Work Header

For the Price of a Soul

Chapter Text

The demon didn’t have horns, or a tail, or hoofed feet. There was absolutely nothing about him that appeared even slightly demonic. He looked, in fact, like a man. A perfectly average man with a receding hairline and a short beard, dressed in a suit with a black shirt and a green tie.

If Harry were older, he might have thought on the philosophical implications of that, but as he was only seven years and nine months old, the only thing he thought was that the man wasn’t a demon. He was probably one of those dodgy blokes that Aunt Petunia warned Dudley not to take sweets from.

She’d never warned Harry not to take sweets from dodgy blokes, but Harry was smart enough to realise anything she warned Dudley against was definitely bad for him, too. Of course, an argument could be made that anything bad for Dudley was good for Harry, because it worked the other way. According to Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, things that were good for Dudley (like lazing around and extra portions of dinner and watching lots of TV) were bad for Harry.

He should probably just find out whether the man was a demon or a dodgy bloke. It was just before midnight on the last day of April and Harry was miles from Privet Drive, stood at the centre of a dirt crossroads bordered by a bunch of fields, just outside Little Whinging. If it was a dodgy bloke then he was buggered. There was nowhere to run and no one to get help from.

Not that Harry expected any help. Seven years and nine months was old enough for him to know he was unloved, unwanted, and unimportant. People didn’t help unloved, unwanted, unimportant boys.

“Are you a demon?”

The man smiled, blinked, and red spread through his eyes, like mist over a marsh, filling it from corner to corner until only his black pupils stared out amidst the bloody pools.

“What do you think?”

Harry swallowed, fighting a sudden urge to run away. “You’re a demon.”

“The name’s Crowley,” the demon said. He had a Cockney accent. He blinked again and the red receded from his eyes, leaving them a perfectly normal white and brown, looking Harry over. “You’re a little one, aren’t you? Bit beat up, too.”

Harry straightened his back and puffed his chest out, but it didn’t do much for his height. He always hated being the smallest boy in his year. Even some of the girls were bigger than him.

There was absolutely nothing to do about his injuries -- a cast on his right arm, all the way up past his elbow, and his left eye unfocused and cloudy, blind and useless. Unseen to the demon, his face and ribs still ached slightly, and he had an itchy scar across his abdomen.

He slumped again. Sticking his chest out just made it hurt and it probably didn’t make him look any less pathetic, especially with his hair getting greasy and his stupid eye. He could only be grateful the doctors said the vision in his other eye was still okay and he didn’t need glasses. Being a four-eyes would make him look even more pathetic.

“What happened to you?” the demon asked.

Harry hesitated, but he had a feeling demons knew it if you lied, so answered honestly, “My uncle beat me up.”

It was the first time he ever said it out loud. Uncle Vernon always said that if Harry ever complained about getting hit, someone would come and take him away and put him in an orphanage. An orphanage, Vernon said, was such a terrible place that Harry would find himself wishing he had something so spacious as a cupboard to sleep in. The work he’d have to do at an orphanage would make Aunt Petunia’s chores seem like a luxury, and the violent older children would make Dudley look like an angel.

Harry often wondered if all that were really true, but he’d never been brave enough to find out.

“Besides,” Vernon would tack on the end of these lectures, “you deserve to get smacked for being such a freak. Stop being abnormal and I won’t have to beat you so much.”

Harry never managed to figure out how, exactly, he was abnormal.

“Any particular reason he beat you up?”

Harry shrugged. “He was drunk,” he admitted.

This incident had been unusually violent. Three weeks earlier, it had been Petunia and Vernon’s tenth wedding anniversary. They held a party at the town hall, but Vernon got so drunk and belligerent that Petunia sent him home in a taxi, embarrassed. Harry had been attending because all their usual babysitters were also there, but Petunia had sent him home with Vernon, who, never able to accept his own failings, blamed the entire thing on Harry and started hitting him as soon as they get home.

Vernon had actually scared himself with how violent he became. He’d never hurt Harry so badly as to need medical help before, but this time he’d beat Harry into unconsciousness. Scared of retribution, he proceeded to stage a burglary, breaking the kitchen window and hiding Petunia’s jewellery and Dudley’s HiFi in the boot of the car to get rid of later, and then gone for a short walk. When he got back, he called the police and claimed the burglary happened while he was out. He got admonished for leaving Harry home alone, but that was all.

