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Burning Red

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It was about the time Harry turned six that he noticed it, and he immediately panicked.

Aunt Petunia had tried shaving his head one too many times in an attempt to tame his wild locks and just mentioning 'blue wig' was enough to earn him cupboard time, so any indication that his hair was not the plain dark brown it'd always been was alarming enough to think she'd come after him again. There weren't exactly a lot of red heads in suburban Surrey so at the time, Harry had no clue that the deep red strands of hair coming in at the roots of his head were actually very natural and not another "freakish" thing happening to him that he couldn't control, but would get punished for anyway.

He had also never seen a picture of his mother and was not quite old enough to wrap his head around the idea of genetics in any case, so the moment he realized his hair was no longer growing in dark brown-ish black, he did his absolute best to hide it. He found a black bandanna in his school's lost and found and wore it whenever he left the cupboard, wrapped around his forehead to cover his scar and the back tip tucked into the knot to hide all his hair from view. The Dursleys already saw him as a maid so it fit in their minds while at home, and when out and about it only made it easier to call him a delinquent, plus Petunia hated his wild hair so him taking to hiding it and giving her more gossip fuel was a good thing. He wasn't reprimanded for wearing it at home and teachers already did their best to ignore him because of the Dursley's slander so he was never told not to wear it at school despite there being a 'no hats' rule most years. Petunia never attempted to cut his hair again since he was taking the initiative to hide it himself so he often took chunks of it with kitchen scissors--outside so no one would see the fine threads as realize someone near the Dursley household was walking around with 'freakish' red hair.

By the time he turned nine though… he had a sudden change of heart.

It was looking in the mirror after school one day, having gone to the bathroom and taken off his bandanna to fix it up before going back to the Dursleys for the night, that he just… looked at himself. His green eyes seemed a lot brighter than they'd ever been before, the red no longer just traces but a flood of scarlet that seemed to shine even under the poor florescent school ceiling lights and bring out the sea foam in his typically darker eyes. He hadn't really taken the time to see it since he'd noticed his dark locks going red, just quickly hiding it any time he caught a piece of red peeking into his field of vision, and even when he cut it he did it almost blindly and by feel when he was sure no one was looking, not caring how it really looked, just caring that it was short enough to hide beneath his cover. As a result it was cut horribly, wild pieces short enough to stick up in all directions and some longer ones left tangled and askew by him removing the bandanna so roughly, chunks of it matted into solid masses beyond saving.

And yet… even with all of that, he suddenly found himself thinking he liked his freakish red hair. It wasn't orange like a carrot or pink like a strawberry blonde or fake cherry red like those dyed 'freaks' Petunia and Vernon crossed the street to avoid, but a deep red so vibrant it was like curls of blood, the exact shade of a red delicious apple with highlights a fascinating golden-red that reminded him of gleaming mermaid scales in a book he once read when no one was looking in the school library. It was a majestic color like a vibrant sunset, the darkest feathers on a pretty cardinal, the deep sweet promise of a ripe fresh tomato on a heavy summer day, or the refined red velvet of Christmas-season ribbons. It reminded him of every good memory he had, and he had so preciously few of those that it kind of took him off guard to be overwhelmed with this feeling all at once, and so out of the blue.

He was too afraid to go around with hair like this out in the open, shuddering to think what his 'family' would do if they ever found out, but he suddenly wasn't gut-wrenchingly ashamed of weird hair like this. In fact, he liked it, quite a bit. Just like he liked his scar that he hid away; despite the fact he had to hide it he liked that it made him different and unique--and maybe important, in a world where he knew he was not important to anyone.

No one had hair like this and it was way more interesting than some silly old scar. Some small part of him wanted to be seen and some small part of him wanted to make friends and if he were able to walk around with pretty hair like this then maybe someone would look twice at him. Not just glance at him and quickly avoid eye contact when they realized who he was—that delinquent, that quiet freak not one wanted to associate with—but may stop and see him for who he actually was because he was vibrant enough to warrant looking twice. Because this was part of him and maybe he was proud of it. And maybe he felt… sad, that he himself had reduced such pretty locks to this utter mess just because he feared others knowing about it.

No, because he feared his so-called relatives knowing about it.

He liked his hair. As hard as that was to openly admit, even to himself, he suddenly knew it was true. He liked his hair, and he was proud of it.

But, reality being what it was, he combed it down a bit--slightly less roughly than usual-- and re-did his bandanna quickly before anyone came into the bathroom he was dawdling in. He did make a silent promise to himself though, to be kinder to his poor, pretty hair. Just because the Dursleys would hate it didn't mean he had to hate his own self just as much-- he could take pride in his appearance even if no one else would ever give him a second glance. He only had one ally in this world after all: himself. Just because he had no one didn't mean he had to abandon himself too.

In another life he wouldn’t care about his appearance, and it would snowball into caring less about his life as a whole: rash decisions that put his well-being at risk, resigning himself to those who treated him poorly, a dangerous over-eagerness to please anyone who gave him even a slight bit of positive attention...

No more. He wouldn’t be that person anymore, he swore as he watched himself in the mirror fix the bandanna back in place. He wasn’t stupid, he still had to hide it or else face Aunt Petunia’s wrath, but he no longer believed as she undoubtedly would that his hair would label him as even more of a freak. Like the clouds clearing he decided that his worth was not based on what anyone else said—from here on out only he could make himself feel worthless. No one else had that right, not when he knew what now he knew.

 No one cared about him after all, no one bothered to look twice. It was in this moment Harry decided that he would care about himself, and that he would look twice and think maybe he wasn’t worthless. If he only had one ally in this world, he wasn’t going to betray himself any longer.

And so, he tried to keep better care of himself than before, starting with his hair but spilling over into other aspects of his life. He found a comb that Petunia had thrown out and kept it hidden in his cupboard, combing through his hair carefully each night and morning to make sure it wasn't going to end up a rat's nest again, and he let it grow this time. He checked the lost and found of both the school and the local library as often as he could before he found precisely what he was looking for: a thin, soft gray beanie  that wasn't too thick to look like a crazy person even if he wore it in the summer (okay, he still looked like a crazy person, but he could go back to his bandana if he had to do yardwork outside when it was super-hot and it was perfect for every other occasion). The best part was that the beanie was designed to be baggy at the back which meant there was plenty of room for his hair to grow out a bit and no one realize what he had going on under the hat, which left him free to grow his hair out as long as he wanted and then work on cutting it more normally instead of the crazy hap-hazard thing he'd been doing up until that point.

It was this way that he noticed that his red hair was much softer than his old brown hair had been; he wasn't sure how this was possible or if he'd just never noticed, but when he was alone in his cupboard he found himself running fingers through it while combing it and just being in awe of how silky and soft it was. This did not, however, stop the wildness that Petunia so hated from dying down, at least not until months later when the piece of hair atop his forehead was long enough that he could stretch it just below his chin if he pulled it down to stop it's wild, semi-curly, randomly stuck up thing it had going on to lie straight for a second. By the time it was about two inches longer than even that, it was falling around his face and head in a wild, chaotic cloud around him and just barely brushing the middle of his neck--the wildness it had, never lying down when he kept it short, was used up by keeping most of its length caught up in the semi-curl and crazy directions it popped up in. Just out of the shower and sopping wet, it brushed the tops of his shoulders-- dry and flying around in its natural way, it simply framed is face in a longer-ish style that he actually quite liked.

It was also just long enough to pull back in a ponytail (girls left those things lying everywhere so he had quite the collection of ties) or a tiny plop on top of his head, which made it easier to hide beneath his beanie. He also quite enjoyed the feeling of letting it all puff out after a long day of pinning it up this way—the term 'letting your hair down' finally making sense and it was a simple pleasure in his life. Like taking a hot shower after a cold day, it was somehow relaxing, combined with his then-routine of combing it out slowly and carefully and just enjoying his mini me time. Harry had never had—nor ever conceived of— 'me time' before, but he liked it.

Such care into one aspect of his appearance he never even showed anyone spilled over until he was trying to take care of himself in other ways. For example Vernon and Petunia never once forced Dudley to brush his teeth if he didn't want to but Harry took it up religiously--twice a day in the morning and at night (he used tiny portions of Petunia and Vernon's toothpaste so they wouldn't notice; if Dudley's suddenly ran out they'd know something was up and he'd get in trouble for using something of his cousin's even if the loaf wasn't using it). He also took to washing his face more  and carefully stealing sunscreen from the medicine cabinet and hiding it outside beneath bushes or even underground, in preparation of days Petunia forced him outside to do yardwork all day. He also took to carefully gluing his glasses back together rather than roughly with tape, and even managing to paint the rims with some dark green paint he'd nicked from art class—it was small and subtle enough that the Dursley's didn't notice it or ever bring it up if they did, not that they'd care much, but it was a small form of rebellion with his appearance that Harry was very proud to have gotten away with.

He used the school library to look up what good food was, and what you needed to eat to be healthy and tall and strong--absolutely none of which the Dursleys had anywhere near their house which was his first problem. It was actually remarkably easy to fix though, as he plucked up the courage to ask his aunt to be able to do the grocery shopping, and to cook dinner as well as breakfast for them all. He knew they wouldn't do it if they thought he liked those chores, but he'd phrased it in that he desperately did not want to be in his cupboard all evening and would do anything to get out more--even more chores like shopping and cooking dinner. Petunia, for all her desire to be a 'normal' and a Norman Rockwell-esque housewife, did not like cooking and was actually rather bad at it; it was just that her husband and son were whales who'd eat a whole pig before noticing it was still alive. Her desire not to do it and his clever first deception meant he was then in charge of meals and grocery shopping.

Petunia was no budget master and so had a standard amount of money for food shopping that she gave to him for the trips that she'd always spent in her poorly-informed shopping sprees, and with just a few attempts to familiarize himself with what was available and what he could get on sale or cheaper for less brand-name but just-as-good options, he quickly figured out how to get everything she required him to cook and what he could stash to cook himself in his more, health-friendly diet. It wasn't like he ever ate with the rest of them anyway, and they didn't consider salad food at all (a 'precursor to food' Vernon had once called it, rather poetically) so even if they did see him setting aside some leafy greens or other vegetables, so long as his chicken or beef or other 'main entree' helping was sufficiently tiny to their standards of what he 'deserved', they were fine.

Given that he was then cooking not only the two meals they ate together but also packing all their lunches, he had free reign of the fridge and could hide most of his own stuff very easily. Put it on a lower shelf and maybe towards the back a bit and Vernon and Dudley, who often came in hunt of snacks and would never bend down to actually search the whole fridge, would never see it. And on that note, Harry took to whipping up puddings and other terrible treats to put directly in eye-sight when someone opened the fridge for a late night snack to even further distract from the vegetables and other healthier things he was buying himself; not that he thought Vernon in particular would glance twice at a head of lettuce but if he did wonder who was buying (and then more importantly eating) all these vegetables, he might realize it was in fact not his wife and that he was actually spending money on his despicable nephew and throw a fit. Harry took extra care to hide even more suspicious things, like tofu--if Vernon ever plucked up the desire to bend down and see the back corner of his own fridge Harry might actually die from the lashing he'd get from having brought that 'hippy nonsense' in the house.

So, when he was actually eating enough to feel satisfied and healthy enough to start feeling much better than he ever had before, he turned to the last part of his 'new leaf', which was exercise. He got quite a bit running from Dudley and other bullies and just went with it: he ran to and from school and found several longer routes to stretch out the routine. And the second Dudley’s gang started looking sketchy he took off too—he used that as an excuse to take longer and longer runs and Petunia never commented if he was gone for two hours or more. She was probably content in her assumed knowledge he was too scared to go near her precious Duddikins and took no issue so long as she continued to exist under the impression the ‘freak’ was not gaining anything from the arrangement.

He attempted a couple exercises that he could do from his cupboard, mostly sit-ups, but found them a lot less enjoyable than running. Still, he got a fair amount done out of sheer boredom that plagued him during long cupboard stays.

The longer this new pattern went on, the more Harry realized his relatives were rather thick. After a full six months of hiding food in the Dursley’s own fridge and getting his way by cleverly phrasing his requests, he realized that his “family’s” hatred of him blinded them to pretty much everything else about him aside from his existence. He got a lot of good practice putting on masks and acting quiet and humble, all the while plotting and figuring out the best way to get what he wanted.

The key to being successful was threefold: first, a lack of fear—the longer he got away with it the more confidence he had that he wouldn’t get caught. Not that he ever lowered his guard, but he wasn’t all around terrified that the Dursleys would somehow know if he did anything wrong like he once was, they simply weren’t smart enough for that. The second was careful planning, and having a back up plan just in case—fortunately (or more like unfortunately) he got a lot of quiet time in his cupboard to simply lie there and plot and so it only took him a couple weeks to get very, very good at this. Even if he thought up a plan and a back-up, doing nothing for hours on end inevitably had his mind circling over his plots again and again, almost always coming up with something else he hadn’t thought of to prepare for, the result being very effective plans when combined with his budding acting skills.

The third and final key though, was low expectations. It sounded bad but Harry wasn’t here scheming to be spoiled like Dudley, he just wanted to ensure he’d have dinner that night, and breakfast the following morning, and so on. As his plans got more elaborate, he still wasn’t plotting to take over the world, he just wanted to be able to not fail out of primary school and eventually get a job away from this place as his own person. He didn’t care what the job was in any way, but he wanted to be free.

Getting tiny little tastes of freedom when a plan was successful and he managed to get away with something he wanted was highly addicting, and it made long nights locked in a cupboard even worse. In fact, by the time he turned ten his stomach would flip every time he caught sight of the thing, and when he was being ordered to climb back into it he felt like his whole body was rejecting the sheer thought of getting into the tiny space he’d once considered his safe place, his semi-home in this house which would never be home.

He didn’t regret learning to value himself more than others seemed to, but it made lowering himself to be locked in a cupboard about 100 times worse than it’d ever been before. He used to not care, since it was dark and quiet and away from his relatives, but now he cared. He cared a lot.

He tried very, very hard not to outright hate the cupboard as he knew there was no escaping it until he was physically too big to fit into it anymore, and even then he could only imagine what the Dursleys would do. Probably just kick him into the un-air-conditioned, un-heated shed out back, and he knew older-him would not enjoy that either so just tried to keep breathing steadily and deal with the cupboard while he had it. He couldn’t hate it or he’d go insane, but controlling his emotions this way was turning out to be quite the learning experience; he was not an inherently patient person but he knew he had to be. He had to pick and choose his battles wisely and the cupboard was not one he knew he could ever win, so he just kept his jaw shut and focused on the rest of his life the best he was able to.

His lack of complaints or sass now that he learned to school his expressions and his willingness to be a good little cook and maid seemed to inspire his aunt and uncle in a terrible way and they we happy to pile on more chores than they ever had before. With his growing uneasiness at the cupboard, Harry couldn’t even deny it was better than being cooped up in that dark corner, and he soon found himself with a daily maid-like list of chores tending to the Dursley household, including cooking their three meals, doing the laundry, vacuuming, dusting, and wiping down every excessively shiny surface in “Petunia’s” kitchen, on top of gardening constantly and mowing and tending the outside panels and windows. It certainly kept him busy, and he wondered what the heck his Aunt did in a day given she was a ‘housewife’ by profession and yet he was doing literally every chore in the household.

Still, he did not complain as eventually he found he liked pretty much having free reign of the kitchen, it easily becoming his safe place even from his relatives. Apparently, he was a good cook and two of the three loved to eat, so while their verbal abuse and the whacks on the back of his head were frequent and harsh, they kept him relatively uninjured so that he could keep working in the kitchen. If that was in any way related to his quickly growing skills at whipping up horrible concoctions of fried, greasy, calorie-filled, nightmare-like meals that Vernon and Dudley devoured with unprecedented glee, Harry didn’t give those thoughts a voice. If he did it in he wild hope his uncle and cousin would get so fat they’d abruptly pop one day, then it was also a tightly held day-dream he made sure no one was aware he had.

Still, given the arrangement he knew his ‘job’ was safe for the moment and it gave him a level of power he’d never had before, and that he desperately liked. If he wanted to survive this place, he needed even a small sliver of power to hold his place in this house, and not cast aside like unwanted garbage.

Harry knew it was working when his food budget went up a little bit over time, and though he didn’t outwardly grin as he just took the envelope of money and left for the grocery store with an otherwise black and resigned expression, he certainly wanted to. He rewarded his uncle’s thinking by investing in even more sweets and spent every last pound of this particular donation on a big turkey, with everything you’d need for a wonderful Normal Rockwell painting. He had vegetables for the week after all, so he didn’t need to nick any off the top.

That night for dinner he laid out a Thanksgiving feast any American would drool over, setting the table immaculately and scrubbing the kitchen spotless. He whipped up deserts and filled a basket with sweets in the place he knew Dudley looked first. When his aunt and uncle got home, Vernon praised Petunia and she took all the credit as Harry knew she would—he remained in the pantry organizing his stores and mentally cataloging for future meals and entirely out of sight while they enjoyed what he’d done, him already having eaten his fill as it was made and in much healthier quantities. They ate themselves into a food coma and then retired to the living room to watch TV and talk about nothing; Harry cleaned up every dish and packed the rest in neat lunch boxes for tomorrow, though they’d eaten most of horrifyingly enough so he had new sandwiches and chips to toss in too.

While he never put that much effort in again, unless ordered too because they had a guest coming over or something, the trick had been done and Vernon Dursley now subconsciously kept adding to the food budget he handed to his nephew each week. Every time it increased an amount of note, Harry carefully rewarded him with his favorite meal or desert, or an all-out glutton-fest of some sort that was easily enough procured. His favorite method he’d heard about from one of he programs they watched once, while he was in his cupboard—he withheld something, like steak or a certain type of sweet or a certain flavor, for weeks on end. When his “reward” was something simple like a blueberry pie or a simple, nicely cooked steak, the same reaction was received. It was as if he was satisfying a craving that he himself created, and he got very, very good at that.

What he did with the extra pocket money Vernon was unaware he was willingly giving away? Well, Harry carefully saved it and only bought what he could sneak in without anyone noticing, and that he could then hide in his cupboard entirely. Again, going with his ‘low expectations’ mantra, he stuck to things he needed and could get at either the grocery store where he shopped or the drug store he passed on his way home: new underwear, new socks, tiny bottles of nicer shampoo and conditioner, a sewing kit to try and fix some of his hand-me-down clothes just a little bit with his unskilled hands, band-aides, new shoelaces, hair ties of prettier colors, soap, notebooks, pens, crossword puzzles for his long cupboard-times, a decent flashlight for said cupboard, a reading light for a book, and the list went on. Tiny things the Dursleys wouldn’t notice, but things to make his life just a little more bearable.

He also took a risk and bought some make-up—a concealer tube he thought matched his skin tone and went up to his aunt saying he found it on the street and could he please use it to hide his scar?

Aunt Petunia took a great deal of pleasure in calling him a girl and even more of a freak from then on, but she’d allowed it most likely because it’d give her even more reason to ridicule him and hide yet another freakish thing about him so she was all for it. Harry took the insults with no more response than a ‘poorly concealed mask of hurt and embarrassment’ face, however he didn’t care. He’d already known this would be her reaction when he bought he make up and made this plan, and it had all gone according to his expectation so he just let the insults hit home and went about his day—careful to not let her know that he wasn’t actually affected by her taunting, keeping a mask of discomfort and embarrassment on to fuel her fire and keep her content for now.

He’d debated about hiding his scar, but decided for it in the end. He used to like it because it made him feel unique, but it served no purpose when he was trying to keep under the Dursley’s radar and he had his hair if he ever wanted to stand out some day. His hair was part of who he was and he took more pride in it than a funny looking scar he got from the car crash that killed his parents. It wasn’t the only thing that made him special anymore, since he decided that he himself was special and he should stop treating himself so terribly, and really should only remind him of his parents’ deaths, and not something he should like about himself. He didn’t explicitly care that he had a scar on his face, but with his new pride in his appearance it did not really fit into his aesthetic and therefore decided make up was the best route.

It took a little practice, but he got good at covering it, buying a few other products over time from the drug store to help hide it entirely, and then it became part of his daily routine without much thought on his part. Since he stopped complaining and acted very willing to be their chef, the Dursleys stopped locking him in at night so that he could get up and make them lusciously large breakfasts so (with a tiny, quiet alarm clock he’d also bought for himself) now had almost as much time as he wanted to get ready in the morning so long as he was neck-deep in cooking by the time his Aunt woke, got ready, and made it downstairs. He took his time to brush his hair, brush his teeth, wash his face, fix his hat, cover his scar, and adjust whatever hand me downs he was wearing at the time to be semi-presentable without causing the Dursley’s any suspicion. Since he was doing the laundry his clothes were always clean now and slightly more his size thanks to his rudimentary sewing skills and long nights in the cupboard.

He also learned to get up earlier even so that he could do the homework he undoubtedly never had time for the night before, and so went from totally failing to just-behind-Dudley kind of failing. At least he was learning and knew he was likely an average, if not above-average student on his own, and the fact he wasn’t actually stupid was reassuring despite the fact his grades would not lead you to believe that. He had decided that getting into trouble over his grades being higher than Dudley’s wasn’t worth it in the grand scheme of things—he planned to learn as much as he could without letting that show in his grades, and knew he wouldn’t be going to the same secondary school as his cousin. Once they were in different schools he’d resolved to do a lot better but find a way to hide it… without being in Dudley’s classes there had to be a way, even if he had to resort to giving his teachers the wrong home address and phone number—he could probably beg Ms. Figg to pretend to be his aunt twice a year when report cards came in; she didn’t seem like she was overly fond of Aunt Petunia in the first place and was kind to him, if not very weird with the cats and the cake thing. For parent teacher nights he doubted his aunt and uncle would even go in the first place, so there was less of a concern there.

And even if they found out… well, he’d cross that bridge when he got there, but he knew his future was important. While he was still ten, quickly approaching being eleven, this tenuous peace he’d set up for himself was more important. When he was older and only a couple years from graduating and taking tests that would determine his future, he knew peace was not a suitable excuse for harming his potential chances at a life-after-the-Dursleys. He’d likely not be able to hide his better grades indefinitely and had already resigned himself to spending a couple years as a fifteen or sixteen-year-old either back in the cupboard, or in the shed for good this time. Locked in and hungry.

He was already not thrilled with the prospect and would do anything to hide it as long as he could, but he’d thought it out and knew two hungry years was worth it for a better future away from this place, and these terrible relatives of his.

It was this grim acceptance and this decision made that had him sneaking books from the library into his cupboard as well as his other goodies. If he was going to submit to go hungry and be reduced back to the Dursley’s pet “freak”, and he already knew he would have to endure it, he might as well make it all the more worth it in the end and study up as much as he could. He wasn’t a brilliant student but he had plenty of hours alone in a dark cupboard to read and get caught up, or even get ahead with his curriculum.

All in all, life continued. Harry got the hang of how to navigate it without too much issue, as his insane workload became routine and he became an expert at avoiding most forms of trouble by keeping his mouth shut and slyly sidestepping minefields of potential trouble. He kept his true thoughts, personality, dreams, hopes, ambitions—all of it he locked up tight behind a politely blank mask that nodded in a submissive, obedient manner any time his relatives commanded something of his and looked properly cowed or defeated at their scathing insults despite their words having stopped meaning a thing years ago.

Any biting response or surge of injustice, unfairness and humiliation he felt was swallowed and he just continued on the best he could, and planned. One day this act would be worth it, and he’d be free, and that was what he kept telling himself—five dozen times a day, it seemed.

One day. He promised himself. One day, I will be free. Survive until then.

It was a very uneventful day in the life and times of Harry Potter, as he continued on in this manner and just kept living the best he was able to, when a letter with green handwriting on the front dropped through the mail slot. He was commanded to get the mail and he did without a word, letting the bacon sizzle for a moment to go collect it and deliver it to his uncle’s hand.

It was pure chance the top letter was facing upwards, and he caught sight of his own name as he picked the pile up, and blinked rapidly down at the heavy, ominous thing of thick parchment that looked very un-ordinary amongst a pile of otherwise very ordinary mail.

He wasn’t quite aware of it at that one particular moment, but his stable world had just shattered.

Chapter Text

First of all, the universe was out to get him.

First the snake incident at the zoo, now this forsaken letter with his name on it. It was also very clearly marked ‘cupboard under the stairs’ which was frankly just rude, as if the person who’d written this letter was wholly aware and did in fact not care that the person he was writing to lived in a cupboard. Perhaps he was just particularly touchy about it given his growing (don’t say hatred, don’t say hatred, don’t say hatred)dislike of the place of his residence, but whatever the reason it hit his pride and self-respecting points dead on, at every level.

Who do they think they are? He scowled to himself, before quickly clearing his expression. He turned like nothing had happened and shoved it through the slot on his cupboard as he passed by its door without missing a step, returning to the kitchen and placing the mail in his uncle’s open hand as he bypassed the table and quickly resumed tending the cooking breakfast before someone got impatient. Given that Dudley was already at the table, he had able two minutes before he started complaining—maybe less really—and he wanted them on their good sides for the time being.

Now was a very, very bad time to be causing trouble, and a letter written to him from a stranger would only cause trouble. It was only a letter and Harry doubted it was anything important but even so, any small hiccup was not appreciated at this moment.

It’d only been a week ago that what he dubbed the snake incident had occurred.

Truth be told when he’d realized he’d actually be allowed to go to the Zoo, even if it was for Dudley’s birthday, he’d been ecstatic. Besides neighbors’ dogs briefly and the distant cat, he’d never been able to interact with any kind of animal aside from frogs and garden snakes he’d sometimes stumble across in gardening. He’d read about a lot of them and heard some more from his cupboard while the Dursleys were watching TV, but to actually get to see them in real life had sent his heart aflutter. It was something new and out there from this stable, day-to-day survival game he played. He was going to see something out in the world and that had been totally worth it even knowing that deviating from his routine introduced countless ways for him to get into trouble with his relatives, or just trouble in general. He’d been on his most perfect behavior possible, and even the lies and fake obedience couldn’t bother him as they went out for the day to the zoo.

He’s seen all sorts of sights, not just the animals, that he’d never seen before. People, foods, landscape. It was a bigger taste of freedom than he was familiar with and it was exhilarating, and quite possibly the best day he’d had in a long time—if not his life.

But, as mentioned, the universe ws out to get him.

He was aware of the strange things that could sometimes happen to him, but nothing like that had happened since he’d gotten his act together and started playing the Dursleys for fiddles. He thought, in hindsight, that maybe his control of his emotions and his general state of existence meant he was somehow controlling the weird things too. And that’s why, as he got too excited with the sights and sounds of a day out at the zoo, something had slipped his control.

He had had a very pleasant conversation with a boa constrictor which seemed to understand him somehow (it did not occur to him at the time that talking to a snake that was nodding back to him was weird, but again, hindsight being 20-20 it was most definitely a weird event) when Dudley had caught sight of its lifted head and came running back to shove Harry out of the way.

Have entirely expected this he managed to keep his footing and just stand to the side as Dudley tapped harshly at the glass, the snake somehow looking less pleased with this other human. Somehow. If snakes could have expressions, Harry was getting the vibe it didn’t like Dudley much, and hey the feeling was mutual. It was a rough day when he was sympathizing with a snake whose living quarters were… hold up a second, was this enclosure bigger than his cupboard? For some reason that really annoyed him.  

The snake turned its head to look him in the eye and yeah, Harry could sympathize. He wanted… more than anything, to be free. And so it seemed did the snake.

It was that moment that the glass of the boa constrictor exhibit entirely disappeared.

It was a bloody miracle Harry’s reflex when Dudley went flailing forward was to snap his hand out and fist into the back of his shirt, roughly pulling him back before he could fall in. He did not want to imagine how badly he’d get punished if Dudley were somehow to fall into a snake enclosure and the glass freaking disappearing in what he could only imagine was another weird event was somehow blamed on him.

After that had been chaos—Dudley screamed and Harry dragged him back just as the snake got the idea that he was free. Harry didn’t want to say he was jealous of a snake, but he was definitely jealous of a snake as it slumped its huge body out of the enclosure with haste and started slithering away to its freedom.

“Thanksss amigo,” he thought he heard it say as it slithered between the ankles of now-panicking and fleeing tourists, and Harry had to force himself not to grin as he grabbed Dudley’s hand and pulled him in the opposite direction that the snake was headed.

Good luck, he thought silently instead, hoping it miraculously did somehow manage to make it back to Brazil.

Be it that his aunt and uncle ran up to them (or aggressively waddle, in Vernon’s case) and Harry was pulling Dudley away from the danger or that he feigned a terrified expression in such a believable way, his acting skills just so darn impressive that as he cried crocodile tears and whimpered in the back seat of their car on the way home, whatever the reason they perhaps thought he’d been punished enough without having to inflict any damage themselves. Even as Piers, Dudley’s friend, had made the devastating jump to say Harry had made the glass disappear, he was yelled at on the drive home and then ordered to make dinner fit for a king to make Dudley feel better after that shock on his birthday.

He hadn’t been ordered to his cupboard though, which was a key distinction. His aunt and uncle, a full week later, were being twice as nasty as they usually were, but their words meant nothing to him anymore and he wasn’t locked in his cupboard until further notice. He thought the combination of Dudley not actually having been hurt, them not actually having witnessed the snake and only going of Dudley’s and Piers’ words, that he’d gotten Dudley out of there, and acted sufficiently traumatized meant that he’d just barely gotten out of that one no worse for the wear. Dudley had already forgotten and eventually his aunt and uncle would return to their normal amount of hating him instead of remembering they hated him for any particular reason, which would be for the best.

Of course then just as things were about to start settling down for real, a letter came, addressed to him.

What an absurd thing, first of all—who in their right mind was writing to him of all people? Secondly, if they knew the Dursleys at all they definitely hated him by trying that nonsense. Thirdly, the address of ‘cupboard under the stairs’ very much bothered him. It ticked him off in two parts: first in that they clearly knew where he slept and didn’t seem to care (if they cared they’d address it in the letter, not on the front of the bloody envelop where the mail man and literally everyone else could see that—how horribly humiliating) and secondly that they had such terrible timing as to risk one of the Dursleys seeing that when he was in the middle of trying to get them back on their good sides—Vernon sometimes came down late and picked the mail up on his way to the kitchen, what if it’d been one of those days!? That forsaken letter could’ve messed everything up.

With a silent sigh he pushed it from his mind and went about the rest of the day—school, chores, dinner, chores, cupboard. Like every other day, especially now that he was trying to avoid trouble, doubly so until the snake incident was put from their minds.

It was after dinner and his last minutes chores were done that he got back to his cupboard, the Dursleys watching TV and Dudley undoubtedly breaking another video game upstairs. He found the letter and shuffled up into a sitting position with a sigh to get it over with, his curiosity finally coming back to the surface now that he had an opportunity to quench it. It was a thick piece of paper, a kind he’d never seen before, and sealed with a chunk of melted wax, an “H” stamped into it. Even more curious he opened it and read…

000

Dear Mr. Potter

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term begins on September 1. We await your owl no later than July 31.

Yours Sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall

Deputy Headmistress

000

Harry stopped, blinked, and then re-read it. Rinse and repeat about four times.

This had to be a joke, right? Witches and wizards and things… then again, the snake incident, ending up on a roof, his teacher’s wig… not to mention he could 100% imagine this is why the Dursleys hated him for no apparent reason since as long as he could remember. They hated Halloween even more than they hated him, surprisingly enough, so if they’d somehow known he was… what was it, a wizard? If they’d known that all along it would make a lot of sense than that they just literally hate their own nephew for no good reason. They’re stupid, and cruel, but they’re not smart enough to have held a grudge for what amounts to a decade over stupid little things like the fact they “put clothes on his back” or “feed him”. They were terrible people but if they were going to hate him constantly for ten years then it’s because of something that hasn’t changed in all of those ten years. Him being not normal would explain a great deal and fit pretty well into what he already knew of his relatives—and he knew quite a lot given he’d spent the past two years learning to manipulate them into allowing his continued, unimpeded existence.

Besides, as he read through the included equipment and books list, they were… very detailed. If it was a joke then someone had even less of a life than Harry himself did in taking the time to come up with some of this stuff just to prank people with.

His mind said yeah, it was a joke. How could it not be?

But that side of him that’s been wanting nothing more out of life than to be free whispered… hey, maybe it wasn’t. Wouldn’t it be grand if it were real? That old, reoccurring dream of him flying on a motorbike… that could very well be real too if witches and wizards and magic truly did exist. That silent wish he’d had when he was younger and miserable in his dark little closet, of someone appearing to take him away… even if this were just a cruel, cruel joke, that tiny spark of something inside of him that hadn’t quite given in to being a realist and a child wanted this to be true more than anything he’d ever wanted anything in his life.

If magic were real, and he got to go to a school away from the Dursleys and learn things like flying on a motor bike and… glancing at the list, reading things like potions and broomsticks, he felt his imagine itch to be let free and just picture himself over a big cauldron of some crazy concoction or flying through the air on a broomstick like a real witch from picture books…

…he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe this. But… he didn’t give up hope either.

There was only one way to figure this out for certain, and so he made a plan. Until he knew either way, he wasn’t going to get his hopes up (more than they already were, gosh darn it… if this was a joke he was going to kill someone, he swore), but he also wasn’t going to pass this opportunity up just quite yet. The disappearing glass and the jumping onto the roof… that wasn’t in his head, he knew that, and that meant he had one concrete reason not to dismiss this just yet. He didn’t have an owl or whatever that meant, so he’d send it by normal post tomorrow—there was a blue mail box outside the school that would work so the Dursleys didn’t catch him. He also didn’t have any spare paper, but he did have a pen stashed away for notes somewhere in here, so he shifted around until he found one, and then flipped the thick paper over to write his response.

000

Dear Deputy Headmistress,

I wasn’t aware magic was real and that there was a school for it, and I’d like a confirmation this isn’t a joke first. If it is, you’re a cruel person.

I also have several questions about the way this letter was written and delivered as it caused quite a bit of trouble.

Strangers and letters are not welcome at this address, however to respond please send to the address listed below marked with ‘hold for Harry Potter’ and I will retrieve it.

Sincerely,

Harry Potter

P.S—why are first years not allowed brooms?

000

He re-read and it and thought it was fine, there was just too much to ask in his first letter and he wanted to hear what they’d say. If their story was too convoluted or they avoided answering questions, then it was probably fake, but if it sounded legitimate…

He pressed his lips into a thin line considering that, but pushed it aside for now and added the address to the public library nearby to the bottom of the missive—it was on his way home from school if he took one of his longer running routes and figured it was a safer bet than here. He’d seen some people receive letters this way for one reason or another, and although it clearly annoyed the librarian she’d never had a problem with him coming in at odd times to sit quietly in a corner and read, and figured he could get away with it just for a couple letters.

He folded the letter back over so his response was on the inside and wrapped it in spare notebook paper, pinning it down with the wax seal he’d picked off the original letter and applying enough pressure that it stuck well enough and wrote “Miverva McGonagall—Hogwarts” on the front. It was sketchy as heck and yet another reason this was absolutely going to be just a joke and nothing more but… honestly, what did he have to lose?

He slept very poorly that night, trying to clear his mind of thoughts and just enjoy rest while he had it because he had to wake up early as always, but the stupid cupboard he was trying very hard not to actively hate was driving him up the wall more than usual. Images of broomsticks and magic wands and magic in general kept trying to take over and he wanted desperate to just let go and believe in it but he couldn’t.

His cynical side was already preparing himself mentally to put up his masks for the Dursleys when this inevitably turned out to be a very poor joke and the little hope that had blossomed in his chest was squashed out entirely. He couldn’t just give in and start dreaming nonsense without proof that it wasn’t going to turn right around and bite him on the behind as soon as his got a response to this letter and that tiny bit of hope went out like a snuffed candle. His life here was only bearable because he knew what to expect and how to handle it; he’d already braced himself against the Dursley’s hateful words and now they could skate off his skin like water. If he got his hopes up… and it didn’t turn out…

His heart clenched in the darkness—the house long since quiet as the rest of its inhabitants went off to sleep while he lie there thinking troublesome thoughts.

He both wished that this letter were true and that it had never shown up in today’s mail to give him hope.

Because if that hope go crushed… that tiny part of himself that was still a child who believed in things like magic and promises and goodness in people would die, right then and there. He wasn’t sure he was ready for that, and he was afraid.

He hadn’t been this afraid in a long time, not since he’d gotten a handle on things in his life. He could only lie there and helplessly, pathetically desperately pray to anyone who was listening that this wasn’t going to hurt him more than life already did.

Chapter Text

Harry couldn’t handle his own emotions when he got back to the Dursley’s after school the following day, and he knew his expression was a total mess and honestly didn’t care.

He’d mailed the letter that morning on his way in and while it was stupid he’d decided to check the library on his way home—he blamed the utter torture this whole ordeal was causing him by messing with his emotions. He could handle himself when only faced with the Dursley’s hate, like leaning against a brick wall that was marching forward at you and pushing it back. In the face of their disgust and ill-opinions, which they’d instilled in pretty much everyone in the local community too, all he had to do was not crack. Someone insults you, don’t cry. Someone throws something at you, don’t flinch. It was a simple cause and effect—no matter what, don’t break from the blank mask he was wearing.

Now though, it’s as if the wall he’d been pushing against had grown hands and leaned back—not only was he off-balance from this ever-present force suddenly not coming at him as it once was, but that force was hitting him from several new angles and he wasn’t quite sure how to roll with those punches. Was he supposed to be happy or angry about this Hogwarts business? And if he didn’t know how he was supposed to feel, then how was he supposed to act the opposite? What was he supposed to be feeling or doing right now, and how could he hide that from the world?

He didn’t have answers and he didn’t know how he felt much less how he should feel, so he checked the library in the vain hope there’d be a response already.

So it was therefore a bit of a shock, and not necessarily a pleasant one, to see yet another letter with his name on it at the front desk, a frowning librarian reminding him not to send post here as she handed it to him. That had been way faster than he was expecting, and he understandably freaked out, just barely keeping it together to not have the librarian kick him out before he marched quickly and quietly to the back corner of the library where old slightly-outdated encyclopedias lived. It was a rare day anyone came back here, so he knew he had a bit of privacy for the moment.

And privacy is what he needed, because there was no bloody way he was going to go straight back to the Dursleys and then have to act normal while he cooked and did his chores knowing this letter was sitting unopened in his cupboard. He needed to know what it said, and he needed to know now.

He ripped it open much faster than the last one, and his heart beat a little faster to see that it was actually a pretty long response—his eyes snapping to the text and drinking it in.

000

Dear Mr. Potter,

It is alarming news to hear you are unaware of magic, as I was under the impression your aunt and uncle would have informed you of this rather pertinent fact. Be assured I am not joking; you are a wizard as were both of your parents—both of whom were students of mine in the past. Rest assured James Potter and Lily Evans were most definitely magical, and you clearly were as well last I saw you when you were but an infant.

We have representatives who we have meet with students who were born to non-magical parents and not aware of magic before they receive their Hogwarts letter, however since you were on our list as being of magical decent and thought to have been previously informed by your aunt and uncle, I will have to make secondary arrangements for someone to come meet with you and answer some of your questions.

I am a tad concerned about your comment that no strangers or letters are welcome at your residence, but I will oblige for now. I will have someone meet you at this address you’ve provided this Saturday at 10am who will answer more about magic and help you gather your school gear for this coming year—if you accept this invitation to our esteemed school, that is.

To answer what I can for now, Hogwarts letters are generated by a self-writing quill with the addresses of students that is magically tracked in our ledger, which records when a magical child is born and to whom they are living with. I do not actually handle the letters more than signing off on them, and the owls take them on their way. Owls are how the magical community delivers letters, as they’re extremely intelligent and can find their target anywhere in the world without our interference. I do not know what the owl who delivered your letter did nor what was wrong with it upon delivery but with more details I can look into it.

On that note, you may leave your letters for delivery outside at will with it addressed to ‘Hogwarts’ and an owl will come and collect it—they are on standby until newly accepted students reach Hogwarts their first time.

I look forward to hearing from you Mr. Potter,

Sincerely,

Minerva Mcgonagall

P.S—You did not know magic existed until you got your letter just now and are already asking to ride a broom. They are dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing and as a first year you’ll be allowed to take flying lessons with school-issued brooms, able to practice on them all you like under supervision, just not a broom of your own for the first year. We don’t want young children just barely learning to control their magic flying off, never to be heard from again. Please take this warning seriously.

000

Harry read it twice.

The first thing that struck him, is that she seemed a little desperate in that last sentence and wondered what that was about. He didn’t want to disappear forever of course and figured riding a broom would be similar to riding a bike—not that he’d ever done that before either, but he wouldn’t go full speed the moment he got on either one of those rides and was a bit worried about why she seemed worried he would.

Then again, magic probably had tons of dangers he knew nothing about, having grown up in the normal world.

Then it hit him—he believed her.

He had to sit down and crouch behind a bookcase and breath deeply for several minutes until the shock wore off and his heart stopped trying to make a mad dash from his chest because holy hell he believed her.

Magic was real, he was a wizard

He looked up and cleared his eyes, focusing on his next steps. Because magic was real, he was a wizard, and he needed a plan.

000

Getting a day free of the Dursleys was not hard; he’d had a contingency plan in place for several months in case he needed to get out for one reason or another. He’d been saving it for a rainy day, but this definitely counted as a worthy occasion.

Thursday night he quietly approached his aunt as she straightened up the living room he’d already cleaned, arranging pillows he’d already fluffed up an inch to the left and clicking her tongue like she was put upon to have to tidy up her own house that had already been cleaned.

“Aunt Petunia?”

“What is it.” She snapped, not even looking at him.

“I have detention this Saturday at school.”

