Midnight. Was not a special time at all. No, one second past midnight was when the magic happened. In a small tower room, a parchment rolled open, a quill dipped in ink, a tiny tendril of magic was sent to the Postal Service in Hogsmeade, the only all-wizarding village in Britain, and when the last words were written and the parchment had tucked itself into the waiting envelope, a Post Owl alighted on the windowsill.
A wizard had come of age.
The first anyone learned that something was amiss was when the bill came.
"Twenty-six owls?" Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry blinked at the parchment. Preparations for the new school year were in full swing and she had transfigured a second desk in the Headmaster's office to cut down on walking to and fro. At one end was an Out-tray, filled two feet high, and on the other an In-tray, twice as tall and threatening to topple over. "Albus, why on earth do we have to pay for twenty-six owls?"
"Perhaps we've sent twenty-six mail?" the tower's other occupant replied absently. He had his own desk filled with correspondence, stacked so high that only his enormous nose and twinkling blue eyes were visible from where she sat. It wouldn't be odd to have sent twenty-six owls, they've certainly received more than that just this morning. In his case, only a fraction of those was from the school governors, as besides being the Headmaster, he was also the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, and Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards. That in itself did not generate as much work as you would think but this was a special year. The Boy Who Lived was starting his first year and there had been rumours that something foul was afoot.
"Owls, Albus. Not deliveries."
Albus was prevented from responding when an owl chose that moment to swoop through the tower office, to drop a pink envelope on his desk. Pink, the precursor to red. He set his work aside and opened the missive, ignoring the start of a migraine settling behind his eyes. "Twenty-seven, now, Minerva," he sighed and with a flutter of his fingers he sent the pink parchment sailing across the room to her desk. "Perhaps you should look into it."
"I already am." It wasn't as if she didn't have a backlog of other tasks on her plate, but money was always tight in a boarding school of this size, and… twenty-seven owls!
It took her two days of frantic searching and two more lost owls before the mystery was solved. It appeared to her in a dream, and come morning anyone interested in her doings would have seen her trotting down the empty halls in her pink bathrobe and matching bunny slippers, her nightcap bobbing in her wake, but all the portraits were sleeping and nothing was stirring, not even an elf. Up and up she trotted, darting across the castle's dimly lit halls, jogging up too many stairs, straight to the automated admissions room she rushed and was just in time to grab the letter out of the postal owl's claws.
"Oh my goodness!" she gasped, flustered from the effort, and bent double to gulp air. The owl screeched and Minerva flapped the envelope at him. "Off with you! There will be no mail today!"
Once she regained her breath, she straightened up but took a moment to pat her black hair back under the nightcap before she turned to the envelope. "Well now, let us see—oh, my!"
"I should have thought of it from the start," she sighed, dropping the envelope next to the Headmaster's breakfast plate. The mystery solved, there would be no bill today for yet another owl, and she had seen no reason why it couldn't wait until breakfast when she would be more suitably dressed. "The only contract we have with the Postal Owl Service is for the New Wizards and Witches' invitations." She speared a piece of bacon with some venom. "Twenty-nine owls! We'll have to ask for a donation."
"The Malfoys, perhaps," the Headmaster agreed, staring at the letter. "Their boy should be attending this year. Perhaps they are on vacation."
"In a swamp?"
Both of them paused their breakfast to stare at the deceptively innocuous envelope.
Harry Potter, Smallest bed, Third Swamp to the Left, Bottoms-Up, Shropshire.
"Twenty-nine owls!" Minerva hissed in disgust.
"Get out of my swamp!"
Green skin, filthy clothes that had seen better days—and by the looks of it, never a wash—bare feet, muddy hair sticking up in every possible direction and some that were not, he growled fiercely, teeth bared, spittle flying, hands raised into claws. What was that smell?
Minerva might have been scared, had she not been a teacher for nigh on thirty years, and had her attacker not been an eleven-year-old boy whose voice had yet to break.
"Mr Potter, I presume," she sighed. "What on earth is that on your skin, you are green."
"Rawr!" he yelled.
She might have been able to bring the situation under control, she had yet to find a student she couldn't cow, had the door to the small outhouse behind him not opened just then.
Green skin, enormous mouth filled with disgusting yellow teeth, filthy clothes that had seen better days—and by the looks of it, never a wash either—bare feet, he adjusted his pants and roared. "Get away from that boy!"
Many monsters were green but it was the trumpet-like ears on the bald head that gave him away. "An Ogre!" Minerva gasped and reflexes, honed by the pranks of countless naughty students, she had her wand in her hand before the ! was uttered, and stunned him.