Harry had three broken ribs, internal bleeding, a cracked cheekbone and a fractured jaw, a broken arm, and an irreparably damaged optic nerve. By the time he woke up in hospital, everyone believed Vernon’s story. Harry might even have believed it himself because he couldn’t remember the actual attack, but Vernon insisted on sitting in when the police asked Harry about the burglar and glared furiously behind the police officer’s back.

Harry could have said something then, but he’d nearly died because of Vernon and that left him afraid -- too afraid to admit the truth while Vernon was in the room, and too afraid afterwards that no one would believe him if he changed his story. Why should they? No one believed him when he said Dudley broke the sugar jar while trying to get at the biscuit tin, or when he swore Dudley flushed his homework down the toilet, or when he insisted he hadn’t climbed on the school roof. His aunt and uncle made sure everyone thought he was a liar and a scoundrel, so he stopped expecting help and support from anyone.

Except now. This was his one last hope.

“Nasty,” Crowley commiserated. “So, how can I help you? Want me to kill this uncle for you?”

Harry didn’t expect that. He almost said yes, because if Vernon was dead then he could definitely never hurt Harry again and that was great, but it wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t what he’d come all this way to ask for. He’d stolen money from Petunia and skipped school yesterday and walked for miles to do this. He couldn’t give up his plan just for Vernon’s death.

He shook his head. “I want you to give me power.”

There was a pause, then Crowley said, “You’re going to have to be a bit more specific. Political power? Physical power? Magical power?”

“I have magic. Or I did. I can’t do it anymore.”

He’d figured out he was magic years ago and practised ever since. He could make small things float, which was cool but kind of useless. Except in the weeks since his uncle’s last attack, he couldn’t even do that much.

“I want to be able to protect myself. My uncle, he… can you do it? Can you give me the power to defend myself?”

Crowley smiled. “I can do it, alright. The real question is: are you willing to pay the price?”

“My soul, right? That’s what the book said.”

He’d found it in the Little Whinging public library’s occult section. He spent every Wednesday evening in there for the last two years, while Dudley was at football and Petunia at her book club. He’d been looking for something to tell him about magic, hoping to find instructions on how to do more than just make things float, but what he’d found were instructions to summon demons.

He’d been disappointed originally, and sceptical because the instructions weren’t even very magical. All he had to do was bury a box with a picture of himself (obtained at a photobooth because the Dursleys never took any), a yarrow plant (found at the local abandoned hospital), a handful of graveyard dirt (easily grabbed from the local church), and the bone of a black cat (bought from the weird shop in town that Petunia always made them cross the road to pass). It all had to be buried at a crossroads, which didn’t seem very magical to Harry.

After Vernon’s attack, he’d been willing to try anything, and extremely glad to discover it worked.

“That’s right,” the demon said. “Not immediately, of course. You get ten years.”

Harry nodded. “That’s a long time.”

“I suppose for one so young, it is.” Crowley inhaled deeply, smiled widely, and approached Harry. “If you’re sure then.”

“Do I need to sign something in blood?”

Crowley laughed. “Nah, nothing so cliché. I just need a little kiss.”

Harry’s face scrunched up. “A kiss?”

“I’m afraid so. Just pretend I’m your aunt or something.”

“I never kissed my aunt.”

“Oh. Well then. Just close your eyes; it’ll be done in a jiffy.”

Harry eyed him warily as Crowley crouched down in front of him and leant forward. He instinctively leant away then forced himself to stop. He needed this power. He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his fists, standing perfectly still. He felt a pressure against his lips for three seconds, then it was gone and he opened his eyes to see Crowley straightening up. The demon stepped back a little and tugged his clothes straight.

“See you in ten years, little one.”

Harry nodded and watched him walk away. In between one step another, Crowley disappeared without so much as a pop.

Harry looked down at himself. He didn’t feel any different. He looked around, saw a rock, and thought of making it fly. It instantly leapt up into the air. Harry grinned. The rock dropped, he imagined it turning into a giant worm and it did, then it turned back at his wish.

