He'd been dreaming of it since the defeat of Voldemort. The Veil, that is. The one that Sirius had fallen behind. The last time he'd dreamed about the Department of Mysteries, Sirius had died. The world had also finally woken up to the truth about Voldemort, but the price had been too high for him to be grateful. And once the truth was out, the attacks had gotten worse.
He wondered, briefly, why he was there. Ginny was at home, she was pregnant, she needed him. Yet he could not seem to stay away. Voldemort was gone, true. But then, so were so many other people, good people, who should not have died.
He counted the steps until he was standing right in front of where Sirius had fallen through. Cedric. Sirius. Dumbledore. Hedwig. Moody. Dobby. Tonks father. Remus. Colin Creevy. Tonks. Snape. Fred. Hell, even Crabbe didn't deserve to die then. There were more, many more, but none of them close to him. They were close to somebody, though. Maybe that was why he couldn't stay away. Why he couldn't look away. Why, even at that very moment, he couldn't walk away.
Harry awoke with a start. He was lying on a floor, covered by a poor excuse for a blanket, and someone appeared to be attempting to break the door down.
"Where's the cannon?" Dudley asked. Dudley? Where had the Veil sent him? Could this be when Hagrid first told him about Hogwarts? It must be, because he couldn't recall any other time where he and Dudley had been sleeping in what appeared to be a shack.
There was a crash behind them and Uncle Vernon came skidding into the room, holding a rifle. Harry snorted. Like that would do any good against HAGRID. His uncle didn't seem to know that, though, and shouted "Who's there? I warn you-I'm armed!"
Although it did occur to Harry that when people were trying to break in, it can generally be assumed that they are probably armed as well. And as if they didn't know that a wizard had come for Harry. Who else COULD even get across in this weather, not to mention who else would even bother?
SMASH! The door flew clean off its hinges and landed on the floor with a thunderous crash. Hagrid stood in the doorway, looking very impressive.
Now, Harry hadn't exactly planned this, but he figured that he might as well make the best of it. Things hadn't exactly turned out terribly when he had taken down Voldemort, but they also hadn't been all that great. Maybe he was getting a second chance. And if that was the case, there was no way in hell he wasn't going to take it.
"Couldn't make a cup o' tea, could yeh? It's not been an easy journey…" Hagrid began. And completely ruined his frightening first impression. He strode over to the sofa where Dudley sat, petrified. "Budge up, yeh great lump," he told him, watching as Dudley ran to go hide behind his mother, who was in turn hiding behind her husband. "An' here's Harry! Las' time I saw you, you was only a baby. Yeh look a lot like yeh dad, buy yeh've got yer mum's eyes."
"I demand that you leave at once, sir!" Uncle Vernon demanded, making a funny rasping noise. "You are breaking and entering!"
"Ah, shut up, Dursley, yeh great prune." Harry grinned. He had been much too confused to enjoy Hagrid's verbal throw down of his Uncle the last time around. When Hagrid reached over and turned the gun into a pretzel, Harry's grin only grew wider.
"Anyway," Hagrid said, turning his attention back to Harry as though people regularly went around turning deadly weapons into the shapes of tasty snack food. "Harry-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." He pulled out a cake that said 'Happy Birthday Harry' written on it in green icing.
"Why, thank you," Harry said gratefully, accepting the cake. He did wish, though, that Hagrid hadn't used a Slytherin color, even if it did match his eyes. "You seem to know me, but if, as you said, we haven't seen each other since I was a baby, perhaps you could be so kind as to introduce yourself?" Harry asked politely.
Hagrid chuckled. "O' course, o' course. Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts." And with that, he shook Harry's arm up and down. "What about that tea then, eh? I'd not say no ter summat strong if yeh've got it, mind."
"I'm sorry, we left in rather a hurry, so we don't have anything to drink," Harry said apologetically.
"S'alright, I've got summat here." Hagrid said, turning towards the fireplace and then back once he got a roaring fire going. He then proceeded to pull a good dozen or so things out of his coat pockets.
Uncle Vernon said sharply, "Don't touch anything he gives you, Dudley."
Hagrid chuckled darkly. "Yer great puddin' of a son don' need fattenin' any more, Dursley, don' worry."
Hagrid passed Harry the sausages and he thanked him cordially for his thoughtfulness, then decided that it would be suspicious to just accept this and so asked Hagrid for more details.
