a fantastic piece set in the Harry Potter universe. It features Dean Thomas, Harry’s roommate, and takes place during the period when Harry, Ron, Hermione are seeking horcruxes, and Dean is on the run from squads rounding up the muggle-born. Students were required to write academic assessments of their own work, tying it to the literary style of J. K. Rowling. Renuka delineated how she crafted what the flight of Dean–a Black Londoner–might have been like, foregrounding Rowling’s thematic concerns of identity, isolation, and resistance. Read on for my favorite piece of Harry Potter fan fiction–ever.–JLH
“Of Reflection and Rebellion”
He peers through a crack in his door and out into the dark hall – he stands in silence for a few moments, listening to see if anyone in the house stirs. He glances at his watch: 3:14 AM. An unlikely hour for his family to be awake. Simultaneously relieved and disappointed, he retreats back into his bedroom. He tosses his sketchbook into his rucksack. After a moment of hesitation, he throws in an extra jumper– the autumn chill will soon be in the air and he cannot get sick on the run.
He falters at that thought. On the run.
Steeling himself, he slings on his pack and examines the room carefully once more. His Quidditch posters have come off the wall; his school robes lie in unrecognizable tatters at the bottom of his dresser; his books lie in pieces in the dustbin. He drops into the bin the photographs featuring his face.
He points his wand at the pile and lights it up in a burst of fire. The flame rapidly consumes the paper, ink burning in bright colours before Dean extinguishes it with a flick.
Seamus would have been quite impressed with that bit of magic, he thinks. Smiling grimly, he walks out of his room, refusing to linger for another moment.
He reckons he should have walked. He frowns when a pale, elderly woman glances at him – for the third time in the last ten minutes – and forces himself to continue flipping through his sketchbook. It was just about the same time to get to the station on foot, maybe ten minutes saved on the bus.
But where to from there? he wonders. He briefly considers Winchester – familiar enough – but discards that idea when he realizes he would have to pass central London.
The line between Muggle and magic blurs the closer I am to Charing Cross.
He wonders where he falls on that line.
On the Muggle side, if I gets caught, he guesses sardonically.
He touches his wand in his pocket for reassurance, taking comfort in the way it pulses with magic. His mind strays to his father – he has been thinking about this man too much recently, more than he ever has in his lifetime. Frustrated, he reaches for other thoughts instead.
Bromley? No – not connected to the Underground. He curses himself for not passing the apparition exam. He remembers Seamus’ sharp laughter when he had toppled over, landing on his arse in his attempt to reach the target a few yards ahead. The memory of the sounds pinches his chest and Dean exhales loudly to banish the feeling. He turns the page again, idly.
He grimaces when the old woman’s gaze flicks to and away from him once more. He glances around to find two other passengers watching him – casually averting their gazes as he makes eye-contact.
He grips his wand tighter. He wonders how he is going to distinguish suspicion in the eyes of others. Black and Muggle-born – regarded as a criminal either way.
He glances down to see his sketch of the Hogwarts Express. He snaps the hard cover shut.
First to hop off the bus, he picks a direction at random: south. It is all the same anyway – as long as he is away from Central London.
He absently stirs his soup with ink-stained fingers, casually eavesdropping on a Scouser sniping about the Reds’ season. Dean considers asking the man how West Ham is doing. He restrains himself and returns to his drawing. Unlikely that the man is a wizard – being knowledgeable about football is a rarity among wizards. Still. Better safe, he thinks.
He remembers the last time he had tried to explain to his dorm mates the appeal of football. Ron had protested vehemently while Neville had frowned in confusion. When Dean had looked around for support, Harry had shrugged, wearing an indulgent smile as Ron started again about the lack of broomsticks. A pillow thrown by Seamus had caught Ron in the face – the conversation had dissolved into feathers flying in all directions and laughter.
Dean drops his pen and dusts his hands on his dark trousers. He scratches his beard, uncomfortable. He has never let it grow this long before – he looks older, which works to his advantage, getting him into these dingy pubs. But it itches fiercely.
He tunes back into the bloke’s tirade – something about the refs now. It must be blissful not to know; not to fear. For a moment – just for a moment – he almost wishes he was a Muggle.
“That’s a nice sketch – looks comfy,” The barmaid says, cleaning the counter beside him, glancing at his open pages. “Where’s home?”
Dean smiles, packing up and hiding the familiar red and gold common room from sight. “Too far. Thanks for the meal.” He hands her a few quid and leaves.
Back in his cheap hotel room, he tears out and burns anything recognizable.
He passes a shop with a telly at its front. His blood turns to ice when he catches the words: A gas explosion. A crumbling avenue. A missing family. A strange pattern of clouds.
People gather around him, curious; horrified. Whispers of “the third one this month,” and “why is this happening?” and “oh god, children play in the park there,” fill Dean’s ears and he has to push through the crowd to get away.