He looked down at himself again, thought of flying, and steadily lifted into the air. His grin turned to laughter -- the first time he’d laughed in weeks -- when he realised that he could actually fly. He could twist and turn and swoop like a bird and it was the most thrilling thing he’d ever done.

He flew home in less than half the time it took him to walk out. He’d snuck out the front door several hours earlier, but now he went straight to his bedroom window, made it swing open even though it’d been locked from the inside, and climbed carefully though.

He hadn’t always had a bedroom. He remembered a time when he was younger that he’d slept in the cupboard under the stairs, but now his aunt and uncle only put him in that for punishment. He was sure they would love to stuff him in it permanently, but there was someone that stopped them.

A few years ago, Harry thought that someone was Father Christmas. He’d thought so because he was sure that whoever made his aunt and uncle give him a bedroom also gave him birthday and Christmas presents. He never saw them, but every 31st July and 25th December, he woke up to find a gift wrapped in silver paper at the foot of his bed, a white card stuck to it with only his name and either birthday wishes or seasons greetings -- never a signature or even an initial to say who it was from.

The present was always the same, too: Famous Figurines, a box of four 8-inch figurines, each a different collection. The very first had been the Hogwarts’ Founders edition, but there was also the Potion Makers, Ministers of Magic, Hogwarts’ Headmasters, Alchemists… nine boxes totalling thirty-six figures, and all of them magic. They would move by themselves and he knew they were all witches and wizards because they had wands. It’d helped Harry on his realisation that he was a wizard, too, despite his aunt and uncle’s insistence that magic wasn’t real.

Harry adored them, having no other toys at all, but sometimes he couldn’t stand to even look at them, because they were evidence that there was someone out there who knew about him and wanted to give him things, but didn’t care enough to take him away. They knew his aunt and uncle didn’t like him, and they even knew his uncle hurt him because Harry had once written a letter to Father Christmas saying as much and begging to be taken away, but they still left him there.

They’d definitely seen the letter, too -- that was how he found out it wasn’t Father Christmas. The year he wrote it, he tried to stay up all night to catch the jolly old man, but had fallen asleep. Something woke him during the night, however, and he found the letter gone and another present on his bed. He left to go to the bathroom, and on the way heard noises from his aunt and uncle’s room.

Peering through the not-quite-shut door he saw a figure standing over their bed, gesturing emphatically and talking angrily but too quietly for Harry to hear. When the figure reached into their pocket and pulled out something that might have been a knife, Harry ran downstairs and called 999.

Later, when the police had been and gone and the figure vanished uncaught, Harry didn’t understand why his aunt and uncle were so angry with him for calling the police. The kind police officer congratulated him and told him he did the right thing and that he’d been brave, but as soon as they left and the street outside was no longer flashing red and blue, Vernon and Petunia turned angry glares on him, gave him a slap ’round the head, and stuck him in the cupboard for a day.

He never heard back from Father Christmas, and no one came to take him away.

That wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was that this person, whoever it was, had taken him away once -- and then brought him back. Harry’s memories of the time were vague because he’d been four years old and so sick with fever that nothing seemed real. The one thing he was sure of was someone coming to fetch him from Privet Drive, taking him to a place that smelt of wood smoke and unusual plants, and then bringing him back.

That had been the point when he realised that, even though someone out there wanted to give him presents and make sure he didn’t die, no one cared to actually keep him safe, let alone happy.

Once back in his room, he carefully shut and locked the window, then stood listening. Reassuring snores came from his uncle and when he pressed his ear to the wall he could hear snuffles from Dudley’s room. He could hear nothing of Aunt Petunia, which hopefully meant she was fast asleep, too.

He didn’t intend to stay long. When he decide to make a deal with the demon, he also decided it was time to run away. He never had before because he wasn’t sure he could survive. He knew now that he was more likely to survive on the streets than here. Vernon hadn’t touched him since he put Harry in the hospital, but Harry knew it was only a matter of time.

The only reason he came back now was for supplies. He found his school backpack and magicked it so it was bigger on the inside, just like Mary Poppins. (A film he’d watched at school; the Dursleys wouldn’t let him or Dudley watch it at home.) He then stuffed in all his Famous Figurines, a few pairs of underpants, a t-shirt, and a pair of jeans, then he crept out his room.