That got her attention and her beady eyes went to him immediately, then down to the paper he was holding in his hand. She snatched it from his grip and sneered at it.

“What is this? A—a zero!?”

The test in question was peer-reviewed and since no one bothered to be his partner he’d looked it over himself. He’s purposefully done poorly, but still got a C on it. He’d erased his own pencil markings and gone back over it with a bright red marker to mark every one of them wrong though, putting a bright “F” on the top for her enjoyment. He knew for a fact she wasn’t going to actually read through it, nor would she know off the top of her head any of the specific geography questions on it even if she did. They were covering world countries after all, and she didn’t even really care about her own neighbors much less the capital cities in Africa.

Her reaction was as expected, and she sneered impressively, clearly trying to keep from grinning.

“It’s almost an achievement to be this stupid. Do they want you in supplementary lessons then?”

“No, the teacher said I was too dumb to fix and just gave me detention so I’d not get another zero.” He was quiet and subdued like this hurt him to say. He didn’t care when she let out a wild cackle, glad he didn’t over-do it.

“That’s rich,” she hissed in mirth, forgetting to sneer and now just grinning at the paper before shoving it into his chest. “Go hang this on the fridge boy, next to Dudley’s. Enjoy your detention.”

“I’ll be gone all day… should I do chores when I get home?”

“No—when you get home go straight to your cupboard as punishment.” She said, but her grin clearly said she didn’t give a flip that he was actually punished for this, and probably really wanted him to fail again just so she could be this amused in the future too. He wasn’t pleased about the cupboard situation, but it was probably for the best as the day might tire him out and this way he could sneak in and claim he was in his cupboard longer than he was if the outing took longer than expected. And they wouldn’t be expecting to see him at all, which would make the cover easier.

“Yes, Aunt Petunia.” He took the paper back to the kitchen to hang on the fridge and start dinner.

Now, he only had to wait for Saturday to come.

000

Meeting Hagrid was a surreal experience.

Not only was he HUGE and wild-looking, but he coupled the terrifying look with a bright pink umbrella and one of the sweetest personalities Harry had ever had the chance of meeting. Giant, hulking, intimidating as his presence was as he lumbered up the street and straight up the walk to the library and the front bench where Harry was waiting, as soon as he noticed the wide-eyed look he was getting from the small child on the bench, his beetle-black eyes lit up in sparkles and even through the crazy beard he had you could tell the man was grinning happily.

“Is’at you ‘Arry? Blimey if you ain’t grown!”

First of all, how did this man know him? Secondly, who was he? The first answer was reasonably quick to come as he was probably the representative McGonagall said she’d send, so even though he’d half been expecting her or another woman, (and this guy was the polar OPPOSITE) he quickly got his composure back, clearing his throat.

“Um… who are you?”

“Name’s Hagrid—Keeper o’ the Keys at Hogwarts! McGonagall told ya someone from Hogwarts would be comin’ to show ya around the Alley, right?”

Harry smiled a bit hesitantly, but earnestly. “Right, she did say that. I’m Harry… but ah, you knew that…? Somehow?”

“Sure thing I do!” He beamed, and Harry got the vibe of a puppy. It softened him a little bit to this stranger. “I knew yer parents when they were at Hogwarts—dat father o’ yours was a right prankster so I chased ‘im and his friends away from the forest for seven years ya know. And I was there when you were a baby—I ‘elped drop ya off at yer aunt’s that night yer parents were killed, and you was just so tiny. Look at you all grown!”

Harry blinked rapidly. That was a lot to take in. But… this man knew his parents, just like McGonagall did. Harry felt himself trust him, just a little more.

But one thing bothered him.

“Have you ever met my aunt?”

“Ah, no, can’t say I ‘ave. Did she want ta come with, today?”

“No, she definitely doesn’t.” He smiled a bit nervously, brushing that thought off as quickly as possible. “I, um… this is going to sound a bit stupid but… magic is real, right? This isn’t a joke?”

The giant man’s eyes darkened. “Oh ya, McGonagall told me yer aunt and uncle never said anything about you bein’ a wizard. Well ya are, I promise ya that! I’m not suppose ta do magic so I can’t prove it out here where there could be muggles about, but I can show you Diagon Alley—where ya can buy yer school stuffs, and there’s tons o’ magic to be seein’ there. Yer Lily and James’ son and they were some o’ the finest witch and wizard I ever met, I promise you—yer gonna be a wonderful wizard Harry I’m sure of it!”

Quite frankly, Harry was touched.

He might have teared up, it was hard to say. He had a lot of practice in schooling his expression, but in that moment he didn’t feel like using any of those learned skills at all. This giant lump of a man was just so bright and earnest he felt his face reflecting that earnest automatically—and it kind of alarmed him.

True to form though instead of bursting into tears he quickly changed gears before he started bawling. “Thanks Hagrid—ah, what are muggles exactly?”

“Non-magic folk,” he supplied easily, either not noticing or not caring about the sudden shift in conversation as his black eyes grinned down at him cheerily, and Harry had a feeling it was the former. All that told him though, was that Hagrid was a bit slow on the uptake… and he was genuinely kind, to have said something like that for no other ulterior motive than that he believed it to be true.

Okay, he definitely teared up a bit.

No more, he reminded himself quietly. You wanted to be free, didn’t you?

… Harry took a breath and smiled widely up at the Keeper of the Keys looking curiously down at him.

“Okay. I believe you, Hagrid—let’s see what this is all about.”

000

“Bit hot for a hat, don’t ya think?” Hagrid commented casually as they rode the subway wherever it was that they were going. Boring as traveling was most days, watching Hagrid try to navigate a bus, a train, and a subway, commenting all the clever ‘muggle inventions’ a bit too loudly and then whipping out a huge crochet blanket to work on while they rumbled along their way out of seemingly nowhere, was far more entertaining than it had any right to be. As they went along Harry asked question after question and learned quite a bit in a relatively short amount of time.

First, Hagrid was knowledgeable about the magical world on a basic level but was the equivalent of a janitor or groundskeeper at Hogwarts who actually didn’t care much about daily news or magical advancements, seeing as he couldn’t use it for some reason (and don’t think Harry didn’t notice him clutching that pink umbrella and get shifty when talking about that—right off the bat Harry was fully aware that Hagrid could not lie to save his life, which was good). He was also not a very good teacher as he skimmed over things far too hastily, taking for granted that he apparently grew up knowing this stuff and it was all brand new to Harry—had he not been paying more attention to everything Hagrid was saying that he’d ever paid attention to someone in his life Harry was sure he’d be lost in seconds. He was also confirmed to be a bit slow, and also insanely loyal to this Dumbledore fellow, who Harry took no time at all extracting from Hagrid was the one who placed Harry with the Dursleys and the Headmaster of this school he was now invited to attend.

From the way Hagrid spoke of the man, he was Jesus 2.0. Hagrid was earnest and easily manipulated and this Dumbledore seemed to be in a position of power and highly respected, meaning he knew damn well how to play a good game of words, Harry had no doubt. He’d known Hagrid less than two hours and was already a bit miffed over the fact this Headmaster was manipulating someone nice like Hagrid, but then again, people let themselves be manipulated at the heart of things and this Keeper of the Keys was easy pickings. He couldn’t fault this mystery guy since Harry was actively coercing information from him under the guise of a friendly conversation himself, and he had good intentions, so… he’d hold off on judgement of this Headmaster for the moment. Regardless, Hagrid was happy as he was, so Harry made a note to come back to that thought train later.

In his series of questions, he’d started with why he was accepted at Hogwarts. Turns out all magical children got an invite, so score. Then he asked about school supplies and how he’d pay for it—apparently this “Diagon Alley” was a place where you could buy everything (odd, but sure why not), and there was a bank run by actual goblins who Hagrid warned not to mess with and that his parents had left him a trust vault that would cover his school supplies. He asked about who was in charge of the magical world—did they have a king? A democracy?—and it turns out they had a Ministry of Magic with a Minister and parliament called a ‘Wizamont’ or something. Apparently Dumbledore also sat on that and Harry only got more suspicious because clearly he was someone to keep an eye on. A Headmaster of the only wizarding school and a politician? Uh-huh.

Thanks to Hagrid’s rather long, rambling answers, just those questions took most of their time and they were approaching their stop when Hagrid popped in the query about his hat in the moment of silence as Harry pondered what his most pressing next question should be. If he hadn’t known that Hagrid was 100% just curious and held no judgement for why he was wearing a hat in the middle of July (he was wearing a huge coat, after all) Harry would’ve deflected the question. As it was, he paused, and then the voice sounded that this was their stop and he couldn’t answer in the bustle to get off—coming up the stairs to stand in the middle of a busy London sidewalk.

Harry had only ever been to this part of London once or twice, and soaked up the scenes around him eagerly.

“In here!” Hagrid pulled him off to the side, pointing down the street to a very shabby looking pub. “That’s the Leaky Cauldron—an entrance to the Wizardin’ World if ya know how to look.” He grinned excitedly.

“What’s to stop normal—uh, muggles from just walking in then? I thought you said it’s a big secret.”

“Muggle-repelling charms. Watch—most people can’t see it, der eyes slide righ’ by.” He pointed at some passersby who gave him funny looks, but watching those who weren’t glaring at Hagrid, he did notice that they seemed to turn their heads past it as if looking from the shop on one side, to the shop on the other side of the pub as if the bar wasn’t even there. That was kind of cool, actually.

“Now that I think o’ it, the hat was a good idea! Everyone would be wantin’ ta shake yer hand and we only got a coupla hours, don’ we?” Hagrid mused to himself as they made their wat towards the pub, and Harry paused.

…what?

“Shake my hand? Why?”

Hagrid blinked, as if realizing something and looking down at the boy beside him. His face went alight in realization.

“…ah!”

000

Harry gripped the edges of his beanie, and pulled it as far down as he could to bury his face out of view, groaning a bit as his head spun from this information.

Hagrid was kind enough to buy him something called a butterbeer in this dingy wizards’ pub (and it was delicious, score!) but the fascination at the tasty drink and his wandering eyes at all the strangely dressed people in the room was thrown from his mind the second Hagrid started explaining.

He was famous. His parents had been bloody murdered. There was some Dark Lord out there everyone was too afraid to even say the name of who he apparently killed as a one-year-old (Hagrid looked ready to faint when said ‘Voldemort’ but Harry appreciated the effort, since he knew Harry would need to know even if he really hadn’t wanted to say it).

He was famous as The Boy Who Lived in this magical world and Hagrid had been told he was sent to live in the muggle world to be raised since Dumbledore didn’t want him growing up with fame going to his head, or something like that.

Harry thought back to the cupboard waiting for him later tonight somewhere in suburban Surrey and decided he did not appreciate this Headmaster meddling in his life one bit. Given that Hagrid was his #1 fan he kept that thought to himself though.

He was suddenly very grateful for his hat that he was hiding his face in—and more importantly thrilled that he’d gotten into the habit of hiding his scar. What fresh hell would that have been, given the way Hagrid was talking about it, he wasn’t sure he could handle total strangers he did not trust half as much as he trusted Hagrid (which wasn’t total trust since he’d met the man today after all, but still he trusted this groundskeeper more than any Dursley already, that was for sure) coming up to him and babbling about something that happened when he was one, and something that resulted in the death of his parents at that.

Yeah, no thank you. Hard pass on that one.

“And you’re telling me most of the wizarding world would recognize me on sight? How?”

“Don’ know about that—someone musta seen you at some point and there’s tons o’ books written about you.” Hagrid shrugged, sipping his own large mug happily.

Harry couldn’t even begin to process that statement on top of everything else, so he shelved it.

“Plus, yer father was a good man and well liked in school—plus ‘Potter’ is an old family name. Mosta the old families could recognize a Potter anywhere.” Hagrid continued on, oblivious to Harry’s silent struggling beside him.

So he looked like his father? He pressed his lips together thoughtfully.

“I look like a Potter? I’ve never seen pictures of my parents; you think I look like my dad?”

Hagrid paused and looked down at the small boy beside him, frowning and his shiny black eyes narrowing. “I’m really not likin’ these muggles much, ‘Arry.” He hummed deeply. “They never even showed ya a picture o’ them?”

“Ah… no.”

“Hogwash!” Hagrid burst out, causing Harry to jump a bit in surprise. “What downrigh’ ‘orrible muggles—yer Lily and James’ child and ya don’ even know wha’ they look like! Absolute cobswallop!”

Harry didn’t really recognize that term but just went with it, trying to get off this topic and back to the point before his curiosity killed him.

Please Hagrid? I’ve never seen my parents and I’m dead curious—do I look like my dad?” He insisted, shamelessly pulling at the ‘poor orphan’ heartstring and it worked like a charm when Hagrid’s anger derailed and gave the boy his undivided attention. He had tried it before but no one had actually cared that he was an orphan before as there was a surprisingly large amount of heartless adults in his life and he had no problem playing dirty to get at those kinds of people. He felt a little bad using it on Hagrid, but he was curious darn it!

“Oh no, o’ course ya do! Ah, well, actually ya got yer mother’s eyes o’ course… and I see more in yer face o’ her’s than his actually.” So no, was what Harry was hearing. He looked like his mother.

He looked like his mother.

He smiled at that.

“Ah! Hey there Hagrid, showing a new student around the Alley?” A toothless man came hobbling up to them, pointing at the mug. “Can I get ya another?”

“Blimey, look at the time! Nah, thanks Tom we got to get going. Need to get young ‘Arry here his books!” Hagrid said a little too loudly—though thankfully no one but this Tom fellow was paying him any attention.

At his words though the man’s eyes went wide and he studied the boy in front of him closely, blinking once.

“Harry Potter?” He said in an awed, reverent tone. Harry was instantly creeped out.

“Uh… hello.” He greeted awkwardly, sinking behind Hagrid slightly and fixing his beanie to make sure even his make-up concealed scar was firmly out of sight. The motion seemed to knock some sense into Tom and he jerked back slightly.

“It’s an honor to meet you, my boy—I hope you enjoy the Alley today, feel free to come back for a nip any time!” He greeted cheerily, clearing up their drinks with a bright smile shot his way and hobbling off. Harry was thankful he seemed aware enough to keep his voice down throughout that exchange, an no one else looked up from their drinks to pay him any mind.

He breathed a sigh of relief. He did not want that kind of tone and ‘honor’ talk from literally everyone he met—he might go insane.

“Tom’s a good guy, he owns this place an’ is a trustworthy kinda guy,” Hagrid explained as he got up, Harry quickly following him to the back of the pub. Not that Harry didn’t believe that statement, but he didn’t believe Hagrid wasn’t just spouting rhetoric he’d been told either, so he kept his right to reserve judgement until further notice about how trustworthy that Tom guy was or was not.

“Now pay attention, as this is ‘ow ya will get to an’ from, ya just gotta tap these bricks.” Hagrid instructed, using his pink umbrella to tap a couple bricks in a specific pattern.

Harry wasn’t sure what he was expecting, given that he only believed in magic in theory at this moment and had never seen practical magic performed in front of his face just yet, but the wall moving on it’s own to fold back and basically break every rule of physics he only vaguely knew about to melt away was a shock and a half to his system.

And that shock was quickly outdone by the absolute gut-wrenching sight of what lay beyond the wall.

“Welcome to Diagon Alley, ‘Arry!”

Chapter Text

He imagined it like a stone cocoon, his soul. Everything light and optimistic inside of him was like a small flickering candle flame in the middle of a hurricane-force gale, and the only way he’d managed to protect it even a little bit was by wrapping himself in a stone cocoon, its surface cold and slick to the touch as it was battered by the howling winds and torrential downpour that was his life.

He imagined that his tiny little light had been a bonfire once, that long ago he’d been a happy and warm person until the storm came and extinguished most of it. And locked up inside a statue, there was only so many ways a candle flame could flicker.

The cynical stone had been getting colder, that tiny flame in mortal danger of languishing, and with this discovery of a magical world and promises of freedom, something whispered at him constantly even as proof began to unfold under his eyes. The owls, Hagrid, the Leaky Cauldron… clue after clue piling up but it didn’t hit home until the wall fell and a world he’d never imagined existed in this universe burst into life in front of him.

He had subconsciously been preparing himself for that tiny candle flame inside of him to be snuffed out for good, when this turned out to be an elaborate lie meant to cause him pain. He was already in too deep, his hopes too high, and when the disappointment came and he was tasked with returning to a world with no magic and no warmth at all, facing a reality somehow even harsher than it’d been before in light of the dream and the hope that’d been cruelly given to him and then brutally ripped away… his heart would finally be fully cold as stone and quiet as a grave. A part of him had been counting on that, preparing for it.

So it was an earth-shattering moment to feel that tiny flame burst inside of him, as if someone had just poured gasoline all over its tiny warmth. Suddenly it wasn’t so weak and gentle, it was roaring, and it warmed the stone that made its shell from the inside out. The stone didn’t give way—it couldn’t afford to do that—but suddenly he cold winds barely tickled.

Hagrid laughed beside him at whatever expression he had on his face, and for once Harry didn’t care a bit what his face was revealing without his permission; there was other things to worry about right then.

There was just… so much… color.  

That was the first thing that hit him, the immense amount of color crammed into such a relatively small space. It was filled with noises and smells that were both pleasant and not but it was all at once and everywhere and Harry just didn’t know what to look at first. So he just stared, feeling his heart stuttering and skipping beats like he was actively drying, but his mind was too dazed to even care about his imminent death.

“We shouldn’t stand in the doorway ‘Arry, come on,” Hagrid chirped, guiding him with one huge hand down onto the street, Harry just gaping and looking every which way trying to take it all in at once.

“This is…” Truly, there were not words for what this was.

His heart clenched painfully, but he liked it.

“S’a lot to take in at firs’, isn’t it?” The giant man beside him chuckled. “Ya look to be havin’ a hard time takin’ it in so why don’t we walk up n’ down the street once to see the sights. We got some time, eh?”

Harry could only nod mutely and let himself be lead down the street, his head on a swivel to take in each shop and what it sold… trying to wrap his head around some of the odder sights. A shop for broomsticks, for owls and other animals, for wizard robes, for wands, an apothecary… there was just so much. He didn’t even know where to start, he could only gape as he walked.

They got the end of the street and turned around back down, and by that time Harry could breathe a little more easily and was actually trying to take in the information around him now. All these people… they were witches and wizards? They wore those robes he saw those in the Leaky Cauldron wearing so that must be a thing here. The odd colors the robes could be looked a little last-century to be honest but hey, Harry was somehow into it.

Somewhere along their journey Hagrid seemed to get bored with just walking and figured Harry had had enough time to get over his shock, picking up the conversation gain. “See that big white building where we’re headed? That’s Gringotts—the bank I’s tellin’ you about and our firs’ stop.” He looked forward for once and did notice that impressive and slightly-out-of-place building and figured that yes, it sure looked like a bank. “An’ ya know, ya never did answer my question; that hat turned out to be pretty lucky but I’d a thought you’d want people ta see ya now tha’ you know yer story?”

Poor, naïve Hagrid. Harry could only smile a bit fondly at him and shrugged.

“I don’t really want to be famous Hagrid, much less for something that killed my parents. It’s not a pleasant thought to be thanked for something I didn’t even know about until fifteen minutes ago.”

“Ah, I see.” Thankfully his guide just nodded, seeming content with that answer. Harry blessed this simple, easy-going man and just grinned. “Then per’aps the hat’s a good idea since people’ll recognize a Potter anywhere!” he acknowledged.

That still bothered him, since Hagrid had said he looked like his mother. Did that mean…?

“Did he have weird hair too?” He wondered aloud, and Hagrid chuckled.

“Oh yeah, wild as all be it—never once was it presentable I don’ think.” He seemed highly amused at some memory and Harry was itching to hear more, but recognized now was not the time as Gringotts came up on them. “Is that why ya hide it? Got more decency than James ever did in tha’ respect then.” He huffed good-naturedly.

"Oh, well uh… my Aunt always hated my hair and I, um… it started changing unnatural colors when I was younger so I've sort of… hidden it since." He shrugged a bit, trying to be casual about it but obviously failing when Hagrid looked down at him in surprise, his steady pace faltering a bit. He shouldn’t have said anything really, just kept his mouth shut and his hair under his hat, but…

Maybe it was the warmth flooding through him or this new high he’d never felt before as he realized just walking down this street he felt… light. He realized he wanted to trust Hagrid and he wanted this chance to be real. This chance at freedom where he could actually be himself and… well, the words came out before he could think better of them, but even as he did think twice he knew he didn’t want to regret them.

No more.

"Unnatural colors? Well I'll be! Tha's not too strange fer wizards, ya know—a metemorphmagus can change all sorts o' colors and faces." Hagrid chatted, fully stopping now and beaming down at him. “Yer dad had dark hair ya know, and tha’s the Potter signature I was talkin’ aboubt.”

"R-really?" He paused, breath leaving his lungs. He carefully looked around the alley, bustling with life around them. "It wouldn't look weird here?"

And he realized, no it wouldn’t. This place, so bright and colorful alley… no, his bright hair would fit right in actually.

“Not at all,” Hagrid unknowingly agreed with his thought process, waving it off as nonsense.

"Well…" He bit his lip… but, it was something he’d always wanted to do from the day he decied he loved his hair; the day he turned around and decied that this was him and that was okay.

He reached up and slid his hat off, heart beating a little too hard as he did so.

Hagrid's eyes widened in surprise… and he smiled. "Ah… you look just like your mother, 'arry. Her spittin' image."

"Really!?" He inhaled, slightly dizzy from relief that Hagrid didn’t scowl or react badly to the burning locks now falling free around his face like that now-significantly-quieter cynical side of himself half thought he would. He touched hair almost in awe, not quite believing he was doing this… and realized people were looking at him, eyes trailing to his hair as they did so. He couldn't tell if it was interest or not, but no one seemed horrified or anything…

"Aye—her hair was that exact color. She was mighty proud of it, she was, and I 'eard yer father rant about it often enough. 'E was a lovesick fool all seven years of Hogwarts for her so it was kind o’ well known. People called her a Fire Witch fer her 'air and her temper; was a forced to be reckoned with it was!" Hagrid laughed good naturedly, seeming lost in memories at the sight of his hair and not quite noticing Harry’s newly-dazed expression.

"This… is my mother's hair?" And just like that his love of it increased ten-fold. He didn't want to hide it— he didn't want to hide it. 

He was proud of it… and proud to be like his mother he’d never known. Apparently he had her face, her eyes, her hair… and he was a little bummed he still knew next to nothing about his dad, but it couldn’t put a damper on the rush he felt to finally be just that much closer to at least one of his parents. He soaked up Hagrid’s words, committing them to memory and reaffirming his vow to be kind to his hair—that he now knew he shared with a precious connection he’d never gotten the chance to cultivate.

"It's unique fer sure, but not unnatural, ya know. Why da Weasley family's got halfa dozen o’ 'em with bright red hair. Ah," He paused, tilting his head slightly as he glanced back pointedly at the bright scarlet locks atop his head. "Ginger maybe, certainly next to yours, 'arry." He chuckled heartily at that as if entertained by the joke Harry didn't get.

"Oh, okay then… red hair is normal?"

"Normal enough." Hagrid shrugged, beginning to walk again and forcing Harry to half-jog to keep up with him. "I doubt a muggle woulda ever been born with 'air like that; its definitely got some magic in it. But yer mother had a ton 'o it and muggles never thought it weird—just pretty like, ya know?"

"Oh. Oh." 

Red hair was normal? That was news to him but… huh.  He was too overwhelmed with all of this to think on it too much, and besides that was the moment they reached Gringotts, and he knew he needed his wits about him when he caught sight of that poem over the door.

000

Gringotts was a lesson and then some, and he was sitting in his vault (surrounded by piles of gold—seriously, what alternate dimension had he been tossed into this morning) already plotting on how to get back here and figure out the growing list of questions he had. He did not think Hagrid was the person to answer any of them, and he didn’t even want to ask it to the goblin—Griphook—who’d escorted them down because too many questions and there was too much of a chance it’s be reported back to Dumbledore by Hagrid’s too-naïve nature. He still hadn’t even met the Headmaster yet and was not willing to leave anything to the chance that the mysterious man would somehow use it against him.

Not sure how, but as excited as he was about this whole magical-world business, he was discovering he was super paranoid.

Eh, not much he could do about that right now, if even he wanted to.

There was however some specific questions that couldn’t wait, and since Hagrid was still by the cart trying not to lose his last meal from the wild cart-ride and Griphook was standing by the vault door looking bored and angry at the same time (maybe that was just his face though) Harry lowered his voice so that it wouldn’t carry but not too low to give the impression he was trying to hide something from Hagrid. Maybe he was aiming for shy or soft-spoken, or somewhere in between.

“Mr. Griphook, do you know if anyone else has keys to this vault?”

The goblin looked at him sharply. “Absolutely not—this a trust from the main Potter vault and your key is the only one that has access to it.”

“Oh… I was just thinking maybe there were relatives I didn’t know who had a spare key.” He intoned a little sadly. Although the sadness was feigned, the words themselves was in fact not a lie since he thought lying to a goblin was a bad idea (that poem by the front door was very clear, thank you very much), however it wasn’t the main reason he’d asked either. Someone had had his key before Hagrid, and he already had a main suspect. “Apologies for not knowing much, but I didn’t know magic was real until this morning; is Gringotts like a nor—uh, a muggle bank that is has statements and, like, everything? Sorry, I didn’t even know how other banks work but since I’ve an account here I am just curious, if you know anything.” He hedged.

The goblin took the bait of him implying he might not know the details and gave a sharp-toothed grin that might also have been a snarl.

“Gringotts is no muggle bank, but it functions the same on many levels—you should have been getting statements monthly since this was transferred to your name, so since the night you became an orphan.” He explained sharply, his tone clearly implying he was gloating his knowledge but Harry let him have it, taking in the information carefully as he filled the sack Hagrid had gave him—and added more into the back pack he’d brought with him. He didn’t think Griphook would give a flying frock since it was his money and Hagrid wasn’t looking. “This is a trust vault off of the main Potter vault—you’ll get access to that one when you turn of age at 17. I’m also aware you have several other vaults willed to you but have remained untouched since you have not been present to accept them. Your account manager would be able to open them for you.”

“Account manager?” He blinked.

“Your statements would have his name.” Griphook huffed. Harry frowned…

“So if I haven’t been getting statements, where would they have ended up?”

The goblin paused, eyes narrowing. “Gringotts doesn’t make such mistakes. The statements were sent out.” His tone was ice cold and Harry realized his misstep.

“Definitely not, you seem more… ah, competent than most humans I’ve met.” He raised a brow pointedly, the goblin’s icy look melting one degree or so. “As I said I didn’t know about magic until this morning. Someone has clearly been keeping things from me, in my perspective, not just about bank statements but literally everything else. I didn’t even know my parents didn’t die in a muggle accident until half and hour ago if that proves my point.”

Goblin seemed to measure him up for a long while, and in that time Harry finished with the gold and put his back pack on once more, going up to the door and pausing to stare back at the goblin sizing him up.

Eventually....

“We will look into this matter and determine the location of the missing statements. If they’ve been destroyed, we will have record of it and an indication of who has destroyed them.”

Wow, that was surprisingly helpful. He ducked his head respectfully, even though the creature was shorter than him by quite a bit.

“Thank you sincerely for your help.”

He sneered at him again, and Harry got the feeling that was just how goblins smiled.

000

The first thing he did upon leaving Gringotts was coerce his key from Hagrid’s overly large hand. As expected, the giant’s first response was that Dumbledore said he shouldn’t be wasting money unknowingly until he was older and knew more about the magical world. What he didn’t say but that Harry filled in, is that Dumbledore would then hang onto his key until he saw fit to give it back to its rightful owner.

First of all, why did the Headmaster of a boarding school have any say in his finances? If he were some kind of guardian than Harry should’ve grown up with him, not the Dursleys, ergo he was either a busy-body sticking his nose into the life of someone who wasn’t even his student yet OR he was neglectful in that he was the one who was supposed to have been his guardian and instead of fulfilling his role passed him off to muggles who very much did not want him.

If either of those were true then Harry didn’t trust this Headmaster in the slightest and he was absolutely not leaving this alley without HIS key in his pocket.

He felt a little guilty about it but easily brushed it off as he threw everything he had at Hagrid—pulling the orphan card, the clueless card, the ‘you’re my friend, aren’t you Hagrid?’ card, and literally anything else he could think of as the giant swayed over his loyalty to Dumbledore and his newfound friend in the son of two people he once cared about.

By the time they were entering the first shop they needed to stop by for his school list, he had his vault key tucked safely in his backpack in a small, secure zippered pouch. He genuinely liked Hagrid, but the guy was way too easy. He made a note to keep an eye out as they shopped for ways to secure valuable items—there had to be something safer than a zipper in this magical world that could be bought for one of the shiny gold coins he’d filled his backpack with.

The shopping itself was extremely fun, especially since he was counting the prices listed on each item, using his rather average math skills and the information about how much knuts, sickles, and galleons were worth to determine that he was indeed a very rich child all of a sudden and could easily afford most of what he was seeing. It was one thing to see the piles of gold and another to realize what one gold coin could buy you, and the answer was actually quite a lot. Multiply that by the mounds of gold he now knew he had just in his trust vault and he figured he and his grandchildren probably didn’t really need to ever work if they didn’t live outrageously lavishly (ahem, like some certain Dursleys with their new cars every two years and long vacations four times a year). If he wasn’t imagining things, a lot of stuff in the wizarding world was way cheaper than its muggle equivalent—and trust him, he’d spent a lot of time going pence for pence at the grocery store and drug store he spent his stolen pocket money in to make sure he had just enough for the next small item he wanted. Maybe because it cost less to make it magically? Magic did seem very convenient, after all, but one would think it’d be a little closer.

He’d already read his equipment list back-to-front a dozen times and as they’d walked down the street to the first shops and browsed through the paper shop first, he cataloged which ones would be the most worth his time and decidedly-not-hard-earned-money. Hagrid had said a trunk would be a big purchase, so there was that… and he knew books was going to be another large purchase since aside from his textbooks he needed to know more about the magical world than he currently did. He wasn’t particularly a bookworm but there was six weeks until September 1st and he had a feeling he was going to get a lot of cupboard time when he inevitably told the Dursleys he wasn’t going to Stonewall, so why not use that time productively?

They stopped at a couple places along the way, getting parchment, quills, ink, and a new over the shoulder bag as even Hagrid expressed concern about the one he was wearing holding up. It was in that store that sold all sorts of bags and storage devices that he found a small draw-string bag that the saleslady said was charmed to reappear in a location he chose every morning regardless if someone has taken it, as well as that it only have something in it when the person who owned it opened it. Fascinated by the up-close magic he put one sickle in it and tested it out, having Hagrid open it and show him nothing was inside—he immediately added it to his purchases knowing this is exactly what he’d been looking for, for his key.

The bag itself he went wild on despite Hagrid’s insistence that he didn’t need all of the bells and whistles, telling him that they still had a trunk and other more expensive things to buy, which would’ve been good logic had he known Harry had swiped quite a bit more gold than Hagrid was aware of. He easily soothed the giant’s concerns and deflected the conversation so his chaperon forgot what he was trying to say and instead launched into a detailed story about someone named Fang instead, which Harry kept one ear on while also telling the saleswoman that yes, he wanted all the bells and whistles. She smiled knowing, seeming aware of what he was doing to poor Hagrid, but since she was making a sale happily rang it up for him.

He was thrilled with his new purchase as it was a solid brown canvas thing with spells he was now learning the meaning of—and loving it, by the way. Something called a feather-light charm that meant no matter what he put into it, it didn’t feel any heavier than when it was empty, a protection charm that would have it hold up for a guaranteed thirteen years, and a security charm that would shock anyone who tried to forcefully remove it from him in addition to the it’s-there-again-every-morning charm that was on his pouch. It was also magically semi-bottomless, the saleslady explaining that the space inside of it was as big as a “quidditch pitch” both length/width and height wise. Pretending to be a muggleborn, as Hagrid had called them, she’d helpfully explained how big a quidditch pitch was in simpler terms and basically by the end of it he was sure he’d never actually be able to even halfway fill this bag.

He put all his new purchases and his old back pack into it so Hagrid wouldn’t see him transfer the gold coins into it, which meant he could just reach in and pull coins out without Hagrid realizing how much he was spending unless he was keeping a careful tally—of which he was almost positive the large man was not. All in all, the bag was about six times as expensive as the plain leather ones, but if a knut was worth a pence there about, then it was only a slightly-more-expensive than average purse at best. He’d seen the price tags on some of Petunia’s fashionable “name brand” purchases she got just so she could gloat to her neighbors and this still didn’t come close to that.

Besides, it was a good purchase. Now he could have literally all his textbooks on him and be prepared for any class in school, plus they’d only been to two shops so far and his hands were already filled with bags so this was going to be a long day without the additional help. Again, he liked Hagrid but he was clearly reciting his reminders to stay simple with his purchases from someone else, and Harry had a feeling who. If he was right, then he wasn’t going to listen to that advice in any way and keep on with his own prepping, thank you very much.

He kept it simple in he next couple stores, collecting odd bits here and there and taking note of what else the store had to offer. By the till they had free catalogs from which to order by owl and he helped himself to those happily, slipping them into his bag before Hagrid could notice.

When they got to the store that seemed to have everything he needed for potions, which was apparently a class at Hogwarts, he bought the basic set-up the list recommended and then freely helped himself to several other more interesting purchases such as gloves, a slightly nicer knife (by price at least, since he knew little about the quality difference between pewter and silver and gold, etc.) and some odd bits and ends of potion ingredients not in the basic kit. He didn’t know what they were for but potions struck him as something he’d be really interested in and wanted to be prepared for it. For some reason Hagrid didn’t comment on these purchases, and when asked why his answer was a bit chilling.

“Eh, well, Snape is the potions professor at Hogwarts an’ he’s a bit o’ a bat. Heard ‘is class was a tough one and I never ‘ad a talent with potions in the firs’ place so if ya want a leg up I can’t fault ya.” He shrugged, going back to keeping his large frame from bumping into any of the closely placed and glass-lined shelves, which seemed to take quite a bit of concentration.

Hearing that and seeing his chaperon sufficiently distracted, Harry immediately turned and scooped up pretty much one copy of every potions manual and guide on the nearby bookshelf. It sounded like he was definitely going to need them. While checking out he even asked the older gentleman at the till what kind of equipment more experienced potion brewers bought and he was kind enough to exchange the knife Harry had picked out for one of the same kind of silver but better quality (he made a better sale, but Harry let it go since the old guy seemed harmless) but other than that just said to stick with the guides he was buying if he was still a first year, and read them cover-to-cover before he got to potions class.

“That Severus Snape is a genius potions master but if he ain’t got a stick up his ass,” He croaked in a throaty voice, shaking his head in half amusement, half exasperation. He seemed to be talking mostly to himself, but Harry made a point to remember that two separate people had mentioned this Snape guy and his less-than-stellar character. Hagrid was one thing, but this guy worked at a potions’ shop so one would assume he saw quite a bit of a potions master coming in here to buy materials and such.

“Thank you sir,” was all he said outwardly though, smiling at the guy and going to leave—before a pretty glowing ball a perfect periwinkle and covered in what looked to be dusted sparkles caught his eye on the shelf behind the man’s white head. The whole shop has a stereotypical muggle-idea-of-a-witch type feel with jarred animal parts and funny smelling dried plants hanging from the ceiling, tools made of pewter and sharp silver lying everywhere, so something that soft looking really stood out.

He had no idea what possessed him to blurt out, “What’s that?”.

But the guy just turned around and saw what he was looking at and smiled. “It’s an atmosphere bulb, charmed to help regulate an area for a potions workstation. Some potions are sensitive to humid or too-chilly air, so this keeps everything a standard temperature optimal for potions.”

Harry blinked. Huh. That was… useful.

“So it heats in the winter, cools in the summer? How big a range does it have?”

“Sure does! It’s a little less than four-square meters in space—as I said it’s only for a potion’s workstation. Some people have their workstations in drafty areas away from main living areas because it can cause quite a mess.” He explained. Harry did some quick mental math of a space he thought he might be able to use this in, an idea forming that caused him to smile.

“I’ll take two.”

Chapter Text

“Here we are, Madam Malkin’s! She’ll take care o’ ya, tell ya what to do and such, and I got another errand to run. Will ya be okay?”

“Sure,” Harry peered into the shop, and it was mostly empty, an older witch in amongst the piles of clothes spotting him and coming out from behind the counter. “I think it’ll be fine… they just take measurements, right? The robes are standard.”

“Yep, all black is the Hogwarts uniform. Righ’ then, I’ll be righ’ back!” He waved and then walked down the street somewhere else, and Harry entered the shop a little hesitantly. On one hand being sans-chaperone felt good as he was more used to being on his own, while on the other this was literally a whole new world and he found himself suddenly nervous to be walking it alone.

Luckily the witch who walked up to him was no-nonsense and gentle as she nodded to him, not even asking his name. “Hogwarts, dear?”

“Yes ma’am.” She smiled at his politeness and lead him over to a stage of mirrors where an assistant pulled out a measuring tape and got to work while she wandered off and started shifting through racks of black material. The lack of niceties was kind of refreshing after so many conversations with salespeople today.

He was generally aware of someone else in the shop getting his measurements done beside him, but as he hadn’t been chatting with the assistant taking his own measurements either, he hadn’t really looked at the boy who seemed to be about his age too. Probably a future classmate? Either way he was enjoying the silent reprieve while it lasted.

Until… he felt hairs on the back of his neck stand up a bit, like someone was watching him. He blinked, glancing around the shop slightly so he didn’t throw off the assistant’s work as she was doing something with fabric down by his feet now, and realized with a start the boy beside him was staring right at him.

He had grey eyes and blonde hair is own startling unique shade styled artfully on his head, face pale and blank and most definitely staring right at him.

Harry met his gaze, thinking for half a second he’d look away since he was caught staring rather rudely at someone, but he didn’t. His grey eyes bored into him, looking at him and also somehow not looking at him if that made sense? For lack of better option Harry stared back, wondering what his deal was.

When the seconds dragged on a little too long and it was definitely in the realm of awkward now, he cleared his throat lightly and shifted uncomfortably, not sure how to react to being under this kind of strange scrutiny.  

"Ah… can I help you?"

At his words breaking the silence the boy blinked and reeled back slightly, his pale cheeks going slightly pink before he seemed to straighten up a full inch. "My name's Draco Malfoy. I don't think I've seen you around here--are you muggleborn?"

There was an intensity behind that question that Harry failed to get, but at least he was familiar with that term now. The boy was… weird, but getting his robes and definitely his age so he was probably going to be a classmate. Harry had never really talked to kids his age as they all hated him because of Dudley so… in the spirit of how well this day had been going he decided, what could a conversation hurt?

"Ah, no? My parents were wizards, but uh… they died, so I grew up in the muggle world. So, kind of?" He shrugged, aware he was probably oversharing, but he was curious about what was up with this boy and… the blond did not immediately start throwing things at him upon hearing him speak, so had nothing against the slightly blunt boy who was willing to talk to him.

At his words, the boy—Draco— seemed to relax slightly. "So you're pureblood. And don't know your way around the magical world."

Hagrid hadn’t explained that term but if there was a term for having muggle parents then the slightly pompous title probably belonged to people with magical parents. The term alone spoke volumes about the wizarding world, but maybe it was just antiquated and hadn’t died out yet, so he let it go.

"Ah… yes, that's about it. It's nice to meet you Draco."

"Likewise." He sniffed briskly, not even sparing a breath before he continued. "I can show you around the alley once you're done here. My family is old pureblood so we—I know my way around here and what's best to get. You're a first year, I'm assuming?"

Harry was stunned and opened his mouth to answer the question before his brain could catch up. “Yes, I am.” Wait a second, did he just offer to show me around the alley? He didn’t even ask for my name!  "That's… that's very kind of you Draco. I'm here with someone from Hogwarts whose showing me around though, he just stepped out for-"

"The Malfoy family has better taste than what a Hogwarts representative, whose probably shown a dozen muggleborns around the alley by now, can do for you." The blond cut him off, puffing up a bit.

what?

What in the world is he going on about?

Harry tried to collect his thoughts and cleared his throat politely. "I'm curious about the alley though, so I was hoping to discover it myself." He deflected.

Yes, he was getting a bit defensive of Hagrid, and the way this Draco Malfoy was coming off was a bit rude and snobby. At the surge of anger he felt threatening to break the control he’d developed over his composure, he took a breath. He remembered Hagrid mentioning about how his mother had had a temper too, and he wanted to be like her but not at the expense of his hard work to control himself and the patience he’d painstakingly built over the past couple years. He wanted to be like her, but his composure had gotten him this far in life and it’d be stupid to throw it away now just because it wasn’t the Dursleys and their predictable vitriol he was facing.

It was kind of counter-intuitive, but his spike of anger reminded him of his connection to his mother, and inherently calmed him some. Because of this, the tone that came out as he said this was level and polite, with only a hint of his displeasure at what this boy was saying.

The Malfoy boy seemed to be pretty quick on the uptake and paused at his words and the tone in which they were said, his grey eyes shifting to the side slightly as Harry watched, like he was panicking slightly.

"But we—I can give you a better idea of what kinds of things to get."

"But I'll never learn if I don't do it myself." Harry countered smoothly, watching those grey eyes shift… something bothering him about it and causing him to lean back off his anger and reevaluate. "I…I'd appreciate the company, Draco. But I can do it myself, you know?" He spoke as gently as he could, wondering what his problem was… and figured it out when the blond’s shoulder’s relaxed at his words.

Oh, he just wanted to make a friend. 