Nausea rises in his throat. He recalls his own thoughts from a few nights ago – wishing for ignorance; wishing that he was one of them.
He hates that that he has been thinking in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’; hates how easy it is to draw that line after spending a few months in the year in an enchanted castle.
Living among wizards does that to person, he observes. Even while occupying the same space, it really felt like two different worlds.
He hears a cry of anguish from the watchers. A known victim. He marches away, jaw clenched.
Two different worlds – a load of bullshit, he thinks angrily. They all had their lives to lose.
Just one goddamn world threatened by one goddamn lunatic.
This will have to do, he thinks. The space beneath the flyover is mostly sheltered – likely too loud when a train passes over but it is dry and Dean is too exhausted to care otherwise.
His rucksack serving as a pillow, he lays down with a sigh – he hopes the defensive spells hold up because nothing short of death would wake him from his slumber.
Except the train passing over, of course. The rattling steel and the falling dust wake him, and Dean groans awake. He wonders if he should cast a Silencio but thinks better of it.
He stares up at the concrete behind him – how long has it been now? How far away am I? – and observes swirling patterns of graffiti overhead. He grins at the colourful curse words, rolls his eyes at the names of couples etched into stone, smirks at the customary “down with the government,” and frowns when sees something vaguely resembling the Dark Mark.
Standing, he takes a closer look. Despite the inaccuracies, it is definitely the Dark Mark – Muggle-drawn probably. The end is nigh, scrawled above in angry, back letters. He is unsurprised that they have come to associate the mark with danger. Dean himself has seen it too often, lately.
He feels a swoop of fury for their confusion and fear; for his own constantly simmering panic. He pulls out his wand, quickly surveying his surroundings.
He picks up his rucksack, dusting it off. Further west, he thinks. He glances at the wall, satisfied. He can almost hear Seamus whistling in appreciation of both his work and his recklessness. Grinning, he leaves.
A golden lion consumes the Mark, huge paws spread, roaring in an act of defiance.
When he spies a wand in the dark, his own is out instantly. He barely blocks the spell with a strangled cry of Protego. He readies himself to cast again – a stunner, this time – when the other wheezes out a muted “WAIT!”
He halts, wand still raised, “You tried to attack me,” he accuses angrily, “why?”
He sees an old man in an eccentric hat, wearing a too-long coat. The man pockets his wand and steps into the light, hands raised in surrender. Dean falters – he is fairly certain he has seen that face before. Maybe in the Prophet.
“Just a Confundus charm. I assumed you were a Muggle, dear boy. Not many wizards are walking alone at this time of night – especially not in this neighbourhood.”
“Why are you Confunding Muggles?!” Dean demands, heart pounding furiously.
“Because that,” the man points towards the hill, “is where a group of Snatchers hole up at night-time. Now, of course, it is…Muggle-borns…they’re looking for, but they would not hesitate to kill a few Muggles, here-and-there.” The man finishes, eying him carefully.
He tries not to fidget under the sharp gaze, wand still raised. “Thanks, I guess.” Dean mumbles, backing away slowly.
The man levels him with a questioning gaze. “You’re travelling alone, then.”
Dean nods after a brief moment, lowering his arm slightly. He could have killed me by now, if he had wanted, he rationalizes.
The man reaches into his coat pocket and Dean’s arm flinches up again, reflexively. His heart hammers in his chest.
“Relax, dear boy.” The old wizard points his wand to blank parchment. Dean squints in the darkness to read the inks that stains it.
“Burn that after you memorize it. You will find a safe house there.”
Dean takes the parchment with clumsy fingers, “A safe house? Who –?” He looks up to see an empty street.
He turns the page to read an address. And scrawled underneath it in bold letters:
The Phoenix will always rise from the ashes.
He sits in bed, doodling, listening to the dulcet tones of Lee Jordan and Fred Weasley (maybe George) announcing the weather.
Well, the forecast calls for cloudy, with a chance of screaming skulls. The occasional chill in the air from swarming Dementors. Remember listeners, keep practicing your Patronuses! The incantation is: Expecto Patronum.
And we’ve been getting reports of Death Eaters raining from the sky in Somerset – so best to avoid that area, really.
Dean sighs at that – Somerset is close. Too close. He should tell them, he figures. He waits till the broadcast ends (holding his breath as they finish reciting the names of the fallen – no one he recognizes. Not this time) and then walks downstairs.
“Morning, Dean. Breakfast?” Rob asks him, setting the small table for three. Dean nods, taking a seat across from the other man, smiling and waving when Ellie appears from the garden, covered in soil.
“Morning, Dean!” She says, dragging a huge basket up onto the kitchen counter. “The green beans and carrots have been doing rather well, this season. Not enough potatoes, I’m afraid. So no chips tonight.”
Dean shrugs good-naturedly and grins when Rob groans in protest.