Listening carefully for other movement, he snuck downstairs, avoiding the creaky step, and into the kitchen. Stealing the biscuit tin, several bags of crisps, and a bunch of chocolate bars was simple enough; he didn’t even have to drag a chair over to climb up to the top cupboards -- he just levitated them down.

He was clutching his collection to his chest when he heard the creak of the stairs. He froze in the middle of the kitchen, staring at the door. He couldn’t leave -- the door opened straight into the hallway, right in view of whoever was by now at the bottom of the stairs. He couldn’t go out the backdoor because they’d hear, and there was nowhere for him to hide.

The door handle twisted. Harry moved over to one wall, crisps breaking as his arms tightened fearfully around his stolen food, and thought hard, Don’t see me. Don’t see me. Don’t see me.

Across the country, a spinning top in the headmaster’s office of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry stopped turning and clattered to a halt on its spindly-legged table.

The door opened. Dudley’s head stuck through, peered around, and then the rest of his fat body followed. He looked around again and his eyes passed straight over Harry, never even noticing him. Grinning, Dudley went to the table, pulled out a chair, and dragged it to the counters. He clambered up and pulled open the cupboard with the biscuit tin only to find it gone. He dug around, searching behind tins of soup and baked beans, then searched all the other cupboards before eventually giving up.

He took a pack of crisps instead, tore into them and ate them quickly. He left the empty packet on the floor, added a chocolate bar wrapper to it, and then scurried away, wiping chocolate from his mouth. In the morning, he would blame the mess on Harry no doubt.

Harry sighed with relief as he heard Dudley climb the stairs again. Eager to get going, he slipped out after Dudley, flying up the stairs instead of walking, and crept back into his bedroom while Dudley was in the bathroom. He added his stolen food to his backpack, tugged the zips closed, but then he yawned.

He’d been fighting it since he got back, running on adrenaline and excitement, but all of a sudden the exhaustion overwhelmed him. It was no surprise given the hour, especially after his long walk earlier, but he’d hoped he could at least leave Privet Drive that night. He knew now that it was impossible. He’d fall asleep before he even got halfway down the street.

Reluctantly, he pushed his backpack under the bed and climbed onto it, reaching for the purple teddy bear sitting against the pillows. Kiwi was another present from his mysterious gift giver, but Harry never felt resentful of her. He didn’t even care when Dudley called him a baby for still having a teddy bear. Kiwi was too special for Harry to care about anything else. When he hugged her close and whispered, “I love you,” Kiwi would nuzzle his chin and whisper back, “I love you, Harry.”

When he felt bad, he liked to pretend it was his mother’s voice.

He pulled her close now, not even bothering to undress or take off his shoes, and was asleep within moments. In a few hours his aunt would wake him up and kick him out the house, so he was out of the way while she did her bank holiday weekend cleaning. She used to make him help out with that, but now he was down an eye and a hand, his cordination was a bit dodgy and she didn’t want him breaking anything.

He didn’t mind getting kicked out. It meant no one would be looking for him for a while; by the time they wondered where he was, he’d be long gone, free of his so-called family. He wasn’t sure where he’d go, but anywhere was better than here.

* * *

His aunt did indeed wake him up several hours later -- by slamming his door open and storming into his room complaining, “How dare you steal from us, you --”

She broke off. Harry had fallen off the bed at the slam of the door, still clutching Kiwi and now sitting on the floor, staring at his aunt and aching from the fall. His aunt looked around the room, scowling and completely overlooking Harry just like Dudley had, then turned and stormed out.


Harry got to his feet, listening to Petunia bang on the bathroom door.

“It’s me, Pet,” Vernon called.

“Where’s that damned boy? He’s been stealing from the kitchen.”

“That rotten little… I’ll teach him a bloody lesson.”

That was all Harry needed to hear. He got to his feet, yawning and wanting to go back to bed, and pulled his backpack out from under the bed. A little magic made it weigh no more than it would empty and he pulled it on. Not wanting to meet with his aunt or uncle, even if they couldn’t see him, he pushed open the window, climbed out, and flew off. He never once looked back.

He flew to the train station, where he settled on the roof of the waiting room to hunker down and eat a breakfast of crisps and chocolate. He intended to only stay there until the morning rush was gone, but he ended up falling asleep.