A split-second later Harry felt guilty for getting angry as it suddenly made sense. I mean, it’s not like he’d ever gone about making friends before either, so he would be nervous trying to approach someone out of the blue too.

The pompous attitude, the way he was trying to say I instead of we meant he was trying to do things for himself too, the same way Harry was attempting to stretch his wings from his relatives— only this boy was just trying to impress a potential new friend. He acted tough but you could clearly see he was acting to make a good show; he was just trying to be friendly… and was just very, very bad at it.

Harry couldn’t help but find it startlingly amusing and automatically smiled broadly. The whole picture the blond painted with his chin in the air and his cheeks lightly pink was very endearing, and he'd never had a friend before either so…

Draco suddenly looked a lot less pompous when his pale cheeks turned a darker pink than before, seeming not to know what to say in the face of Harry grinning out of nowhere.

"You're done dear," The attendant said to Draco, who seemed snap out of it and hop down, but paused before going anywhere and glancing back up at the red head with more hesitancy than before.

"I can wait for you?"

Harry could only smile: that was a lot nicer, so he knew Draco could do it at least, underneath the bluster.

"I'd like that. My friend won't be back for a little bit, maybe we could check out the next couple stores on our own." He offered as an olive branch, and the blond’s shoulders seem to relax even more.

"Sure." He agreed easily, shifting a bit to stand and wait as Harry got his measurements done. After a little while of awkward silence, he seemed to perk up in alarm and then suddenly got a very guilty look on his face for split second before controlling it back into something more blank. Harry had a fun time watching this play out in the mirror where Draco didn’t realize he could see him.

The blond cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I… ah, I realize I never asked your name."

This guy is hilarious, Harry beamed internally, keeping his expression clear.

"Harry. It's nice to meet you, Draco." He repeated his earlier introduction and the blond paused once more… before smiling back very hesitantly. He definitely seemed like he wasn’t used to doing such things.

Harry could only let out a soft laugh, not sure what it meant when Draco just quickly avoided eye contact and looked out the shop window distractedly. Harry simply grinned more; this guy truly was hopeless at being nice and it was just so endearing for some reason. He hadn’t found another person so entertaining in a long time.

He wondered what kind of face he’d make if Harry told him he acted like a baby cactus and had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing outwardly and startling both Draco and the assistant taking his measurements.

In what seemed like no time at all Harry too was done, stepping down and smiling at Draco who remained poised and pointedly did not look at him with his chin tilted up and face directed at the street bustling outside the open double doors.

"Well the next store is a bookshop and the one after sells ice cream. Books are boring and we don't have much time so how about some of that?"

Harry would need to spend some quality time in the bookstore alone to get everything he needed, and it was sort of a task that actually required his attention. Ice cream however, sounded like something mindless and delicious that you did with a friend to hang out with them, and although he’d never done such a thing was game to give it a go with what very possibly might be his first friend.

The thought made him smile widely.

"I'd like that. Is wizard ice cream that much different from muggle ice cream?"

Draco paused, his unnaturally symmetrical face frowning and still somehow looking graceful while he did it. "I don't know anything about the Muggle world," He said boldly, like it was something to be proud of; like also asking why he would have ever bothered to learn such a thing. Harry mentally rolled his eyes, but he always did like a challenge, and oh boy did this one seem like a challenge.

"Well then you can tell me about the wizarding world, and I'll tell you about the Muggle. It's probably not as interesting but it has some perks you know. Like electricity for one; I've already noticed we don't have it here and I'll probably miss that the most going to Hogwarts." He confessed as they walked down the street to the shop clearly marked for ice cream (so Harry probably didn’t need the help of being shown around but was smart enough to know that was in fact not the point of this).

"Electizzy? What is that?”

Harry almost bit his tongue off trying not to burst out laughing, but it was a close call and he turned his head away so Draco wouldn’t see his expression, quickly gaining control of himself. “Ahem… ah, electricity. It’s like lightning, in a broad term.”

“How on earth would you miss that?" He inflamed, and Harry laughed at a more appropriate level for this conversation at his incredulity.

“Muggles use it very creatively is all. I’m still learning about how this world uses magic so maybe it’s just how muggles get around not having magic?” He shrugged.

“But muggles not having magic is the point?” He raised one near-silver brow, clearly thinking little of this conversation.

Harry mentally sighed and switched tactics. “Do you have a television?” At the blank look he received he nodded once. “Well muggles have this thing called a television that they use for entertainment. What does the magical world do for fun then if they have no electricity and no television?”

“I’ve no idea what either of those things are, but I play Quidditch.” Draco puffed up a bit, clearly proud of this. If only Harry had any idea what it was he was boasting about.

“There’s a shop for that down the alley, yeah? It’s some sort of sport on broomsticks?”

“You don’t know about Quidditch!?” He squeaked slightly, grey eyes wide in alarm and Harry felt like patting him on the shoulder but refrained.

“Draco, I know nothing about the magical world. Since I learned magic was real this morning I’ve been to Gringotts and five shops—that’s it.” He reminded him patiently. “What are the rules of Quidditch then?”

Draco seemed to be having a very hard time wrapping his head around this fact, the idea that not everyone grew up knowing about magic as a fact of life seemed to be a revolutionary concept to him going by his wary expression and the confusion written into his eyes, but upon mention of quidditch he needed no other prompting to launch into a detailed explanation of the game’s rules and principles. He apparently played a position called ‘Chaser’ which handled a ball called a Quaffle—there being more than one ball already throwing Harry off but Draco was more than happy to keep talking about it no matter what simple question he was asked.

They got their ice cream (and holy quaffle they literally have EVERY flavor he’d ever heard of and some that had to be magical because how the heck did they get that in ice-cream form? Like popcorn flavored ice cream, what the heck!?) and sat down at a table right outside the bustling café so Draco could keep talking his ear off about quidditch. Harry for the most part didn’t mind, too caught up in what was probably the best ice cream he’d ever had (not that he’d often ate ice cream before this point) and the game was actually very interesting to him. He’d never played any sports since no one would ever let them join outside of mandatory gym classes but he liked to run and found the point of exercising to win something intriguing.

Plus, he’d seen those broomsticks while walking with Hagrid and they looked wicked cool, like real professional sport’s athlete things and not just your regular kitchen broom. The concept that he might be able to fly—like literally leave gravity behind him and take flight—a breath-takingly attractive prospect.

“And you can just fly whenever you like at your house?” He couldn’t help but ask, Draco pausing to smile widely. He was still puffing up his chest quite a bit but he’d relaxed over the course of the conversation and the ice cream and so smiling didn’t look so forced on him anymore.

“Of course, we’ve got a whole quidditch pitch behind Malfoy Manor. I’ve grown up flying my whole life, Father even got me a tutor a couple of times.”

Pompous indeed, but being rich and a tad spoiled explained a lot of his personality. Luckily that was fixable—if he’d been inherently a jerk Harry would’ve had other problems.

“Of all the things I’ve seen about the wizarding world today I think I’m most excited about flying. When I wrote back to the Headmistress she said first years aren’t allowed to have brooms though.”

Draco made a face. “It’s a stupid rule, but even Father doesn’t find it worth making a fuss over it. Mother is always scared I’m going to break my neck or something when I go out flying so that’s probably why. Anyway, just because we can’t have brooms doesn’t mean we can’t fly—there are school brooms I think, and flying lessons first years can take.”

“I’m definitely signing up,” He decided immediately, mind trying to imagine what flying was like and failing. He couldn’t wait to try it though, and thoroughly enjoyed day-dreaming about it as he placed his elbow on the table and his chin in his hand as Draco continued to talk excitedly.

“If you’re any good we can try out for the quidditch team our second year, in any case!” Draco lit up a brightly at the idea, Harry too distracted about the news that Hogwarts had a quidditch team to put too much thought about why he was so happy about that.

“Hogwarts has a quidditch team? Who do they play against?”

“Of course they do—the house teams play against each other. Commuting to international wizarding schools to play quidditch is excessive outside of the professional league,” Draco sniffed.

“What are houses?” Again, Draco looked flabbergasted and Harry could not help but roll his eyes that time. “Stop looking at me like that—I know nothing about this world, remember? Literally got here two hours ago.”

“Oh, right.” Draco collected himself quickly, schooling his expression once more. “Well, the houses are where you’re sorted when you get to Hogwarts: Slytherin, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Gryffindor. I’m going to be in Slytherin.” He said, positively oozing pride and smugness as he said that.

Harry failed to see why that was so special, yet again.

“How do you know that if they sort us when we get there? Do you get to pick which house you’re in?”

“Because my whole family’s been in Slytherin since forever. Besides it’s the best house so of course I’ll go there.” He said immediately, then pressed his lips together grudgingly. “I don’t think you can pick which house you’re in, you just get sorted there. It’s kind of a tradition that no one who knows tells you what the sorting process is like though, so everyone finds out when they get there their first year.”

“So you have no idea.” Harry smiled with a raised eyebrow, enjoying Draco’s pink cheeks.

“I do too. My whole family-”

“-has been in Slytherin, yeah, I got that. So why have they all been in Slytherin? What makes Slytherin different from other houses?”

Draco looked personally offended he’d not only interrupted him but also implied Slytherin wasn’t special in the same breath, but answered anyway all the while giving him a wounded, betrayed look.

“Slytherin is where the ambitious and clever people go. Each house has characteristics so that when you’re sorted there you’re surrounded by like-minded people and such. Ravenclaw is a bunch of bookworms and Hufflepuff is a bunch of duffers. And don’t even get me started on Gryffindor—they’re idiots.”

Harry couldn’t help it, he laughed.

Draco just blinked, not quite sure where that reaction just came from. “Uh… what?”

“Draco, do you think you’re, I don’t know, a little biased? Because you sound super biased.” Harry wiped away fake tears from the corner of his eyes as he grinned at his new friend, who just looked baffled.

“Biased? Why?”

“You clearly like Slytherin and want to be there. Isn’t it a little unfair that I’m hearing about the other houses from someone who clearly doesn’t like any of them? Why would anyone be content to have the other houses if they don’t have any worth?” He pointed out.

Draco frowned like this was seriously concerning to him. “Well what do you want me to say about them?”

“How about what other people say about the other houses. Slytherin is clever and ambitious, so Ravenclaw is…”

The blond pursed his lips for a second as if this was a serious conflict for him, before tisking under his breath and giving in. “Well… it’s said that Ravenclaws support wisdom or intelligence or something like that—they always have their noses in a book so who even knows what they support or not. I still maintain that Hufflepuffs are duffers but that’s because they focus on things like friendship and hard-working-ness or whatever that is. It essentially means they’re all saps who don’t mind doing boring grunt work even if it’s hard.” He waved off, and while Harry was still getting a lot of Slytherin bias in here but could actually pick up some of the nice things Draco was glossing over quickly. It was rather amusing.

Gryffindors, are the enemy.” He announced clearly, and Harry raised one eyebrow at that.

“Oh?”

“Yeah. There’s been a Slytherin-Gryffindor house war for centuries. We hate each other.” He said matter of fact, and Harry had to sigh. He sounded like he too was reciting rhetoric someone else had told him, and here he thought Hagrid was bad enough.  

“Okay, first of all slow down: you’re not even in Slytherin yet so there’s no ‘we’ or ‘us’ yet,” He cut in and Draco blinked, taken off guard by his strict tone all of a sudden. “Secondly, I’m not going to school to fight people for no good reason other than that’s what older generations have always done. I want to learn magic and I want to go flying. None of this rivalry silliness. Thirdly, since you have no idea what will actually happen, what would you do if you were in Gryffindor? Or I was in Gryffindor? Or Hufflepuff? No—what if you were in Hufflepuff, because if I recall to half an hour go you were the one who was being very friendly in showing me around the alley.”

Draco looked very, very horrified the longer he kept speaking and Harry couldn’t help but grin.

He couldn’t remember a time where he’d ever grinned so much in a day, and he was decidedly not regretting coming to this world at all in this moment. Despite his initial reservations, this… this was not so bad.

He only amused himself further by looking pointedly at Draco to answer, where the blond just gaped at him a bit and seemed to be at a total loss of words. Poor guy seemed to have had his world rocked several times since meeting each other and Harry couldn’t find himself feeling guilty about it.

Eventually, he took pity on him.

“I want to play quidditch with you, but would you be my friend anyway if we were playing against each other?” He wondered aloud, watching Draco’s face do acrobatics in how fast emotions flickered across his face.

It all went too fast for Harry really to catch any of it, but he let the blond work through it even as the seconds ticked on in silence. Apparently, this truly was a revolutionary decision for him, and Harry felt a little worried his answer would be no. And the longer the silence stretched, the more his playful question seemed to sink with his stomach, as a cruel reality of his life took hold once more.

Ah… maybe it really was too good to be true, to think I could make friends. Silly me.

Draco seemed like a nice guy underneath the cactus-act, but that didn’t change a life-time of conditioning to be someone maybe you weren’t (Harry knew the feeling and could only pity this boy as he watched Draco struggle with this query).

He tried not to let it show on his face how much it actually bothered him when he said: “It’s okay if you don’t want to be my friend, Draco. The ice cream was good anyway, and I learned a lot.”

Draco blinked, coming out of his thoughts enough to stare at him. The silence stretched on long enough that Harry thought maybe this was it—he’d had a friend for twenty minutes. It was a record.

It wasn’t that this hypothetical question was ever going to be true; heck, they could both be in Slytherin and this was a stupid reason to not be friends over. But it wasn’t about that.

The fact remained that Harry wasn’t interested in fighting to be anyone’s friend; he wasn’t interested in fighting at all. He just wanted to be himself, to be free, and if someone wasn’t going to accept that then he didn’t need them.

He’d come this far on his own and he’d made a promise to be his own cheerleader, his own defendant and support when he needed one. He wanted to be Draco’s friend, but he’d sworn to himself a long time ago that he wasn’t going to be cruel to himself just for the sake of others, and bending over backwards just for the chance someone else might give him approval was not how he was going to live his life. It just wasn’t.

If Draco couldn’t say that he’d be his friend over something stupid like what dorm they were sleeping in, then he had no desire to be a good friend to someone who was never going to be a good friend back.

That didn’t mean he liked standing up and that didn’t mean it wasn’t hard to smile like it didn’t bother him.

Because it very much did.

But he wasn’t the kind of person who would sit down and take this kind of hesitation, this kind of rejection. He wasn’t the kind of person who gave himself away only to get nothing in return.

Not anymore.

“I hope to see you around at Hogwarts, Draco.” He smiled like it didn’t bother him and turned to head back to Madam Malkin’s to wait for Hagrid, when a cold touch wrapped around his wrist. He startled and jumped back a little, whipping around to see Draco on his feet and leaning back as if remembering himself, his cheeks darkening noticeably.

“I’m sorry,” he blurted out, looking awkward and glancing around the street uncomfortably before lowing his eyes to the ground slightly. “I didn’t mean—you just took me off guard is all. I still think I’m going to be in Slytherin but I would… like to be your friend, even if you’re not.”

Harry evaluated him carefully, the ghost of a cold touch on his wrist reminding him of something… but he couldn’t quite place it.

He pressed his lips for a moment. “It’s okay if you’re not comfortable being friends with people in other houses, people different from you… though I don’t know why you’d be happy with that.” He admitted, watching Draco looked up at him a little confused. “But I don’t intend to not be myself because of someone else’s opinion. You’re okay with that?”

He did pause again, but only one second before his grey eyes settled into some emotion Harry wasn’t familiar with, or that he’d just never seen on someone else’s face before.

“Yeah, I am. I’d still like to be your friend, if… you’d like to me mine, given I’m not very interested in other houses.”

Well, at least he’s honest.

Harry smiled thinly. “If you can forgive me for being myself, I can give you the same courtesy then, Draco.”

The blond looked quite relieved at that, his tense shoulders dropping a bit. “Sorry… for grabbing you. I thought you were going to walk away,” he admitted with a flush of embarrassment. Harry rolled his eyes and plopped back down on the bench, tugging on Draco’s sleeve to get him to sit down beside him too.

“I was.” He admitted bluntly, Draco whipping his head up to give him a wide-eyed look. “I take being free very seriously. If I’m not free to be who I am then I’m walking away—that’s something I promised myself a long time ago.”

“Oh.” He blinked rather lamely. “Ah… I can understand that, I think. I mean my father always says: ‘Malfoys bow to no one’.”

Harry examined his new tentative friend and the way his chin was tilted up rather arrogantly and reflected on this whole conversation so far. And snorted a bit ungracefully.

“You don’t say?” He snickered.

The blond shot him a wary, slightly suspicious look. “Says the guy who was going to blow me off out of principle.”

“Being free and being proud are not the same thing. I don’t have to be proud of who I am in order to be who I want to be. If it suits me to bow my head to someone for some reason or another, I’ll do it without question. If it doesn’t, then I won’t; simple as that.”

“I… see.” Draco said in a way that told Harry he absolutely did not see at all. Not that it mattered, he didn’t have to understand in order to accept it. Luckily he did just that and shook it off easily. “Anyway, let’s go back to quidditch,”

“How about classes instead? I’m going to go buy my books now and you did say you’d know more than a Hogwarts representative. Any tips for what I should focus on?” Harry quickly deflected the conversation. He’d known the guy less than an hour and already knew he could go on about quidditch if not stopped quickly.

Draco didn’t seem to mind, although the glint in his eye told Harry he knew darn well that he’d been deflected. He puffed up in a way that was quickly become very familiar and relented without a fuss.

“Potions for one, as the teacher is strict and will start the first class with our first potion, so since you’ve got no magical background definitely read up as much as you can. If you’re not in Slytherin you’re at a disadvantage.”

He grimaced. “I went and bought my potions supplies earlier and the seller told me the Professor was a but of a bat.”

Draco blinked in surprise and his face twitched like he almost smiled but caught himself just in time. “That, ah… well he shares a bit of a resemblance, maybe. Ahem—he is my godfather actually.”

“Really!?” He sat up straighter, a little taken off guard by that. “So you really do know that he’s a tough teacher.”

“Oh yes, he’s been mentoring me in potions since I was eight—not that we are ever going to tell my parents that,” He quickly corrected him, eyes going a bit wide and Harry grinned, nodding his agreement. Draco huffed and waved dismissively. “He’s the youngest potions master ever—literally a genius at what he does, and I even admire the guy but can admit he’s not that great a teacher. Knowing about things and being able to teach them aren’t always the same thing, and boy do I know that. If he weren’t my godfather, I’d be studying my butt off just to make passing marks with his teaching style, and potions is by far my best subject.”

“Yikes.” Harry was liking this guy less and less, but could see where Draco was coming from. “What was that about not being in Slytherin though?”

“He’s the head of Slytherin house and… well, maybe the others houses don’t really like us—Slytherin that much,” He corrected himself quickly, glancing at Harry as if panicked he was about to be scolded again and Harry kept his internal grin to himself. “The Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress were both in Gryffindor and… well, I told you about the rivalry. Slytherin kids are not favored by anyone so Severus balances it out by favoring Slytherin a bit excessively. He’s also a royal grouch by personality alone, so other houses tend to vehemently not enjoy his classes.”

“That’s sounds a bit… well I mean… hm. I’m not sure what to think of it actually.” Harry admitted. He couldn’t blame one teacher for showing favoritism when everyone else apparently did it, and this one just had a sour personality by nature. “If the other houses don’t like Slytherin, maybe that… I don’t know, doesn’t help?”

Draco just sniffed, nose pointed up. “Well we—they can’t help it if the rest of the school doesn’t like them. It’s only fair.”

Harry rolled his eyes pointedly. “Fair is a complexion or a carnival—not a right. If they think it’s unjust then get even, but doing it so blatantly doesn’t sound like it suits a house known for cleverness, now does it?”

The blond beside him seemed to deflate, blinking rapidly as those words sunk in. “Well…”

“Anyway, I bought a bunch of manuals from the Apothecary, so I guess I’ll be reading those first. Anything else?”

Draco had still not recovered from his previous question and his baffled expression clearly said so, but managed to brush past it enough to move on.

“I’ve heard you can’t do much to prepare for Charms so far as theory goes as it’s mainly a practical course. If you know Latin it’s second nature.”

“Uh… isn’t that a dead language?”

Draco looked at him like he was crazy. “No, is the basis of all magical-” he cut himself off at the heated look a pair of green eyes were cutting him with and nodded once. “Right, you didn’t know about magic. Then I’d suggest taking Latin up quick.”

Harry groaned.

Sure, let me just pick up a dead language in a couple weeks, no big deal. I thought Hagrid said muggleborns weren’t at a disadvantage entering Hogwarts? Clearly that’s somebody else’s lie he was just repeating.

“Other than that I’ve heard transfiguration is a pain to learn. The professor is the head of Gryffindor house and biased as I said, but not as biased I think. She rarely ever gives out points though and is strict as anything, or so my father says. Mother says it’s because transfiguration can be dangerous when you’re learning it so she takes no nonsense, but Father thinks she’s just got a stick up her bum. Which, coming from my father means more than you think it would.”

Harry’s curiosity was peaked, but let it slide for now. Bringing up the topic of his parents would mean broaching a conversation where it would be acceptable for Draco to ask about his parents and—well, just no.

“So, potions manuals, Latin, and my Transfiguration text. Got it. Seems like I have a busy month ahead of me.” And boy did he have a plan on how to do it, thanks to the tiny pink baubles in his bag. He was almost looking forward to getting back to the Dursleys, and wasn’t that a weird thought?

“I don’t understand how muggleborns expected to excel in school without knowing Latin. That’s just insane.” Draco was shaking his head, sniffing again.

“Well I’m not a muggleborn but have the knowledge of one—Latin is a dead language in their world since I guess muggles have no need for it with no magic to deal with. It’s not like I knew until you just told me that it would be helpful to know—I was told muggleborns weren’t at a disadvantage going into Hogwarts since even pureblood children don’t know much magic going into it.”

“Well that’s an utter lie.” Draco brushed that off pretty quickly, and even with his rude tone Harry couldn’t fault him seeing as all the signs were saying he was right. “Magic is tracked in households by the Ministry, but in households with full wizards and witches they can’t tell who is doing the magic or not, so I’ve already had practice. I’ve grown up watching my parents perform magic and know tons of spells already just because they’re common and Mother and Father used them all the time, not to mention the ones they taught me already. Father let me use his wand several times to practice too, and the Ministry will never know. I mean, before you get to Hogwarts it’s not tracked as it’s considered accidental magic, but then once you go to Hogwarts they say you’re not allowed to use magic at home but in practice it’s only ever enforced at muggleborn residences. Which means I can practice magic all I want over the summers and yet muggleborns can’t.”

“Which means I can’t.” Harry realized, a sinking feeling in his stomach putting a damper on the lighter mood that had slowly been returning since their mini spat.

Draco balked, seeming to realize he’d forgotten his new friend’s status as a pureblood-slash-muggleborn-by-circumstance.

“Uh… you could visit?”

“Oh gee, as much as my relatives would love to get rid of me, I can’t see them being thrilled with that.” After all, if he wasn’t there to cook breakfast every morning and their house kept spotless, then their tenuous peace would start to crumble quick, and it’d be downhill from there.

“Get rid of you? Why?” The blond seemed legitimately baffled at the thought of relatives not wanting his presence, and Harry had to clamp down on a hysterical little bubble of laughter that threatened to tear out of his chest. He had the sudden urge to pat him on his perfectly styled blond head and croon you poor, innocent child.

“Let’s just say, they and I are not friends.” He allowed diplomatically, and before Draco could ask—and his confused expression said that yes, he was about to ask—Harry pushed forward. “So the language I speak, the times I can practice, the examples I’ve been given… any other horrible ways I’m at a disadvantage before I walk into them unwittingly?”

“Er… honestly I’d have to think about it. I’ve never considered it from the point of view of someone who didn’t know what magic was.” He admitted.

Again, at least he’s honest.

Harry laughed lightly under his breath. “You’re hopeless.”

“What? Why!?”

“You have such an endearing way of admitting you’re self-centered.”

Harry did not know what possessed him to blurt out the truth like that, but he couldn’t regret it when Draco’s pale complexion when a steady shade of creamy pink—the tips of his ears darkening to a heated rose.

“Wha—I—I am not self centered!”

Harry pointedly met his gaze in a challenge and lifted one eyebrow. “You are, and we’ve already established that I will not hold you for being yourself against you so long as you return the favor in kind. It’s fine to admit it, but you’re a bit thick if you think lying to either me or yourself will do you any good.”

Draco just gaped at him, stunned. “Is this what you meant by ‘not being proud’ or whatever?”

“A bit. I am who I am, doesn’t mean I’m a saint. But if you try to comment on my character, good or bad, then we’ve got a problem. I already know my faults and there’s no issue with knowing your own.” He waved it off gently, slightly worried he’d angered the blond to the point of him not being the one who wanted to walk away… but he didn’t. Draco just sat there and cooled off in sullen silence until only the tips of his ears were pink.

“I am not self-centered.” He repeated, but sounded a lot less sure of himself than he did two minutes ago.

“You’re a bit self-centered. You don’t care about any house by Slytherin, you’ve never even considered what it’s like from someone else’s point of view until I made you—twice now in one conversation—and keep forgetting the basic fact about me that I didn’t know about magic until today. Did I miss anything?”

The blond simply pouted, and it was so dramatic and sulky that Harry had to laugh, causing Draco to pout even more and turn away pointedly on the bench with his arms crossed. Which, only made Harry laugh harder.

Suddenly, a sharp voice broke into their little bubble, both their head’s snapping up at a nearby shout.

"Draco? Draco!" A woman’s voice was piercing down the crowded street in barely contained urgency-boarding-on-panic and Harry spotted a composed (but visibly tense) man and woman in front of Madam Malkin’s, looking around with a poised, regal air to them but clearly about to be panicked in a couple seconds if they couldn’t find their son.

And it had to be Draco’s parents, because they both had his unique silvery-blond hair, and even at this distance and Harry’s poor eyesight, he could see that Draco had his father’s jawline, but his mother’s otherwise delicate, slightly pointed features.

"Mother! Father!" Draco called out to them, their heads snapping to the side at his answer in a sharp motion ill-fitting of their otherwise graceful, elegant posture. They hid it very well, but their posture relaxed as soon as they both had him in their sights.

"Draco, what on earth were you thinking? Wandering off like that! We were only gone for a minute!" The woman reached them first, neither parent taking a second less than necessary to cross the distance and descend on him.

"Apologies, Mother." Draco sulked a bit as she fluttered over him, and Harry bit his lip to keep form grinning.

"Who is this?" The silk blond man beside his wife zeroed right in on the redhead next to their son, and Harry felt his cheeks grow hot at the intent attention he was receiving. They did not seem pleased to meet him, and he automatically ducked his head a bit, having learned to defer to sharp, unfriendly adults to keep on their good sides.  Too much trouble came from opening his mouth needlessly or being too brash with strangers who were likely a full grown witch and wizard who could take a brand new eleven-year-old who didn’t even had a wand yet.

"Hello Mr. Malfoy. I'm Harry—I met Draco while we were getting our robes done and he was nice enough to show me around a bit." He defended his friend a bit, since they clearly were not pleased their son had wandered off from where they’d left him.

"Yes, he's a pureblood who was raised by muggles so I was just informing him of how things are done here," Draco chimed in, for some reason not seeming too concerned with his parents being upset about him wandering off. He also was right back to that slightly-too-pompous front he’d had on before Harry threatened to walk away. Harry just turned to the blond curiously, wondering what that was about… unless he was showing off for his parents?

He glanced back at the two adults standing over where they sat on the bench, seeming to tower over them… and they seemed stern, but caring. Protective and clearly not about to let threats pass uninvestigated. From the angle at which they were looking down their noses at them, Harry took a wild guess that they probably had just as high of expectations for their son as Draco seemed to have for people around him, which was where the pompous act came in, probably. Then again, Dudley had the same impress-my-parents-at-the-cost-of-my-independence complex if not to a lesser degree, and definitely not as refined.

Harry wondered if he would’ve had that complex too, had he had parents to grow up with and look up to.

Well, they were Draco’s parents and he seemed to admire them, no need to cause a fuss on his behalf, so Harry figured he'd play along.

He grinned widely and leaned closer to the boy beside as if to prove the point. "Draco has been so incredibly helpful too; apologies for distracting him!" He tried to be as innocent and non-threatening as possible so they wouldn't get mad at either of them, and wasn’t sure what it meant when Draco instantly stiffened beside him. But as they both were looking at the Malfoy parents he didn't see his new friend's expression, only felt him tense up from how close he’d leaned in.

Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy though, raised both their eyebrows almost in sync, which was a bit of an oddly normal motion on their previously arrogant faces. The mother turned her sharp eyes on Harry and seemed to evaluate him almost blatantly.

"Harry, was it?" She repeated as if testing the sound of his name and judging him heavily as she did it.

"Yes ma'am." He nodded, polite as he could. She just pressed her lips together with her nose twitching once like she smelled something rather unpleasant, judging him silently with narrowed eyes. She had brown eyes, Harry noted, so Draco must’ve got his from his father—who remained oddly silent, as if thinking something in deep thought as he watched his son with unreadable eyes, and Draco squirmed a bit under the evaluation he was receiving.

"Who has accompanied you here today?" Mrs. Malfoy demanded a bit sharply, but still just this side of being polite.

"They sent a representative from Hogwarts ma'am, but he wandered off while I was getting my robes done. I was waiting on him here." Harry explained as harmlessly as he could, wondering just what was going on here.

Draco was really squirming on the bench beside him now, but Harry didn't fault him for having difficult parents. You couldn’t control that; Harry half wanted to pat him on the arm and tell him not to be embarrassed on his account (he’d actually off himself out of mortification if the Dursleys were to be here making an introduction to Draco, after all) but refrained from doing so with the way Mrs. Malfoy was watching him suggesting she’d rather bite his hand off if he thought about making a careless motion towards Draco now. They were clearly still trying to evaluate if he could be trusted around their son, and still not sure but definitely not taking chances— and Harry could only admire the way they acted cool and yet clearly adored their son. Not that he’d wasted much time day-dreaming about what his own parents would’ve been like since he’d thought they were just drunks until today, but if he’d had to take a stab at wondering, having parents to who loved him, even if they were strict and embarrassing, was definitely on his wish-list.  

He wanted to tell Draco not to be embarrassed, because a small part of him was actually jealous that he had parents like this who got too-involved and were pushy with new friends just because they wanted their son to be safe.

But that was a petty part of himself he didn’t like to give much time in the light of day, and nor was this the moment to say something like that, so he kept his thoughts to himself.

"But your parents were wizards." Mrs. Malfoy cut off his wandering thoughts. Harry was not sure what being a pureblood was so important, but it was definitely important apparently. He shelved it, making a note to ask Draco later and get a full explanation sometime.

"Yes ma'am."

"What is your family name?"

He opened his mouth to respond but—

"'Arry! There ya are!" Hagrid’s huge form cut into their little gathering, startling all three blonds enough to whip their heads up at the giant man in alarm. Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy collected themselves in a split second, but Draco openly gaped at Hagrid for a long while, stunned that a human could be that big and somehow sneak up on all of them.

Hagrid seemed to notice about five seconds too late that he’d just interrupted something, and it took him another full two seconds to realize who it was talking to his young charge. His smile didn’t drop but his cheerful demeanor seemed to evaporate in a puff of smoke, replaced by a slight awkwardness that haunted his huge frame. And really, when a man that big shifted his weight nervously it was a very blatant motion.  "Lucius, Narcissa—lovely ter see ya." He nodded to them, perfectly polite and not quite as jovial as normal.

"Hagrid." Mr. Malfoy responded coolly, his posture dripping with distain as he glanced up and down the giant man in front of him.

Ugh, so they had the same pompous thing Draco did… uh, well that’s probably where he got it from, to be honest.

"An who is dis then?" Hagrid turned to Draco now, and Harry panicked seeing the Malfoy’s expressions darken like thunderclouds.

"Hagrid! This is Draco Malfoy, I met him getting my robes done! He was telling me more about the wizarding world," He burst out, bright and eager to make the tension go away and distract Draco’s parents from going for Hagrid’s jugular. While he spoke, reached out and looped his arm around Draco's tightly—silently sending a pleas with his eyes to the giant man to get the message that he didn't want to be judged for his new friend nor did he want this to cause too much trouble. He could clearly tell that for some reason the Malfoys didn’t like Hagrid, and Hagrid wasn’t too fond of them either although Harry hadn’t realized it was possible for the jovial giant to actively dislike someone.

Or, more likely, someone told Hagrid not to like the Malfoys or told him something about the family that he took on faith. The Malfoys themselves seem to be snobs and Hagrid is… well. Hagrid. Not much of an explanation needed really.

Either way, Harry wasn’t interested in picking fights and just wanted to be friends with Draco without a fuss. So he not-so-subtly pulled Draco closer to his side and gave Hagrid a wide-eyed look demanding he shut the quaffle up before he said something to ruin this. He loved Hagrid, he did, the man was hilarious and essentially a giant harmless puppy, but he did not trust what was going to come out of his mouth for a second.  

Draco tensed up at the touch, but didn’t shove him off either and Mrs. Malfoy didn’t smack him for getting too friendly, so Harry called it a win.

Thankfully…Hagrid wasn't too dense as to realize Harry had just made a friend, and easy going enough not to put up a stink. Even if he did keep tossing glances at the Malfoys warily. "Well ain't that nice! Good fer you, makin' friends already." He nodded, more to himself and shifting his weight again.

"Hm!" Harry gave an agreeing hum, glancing at how Draco was doing will all of this, and was met with wide grey eyes seeming not to have caught up with what the hell was going on right then and just letting it happen.

There was a pause, and if they’d been normal people it would’ve been the moment Draco should’ve spoken up and introduced himself to Hagrid or at least say hello… but he didn’t. With the way his parents were bristling, Harry guessed he might be in more trouble if he did and Harry had the urge to call them all hopeless to their faces but very barely restrained himself.

Hagrid either didn’t notice the awkward air, or decided to be generous and ignore it, turning back to Harry with a nod of his giant, wild head.

"Sorry I ran off on you 'arry, but I wanted ta get you somethin' since those nasty Muggles wouldn't'a done a thing—'appy birthday 'arry!" He pronounced happily and produced a golden cage from behind his back, and in it… a beautiful white owl.

Harry's eyes went wide, and his mind left the awkward conversation about ten miles beneath him as his heart and mind leapt from his body and made a mad dash for the heavens.

"…what? That’s…"

"She's yours, have at it!" Hagrid shuffled forward on his huge feet and pushed the cage into Harry’s startled hands, dropping Draco’s arm in shock in order to stop it from dropping to the ground, but his fingers felt numb as they wrapped around the metal wire. "Toads are a bit ol' fashioned and cats make me sneeze— but owls 're dead useful they are." Hagrid chatted happily, pleased with himself for his gift.

But Harry barely heard him.

That’s… she’s…?

He stared into the cage as if not believing what he was seeing, and a pair of huge golden eyes stared back at him. She was simply breathtaking, the color of pure snow on an untouched field and feathers sleeker and classier than any of those fancy brooms or quills he’d seen on this vibrant, colorful alley. In this place where every color seemed to slam into each other all at once, she was a stunning pure white that stood out just as wonderfully and beautifully as Harry could’ve ever dreamed or imagined. She hooted softly when all he did was stare at her, and he felt his heart clutch painfully in his chest.

"I… got… a birthday present?" He wondered quietly to himself, totally shocked and only half aware he’d said those words out loud.

The owl hooted lowly at him as if to answer, yes, you did you silly boy— and he was so wrapped up in her gaze that he entirely failed to notice the Malfoys’ reaction to that statement.

He didn’t break his gaze away from her, half afraid this was going to be a dream or a joke if he broke eye contact, but he addressed Hagrid.

"Useful? How?"

"Wizards use owls to send letters to one another. They can find anyone anywhere so long as they're not warded against getting mail." Draco supplied automatically before Hagrid could open his mouth, and Harry turned wide, slightly wet eyes on him, still stunned but his mind racing with thoughts so quickly he wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself.

"R-really? So, I can send a letter to you with her?"

Draco seemed to straighten up pointedly as he nodded firmly. "Of course." He huffed in a matter-of-fact way… but his eyes were slightly hesitant, as if asking him a question.

Without thinking twice, Harry grinned, silently reassuring him that this awkward confrontation with his parents meant nothing, and that hell yes he'd be sending his first friend a letter!

He remembered himself quickly and turned back to Hagrid, knowing his eyes were slightly wet and his grin was so wide it kind of hurt his cheeks, but he didn’t care at all in that moment.

I have a friend, and I have a birthday present—there is nothing to think twice about for once.

"Thank you, Hagrid! This is amazing! She's beautiful!" He was not an earnest person by nature, but he gave everything he had to be as sincere as he could in that moment, because Hagrid had to know that this… there were not words for this.

I seem to be speechless a lot all of a sudden... and I hope it doesn’t stop.

"Ah, no problem. I've always loved animals and after those nasty muggles ya deserve a real present." Hagrid waved off, shifting his feet once more out of abashed fluster instead of nerves now.

"She's wonderful." Harry said simply, because it was true, meeting the gaze of owl once more, and she gazed right back. "What will I name you? Any ideas?" She hooted louder and flapped her wings once as if to say she didn’t know either. "Well then we'll just have to think on it." He grinned at her, and by the way her feathers fluffed she seemed content with this plan.

"It's your birthday?" Draco’s tone was a little odd, but Harry couldn’t be bothered to decipher what it meant with his first real present and a bleedin’ owl at that in front of him.

He hummed vaguely in acknowledgement, before a thought hit him. He looked up suddenly at Draco who blinked in alarm at the green eyes suddenly shining brightly in his face.

"I've never had a present or ice cream on my birthday before—thank you for showing me this place, Draco!" He grinned his too-wide grin again, and was far too happy in that moment to give a flying quaffle that Draco’s parents were right there, watching this all go down.

Draco very quickly glanced down the street at some shop over Harry’s shoulder rather than meet his eyes. "N-no problem."

Harry let out a peal of laughter at his clear discomfort and the way his ears tinged pink.

After a pause as Harry enjoyed watching Draco fidget under legitimate gratitude, Mr. Malfoy cleared his throat politely—but curtly to catch everyone’s attention.

"We're about done with our shopping today, so say your goodbyes Draco. You can write to your… friend, later." He cast an unreadable look Harry’s way as he said that and honestly Harry was too wound up to even be bothered by it, much less acknowledge it.

"Yes father." Draco complied immediately and stood, glancing back at him with a warmer smile, though it was back to his small, polite smiles instead of real ones. "It was nice to meet you Harry." He said politely, clearly well trained to have good manners and making sure to be on them in front of his parents, both of them acutely aware they were being watched like hawks now.

"You too Draco, I'll write a lot then, and you can tell me more about the wizarding world, okay?"

The blond gave a slightly shy smile back, though the hesitancy might’ve been because of his mother’s hand coming to clamp down on his shoulder. "Of course." He waved, and all Harry managed to do was wave back before the Malfoys had steered their son away lightning fast and disappear into the crowds without so much as a nod  of their own towards either Harry or Hagrid.  

Harry sighed. That seemed like it was going to be a bit of a problem if he was going to continue being friends with Draco. But, it wasn’t like he’d spent the past ten years dealing with difficult relatives or whatever, so it’d probably be fine.

Probably.

"The Malfoys, eh?" Hagrid huffed after a couple seconds of silence, Harry realized he’d been watching the place his new friend had disappeared for a bit longer than necessary. His attention was brought back by the distinctly unsmiling, uncomfortable look on his giant friend’s face.

Well that didn’t bode well.

"What is it Hagrid?"

"They're sort of known ta be a dark family, or so they say." The man hedged, clearly not thrilled to be having this conversation.

"Dark?" Harry frowned, realizing this would probably answer a lot of questions about Draco’s parents’ behavior, but by Hagrid’s expression it was not going to be a great learning experience.

“Ah… why don’ I buy ya another ice cream?”

Harry frowned.

000

Twenty minutes later, Harry decided that popcorn flavored ice cream was actually a horrible flavor for soft serve and that he’d been right all along: making friends was not his strong suit.

Chapter Text

“Aunt Petunia?”

“Was I not clear that you were to go straight to your cupboard when you got home?” She snapped unpleasantly as her version of a ‘hello, welcome back’, clearly not pleased to have to look up from the magazine she was reading at the kitchen table. He couldn’t tell if she was more displeased that he’d disobeyed or interrupted her—probably being interrupted honestly.

Harry would’ve been content to do as she’d ordered and wait until a slightly better moment than right after a previously successful lie, however Dudley was out with his gang and Vernon wouldn’t be home for another hour at least and for some reason his aunt was minding her own business for once at her kitchen table instead of fluttering around the house trying to inconspicuously spy on the neighbors or chatting on the phone to one of them. This was the perfect opportunity as she was alone and safe for the time being.

That’s what his brain said at least—his heart though reminded him that the sooner he did this, the sooner he’d never have to set foot in that damn cupboard again.

He told himself it was simply good tactics to do it now, and ignored the small voice calling him a hypocrite when not four hours ago he was telling Draco that lying to oneself was unbecoming.

Shut up and focus, he scolded himself, meeting her angry muddled-hazel eyes with a carefully blank expression.

“I’m going to Hogwarts this fall, not Stonewall.” He announced, his heart skipping a beat since this was a huge thing but… he had a plan.

He couldn’t stop his stomach flipping as he face spiraled into several emotions at once—shock, horror, disgust, fear, and anger being the most blatant ones. His prediction as correct when she settled between a mix of fear and anger.

What did you say?” She half shouted, half hissed, on her feet in a second.