Ellie rolls her eyes. “Stop complaining and go down to the market then – if you’re really that desperate for them.”
Dean’s smile slides off his face. “Death Eaters in Somerset – just reported on the radio.”
Silence greets his words. Ellie sighs, dropping her gloves and cleaning the dirt off her clothes with a mumbled Scrougify. Rob shakes his head darkly and serves up some toast, slathered in marmalade. Dean looks down at his plate, stomach rolling as his appetite deserts him.
“I should leave.”
He almost smiles at their immediate protests. He acquiesces eventually as they bombard him with reasons he should stay. Despite the way the guilt sticks to his throat, their words fill him with warmth.
He packs that night, listening every now and again for either Dowson. One pure-blood and the other half, the couple had volunteered to be part of a chain of safe-houses to harbour fugitives for the Order of the Phoenix.
He feels like a burden to them – they make him feel welcome while he offers danger in return. The boy with the mystery blood-status.
To know would have been better, he thinks. Couldn’t have at least given me this knowledge before he ran out on us.
He looks around the little attic of a room. His oasis for the week; sure to be another’s fairly soon. The sense of loss he feels weighs like lead in his stomach. He leaves a letter on the mantle.
He duplicates and takes with him the radio.
He drops his pencil in shock when Lee Jordan includes Rob and Ellie Dowson in his casualty list.
He does not hear the rest of the broadcast, fury roaring in his ears, grief exploding his chest. He throws his sketchbook across the barn with a strangled yell. He paces angrily, breathing too hard.
I left – this is why I left. Was there another – no – the broadcast would have said. They’re not even Muggle-born!
He sinks into the pile of straw, utterly stricken. He buries his face in his hands, tears falling freely. He is so tired of running and hiding; tired of being alone.
Hours later, he dusts off his sketchbook and draws until he sleeps.
He wakes up to sound of raised voices, straw stuck to his hair. He sinks further into his corner, praying his enchantments hold.
He gasps when spells bounce off the barn walls. He flinches when one hits his shield – it still stands. Thank you, Harry! He thinks scrambling to stand, wand at the ready. He is fiercely debating whether he should jump into this fray or jump out the window.
Just then, a tall, blond man stumbles inside with two others – Snatchers – following him, in obvious pursuit. A killing curse barely misses his head. He deflects another but he loses his footing and is sent sprawling to the ground.
He won’t make it, Dean knows. He makes his decision.
He throws himself out of his barrier, aimed at the taller offender.
“STUPEFY!” The man goes down instantly, caught completely off-guard.
Dean ducks when the other Snatcher roars and throws another killing curse.
Dean aims another stunner in retaliation – one that is blocked and countered with an impediment jinx.
He swears, frantically casting a shield. It immediately shatters when the jinx makes contact, throwing him off his feet. Wand slipping from his fingers. He hauls himself up, watching to his horror, his wand being picked up the Snatcher.
Panicking, Dean does the first thing he can think of.
He swings back and punches the man with all the force he can muster. The Snatcher goes down, howling in pain. He kicks the Snatcher before he can stand, grabbing his own discarded wand and stunning him with cold fury.
Dean hears laughter behind him and he turns to see the other man, the one being chased. The man stuns the last Snatcher, still . He holds out his large, calloused hand.
“Ted Tonks. Nice right-hook, you’ve got there.” He grins and Dean – still utterly terrified, adrenaline coursing through him – breaks into peals of laughter.
“Dean. Dean Thomas.”
“Travelling alone, Dean? ” Ted says, binding the unconscious men. He crouches down to Obliviate them.
“I am, yeah.” Dean follows suit, spelling the other Snatcher.
“Do you mind if I join you?”
“No, not at all.”
He thinks of his friends quite often.
Harry – on his quest to save the world – with Ron and Hermione at his side (he is certain that is where they are). He draws the trio, imagining them in caves and barns.
He thinks of Ginny – with her all her fire keeping everyone together and strong. Ginny, who has never needed anyone but rallies everyone, even the most unexpected, to her side anyways. He thinks of Luna and smiles. Dean sketches their bright hair side-by-side.
He hopes Neville is safe, especially now that Snape is headmaster. Neville, who surprises himself more than he does anyone else. Dean paints the silver wisps of Neville casting his Patronus at the DA meeting.
He thinks of Seamus – he always does. He hopes Seamus is getting on well without him. Too stubborn enough not to, of course. He is fairly certain his mate is bouncing around, always with too much energy, trying not to get into too much trouble. He draws them both, sitting across the fire in the Gryffindor common room.
Ted looks over his shoulder, in the light of the fire, complimenting his drawings good-naturedly. Dean smiles.
He thinks of his family too. Still safe in West Ham, he prays daily. He thinks of a father he will never know. It doesn’t matter anymore.
Every day he lives, is another day lived in defiance. And he is going to do his damned best to keep living.