He woke up a few hours later when it started raining. There was a train coming in and he didn’t bother to check where it was headed before he got on. He found a seat and was lucky enough to be able to stay there for the entire trip, few enough people boarding that he wasn’t forced to move. He did get worried when a lady sat next to him, but she put her single bag up on the luggage rack and never reached into his seat.

Eventually the train pulled into Waterloo station at London. Harry waited for everyone else to disembark then got off himself. The station was busier than the train had been so he flew up, leaving through the train entrance rather than the street exit. He had no idea where to go or what to do, but he was free and that was all that mattered.

London was massive. He’d come once before with the Dursleys, but they’d only visited the zoo and they drove down, limiting his experience of the city. Now, with nothing to keep him from walking from one end to the other except his own exhaustion, he came to realise just how huge London was.

He didn’t walk the length of the city, of course. He was still tired and his legs ached from walking so much last night. He flew to avoid people, but only until he came across some slums filled with homeless folks. There were condemned and crumbling buildings around, but these were all claimed and jealously guarded and, with his new magic, the streets were no problem for him so he didn’t bother sneaking in, preferring to avoid people. He found a quiet corner and some discarded cardboard boxes, conjured a sleeping bag and enchanted the boxes to hold against wind and rain, and crawled in them to sleep.

A week after Harry vanished from Little Whinging, someone broke into Number 4, Privet Drive and brutally assaulted Vernon Dursley. He was hospitalised with a broken arm, a dislocated jaw, three cracked ribs, and internal bleeding. When he was released from the hospital, the Dursleys moved away from Little Whinging, both ashamed of the negative attention Harry’s disappearance caused and fearful for their safety.

For the next three years, London was Harry’s life. He stole to feed himself, he slept on the streets with the protection of magic to make it comfortable, and he almost never made himself visible. He quickly got over any guilt about stealing; he only took what he needed and it beat the alternative of begging, which meant being visible. He learnt not to do that.

Loneliness drove him to reveal himself a couple of times, trying to fit in with the other homeless kids, but one time a leering man offered him money if he would let the man touch his privates. Another time some woman saw the scar on his forehead, shrieked his name, and tried to kidnap him, but the worst had been waking up one morning to find a strange man trying to undress him. After that, he decided it was safer to just stay constantly invisible, no matter how lonely he got.

He didn’t know how the lady kidnapper knew his name, but it made him decide to change it, something he’d been thinking about since leaving the Dursleys. Harry Potter was a pathetic little freak who got hurt by the only family he had; he was insignificant and weak and unloved. Harry Evans was none of those things; Harry Evans was a tough, self-sufficient wizard who wouldn’t let anyone hurt him.

He passed most of his days in libraries. Books helped him stave off the loneliness and taught him about the world in absence of official schooling. He didn’t want to become stupid and, without the restriction of a government curriculum, he was able to read about the things that really interested him.

He neglected maths -- something he’d always struggled with -- to focus mostly on geography, history, and science. He found most biology quite disgusting, and chemistry was a touch boring when he could only learn the theory, but he liked learning the laws of physics just to see if he could break them.

History was his favourite, however. He liked reading about old kings and queens, wars from centuries ago, the hardships and struggles from times before electricity and the ways people nevertheless made a good life for themselves. At least when they weren’t dying of plague or getting executed by religious fanatics and insane monarchs.

Geography in and of itself held little interest to him, except for one thing -- he wanted to find Hogwarts. He figured it was a school, given that his Famous Figurines included a Hogwarts’ Headmasters edition, and he wanted to find it. He was sure it was a school for wizards and he thought that if he could find it, he might finally find somewhere he could belong.

He had only two significant problems living on the streets. The first was epilepsy; he never suffered it before, but after finding himself lying on the ground several times, cheeks and tongue bitten up, his entire right side weak, head pounding, he got worried enough to do some research. He couldn’t be absolutely sure, of course, but it also fit with the fact that he would often lose entire minutes of time and end up confused and oddly tired, and the books he read said brain injuries could cause it.