"Call me Hagrid, everyone does. An' like I told yeh, I'm Keeper of Keys at Hogwarts - yeh'll know all about Hogwarts, o' course."
Harry nodded. "Of course."
Uncle Vernon's eyes bulged. "YOU DO?"
"Yes," Harry answered calmly.
"But how? We were always so careful not to let you get any dangerous ideas! How'd you hear about all this wizarding nonsense?"
"Now wait jus' one second!" Hagrid thundered, leaping to his feet. In his anger he seemed to fill the whole hut. The Dursleys cowered against the wall. "Do you mean ter tell me," he growled at the Dursleys, "that you told this boy - this boy - nothin' abou' - about ANYTHING?"
"No," Harry said, shaking his head ruefully. "They didn't."
Hagrid looked as if he was about to explode.
"DURSLEY!" he boomed.
Uncle Vernon, who had gone very pale, whispered something that sounded like 'Mimblewimble'.
"But-but if Daddy didn't tell Harry anything, how does he know?" Dudley asked, speaking up for the first time from behind his mother.
Hagrid looked expectantly at Harry.
"Fair point," Harry admitted. "Well, it's just that people have spent the last ten years following me around and shaking my hand and bowing to me, generally just appearing very honored to meet me and eventually you pick some things up."
"'s not enough to 'pick thin's up,' Harry. You've got to know."
"But I do know," Harry countered. "About Hogwarts, about my parents, about Voldemort…"
Hagrid shuddered. "Don' say tha' name!"
Harry shrugged. "Old habits die hard. Although if I ever go camping again, I'll make sure to take your advice. Well, will be heading to Diagon Alley tomorrow?"
"O' course," Hagrid nodded.
"I AM NOT PAYING FOR SOME CRACKPOT OLD FOOL TO TEACH HIM MAGIC TRICKS!" yelled Uncle Vernon.
Harry might have known Uncle Vernon would insist on provoking Hagrid. Quick as a flash, he'd brought his umbrella, containing the pieces of his wand, swishing down through the air to point at Dudley.
A flash of violet light, loud boom, and pig squeal later, Dudley was dancing on the spot with his hands clasped over his fat bottom, howling in pain. When he turned around, Harry could see the curly pig's tail poking a hole through the back of his pants.
Uncle Vernon roared. Pulling Aunt Petunia and Dudley into the other room, he cast one last terrified look at Hagrid and slammed the door behind them.
Hagrid looked down at his umbrella and stroked his beard.
"Shouldn'ta lost me temper," he said ruefully, "but it didn't work anyway. Meant ter turn him into a pig, but I suppose he was so much like a pig anyway there wasn't much left ter do."
He cast a sideways look at Harry under his bushy eyebrows.
"Be grateful if yeh didn't mention that ter anyone at Hogwarts," he said. "I'm - er - not supposed ter do magic, strictly speakin'. I was allowed ter do a bit ter follow yeh an' get yer letters to yeh an' stuff - one o' the reasons I was so keen ter take on the job -"
"Of course not," Harry assured him. "It's getting late, so we should probably turn in."
"Right you are, Harry," Hagrid agreed. "We've got lots ter do tomorrow. Gotta get up ter town, get al yer books and all that." He took off his thick black coat and threw it to Harry. "You can kip under that," he said. "Don't' mind if it wriggles a bit, I think I still got a couple o' dormice in one o' the pockets."
Harry woke early the next morning. Although he could tell it was daylight, he kept his eyes shut tight.
It was a dream, he told himself firmly. I dreamt I was back to when Hagrid came to tell me I was going to a Hogwarts. When I open my eyes I'll be at home with Ginny.
There was suddenly a loud tapping noise.
And there's Hedwig Jr. knocking on the window, Harry thought, relieved, still not getting up.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
"All right," Harry mumbled, "I'm getting up."
He sat up and Hagrid's heavy coat fell off him.
The hut was full of sunlight, the storm was over, Hagrid himself was asleep on the collapsed sofa and there was an owl rapping its claw on the window, a newspaper held in its beak.
Harry's heart sank. It hadn't been a dream after all. He quickly paid the owl and handed the Daily Prophet to Hagrid. He then listened patiently as the half-giant explained to him about Gringotts. Then they got into the Dursley's boat and headed off towards London and Diagon Alley.
Leaving the Dursley's to fend for themselves. Realized Harry with malicious glee. He knew they'd get home before he would and besides, it really served them right.
All too soon they were in the Leaky Cauldron. As before, everyone was very eager to shake his hand.