He was disappointed, but not surprised when there was no confusion in her tone or her voice. She knew exactly what Hogwarts was… and she probably knew a lot more than she let on in her eternal quest to be ‘normal’, in all honesty. She’d been his mother’s sister, and if Lily Evans had gone to Hogwarts… there was no way Petunia didn’t know all about it. She never talked about the late Potters except to spit venom and slander, and through that Harry had known she’d cut ties when his mom had been about seventeen years old; usually Petunia was saying something loud and bitter about not having cut ties sooner than that, but even that tiny bit of information told Harry that she’d known her sister the entire time his mom was at Hogwarts. There was no way she didn’t know, and that meant she’d actively kept it from him.

Calling them drunks, and freaks, and lazy vagabonds.

Harry forced himself not to yell, but he sure as hell wanted to.

“You knew, didn’t you?” He demanded in a low tone.

His aunt paled, but she held her angry expression and ground her teeth together like she wanted to scream, like it all wanted to come spilling out… she looked about ready to do so too, but Harry had had enough. He knew nothing that came out of her mouth, answers or not, would be pleasant or unbiased.

He was going to Hogwarts and he’d find his own answers about who his parents were. He didn’t need Petunia to fill anything in—it was clear she’d lied, that she’d known, and Harry was smart enough to be able to draw his own conclusions.

Fear, anger, jealousy—Harry knew he himself would not be very gracious if Dudley were the one to be gifted a magical chance to escape reality while he was left in his cupboard. While he and Dudley were not in the same position two once-close sisters were, Harry knew in that situation that his feelings would not be very kind-hearted… but he also knew he’d never lock Dudley’s child in a cabinet for ten years out of spite either.

He took a breath and spoke before she could open her mouth and whatever vitriol she’d been bottling up for years got the chance to come tumbling out. She could keep it bottled up for eternity until it ate her alive, for all he cared.  

“After this conversation we don’t have to mention it ever again. I got my letter last week and thought it was a joke, but I met with someone on my way home from detention yesterday that explained the entire situation to me and I’ve decided to go to that school. You won’t have to see me the entire year, whereas I’d still be living at home if I went to Stonewall. I will never speak of where I’m going or what I’m doing there again in exchange for you to let me go September first and then one day before then to go collect my school supplies in London. I’ll hide all of it in the shed—I’ll sleep out there even so no one will ever know and it won’t be brought into this house. I will do my best so that you and Uncle Vernon and Dudley won’t see or hear a thing of it.”

She paused; anger derailed by this provided solution. The silence stretched on for a long several minutes and he watched her beady eyes flash and twitch as she considered it.

Then:

“…what of the tuition.”

“Taken care of.”

Another long silence… before she nodded once, a tiny movement as if afraid someone would see her even agreeing to this in the safety of her own home.

“You may go. This conversation never happened and Dudley will never know how much of a freak you really are—you will keep it all in that shed and out of this house, am I understood?”

“Perfectly.”

“Then get out; take whatever filth you had in the cupboard out the shed. No time like the present.” She sneered like she was taking one last kick at him, but Harry considered it a win considering that was exactly what he’d been hoping she’d do. “There will be no change in your chores and you’re expected to finish them the normal way, or else.”

“Yes Aunt Petunia.”

000

Harry was thrilled.

The shed was not what you’d call cozy, it was… well, just a shed. It was a reasonably big shed since the Dursleys liked to show off to their neighbors how well-off they were, except there was very little actually in the shed given that they had slave-labor to do all their gardening for them and were content with letting him use last decade’s tools to do it. Aside from a push-mower, a workbench covered in gardening tools, a pile of bags of dirt, a bunch of ceramic planters, some shovels and larger tools leaned up in a corner, and a basket filled with tangled hoses, there wasn’t much to actually store in this rather large shed. The structure itself liked to suggest it had two riding-movers and storage for ski equipment and other large-ticket vacation items that would need storage year round that actually well-off people might have in their sheds, but the Dursleys only liked to pretend and hated exercising so none of them had ever seen a ski lift in their life much less had the equipment stored up in here.

What it resulted in was a generally empty wooden room with a steepled roof of rafters and three windows total: two on either side of the double doors that made the entrance and a small circular one at the very back center wall, no bigger than if Harry put his arms in a circle in front of him—but all three did open.

He had been the only person to enter this place in all his living memory so he knew he was generally safe here, but it’d be over before it started if Dudley got curious as to why he was in here if he so happened to spot him coming and going. Petunia would likely give her husband and son some reason like that he was getting to big for the cupboard and now he was out of the house for good, and probably make it very, very clear that Dudley was to never come in here lest he’d learn of that pesky thing she hated called ‘magic’. Even hearing that rule it wouldn’t stop Dudley if he wanted to know or got upset that he was forbidden from picking on Harry in here now, and if he did break in and see something he wasn’t supposed to Harry would definitely be blamed for it anyway.

With this in mind he reached into his handy new bag that Petunia hadn’t even noticed in her outrage and subsequent deal-making was actually very, very magical and blatantly standing in the middle of her oh so normal kitchen.

Hagrid had dropped him off back at the library and gotten a promise for him to visit once he got to Hogwarts, and on the walk home Harry had drained the last of his saved pounds from skimming of the Dursley’s grocery money to invest in some key items that was going to make this whole thing work.

First, a padlock and bike chain. The shed doors were reasonably thick and could be locked from the outside (he had no idea where that key was but knew the Dursleys would miraculously find it the next time he got in a load of trouble—a joy for future-him to enjoy, he was sure) but the inside only had twin handles that he promptly locked tightly with the chain. It wasn’t 100% Dudley proof but if Dudley were determined enough to break down this door (not a strong likelihood given how uninterested he was in exercise in general, but still a likelihood if he got a bunch of his friends in on it too) he’d cause a royal racket and enough of a scene in full view of the neighbors if they peered over their fences to see what all the noise was about, that even Vernon would stop his spoiled son so to save face. Petunia would stop him as soon as she heard because she knew what her son might see and do anything to prevent it, so… not 100%, but it was a damn good safety measure, more than he’d ever had before given that he was always the one being locked in.

Now he could lock himself in and he found he really liked that. That feeling that he was actually safe. It was a good one, and one he hoped he could get more of from here on out.

The next thing he did—really it should’ve been the first but he was paranoid—was open the cage door of his new owl friend and let her stretch her wings as she flew out and flapped into the rafters, examining her new home. He had snuck her in here before doubling back to go in the front door for his confrontation with Aunt Petunia, because she was the only thing that wouldn’t fit in his bottomless bag (the salesman said live things would not fair well at all with the kind of charms he’d used) and clearly he couldn’t have anyone seeing him walking around with a golden cage containing a beautiful white owl. Talk about suspicious—Petunia would have a fit and he hadn’t been free from his cupboard for an hour yet.

“It’s not much but we should be safe here. Don’t let anyone in the house or the surrounding houses ever see you or we’ll be in a much smaller location than this… in fact, if I’m ever locked in he house for one reason or another then don’t come here at all.” He spoke to her, her golden eyes watching him as he walked to the back of the shed. She was an owl but… he got the feeling she understood every word. “Here—this is a good entrance/exit if you can manage it… it faces a tree so no one will see you come in and out too much if you’re careful. I’ll leave it open for you to come and go.”

She hooted low and clear as if agreeing with this arrangement and he grinned up at her. “I really need to think of a name for you… something will come to me, I’m sure.” She hooted once as if saying take your time, and he shot her another grin.

Window open, he put his magic bag down and got to work.

First thing’s first was a small broom he’d grabbed from the grocery store and set to work cleaning the floor from the years of dust, dirt, mulch, and grease that had settled in some places. He picked up the tools and the hoses and the planters and arranged them so they were in a neat u-shape, shoving the workbench with all his strength and after forty minutes of huffing and working up a sweat, it was placed in the middle of the room facing the doors—well, a bit closer to the back wall instead of the middle of the room, but now it looked like a nice and tidy shed that had approximately a third of it missing at the back.

Now he had to make it “disappear”.

The whole shed was only about just under four meters in width but long at about eight meters. The space he’d sectioned off was the entire width but only ate up two meters of the whole length, so if he did this right he’d have a nice little 4 x 2 meter area to call his own—it was a huge upgrade in space compared to the cupboard.

Simply thrilled at this prospect, with the area clean and sectioned off from the rest of the shed he started emptying out his magical bottomless back. The first thing he was looking for: a giant swath of cloth he’d purchased from Madam Malkin’s. He’d had to double back and made some flimsy excuse about wanting to make his own shirts or something and Hagrid hadn’t even blinked twice since for some reason that was a logical purchase to him, and Madam Malkin herself didn’t care as the color he’d asked for was so unpopular that she’d had this particular roll for two years and never even cut into it, so she’d sold it on discount which made Hagrid even happier.

Harry understood: in a world where witches and wizards wore bright emerald and neon purple robes like it was nothing, plain old wood-textured brown was boring. It was exactly what he needed though, and took his third grocery-store purchase—thumb tacks—to cut and then pin two sheets of the large fabric to the floor, along the wall, and to the rafter crossbeam marking the start of ‘his’ area. He doubled up the fabric for further security just in case and because he had the extra material and thumb tacks, and by the end of it the two sheets overlapped in the middle directly behind the workbench blocking the entrance, but was a stretchy enough material that he could slip through carefully and cross between “rooms”.

The rafters were still all open so any light would still be visible at night, and he fixed this by using some spare fabric and creating crude curtains for all three windows that could be drawn and pinned if he needed them to be. For now he left them pinned above the window, the glass opened so let some cross breeze through since it was hot in an uninsulated shed in the middle of July.

Which is why the second his “room” was finished, he dug through his bag for his next favorite magical invention right after his bottomless bag: the atmosphere bulbs.

He stuck one below the window in the upper center of his new living space and immediately the soft, periwinkle, sparkly wonder started working, much to his relief. The increasingly hot shed magically cooled off to a slightly chilly room-temperature. He had tons of new robes and clothes and fully intended to get more on his ‘day off to get school supplies’ he’d gotten from Petunia, so slightly-chilly was far better than dying of heat stroke since it looked like he’d be living summers in here at least from now on.

The exposure to the elements was the main—eh, only—reason he’d not considered begging to be kicked out here instead of the cupboard years ago. Summer was one thing, he could probably melt and still survive, but winters were cold and he was only eleven—he definitely wouldn’t have lived long and losing toes and fingers because he hated his cupboard wasn’t a good trade, no matter how much he hated that damn thing. The game changer was these atmosphere bulbs, and Harry tucked the second safely in his handy-dandy security pouch for safe keeping. He could afford to replace almost everything, but his vault key, his brand new wand, and access to these bulbs—even temporarily he’d be in bad shape to have to sweat it out / endure freezing out here, so into the pouch his key and bulb went, before finding a safe home under a floorboard he spent twenty minutes using a trowel to pry up.

His wand he kept on him, at Hagrid’s instruction. The giant man’s reluctance to let go of the tiny pink umbrella he carried around with him despite technically having had his wand snapped for an undetermined reason years ago told Harry that if even Hagrid was disobeying orders to follow this rule, it was a rule worth following even at risk of what the Dursleys would do if they caught him. He’d leave it under the floorboards when he left the shed, but for now he’d get used to having it one him.

By the time that was done it was late—Petunia had not asked him to cook dinner and he didn’t have anything on him to eat either, so he simply set his tiny alarm clock and set up shop on the thin mat he’d had in his cupboard he was allowed to take out here with him. He made a note to see about getting some better solution on his free day out, but would have to wait a time so that Petunia had cooled off from even this small change.

The white owl hooted above him, as if wishing him a good night, and he managed to hum happily as he drifted off.

Today had been… a good one.

000

“How about Hedwig? She was a powerful warrior in the goblin war of 1308. Don’t know why, but Hedwig seems to just fit, what do you think?”

The white owl perched on his trunk beside him as he knelt and used it as a make-shift desk to flip through his history textbooks chirped lightly, accepting this name.

“Hedwig it is then.” He decided, closing the book without much further ado. It read more like a fantasy novel than a history book, however even that couldn’t make twelve goblin wars in a row more interesting. Goblins really liked to fight it seems and humans were great at repeating past mistakes—that poem out front Gringotts made a lot more sense suddenly.

It had only been a week and Harry was back on track with the Dursleys mostly—he still got up and cooked their breakfasts, packed their lunches, whipped up desserts, did the shopping and generally kept house while Petunia spied on their neighbors, but now he got to escape to someplace other than the cupboard when he was finished enough for their liking. Whatever Petunia had told Vernon made his face permanently purple whenever he saw Harry in the same room as him for about two days before he seemed to settle into the fact that nothing had outwardly changed in their routine and Harry himself was in no danger of randomly announcing to the room that he was a wizard.

Harry had a sneaking suspicion his uncle actually knew about magic too, but refused to comment on it since this new agreement had presented itself so conveniently. He suspected because Dudley had, predictably, put up a fight about not being able to follow Harry into the shed to bother him, and both his aunt and uncle had put their foot down with equal vehemence. Petunia even miraculously produced a copy of the shed key and said if they ever found it unlocked he’d be back in the cupboard before he could say cupboard.

Dudley had never been told no in his entire life, but the second he started banging on the shed door while Harry was inside scrubbing the kitchen floor, Petunia had run out in only her slippers and dragged him inside once more. She then did the unthinkable and told Harry not to cook Dudley a single sweet that night.

Dudley of course had a royal meltdown and Harry took the brunt of it, but he was for once on Petunia’s side in that he most certainly did not want Dudley messing with anything in that shed so he’d held firm despite a lot of cheap shots to his kidneys and things thrown at him that he then had to clean up when they broke. Petunia never gave either, which Harry was honestly surprised by; he must have really underestimated how much she hated magic. Either way, Dudley sulked up a royal storm (and not the endearing way Draco did either) and never attempted it again. He must’ve figured the punishment wasn’t worth the hassle of lugging himself out to the shed to even bother, when he could tell his parents to order Harry to come inside and they’d do it in a heartbeat. Win-win for him, win-some lose-some for Harry, but hey, at least he wasn’t always losing anymore.

Harry finally felt 100% safe in here for once and had gotten comfy—or, as comfy as he could with his meager belongings. In his free time he could actually stand up and walk around a little bit, or stretch out and read with his booklight that wasn’t too bright to risk being seen over his curtains. He could leaf through his magical textbooks and fiddle with his new potions equipment all he liked, and he’d even risked taking his bottomless bag on his grocery store trips to stock up on extra protein bars and snacks for when he wasn’t able to slip enough food for himself off the Dursley’s meals. It was practically paradise, really.

And now that things had settled and he’d given all his textbooks a thorough examination… he was left with his thoughts.

Ugh.

He huffed, letting his head rest on the trunk and Hedwig nipped gently at his ear curiously.

“It’s nothing, I’ve just… been avoiding writing to Draco. You’d probably like the exercise of delivering a letter finally, but… it’s complicated.”

Hedwig’s light chirp could’ve been interpreted as a question, and Harry shrugged.

“Oh, nothing. It was just a lot to figure out magic was real the same day I learn my parents were not drunks but were in fact murdered. Oh and let’s not forget the part where my wand is the brother to the wand of the man who killed them and my first friend is apparently from a family who served said parent-murdering madman ten years ago. No big deal.”

Hedwig didn’t respond—in fact after a brief pause she flew up to the rafters and seemed to hide behind one of the beams. He lifted his head to glare at her mildly.

“You’re no help, really.” He responding hoot sounded like an apology and he just let his head plop back down onto the trunk with a gently thud.

The answer was of course simple: Draco wasn’t his parents and was no older than Harry was when he defeated the dark lord. Harry didn’t remember defeating the dark lord and that stands to suggest Draco would have no knowledge or control of what his parents did while said dark lord was still alive.

Draco was an eleven-year-old, just like him, who put up a mask of being an arrogant, self-centered, know-it-all and could easily come off as an asshole. But with just a little prodding he came unraveled at the seams and a very real, earnest eleven-year-old boy—just like him—shone through. He didn’t deserve to be cast in with the lot of Voldemort-worshippers just because of who his parents were or his family’s history. Harry had already promised not to hold who he was against him, in exchange for the same… and while it was hard to wrap his head around, he could live with this promise. It was unimaginable to consider forgiving and being friends with someone who may-or-may-not be inclined to worship the man who murdered his parents… but in that same vein, Draco was then befriending the boy who was responsible for his family’s lord being destroyed. If Draco was still up to be his friend then… Harry could…

He groaned and thunked his head on the trunk once more. It was one thing to know logically that it wasn’t Draco’s fault and another to get his heart on board with the idea.

Just thinking about the wooden floor he was kneeling on in a garden shed instead of in a family home with parents who might’ve loved him was enough to make the very concept hard to accept. To forgive, to look past…

Eventually, he couldn’t beat around it anymore. Draco was not his family history, and he deserved the chance a whole bunch of eleven-year-old were about to get to start over fresh at Hogwarts. Harry himself was really, really counting on this fresh start, so he had no reason to deny Draco his either. Harry himself was living proof that your relatives didn’t define who you were, after all, so it wasn’t up to him to sit here and decide who Draco would become or who he would end up supporting and try and make contingency plans accordingly. Draco had already promised to be his friend, so he was just going to have to get over this fretting about a future he couldn’t control and just be friends with the jerk already.

Besides… Draco was his friend already. Against his better judgement, Harry was kind of… attached, to this cactus-like blond boy with unnaturally perfect skin. It didn’t even matter at this point if he cut off ties now or waited for Draco to prove he was more like his family than Harry was hoping he was, he’d still be losing a friend and he wasn’t sure it was going to hurt any more or less either way. He’d never had a friend to lose before really and he’d at least like to pretend he had one for a little while instead of losing them in less than a week.

So here’s to optimism and second chances—Harry wasn’t usually about those things but hey, magic was real so why the hell not really.

With a great huff he lifted his head and pulled put a piece of parchment and the ink and quill he’s purchased with Hagrid from his trunk. He’d practiced little and his handwriting sucked with a normal pencil, but a quill was a whole other beast. Still, Draco would have no idea what he’d done if he wrote it in ball point or pencil and if this was how they wrote at Hogwarts he’d definitely need the practice, so might as well. He was annoyed just imagining the fact that Draco probably had perfect handwriting with these stupid feathers, and it was because of this he found himself putting far more time and effort into his letter than he would’ve otherwise. He forced himself to focus and get every word out perfectly.

Dear Draco…

000

Lucius was not an idiot, and neither was his wife.

Harry was not an uncommon name, especially after the dark lord’s defeat there was an explosion of children named Harry here and there, and the boy Draco had met at Diagon Alley could’ve been the right age for how small he was. To hear that the boy was actually going to be in Draco’s year was a bad omen though, given they’d always known that their son and the Potter child would be year mates.

Lucius would admit that he’d entirely been expecting a James Potter clone. Lily Evans was a talented witch but a muggleborn still and he’d never given her much thought aside form avoiding her legendary temper, which she thankfully only directed at people her own year or below—Lucius and Narcissa being upper years and barely sharing their Hogwarts years with her, she was forgettable.

James Potter though, had the Potter look that his father and grandfather and great grandfather did too, as they were an old pureblood line even if they kept creating half-bloods every so often by marring muggleborns when the fancy hit them. The Malfoys and the Blacks were aware of the Potter line like all old pureblood families were aware of each other and the dark messy hair, the build, the glasses—there was one Potter in every generation that had the look. It was like how the Weasleys were all freckly gingers; there had to be some magical inheritance going on for it to be that blatant. Lucius saw far too much of James Potter through Sirius Black and the degenerate’s unfortunate connection with his wife’s family, and Lily Evans had been such a non-entity to Lucius before they both died, that for some reason he was 100% expecting to pick out the Boy Who Lived from the crowd by keeping an eye out for a tiny James Potter.

To see a tiny, lithe-limbed, delicate-faced, scarlet-haired, green-eyed thing on the arm of his son was not the first impression Lucius could’ve ever imagined his first meeting with the boy who’d defeated the dark lord as a babe would go. The fact that Draco was head over heels smitten with this boy, clear as day in the middle of Diagon bloody Alley of all places, was not the direction Lucius had been planning his life to go. In fact this didn’t rank in the top one hundred possible outcomes of his year, if he’d ever been creative enough to dream up this situation—which he wasn’t, let’s be clear. This was a dragon trampling through his carefully laid garden he’d been tending to and watching grow for years now; all that work, wasted in one fiery, green-eyed mess.

He’d been holding out hope that the boy—Harry—was just that, a Harry by another name and call it a day, since he never actually mentioned being a Potter, but a week after that odd incident his hopes had been shattered.

Draco (still so naïve, too-trusting Draco who never hid a thing from him) ran in to the sitting room with the biggest grin on his face Lucius could remember him having. The last time his son had smiled like that, had been when he’d first ridden a broom, and he’d been quite small then. It made his heart pang uncomfortably in his chest, at the reminder that he wasn’t sure of the last time his son had smiled like he was truly happy, and not because he needed it for a mask he was portraying. It was as per his training, but it didn’t mean as a father that Lucius liked it at all.

He’d showed him the letter his friend had written him… and at the bottom, signed in surprisingly neat penmanship for someone who grew up with muggles—the name Harry Potter.

Just fantastic really. That boy was a dragon in his garden, and Lucius was not pleased.

He sat there pondering in front of the fireplace later that night; he didn’t respond to Draco other than a calm nod, and his son was too excited to read much into it as he ran back off to respond in kind. Lucius had let him go, finishing his work for the night and enjoying dinner with his family where thankfully Narcissa took hold of the conversation to talk about a garden party she was arranging and the political consequences of that, so Draco didn’t have a chance to bring up his letter. Narcissa knew of course, because she was Draco’s mother and his wife and she always seemed to know these things, so he was sure she’d done it on purpose.

Draco was in bed and the fire was flickering silently when he felt his wife’s presence come stand by the side of his chair, striding a step forward so that she too was gazing at the fire and the both of them were keeping an eye on each other through their peripherals.

"What do we do, Lucius? You know as well as I do that it's not impossible the dark lord could return." She intoned lowly. It was only thanks to the wards he had on this room that it was a safe place to discuss these things, and he nodded slowly… taking a sip from his drink.

Draco was clearly… smitten with the boy. Which, while the discovery that their son was attracted to men even if Draco himself didn’t consciously know it just yet was a shock in and of itself, it didn't truly stop them—they were parents who loved their child long before they were death eaters or anything else. It was less that their son was getting close to another boy and more that it was Harry Potter. The dark lord would not be pleased to return and find the Malfoy heir consorting with his arch enemy.

Lucius pinched the bridge of his nose. His thoughts on being a death eater were nothing more than self-serving: he'd joined for status and power and he'd abandoned the title for the very same reason, after the dark lord fell from power. For himself, for his family--and yes he believed in wizard superiority over muggles but the torturing, killing, violence of it all was just part of the job, same as flattering the oaf of a Minister and having tea with dignitaries  was part of the job now that he was playing on the Light side. He didn't care for either, in either a positive or negative way; he was a Slytherin and was fully able to act accordingly when presented with a new environment in which he needed to survive. He played up his generous, philanthropic side for the Light, and played up his utter distaste of Muggles and mudbloods for the Dark side. He was not so stupid as to think everyone was not aware that he was rather dark-sided for the Light, and rather light-sided for the Dark, but he played his parts well enough to be able to get away with it even if it wasn't flawless.

Survival was what came first, after all.

He didn't care that he'd killed and tortured before, but he also didn't actually care one bit about muggles in the first place--he never gave either of those things enough thought to truly hate or enjoy either. But certain people expected him to be bigoted just as some expected him to be cruel, and so depending on his audience he was a marvelous actor. But at the core of it all?

He just didn't care.

What he did care about, was his son. He even cared little about marrying Narcissa except for that their common goals and personalities were so impossibly well suited he found himself loving her as time went on. He'd always known she was the woman for him, even back in their Hogwarts days; he just wasn't a passionate sort of person. Prideful and arrogant, he knew, but not passionate. Their marriage contract was purely because the Malfoy family was old blood and extremely wealthy, and she was a branch descendant of the Black family so would get a healthy inheritance herself. The fact that neither of them were interested in anything but getting business done and were perfectly suited partners in every playing field was simply a bonus, and neither of them required being in love or being passionate about their relationship to be part of their marriage in any way. Neither of them were very engaged, passionate people was all.

That only changed when Draco was born, and his son, his heir, the only thing on this earth he had more pride in than he did himself, took his breath away, and he knew it was the same for Narcissa.

And so this sudden change in the plan was a little alarming; he'd raised Draco to be more dark than light because the dark had more power, and breaking the rules to get what you want was a key Malfoy trait, and he'd wanted his son to have every opportunity he'd been able to afford him. Lucius himself would keep the Malfoy name clean so that when his son grew he'd still be respected in Light communities, while raising him to be aware of their Dark connections and give him a leg up in the world. That had been the plan in any case, and Draco was always a happy, loved child so that was all that mattered.

Now that he'd veered off that path and befriended Harry Potter, there was a choice Lucius would have to make, as a father. Draco did not yet know that this boy he was smitten with will mostly likely not enjoy the darker aspects of the Malfoy lifestyle, and he was in for a heartbreaking rude awakening when that happened. Malfoy would like to avoid making his son cry in such a manner at all costs—and cry he would, for even the unbreakable Malfoys, at such a young age, are susceptible to heartbreak. It would be almost unavoidable in some ways, as the young were stupid and naïve and figuring out their emotions on their own, but Lucius thought of his old friend Severus and felt a streak of panic shoot through him.

Severus had gotten too close to the Dark when he was learning to balance between the two sides of the war and scared off his first love because of it—another red haired beauty with a Light personality who'd captivated a Grey soul and the mother of the boy Draco was now mesmerized by. Looking back at it now he wondered how he didn't notice Lily Evans' child standing in front of him before, but now that he knew he couldn't un-see a red-headed child rejecting a young Severus Snape because of his connections to the Dark. It had broken the young potions master and Severus had never recovered, especially since she died before they could ever reconcile. Not that they ever would've, as she'd gone and married someone more suited for the Light, and Severus' arch enemy at that.

He feared another red-headed child would do the same to his son, and he'd watch Draco become the miserable loner that Severus became.

Not that he did not think of Severus as a friend, but he did not want that fate for his son, by any cost. He wanted his son happy, and successful in life. Safe and situated at an advantage, at all times. He refused to be ignorant of history repeating itself, so he would learn from Severus' mistake for the sake of his child.

He gave a great sigh, having thought through these thoughts and coming to the only conclusion he, as a father, could.

"Being more Dark-sided had its advantages, however Draco will not be successful in his attempts at wooing this boy if we remain so. This connection will undoubtedly bring us trouble if the Dark lord should return, so perhaps it's time to situate ourselves as truly Grey."

Narcissa nodded, not surprised by this conclusion, probably having thought through it herself. This is why he loved this woman.

"It seems so. I do not wish to approach Dumbledore at this moment, but perhaps Severus would be a good first contact. The Greengrass family too."

"I agree." Lucius hummed, finishing his drink. "We should allow Draco time to continue to write this boy, but we will have Severus for dinner before the school year starts."

"Indeed. We should also begin explaining this to Draco, so he is more prepared for when the year begins." She smoothed the front of her skirts and turned to face him properly now. "Should we address the agreements between the Crabbe and Goyle families?"

"I suppose we must. They are truly Dark and would never understand the complexities of what we are attempting here, but I wouldn't dismiss their protecting Draco. He should be free to interact with this boy but will still need allies within Slytherin." The assumption being that Harry Potter would be a Gryffindor, without a doubt. Being friends with a Gryffindor meant his boy needed all the more protection within his own house, for certain.

“True. Very well, I will begin planning a dinner for Severus and draft a plan for Draco’s education. Do get some rest dear.”

“Yes dear,” Lucius said politely as she ghosted from the room on graceful feet.

She knew damn well that he’d be back at his desk drafting his own plan, of which they’d discuss it over breakfast before Draco managed to pull himself from his bed. They’d come to an agreement then, and if he went to bed now and didn’t prepare anything, she would have her way entirely. Clever witch.

And that was why he loved her.

He finished his drink in one last swig and stood—he had work to do.

Chapter Text

It was the Saturday two weeks before September 1st that Harry finally had his plan together. The night before he’d casually caught his aunt alone and said he’d be gone all of the next day—she thankfully remembered their deal and gave him a sharp look but said absolutely nothing to him as she hurried to the next room to escape him. Figuring that was practically a ‘have fun’ in her terms, he’d set about drafting his list of items after his evening chores and preparing for the trip.

Draco and he had found a rhythm of letter writing, Harry mentioned he only had time at night and very early in the morning, so he’d usually get back to the shed to see a Hedwig drinking from her water bowl in the corner with a letter around her leg. He’d read it and respond before continuing to read from his textbooks and take detailed notes— at Draco’s instruction since apparently the spoiled jerk had had private tutors since birth and was now more than willing to boss him around in good-studying practices. Sometime in the night Draco must get his letter and draft his own response since apparently the boy didn’t need to sleep and was fine sleeping in until any hour during the summer (a foreign concept to Harry but he’d already known Draco’s parents spoiled him rotten so it wasn’t a shock) so Harry usually had another letter waiting for him when he woke. He’d started waking up even earlier these days to be able to respond to Draco, and also get in the house to freshen up for the day before having to cook breakfast and start his chores.

Two letters a day and Harry decided it was entirely worth taking the risk on Draco—he seemed entirely unwilling to talk about his family’s history or his parents in general, and Harry was content to avoid those topics too. Instead they kept to light topics, Draco explaining about the wizarding world and Harry explaining about the muggle one, talking school and hobbies (of which Harry had almost none and Draco’s was simply ‘quidditch) and a plethora of other small-talk-like topics. In letter form he noticed it was a lot easier to plan what you wanted to say and carefully direct where a conversation was going; it was easier to avoid certain things but also allowed a level of freedom with what you said that sometimes people were not brave enough to say to someone to their face, somehow writing it in a letter being easier, safer.

For example, Draco’s and subsequently Harry’s own letters were getting longer and longer as they found more and more to say to each other, but about three days ago Draco had sent one that was easily five pages, front and back. It was a novella even by their standards and Harry quickly realized he was using most of the parchment real estate to build up to say something.

…father once said there was nothing more interesting than a niffler who couldn’t niff, if that makes sense. Anyway, the point I’m trying to get across is that it’s not weird at all, and I think you’re fine the way you were regardless of what anyone says. I don’t understand who in their right mind would say such mindless things, especially about your hair. Honestly your are hair is beautiful and it was what caught my eye that day in Diagon Alley, even when everything these is a catastrophe of color, you stood out about them. In a good way! Well that’s a little weird of me to say but you should know I meant it, and if anyone would like to comment on it again I’ve included a list of a few new spells that Mother taught me that would be really useful for you I think if you…  

Harry had re-read that page of the letter about twelve times to the point where he had Draco’s elegant, yet ambling way of writing memorized. He almost didn’t remember what he’d said in his last letter to prompt such a response but vaguely recalled talking about how he always wore a beanie aside from that one day in the Alley because he’d been told his hair was too bright. Not that anyone had seen his hair outside of the Alley at this point in order to tell him it was too bright, but he hadn’t wanted to get into detail about why he’d hidden his hair for years now over letter.

He’d saved every letter Draco had sent him so far, but that one had left him feeling light and… happy in a way he could never remember being. He had told himself he didn’t need others’ validation to be happy to be himself, but that was before when he’d had none and was just making it by on the strength of his own self-worth. Now that someone had actually complimented himhim, not his mother’s hair, but his hair…

He had been positively cheerful to walk into the house for chores that day, and it was a real struggle not to grin like a maniac while doing so less the Dursleys throw a fit about him being ‘weird’.

His baby cactus-like friend had complimented him, and he’s taken five pages to say it because clearly Draco wasn’t brave enough to come right out and say it, much less ever say it to his face. Which meant he truly meant it because he’s mustered up enough courage to say it at all.

Over the last month he'd only grown more excited that this new world he was entering would be different than the one he was leaving behind. That he could be free to be himself and that maybe no one would care or call him a freak if he were just a bit off--after walking down Diagon Alley and seeing all those strange people and items, he thought just being himself would actually be tame comparatively. But anticipating and actually having proof that someone liked him for who he was… that they’d be going off into this magical world together in two short weeks…

It was very hard to sit down and think logically through what he needed to do with his one free day, because he was so excited he also felt like jumping up and down and running around his tiny shed/room to burn off the energy he hadn’t spent doing chores that day.

List made, he attempted to sleep and found that it was pretty much a waste of time—he was far too excited, and tomorrow promised to be yet another great one.

000

That same night, at an undisclosed location much father north in a vast and sprawling Manor with a heard of peacocks chirping to one another as the moon rose higher in the sky, dinner was wrapping up.

A white owl was delivering that night’s letter to a third story window the same moment Lucius and his old friend were retiring to the parlor for a drink after a simply divine dinner fit for a guest that the hosts wanted something from. Severus wasn’t a fool and he was only ever invited over when something was afoot—most of the times it was because Draco had demanded it, wanting to see his godfather more often because of their not-so-secret potions lessons. Draco had a lot to learn if he thought he was successful in hiding those lessons from his parents, but Lucius and Narcissa were content to let him believe he’d gotten away with it for now. It’d be a valuable lesson later, he was sure they were planning something.

Tonight was not about Draco then, as his godson had bid him a good night and retreated instead of inviting him to the library or some other excuse to get away from his parents and talk potions. Lucius invited him for a night cap and as his glass was filled with 500 year scotch, Severus knew this was going to be a pivotal conversation—his old friend didn’t break out the good stuff for less than world dignitaries he was trying to win over, and Severus knew he himself did not make the cut. Which meant whatever he wanted from him, it was going to be bad.

They sat it relative silence for a time, Lucius asking after the latest potion he was developing, and while Severus would love to speak in depth about it he also knew not to spill proprietary potion research to someone who would sell it to the highest bidder without a second thought if presented the chance. Lucius was his friend, but Severus wasn’t stupid either.

Eventually, he had enough of the beating around the bush.

"What is it you've really called me for, Lucius?"

The blond man sighed as if put out that their delicate conversation was broken but such a blunt question. Still, he relented. "You will not find it a pleasant topic Severus, but bear with me." Severus just gave him a curious look; Lucius was one of the few people who understood his position as a spy—for neither the dark lord nor Dumbledore, but purely for whatever side ensured survival since Lily had died. He’d been devoted to Dumbledore for all of three weeks when Voldemort had been going after the Potters and Dumbledore promised to protect them (to protect Lily) but when Albus had failed and the dark lord killed her… he’d abandoned both of them in his heart of hearts.

Severus had very little left to be truly loyal to. The most he enjoyed another person was Draco, who was oblivious to his dark past and continued internal struggles and looked up to his godfather for his potion making skills alone. Potions had always been his fail safe—he’d been the youngest potions master in history and his genius at this art was one of the only things he had left, so the fact his godson looked at him and didn’t see a weak death eater, a Dumbledore pawn, a terrible teacher… but simply a good potions master… that was enough.

But first and foremost Snape was a spy, between two of the most powerful chess masters and Legilimens in the world. He had had his fair share of unpleasant topics discussed at length and so for Lucius to say that was either an insult to his credit as a spy, or he truly meant it. Which meant…

"Harry Potter." Lucius finally gave.

Instantly Snape felt his shoulder hunch and a scowl sear across his expression.

"And what of the welp." He snapped bluntly. Lucius hated his unrefined temper, but Severus would not—could not— be calm when thinking of that blasted offspring of James bloody Potter.

Lucius seemed to expect this reaction and didn’t even blink, simply taking a delicate sip of his drink and slowly rolling it around is glass thoughtfully for a long couple seconds.

"The Malfoys have decided to go Grey, Severus."

Snape froze.

“…what?"

"Draco met a young Harry Potter in Diagon Alley while we were school shopping… and was immediately smitten. And unfortunately, it reminded me of a young friend I once had, far too much."

Oh hell no.

"You use me as an example for your son?" He spat, ire rolling off his frame and a cluster of feelings making it hard to think straight clogging up his chest. Draco—Lily—Potter—!?

"You're his godfather." Lucius pointed out calmly. He sighed once more, audibly. "I will be blunt in saying yes, I intend for Draco to learn from your mistakes, Severus. As he is now, and pursuing Darker paths, he'll never win the love of this boy. I refuse to see my son suffer this way, so Narcissa and I are taking steps to move towards the Grey. You of all people should know there is nothing I will not do for my son, and his happiness."

Severus felt his fists clench in his lap, his drink forgotten by the side table. Oh yes, he knew—he was made Draco’s godfather purely because he had both Voldemort and Dumbledore's ear. Lucius knew he was in a position of power and wanted to ensure he'd use that for Draco's benefit, in the end. Severus and Narcissa were closer friends than the two men were due to a love of potions in school, but after years of knowing each other, he and Lucius were established “friends” both because it benefited them in the public eye and also because it was hard to spend years working alongside someone for your own gains and not be intimately aware of how they worked—the fact they got out of each other’s way on the most part was essentially a ringing endorsement for their friendship.

Making Severus his son's godfather was a tactical move worthy of Slytherin, nothing more—Severus had always been aware of this, and of what Draco meant to his father.

"But Potter?" He spat scathingly. He was consciously aware there was nothing Lucius wouldn’t do for his son but this was insane, even for him.

"I admit I did not recognize him at first, he simply introduced himself as Harry. He could be Evans' clone, really."

Severus jaw ground together, fists clenching so hard he felt cuts open up in his palm.

"Severus."

After a long silence, where Snape could not…

He grabbed his drink and took a long draw from it, setting it back down with a click against the polished wood.

"What would you have me do."

"Your position at Hogwarts means you must play the part and 'hate' the child. I don't need to be a spy to know you're going to protect him while simultaneously treating him like the Gryffindor that James Potter always deserved to be treated. I am saying do not do that."

"And why would I listen to you."

"You could spin it easily for both the Dark and Light Lords—you wanted to give Draco a chance at 'coercing' Potter over to our side. Meanwhile, that old coot of a Headmaster would gladly buy that you're simply looking after Lily's son."

"A good cover but you still have not given me incentive to actually do any of it."

"If you cannot be civil then simply ignore his presence entirely, is all I'm asking." Lucius’ tone was reasonable and calm—there was little wonder how he charmed his way into high ranking positions, he was worse than a politician and his grey eyes were sharp like a snake. "And you will do it because you too love my son, and you will be dooming him to either hate you for ruining his chances, or suffer through your own failure. Are you truly so petty? If you are then we've no more reason to speak, as I cannot abide those who would purposefully injure my son so." His voice had ice sliding down it, only just so slightly threatening to be cold if Severus did not answer correctly right now.

He wants me to ignore that—that brat!? Potter was the bane of my existence, his spawn will be no different! Like I’d let him strut around Hogwarts as his father did and wreck havoc on my students… never again!

He was all set to tell Lucius to go to straight to hell via the floo… when he remembered Draco, who was probably sitting upstairs oblivious to what was happening down here. Young, too-naïve Draco who had such promise to be a remarkable Slytherin one day, who was so eager and ecstatic to be going to Hogwarts in just a couple weeks… just like Severus remembered his own fresh start coming and arriving with a whirl of youthful exuberance and hope.

Hope was not something he’d had since he was a child. Not since before Lily had been sorted into Gryffindor.

He shouldn’t have gotten attached, he shouldn’t have empathized with that small blond boy who came up to him asking questions about potions, it seemed like only yesterday but it’d been four years already. He didn’t know how Draco had gone from being his godson only in name for appearances sake to a child he legitimately wanted to protect—he didn’t know how Lucius was to blame but the man was good so Severus was going to blame him anyway on the belief it was his fault somehow.

Either way it was too late, and before he could get his mouth to say ‘fuck off Lucius’, he found himself wondering how Draco would react when his excitement for the coming school year and his… attachment, to brat-who-lived was crushed into dust. He shouldn’t be concerned with the feelings of an eleven-year-old, but here he was. Considering it.

Shit.

Against all his better judgement and common sense, he found himself relating to Draco’s position. His excitement to start Hogwarts, to see Lily… to have it come crashing down on him when she went to Gryffindor instead. That weak, desperate hope that they could still be friends even in different houses, that year of sneaking around and hiding behind bookshelves so no one would see them—particularly Potter and his obnoxious friends who always butted in to ridicule Severus and hound Lily like the pigs they were. And then he remembered the day second year when she canceled on him for the first time to study with her Gryffindor friends. The sinking feeling when she canceled more and more, and the sick feeling in his stomach when he canceled on her in angry retribution at being left behind. The itching of his skin at the feeling of suspicious eyes on him when he began to study with other Slytherins—and of course the crowd he picked in desperate attempt to look like he belonged here even when Lily was ignoring him was the ones who looked down on half-bloods with no family name or wealth and were willing to welcome him into their circle because they needed more recruits for what they were planning.

And then it got worse… and worse… and worse. And then it spiraled out of control and ended with Lily dead on a nursery floor, the first time he’d seen her in three years and all his apologies and his begging for forgiveness were wasted on a corpse who never heard him.

But Draco wasn’t at the end, he was at the beginning of it all. He was still excited, hopeful… in love.

He was only eleven, he had no idea what he truly felt of course, but neither had Severus… and then it was too late. It was shocking how fast the time went, how Draco went from that tiny curious child to a first year at Hogwarts in what felt like no time at all, how many years had passed without Lily in this world and he hadn’t even realized how long he’d been dwelling in old wounds and unhealing scars. It felt like a rush of memories all at once—having Lily to losing Lily had taken years, pretty much his entire time at Hogwarts as a student, and yet looking back it felt like he woke up one day and shew as just gone.

His entire memory of being at Hogwarts—what should’ve been the happiest years of his life like it was for so many others—was washed in James Potter’s taunting, derisive voice, and Lily’s wide, sad green eyes.