The doctors hadn’t said anything specific about his brain after Vernon’s attack, but it seemed plausible. He considered going to a hospital or doctor’s surgery, but he knew he’d never get medical attention without an adult accompanying him. Eventually he decided there was nothing to be done and convinced himself that it’d be fine. He’d managed until now; he could manage for longer.

The second problem was a bad tendency to lose control of his magic when he got emotional. He named it Wish Magic, because mostly he just had to make a wish and it would happened, but when he found himself getting depressed the objects around him would start to rot and he actually killed a patch of grass once. When he got angry, like when he saw a girl doing some truly nasty things to a box of abandoned kittens, things had a tendency to explode.

The girl was scared witless by a pile of exploding rubbish bags, which Harry felt smug about, but after taking the kittens to a pet shelter he came back to find the alley cordoned off by police and mutters of bombs and terrorists among the crowd. Police presence was never good for the homeless community, so he knew he’d have to avoid doing it again.

There was some confusion and minor panic at Hogwarts when, at the start of July 1991, Minerva McGonagall went through the list of possible students for the upcoming year, and found the name Harry Potter missing. She checked the maths, but he was definitely meant to be on it for the next year.

There was also a name, Harry Evans, with no address. The list automatically picked up a location on students, but by Harry Evans there was only blank space, something she’d never seen happen before. Dumbledore was the one who considered that perhaps Harry Evans was Harry Potter. It didn’t help them find him, but it did explain why Harry Potter’s name had vanished.

Shortly after his eleventh birthday, Harry found the Leaky Cauldron. He was walking along, trying to decide whether he wanted to go to the library and read or to the local hangout for teens and scare them by pretending to be a ghost, when it started to rain and he ducked into the pub for shelter before he got completely soaked.

He didn’t think much of it at first; the pub’s patrons might be a little weirder than usual -- there were a lot of cloaks instead of coats and a general air of different to them all -- but it was warm, dry, and someone left half a cottage pie unattended on a table. He took the entire plate and accompanying fork, tucked himself in a corner to eat it where he wouldn’t get bumped, then left the empty plate on a different table.

There was a second door out of the pub and he assumed it led to a garden for outdoor drinking, at least until he went to check if the rain was easing off and looked into a small courtyard just in time to see a hole appear in the brick wall opposite, widening until it was large enough for a haughty-looking blonde woman and her pointy-faced son to walk through and go into the pub. Harry hopped out the way then quickly went through the hole before it could close. He stopped on the other side, looking around at a street unlike any he’d ever seen before.

He walked along, inspecting the shop displays, astonished by the strange things in the windows. Stacks of cauldrons, obscure plants and insects in jars, broomsticks, owls, robes, and all manner of bizarre instruments. The flavours at the ice cream shop included several that he’d never even imagined, the sweet shop sold nothing he’d ever seen before, and the toy shop had more extravagant delights than anything he’d dreamed of playing with.

When he saw a display of Famous Figurines and realised there were plenty more sets that he didn’t have, he was very tempted to break his rule about only stealing what he needed, but made himself turn away without taking one. Flourish and Blotts delighted him even more. Books shelved themselves and hovered off the floor unquestioned, there were titles that don’t even make any sense, and every single book was about magic.

He always assumed there must be other magic people. Besides being able to do magic even before his demon deal, someone had obviously made his Famous Figurines and they themselves must have been witches and wizards. But there had always been that tiny little bit of doubt, that fear that he’d somehow enchanted the figurines himself and he was the only real wizard in the whole world, doomed to a life of loneliness. Now he knew he wouldn’t be. He’d finally found somewhere he might be able to fit in and for the first time in years he thought about making himself visible.

When he found a book called Hogwarts: A History, he finally broke his ‘only what I need’ rule. He waited until that particular aisle of the store was empty long enough to snatch a copy off the shelf and stuff it in his bag then left the shop.

“Hey! You, stop!”

He spun. The store clerk had yelled, but their focus was on a witch who’d left the store at the same time as Harry. “Miss, I need to check your bags.”

“I’m not a thief!” the woman protested, and Harry backed away. He hadn’t seen any alarms, but this was a magic shop so perhaps there were charms to detect thieves. He felt a stab of guilt and thought about returning the book, but… Hogwarts. He couldn’t resist finally learning about the one place he’d dreamt of for years.