Eventually, a pale young man made his way to Harry, his left eye twitching something terrible.
"Professor Quirrell!" said Hagrid. "Harry, Professor Quirrell will be one of your teachers at Hogwarts."
"P-P-Potter," stammered Professor Quirrell, grasping Harry's hand, "c-can't t-tell you how p-pleased I am to meet you."
Harry briefly wondered how he could stand touching him, but realized he must not have been possessed yet. Probably wouldn't be until he failed to secure the stone. He also wondered why in the world he felt the need to stutter the whole year. He could appear perfectly innocent (especially compared to the likes of Severus Snape) just fine without it, and quite frankly it was annoying. Besides, according to Snape's memory, Dumbledore had been onto Quirrell from the beginning.
He supposed that Hagrid neglected to mention that this was Quirrell's first year teaching so as not to freak him out with the DADA job curse. He decided to bring that up.
"So how long have you been teaching?" he inquired.
"W-w-well, actually, th-this is m-m-my f-first year, but I'm v-very excited," Quirrell said, looking a bit sheepish.
"What subject do you teach?" Harry asked, knowing the answer perfectly well, but that was just the sort of question people asked their future teachers.
"D-Defence Against the D-D-Dark Arts," muttered Professor Quirrell, as though he'd rather not think about it.
Yes, Quirrell, and his master, Voldemort, would probably be MUCH happier without such pesky things as defenses against the Dark Arts being taught.
"N-not that you n-need it, eh, P-P-Potter?" he laughed nervously. "You'll be g-getting all your equipment, I suppose? I've g-got to p-pick up a new b-book on vampires, m-myself." He looked terrified at the very thought. Harry marveled when he thought about the fact that this was the very first person he could remember trying to kill him.
The other patrons of the bar quickly interrupted and it took nearly ten minutes for Hagrid to extricate Harry from his throng of admirers.
Things progressed pretty much the same from then on, until it was time to go to Madam Malkin's to get his uniform.
When Harry went inside, he froze. He'd almost forgotten about his first meeting with Draco Malfoy, here before either of them knew anything about the path that was chosen for the other. Because they were archrivals. Before he found out that Draco, though undoubtedly unpleasant, wasn't evil and had more-or-less redeemed himself.
Hm, Harry thought. Could be fun.
"Hello," said Draco. "Hogwarts, too?"
"Yes," Harry nodded.
"My father's next door buying my books and mother's up the street looking at wands," said Malfoy. He had the same bored, drawling voice at eleven as he did at twenty-three.
"Not much point of that until you get there, though, right?" Harry asked.
"True, but she needs something to do while I'm in here. After that I'm going to drag them off to look at racing brooms. I don't see why first-years can't have their own. I think I'll bully father into getting me one and I'll smuggle it in somehow."
"They probably won't check the luggage, so if you just shrink it, you can carry it in and then unshrink it once you're there. Of course, you'd have to claim it belonged to an older student if anyone asked, but that shouldn't be too difficult," Harry suggested.
Draco looked at Harry approvingly. "That just might work. I'd have to learn how to unshrink things, but until then I could get an older student to do that, as well. Say, have you got your own broom?"
"Not at the moment," Harry answered, noncommittally.
"Play Quidditch at all?"
"Of course, I'm seeker. You?"
"Same. Father says it's a crime if I'm not picked to play for my house, and I must say, I agree. Know what house you'll be in yet?"
"I think I'd like to be in Gryffindor. I hear they have the best parties."
"Well, that's okay, if you're into that sort of thing. I'm going to be in Slytherin, all our family has been there-"
"Well, that's okay, if you're into that sort of thing," Harry interrupted and he could've sworn he say Draco's mouth twitch upwards.
"Imagine being in Hufflepuff, I think I'd leave, wouldn't you?"
"Well, maybe not LEAVE…that's a bit drastic, but I'd definitely defect. I mean, Hufflepuff sounds like a brand of marshmallows or pillows or something."
This time he knew he wasn't imagining it. Draco Malfoy, fighting a smile because of something he, Harry Potter, had said. He never thought he'd see the day! This actually was sort of fun. Why weren't they friends again?
"I say, look at that man!" Harry turned to where Draco was pointing and saw Hagrid standing outside the window, grinning at Harry and pointing to two large ice-creams to show that he couldn't come in.
"That's Hagrid. He works at Hogwarts."
"Oh, I've heard of him. He's sort of a servant, isn't he?" Oh. That's why.