"Dad!" yelled little Harry Potter, the darling child of her two favourite students, and came at her with a pitchfork.
It took a while before everything was sorted.
Over an hour actually, and once Minerva was convinced that the ogre—Shrek—hadn't abducted the Saviour of the Wizarding World but that he had been dropped off at Shrek's doorstep, by her calculations two days after she and Albus had dropped him on his aunt's doorstep, she revived the green monster and they all had tea.
Well, sort of tea.
Minerva found herself on a rickety chair in a surprisingly clean, if basic, cottage. One room, it held everything from the kitchen to sofas and beds. She was trying her best to pretend the hearth, in which a… bird… was slowly roasting, did not exist.
A table laden with jellied eyeballs and candied grubs nudged at her knees, and Harry Potter and his adoptive parent sat opposite her squeezed tightly into a couch. The murky tea looked like it had been brewed in a swamp, and she decided it was best just to hold the chipped mug.
Shrek was currently praising Harry, scrubbing his hair with an enormous green hand. "Nice turn, us waving the pitchforks for a change!" he guffawed, and the two rough-housed, bumping the table carelessly, making the contents of the plates jiggle. Oh, no, sorry, they were jiggling on their own, apparently some still had enough life left in them to try and make a crawl for freedom.
Minerva sighed. She swore she had seen a packet of McVities in the cupboard when they had assembled the tea and feared this was all for her benefit. It was nothing worse than what she saw on Halloween, and the power move would be to pop an eyeball into her mouth, she knew, but she had a feeling that even then they would win.
"It appears Mr Potter didn't receive his letters," she started once they had calmed down.
Digging through her handbag she brought forth the envelope she had saved and passed it to Harry. Who took it with a feral growl, holding it between filthy forefinger and thumb as if it was something utterly disgusting, squinting at it. Behind their heads hung a framed drawing of the little cottage, two green stick figures holding hands, and words proclaiming 'Howm Is Wear the Swahp Is'.
Drawing the natural conclusions, Minerva asked, "Shall I read it for you, Mr Potter?"
"Oi, I go to school," Harry said, miffed. He reached for a handful of the still wriggling grubs and followed her gaze, then scoffed, "I did that when I was three!"
Minerva sadly failed to hide her surprise. Oh, not at the meal choice, what boy hadn't tried worms, no, she was surprised at the other thing.
"Speciesism, right there, if you ask me," Shrek snorted. "Ogres these days can read as well as any human, Professor. Fetch your glasses, Harry, and show the Professor you can read."
"Why? I don't have to read anything over the holidays, you said, and anyway it will be the same as all the others, Dad." He handed the envelope back. "No, thank you, we don't want it."
"We certainly don't." Shrek's sniff was a loud, mucus-filled sound that may have started in his overlarge nostrils but it continued down, bypassing his sinuses, to rattle in his throat. Her ears curled up in distress and she nearly missed his declaration.
"Ogres don't do magic."
"That might be true, Mr Shrek, but Harry Potter is not an ogre."
"…and then his father said, 'Fetch the pitchfork, laddie. Show me how you did it!' and they tried to run me off!" She paused to regain her composure and took a sip of her tea—real tea!—scowling at Albus opposite her.
It was a magnificent scowl. A thing of beauty, it near had a life of its own. It filled the Headmaster's office with blame—I told you the Dursleys were the wrong sort! It threatened—don't you dare laugh, you old coot. And it promised years of retribution if he was to give in to the urge to rub his hands together in glee at what was sure to be a most interesting school year to come.
Albus wisely hid his glee at what was sure to be a most interesting school year to come, and offered meekly, "I will send Severus to—"
"Tried, Albus." She sniffed daintily. "Do listen." She helped herself to a digestive, maliciously taking her sweet time nibbling on it, before continuing. "Harry Potter has agreed to attend if his dad could come with."
That was too much. Not even The Scowl could contain Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Headmaster, Chief Warlock, and Supreme Mugwump, recipient of the Order of Merlin, (First Class)'s excitement.
"Most excellent!" Albus clapped his hands together, startling Fawkes, his phoenix, into screeching an objection from his perch on the other side of the room. "Hagrid could do with an assistant! We should set them up near the forest. But I fear Mr Shrek was quite wrong. Did you know, Minerva, that Ogres have their own magic? If we pick the right spot, we'll have our very own swamp!"
"I did not know that, no." Minerva picked up a second biscuit and nibbled daintily, allowed the teapot to refill her cup, and left the words, 'He was green, Albus,' unsaid. He would find it out soon enough, and she planned to be right there by his side when he did. Perhaps she should borrow Sybill's camera. She smiled. It was sure to be a most interesting year.