He hated, hated… more than he could ever hate something, more than his body was physically capable of holding, he hated the fact that those two people who haunted his entire childhood like a vicious demon and the cruelest angel had had a child together. That child was essentially the embodiment of everything he could not move past—how he could not forgive James Potter and how he could not let go of his failure with Lily.

He hated, and he raged.

He grieved.

And the most painful part of this whole situation was that he still hoped—he hoped that Draco would not be like Lucius, not like him… he hoped his godson who he so empathized with, would end up more like someone who came out of all those dark nights scot free. Like how happy Lily had been when she’d left Severus in the dust, and had a husband she loved and a child she adored—right before it all went away. Some people actually got happy endings, he observed, and he hoped Draco would be one of them.

If he hoped because he empathized and it was a reflection of the wish he still held for himself, or because he truly wished his godson happiness, he didn’t know. But he had hoped… that Draco wouldn’t be the cold-hearted bastard his father was, or a pawn to either dark lord or Dumbledore. Draco was a lot of things, but he’d never been cruel… and Severus had known since the boy asked how to brew a pain reducer for his mother who’d come down with the flu at nine years old that he’d never be truly cut out for work in the Dark.

He would be successful, just like his father and just like Severus himself. But while Lucius didn’t mind doing what needed to be done in order to make it far in life, Severus had had to learn to squash down who he’d once been and learn to be cruel. They were both successful, but only one of them was actually happy.

Severus knew Draco would be successful… but happy?

Happy like so few got when they were in a position like theirs. Really it seemed the only truly happy people were the ones who fled society altogether—like Andromeda marrying a muggleborn. Narcissa had complained about her sister at length, but of all the people he knew, Severus always first thought of Andromeda and her worthless husband she loved so much when considering happy people.

It seemed to him, in the end… that the only truly happy people were the ones who didn’t let the world control them.

As a spy whose leash was held by not one, but two sides of an ongoing war no one realized they were still fighting, Severus felt his entire soul despair.

This world… this world was cruel. And he never had a chance, he decided.

If there’s no hope for me, then fuck it. You win, Lucius.

He downed his drink in one go and stood, launching the glass in his hand at full force, where it shattered against the mantlepiece into a thousands shards. It was probably part of some priceless set worth hundreds of galleons, and that made it all the more vindictive and satisfying.

Lucius didn’t even blink although he did flick his hand and a basic wandless shield flickered up to deflect the shards from getting in his hair.  

Severus seethed, but seethed as man who knew he’d been beaten. As if he were anything else than a beaten man.

"I do not promise not to treat him like the little arrogant celebrity he is." He snapped, striding to the fireplace and grabbing a pinch of floo powder—vanishing in a whirl of green before Lucius could say any more of his stupid, slippery words.

One glass of scotch was not enough for a night like tonight.

In the parlor Severus had left behind, Lucius leaned back in his chair and sipped his own drink far more slowly, enjoying the 500-year scotch for all it was worth because this was one of the priciest drinks in his reservoir. Not just because of the year but because a side effect of old alcohol stored in cherrywood barrels—so rumor would have it, old liquor in barrels of softwood would invoke a strong sense of nostalgia in whoever drank it. It wasn’t a poison or a spell, as it was the inherit magical nature of the liquor-making practice, so it’d never show up on a quick scan to check that your food or drink wasn’t tampered with.

Lucius drank it himself to subtly ensure Severus it wasn’t poisoned, and now he sat here reminiscing over the young Slytherin he’d seen chasing after Gryffindor girl like he wasn’t the most obvious child in Slytherin house at one point. He’d gotten better of course, but Lucius knew a memory or two combined with his attachment to Draco and Severus’ resolve to hate James Potter’s son would begin to crack.

All he had to do was meet the child now and Lucius was sure any delusions his younger friend would have about Harry being James’ clone would dissolve in a puff of smoke. Perhaps Lucius’ waring, the scotch, and the bright scarlet hair would be just enough to stop Severus from single handedly breaking Draco and his new friend apart.

Perhaps he’d even grow to accept the Potter child, though it would take time. The sooner it happened though, the sooner the next part of the plan could commence.

He was annoyed the dragon in his garden had uprooted everything, but a new garden had been planned around the now sleeping beast and Lucius was satisfied to see everything start to come together.

Chapter Text

“Why do I have more than one account?”

The goblin in front of him was only marginally more cordial than the others, and Harry figured that’s because he was being paid quite a bit to be his accountant. Draco had said goblins were greedy and while he took what the future-Slytherin said about others with a grain of salt, the fact they had caverns of vaults filled with gold and wizards trusted them with essentially their whole economy told Harry they wouldn’t be in this profession if they didn’t like profit. Then again that wasn’t a strictly goblin thing, liking profit, however given the vicious snarl/smile Axeclaw gave him at that questions suggested goblins took a bit more pleasure out of it than most.

Getting to Diagon Alley took no time at all, as Draco had told him about the Knight Bus (with an extreme emphasis on how no decent wizard would ever be caught riding it, which Harry interpreted to mean poor or desperate people would ride it the second he stepped on and caught sight of the clientele on board) and also informed him that Gringotts never closed at any hour of the day, or day of the year. Which was awesome because here he was, at precisely 5:15 in the morning in a private room at Gringotts with a goblin who claimed to be his account manager, and the Potter family financial advisor and accountant. He had a lot to do and only one day to do it, and the bank was his first stop since he needed money for most (all) of it.

He also thought this might take some time to get through all his questions, hence the early hour long before any of the other shops he needed to visit today opened. He told the Dursleys he wouldn’t be around, and that meant they wouldn’t be looking for him at all since they knew damn well where he was and would refuse to comment on the fact he wasn’t there to cook them breakfast as it’s open up the chance for him to potentially mention where he’d been. They’d probably just go out to eat like that was the plan all along since it was a Saturday.

The goblin cleared his throat politely as he shifted the paper in front of him on the desk.

“Upon your defeat of the dark lord, the war officially came to a close. Many were killed during that time, including young aurors or those willing to fight, which were often the heirs of prominent or less-prominent families. With their deaths, those family lines ended and their vaults closed until further notice; the thought that perhaps a distant relative one day might have a similar enough magical signature for our wards to register them as an acceptable inheritor. This is standard procedure unless the previous owner of the vault has taken steps to will their vaults to someone of non-blood relation before their death; it is a lengthy, slightly painful process few bother with unless the family line is important enough that to let it die out would be unthinkable. Or, an individual with no heir is desperate for a way to show their gratitude.”

“Gratitude?” He blinked in alarm, a dreading feeling sinking into his stomach as he realized where this was going.

“Indeed. Wizarding law is something of a hybrid of old and new—one of the old laws that’s stuck around since medieval time is the concept of revenge. For example, there used to be seven Ancient and Noble houses in the wizarding world, however the Monroe line was killed off by the Dark Lord himself. As you were the one to kill the dark lord, you inadvertently avenged the Monroe line and therefore the Potter line is now also Ancient and Noble.”

“Oh no.” This sounded like it was going to get even worse, and by the fact he could see every single one of Axeclaw’s pointed teeth as he grinned/snarled, he knew he had no chance.

“Similarly, families whose heirs were killed off by the war felt they owed you both in thanks for your service and also for your part in the revenge taken for their lost children or relatives. They didn’t legally have to do so as the transferring of the Ancient and Noble title is legally done, however it is in wizarding culture to do such a thing even if the process is lengthy and slightly painful.”

I do wonder what a goblin considers ‘slightly painful’ and with a name like Axeclaw I’m not sure I want to know.

“Not all lines who were willed to you were because of killed children though; many just thought it right to will you their inheritance if they had no heirs to begin with—though those individuals were mostly without a family line and thus much wealth to pass on, but still had their life savings to do something with post-mortem. Many more still willed you at least a portion of their estate when they passed even if they did have relatives to inherit most of their property and wealth. That required no lengthy process at all, but is simply an edit to their standing wills, so that was actually much more common. To this day you are still receiving portions of money or valuables from the elderly dying of old age instead of war and I suspect you’ll continue to receive for many years yet.”

Harry could only stare at the goblin, trying to wrap his head around this.

People were that thankful he’d been a fluke of nature and accidentally killed someone? He didn’t even remember the event in question at all, he was one. It made him feel hot and itchy and generally uncomfortable to be the center of all this… gratitude when he hadn’t done a damn thing. Considering what he knew of himself he didn’t think he was a very honest or good-willed person, much less someone who deserved this amount of fervent praise or recognition. It was like electing a crocodile to be mayor of a town of cranes or something.

And he felt genuinely bad because a bunch of people had already died thinking their last wish of having their bloodline’s wealth would be carried on by some great hero, and people were still doing this crock, and eventually they’d probably meet him and realize they’d been horribly, horribly wrong. He wasn’t a bad person but he was by no means a saint and had no problem wandering in the grey area of life (stealing from the Dursleys at will, manipulating Hagrid like he was a freakin’ puppet, plotting to get vengeance on an old Headmaster he’d never even met and who could be a genuinely good, if not stupid, guy—just to name a few of his less-than-savory tendencies). That didn’t stop him from feeling genuinely bad that a lot of people were going to get their high hopes and earnest respect in him crushed like a soda can—that he never got the chance to warn off who-knows how many people before this point from willing him their family wealth to the wrong person, to a bed-time story of who he was supposed to be at best.

People had given away real, honest money because of a lie, and now he just felt like a scam artist even if he hadn’t done it on purpose or really even been aware of it until this moment. Morally grey person or not, he wasn’t the type to lie, cheat, or purposefully trick people for money.

To keep himself alive? Without a second thought.

For fun? Depends on the situation, but was not off the table.  

For profit? Nope.

He’d come this far with only a couple pounds here and there and one of his core lessons was that lowering your expectations meant it’d be easier to achieve them. He most certainly didn’t even need the trust vaults he’d been showed earlier, much less whatever ungodly amount was in his family’s vault or what all these other people were tossing at him. He wasn’t going to say no of course (he wasn’t that nice, he couldn’t exactly give it BACK if they were dead now, and was certain tossing money at people he perceived to be in need of it on the street was kind of an asshole thing to do) so he’d sit on it until he could think of a use. For the time being his trust vault alone, even not being topped off every year, would last him several lifetimes so there was no rush.  

 The goblin was patient as he worked this out, or at least Harry assumed he was being patient as he’d had the annoyed scowl on since this meeting had started.

“So… how many vaults are we talking about here?”

Now Axeclaw was more definitely grinning, as he lifted a mess of papers and lay them on the desk in front of him, and it was arguably scarier than his scowl.

“It is all listed out here in specifics, however in summary: in the range of 0 knuts up to 100 galleons there have been twenty-six donations. In the range of 100 galleons to 1000 galleons there have been twelve donations. In the range of 1000 galleons to 5000 galleons there have been six donations. In the range of-”

“Maybe I should read that in my own time… I think I’d like to know more about each individual than hearing an average.” He interrupted, realizing that was probably very rude when he got a glacial glare in response, but Axeclaw collected himself quickly.

“Very well. The sum of the donations and inheritances is 197,066 galleons, and although it is no more than an educated guess without a true appraiser for each item, the sum of the heirlooms and other properties left to you should they be liquidated is 800,000 galleons. Additionally, there have been a wide variety of books, toys, and merchandise published and sold, all themed around you and the story of your defeat of the dark lord, and legally a certain percentage of each sale is to be given to the person whose name is being used. While it’s questionable since you were not able to give your permission for these things, the percentage argued on your behalf was quite generous at 17%. Total profit from those royalties so far is 600,000 galleons and change—it increases continuously even ten years later.”  

Harry knew he’d bought everything he needed for school (and with every shiny bell and whistle he wanted in passing fancy) plus at least a trunk full of extra interesting things, for around 90 galleons if he was remembering that correctly. He wasn’t great at math but even he knew these numbers were ridiculous. Half of what he’d just bought he’d never need to replace since, you know, magic. This was all jut incredibly excessive in his mind.

Also, books? Toys?

What the actual hell.

But Axeclaw didn’t seem interested in his expressions but simply pushed forward. “As the Potter line avenged the now-deceased Monroe line and they were an Ancient and Noble house, there is a stipulation in that ancient magic that allows you to inherit that bloodline as well, although the criteria to accept that bloodline requires some looking into. A minimum of 7 years after the act of vengeance has already been met, however there are a couple blood rituals to perform and you will need to either take on the name yourself or perform an oath that one of your children, should you have them, will carry the Monroe name.”

“Uh… like, Potter-Monroe? Or just naming one of my children, like, Susie Monroe instead of Potter?”

“Precisely.” The goblin nodded, putting is papers down and giving him an expectant look.

“Uh… well sure, I don’t care. Potter-Monroe it is.”

I wonder if ‘blood rituals’ are ‘slightly painful’ in the goblin sense, and if he’d tell me beforehand if they were. Probably not, he seems like he’d enjoy that.

He wondered if he should cling more to the concept of his family name, since he clung so hard to just the memories of his mother and father… but couldn’t find it within himself to care. He’d thought his name was ‘Freak Dursley’ for the longest time until he reached primary school so knowing his name was ‘Harry Potter’ had been a relief at best. He didn’t know his parents were anything other than drunks until just recently either, so he’d never really clung to or looked up to the name ‘Potter’ in the first place. It was a very common name in any case, and Potter-Monroe had no more meaning to him than Potter did, and somehow it seemed like the decent thing to do. The Monroe line being wiped out because of one man seemed a bit sad, and just because he didn’t care didn’t mean that it wouldn’t be meaningful to someone in that dead family whose ghost might be happy their name got to live on alongside the name Potter.

It meant nothing to him either way so it was an easy decision. It might even be fun to correct people who seemed to know exactly who Harry Potter was that ‘Ahem, actually it’s Harry Potter-Monroe,’’. It’d be an easy way to curb the enthusiasm of his more clingy admirers, even if only slightly.

“I will retrieve the paperwork in a moment then.” Axeclaw seemed pleased with his answer and turned back to his papers, getting on with business. “The Monroe line is worth 403,607 galleons although you’ll find as they were once an Ancient and Noble house perhaps their antique books and properties would be worth far more in their wealth of knowledge than liquidating them. Additionally, you are primed to inherit a section of the Ancient and Noble House of Black, although that could take several years.”

“Primed? Meaning they’re not dead yet.” He immediately noted, hope rising unwillingly. If he had a relative, alive…

“The Ancient and Noble House of Black is one of the wealthiest in wizarding Britain and so the descendant of each branch of the family always inherits a pretty sum. The main line’s latest descendant is one Sirius Black, and the only two other living lines that survived the last war are ended with one Bellatrix Black, nee Lestrange, and Narcissa Black, nee Malfoy, who has a son under the majority age while neither of the other two have children. Sirius Black was disowned from the family when he was still in Hogwarts which makes Bellatrix Lestrange the heir to the Black family fortune, however Mr. Black still receives the standard inheritance from a Black family side-branch. Sirius Black and Bellatrix Lestrange are both in the wizarding prison of Azkaban for life due to crimes committed in the last war and therefore their accounts have been frozen. However, Sirius Black is listed as you godfather and therefore legally when he passes his inheritance will come to you. Azkaban is not a pleasant place so I would not expect that to take several decades.”

Harry stared.

He… had a godfather? That… what?

Okay, not the time to freak out… apparently this Sirius Black is a relative of Draco’s mom? Somehow? From what Draco said most purebloods are related distantly so… I’ll ask him later what he knows of Sirius Black. Shelving this thought for now before my brain explodes.

“What… were his war crimes?” He couldn’t stop himself from asking.

“Officially nothing, as he was not given a trial. Unofficially it was believed he was the one to betray James and Lily Potter to the Dark Lord that night.”

“You’re… very well informed.”

“I am the Potter account manager, it is my duty to know what is financially best for my client. Yours is one of the most profitable for Gringotts and now that there is someone to have gold flowing once more, I intend to assist in any way I can.” The goblin intoned briskly, entirely unbothered.

Money makes money. Money sitting in a bank doesn’t do anyone any good since the bank can’t charge you fees for moving it around. Figures.

“Okay so… I can take copies of these? I’ll look over them myself when I have a minute, but you seem to have a handle on things for now.” The goblin nodded sharply once in agreement. Harry made a note to quiz Draco on finances—his father was a part time Barrister when needed and given his wealth clearly knew how to handle money so one could only assume Draco had picked up a thing or two and might be willing to share.

“For today, you only have access to your Potter trust vault and the donations—both money and heirlooms. If you’re willing to inherit the Monroe line then you will be provided access to that vaults immediately since they did not have school-age children to need to set up restrictive wards for when they were wiped out, however withdrawals are limited until you reach the age of majority. As I said the heirlooms in that vault are likely worth more in their content than their monetary value and you will have free reign to take them as you wish.” He handed over another small ream of paper and Harry felt a headache coming on at all the numbers, percentages, and words on the pages.

“This is a list of investments, properties, and other non-liquidated assets you have, all of which you have access to and are free to do with what you wish. I have been in charge of managing them this past ten years with the last directive to ‘maintain’ profit.”

Harry picked up on the emphasis of maintain, and after scanning it (he had no clue what any of it meant, he knew nothing of finances or investments) he looked up and nodded to the goblin.

“Can you do more than maintain? Like see if we can’t grow it?”

That seemed to be all the goblin was waiting for, and by the glint in his eye Harry made a note to look through these papers carefully sometime soon and figure out exactly how big of a cut Gringotts got for these services. It was probably worth it… but he should really double check, because he didn’t think he wanted to know what a goblin looked like when being told Christmas (or their equivalent holiday, whatever it was) had come early and now it was too late.

“Of course, Mr. Potter.” Axeclaw agreed with a silkiness to his tone that Harry didn’t want to ask about.

“I think these will answer most of my questions for now, once I have time to go through them. May I write back with any further questions if I have them?”

“Indeed—I am your account manager so I will be open to correspondence.” He nodded.

Which brought up another troubling thing. “Speaking of correspondence, I ask Griphook last time I was here about my bank statements. I know it’s not Gringotts doing, as someone else has been keeping a lot of things from me, and that includes my bank statements for the past ten years. Is there any word about what happened to them?”

Axeclaw lost his grin/snarl and now was simply snarling unpleasantly.

“Griphook informed me of this and I took a look into it. There seems to be a mail ward around your main place of residence though it is undetermined where it’s redirecting mail to and who put it into place. We’ve confirmed the statements have not been destroyed, and in fact are unopened as of yet. It’s likely they’re mixed in with the rest of the mail, wherever it’s being kept after being redirected from you. By my approximations when looking at the ward, it redirects about 50 letters a week from you, and if you were not aware of the magical world until recently there’s a good chance most of them are from admirers of your defeat of the dark lord.”

“Isn’t it a crime to interfere with someone else’s mail?”

“In the muggle world, yes. Not in the wizarding—in fact many letters are scanned by the Ministry for security. A measure put in place during a time of crisis in the last war, and it was never revoked.”

Well that’s absolutely horrible. Making a note to never send anything critical by letter because to hell with that.

“How did you figure out the ward was there? Is there any way to remove it or alter it so I know where the letters are being sent now?”

“For a fee Gringotts can do this, yes. We are experts in warding; goblin wards far exceed the quality of a ward any wizard can produce, and whoever created this initial ward was definitely a human. It can be easily dismantled and a new one put in place per your specifications as you request it.”

Harry’s mind lit up and started racing with the possibilities. If the goblins were the best and they only wanted to be paid, well then… his had several vaults he wasn’t using and this could be very useful.

“I definitely would like to do that, if what’s in the trust vault will cover the fee.” He agreed politely, not letting one how eager he was for this, and Axeclaw didn’t seem to care as he was getting business either way.

“Of course—for something this simple the fee is six galleons.”

That’s it!? I’m seriously not quite sure about the value of a galleon here because that’s insane.

“So, if I wanted a ward on a place with say…as single charm or something, how much would that be?”

“It depends on the size of the location and the strength of the charm in question.”

“Let’s say a building no bigger than this room, and a muggle-repelling charm.”

The goblin raised one eyebrow and it was kind of amusing how normal that motion was given that his smiling and grimacing was essentially the same look.

“A full ward would be excessive, I think. There are ward stones that can be imbued with a small-area ward of one single intent. For a muggle repelling charm it would be absolutely nothing to create, as that’s one of the easiest wards to create and no one bothers to take them down—muggles don’t have magic to try even if they knew it was there. At most it’d be four galleons.”

“I would like one of those as well.”

“Very good, Mr. Potter, I’ll see about fixing those things sometime today. Where would you like your mail directed?”

“Is it possible to send it all to my trust vault? Aside from Gringotts and Hogwarts letters. Ah—” He cut himself off, realizing this was an opportunity, corrected himself. “Aside from Gringotts and everyone at Hogwarts except Headmaster Dumbledore. Letters from him can be sent to the vault too.”

Axeclaw gave him an unreadable look but wrote it down anyway.

“Can I add people to the ward as I see fit? Like when I get to Hogwarts and make friends hopefully.”

“Of course, simply write to me with the name of the person who is to be added into the ward. Cost of an alteration to the ward is two sickles.”

“Okay, then uh… Draco Malfoy should be allowed in too.”

“Very good Mr. Potter.” He finished making his notes and looked back up at the young wizard in front of him. “Gringotts will continue to pursue your missing statements and will likely find the store of the rest of your mail at that time. I will be in contact for when that happens.”

“Thank you, Mr. Axeclaw.” He smiled as innocently as he could, but the goblin very much did not seem to care. He was probably planning all the ways he could invest the Potter share portfolio now that he had the all clear to do so.

“I should have everything complete and a ward stone ready for you by 1pm today. If you come back at the time I can also arrange for the blood ritual you’ll need to inherit the Monroe line. It should not take more than half an hour.”

Well that’s appropriately ominous coming from a goblin in charge of my money.

“Sure, I’ll be here.” He was very tempted to ask if it’d hurt but figured he wouldn’t get an honest answer anyway—and he’d be heavily judged for being a wimp. Well, too late now.

“I know you requested to visit your vaults after this meeting; I will have Griphook escort you down. This is the key to the vault that has been storing your donations, and this is the Monroe vault.” He withdrew two new golden keys from the drawer to his side, and Harry perked up in alarm. They too were golden, with slightly different patterns and made a point to memorize as soon as they settled in his hand.

“Should I have this key when I’ve not inherited the Monroe line yet?”

Axeclaw gave him a very eerily snarling smile. “You’ve given your word to accept their bloodline, therefore the right is yours. It would be… severely unpleasant, to rescind your word now, so in the eyes of our wards you are, shall we say, close enough.”

Harry just nodded curtly once and stood up without another word.

Guess I’m going through with it whether I like it or not now. Not sure I want to know what’s bad enough for a goblin to call ‘severely unpleasant’. Maybe it’s just death.

000

 He stopped at his ‘donated inheritance’ vault first, and was honestly blown away. Yes there was a boat load of galleons in those oddly perfect pyramid-like piles the goblins seemed to like to arrange gold in, but in pure volume it only held about 5% of the entire space of the vault. When Axeclaw said people willed him everything with their deaths, he’d really meant everything. There was furniture, paintings, books, jewelry, fancy vases, clothes, trunks, clothes, crates, and more. He was totally baffled, and he could spend the next hour in here without much luck.

He wandered deep into the vault in awe, his head on a swivel as he tried to take this all in.

“What the quaffle am I supposed to do with all of this?” He asked of no one.

“Did you just use a quidditch term as an expletive?” A voice to his left asked in amused incredulity and he jumped a bit, whipping around… and a painting of a portly woman with dark curls on her head was looking at him from the frame of what looked to be an oil painting.

“Uh…” Was a picture talking to him? “You… can talk?”

“Of course I can.” She lifted one brow at him, obviously thinking little of his intellect.

“Sorry… I’m still new to this whole magic thing. Can… all pictures talk, in the wizarding world?”

“Just about, I’d think.” She mused, tapping her chin. “Although portraits are a little special. We’re imbued with a bit of the person we’re of—for example my name’s Cassandra Longbottom. My portrait was passed down until my great-great-great- grand-niece Oliva Merriweather had me hung in her dining room. I think she must’ve died in the war she was fighting last I remember it.”

“Oh. Sorry for your loss,” He frowned. “My name’s Harry… I accidentally killed the dark lord when I was one so a bunch of people willed me all their belongings and I suppose your great grand niece was one of them.”

“Accidentally killed a dark lord when you were one? Now that’s a story I bet!”

“Eh, not really. As I said I was one, so I remember nothing of it.” He glanced around the room nervously, spotting many portraits here and there. “Will… you, and all these portraits be alright if I don’t do anything with you today? I mean, you’ve been here ten years…”

“Don’t worry dear, time works differently when you’re a portrait—hasn’t felt like any time at all since I was last talking with Olivia really.”

“Oh… well that’s good.” He’d feel a little bad to walk away and dooming her to dead boredom for who knows how long when she’d already been sitting here for ten years without much to do. “Uh… I’m going to have a look around. Nice to talk to you.”

“You too dear!” She waved him off, unbothered as he walked away.

Okay, it just keeps getting weirder.

The furniture was all… well, outdated was a kind term. He stopped briefly at the pile of clothes too and took about thirty seconds to realize it was all of a similar style—meaning retro at best—and smelled heavily of other people and moth balls. No thank you.

The area where there were seven bookshelves filled with books was more interesting… he spent longer here, actually scanning each title and picking out a couple things here and there that might be useful as he went into Hogwarts this year. A couple books on household charms, a new one on potions he hadn’t seen before, one or two on history and herbology… the rest he wasn’t sure about and was fairly certain a title like ‘An Advanced Guide to Arithmancy’ would be helpful for future-him, since he wasn’t going to even get the option to take Arithmancy until third year, according to Draco. He slipped his finds into his bag and left the vault, where Griphook stood looking no more annoyed than Harry had left him, so this was probably not an uncommon practice to spend some time in one’s vault.

“Would it be possible to sell of the furniture and clothes in there? I wouldn’t even know how to start doing something like that and would think Gringotts would be experienced in liquidating people’s assets.”

The goblin snarled. “We have those services, yes. I will put in a request on your behalf and the quote for such a task will be mailed to you.”

“Great, thank you.”

Well that was one problem taken care of.

The next vault he stopped in was the Monroe vault—and to say he was stunned was an understatement. If his donation vault was chaotic and cluttered, this one was… well, still cluttered but it had a regal feel to it.

As he walked back, there was row after row of neatly organized bookshelves full of trinkets and books and more that he couldn’t possibly begin to guess at. Ancient and Noble indeed; this place looked to be as filled with history as a museum, but five times as packed. The piles and piles of gold near the front weren’t half as interesting as walking into its depths, and after ten minutes of going Harry realized he was going to have to come back one day to take a real look in here, because he couldn’t even see the back wall yet, and he had things to do today.

It was all just so much… so many things and he was so curious but… he’d have to come back later.

It also filled him with a sense of excitement and heart-aching longing to wonder what was in the Potter main vault. Was there a level of history, of belonging in there too? Would his parents and grandparents and ancestors back as long as his line have filled their vault with books and valuables from their lifetimes that he could explore, and use to get to know them?

Unfortunately he’d have to wait until he was older to see into that vault, but at least he got a chance to see who this Monroe family he was inheriting a name from was. On his way back to the front he trailed through this shelf-way and that… opening trunks that were filled with journals and clothes and even more trinkets he couldn’t identify. There was just so much he wasn’t sure what would be useful or not but… it all seemed interesting.

It was one particular shelf he passed that a small bauble caught his eyes. It was a slightly dusty wicker basket with something flickering bright neon pink and a sky-colored blue, and when he pulled it down to see into it, he saw it was filled with bracelets and chains of every color. He glanced up and the shelf marker read ‘Estate of Dell Monroe: 1617-1671’.

His eyes traced the shelves… this Dell Monroe seemed like a colorful woman, with mismatched tea cups and a crazy amount of colorful, oddly shaped goblets lined on the shelves. His favorite was a little stone basin no bigger than a soup bowl on tiny little pebbled feet with a shimmery opal lining inside. The bottom shelf was lined with books that seemed to be mostly about transfiguration, and the shelf above that had a full line of journals. On a whim he plucked one up and opened to the first page.

‘That blast darn it, figgleworm-headed, over-priced piece of blubbering blaxwottle piss has done it for the last time! If he doesn’t return my tempest watch by tomorrow morning I’m going to transfigure his pillow into Bubotuber pus bubbles—I don’t know how I’ll do it but mark my words I will!’

He let out a startled bark of laughter at that, instantly amused by her wild handwriting and crazy wit, deciding he very much liked this woman. Since he could, he swiped the stone bowl, the basket of shiny things, all the journals and books below it and tossed them into his bottomless bag. Figuring he’d spent too much time here already and having at least a souvenir for his trouble, he went quickly back to the front where Griphook was waiting, a smile on his face thanks to Ms. Dell’s creative humor.

000

Even with how much time he spent at Gringotts, sitting with Axeclaw and visiting three vaults with an extended stay in two, when he left he was still walking down Diagon Alley pretty much alone since he still had half an hour until the earliest shops opened, and an hour until a lot of the main ones he wanted to frequent opened. Given that there wasn’t a soul in sight, he took to getting the lay of the land without a huge crowd of people in the way, walking down the Alley and seeing the shops once more. He ended up by Knockturn Alley and remembered Hagrid’s warning not to go down there.

And well, Hagrid wasn’t exactly here and this place was a ghost town so early in the morning, so Harry strolled right on in.

The temptation of going where he wasn’t supposed to go was left pretty much unsatisfied when the side street was just as boring as the closed down Diagon Alley—shops with their doors locked up and their windows professing much of what was sold on the main street except in danker, dirty venues. Was this considered the black market? Because if so it was clearly labeled with a sign on the main entrance marking it “Knockturn Alley” and these shops seemed very legitimate. These shops probably sold under the table too, although Harry didn’t know enough to know what it could be. But it was good to know this was here, because it seemed useful.

What did surprise him was that at the end of the Alley, there was another little side alley one could stroll down with a bright open street on the other side. A curious investigation later, and Harry found himself on another street… which looked a lot like Diagon Alley except there were different shops. Baffled, he glanced around until he saw the green sign a couple meters down which read: “Contrair Alley”. 

Hagrid had never mentioned this place at all, and he felt obligated to investigate. It actually seemed as there were a lot of apartment-like buildings, but tons of cafes and shops that had a far more modern air than Diagon. There was an apothecary, two bookstores, a hair-dresser, like six clothes shops—and woah, back up a minute, a freaking library!?

THAT is helpful, and he was slightly put out Hagrid hadn’t mentioned this place. Well, maybe Hagrid didn’t care about libraries, and to be fair that last alley connecting Knockturn and here was pretty small, so maybe he just didn’t fit through the entrance to this place.

Either way his original plan was derailed as he figured he could get everything he wanted done today done here instead of Diagon, including adding a few things to the list that he hadn’t previously considered. Contrair Alley had several more options than its neighbor street and he planned to make use of them.

As it was getting to be around the time things started opening, he started with a small bakery that already smelled wonderfully and was he first thing to open on Contrair. He ordered some kind of tiny pie of meat with a muffin and a cup of tea, plus a side of bacon, and happily enjoyed it at a table out front while the rest of the stores started opening and one or two people appeared around the street to start their day off with some shopping.

He hadn’t had a chance to sit down and enjoy a hot breakfast someone else had made in… well, ever. He enjoyed it quite a bit, and he took the time to read at least some of the papers Axeclaw had given him. Most of it was financial terms he didn’t get and would have to look up, so he started making of list of terms he’d need to understand before he did much with this information.

By the time he’d eaten and decided to call it quits on deciphering his finances, the first shop on his list should’ve been open, so he thanked the lady behind the counter and went on his way—down to Osmias’ Optical Solutions. Diagon hadn’t had a single doctor shop of any kind and immediately after seeing this store on his way in Harry knew he wanted one of these solutions. If they couldn’t fix his eyes since, you know, magic, then maybe they’d sell glasses not from a bargain-bin since he could not afford nicer ones that actually fixed his eyesight rather than letting him see slightly less blurry shapes while also damaging his eyesight further.

He walked in and a bell at the door alerted his entrance, and a man looked up from where he was writing something at a desk near the back. The shop consisted of plain tan walls and tiled floors, a long row of spinning black chairs on metal stands lined up on one wall and very muggle-looking eye charts on the other. It kind of gave a hair-dresser like vibe actually.

“Welcome to Osmias’, what can I do ya for today?” The man, presumably Osmias, greeted cheerfully.

“I want to see what can be done to get rid of my glasses, if possible.”

“Sure lad, come on in. No parents with you today?”

“No sir.” He deflected politely, and the man didn’t push for more details, but just nodded at that answer and set about writing something up at his desk. It was kind of suspect that a medical professional wouldn’t ask to have parent approval before an obvious child asked for a medical procedure, but given that the set up was more like a hair-dresser than some kind of doctor’s office, maybe the procedure wasn’t actually that difficult or dangerous.

He was proven right pretty quickly. “Just hop up on the chair then lad and we’ll see what we can do. Shouldn’t take too long.” Harry did just that while the man finished writing and stood, dusting his hands off on the front of his robe and pulling out his wand. Harry let the man get close, his warm brown eyes meeting his gaze but clearly examining his actual eyes rather than looking at him directly.

“Now then, just a quick diagnostic spell to see what’s the matter.” He said, lifting his wand and casting a light blue spell that laid over Harry’s skin and made his eyes feel warm.

Magic.

It was still new enough that it was exciting to watch it happen, especially when it was happening to him.

His interest vanished at the frown the man got on his face though.

“Huh, that’s weird. I’ve never seen something like this outside of the Potter family.” He mused, scratching his temple with the tip of his wand, baffled.

Harry felt his heart skip a beat.

“Uh… well, my name’s Harry Potter sir.”

The guy blinked, then the words sunk in. “Well I’ll be! Good lord boy, I didn’t—well isn’t that remarkable! My dear boy it’s an honor to meet you!” Harry watched his eyes flicker to his forehead but his make-up covered scar wasn’t visible thanks to quite a bit of practice on Harry’s part at concealing it.

“Uh… likewise.” He shifted in the chair uncomfortably as the man leaned closer, evidentially thrilled to have met him for some reason. “What was that about my eyes and the Potter family again?”

“Oh yes! It’s a hereditary thing you see; certain lines are gifted and cursed in certain ways. The Potter family, so the stories go, has a larger magical capacity than most other families but is cursed with poor eyesight. Most known fixes don’t work on Potter eyes which is why they’ve all had glasses, historically speaking.”

He said this as if it was common knowledge, but Harry was only just now learning his father, and therefore probably a lot of his ancestors, wore glasses.

“There’s an old joke that Potters don’t need to see the broad side of a barn because their blasting curses can level it well enough,” The man continued to chat merrily as if this were very entertaining, but Harry wasn’t too amused. Especially since that joke seemed offensive somehow, though he wasn’t sure how.

“So there’s nothing you can do for my eyes?”

“Now I didn’t say that, my boy! This is Osmias’ after all! We’ve got your Odd Solution right here!” he turned and started rifling through some cabinets in the back happily, pulling out long white boxes.

“’Odd Solution’?” Harry wondered aloud.

“Of course! Contrair Alley is full of those who utilize ‘Odd Solutions’—or really, muggle made or inspired solutions that are banned from Diagon Alley. Purebloods have the deeds to all of Diagon so if it ain’t traditional wizard-like they don’t let it be sold up there. So Diagon has the pure stuff, but if you need an Odd Solution or a bargain deal, Contrair’s where it’s at. You’re in luck you came here since there’s no regular magic solution for Potter eyes, but my Odd Solution is not only half the price of a normal fix but for a little inconvenience it’ll do the trick for your eyes.”

“What’s the little inconvenience?” He frowned warily.

“Well it’s not a permanent fix—see these things?” He opened the first white box, and inside were a line of a dozen or so very familiar shapes resting in shallow pools of water.

“Contacts?”

The man looked startled, then grinned. “So the rumors of you growing up in the muggle world are true then? Excellent! Then yes: I took the concept of muggle contacts and spun them to my liking. I can alter them for your vision problems and any extra features you’d like—another bonus traditional optical spells don’t afford you! One pair will last about a year so the inconvenience is that you’ll have to come back every year or so for a new pair.”

“A year?” Harry was stunned for half a second before he remembered—oh right, magic. “Wait, what other features?”

“I can toss in a slightly increased ability to see at night, sun glare protection, and heat resistance if you’d like!”

“…heat resistance?”

“Have you ever rubbed your eyes after cutting up some peppers? I did once, and I regretted it.” The man got very somber as if this was a traumatic experience for him. It probably was, if he went as far to include it into his product line.

“I’ll take them. With the extra features—once a year is totally fine if I can be free of my glasses for all that time. Do I have to take them out at night?”

“Absolutely not! That would be a little too inconvenient to actually sell, now wouldn’t it?”

Harry just smiled. The more wizards he met, the crazier they all seemed.

000

He spent a lot of the morning in the various bookstores Contrair Alley had, and found they had a ton more interesting options than Flourish and Blotts did. Two even had a ‘Hogwarts Section’ where people could buy the required books at Hogwarts that year, but everything else had a little more liberal titles than some of those. There was a whole section about information muggleborns should know upon entering the wizarding world and he got seven of them on different subjects, including ‘A Muggleborn’s Emergency Guide to Latin in 23 Basic Steps’ which he considered a personal score on many levels. He was a little miffed Flourish and Blotts didn’t have this section since that was the only bookstore Hogwarts seemed to acknowledge; one would think a school with a bunch of muggleborns would be a little more accommodating.

If he weren’t extremely rich he’d be worried about how much he was spending, but as it was each book seemed to average a galleon or two, which was really quite pathetic. He was still trying to wrap his head around the true value of a galleon and was coming up confounded every time—a galleon could buy him a book, a week’s worth of meals, upwards of a quarter ton of parchment paper, or 10 kilos of candy. And none of those things were of equal value.

Muggle logic of what cost what seemed to entirely fail in this world. For example a book at a normal Barnes & Noble could be 20-25 pounds, which would get you two, maybe three meals depending on what you ate if you were to eat out with that money instead. 10 kilos of candy could easily rake up to be in the 100 pounds area, and a quarter tone of paper was closer to 400 pounds. Those items weren’t equal in the Muggle world but could all be bought with one gold coin in this wizarding world… Harry was going to have to re-learn how to buy things because this just made no sense at all to him.

The only pattern he’d established so far was that specialty magic seemed to cost exponentially more depending on how rare it was. Like, Osmias was going to charge him four galleons to fix his eyes, but his contacts only cost one galleon, 15 sickles. The goblin warding was several galleons, and yet a self-writing quill he’d seen in one of the bookstores was five sickles. Things that floated or had common charms no one seemed to think much of seemed to be cheaper, while if a salesman talked up a certain charm or ward, it probably meant they were the only ones or one of the few people around, who were any good at that bit of magic.

Magic could perform miracles, but it seemed it was still a precious commodity if you had a certain type of magic that others didn’t. It was a good observation—being a specialist was more valuable than being a jack-of-all trades.

Once he was content that he had as many books as he could physically read in this coming school year (including one or two about the rules of quidditch, since he figured the sooner he could start engaging with Draco’s quidditch rants the less lost he’d be when talking with his friend) he moved on to some other small errands.

From what looked to be an outdoors shop he got an enchanted bedroll for his shed/room, as well as a magical no-heat camp stove and portable fridge no bigger than a shoe box that would fit a full refrigerator’s worth of food—and even had preservation charms so the food wouldn’t ever expire. He also picked up an endless water bottle (it only lasted five years, the label said, like that wasn’t insane enough already), a few blankets, and a portable toilet that just made everything disappear. Just to make his life more comfortable—he couldn’t count how many times he hated being locked in the cupboard just because he wasn’t in control of when he had access to a washroom or not, and while it hadn’t been a real issue in years… just no, never again.

He stopped by several of the food markets that were open by then to stock up on food to put in his portable fridge and cook for himself later, including a ton of ingredients he was certain were magical and had no idea what they did or tasted like and a sinful amount of candy to experiment on his preferences. In a furniture shop he bought a small, bare-bones desk and chair, a middle-sized mirror, several small storage baskets, and tiny end table—he could’ve been more extravagant, but he didn’t need more in that tiny shed/room. Low expectations and all of that.

He picked up a bunch more paper since he’d plowed through a lot of his just writing to Draco and taking notes on his texts, several journals as Draco insisted that was the best way to take notes, owl treats and supplies to spoil Hedwig, and several unique potions ingredients that were not on the Hogwarts list however Draco said the Hogwarts’ public supply that was provided was sub-par and having his own would only help him.

He was buying a lot of things because Draco told him to, he realized belatedly, but it all seemed like decent advice, so he went with it.

His last stop in the wizarding world before lunch and then back to Gringotts, was the hairdressers.

He was not expecting the dramatic gasps from two brightly blond and neon-blue-haired women the minute he walked in, nor how they were suddenly all over him and gushing about is hair, but he can’t say he was unhappy with the attention like he was whenever someone gushed about his name or what he did accidentally as a one-year-old. He had nothing to do with defeating Voldemort, but he was proud of his hair and he enjoyed their praise freely in a way he hadn’t been able to before. Attention and compliments were nice… when he felt he deserved it at least, otherwise it was painfully uncomfortable. He point blank refused to accept credit as the ‘Boy Who Lived’—but he’d bask in the warmth of them gushing over his pretty hair all the live long day and fully enjoy himself while doing it. It was very enjoyable.

It was even better because they could care less about what his name was, but demanded to know every little detail about his hair care routine—and when he said he didn’t have one they were practically in raptures detailing all the ways he could make his hair gleam and having a field day arguing with each other about the best way to go about it.

