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The Train to Nowhere

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"Why is mum always so strict anyway?" Harry Potter, 8 years old, asked sullenly.

"She's just worried about you," James Potter, Harry's 31 year old father and current jailor, replied evasively. "You shouldn’t have told Arthur’s son that there’s a spider in his hair. You know he’s afraid of spiders. It was mean.”

"But you laughed," Harry said knowingly. "I saw you. Uncle Sirius laughed too. And loudly. Besides, Ron said that I cheated in chess. And even if I did, it still doesn't mean that he should accuse me. Mum is being unreasonable. How is grounding me going to help?"

"Harry," James said, fighting down the urge to smile. "In this life, you can't go on making enemies. Why can't you and Ronald just play nicely?"

"We do."

"Only when the Snide Sisterhood is here for you to gang up on Junior.”

“Mum doesn't like it when you call the Malfoys that," Harry pointed out. “It's because they're a respectable pureblood family. Which we're not." James sighed heavily, feeling both sad and frustrated.

“Harry,” he said. "Lily is a tad sensitive about the fact that she isn't, well, a pureblood. Her parents were Muggles, as you know. But that doesn't mean that you are any less of a wizard than Draco Malfoy or Ronald Weasley."

James fully believed in what he said, and he could only hope that someday Lily would come to see things this way as well. It was unlikely however, as even though he himself had never been one to think much of blood purity, most people thought of it far too much. Their world, their society, was built on power, fortune and purity of blood. And while the Potters had power and fortune enough to rival the oldest Families, James's choice to marry Lily had taken away their status as a solely Pureblood family.

The Dark Lord, their supreme ruler, had been the one to establish their society as it was. People adapted to live accordingly, but there were still some rebels roaming the grounds, speaking of unity with Muggles and calling the Dark Lord a murderer. Which he was, but, well... after the war and the still ongoing battles... who wasn't?

"I didn't mean to make Ron cry," Harry admitted after a long moment of silence, "Not really."

"So you'll say sorry," James said, relieved to solve the problem this easily.

"No," Harry denied with a shake of his head, "I'm being punished. It's either I say sorry or get punished. You can't have both, Daddy."

"Right," James muttered, unsure of what to do. Lily was so much better than him at this 'negotiating with Harry' business. "How about you have a nap now, and—"

"Mum says I can't have naps anymore because then I'll stay up all night," Harry said wisely, "And it's not even six yet."

"Your son is a smartass," a new voice declared, and the two Potters turned to see Sirius Black standing in the doorway of Harry's bedroom. The man's black robes were dirty with mud and the white mask he was holding was cracked.

"You look like you got caught up in a battle," James noted, standing up, "Are you okay?"

"Bruised, but nothing more," Sirius replied, grinning at Harry. "Hi, Harry!"

"Hi, Uncle Sirius," Harry said. "What's smartass?"

"How about we go to the library and you'll tell me what sort of fight you were caught in?" James rushed to cut in; Lily would kill him if she came back home from work only to find out that their young child had learned something she would definitely dislike. "Harry..."

"I'll stay here," Harry lied, wide green eyes staring up at his father innocently. "I'll take a book and read."

"Good boy," James approved and left the room with Sirius trailing right behind him. Harry waited for a few long minutes before sneaking after them.

Harry, the only child of the Potters, wasn’t a particularly special child. Most people tended to forget him as soon as they weren't looking at him. It used to be slightly upsetting, but Harry had learned to accept it – it gave him the freedom to do what he wanted most of the time. The only person who seemed to be constantly aware of Harry's movements was his mother, whom Harry was sure, had eyes in the back of her head.

Harry's father was an Auror – an occupation that was not as glamorous as Harry had thought at first. From what he had heard, it included mostly travelling around the world doing something that made his mother look increasingly worried every day. Lily, Harry's mother, was a healer specializing in spell-induced serious muscle injuries. It was gross and Harry hadn’t wanted to know anything about it beyond that. Being a healer was a job that kept her busy most days and even some nights, but Harry didn't really mind. He used to miss his parents a lot, but now he was pretty used to this.

Silently the boy crept through the hallways towards the library room, and slipped in, quickly hiding behind the shelves.

"...said that all Mudbloods should be killed, but that's just insanity," Sirius was saying, "So we duelled a bit and that's it."

"Carrow was always a bit off," James said in response. "Just don't tell Lily about this, she's overly sensitive about her blood. You know how she is."

"Yeah. You know, I can't say I like muggles. They're like an unknown species to me. But man, a witch is a witch in my book, heritage be damned. Lily is one of the best witches I’ve ever known!"

"Thanks. I'm just worried about Harry, though."

"How so?" Sirius asked, sounding concerned. "He's okay, isn't he?"

"Sometimes, I just feel that he's... I don't know. Like Lily, feeling inferior due to his blood," James admitted hesitantly, and in his hiding place Harry flushed with shame.

"Harry's got nothing to worry about," Sirius scoffed, "Being a half-blood is the thing nowadays, considering that the Dark Lord himself is one. The beau monde approves and adores... at least on the surface."

"People don't talk about that!" James hissed, "Honestly, Sirius! For a Death Eater, your lack of respect is ridiculous. Nobody talks about the Dark Lord's past, you know that!"

"Calm down, James, I'm not going to join the rebels even if I crack a joke every now and then." Harry could then hear the sound of a smack and a pained groan, followed by a short bark of a laugh.

"There's so much going on nowadays," James said after a short moment of silence. "Politics, economy... ten years ago, everything was so different!"