He wasn’t even a quarter of the way through the massive book before deciding he was going. He didn’t even care that he hadn’t got a letter; he should have, he thought. He was more than magical enough, but maybe it just couldn’t find him while he was invisible all this time, not to mention homeless. He’d just sneak onto the Hogwarts Express.

He wanted to see the castle, to explore its corridors and sleep in its dormitories. He didn’t know which house he’d be in but he liked the Slytherin snake for a symbol, even though the Gryffindor lion was pretty cool and Godric was his favourite of the Famous Figurines. He wanted to learn about charms and transfiguration and potions, even though he was sure he could do anything they would teach with just a wave of his hand. He wanted to become a real wizard.

On his second trip to Diagon Alley, after he finished Hogwarts: A History and wanted to read more, he learnt about himself. He learnt about Voldemort and the truth behind his parents’ death, about his own history and his nickname and the legend of Harry Potter.

He didn’t return to Diagon Alley for three days. He wandered normal -- Muggle, he remembered -- London and thought about himself and what the books said about him. He wondered why he ended up living on the streets if he was as revered as they said, wondered why he’d been put with the Dursleys in the first place, wondered what the wizarding world would think if they learnt their hero was a street rat.

He returned to Flourish and Blotts to read more, learning about the war against Voldemort, but avoided as much as he could about himself. He wasn’t Harry Potter any more; Harry Potter got left in Little Whinging. He was Harry Evans now and Harry Evans wasn’t a hero. He was just a boy looking out for himself.

He visited Diagon Alley regularly over the next few weeks, learning everything he could from the books in Flourish and Blotts, visiting all the shops, and occasionally stealing left over ice cream from outside Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour.

On the first of September, he went to King’s Cross station early. He didn’t want to risk missing the Hogwarts Express and he knew that King’s Cross could get busy. He already knew how to get onto platform nine and three-quarters, having read about it, but he loitered on platform ten and waited until he saw several people slipping through the stone wall before he tried it himself.

The Hogwarts Express was magnificent. He’d never been interested in trains much. He long ago learnt how to teleport, to simply Wish himself from one place to another, so modes of transport weren’t much interest to him, but he had to admit that the Hogwarts Express was beautiful.

He boarded the train and settled in an empty compartment, watching through the window as children said goodbye to their parents. Other kids ran up and down the train’s corridor, shouting and laughing. For a second Harry doubted his decision to get on a train that would be crammed with children for the next six or so hours, but then he saw an elderly woman wave a wand and levitate a trunk onto the train and he knew he had to do this.

Ten minutes before the train was due to leave, a weedy looking boy about the same age as Harry entered the compartment, carrying a book and wearing robes without a house crest on the front. He shut the door against the noise of the corridor, sat down opposite Harry with a sigh, and opened his book. Harry tried to see what it was called, but he couldn’t make out the title without alerting the boy to his presence. Whatever it was, it made the boy snigger regularly.

Harry slipped out when several other students entered the compartment. He didn’t want to get found and he hid in the first bathroom he came to until the train set off. When he heard the engine whistle and the first jolt of movement, his heart jumped into his throat. This was it. There was no turning back now.

Trains were always a bad idea. His initial trip to London aside, Harry had ventured onto the underground a few times just for the fun of it and a busy carriage was a terrible place to be.

It didn’t get much busier than a few hundred excited children, as well as their pet owls, cats, and a few toads. One boy named Neville lost his toad and he and a girl called Hermione were looking for it.

It didn’t help that a woman with a food trolley moved down the train, followed the whole time by impatient, hungry kids. Harry had no chance of getting close to it and was glad he’d stuffed a sandwich, pack of crisps, and a couple of chocolate bars in his bag that morning. He sought refuge by the roof as he ate, the only place that was really out of the way. Even after he finished, he still hovered by the roof, watching the children below him with a growing sadness.

He’d never had a friend. Since making his own way, he never really even spoke to anyone. Folks didn’t make a lot of conversation with invisible people. Sometimes he wished he knew what it was like to have someone you could call a friend, but he always decided that invisible was safer, no matter how lonely it was.