It took an hour, much longer than he’d expected it to, but by the end he was walking out with his spine straight and big smile on his face as his hair shone brightly in the midday sun, styled up for once and looking mighty nice if he did say so himself. They had gleefully sold him magic brushes that would detangle without breaking ends, a set of five potions that when used like shampoo would grow his hair out six inches overnight if he wanted to change up his style, half a full shopping bag of baubles and clips for different things they showed him he could do with his hair, and about a dozen bottles of different shampoos and conditioners to be used for different occasions as they all had different effects—one made his hair wavy, another curly, another perfectly straight, and so on. They then enjoyed themselves very much whipping out their wands and getting to work right off the bat—they lengthened his locks ten inches on the spot, trimmed the split ends, and pulled it up into a high ponytail at the back of his head, an embellished twirl of their wands and he had his long bangs and even long pieces to fall down in front of his ears and frame his face in the wild manner his hair usually had.

He’d always hesitated in actually growing his hair long enough to put up into a ponytail, and it was definitely a commitment that he needed to be fully on board with for months to even consider. Given that they did it in five minutes though, he couldn’t argue that he kind of very much liked it, despite how feminine it could’ve been seen as being. The witches didn’t blink twice at it though, just gushed happily, so Harry though maybe the wizarding world didn’t care about such things. Given their fashion sense it might be possible there was a very loose concept of what was considered feminine or masculine.

He was in very high spirits as he walked out of the hairdressers, the witches happily sobbing their praise and shouting at him to promise to take care of those ‘lovely locks’, and come back if he so much as got a split end, which he agreed to willingly.

He picked another random café in which to have lunch, not bothering with bringing down his mood with those indecipherable financial papers just yet and was thoroughly amusing himself by people watching and tucking into his meal. His mood lifted even more as he caught people looking his way, and when he’d smile they always smiled back.

Things seemed to be going right for once, and he was perfectly content.

000

An hour later he no longer felt very content but actually incredibly sore as he limped through the Leaky Cauldron’s front door into muggle London, and was really regretting eating before doing the blood ritual at Gringotts. He stopped for two seconds to consider if he should go back into the pub and use their washroom to lose his lunch, but shook it off as manageable after a couple seconds.

He really should’ve gotten more details about a blood inheritance ritual before agreeing to it. He made a careful mental note to investigate these things more carefully in the future, especially when concerning goblins, because their concept of slightly painful did not in any way match Harry’s own definition.

On the upside, he was officially henceforth Harry James Potter-Monroe. He’d even gotten confirmation from the goblins, although he didn’t know how (he was learning that goblins were in everyone’s business full throttle because they were in charge of everyone’s money so they were allowed and somehow found it relevant to know a lot of personal information) that his name truly was ‘Harry’ and not short for something else. Having never seen his birth certificate before, that was a relief to confirm.

And now legally he could say his name was ‘James Monroe’ and it’d hold up just as well as ‘Harry Potter’ so far as any blood ward or tracking magic was concerned. Axeclaw had mentioned, as he handed over Harry’s requested warding stone, the receipts of his transactions from this morning, and an invoice for the liquidation of his donation vault, that his name would be Potter-Monroe in the Hogwarts sorting too, though that meant nothing to him since he had no idea what the sorting entailed. Even Draco hadn’t known, saying it was ‘tradition’ to leave new Hogwarts students in the dark so they’d find out all at the same time.

The Monroe name was growing on him, and with Dell Monroe’s journals in his bag it was pretty likely he’d learn more about his inherited ancestor that he currently knew about his own parents, so it kind of helped him feel closer to the name Monroe than he did for Potter. He liked both to say the least, but he took the Monroe name on a whim and was quickly finding he didn’t regret that snap decision at all, which was a mildly pleasant surprise.

It was only a little before two when he made it out into muggle London and traveled down several streets towards where Tom-the-toothless-bartender had pointed him: to a shopping district. His last order of business at Gringotts was to get a goblin equivalent of a debit card connected to the donation vault that would work in the muggle world—he wasn’t allowed to have one on his trust vault and the Monroe account had limited withdrawals for money until he was 17, and he didn’t want to take a boat load of money from his trust and change it all into physical muggle money that he may or may not use up.

In reality the thing looked like a debit card made by someone who’d only been told what a debit card was supposed to look like, and was entirely made of glass since apparently goblins didn’t do plastic. It was supposedly unbreakable and had a mild muggle-confounding charm on it so muggles wouldn’t question why Harry was handing them essentially a slightly gold-tinted shard of glass with alien-looking runes etched into it instead of a debit card to make his purchases.

Apparently, it also didn’t work like a debit card either: it copied the memory of the muggle salesperson holding it, recording the price of whatever Harry was buying, and stored it. It’d be sent to Gringotts who would make note of the memory to determine the location of the store and the number of galleons needing to be transferred into muggle money, and apparently they had ways of making the money just magically appear in the company’s account. This way it was untraceable back to the wizarding world, an no one was being cheated out of their money (muggle or not, the goblins took business very seriously). In fact, the goblins charged a galleon fee for this service any time he used it, which would’ve been outrageous for a normal credit card except that Harry was intending to go on a big spending spree in only two or three shops—three galleons was a fine price for not having lug around muggle money possibly until he could get back to Gringotts and transfer it back. He didn’t need it at the Dursleys (he had no intention of stopping his grocery-skimming habit because his lovely relatives deserved it) and he’d definitely not need it at Hogwarts.

It was a win all around and so Harry happily shook off the rest of his nausea on his way down the street and to his first destination.

It was an extremely enlightening process, if not slightly terrifying as he'd never done anything like this before and suddenly he had choices and the ability to buy things—ANY of the things he wanted— and at the end he was actually very satisfied with his trip. School supplies was one thing as there was only so many options for what kind of cauldron you could get and pure gold was unnecessary and bronze seemed cheap, so it was either pewter or silver—bam, decision done. Shopping for what he was going to wear each day was infinitely more complex because it wasn’t four or five options, it was literally thousands. He’d never had the opportunity to pick what he wore besides this hand-me-down or that hand-me-down (both of which had holes and were so washed out they were essentially the same color grey), so this was an terrifyingly thrilling prospect.

He got the basics as he was desperately in need of, such as underwear and socks and a couple plain white undershirts that actually fit him. He was amazed to realize underwear and socks could be pretty much any color or style you wanted and had a field day picking out every crazy color he could think of. They were just underwear after all and no one would see them, so that'd been fun. Socks were a little more visible, so he stuck to solid colors instead of the wild patterns, but still chose a large package of bright neon colors—the label proudly stating that no sock inside the package matched another. He was not quite sure what the point of un-matching socks was, but surprised himself by being totally on board with it, so he bought it without much issue. 

Shoes were his next dilemma as none of the ones he had would be acceptable for this new leaf of his—in fact the pair he was wearing he was going to throw them out as soon as possible as they weren't even fit to donate really. He knew it'd be one of the more pricier expenses but it was worth it: he got one pair of plain black dressier shoes because that seemed like something he should have, but also got a pair of sneakers called Chucks that were bright red with gleaming white laces that made him grin. Red shoes were just such an appealing thought. He'd surprised himself again when, as he was walking to the check out with his two choices, he'd passed another pair that for the life of him he'd never imagined he'd want. Maybe he was just on a roll of too hyped up on his good day and all the possibilities in front of him to think straight, but he saw them and just thought , 'those looks so comfy and imagine me wearing that color—I think I want them.'

On an impulse he didn't really think through until he'd set down his boxes and tried on his size, he realized he really liked them. They were canvas mostly, with pale grey rubber soles, but the canvas itself was a bright, sky-pale teal. He'd never imagined he'd like a color so bright, nor that he'd wear it, but suddenly they were on his feet and he couldn't quite bring himself to put them back. On an impulse he really couldn’t defend himself on if asked about later, he bought two identical pairs in different colors—one in bright orange, and one in the periwinkle color almost exactly the same shade as his atmosphere bulbs.

He added them to his growing cache and was thankful for his bottomless bag for the umpteenth time today, immediately throwing his old shoes out as soon as he left the store and putting on his red chucks with a pair of his brand new un-matching socks. He’d never had brand new socks before and found it was amazing, by the way. One of those small pleasures in life he’d never had a chance to enjoy until now, like a million other things he’d experienced today, and it boosted his shopper’s high to keep going.

Clothes shopping, he found out, was an experience, to say the least.

He wandered in an out of shops for a good half hour, but nothing really caught his eye until he stumbled on one with a metal song playing overhead and a lot of people wearing eyeliner both shopping and working the register it seemed. Ignoring the large amount of black on the racks, there were several shelves of t-shirts with colorful slogans and design that made no sense, like a pale red shirt with a giant purple handprint on the front, a pastel blue long-sleeve shirt with a big black crescent moon, one that was black and purple and pink and blue with stars like it was cut from a galaxy, and dark grey with a giant pink duck with fangs on the front…

It was all so weird and nonsensical.

He loved it.

As he layered his twelfth shirt over his arm and kept poking around, the salespeople seemed to realize they had a big-ticket customer, and after asking if he was with his parents (and he “innocently” said, no—but he had his mom’s credit card and her permission to buy whatever he liked) they were gleeful in helping him hold his stuff and add in more to the pile if he asked curiously about something. One of them was kind enough to point out that he had the wrong size—it’d fit him but would ride up if he lifted his arms so he needed a size up, and since he was still growing maybe even a size larger than that so he could wear them all over the next year or so. He never had fitting clothes before so that was good information to have.

When he decided to switch gears to pants, he had ended up with twenty plus shirts in one of every single one of their weird designs plus five ‘band shirts’ as they called them. He’d never listened to any of the bands but they said he really should, so he purchased a CD-player, headphones, and the albums from the shop as well. He knew electronics didn’t work at Hogwarts but it’d be nice to while away from of his time at the Dursleys getting caught up on things muggles his age would know—maybe he could make some muggleborn friends if they saw his shirt and liked the band too, it was something they could share. He wasn’t particularly into music but he was into making friends with this fresh start of his, so he went for it.

For pants he let them toss style after style into his dressing room while he tried them on, giving everything a shot as he mixed and matched with the shirts he’d picked out. It was kind of fun, if not exhausting to be so self-critical as he looked in the mirror and had to debate if he really liked the look or not, and if he did would he be laughed out of Hogwarts for it?

He tried all sorts of styles and found that the one he kept landing on was a precise mix of feminine and masculine. For some reason he was all about that kind of look, and now that he had the time to sit down and think about it he realized this wasn’t new in the slightest—it was just the first time he’d been in a situation where he could reflect on himself in a mirror and realize this was okay…

(…and feasible with his shiny glass debit card.)

Maybe it was because his first impression of a real wizard—not a giant character like Hagrid or all the wizened shop keeps he’d first interacted with in the Alley— was Draco Malfoy, who had delicate features and a regal grace about him. Harry too, wanted to be graceful and androgynous, especially because it made his hair, that one thing he had, stand out so.

Stand out was not a concept he'd ever entertained before, but his heart picked up a bit in both exhilaration and anxiety to think about it now. He wanted both to be seen for who he was, but also hide the fact he was Harry Potter the apparent celebrity. He wanted to be both masculine and strong since he was a guy he supposed and that was the expectation, but he also wanted to be graceful like Draco and beautiful like his mother—the mother he still knew not a thing about and who he apparently so looked like. But even Hagrid had said she was a wild beauty and Harry wanted that—wanted that part of him he could share with his mother to shine through, out of a desperate need to know her, even just a little bit more than he currently did.

He wanted with a want that he was wholly unfamiliar with, and it made his throat close up for a moment and his eyes get hot although he didn’t understand why.

He both wanted to be seen, and also not. He wanted to be both masculine and feminine. He wanted to be both strong and for once in his life… maybe vulnerable. Draco's letters did more and more each day to encourage him that who he was… was actually good enough for someone. That maybe he could go a little crazy, walk a little farther out on that limb, and everything would still be okay.

And so as he played around with who he was as he looked at himself in the mirror and realizing he’d never just looked at himself in the mirror…he found himself going at least one step farther than he ever would've before, and embarrassingly enough a good portion of it was because of what he thought Draco might see in him when they met up in a couple weeks. He caught himself too many times thinking of what face Draco would make to see this or that… and had to quickly shake it off, reminding himself he was doing this to be himself and not for someone else.

But he couldn't avoid those thoughts entirely, and he found himself a little relieved that refined, beautiful Draco was the person he met first given that if he'd befriended a typical guy-guy right off the bat he probably would've just shelled himself up inside the typical guy persona he'd always worn and stuck to Dudley's hand-me-downs and tattered ill-fitting sneakers his whole life. He'd always hated his tattered clothes but simply resigned himself to that just being how things were—other things were more important and if he was going to defy the Dursleys there were other more critical things to spend his energy on, like hiding the tofu in the fridge or hiding his hair form Petunia or avoiding the dreaded 'Harry Hunting' episodes. He'd also never had anyone to try for… and now Draco Malfoy with his perfectly tailored clothes and perfectly styled hair was his friend and he was not about to go around in Dudley's ten-sizes-too-big ripped and stained t-shirts and too-big, once-white shoes that were now grey and had holes in the bottom.

Uh-uh, absolutely no way.

In the end, Harry managed to escape the gleeful sales people with a whole new wardrobe that he was quite happy with—and he knew for certain Petunia would faint in shock if he ever wore it around her or her husband and son. He’d also let them toss in half a bag of small buttons, pins, bracelets, hair pins, and bandanas because they were gushing like the hairdressers had about ‘pastel goth’, whatever that was, and he was mostly certain he was not going to wear even half those headbands but they kept pushing and he legitimately didn’t care—he was already deep in the hole on this shopping spree, but that had always been the intention. Besides, he was exhausted after all of this and couldn’t be bothered to argue as they added it to his pile.

He left the place happy with his purchases and with tittering sales people in his wake, lugging the heavy bags to the nearest alley before he slipped them into his own bag for lighter traveling. He went back to the Leaky Cauldron and ordered himself some dinner, setting up shop in a corner to enjoy it and pull out his ‘Latin for Dummies’ book he’d bought in Contrair that morning and read up.

All in all, it’d been a successful day, and while tomorrow he’d be right back to being the Dursleys non-confrontational housekeeper, things were looking up and he now knew the day Hogwarts came was never going to get here fast enough.

Chapter Text

His heart pounded as he ran straight at a brick wall, hoping against hope that Draco wasn’t messing with him.

September 1st dawned bright and early for many young students looking forward to going to Hogwarts for the first time, and many more looking to return after the summer holidays. The day hadn’t come fast enough and he’d counted the days and twice as many letters from Draco until the day finally arrived, and Harry was out the door of Private Drive so fast he thought he saw Dudley’s head spin.

He’d stayed to cook one last breakfast since disappearing the day Dudley was to go off to school as well without cooking him a feast might be enough to piss his relatives off even a year later when he had to see them next summer, and the train didn’t leave until 11:00 anyway so he endured it with the promise that he’d be going to bed in a magical boarding school that night the last bit of motivation he needed to keep his pleasant mask on with them. They didn’t even look at him as he bolted out the door as soon as the last dish was dried and put away—his shed was cleaned up of all potentially magical items they might find while he was gone, his trunk stashed in his old cupboard before they were even up that morning, and his bag was in the bush out front, so he could literally grab his trunk and walk out the door, striding away as quickly as he could with a huge trunk without looking super suspicious.

Luckily he had the forethought to tell Hedwig to meet him at Hogwarts and collapsed her cage into his bag because there was no way he wouldn’t look like a lunatic carrying both a trunk and a bird cage (with bird) down the street with no discernible destination.

An abandoned street and one Knight Bus trip later, he was here, in a bustling train station and trying to find the right barrier Draco had said was the muggle gate to the right platform. It was very nerve-racking to run at a solid wall with no reassurance he wasn’t about to just run into a wall, but he gave it a go because… well, magic, so why not? And he trusted Draco—on magic related issues at least.

Still, he might’ve pulled a muscle tensing so hard preparing for impact and then his whole body slumping when the crash never came. Instead the world warbled a bit and then suddenly he was there—a gleaming scarlet train puffing out plumes of smoke as the cries and cheers of families saying their goodbyes and owls, toads, and cats chiming in their opinions on the matter.

He’d worn his beanie to the train station, covering his hair as he always did in the muggle world, but at the fantastic sight of the train, and the chaos… he reached up and slipped it off, tucking it into his bag until next year.

He felt people’s eyes on him as soon as his hair fell free, it being up in its high ponytail again and his bangs messy and wild, especially from the hat. But there were no looks of horror at the unnatural shade, and no looks of awed recognition that he felt he’d get if they recognized him as ‘Harry Potter’. His scar was covered up expertly with muggle makeup, his hair slightly wavy today from one of the magical shampoos he tried out, and he’d left his glasses under the floorboard of his shed/room back on Private Drive. He felt like a new person and he was ready to really embrace that.

He felt… good. He was excited and already knew Draco, who despite his bratty-baby-cactus-like personality had complimented his hair--over a letter and obviously meaning it, since he'd clearly be too embarrassed to say that in person. He had an ally, he wasn’t going into this alone, and he was ready.

I’m actually going. This is really happening…

Pushing through his daze and the crowd, he approached the train and watched the crowd of people around. You could clearly tell the muggle families from the wizard ones, it was kind of comical really, but the one thing they had in common was the slightly wet expressions on their faces as they looked down at their children who were going to be departing for parts unknown in a short time. Harry tried not to let it bother him (but it did a tiny bit, it really did).

Still, nothing could ruin the day more than having to cook for the Dursleys already did, so he got to a compartment where it seemed you were supposed to lift up your trunk and gave it a go. The problem being the trunk was pretty much as big as him and being on wheels was one thing, but lifting it straight up was a bit of a pickle for an eleven-year-old with the physique of a nine-year-old.

He was huffing and puffing against the weight when the burden suddenly disappeared, blinking up in surprise as his trunk floated away from his hands and had to do a double take to make sure he hadn’t burst a blood vessel in his struggle and was now seeing double.

“Wotcher there!”

“We got ya!” two identical looking teen boys with bright ginger hair had his trunk in hand and easily slipped it up onto the train.

"Nice hair you got there,”

“You'd fit right in with us!" One nudged Harry’s shoulder playfully, pointed at his own orange locks while the other nodded along.

You a first year?" They chorused as one.

"Uh… yeah. Thank you," Harry smiled in a daze, too shocked that… their hair!  It was…

Ignoring his staring, they waved him off and dusted their hands in sync as if brushing off a job well done.

"No worries!"

"You looked to be struggling there,”

“And we’re happy to help.”

“I'm Fred!"

"I'm George!"

"Nice to meet you!" they chorused as one.

"Harry," He managed to get out, feeling like he was getting whiplash. He grinned when they both offered their hands to shake—the wrong way, and he was forced to cross his arms over his chest to shake the right ones. They laughed at the awkward motion and gave a dramatic shake of greeting. "I've never met anyone with red hair like me before," he admitted, still caught up in hair that was… well, he’d never met anyone else with red hair, so apparently Hagrid hadn’t been lying. Not that he didn’t trust Hagrid, but seeing was believing and all that.

"We're Weasleys, all we've got is bright red hair!" One laughed.

"You must not get out much if you've never seen red hair before yours,"

"Though yours is red-red, isn't it Forge? More like Christmas than carrots!"

“More like Christmas than Halloween!”

“Like apples than oranges, hm?”

"True, true Gred. He's like the original red head!"

Harry smiled in amusement at the two—they took the twin thing very seriously apparently. It was also encouraging they didn’t give a quaffle about his hair other than to joke around about it, which he appreciated. They seemed nice. 

"Fred! George! Get back here!" A woman across the way shouted at them—and Harry realized there was an entire group of them over there that had red hair.

"Ah! So much red hair!" He blurted out in surprise, and the twins burst out in startled laughter at that.

"That's our family!"

"We gotta go, but good luck Apples!"

"Thanks!" He managed to call after them as they scurried back to their shouting mother, taken off guard by the nickname and finding he didn’t hate it. Clearly, they didn’t mean it maliciously—they reminded him of the trickster nymphs he’d read about in his Defense Against the Dark Arts textbook more than anything.

Shaking off that encounter he clambered onto the train and pushing his trunk down into the storage rack before searching for an empty compartment. Draco had family things to do, or so he said—something about pureblood families meeting up on the platform to be political or something but he hadn’t gone into much detail beyond saying not to wait up for him but to find a compartment and he’d catch up later.

A simple enough plan if he hadn’t turned a corner a little too fast and collided with someone not ten seconds after getting on the train, his unfortunate partner in the collision walking briskly down the aisle and sending them both stumbling with a startled twin ‘oof!’. He just barely managed to grab onto their shoulders and steady them both, pushing the other person back to brace themselves from falling and was suddenly looking into a pair of big blue eyes.

"Hannah! I told you not to rush!" Another girl's voice came.

"Oh gosh I'm so sorry!" The blonde girl he’d run into pushed off of him to stand up straight. Harry's hands had come up automatically to her upper arms to steady her, and just guided her back and then dropped them quickly, flashing a grin hastily.

"It's no problem, I wasn't paying attention either!" he waved it off easily.

He wasn’t sure what it meant when both girls just froze upon meeting his gaze properly, the blonde who’d run into him flushing red in embarrassment and the auburn-haired girl behind her staring with her mouth popped open in a little ‘o’.

"I, uh… ah, sorry," The blonde got out awkwardly, blushing more and scooting around him to take off down the hallway again--somehow faster than before? Other girl was blinking at him and then quickly avoided eye contact as she followed after her friend without a word. Harry watched them go, very much not understating that interaction at all. 

What was that about? It didn’t look like the recognized me, I don’t think. Well whatever, first thing’s first.

He brushed that off and went in search of a compartment, easily finding one a little ways down. Once there he happily tossed his bag down and started shedding layers—he couldn’t wear his new clothes in front of the Dursleys after all so he had one of Dudley’s oversized monstrosities overtop his new outfit, kicking off the old sneakers with haste and digging out his new teal shoes from his bag. Embarrassingly enough he’d planned his outfit out three days ago in excitement for his this grand adventure he was going on: it was a long-sleeved teal shirt that he pushed up his forearms a bit, almost matching his shoes and the front emblazoned with a yellow and pink outline of a bunny boxing a duck. It was coupled with a pair of very light grey jeans with pink patches over the knees.

He’d gone through Dell Monroe’s whole basket of shiny baubles too and found a couple he rather liked—silver bangles on his wrists with dangly beads of a rainbow of colors and the only ring that managed to fit him on his thumb, fitted with a single pearl in a swirly pattern.

All in all he felt ready. He was present, this was him, and it was time to take on this grand adventure as himself as he was meant to be, and it promised to be a good time in the making.

He settled down a bit and pulled one of Dell’s journals from his bag—he’d been steadily working his way through them when he got tired to his textbooks because they were as entertaining as any book he’d snuck home from the school library. His adopted ancestor had been a seamstress of all things, but going by her exploits Harry gathered she was a very bad one at that—she had her Monroe family money and therefore didn’t strictly need to work and seemed to think herself the very height of fashion in the 1330s while her noted annoyance at how few customers she got seemed to imply she might’ve been a little off the mark. Her free time—and there was a lot of that given she had pretty much no customers—was filled with playing around with magic in fun, unique little ways that seemed to come to her randomly thanks to fits of boredom. He had a great time reading her scribbling notes as she tried to figure out exactly what had gone wrong when she tried to transfigure a new skirt to be made of braided pine needles and ended up with a rampaging talking tree that’d broken a hole through the side of her shop. Her neighbor, a potions master she seemed to mentioned quite a bit given how little they got along, was not pleased with that turn of events and had fixed the wall by bricking it over with mortars bricks—and apparently they were magically reinforced and couldn’t be painted. Which wasn’t a problem for a potion’s lab but certainly one for a dress shop she was trying to make look pretty and thus launched several days of prank-wars between the two.

The antics they got up to, Dell’s crazy nicknames for her self-proclaimed ‘arch nemesis’, and her free-spirited grasp on magic meant her journals were a ride and half to get through and he usually found himself up too late at night wondering what was going to happen next or if she’d finally blow herself up in the end (a stupid thought given he had dozens of journals ahead of the one he was reading, but the thrill didn’t lessen despite known exactly how old she lived to be).    

Harry was well into it and enjoying Dell’s detailed description of what a scumbag her neighbor was when the train suddenly lurched and he startled, blinking up and realizing they were moving. Parents were waving to their kids who were leaning out of windows to wave back. Harry smiled a little tightly to himself, especially when he spotted the red headed family—now down several red heads—and a tiny red headed girl running after the train with tears in her eyes. Harry could relate—if he had to watch this train glide away, leaving him behind in his old life while the people on here went off to a world of magic, he’d be a bit put out too.

Shaking it off a bit, he went back to reading.

Only, he didn’t get very far before the compartment door slid open. Harry glanced up quickly, half hoping/expecting to see a silver blond waiting on him, and was a little surprised but not unhappy when there was a red headed boy shifting awkwardly in the door instead. He probably belonged to the family the twins were from—the Weasleys they’d said.

How many kids do they actually have I wonder? Talk about that many siblings…

“Do you mind if I sit here? Everywhere else is full.” The boy shifted, giving him a wide-eyed look.

Harry highly doubted every compartment on this huge train was full—Draco had talked about how low the attendance at Hogwarts had been ever since the war, and two years below them was supposed to be almost double their current year and still half of what it once was. Plus, this train was magical and after scanning a bit of ‘Hogwarts a History’ and only getting as far as the introductory chapter about the train and Hogsmeade, Harry was almost 100% certain that if someone wanted a compartment for themselves then one would appear. If someone intruded it was because they wanted to, and the typical reason was to make friends.

Harry let it go, since he too was here to make friends, and just smiled. What could it hurt?

“Sure.”

The freckly kid looked relieved as he came in and plopped down across from him, glancing out the window but not having anything to preoccupy him so Harry silently sighed. He seemed like the small talk sort and resigned himself to just go with it.

“You’re a first year?” He asked.

“Yes. You too?”

“Yep. I’m Ron Weasley,”

“Harry,” he greeted politely, and saw Ron’s eyes immediately flicker to his forehead. Sucks for him because his scar was under an expertly applied layer of make-up and his wild bangs so he would find nothing there. Deciding he didn’t like people looking at his scar, he smiled a little wider. “Harry Monroe.”

Ron’s eyes lost interest in a second flat, nodding to that easily enough. “Do you know what house you’ll be in?”

“No, and I didn’t particularly think very hard on it. I’d be fine with anything.”

“Well you’ve got a book, so probably Ravenclaw then, yeah?”

Ugh, these wizards and their type-casting.

“My parents were in Gryffindor, I hear, so maybe there? And I do like making friends so even Hufflepuff wouldn’t be that bad. But then again I’m pretty quick on my feet and I know what I want, so Slytherin wouldn’t be a bad pick either.” He reflected lightly. He raised a brow at the ugly scowl that crossed Ron’s face at that.

“I think I’d bloody die if I were to be put in Slytherin though! Why’d you want to go to a dark house like that?” He demanded, seemingly offended by the very idea a stranger he met less than two minutes ago could have a different opinion.

Harry wasn’t amused.

“I am going to assume you plan to be in Gryffindor then.”

“Well probably, my whole family’s been in it. I’ve got five older brothers, all Gryffindor.” He didn’t say it like he was thrilled about it, but instead just stating a boring fact.

“So Fred and George are in Gryffindor,” He mused to himself. He knew Draco so he knew what a Slytherin-like person was now, and if the twins were in Gryffindor that spoke to those kinds of personalities. Neither seemed bad.

“How’d you know Fred and George?” Ron demanded bluntly, looking a little put out and Harry had no idea what that was about.  

 “I met them on the platform; they helped me get my trunk onto the train. They seemed nice.” Ron gave a non-committal grunt at that which Harry had no clue how to interpret. “Uh… well, anyway I don’t care what house I’m in, I’m just here for the magic.” He waved it off, trying to get back to lighter topics, but it seemed impossible from the way Ron’s brow furrowed.

“Are you a muggleborn?”

“Half-blood, I think the term is, but I grew up with muggles so practically speak yeah, I know about as much as a muggleborn would.”

“Oh.” Ron paused, and you could practically see smoke coming out of his ears from how hard he was thinking on that. “…wait a second, I don’t recognize the name Monroe?”

Oh for the love of…

“Are all pureblood wizards obsessed with heritage? Because it’s getting old fast.” Harry deadpanned, satisfied when the boy’s ears turned red in embarrassment.

“Uh… sorry.”

But Harry felt Dell’s journal burning in his hand and couldn’t stop himself form opening his mouth, against his better judgement. “And not that I care about houses or blood status or whatever, but you don’t recognize Monroe? Really? They did die off but they were an Ancient and Noble house at one point weren’t they?”

Ron titled his head in confusion…until his face went slack in shock and then light up in that horrible way Harry was quickly becoming familiar with—and learning hate even faster.

“But the Monroe family was avenged by Harry Potter—by you!” He seemed awful proud of himself for this deduction and Harry gave a not-so-subtle groan of annoyance that went ignored. “Blimey—why didn’t you just say so!?”

Harry knew his expression was not happy, but it didn’t seem to matter as his fellow red head beamed at him.

“I don’t know, maybe because I didn’t want to mention it? Thanks for bringing it up, by the way.”

Forget missing it, that sarcasm flew over Ron’s head so high it was practically a quidditch player aiming for a goal.

“Why would you go by another name? Everyone knows you as Harry Potter! Although everyone expects you to look like a Potter ya’know, with the dark hair and stuff. That’s even more reason to go by Potter since people wouldn’t recognized you on sight, right? Nobody remembers Monroe really, so going by Potter would be better.”

Harry wanted to hit himself in the face with Dell’s journal and barely restrained himself.

“I happen to like Monroe.” He said through slightly clenched teeth, but Ron clearly wasn’t listening as he leaned forward in a way Harry did not like.

"How come you don't have a scar?" he asked curiously, leaning way in to inspect his face without reservations this time and either not noticing or ignoring Harry’s irritated expression trying to stop him from doing so.

WOW, talk about rude… quaffle on a stick, what is his issue?

But before he could think of where to begin with that he had to immediately jerk back on instinct as a hand was suddenly in his personal space, reaching to push his bangs out of his face.

“What the heck!? I like to keep it covered—and keep your hands to yourself please.” He was just this side of outright snapping at this guy but tried to keep his composure as he waved his arms to get him to lean back in his seat, on edge and watching his hands now in case he tried it again. He wasn’t malicious, he was just… just

“But why?” Ron demanded and Harry had the urge to slap him, but settled for grinding on his teeth.

"It's not something I like to show off, now is it?" He glared mildly. Again, it went unnoticed and it only drove him further up the wall. He was rude like Draco, but with none of the earnest wish to be his friend.

No, he was just rude and oblivious—more interested in his name than him. And Harry actually liked Draco and would’ve walked away cold because of something less, but this… this fanboy attitude was a sour taste in his otherwise sweet start at his Hogwarts journey and he wasn’t interested in this at all.

Ron did not notice his rapidly deteriorating mood.

"I would if I were you--it's what makes you famous!"

"I don't really want to be famous. Much less because of my parents' deaths, Ron." He pointed out in hope that’d shock the guy into realizing how insensitive he was being. Unfortunately, he just wasn’t that lucky and Ron only shrugged.

"Well, it's cool anyway. I'd show it off."

Okay—RUDE!? What an ever-loving piece of—

"There you are, I've been looking all over the place."

Ah! Salvation had come! Harry whipped around at the door sliding open once more, and this time there was a blond at the doorway waiting on him expectantly with his grey eyes glinting happily to see him matching Harry’s thrill to see his friend. He was so relieved to see Draco in that moment he could’ve kissed him.

000

Harry was unaware at this point in time that Draco would’ve been perfectly fine with that turn of events, and would remain unaware for the foreseeable future.

000

Harry’s elation at seeing Draco come to his rescue like a cheesy knight in white armor was derailed when Draco’s smile dropped like a ton of bricks upon seeing the second red head in the compartment, his face immediately sneering in a way that turned his unnaturally symmetrical face into odd clump of lines and teeth. Harry hadn’t seen him make that face before and it detracted from his natural symmetry by quite a bit.

"Ugh. Weasley."

"Malfoy," Ron responded in kind, his face it’s own ugly scowl.

Sensing this was going to get ugly and not particularly wanting to get into it (and very interested in ditching Ron and this horrible conversation as fast as he could before he accidentally stabbed someone before even getting to Hogwarts), Harry stood swiftly and went over to Draco, grabbing his hand smoothly and holding on tight to silently convey his message of behave.

"You found me! Let's find somewhere else." He declared shortly for no one really since he was going to do what he pleased anyway, pulling Draco out before he could think to protest. The blond in question seemed too startled by the sudden touch to even bother putting up a fight as he was pulled away--Ron starting to say something but the closing door cutting him off and leaving him alone.

They made their way quickly down the corridor and Draco finally got on board with where they were going, stepping up to walk beside him and give him a critical look.

"Did he corner you or were you actually being so charitable as to talk to that thing?"

"He's not a thing, Draco. He, uh… well he might've cornered me a bit but despite being rude as hell he's not that bad." He glanced at the sullen expression his friend had on curiously. "You said 'Weasley' like you know him."

"His family."

These wizards, I swear to god.

"I met a couple of his brothers and they were very nice. Ron is… ugh, forget about him, but the whole family doesn't seem that bad to me." He mused delicately, hoping Draco would get the hint.

He seemed to, because he froze in his scowling and seemed to remember himself, shrugging a bit. "Historically their father and mine have never gotten along. My father's trying to turn a new leaf I guess but isn't very interested in making up with them in particular or anything. They're… ignorant, is a good way of putting it."

"Ignorant?"

"Of most pureblood things. I told you a bit about them—they're a pureblood family but they openly disregard the traditions associated with that and are all around too lackadaisical to really fit in with the rest of society."

"Just because they don't fit in doesn't mean you should hate them. Oh look, this one's open." They passed an empty compartment (proving Ron’s statement about them all being full wrong, for starters) and Harry quickly pulled him inside and plopped down across from each other on the benches. Well, Harry sat: Draco was still almost sulking.

Harry gave him an indulgent smirk. "I can understand how Ron's personality can rub you the wrong way, but it sounds like you've never even talked to him or the rest of his family. The whole family can't be bad, and I don't think we should judge individuals by the family they come from." He frowned, not sure he wanted to get into this so quickly but… the conversation was here, and better now than later. "And ah…Hagrid told me the Malfoy reputation, you know. If I thought the way you're thinking right now I wouldn't have ever written you a letter."

Draco paled.

“I…suppose you’re right.” He managed to get out, head dropping a bit. Harry took pity on him and caught his eye.

"I'm new to the magical world so I intend to make my own impressions and connections based on the people I meet, not their reputations. That's how I became friends with you, and I hope to make many more friends this way as well, Draco. I'd hope you wouldn't try and sway me one way or the other, or judge me for liking people because of who they are and not their family name."

He sighed and slumped a bit. "Fine…" He allowed grudgingly.

Harry grinned. "Hey. I chose you as a friend and rejected one Ron Weasley. That's already going well for you, right? Have a little faith that I can tell the right sorts of people to associate with by myself, hm?"

"…fine, you're right. I can't exactly tell you who to be friends with I guess." He didn't seem happy about this admission, and Harry made a point of rolling his eyes.

"You don’t have to sound so thrilled that I'm making friends," He teased.

The tips of his ears colored a bit before muttering quietly. "Sorry…. Suppose I'm just selfish…"

Selfish about what? And on that note he’s pouting like a child because I talked to Ron—this weirdo.

"Forget about Ron for a moment. How was the rest of your summer? I read the potions books you suggested—I'm a little nervous about that one from all you’ve said about potions but the concepts seem straightforward I think.”

Draco’s eyes lit up when he heard potions and he forgot to keep his sulking posture as he sat straighter. "Well as I said Snape is my godfather and I know him pretty well. He loves potions a lot but he can be pretty sour in personality sometimes, and despite how good a potions master he is he's kind of odd as a teacher. Just be careful and take things seriously in his class and I think you'll be fine."

"You said the transfiguration teacher was strict; do you know any other teachers?"

"My parents told me some about them but, uh…" He trailed off suddenly, looking like he just got caught doing something naughty and Harry simply lifted a brow.

"Draco?"

"…like I said, my parents are turning a new leaf. We've… well, you've heard about the Malfoy reputation, as you said, and so what I've grown up hearing they've told me I should forget."

"Really? How so?"

"Well… like, they used to call Hagrid a great, bumbling oaf. But uh… they said not to say that anymore."

Harry was a little offended on Hagrid’s behalf but couldn’t rightly say anything given Draco did just say he was being told not to say that anymore. This was… an odd situation. And it made every little sense to be honest.

"And can I ask why they're… I don't know, changing their personalities so much? All of a sudden?"

The blond’s pale cheeks colored slightly, but his chin jutted up in slight defiance. "The Malfoys have always been a light-sided dark family. A dark-sided light family, however you want to say it. Malfoys survive."

And for some reason, that really struck a chord with him, and whatever thoughts harry had been thinking stilled for a moment.

"I… think I can understand that."

Draco looked a bit relieved and shrugged a bit helplessly. "It's not that they're dark or light, I honestly don't think my parents ever cared about sides in the war or who was dying, they just wanted to survive, and get ahead while doing it. It's sort of the Slytherin thing to do, in my opinion. Yes, they did dark things in the war, but they did light things too. Neither side likes them much because of it, but we're in a position of power now regardless."

"And what about you? Your… opinion on the things they've done or this new leaf?"

He really, really wanted to know.

He watched closely as Draco paused and considered that question legitimately…before shifting slightly in his seat. "I mean… they're my parents. I've always been proud of them, and they of me." He took a deep breath slightly unevenly. "To be… entirely honest Harry… they've decided to make this change because I met you."

…eh?

"…uh, me? Wait--me!?" He reeled back in alarm slightly, mind blanking out. "Why!?"

"Because I became friends with you." Draco shrugged again as if this were some helpless fact of life he was dealing with now. "They liked playing both sides because it gave them power, but then I became friends with you. They know if the dark lord returns and finds out their son was friends with you of all people, they'd likely just be killed outright, or worse, punished for it. They won't tell me I can't be friends with you and they won't abandon me, so the most logical choice is to become a predominantly light-sided family with a dark cover so that they would be more protected from him if the dark lord returns. Playing both sides only works if there's a level of trust on those sides, after all."

"I…" Harry was stunned. More than that he was floored. "I didn't mean to cause such a ruckus just by befriending you!"

Draco just relaxed finally and smiled wryly. "As I said, my parents are apathetic to the whole thing really. They have always played their parts as expected of them because that was how to survive. This 'new leaf' or whatever it is, is only the next part in the facades they play to survive."

"But you never answered what you think about it…?"

Again he shrugged, and Harry had half a mind to whack him if he did it again instead of just saying it outright. "I mean I was raised one way and now most of what I've been taught isn't applicable. I guess I'm sort of here without a plan and that's a bit unnerving but… I have you, right?"

Well dung, for such a self-centered ponce the guy can really tug at your heartstrings.

Almost unwillingly Harry smiled, although he still had half a mind to be annoyed with him for spilling all of this out of nowhere like this was a normal and logical conversation to have. He could’ve mentioned it in any of the 50+ letters they’d written but no…

Then again if the Ministry could scan their mail, talking about dark lords and allegiances was probably a face-to-face kind of ordeal. Still, Harry wasn’t going to forgive him…

…okay so maybe he was given the big grey eyes looking expectantly at him for his answer.

"Right." He agreed against his better judgement, but it was true. Draco was his friend now and it didn’t seem like he was going to escape that fact—dark lord connections or not. Besides, at least the blond seemed reasonable about the whole thing—which was more than could be said about many of the witches and wizards Harry had met so far for sure. He sighed and let go—in for a penny, in for a pound as they said. "And I've no clue what I'm doing either, so let's figure it out together."

It was almost worth forgiving his blunt information dropping when Draco smiled like that.

"Right. And I'll follow your lead with meeting people instead of my… preconceived notions. My father explained that a lot of it was to be able to play both sides, so now I should approach this year as my own person. Though, I'm not sure what that means."

"We'll figure it out together." He simply repeated with a grin. "Since learning I was a wizard I've done a lot of thinking about who I am too… it's actually a lot of fun to discover what you do and don't like, without anyone else's opinion butting in."

"I'll take your word for it." The blond raised and eyebrow with a smirk of his own. "And what things have you discovered then?"

This he could handle, and immediately kicked out his feet pointedly. "Colors, for one! I've decided hand-me-downs are a thing of the past now that I know I'm a wizard with inheritance, so I bought clothes that actually fit me and all of it is colorful!" He announced gleefully, lifting his arms to show off his new outfit and the clinking bracelets on his wrists.

Draco's eyes scanned him at the invitation, but when he met his gaze once more he did his quick-look-out-the-window thing… Harry just smiled at it.

"I don't think teal is my color." He intoned wryly, but he was smiling.

“Good on you that I’m the one wearing it then,” Harry stuck his tongue out, and Draco rolled his eyes that time. His smile dropped and a more serious look adopting his features. "You said hand-me-downs…to be honest my parents were a little surprised to hear Hagrid say 'nasty muggles', when we met in the Alley you know. That's something a pureblood family, or even my parents before their new leaf would say. From your letters it doesn't sound like you like them at all…" He left the question hanging there and Harry felt his own smile slowly drop.

He gave one non-committal nod. "No. I don't like them much." He admitted. Where did he even start with this can of worms really? He gave it a second’s thought before deciding today was not the time to bring everything down with talk of the life he was leaving behind, and shook it off quickly. "They hate magic, to put it kindly. My aunt was my mother's sister and I think she was always jealous of my mom's magic. Jealousy became hatred somewhere along the line and then my parents died without there ever being closure, leaving me with muggles who hate magic and pretty much anything not totally 'normal'. Whatever normal really means." He sighed, glancing at window…

He knew he was probably not going to forgive Petunia for lying. He silently hoped every last bit of what she had bottled up inside her slowly ate her alive from the inside one day. What that said about him as a person, he didn’t know, but he also very much did not care.