"He's the gamekeeper."
"Yes, exactly," Draco nodded impatiently.
"No, not exactly, there's a difference between a gamekeeper and a servant. Maybe not a profound difference, but it'd definitely something that any Manor Lord should know," Harry said, knowing full well that Draco would inherit Malfoy Manor someday. He was pleased to note Draco's ears were pink.
"I heard he's a sort of savage-lives in a hut in the school grounds and every now and then he gets drunk, tries to do magic and ends up setting fire to his bed."
"Well," Harry said, remembering how Hagrid had carried him back to Hogwarts when Voldemort had nearly killed him and struggling to keep his temper. "I'd wager a guess that it's a bit difficult to do magic when drunk under the best of circumstances. And not everyone can live in Manors. If they did, then it wouldn't be so special, now would it, and people would have to find new ways to flaunt their wealth."
Draco nodded, considering. "You're right, I never thought I'd say this, but the Hagrid's of the world are needed to contrast with the right sort of people." Now, Harry knew exactly what he meant by 'the right sort of people,' but pretended he didn't to avoid a scene. "Hey, is he with you?"
"Yes," Harry said simply.
"Why? Where are your parents?"
"Why didn't they come with you, then?" Draco pressed.
"Well, they would have, but Voldemort killed them, see," Harry explained.
Draco's eyes widened. "You said the Dark Lord's name!"
Harry nodded. "Yes. Yes I did."
Draco didn't seem to be able to think of anything to say to that, so instead he asked, "But they were our kind, weren't they?"
Harry fought the urge to roll his eyes. "If they weren't, why would Voldemort bother with them personally? He was rather busy and important near the end, or so I hear, and had other people to kill Muggles for him."
"I really don't think they should let Muggleborns in, do you? They're just not the same; they've never been brought up to know our ways. Some of them have never even heard of Hogwarts until they get the letter, imagine."
"Well, I don't think it's not having heard of Hogwarts that should concern you, per say, as much as they haven't heard about magic or know anything about our culture," Harry said, not really answering the question.
"Yes, that's exactly why I think they should keep it in the old wizarding families. What's your last name, anyway?"
Before Harry could answer, Madam Malkins said, "That's you done my dear." Harry briefly wondered why he was done first when he had come in after Draco, but decided not to dwell on it.
"Well, I'll see you at Hogwarts, I suppose," Draco said.
"Later. See if you can guess my last name by then and tell me on the train."
"I will," Draco said, suddenly determined.
Shortly after that, Harry and Hagrid had purchased all of Harry's supplies and he was back with the Dursley's. The last month wasn't so bad. His Aunt and Uncle mostly ignored him and Dudley ran from the room screaming when he saw him. It wasn't so bad, really, as he had had plenty of experience with people ignoring and/or fearing him in his first year, second year, fourth year, and fifth year for getting caught after getting rid of Norbert, being a Parselmouth, being the fourth champion, and being a lying schizophrenic, respectively.
One thing he did do was make sure he memorized his potion's textbook. He was not taking ANY chances there. Snape may have loved his mother, but he sure as hell hated him until he died.
On the last day of August, Harry went down to the living room and cleared his throat, watching with some amusement as Dudley screamed and ran from the room. Harry supposed that that was what happened when Dudley's parents encouraged him to make Harry's life miserable and kept him in the dark about Harry having magical powers. "Um-Uncle Vernon?"
Uncle Vernon grunted to show he was listening.
"I need to be at King's Cross tomorrow to go to Hogwarts." Another grunt. "Would it be alright if you gave me a lift?" Grunt. "Thank you."
"Funny way to get to a wizards' school, the train. Magic carpets all got punctures, have they?"
"No, but they're illegal in Britain, and I doubt they'd trust us to go straight to school and not let ourselves be seen if we each had one. Not to mention how expensive it would be…"
"Where is this school, anyway?"
"Scotland," Harry replied.
"Can you be any more specific?" Uncle Vernon asked.
"Planning on coming up for Family Day?"
Aunt Petunia looked horrified. "They have Family Day now?"
"All right, we'll take you to King's Cross. We're going up to London tomorrow anyway, or I wouldn't bother."
"Great," Harry said and left. To think-only one more day and he'd be back at Hogwarts. And…he'd get to see Ginny, too, if only briefly.
Yes, things might just work out after all, if he could keep his temper this time around and not alienate the press and the Ministry.
Oh boy. This was going to be a LONG seven years.