It was dark when the train finally pulled into a station. Harry disembarked last, waiting until it was clear to float down and jump off. Most students were heading towards the end of the platform, but the youngest ones were crowding around a giant of a man. Curious as to why they were separate and preferring small groups to lots of people right then, Harry followed them. The giant man led them to a lake, over which Hogwarts loomed in the darkness.

It made Harry stop in mid-flight, staring in awe. The pictures in Hogwarts, A History didn’t do it justice. The castle before them was gorgeous, a huge, sprawling, sparkling mess of turrets and towers and walls. It was incredible. He swore he could almost hear it calling out to him. This was more than just a castle. There was magic in the very foundations.

He spent so long staring at the castle that he almost missed the boats. He noticed them just as the first ones set off and he flew after them. At the other side of the lake, after ducking through a curtain of ivy to a cave in the cliff face, they disembarked and followed the giant man into the castle where he handed them off to a stern witch in green robes who introduced herself as Professor McGonagall.

She took the students into a small side room, but there was voices coming from a large room on the other side of the entrance hall and Harry went in there. He almost got walked into when he stopped just inside the door, staring around in awe. The hall was huge, but what really caught his attention was the ceiling -- there didn’t appear to be one. Curious, he flew up and realised it must be an enchantment of some kind when he broke through the starry night sky and found wooden beams and a solid ceiling.

Shortly after, McGonagall brought in all the younger students. Once they were lined up at the front of the hall, she set a hat on a stool, and after an expectant moment of silence the hat opened at the brim and began to sing. When it stopped, McGonagall began calling student names and they went up to get sorted.

Harry watched with heavy heart, second guessing his decision to come to Hogwarts. He thought he could find somewhere he could fit in, but how could he? He was invisible, unknown and unwanted. He might be at Hogwarts be he’d never be a student -- he wouldn’t find a family in one of the houses, wouldn’t be able to join in with classes, wouldn’t be able to make friends or complain about homework or sneak out on midnight adventures with his dorm mates.

Hogwarts might be a place of magic and wonder, but it was no more his home than the streets of London.

When the sorting was over, Harry followed McGonagall out to a side room where she left the stool and hat, presumably to be returned to their homes at a later time. There was a second door to leave through, but he hesitated to go, looking at the hat. For the last hour it’d been sitting on heads and shouting out houses. He approached it. Could he…? No. Even if the hat did… he couldn’t really join any of the houses. He’d never be a part of them.

He reached out. The hat was old, the material cracked, worn, and full of wrinkles. He hesitated. Should he? He was curious about what the hat would say, where it would put him, but at the same time he wasn’t sure he wanted to know there was somewhere he could belong but can’t.

He couldn’t help himself. He put the hat on and almost jerked it off again when the voice rattled inside his head.

Well now, this is interesting. You’ve been missing for a long time, Harry Potter.

“That’s not my name,” he told the hat.

No, I can see that, the hat said thoughtfully.

“Are you going to sort me?”

What would be the point of that? You don’t need sorting.

He knew it. He didn’t belong anywhere. Even a talking hat knew he didn’t belong.

You’re quick to jump to conclusions, Mr Evans.

“You said --”

That you don’t need sorting. You have a place to belong; everyone does. You just need to find it. I think you’ll find it closer than you think.

“What do you mean?”

You’ll figure it out. For now, take advantage of this opportunity. You’re in the best magical school Europe has to offer. Attend some classes, practice some magic, explore a little… Welcome to Hogwarts, Harry Evans.

The hat told him of a room on the seventh floor, opposite a tapestry, that’d become a bedroom if he asked for it. The hat gave him directions but he still managed to get lost, probably because of the moving staircases.

He was wandering around a corridor when the students appeared. Clearly the feast was over and everyone was returning to their houses. He tagged onto a group in Gryffindor robes and followed them to a life-size portrait of a fat lady in a pink dress. The prefect leading them said clearly, “Caput Draconis,” and the portrait swung open to show a hole in the wall. As the students scrambled through, Harry looked past them, seeing a cosy room with squishy arm chairs and red drapes on the wall.

He turned away. The Gryffindor common room looked nice, friendly, welcoming. But he didn’t belong there. It wasn’t his home and it never would be.

Tired and more miserable than he thought he’d be on reaching Hogwarts, he found a classroom, conjured himself some blankets, and curled up to sleep, hoping things would look better in the morning.