"If even Hagrid called them 'nasty muggles', they must truly be horrible."

Harry smiled blankly at his tone—the incredulous tone of someone who was trying to imagine how horrible something must be, but who had lived a very sheltered life so far and therefore even his most creative fantasies were pathetically, naively tame to Harry’s reality.  

And this is why he is a baby cactus. Well, Mr. Pureblood could use a bit of an education on the matter.

"Not all muggles are bad. There are some very kind ones, some truly intelligent, creative, wonderful people. Just like wizards, they're people." He felt his eyes dim. "But people of any sort of background or magical ability can be horrible. Humans are both wonderful and cruel—that's just the way humans are, magic or not."

 Draco gave him a long look, seeming to be pondering something—but before he could say anything the door slid open, causing them both to look up.

A girl with wild brown hair and a teary eyed boy with ruddy cheeks had poked their heads in—she had her chin held high while he looked positively miserable.

“Have either of you seen a toad? Neville’s lost one.” The girl announced a bit too loudly, and the boy’s lip quivered.

“No, sorry,” Harry tilted his head, genuinely sympathetic and doing a quick scan of the compartment just in case. Draco lifted a brow at the two of them but kept his mouth shut—probably for the best given the way he was somehow managing to look down his nose at the two of them while still sitting.

The girl seemed to deflate all at once, the boy called Neville looking about ready to sit down and cy.

"Well… there aren't really any more cars to check." She shrugged, looking at her companion with a guilty expression. “We checked every compartment… maybe he’s still back at the station?”

Draco was mid eye-roll when he was forced to abandon the motion in shock as Harry got to his feet and crossed the space in half a second, putting a steady hand on Neville’s arm at just about the same time tears started spilling down his face.

"Hey! There's no need to cry—it's a magical toad right? It'll turn up I'm sure!" He comforted automatically, not even sure if that was true or not, but the baby-faced boy curling in on himself like a turtle that didn’t want to come out of its shell hit all sorts of heartstrings in Harry’s book. Today was supposed to be the happiest of their lives, the start of a new adventure! He wasn’t sure he was okay with just letting someone who seemed to be his age and on the same adventure he was curl up like a smothered flower and wither in miserable tears.

First Draco’s big eyes, now this stranger’s tears. He was a sucker, he supposed, but what the hell.

Neville seemed to want nothing more than to disappear from sight; it was written all over his blotchy, tear soaked face clear as day and into every line of his slouched posture where his shoulders curled in as if he could smother himself from existence if he wished hard enough.

Harry knew the feeling.

But he also knew the feeling of straightening your spine and being proud of who you were for once, after so long of being your own worst enemy. Of coming out the other side and wondering why you’d spent so long being your own critic when you realized how many legitimate critics there were in the world. Of realizing you could be happy by being on your own team for once.

Harry squeezed his arm gently in comfort and two bleary blue eyes glanced up at him quickly before dropping to the ground as if weighed down by bricks.

"N-no… it's a normal toad." The boy mumbled dejectedly.

"Why did you take a normal toad to Hogwarts?" Draco raised a poised eyebrow, and Harry snapped his head to the side to shoot him a look so severe that the blond reeled back a little and flapped his arms as if silently demanding to know what he did.  

"Ignore Draco—” he sure did despite the immediate indignant cry at that, “—I think having a normal toad as a pet is interesting! You have to work harder to befriend it since it's not magical."

"But it still ran away from me," Neville sniffed.

"Oh! If it's a normal toad then a summoning charm should work on it! We can ask one of the older kids to perform one for us!" The girl perked up, wild mane of hair bouncing with her sudden enthusiasm.

Neville lifted his head slightly as if hopeful at this prospect, but dropped it quickly before he could meet either of their gazes—especially the girl’s who was now staring at him expectantly. He probably didn’t have the nerve to ask an upper year for this favor and the girl’s insistence was probably the only reason he’d let himself be dragged around disrupting every compartment on the train. And he was going to be dragged around some more if her expression said anything, and he wasn’t going to enjoy it one bit.

Harry sighed, sliding his hand from just being a comforting gesture on his arm to wrapped firmly around his wrist, lifting it and pulling him forward a bit. Neville blinked in alarm, forgetting to be humiliated and shy as he looked up in panic—but Harry was just smiling his most non-threatening smile possible and lifted his hand up pointedly, revealing a spare shiny bracelet he’d slipped off his own wrist in his free hand.

“Looks like someone needs to be a little nicer to themselves, right Neville?” He hummed gently, slipping the bracelet over the boy’s wrist and then gripping his hand in his own so he couldn’t shake it off.

Before anyone could comment he was off, pulling the boy down the corridor with him. “Now let’s find an upper year! Maybe if they’re super nice they’ll teach us the spell themselves!”

“But you can’t! That’s a fifth-year spell!” The girl exclaimed, aghast.

And you knew about it how then? He wondered, but didn’t give that a voice.

Harry!” He heard Draco call a little frantically.

“Don’t wait up Draco!” He shouted over his shoulder as he made his grand escape, a shell-shocked Neville being dragged along beside him and the girl struggling to keep up. He heard something loud bang in the compartment behind him but couldn’t tell what, and then he was gone, peeking into compartments curiously for a nice-looking upper year.

“Y-you’re Harry?” A timid voice from behind asked, and Harry braced himself for the inevitable. But when he glanced back, the blue eyes that’s been staring at the back of his head dropped to the floor. “…thank you.” Was all he said instead.

Harry smiled to himself since Neville was committed to not looking at him anymore. A rough start maybe, but this grand adventure was living up to its promise.

Chapter Text

“Oh my god, pouty Mcpouty, I was not gone that long!” Harry laughed pointedly in Draco’s face as they were clambering off the train into a throng of people. Everyone was dressed in their robes (unfortunately, Harry’s awesome outfit only having seen a couple hours that day) so it was like a flood of black as everyone seemed to know what they were doing except for the tiniest ones of the sea, who were getting shuffled along well enough anyway.

Draco, true to form, only pouted harder.

“You ditched me!” He insisted.

“I had things to do, Draco. We’re going to Hogwarts, we’re going to have tons of things to do from here on out…! Aw, come on, would you like me to hold your hand too? I typically only do it for people who are having a bad day but for you, I’ll make an exception.” He teased wickedly. Neville just shifted, not having said a word since reuniting with Draco but just pressed close to Harry’s side.

Harry had looped his arm in his new friend’s and refused to let go, especially when it was clear that if they weren’t careful they’d be swept up in the crowd. Neville was the sort of just get pushed all the way back onto the train, and he’d let them out of sheer unwillingness to stand up for himself, so Harry held on for dear life and Neville allowed him—one hand even fisted in his sleeve as if that’d keep him grounded.

Draco had been pouty and dramatically annoyed with him since they’d reunited, just as they needed to change into their robes. Harry had found a pleasant looking upper year who turned out to be in Ravenclaw and told her about the toad—and now Trevor was safely in Neville’s pocket where his free hand was holding him in securely. After that though… Harry had done a little tour of the nearby compartments to scope out the kinds of people he’d be going to school with and get a vibe for what kind of people were in each house. He hadn’t clung to Neville but the boy had trailed after him, saying he’d never found a compartment to sit down in since he’d been looking for Trevor this whole time. Harry didn’t mind the company as Neville… well, hadn’t made a sound other than trail after him and quietly answer when spoken to—he had offered for him to go back and sit with Draco but Neville had just shook his head rapidly with a panicked look on his face. They’d lost the loud brunette girl somewhere although Harry was honestly not sure at what point that had happened.

And now, Harry had a wallflower on one arm and a bratty blond making a fuss on the other, so he felt some light-hearted teasing was in order to get everyone to relax a bit—he hadn’t gotten a chance to mess with Draco over letters very much (well, that wasn’t true, but it was easier to do in person) and felt it was long overdue.

Instead of snapping back that he was his own man or getting defensive in his masculinity about the hand-holding comment though, Draco just turned bright red and gaped at him like a fish, his mouth opening and closing like he was trying to say something and no words were coming out.

It was so bad the blond was almost knocked over by an upper year pushing past him distractedly and Harry just rolled his eyes at how hopeless his new friends were and hooked Draco’s arm securely in his too, pulling him out of the line of traffic.

“It wasn’t a hard question Draco, calm down.” He teased gently, and although Draco was stiff as a board his face stopped turning colors and he actually did calm down a bit.

“You are the worst.”

“You just learning this now, Draco? And here you told me Slytherins were supposed to be clever.”

“The absolute worst!” He hissed vehemently—though the corner of his mouth twitched like he was fighting not to smile so Harry considered it a win in his favor.

“Firs’ years! Firs’ years this way!” A booming voice down the platform started yelling, a huge hulking form of Hagrid emerging from the distant shadows holding a glowing lantern over his head. Harry felt Neville tense up a bit beside him, somehow even more than he already was.

“Oh it’s Hagrid! Neville you’re gonna love him, he’s an oversized marshmallow I swear. Literally oversized, he’s like eight feet tall and blunt as they come but he’s totally harmless. He showed me around Diagon Alley.” He babbled cheerily to the boy beside him and Neville glanced at him quickly before nodding his head slightly.

“Gran told me about him a bit…” He admitted.

“Well you’ve got to meet him; making your own impressions is important.” He chirped, feeling like he’d said this approximately a hundred times today already and he wasn’t even at the school yet.

Wizards, he shook his head to himself, again for the hundredth time.

“Where did that loud-mouth go?” Draco abruptly brought up, glancing around the crowd and still somehow looking down his nose despite the fact most of them were taller than him.

“Who? The girl?”

“Her name’s Hermione…” Neville chimed in, voice so low there was no way Draco had heard it on Harry’s other side. He seemed far too afraid to actually talk to Draco for some reason, but Harry wasn’t going to push.

“Hermione? I’m not sure, she disappeared while we were talking to the Ravenclaw prefects.”

“She’s clearly a Ravenclaw herself. Even for a mudblood she knew about summoning charms in detail enough to make an advanced leap about being able to summon a non-magical toad, and those are upper year spells. Must’ve gotten her books and memorized them immediately.” Draco scoffed.

“Oh, like you weren’t hounding me to take notes on my texts since I got them?” Harry immediately challenged and got a glare for his efforts.

“D-don’t… call her that.” Neville actually spoke at a semi-normal volume and when Harry turned back to him was legitimately shocked to see a pair of blue eyes meeting Draco’s gray ones with startling sternness. He was shaking like a leaf of course and looked half a second from crying, arm a near death-grip on Harry’s, but his head was held steady as he met the young Malfoy’s eyes firmly. “She’s… sh-she helped me. S-so don’t call her that.” He repeated, a tiny bit more forcefully though his voice wavered.

Harry felt something in his temple twitch.

Draco.”

Be it the iron-clad grip he now held on the blond’s arm or the tone he spoke with promising a thousand painful deaths, or maybe even the fire he felt in his eyes as he turned and commanded Draco’s now too-forced-to-be-natural blank gaze to meet his own… whatever it was, the blond was still and shut up to listen.

“What does mudblood mean, exactly?”

“It’s a term for a muggleborn.” He said, although the high note to his voice meant he was clearly avoiding something.

“N-no more than c-calling a pureblood an inbred b-bastard.” Neville had just enough nerve to say this while looking directly into Draco’s eyes, and Harry felt kind of impressed with both Neville’s spontaneous grit and how many shades of red Draco’s pale skin could color.

Neville shrunk like a turtle retreating at Draco’s snap. “You insolent-!”

Draco.” The blond froze at his tone, and Harry glared at him with every ounce of warning he could muster. “I will push you off this platform. Are we clear?”

…he nodded once.

“Great. Don’t say it again.”

Another quick nod, and the rest of the walk down to where Hagrid was standing was spent in silence—both boys on his arms now too tense to do more than pretend to be unbothered while Harry dragged them forward.

Again, not a pleasant conversation but at least they got that out of the way. He had a feeling making sure they were all on the same page before they got to Hogwarts was important.

He also made a note to run the things he learned from Draco by Neville first since clearly the blond, while a wealth of information, was not unbiased. Not that he’d ever thought Draco unbiased, but this just proved the level of his actual bias to be something more concerning than he’d thought.

“Ya al-righ’ there ‘Arry?” Hagrid’s booming voice snapped him out of his brooding and he realized they were in a crowd of people more their height, the upper years having filtered off somewhere. The giant man beamed down at him through his wild beard, a lantern held high above their heads.

“Sure am Hagrid!” He called up to the man.

“Well ya will be wantin’ to be up front ta get a good view, come on,” A huge hand waved them forward and Harry found himself dragging Draco and Neville with him. It was a blatant show of favoritism that Harry found himself not minding—it wasn’t because he was Harry Potter but because he was the son of people Hagrid once cared about. For some reason that didn’t bother him nearly as much as he thought maybe it should.

And when they got to the top of the hill Hagrid had been ushering them up, and saw what he’d been talking about… Harry found himself entirely unrepentant.

That’s Hogwarts…? It’s… beautiful.

000

“I heard we have to fight a troll,” Ron Weasley’s voice was somehow loud enough to cut through the throng of nervously chattering first years after Hagrid left them to their devices outside of a huge set of wooden doors that seemed to be where they were going to get sorted in a minute.

“How thick can you get?” Draco muttered at a far more appropriate volume beside him and Harry just shook his head. While he wasn’t sure what this sorting would entail, facing a troll would only prove you were brave (and likely stupid enough) for Gryffindor. How were you supposed to prove you were in Slytherin against a troll— talk it into submission?

Harry had a mental image of Draco trying to do just that and snorted to himself at that entertaining picture.

“I met his older brothers on the platform—I’d bet that they were just trying to mess with him. They’re the playful sorts like that.” He responded instead, Draco nodding along to that. “Your parents didn’t tell you?”

“No; they talked about everything else, but this is tradition to go in blind.” He shrugged. His show of nonchalance didn’t stop Harry from noting that his shoulders were tense with nerves.

It was times like these that Harry was thankful he didn’t give a troll what house he ended up in. The pressure was way off like that.

“Hello there students! Oh look at them all, oh so tiny and ready to learn!” A new voice cut in and Harry glanced up with everyone else, jaw dropping as several shouts of startled fright ran out as a dozen newcomers arrived to the party… only they were translucent and flying over their heads.

“What the heck!? Ghosts? Magic is one thing, but no one ever said anything about ghosts!” He blurted out before he could stop himself, and Draco snickered quietly beside him.

“How rude young man!” A plump man scolded him as he floated over his head and drifted towards the double doors. “I hope you are not in my house!”

“House?”

“Each house has a ghost, and I think that was Hufflepuff’s ghost.” Draco filled in.

“Oh… well, guess I’m not friendly enough then.”

“I th-think you are…” Neville finally piped up on his other side and Harry smiled at him.

“Well I’m rude too I suppose, so maybe if I do end up in his house I’ll just have to tell it to his face until he likes me.”

“Why do I get the feeling you’d actually do it too,” Draco gave a long-suffering sigh. Harry just maturely stuck his tongue out at him.

“Y-you don’t care if you’re in H-Hufflepuff?” Neville asked quietly, blue eyes earnestly interested.

“I don’t care what house I’m in—any one of them sounds find. I don’t particularly feel brave or clever or friendly, but then again this sorting will probably tell me something about myself. This prat will be in Slytherin, or so he tells me, and I’ll be friends with him anyway so different house or not it’s not going to put a damper on my plans.” He chatted, Neville eyeing him curiously.

“I see… I think. My… my parents were in Gryffindor but I don’t… I thought maybe I’d be in Hufflepuff.”

Harry elbowed Draco before he could say whatever he’d opened his mouth to say. It’d only been a day and he already knew whatever it was wouldn’t help Neville’s stuttering.

“To be honest I know the least about Hufflepuff, so if you are you’ll have to tell me all about it. Or we’ll both be there and we’ll learn together! How’s that?”

The nervous boy paused only a brief moment and then nodded once, seeming lost in thought about something.

Harry might’ve continued chatting just to get rid of the silence when a woman came striding up to them, her hair in a tight bun and a look on her face so stern it might’ve been carved in stone.

Draco scoffed lowly. “Remember what I said about the transfiguration teacher?”

Harry glanced at him, then back at the witch, and realized he was probably right. Alright, good to know—absolutely no goofing off in that particular class. Not that he was about to but one look at her face and he knew he was in for it.

The witch introduced herself as Professor McGonagall and gave a short and less-than-sweet synopsis of the houses—giving no more detail about what they stood for than Draco had but at least was clear on the procedure from here on out. The house competition, the dorms, the basics. Good thing he’d had Draco’s letters over the past month and change because it wasn’t a very in-depth explanation but given they probably only had ten minutes max, was good enough for the time being. He found himself pitying the muggleborns who waltzed in here blind.

“Speak a little louder Weasley, people in London didn’t hear that.” He snapped out of his thoughts to see Draco glaring at Ron from across their little group huddled before the doors, pretty much everyone eyeing the two uneasily. The ginger-haired boy was turning a dusty red color while Draco was doing his somehow-looking-down-at-you-without-being-taller thing again.

“Wait, I was zoning out, what happened?” He asked lowly to Neville beside him, who was just clutching Trevor to his chest and looking like he was trying to not be seen standing so close to Draco.

“Um… I think his name is Ron? He said something about being a bad sort…”

“A bad sort?” he repeated, knowing Neville was editing by the way he immediately looked at the ground instead of meeting his gaze, but let it go.

“You heard what I said,” Ron stuck his jaw out stubbornly and Draco looked about ready to rip him a new one when a familiar bush of brown hair planted herself between them.

“Stop that! No fighting—the Professor will be back any second now and you’ll be expelled before you even properly enter the building!” She scolded them, and Harry got the feeling she and McGonagall would get along famously.

“Move it you-”

“Draco.”

The blond snapped his jaw shut at Harry’s quiet, but no less threatening reminder from behind him and settled on glaring impressively instead.

“This is between me and Weasley, Miss…?”

The girl looked a little startled. “Oh… I’m Hermione Granger, nice to meet you!”

“Draco Malfoy, and I can’t say the same.” Draco deadpanned and Harry felt like facepalming. Hermione just looked shocked, but Draco didn’t break stride. “Mind your own business Granger—and Weasley, shut your trap before you regret it.”

Ron inflamed. “I’ll open my mouth all I want and a snake like you can’t boss me around!” He snapped.

“This is my business if my classmates are going to be expelled!” Hermione got over it in half a second and joined in on lambasting Draco’s less-than-stellar introduction.

Neville made a soft sound of distress beside him and Harry decided this was enough with a pointed roll of his eyes.

“Draco, leave it be. Sorting, remember? McGonagall did say to smarten yourself up before we got to it and responding to schoolyard taunts doesn’t seem very intelligent to me.”

He said it to Draco but the other two clearly heard him by their startled expressions—and everyone else who’d been watching the fight unfold was looking at him curiously. Seems they didn’t recognize him which was good, but he’d unfortunately caught their attention by getting involved, which wasn’t optimal. With an internal eye-roll he realized Draco seemed to be the type to make a scene just because he could with no thought to the attention he was getting and realized this whole friendship thing was going to be interesting.

Draco luckily seemed to listen to him although he continued glaring at Weasley for all his worth—and Ron would’ve responded in kind if Hermione didn’t turn on him and start scolding him for fighting when it became clear Draco was off limits thanks to Harry and Neville standing too near the blond. Most people had distanced themselves from the ginger haired boy once the confrontation had started and none returned afterwards, especially when Granger started in on him—and he didn’t look to be having a great time under her care either.

“Y-you… you shouldn’t fight…” Neville got out uneasily, squeaking quietly when Draco turned to give him a look. With a somehow-graceful eye roll of his own Draco abandoned his glare-off and turned back to them, looking pissy.

Honestly the nerve of that welp.” He sniffed haughtily.  

“And here I was thinking you and Hermione would get along famously. You’ve both got an arrogance about you.” Harry commented ‘innocently’.

What? Screw you Potter,” Draco sneered. “And I was talking about the freckled freak. He’s got no right to say who you should or should not hang out with.”

“What?” Harry lifted an eyebrow. “To be honest I didn’t hear what he said.”

Draco balked a bit. “Oh… well yeah, he said something to that effect. About how hanging out with… the wrong sort could get you in trouble.”

It took Harry approximately six seconds to realize what Ron had been getting at and scoffed audibly.

“Let’s be clear on one thing Draco—no one tells me who to be friends with or not. Most certainly not Ron, and not even you.” He smiled calmly at the gray eyes that paused a bit as his tone. “Thank you for sticking up for my honor or whatever Mr. White Knight, but I’m not interested in going to this school to fight. I’ll pick my own battles and Ron Weasley is not even on my radar of things to give a quaffle about right now. You told Granger to mind her own business, so would you hit me if I told you to follow your own advice?”

Draco looked like he’d just swallowed something nasty but then gave a dramatic sigh.

“Fine,” he groaned, going back to pouting like a child.

Honestly, this guy.

“…did you just use a quidditch term to curse?” Neville brought up curiously, and Harry burst out laughing.

000

“Abbott, Hannah.”

Okay, so a talking hat is pretty cool. Very clever, and if it can read minds then it’s an awesome way to sort people into houses. Not as troll but definitely cool enough.

Magic was still new enough that when the hat had started to sing Harry had grabbed onto Neville’s arm beside him in surprise, causing the both of them to stumble and several upper years stilling at the nearby tables had to muffle laughter so as to not interrupt the hat’s song. Neville had turned bright red but Harry’s self-depreciating, apologetic grin seemed to calm him some.

“Granger, Hermione.”

“GRYFFINDOR!” The hat shouted for the hall to hear, Hermione looking a little startled as she made her quick escape. Draco looked surprised too, given he’d announced that she’d for sure be in Ravenclaw.

Harry was only surprised for half a second though. While she’d been a loud know-it-all in the short time he’d known her, he’d also witnessed her planting herself in the middle of a fight and introduce herself to a whole train of new people in search of someone else’s toad. She might be smart, but she was way more bold than the traditional bookworm and given the hat’s speech he wasn’t shocked by the turn of events.

Names continued to drone on and then:

“Longbottom, Neville.”

The boy in question hadn’t let got of his death grip on Harry’s hand since they’d entered the Great Hall, and Harry gave him a reassuring squeeze before giving him a not-so-gentle nudge forward. Once he had some momentum Neville managed to get to the stool without much issue and put the hat on with slightly shaking hands.

A soft croak distracted Harry enough from watching for his friend’s result eagerly, forcing him to glance down and see a toad sitting on the stone where Neville had just been standing.

Oh for the love of—

He scooped Trevor up and slipped him into his robe pocket quickly and hoped not too many people noticed.

He was sufficiently distracted enough by the toad to jump a bit when the hat abruptly shouted “GRYFFINDOR!”

Harry quickly beamed and started clapping wildly, Neville looking stunned but softly happy when the hat came off and he made his way to a very loud table behind them.

“Malfoy, Draco.”

Okay, here we go, how funny would if be if he were in—oh and it’s over already.

The hat didn’t even properly touch his stupidly styled blond locks before it shouted Slytherin, almost as if it didn’t really want to waste time on an already done deal.

Harry fought so hard not to roll his eyes at the definition of smug expression on his friend’s face and was not sure if he succeeded. He wanted to make fun of the blond so bad as he waltzed over to the Slytherin table like he was honoring them with his presence, the arrogant prick.

Harry was equally torn between fondness and annoyance, between laughing and booing supportively at him. He’d wanted to be in Slytherin after all, so he was happy for his friend, but did he have to be a smug bastard about it?

Yes, apparently he did, because he was puffed up and positively preening at the table clapping for his arrival politely.

Note to self: I’ve befriended an attention whore.  

In short order, only a few more names were called before clearly his name was coming up. He figured this was it when McGonagall paused just a second too long looking down at the list in front of her, but her face didn’t give a thing away thankfully.

"Potter-Monroe, Harry."

Oh, so that’s what the goblins meant by his name being official. Well, that’s one way to announce it to the whole school.

Immediately whispers broke out across the entire hall, and Harry wanted to sigh. He stepped forward instead, approaching the stool and being slightly surprised by the sudden silence.

He glanced around quickly at the abrupt lack of noise, and realized he was getting a lot of wide-eyed looks. From his fellow first years, from the upper years, and especially from the teacher table. There wasn’t a single teacher whose eyes didn’t startle when they landed on him—even McGonagall did a double-take.

The old man with a long white beard who had been watching the whole procession with a grandfatherly like expression with polite applause for every student who was sorted seem to raise his brows straight up into his white hair, although he collected himself the fastest.

He didn’t have time to evaluate all of their reactions because in a few short seconds he was on the stool and McGonagall had regained herself enough to lend him the hat. He did however watch one man with long black hair (which needed serious help, to be honest) choke on air when he saw him, which was by far the weirdest of all the reactions he was getting, but he didn’t have time to ponder over it at the moment.

They must have really been expecting him to look like his dad, like Draco had said, because it was very weird to have surprised literally hundreds of people all at once. He got a sinking feeling in his stomach that told him he had not quite grasped just how famous he apparently was.  

His thoughts on the matter were derailed when a voice that was not his own suddenly spoke into his brain.

Hm, where to put you…

Wow, the hat is talking into my brain. This is so weird.

Glad to entertain, Mr. Potter. Now hush and let me consider this…

Harry very much wanted to ask how the hat worked but refrained from doing so. He sensed the hat was amused by this thought and thankfully didn’t comment on it.

Is it that hard a choice?

I've narrowed it down to two. You'd be decent in Hufflepuff and likely bored in Ravenclaw, though you'd hate neither of them. Your heart is pure Gryffindor for sure, but your mind has a spark that would do well in Slytherin.

I could be with Draco then.

He thinks to himself, and it’s not a bad idea. He planned to be friends with Draco no matter what house he was put in, but to actually be in Draco’s house would mean they could share a dorm and common room and simply have more time to hang out. It would be easier, and he liked the Slytherin ideals so he wasn’t against it and silently told that hat so. The hat seemed to give a mental nod of agreement.

Slytherin will lead you to greatness. You will become a powerful wizard in no time there.

Harry paused. A flood of doubt abruptly washing through him and seeming to take the hat off guard.

What’s this?

I… don't want greatness. I just want to be who I am.

Oh? A wise man once said some are born with greatness, some have it thrust upon them. It seems you are a mix of both. An unambitious Slytherin is almost unheard of, however when placed in that environment I see you will overcome this hesitancy and be great nonetheless.

I don't want to be great, I want to be ME.

What a Hufflepuff thing to say, the mental voice tisked. And here I've already crossed them off the list. Well, Slytherin will force you to become great, as they're all about politics and ambition. You'll need to be cunning to get far there, but what I'm gathering is that you don't want to put in that effort?

Well when you put it like that I sound lazy. He huffed back with annoyance. But I don't want to have to WORK to be friends or be accepted, I don't want to have to wear masks anymore. I know Slytherin and Gryffindor don't get along, but Draco is already my friend and I didn’t have to try for that, I could just let it be. If I go with Gryffindor because I don't want to have to pretend to be someone I'm not in Slytherin, someone who I could become but don’t necessarily want to become, that doesn't mean I can't still be a little bit Slytherin, right?

Given I just sorted that boy I wouldn't say you being personable is necessarily what prompted him to talk to you, the hat hummed in a very amused tone, but moved on before he could ask. And of course you could be someone of more than one house; if you are Gryffindor then you will only go farther as a person and a wizard by embracing the ideals of other houses. That is why the Founders hoped for after all, but thought having like-minded individuals to bolster yourself as a young man or woman would be more helpful. Four houses, but one school--one people. It will not be an easy task for you to branch out from whatever house you are in, but if you're sure about your interest in such a thing then I think I have made my decision.

Oh? And this house will help me?

Yes, I believe so. Simply think like a Slytherin and you'll figure out why. Better be… GRYFFINDOR!

It shouted the last word out for the whole hall to hear, and it erupted in cheers as the hat was lifted away, especially the supposed Gryffindor table. Harry’s eyes were drawn to the noise first and saw Neville smiling widely as he clapped for him.

Ah, I can give him Trevor back more easily this way. Wait—

Remembering a bit too late why he wanted to be in Slytherin, he snapped his head back over to the other side of the hall and seemed to lock eyes with a gray gaze, somehow finding him immediately amongst the crowd. Draco, for all his boasting of Slytherin’s cleverness, was very easy to read… and his big eyes were clearly disappointed. His smile was real and he was clapping, but Harry saw he’d been holding out to the hope that maybe they could’ve both been in Slytherin.

Harry resolved not to tell him that it’d been his choice. At least not until they survived being friends of rival houses.

And while he’d never regret nor apologize for his willing decisions, it didn’t mean he didn’t feel a bit guilty about what how his choices would impact Draco, and so he smiled his most apologetic, warm smile he could at his friend, which seemed to sooth the blond a fraction.

He finished up by moving briskly towards the Gryffindor table—being clapped on the back by some ecstatic Weasley twins out of nowhere and several people trying to shake his hand while Neville scooched over to make room for him by his side. He thought of Draco but knew the blond would be fine on his own for now, and that this wouldn’t change anything. He was a Gryffindor now, and took the opportunity to look around and greet his housemates properly.

The hat had said he was in Gryffindor for a very Slytherin-like reason, and so he was going to get to work and see what he could make of this turn of events in his new adventure.

000

Unbeknownst to him, a certain potions professor was watching the exchange and having a bout of deja-bu so intense he almost needed to lie down. As it was, he gripped the edge of the high table for dear life, his head spinning in the sheer, painful nostalgia that coursed through him.

When Lucius had said the Potter brat looked like Lily… Jesus Christ he hadn’t been exaggerating and Severus had not been nearly prepared enough.

But even at this distance, he just…

And oh, it got so much worse than just looking like her. Her hair, her face, her eyes…

So much worse.

When Lily had been sorted, she'd looked back at him with an identical look that her son had just given his godson. Apologetic, comforting, encouraging, hopeful. Hopeful that despite being in warring houses they could still be friends.

James Potter's son had been sorted into Gryffindor and instead of looking at his new housemates, the first place his eyes went was the Slytherin table—remorse and apologies spilling off of him as he made his way down from the stool.

Draco's composed, but clearly disappointed face was like a physical punch to the gut. It reminded him so much of his own emotions from what felt like a lifetime ago, he wasn’t sure what to do with himself.

The feast continued on, but Severus just sat in his seat, numb to it all as his past haunted him.

Chapter Text

 Harry, being conditioned to wake at absurd hours by force and then willingly getting up even earlier than that so he could have some ‘me time’ in the day when he wasn’t forced to either be at school or doing chores for the Dursleys (and in recent weeks early enough to read and respond to Draco’s letters), woke up a not so insignificant amount of hours before his dormmates. Despite having the comfiest bed he’d ever had the pleasure of sitting on much less sleeping on (having a bed at all, to be fair) he could not stop his internal alarm clock from forcing his eyes open before the sun had even started to lighten the sky outside the gorgeous gothic-style windows framed in rich red fabric. He’d kept the curtains of his own four-poster bed side open because he was far beyond sleeping in small dark places—the one window he got back in the shed had spoiled him and his new roommates didn’t care about which bed they got so he’d jumped at the chance to have the one between two of the largest windows that showed part of the grounds and part of the forest outside their confines.

The room was circular and spacious enough that each little pie-slice had enough room for the four-poster bed, the trunk at the foot of it, a desk, and a decent albeit small wardrobe. Some areas had windows above the desks, other had solid walls; Neville had taken the bed beside his so their desks were side-by-side, and both of them had windows on either side of their beds. Seamus, an Irish boy he’d met briefly the night before, got one window and some wall, while Dean, another acquaintance, and Ron Weasley himself both had walls. Dean was fine with this arrangement as he apparently brought several posters that needed to be hung and he’d need the real estate, while Ron on the far side of the room had mentioned he liked to sleep and ‘birds chirping’ or whatever he thought windows entailed would bother him. Neville hadn’t said a word but from the way he was hovering in Harry’s footstep the other boys hadn’t put a fuss—Seamus even moved one bed down without saying anything, like he’d simply decided to switch beds, therefore opening up two beds beside each other, which Harry thought was very considerate.

Seamus and Dean seemed like nice guys, though they hadn’t had much of a chance to talk last night since it was late by the time they got back from the feast and they were all practically in a food coma. They’d done the obligatory exploration of the spacious, frankly lavish-yet-cozy room, claiming their spots and getting settled in just enough to not be total messes come the morning, but had retired pretty quickly. Dean seemed muggleborn as his posters were of muggle football teams, but Seamus could’ve been anything as he was enthusiastic about everything he encountered, but not overly shocked either. Seamus seemed a little slow on the uptake sometimes since sarcasm clearly flew over his head, but he’d noticed Neville’s silence and been genuinely nice to him without getting in the shy boy’s face about why he wasn’t saying much. Dean had laughed at Harry’s sarcastic comments but didn’t engage either.

All in all, Harry was reserving judgement for the time being but figured if there was no big issue they’d be pleasant people to room with. He’d have to deal with it even if they turned out not to be decent too, since it seemed like they’d been dormmates for the next seven years regardless of if they took issue with one another or not.

Point and case: Ron leaving what looked to be half his trunk lying on the floor around his bed and what he thought was a rat scurrying over his already-messy desk. They’d been here less than 12 hours and Harry was honestly glad he was over there on the exact opposite side of the room because he was sure that’d get old fast. He’d spent most of his short life cleaning after all, and while messes hadn’t bothered him at one point in his life, about the time he got his act together and started taking pride in himself and his overall appearance and person, he got over that apathy and ensured his shit was together at all times. He didn’t begrudge messy people their personal space to be as messy as they wanted but that didn’t mean Harry was going to let it fly if stray shoes and quills started ending up in his space—Ron could do whatever he wanted in his bubble and therefore Harry would maintain his own space similarly.

Okay, calm down, no need to prep for a fight that might not even happen.

He took a breath and continued about establishing his new routine. Since getting up early seemed to be the thing his body did naturally now, he had plenty of time to sneak past Neville and Seamus to the door to the bathroom, which while only having one shower and one toilet also had a wall with about a dozen cabinets for the taking which Dean had started the trend of picking one and sticking his toiletries in there. Harry knew he was going to have more stuff than the typical guy (Ron’s cupboard had a toothbrush and a comb, to prove a point) so he’d taken the bottom-most two in order to be out of the way and put all the potions and soaps and shampoos the nice hairdressers had given him, along with two baskets of both Dell’s baubles and another filled with all his other collected shiny things. He also had like five combs and brushes and while he felt more than a little vain he loved his hair and he was going to take care of it no matter what opinions he got from his dormmates.

He felt even more vain when he realized he had all the time in the world before any of his sleeping roommates would even think about waking up and therefore spent all the time in the world taking a shower, washing his face, brushing his teeth, combing and fixing up his hair, covering his scar, and so on. He got up early to have time to do this on top of the Dursleys cooking in the morning and so to have so much extra free time felt good.

Having spent an exorbitant amount of time in the bathroom but fully pleased with himself and feeling better about the day, he slipped back out and was amused and saddened to see no one else had even twitched in their sleep yet although the sky was lighter outside and sunrise was probably within the half hour now. With a sigh he went back to his area and sorted through his clothes, quietly putting things away in his wardrobe (years of sneaking around while the Dursleys slept meant he could easily be silent when he wanted to, although now it was more for consideration than fear of punishment that kept him quiet) and sorting through his supplies for what he might need for his first day of classes. He arranged his desk into a nice little working station, although he kept all his books in his bottomless bag so he wouldn’t need to lug them around or come back here if he forgot anything.

By the time his new watch read 7:13, the sun was up, even if just barely, and he was properly bored. No one had said what time classes actually started but when he’d vocalized this thought last night Ron had in passing mentioned his older brothers mentioning it was 9-ish or something. His lack of certainty gave him anxiety, wondering if they were going to be late on their first day.

Well, he’d be less late given he was fully dressed and his bag packed, but still. This was poorly thought out, how they introduced first years to Hogwarts and all. First they’d only mentioned the password once and if you hadn’t been listening or had a bad memory you were screwed, not to mention they walked here late at night and it didn’t sound like they were going to get a map or a guide going forward so… just try not to get lost I guess? Then the lack of guidance about what time to get down to breakfast, what kind of things you need for the first day, anything other than ‘don’t go into the aptly named forbidden forest or up to the third floor for some horrible reason’?

This school had issues, that was for certain.

Harry was ripped from his thoughts by a loud banging on the door, nearly falling off his chair in shock and several voices of sleepy alarm calling out in shock at the sudden intrusion into their dreams.

“First years! It’s 7:30, breakfast has officially opened. Classes start at 8:50, you’ll need to collect your time tables down in the Great Hall— try not to be late on your first day.” A voice came from the other side of the door, and it sounded like the prefect that’d shown them the way last night. By the hair and freckles, Harry was guessing it was one of Ron’s older brothers (he’d wondered not for the first time how many Weasley children there actually were but was not the best terms with the youngest Weasley and was therefore not going to ask—he’d ask the twins later, they were more than nice to him both on the platform and at the feast last night when they’d continued calling him ‘Apples’ and took much glee in nettling him about how he’d surprised the whole school by being a red head like them instead of what ‘Harry Potter’ was apparently supposed to look like).

Harry didn’t hear a sound from Ron’s closed curtains, but Dean and Seamus were groggily flailing, trying to get their bearings and absorb what had just been said while still being half asleep. Neville had startled awake and was breathing fast, but quickly collecting himself—he was wide awake though from the fright he’d just had and turned to look at him in surprise.

“You’ve been up a while Harry?” He blinked the last bits of sleep and shock from his eyes, realizing the red head was full dressed and sitting at his desk.

“Yeah, I wake up early naturally. That’s good they wake us though, as I was concerned about the lack of a schedule.”

“I had thought that…” Neville agreed, but his expression clearly said he’d been too afraid to ask, much less question it.

Harry grinned widely. “Morning Neville—happy first day.”

The dark blond looked surprised but smiled happily back. “Morning Harry.”

It didn’t take long for the others to get ready, as guys who didn’t spend longer on their hair than it took to run a comb through it made great time when prompted by the promise of breakfast. The fact they had uniforms cut down on the getting dressed process too—the uniform concept in general Harry wasn’t thrilled with but the only plus side being he’d confirmed you could wear what you wanted in off-hours and the blood-red and gleaming gold tie and badge that’d appeared on his robes since he got sorted kind of matched his hair so… there was that.

Seamus had been the thoughtful, if naïve one who’d realized Ron hadn’t budged and tried to wake him, but got snapped at for his troubles. Apparently the Weasley wasn’t a morning person and while he was a considerate person, Seamus also didn’t give a quaffle about someone he didn’t know and who’d only proven himself to be rude—twice now. With the attempt made—and failed—he’d shrugged and turned to join them as they grouped up to go down to breakfast together with one last shout to remind Ron classes started at 8:50 just in case the boy hadn’t heard it the first time.

Harry thought that was very nice of him, but probably a useless attempt.

He’d been right about the lack of a guide or a map, but luckily between the four of them and one or two probably unnecessary detours, they made decent time and recognized the hallway they were in as the last one that lead to the Great Hall at just about quarter to eight. Harry was delighted to see a familiar blond head a distance in front of them, with a group of two others all wearing green and silver ties come up from an inconspicuous door that seemed to lead down. He remembered Draco mentioning the Slytherin dorm was in the dungeons and was wondering if he’d ever get a chance to sneak in and see it for himself because he wondered how they’d keep a place like that warm. Magic probably, be he was curious none the less.

“Draco!” He greeted, probably too loudly for the early morning but it got the three ahead of him to stop—the blond in question whipping around but the other two turning at a more sedate, but cautious pace. Harry just grabbed Neville’s hand knowing he’d be left behind if he didn’t and ran up to them, Dean and Seamus taken off guard but quickly following suit.

“Morning!” He greeted brightly as he came up to them at proper speaking distance, and pretty much everyone from both groups stared at him like he had a second head—with the exception of Draco who was very much only pretending to be casual, as Harry could clearly see the lines of tension in his shoulders. Oh well, he could get over it because they could stare at him all they wanted for being too friendly—if they stared because of his apparent fame then he’d take issue, but before then it truly did not matter to him. 

"Harry." Draco greeted, his posture only very slightly tense but his tone his normal affluent self, if not slightly more so. Probably because he was showing off for his housemates, and Harry’s green eyes flickered over them curiously. One was tall and admittedly very handsome, with dark chocolate skin and very intelligent brown eyes measuring him back with equal, if not more intense regard. The other had mousy brown hair in tight curls, but blue eyes set into a sallow face the exact color and feel of solid ice for how frigid and uninterested they were as he did Draco’s somehow-looking-down-at-you-while-meeting-your-gaze thing. Neither looked thrilled to meet him and did not in fact say good morning back.

"This is Blaise Zabini and Theodore Nott." Draco introduced with a wave of his hand at each of them, ignoring the way their eyes seemed to drift from Harry in order to pierce him silently with perfectly Slytherin-like blank, but meaningful looks.

"Hello, we sort of met at the sorting. I'm Harry." He greeted back far more friendly than they seemed willing to be, and did not say his last name. No need to call attention to it.

"Potter." The tall boy, Blaise, greeted anyway, rather curtly. Harry was impressed he actually acknowledged the greeting, but less impressed by the tone at which he’d said his last name.

Like a switch flipping, he automatically snapped a grin onto his face in a perfect show of friendliness.

“Monroe actually, if you would Zabini. Or you could call me Harry since any friend of Draco’s is a friend of mine.” He positively cooed with a tone that was far too sweet. Draco simply glanced at Blaise as if to say told you so while

the tall boy glanced at him without emotions and stared at Harry for that comeback as if reevaluating him. Nott behind him just let his pale blue eyes drift over the conversation blankly without saying a thing.

Harry cut off their calculating stares to turn to his own dorm mates. 

"This is Dean, Seamus, and Neville!" He finished the introduction, the switch unflipping and his more earnest smile coming back just like that. 

"’Lo," Dean managed to get out rather stiffly—if he was a muggleborn he probably didn’t get the Slytherin vs Gryffindor thing but was not stupid enough not the realize this conversation was tense. Seamus just nodded and Neville just made a squeaking noise. Harry decided to ignore the awkwardness and beamed at Draco to pointedly get to the point of him bothering to talk to this group of Slytherins at all: because Draco was his friend and he was hell bent on everyone being civil to each other regardless of if social norms had to go down in flames with him in order to get there.

"So you were right about Gryffindor being in a tower and all--I was a bit afraid we'd get lost on our first day which would be awkward," He chatted, and the blond paused only a couple seconds before smiling back. Still stiffly, but more like he smiled when they first met, as if he wasn’t used to doing such things and not because he didn’t want to.

"I'm sure you could get away with being a couple minutes late, given who you are."

He put on a mock-annoyed look "There's no way."

Draco snorted wryly, somehow still making that look delicate and refined. "Well we should get breakfast if you're so adamant about being on time. Apparently it's rare first years don't get lost on the way to their first classes."

He turned and started walking, sort of leading the charge with Harry sliding up to walk by his side and the others could only follow in awkwardness. He didn’t turn around to see how the Slytherins were—god forbid—walking cordially beside a bunch of uncomfortable Gryffindors but the mental picture was amusing enough to satisfy him.

 "I can only assume Slytherin is far more put together than how Gryffindor does things; please tell me one of your Prefects gave you a hint or like a map or something?"

Draco laughed once as if he couldn't help it. "Oh, so they're expecting you to run around until you get entirely lost?"

"I'm starting to think that, yes."

"And why would I share trade secrets with the enemy," He said it blankly, but somehow Harry caught the joking undertone and gasped dramatically for effect.

"Is that what we are? Dearest me I probably shouldn't have said good morning then." He grinned, and Draco’s lip twitched which was pretty much the equivalent. "Pleeease?"He was not above begging, even if he was doing it playfully.

The blond scoffed, amused. "Fine, let's walk to our first classes together. Severus tells me Gryffindor and Slytherin are often together for some reason."

"Really!?" He got excited at that, still being a little regretful he’d actively chosen to not be in Draco’s house mainly because of the severe decrease in time they’d get to have together. Being in a lot of the same classes would alleviate that some. "If we have potions together, I can show you what I found in that book I was talking about."

"You do realize as a Gryffindor you're all but destined to fail potions, right?"

"But it's the most interesting one so far!" He pouted playfully, although he’d already known that from their letters. It wasn’t a lie—it seemed to be the most like cooking and he was good at cooking. One would think the skills would translate maybe. "If you're my partner maybe we'll cancel each other out."

"Why would I be your partner if it'll doom me to fail, or get me a worse grade?"

This boy is too easy, Harry cackled internally as he began to grin very slyly, and made no effort to hide the mischievous glint in his eye.

"Because you've touted your skills at potions so much I can only assume that even my Gryffindor curse won't affect how brilliant you are at your master subject, Mr. Malfoy." He was all but purring, laying the complementary tone on thick. Draco stiffened up and his cheeks dusted a light rose.

A sudden dignified snort caused them both to look back, in time to catch Blaise coughing lightly into his hand to cover up what was unmistakably a laugh at Draco’s expense. Realizing he’d been caught, he just lifted one dark brow pointedly at Draco, entirely unrepentant.

"He's got your number, Malfoy."

Draco scowled at him the boy, but Harry let out a peal of laughter that had the blond relaxing slightly. So the tall Slytherin had a sense of humor; that was good to know. The fact it came at Draco’s expense was a little concerning but Harry could work with that—Draco could do with a little teasing to bring him down a peg or two off his spoiled-brat persona at times. And Harry had intended to tease him out of fondness from the beginning, in any case.

He was still grinning as they came up to the Great Hall, that last leg of that journey taking no time at all. They were still in the early crowd, although the amount of Ravenclaws and Slytherins present was notable. The bookworms were likely eager to start classes while Harry got the feeling Slytherins were punctual to a fault out of sheer principle.

He also realized everyone was sitting at their very different, neatly separated tables, and his morning plans of chatting with Draco and Neville went up in smoke, his smile dropping immediately.

"Oh… I suppose we sit at our own house tables?"

"That's how it's done, yes." Blaise chimed in for the first time willingly, coming forward as if heading to the Slytherin table and pausing just to lift his eyebrow at the red head in front of him as if posing the challenge.

Harry frown at him but honestly couldn’t deal with him at the moment, turning to give Draco an apologetic look. "I suppose we have to get our time tables this morning… but I'm coming to sit with you at lunch!"

The entire group startled at that declaration, Slytherins and Gryffindors alike, though Theodore and Blaise hid it better. They were only eleven after all, like the rest of them, and Draco’s cool countenance seemed to be natural whereas theirs was just a tiny bit too forced. As if Draco’s straight posture was hereditary and theirs was because of a broomstick taped to their spines.

"Can you do that?" Seamus scratched his head at that thought.

"Don't know, don't care," Harry waved him off with a grin, glancing at Draco. "I kind of wanted to be in Slytherin; sorry the hat had other plans, Draco."

Yes, he said it for dramatic effect, but also to sooth Draco, and it clearly worked by his automatic grin at that statement—this one being more real than any he’d had so far this morning.

It was a bonus when the Gryffindors behind him made sounds like a badger being stepped on and the Slytherins looked legitimately taken off guard. Even Theodore who’d been one step short of glaring this whole time could only stare at him now. The unexpected but slightly entertaining side effect he hadn’t been counting on was a group of upper year Ravenclaws at the end of their table nearby who’d apparently been eavesdropping, choked on their breakfast and at least three of them needed to be clapped on the back to prevent from suffocating.

"Really?" Theodore spoke up for the first time, eyes scanning over him with an alarming intensity as if trying to figure out a particularly complex puzzle, but his gaze was anything but warm and his tone doubly frigid. "Why would you want to be in Slytherin? Aren't the Potters made of Gryffindor?"

Harry’s felt his smile instantly cool on his face.

“It’s Monroe, Mr. Nott.” The boy blinked, but then it was over and Harry was rolling his eyes in a relaxed way. “Not to be rude, but I kind of thought the whole point of me being famous was that my parents were, I dunno, dead? I've never met them so how am I supposed to know if they were Gryffindor-ish or not?" He shrugged a bit helplessly, and only partially for show. "And besides, Draco is my friend and he was always going to be in Slytherin—you saw the hat take all of not-even-a-second to sort him." Cue eyes roll at Draco puffing his chest up smugly. He put a finger to his chin playfully and glanced up at the enchanted ceiling as if a thought were occurring to him. "Ah, but when I said I wanted to be with my friend the hat called me a Hufflepuff and sorted me into Gryffindor instead. It was rather rude, to be honest."

The two stranger Slytherins just stared at him.

Eventually, Blaise shook his head and shot Draco a look before addressing him properly this time, with the frigidness left off the curling ends of his voice.

"You're an odd one, Potter." He told him pointedly as if daring him to take it offensively. Unfortunately for him Harry just smiled and put a hand on his chest as if flattered, which caused the taller boy to press his lips together thoughtfully.

"We should eat something, so we have time to get to our classes." Theodore smoothly changed the subject and started walking away from the conversation without another word or glance to the Gryffindors.

Draco cast him a wry look. "Later then."

"Later!" He waved, sensing the dramatic exit that the blue-eyed Slytherin was trying to make and let him have it—this time, snitch. He watched Draco go with one last parting smile and something wry in his muddled gray eyes. By the time he turned around again though, three of his new dormmates were staring at him with eyes like saucers.  "What?" He demanded.

"They're right, you really are an odd one." Dean grinned at him, shaking his head in almost the exact same way Blaise had and moving towards the Gryffindor table to find some seats and some bacon amongst the delicious spread laid out for the taking. "I thought we were supposed to hate the Slytherins." He commented with no true amount of malice in his tone as he plopped down and Harry took the seat opposite him, with Neville clambering up beside him.

Harry didn’t have to go far to know where he got that idea, even if Dean was a muggleborn. Ron hadn’t done much so far but antagonize Draco—who reeked Slytherin even before setting foot onto Hogwarts grounds— before they were even sorted and then talk loudly about it at dinner (to which Harry mostly tuned him out but he’d been aware of the rant happening) and then even get a parting shot in last night as they were settling down, making some comment about how it was much comfier than some ‘slimy snake dungeon’. Harry gave exactly zero quaffles about what Ron Weasley said, but he was a bit annoyed to realize his venom was spreading.

He quickly decided to nip that in the butt with all due haste.

"Why would I hate people I've never met? Also, I already know Draco and he's my friend, and I kind of wanted to be in Slytherin so that'd be hypocritical."

"But aren't they all dark wizards?" Seamus chimed in, looking a little more troubled than Dean who didn’t seem to really care either way.

"Who knows? Doesn't mean I would've been one just for being sorted there, and that should hold true for most of them, right? Besides, they're first years. Do you know what you'll become in seven years? Cause I don't.” Cue pointed sip of the pumpkin juice that had appeared in front of him—how he loved magic! “It’s the same for them—no need to cast them as dark wizards when they're only our age and don't know any differently than we do about our futures, huh?"

Dean seemed to swallow that explanation with no issue, his expression acknowledging that valid point before he went to town on the waffle he’d just helped himself too.

Seamus was forgoing digging in but took a bite of his bacon with a conflicted, thoughtful look on his face. "…guess you're right." He eventually got out with a bit of patience on Harry’s part. Eventually he seemed to come to some conclusion and shrugged. "Getting along with them sounds like a lot less effort than hating them too, 'specially if we're going to have a bunch of classes with them."

Harry felt like beaming, but settled for smiling pleasantly as he took a bite of pancake. One glance to the side showed Neville picking at his oatmeal and placing raisins along the edges distractedly. He hadn’t spoken up of course, but dragging it out of him at the breakfast when it was their first day of magic classes was probably a bit rude and would overwhelm him. He shelved it but made a point to circle back to the shy blond before too much time had passed.

He shrugged the whole conversation off and let Seamus and Dean dissolve the topic into muggle football vs. quidditch—it seemed like they were going to be fast friends in no time since they were equally as enthusiastic about their sports as Draco was with quidditch and seemed willing to both share and learn each other’s passions. He knew enough about both sports to be able to contribute, but quickly got outshone when he realized he was definitely not nearly as much as a diehard fan as they both were. Magic was still new enough to him that he was mostly interested in the prospect of quidditch: flying seemed like the most fantastic thing about the wizarding world so far, and just a little prompting got him promises from both of them that first years would have flying lessons eventually to see if they had any skill or passion for it.

Neville hadn’t been thrilled but Harry most certainly was. It sounded fun, it sounded wonderful, and he was probably more excited for that that the actual classes in half and hour.

Speaking of, at just about 15 minutes from the point they’d need to leave in order to wander around this castle and find the right classroom, and the Great Hall was very much full of students who were essentially done with their meals and chatting away happily, McGonagall began going down the Gryffindor table handing out time tables. A minute or so later, Ron finally made his appearance with a very annoyed looking red headed prefect practically dragging him by the ear.

Aw, what a good older brother. Ron would’ve been absolutely screwed if his brother didn’t clearly notice his absence and be willing enough to baby him into dragging him down in time for classes. He knew Ron would’ve likely died on the spot had he missed breakfast by McGonagall’s very intense stink eye as she caught him walking up to sit at her table while she was handing out her students’ schedules. He wasn’t sure if this was a prefect duty or not to baby their house’s first years like this, but judging by the red headed prefect’s sour expression, Harry was thinking probably not. Or, at least it’d never been required before, or at least not that often.

Deciding he didn’t want to deal with Ron first thing in the morning on the day he got to start magical classes, he accepted his time table when McGonagall handed it to him with a wide grin that caused her to shoot him a suspicious glare, before calling a quick “Be right back!” to his dormmates and taking off towards the Slytherin table before Ron could fully reach them and sit down.

He was vaguely aware of a lot of eyes on him but promptly decided he did not care—not when Draco’s blond head snapped up at his approach and was suddenly out of his seat and meeting him halfway by the back of the Great Hall, obediently presenting his time table for Harry to snatch from his hand.

He compared them and promptly pouted.

“Eh!? You said Slytherin and Gryffindor were paired up a lot! Liar.” He huffed, and earned himself a regal eye roll.

“I’m sure twice seems like a lot for many Gryffindors who are less snake-inclined.” Draco drawled. “But remember Magic Theory and Astronomy are taught on year levels—all four houses will be in those.”

“Okay fine. Well we’ve got one today! We can go after lunch together.”

“About that—were you seriously planning on sitting at the Slytherin table at lunch?” He said it casually like it didn’t matter to him, but his eyes said a different story.

It tightened his resolve, not that a bunch of dirty looks and frigid eyes were going to stop him before, but it added fuel to fire, to say the least.

“I know, Blaise misses me already. Tell him not to worry, I’ll be back to bother him in no time.”

Draco’s face spasmed like he almost burst out laughing but controlled himself at the last minute, biting his lip and then smiling more calmly. “I’ll be sure to pass along the message.”

“Thanks Draco, you’re a doll.”

They shared a brief smile before Harry went back to commenting on their schedules and figuring out a game plan for the semester.

000

Draco was… painfully aware of all the eyes on the two of them since they weren’t exactly hiding. More like standing in front of the entrance where literally the whole hall could see him. Not that it wasn’t like he could feel a hundred eyes on his skin and whispers starting to circulate.

But, he held firm.

The warmth at Harry’s wide, content smile chased away the uneasy feeling like sunlight burning away cold morning dew, coming down like a Patronus in front of a sea of judgmental eyes until it really didn’t seem to matter anymore.

The new school year dawned on a September morning that felt particularly warm this year.

000

Snape’s entire being was melting from sheer frustration and other emotions he couldn’t place, to the point where the fork in his hand hovering over his as-of-yet untouched breakfast was in quite a bit of danger.

He hated being this spectator, who could only just sit here and watch. Not the he even knew what he would do even if he could get off the sidelines and do something already, but the sheet frustration was driving him up the wall. Or into one.

But all he could do was sit here and watch his godson be brave.

Brave enough to stand in front of the entire damn school and silently declare that yes, this Slytherin had a Gryffindor as a friend. Like he didn’t see the Hufflepuffs exploding in whispers like the gossips they were or the Ravenclaws dissolve into wondering what this might mean. Like he wasn’t shattering his reputation in Slytherin at this very moment with the eyes of the upper years growing colder by the second, or how some Gryffindors looked to be short circuiting as they couldn’t process what they were seeing—some got red faced, others just gaped dumbly. One Slytherin seventh year looked ready to kill, but settled for sipping his coffee darkly.

Slytherins lived to the hidden politics beneath he surface, and Draco was standing there with a calm, plain and genial smile that would’ve made Lucius so fucking proud had it be directed at a teacher or a politician, and yet…

…and yet Draco wasn’t a political yet, he was eleven bloody years old and Severus knew his godson well enough to know he wasn’t masking fear or anger or a lie to get his way. He was smiling like that because the boy wanted to grin like an idiot and had better control of himself than that. His mask was shielding happiness and warmth, not the things most Slytherins masked.

The upper year snakes recognized this, and their eyes met each other silently over their meals before going about their business without a word.

Draco had made a mistake, and he was going to pay for it. Severus wanted nothing more than to protect the child, but knew even he couldn’t stop this. Slytherin wasn’t the monsters the world made them out to be, but that didn’t mean they weren’t monsters in their own right, and only when they wanted to be. Very clever, very particular monsters who got their way in the end. Good monsters who didn’t get caught. Monsters who took a lot of pride in being the beautiful, refined beings that they were.

Severus loved Slytherin even to this day, now that he was grown and realized was a poor Slytherin he’d once been—the one who’d lost Lily in the end because he didn’t understand.

He was terrified that Draco didn’t understand. Not yet.

But he was absolutely positive that he was about to learn, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. He wondered what Lucius would do when that happened, and how he’d be blamed for not protecting the Malfoy heir. Like he even could in the face of this.

But absolutely worst of all… was that Severus knew in the deepest, pettiest part of him that he was ashamed to admit existed (and he was a very petty man, so that said quite a bit)… that he was also just a tiny bit jealous of his godson.

If only he had been brave enough to do such a foolish, terrible thing. Horrible as this coming lesson would be… maybe, Severus thought, maybe having Lily in the end would’ve made it worth it. He didn’t know, and he realized he would never know. Because he’d been a coward, and he’d thought of his own hide first and foremost… not risking being bold or anything Gryffindor-like even for just a second to be with his childhood friend.

Lily had made many attempts to be Slytherin-like and get along with his friends early on, he realized this looking back. Potter and Black had made damn sure that Severus never once approached a Gryffindor other than Lily with anything but hostility though. The disconnect, the dissonance that difference cause… well, Lily had given up on trying to like Slytherins other than him before their first year was out. She’d been kind and open-minded, but she wasn’t one to be trampled on and she knew when to call it a lost cause.

And maybe that’s why she’d given up on him eventually too.

The way Draco was looking at a boy who could’ve probably been a young Lily Evan’s twin said it all. Severus had spent a lot of his first half of Hogwarts looking into green eyes the exact same way, and when she said jump, he’d ask how high. If only he’d been a little braver to actually continue that as they got older and rivalries, jealousies, life got in their way.

He remembered waiting two weeks to seek her out again after their sorting… it didn’t look like her son was going to give Draco the option of running away or denying their friendship like Severus once had, and for some reason that cut into his heart sharply. It almost physically hurt watching a young red head with gleaming scarlet hair trailing behind them dash across the hall with a big grin on his face towards the Slytherin table and go collect his friend by force—if Draco hadn’t stood to meet him Severus was sure the boy would’ve plopped himself down in the middle of the snake pit just to be beside his godson, and for some reason that physically hurt.

This was all so familiar, so echoing of what once was… and yet… everything was different. It looked and felt like the same tragic story starting all over again but… this time—this time— the Slytherin was a bit braver, and the Gryffindor was a bit more aggressive.

Why hadn’t he been braver? Why hadn’t Lily been bolder? Why hadn’t he gone to her, and why hadn’t she come to him like her son just did, right in front of him and the entire bloody school?

Because that boy has James Potter in his blood. The same Potter who declared his love for Lily in front of the Great Hall not three weeks into first year. The same Potter who leapt off the astronomy tower on a dare and the faith that Black would catch him with a levitation charm with less than three months of magical training. This boy looks like Lily, but he’s reckless and aggressive like his father, unafraid to stand up for what he loves or blindly fling himself into his next grand adventure like the terrible bloody Gryffindor he was.

Severus was absolutely horrified at the thoughts that assaulted him absolutely unwillingly.

Even worse, because he realized they were all true.

He was out of the Great Hall so fast even the Slytherins didn’t seem him go, and all he knew was that he was glad he had no morning classes, otherwise every single one of those students who get a failing grade to start the new year.

Chapter Text

Harry felt sweat forming on his brow from the intense amount of concentration it took to keep smiling innocently while McGonagall stared him down.

Draco had not exaggerated (for once) about the strict Transfiguration teacher who was now his head of house and who he was determined to get to like him—whether it killed him or not, and judging by the firm set of her lips it probably just might. He did not know why she was so suspicious of him since he had, as of yet, only smiled at her, but whatever the reason she’d been giving him the stink eye as she spent the first half of his first ever magical class drilling into them all the things they would not be doing in this class. Transfiguration was apparently second to only Potions in being the most dangerous magical subject to learn, and a few graphic horror stories later Harry was pretty convinced. When one could turn the air in your lungs into needles, or the blood in your veins to ink, you learned to be careful.

It’d make sense that she’d be so strict—she’d have to be to teach such a dangerous subject and be proud to say she hadn’t lost a student in over twenty-two years now. Wow.

Somehow, she was totally his type. Meaning difficult. Like Draco!

Also, she was super bloody cool. Ron had come bursting into the room quite late despite breakfast having ended the same time for all of them, and she was the bloody cat on the desk who’d been evaluating them far too calmly for a normal cat somehow. Like, people could turn into animals in the magical world. Harry suddenly knew what he wanted to be when he grew up and step one was getting his transfiguration teacher to like him enough to teach him that.

So, regardless of her staring him down and seeming to point every second or third warning she reiterated in his direction quite often, he just smiled as innocently as he could back to her and mentally went over what he knew of this subject from his textbook notes so far. He was pleased he’d guessed right when halfway through class she distributed match sticks and began walking them through the process of turning it into needles—he’d already read this theory and decided he was definitely going to get her to crack a smile at him.

He was excited beyond belief to finally be casting his first bit of magic but still managed to reel it in and act oh so mature and calm in front of her hawk-like eyes. As he drew his wand, he had half a moment of doubt wondering if knowing would automatically translate in being able to do magic… before realized that was absolutely stupid.

It was magic for crying out loud. If he thought he could do it, he most certainly could, because… well, magic.

So he grinned wildly and made the wand movement, saying the incantation precisely since she’d been so adamant about pronunciation, and was beyond pleased when his match stick immediately morphed into one perfect silver needle. Because he’d read the theory too, he knew visualization was critical, so it wasn’t just a needle either… he’d carved his name into the very tiny thin body. Because he was an over achiever like that.

He was so proud of himself he almost jumped at the sudden presence that seemed to materialize over him. He glanced up and smiled innocently at his professor who seemed to glare down at him warily.

“… five points to Gryffindor for being the first to change your needle, Mr. Potter.” She allowed almost reluctantly.

“Thank you, Professor.” He greeted her politely, still grinning. She only glared harder.

“…did you read ahead in this class, Mr. Potter?”

“Yes Professor.” Still as respectful as he could but unable to help himself: “What exactly is the transfiguration behind turning into a cat?”

“Absolutely not.” She immediately shut him down, one eyebrow lifting at him pointedly.

He gaped as if shocked by her implication while also knowing he was still obviously fighting back a smile. “I was just wondering about what kind of transfiguration it was is all! I know better than that—you were explicitly clear in your warnings the first half of class.” He insisted.

“Hm. I’m sure.” She deadpanned, not buying it for a second. “Since you finished so quickly you can write me a short essay on the theory of metal manipulation then.”

“Oh, so can I mention my engraving then?” He slipped in there carefully, watching her pause as she’d clearly been about to walk away and leave him to cause trouble another day.

“What did you say?”

“My engraving, see?” He lifted his needle to her and she took it, looking closely… and needing to adjust her glasses because the wording was so tiny… before her eyebrows arched.

“…impressive, for your first attempt at Transfiguration, Mr. Potter. The essay better be good then.”

He pouted. “Really? Can’t I ask about the metal-to-metal thing we’re theoretically going to be doing next class instead?”

She frowned. “What about it?”

“Is it any metal? Like, muggles have different categories of metals and like heavy metals which I’m not quite sure how but are totally different, and I was just wondering if magically speaking-”

He babbled on a bit, making sure his expression was clear but mainly watching her expression as she listened to his question and evaluated it. While she had a killer poker face, she was fractionally softer when he was on-topic with transfiguration… and not about advanced, potentially-dangerous transfiguration topics either. Hm, so talking shop was likely the quickest way to her good side. Not that it’d be too much of a problem, as he was nearly halfway through his Transfiguration text already and could probably stand to put in some more time on this subject if it got him some brownie points in her book. Dell had been very into Transfiguration as well, and her journals were anything but boring—he already had half an interest in this subject because of his reading there and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to turn that mild intrigue into something of an actual interest.

He recalled his earlier observation that specialized magic was more valuable and lucrative than being a jack of all trades. He’d have to see how the rest of his classes went this week, but Transfiguration had promise.

Promise for what, he still didn’t know. He was eleven after all, and had no current plans for his future, but McGonagall was on his list and so as he let his mouth run with his observations and musings on what he’d read so far and watched her shoulders relax from their suspicious hunch ever so slightly, he figured this was a pretty good place to start.

000

By the time the bell for lunch rang, Harry knew two things.

First of all, he liked McGonagall quite a bit. She had taken his babbled questions and his attempts to distract her with a calm look and then spoke to him like an adult—shooting down his theories one by one with cold hard facts and even giving him resources to go look up that would support her statements. She was also not swayed by his overachieving or distraction techniques as he still had to write that extra essay but now had less class time to do it. Admitting defeat, he’d taken the assignment in addition to their actual homework and vowed to get vengeance by crafting something with references that would at least get her eyebrows arching.

She was going to be a hard nut to crack but he was certain he’d get there.

Eventually.

He might be a seventh year before he got there, but he would die trying at the very least.

Secondly, he had also learned that History of Magic was boooooring. I mean, a ghost droning on about goblin wars!? He’d thought the textbook was outdated when he’d been skimming ahead and this just proved it and so much more worse things.

He couldn’t even deal with how bad that whole class situation was—why was a ghost allowed to teach, why was a ghost allowed to teach ancient history in a technically modern history class, why was a ghost allowed to teach who couldn’t call attendance later than a class that was probably in magical nursing homes already, why was a ghost allowed to teach who didn’t even notice their raised hands much less able to answer any of their questions, why was—!?

Jesus quaffling Christ, so many issues.

Harry couldn’t deal with his internal irritation and inflamed sense of injustice over it at the moment though because lunch was promising not to be a cake walk either, despite it not actually being a class. He pushed it aside in favor of striding into the Great Hall and fixing his eyes on his next great challenge:

They Slytherin table.

A bunch of children, pre-teens, and teenagers eating lunch shouldn’t be so nerve-wracking, but Harry knew this was going to be a thing. At least he had faith no one would throw a punch like if he were a Slytherin approaching the Gryffindor table, although retribution if he messed this up would probably be a lot more long-lasting.

And he likely wouldn’t see it coming.

Well, no time like the present.

Spotting his target (it wasn’t hard, in a sea of black a gleaming white-blond head was very noticeable even from across the hall) he walked calmly but with certain purpose down the aisle behind the table and the far wall and didn’t glance to see if anyone was giving him looks for getting too close. He was moderately successful as even Draco didn’t notice his approach until he was shoving his shoulder lightly to make room for himself and the blond jumped a little bit, glancing up at him with grey eyes quickly composed once more and a small smile on his lips.

Harry plopped down at the table and returned the smile. He was very much aware everyone in the near vicinity had stopped talking to stare at him now.

Draco seemed to carefully note the sudden silence and took another bite of his lunch pointedly as if this weren’t anything unusual. Harry shifted so his bag was resting at his feet, getting comfortable as if nothing were wrong.

After a couple solid seconds of silence, an upper year to his left couldn’t stand it.

"What is a Gryffindor doing here, Potter? Get lost." He snarled at the red head, hostility radiating off of him. He was probably a fourth year, and he looked decently pissed.

Harry stared at him.

And then continued to stare.

Draco smirked in a small enough way that only the upper years noticed as he continued his lunch, not interfering and knowing quite well his friend could handle this situation without his help. In fact he’d probably only just make it worse, so he kept his mouth shut and enjoyed his pasta—and the show.

The awkward silence dragged on. And on.

A full minute later the Slytherin fourth year shifted a bit uncomfortably at the searing emerald stare he was being pinned with. Just a small adjustment in their seat as he wasn’t sure why there was no response and unsure if he should be breaking eye contact first or not.

Harry smirked, considering this a win and confusing pretty much everyone watching; they had no idea why he looked so smug and they definitely did not like being on the outs of information. Harry just tilted his chin back triumphantly, which annoyed the hell out of all of them as they scowled internally, trying to figure out what they’d missed.

And Harry… was just messing with them. No one said anything else hostile so he turned back to Draco with a wide smile, totally ignoring the fourth year’s sharp comment.

"Anyway, how was Defense? That's the one I'm second most excited about; was it mostly theory since we're first years?"

Draco blinked once at the sudden change in attitude but finished swallowing his last bite and gave a put-upon sigh, accepting all the social blunders Harry was gleefully committing like they were popcorn and giving an easy one-shouldered shrug.

“Boring, actually. The professor has a stutter and we could barely get a word straight from him. Seems terrified of everything he was going to teach us about."

"Eh? What a horrible teacher, if you can't even understand him." Harry frowned, thinking back to History of Magic and decided he needed to start making a complaint list. He wondered if the Headmaster would care if he sent him a list of complaints or if that was too presumptuous. He also wondered if he cared if the Headmaster thought he was a presumptuous little gremlin or not since he didn’t exactly have fond feelings for Mr. Dumbledore at this moment in the first place. He shook those thoughts off quickly before he could spiral: these were later thoughts. "That'll be annoying. Is the subject matter interesting at least?"

"A bit. Magical creatures and dark monsters and such, can't go totally wrong with that I suppose. The defense and attack spells sound like they're going to be more fun, but it'll be a while until we get to that."

"What the hell is going on?" Another upper year girl asked the universe at large, having been thrown by Harry’s impromptu staring contest with the guy across from her and no one seeming have recovered enough to understand that the two first years discussing their classes were full on ignoring them. It seemed to be an incomprehensible thought to them all, and they had in fact not stopped staring or resumed eating since he’d sat down.

That was going to get old fast.

Luckily Draco was quick to catch on and imitate Harry’s flippant attitude and gave the girl a very impressive porcelain mask.

"Ah, lunch?" The you’re an idiot tone was completed with one white-blond eyebrow cocking pointedly in her direction. Harry could only dream of being that sassy really, and he supposed befriending a spoiled brat had its upsides. He smiled widely at this thought.

"Yes, but why is he eating lunch with us." The girl snapped back, referencing Harry in the same tone that one might refer to a severed toe or a stray pile of human excrement.

He didn’t much like that tone and felt his too-cheerful smile slide into place on his lips like a chef’s blade sliding home into a knife block. 

"I'm having lunch with Draco because he's my friend and you're eavesdropping. It's a bit unsubtle for a Slytherin, in my opinion." He said in the same tone one might comment on the weather or the lovely color of their sweater that morning. The words were sharp as needles though, and the upper year on Draco’s other side had just taken a bite of his lunch since this stand-off didn’t seem to be dwindling anytime soon, and choked violently on it.

Even Draco shifted his grey eyes at him as if to silently ask what he was doing, but Harry just pointedly turned to Draco, his body language loudly and clearly saying he was talking to the blond—and no one else.

"Then again I'm a Gryffindor and woah boy you were right that they are not the quick on the uptake. You'd think sarcasm was another language entirely."

Draco let out a slightly startled laugh, not having seen that bout of humor coming. Surprisingly, so did Blaise—who was sitting across from them and by the time they looked at him had his hand over his mouth once more as if to hide the fact he’d laughed.

Again, the tall boy realized he’d been caught and shrugged once, seemingly graceful and unperturbed although Harry was quick enough to note that it was in fact rather forced.

"Sorry, but that's just funny." He dismissed as if that weren’t a criminalizing statement to admit a Gryffindor—and Harry freakin’ Potter at that—had said something amusing while encroaching on Slytherin territory. He had a very good poker face, or at least his ambivalence was earnest, which was very interesting. From what Draco had told him, first years were a little more on-guard than that even in their own house— like Theodore who had yet to even look up from his lunch to acknowledge Harry was sitting there. Draco was the exception of course, but Blaise was… a curious case.  

Harry grinned at him widely.

Blaise stared back, dark eyes watching him with that poker face that gave nothing away. Unlike Draco’s regal apathy, but more as if he were actively considering something and yet hiding his thoughts.

After a long few moments, he slowly returned to eating and joined Theodore in ignoring his presence. The other Slytherins seemed to realize this was the best tactic to preserve their dignity and their tight time schedule since they needed to eat before afternoon classes, and so also slipped into all pretending Harry wasn’t even there.

There were glances exchanged though that told Harry this was far from over. He didn’t think it’d be that easy anyway, and Slytherins, he was quickly learning, were kings and queens at the phrase choosing your battles.

Harry wasn’t going to concede the war so easily though; he could choose his battles just as carefully if need be.

"So can you tell me more about Quidditch? Seems like that all my dorm mates talk about and I'm still not sure about all those details. And try outs are next week! I've never flown before, but it sounds exciting. You said you've been flying a long time, right?" He chirped conversationally to Draco as he took a bite of his lunch, and blond’s quick eyes taking in the situation and seeming to come to the conclusion it couldn’t hurt to play along for now—Harry had won this battle.

"Yeah, we have a field by our manor I've been flying most my life."

They continued to chat lightly about inconsequential things, and while the table in general was uncomfortable and slightly too tense to ignore, no one else said a thing about Harry’s presence for the rest of the meal.

000

He had three classes today: Transfiguration first, then History of Magic, and after lunch Magic Theory which was apparently only a first-year class that all four houses took together. Each block seemed to be about 90 minutes with 10 minutes to get from one place to another which didn’t seem like a lot since he had no idea where any of these classes were but figured it’d likely get easier once he got the layout of the castle—getting from Transfiguration to History of Magic was a bit sketchy since he didn’t have Draco to tag along with, but (un)luckily Binns likely wouldn’t noticed if he were late, much less if he never showed up at all. After lunch, he trailed along with the Slytherins to Magic Theory as they all seemed to know where to go. Their prefects were probably more explicit with their directions or they’d been given a map that none of them would admit to using.

Magic Theory itself was taught in a rather large classroom and it took Harry about 20 minutes to be bored. This was apparently a class you could take as an extra-curricular after first year but Harry crossed it off his list almost immediately. All they did was talk about the thoughts and intents behind magic which should’ve been really cool but the Professor—a one Aurora Sinistra who was also evidentially the Astronomy Professor—spoke about it like this was a therapy session, going on and on about feelings and intent.

Harry had already proven he had the ‘intent’ part down in Transfiguration this morning and while he took some cursory bullet-point notes automatically just because, he stopped paying true attention quickly. He noted that almost every pureblood and half-blood he knew of in the room was also either staring out the windows or writing notes back and forth to each other. He figured if you grew up knowing about magic then this was a really stupid class to have to sit through, but everyone had to take it so they were all on the ‘same page’.

Nice as the intent was, Harry got a feeling if they wanted muggleborns to be ‘caught up’, they should spend this time talking about the magical government or basic day-to-day magic things they didn’t grow up knowing. How to actually perform magic seemed like a bit too nebulous of a topic to spend a whole year talking about when this first class could be summed up in ‘just go with it and believe you can do it’ which would pretty much suffice for magic in general and let other classes get into the specifics of what a spell might require.

Draco sat beside him and passed him notes basically the whole class, both taking notes because that seemed to be the proper, academic thing to do and never let it be said the Slytherins weren’t good students even if only in appearance. Harry caught several of them taking notes but also multitasking in writing to each other, while other houses were less subtle and half the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs weren’t taking notes at all.

The girl in front of him—Hermione Granger, he recalled—who’d helped Neville on the train, was taking pages of notes though, which he thought a bit excessive but to each their own.

Halfway through class he was almost yawning from a full lunch and this boring class, and started to draft his Transfiguration homework(s) under the guise of taking notes. He had a feeling this and History of Magic was going to be great study halls to get ahead on his more interesting work.

000

"I wouldn't…"

"Hm?" Harry stopped what he was doing, lifting the watering can in his hand before he could dowse the fluffy plant in front of him with water.

His first day at a magical school had gone relatively uneventfully, aside from lunch with the Slytherins. After Magic Theory he and Draco got their first taste of the Hogwarts library to finish the homework they’d been assigned already, and thanks to his head start in Magic Theory had more than enough time to do both his Transfiguration homeworks before dinner (and he was pretty proud of some of the references he’d found to support himself, having checked them out for his own reading sometime in the next couple weeks too).  He hadn’t pushed his luck and had dinner at the Gryffindor table, and then spent the evening in the common room letting Seamus and Neville teach him and Dean some magical games, like exploding snap.

The Weasley twins had joined in too, and they were quickly becoming some of his favorite people. They were definitely the life of the party in any room and several second and third years had joined in not long after too, drawn in by the chaotic laughter and excitement the twins could easily whip into a frenzy, so it’d been a great night and a great start to the year. Even Neville had been laughing freely by the end of the night, which made Harry feel all warm and fuzzy.

This morning dawned the second day of the school year and another new class: Herbology. It took place in the green houses and they were paired with the Hufflepuffs, who seemed to be content to just go about their business pleasantly. Despite him still not knowing his way around the school, Neville had seemed fully aware of where he was going when they left breakfast; something Harry had noted but didn’t really pay attention to.

Now though, he was starting to realize something as Neville used one finger to lift the tip of his watering can spout up to stop any water from hitting the plant he’d been about to dunk in fresh rainwater.

"They like drier dirt—if it's too wet their roots will mold and they won't grow very big. Professor Sprout already moistened the dirt we used." He explained, not a stutter in sight and with his blue eyes meeting his own steadily for the first time since Harry had met him three days ago.

Harry blinked, then grinned.

"Neville, you didn't tell me you liked Herbology!"

"W-well…" And the it was back, the tips of his ears tinting pink as he looked down awkwardly.

"I gardened a lot back at my relatives too—got me out of the house you know—but they were all muggle plants. Magical plants are a foreign language to me though." He chatted casually, wanting to encourage his friend, not tease him out it.

Neville just fiddled with his own plant that was much more neatly potted than Harry’s own.

"…yeah. I don't know much about muggle plants either." He admitted slowly.

"How about a trade? I'll tell you about my aunt's rose bushes and you tell me about these manaculas."

He paused for a couple seconds… then smiled timidly, glancing up at him with a lot softer and less afraid expression than he normally had.

"Sure." He agreed softly.

"Also, you're absolutely going to be my partner for any big projects we have in this class." He announced with a grin, earning himself an earnest laugh from the blond.

"Fine by me. That means you're going to be my partner for any Transfiguration projects we have." He countered more easily than he normally did, but Harry was too surprised by the comment to think much on it.

"Transfiguration? Why? I mean sure, I don't mind, I just didn't think I was anything special at that class." He shrugged.

Neville turned to fully face him and give him a very baffled, slightly exasperated look.

"You got your match to a needle on your first try, remember? And you talked most of the class with McGonagall about the theory behind it."

"Oh." Well, true, but it wasn’t out of desire to be great at Transfiguration—at least not at first and not even now for the sake of the subject. He had plans after all and Transfiguration was just a means to an end. "To be totally honest I was trying to get on her good side—it was like a personal challenge. I didn't think that much of Transfiguration, but it seemed simple enough."

The blond looked down again, fingers lightly touching a leaf of his plant almost tenderly.

"I never got mine to turn the whole time, and even practicing now it's only slightly pointy instead of actually a needle." He admitted in a voice soft enough to be a sigh "But you definitely made a reputation for yourself as being good at it. Ah…” he bit his lip as if trying to stop from smiling and grimacing in one. "I'm pretty sure that's why Hermione blew you off."

Harry blinked, automatically glancing across the greenhouse but the frizzy-haired girl was buried in a conversation with another Gryffindor girl—Lavender, Harry thought her name was— who didn’t look thrilled to be talking to her. Either Hermione didn’t notice or didn’t care, though Harry thought it’d be funnier if she didn’t care. She’d be his type of person to do whatever she wanted no matter public opinion, but she’d be the type of person he didn’t like if she just didn’t notice, and he had a wiggling feeling he knew which was the case.

“Hermione blew me off?” He repeated, baffled. “When did this happen?”

Neville was giving him another exasperated look and Harry hoped this wasn’t going to become a habit.

“You invited her to play exploding snap with us last night and she essentially told you not to interfere. I’m not sure what you were interfering with, but she was doing homework I think?”

Eh? He didn’t remember that at all.

“No recollection of that.” He shrugged, and Neville smiled wanly, clearly amused.

“You know, for someone so observant it’s really impressive how you manage to just miss when people are being mean to you.”

That startled a laugh out of him, because he had to admit it was true. “Some things are not worth paying attention to. If they don’t rank on my ‘people I care about’ list then things they say go in one ear and out there other.” He explained, knowing this was mostly thanks to the Dursleys. At least, he’d gotten a lot of practice with them over the years, of letting their words wash over him and make no lasting impact. “It doesn’t shock me—I barely know her. Though why me transfiguring a needle got me on her bad list, I’ve no idea.”  

“She mentioned at lunch yesterday that she was top of her old school. She told Lavender that when McGonagall came to show her the magical world she’d said she was likely the brightest witch of her generation.” Neville relayed, and alarm bells went off in Harry’s head.

First of all, McGonagall showed Hermione the magical world? And he’d gotten Hagrid? I mean, he loved Hagrid, but that system was messed up if that was the different in guides muggleborns were getting seemingly by chance.

Secondly, having a wallflower friend who listened to everyone and that no one really acknowledged was going to be really handy. He wanted Neville to branch out of course, but he realized while Neville kept quiet and really only talked to Harry himself, he had a great way of gathering information if he needed it, particularly within Gryffindor which would be helpful.

Thirdly, it was pretty damn funny in a sad way that jealousy was going to be Granger’s go-to here. I mean, a new start in a magical school and she’d given up on being his friend because he’d one-upped her in one class. Because she thought so highly of her own intellect, which was just hilariously pathetic. Suddenly, her taking pages of notes in Magic Theory was cast into a new light and he couldn’t help but roll his eyes—she was going to burn out young, and alone at that, if that was her MO then.

"That girl is too much. Okay, whatever, I'll take your word for it, but for the record I really don’t care. Let's do our homework for this and Transfiguration later together and see what we can't get done." He suggested, and Neville smiled like he’d expected Harry to say that and was entertained by it.

"Sounds good."