"Don't think of the past," Sirius advised. "Just focus on your family and make the most out of this life. And steer away from the rebels. They're nasty. The more we capture, the more insane they seem to have become."

"They see Dark wizards everywhere," James agreed gloomily, "and refuse to listen to common sense. The Dark Lord is right to demand their deaths."

"It's not really a matter of right or wrong," Sirius said with a shrug. "The Dark Lord ordered it, so it'll happen. Right and wrong are just labels attached afterwards."

"Some would curse you for your words."

"But not you."

"No," James admitted quietly, "Not me."

*

Harry remained sitting in his hiding place behind the shelves long after his father and godfather had left. The library was dark and rather cold, and the stone floor wasn't comfortable for Harry to sit on, but he simply didn't have the will to move right then. He was feeling restless. Anxious. As if something bad was about to happen and he'd be in trouble.

But most of all, he was feeling lonely.

It wasn't that Harry didn't have any friends, he did. Ron Weasley, the youngest son of the Weasley Family, was a good friend even if he was quite annoying at times. Draco Malfoy was a ponce, but a nice ponce sometimes and his snide remarks were always priceless. The occasional arguments aside, Harry considered them both to be friends of his.

So no, the loneliness didn't come from not having friends at all. Rather, it was the absence of a certain type of friends that made him feel lonely. He wanted a best friend. Like his dad has uncle Sirius and Draco had Theo Nott.

'I guess I'm more like mum,' Harry thought then. Lily didn't have friends. Lily didn't seem to want or need friends. She was friendly, yes, but also a bit distant with everyone excluding her husband and son. ‘I don’t think she has a best friend either.’

Sighing tiredly, Harry finally stood up to leave. With any luck his dad still thought that he was reading, and would let Harry fly for a little bit today, even though it was quite late already. Feeling hopeful, Harry turned to head towards the door, when something caught his eye.

A book.

It was partly hidden by several other dusty books, and yet somehow it seemed to stand out on its own. Harry pulled the book off the shelf to see it better, and grimaced at the sight of the worn and blotchy leather covers that carried neither a title nor an author’s name.

"Master Harry," a slightly squeaky voice said behind him, startling the boy. Harry hastily shoved the book back into where it had been before turning to see a house-elf staring at him. “Master James is requesting Master Harry be in Master Harry’s room.”

"Thank you for the reminder, Vurney," Harry said, wondering what his father would want from him now. "I’ll go. Did dad seem angry?"

"No, Master Harry," the house-elf replied, and Harry felt a wave of relief. He then dismissed the house-elf before leaving the library and making his way towards his bedroom, where he saw his father. Despite what the house-elf had said, the man did look a little bit annoyed.

"Where were you?" James asked as soon as Harry entered the room. "Didn't you say that you had a book you wanted to read?"

"I was bored," Harry replied, sitting down on his bed and not elaborating further on where he had been. "Did Uncle Sirius leave?"

"Yes. He has... work. It's getting late, are you hungry? You should be in bed and asleep already. Lily will be home tomorrow morning, so let’s both sleep now and wake up early to welcome her back.

"Not hungry. Not sleepy," Harry claimed and ended up a moment later hiding a yawn behind his hand. James smiled fondly and moved to pull out Harry's pyjamas. “I want to say welcome to mum when she comes back.”

"You will. Now, change into these and brush your teeth. Do you want a bedtime story?" James asked, watching over Harry while the boy did as told.

"Unh," Harry nodded, "Something cool. Draco says that his father has seen the Dark Lord. Have you seen him too? Did he say anything to you? What does he look like?"

"Anything related to the Dark Lord hardly counts as a bedtime story," James said dryly, "You should stop listening to what Draco says, Harry."

"Tell me about Hogwarts, then," Harry ordered, "I'll be going there in a few years, won't I?"

"Maybe," James replied, "Hogwarts is probably the most beautiful place I have ever seen"

"Uncle Sirius says that snivellus is a blemish in Hogwarts," Harry cut in, blinking sleepily, "What's a snivellus?"

"Snivellus is, er, a nickname. Of a person. A man. His actual name is Severus Snape."

"Is he a Death Eater too? Are you?"

"He is, I’m not," James sighed. "All those who carry the Dark Mark – a sign of loyalty gained during the Great Purge – are Death Eaters. Very few are marked nowadays. Exceptional people. People who achieve great things on the battlefield.”

"Like heroes? War heroes?" Harry mumbled, eyes already closed. James swallowed and his lips twisted into a bitter smile.

"Yeah," James said. "Heroes."

*

Harry woke up to the sensation of someone running their fingers through his hair. He could smell the faint scent of lavender and knew that it was his mother, sitting by his bed. With a smile, eyes still closed, Harry rolled closer to where she was sitting.

"You're home," the boy sighed happily.

"Did you miss me?" Lily asked fondly. "Come on, sweetheart. It's time to wake up and start the day. Did you do anything productive yesterday?"

"Not really."

"Then how about you go with me later on to the library? We'll pick good books to read and have a nice evening together."

"I was supposed to wake up before you came back, but I couldn’t,” Harry pouted, finally blinking his eyes open. He looked up at his mother whose hair was redder than he had remembered and eyes as green as his own. "And which book would I read? I don't want anything boring. Can't we go out instead? To Diagon Alley or something? And buy new books?"

"Some other day," Lily promised. "I have a bit of paperwork to do. If you don’t want to get something from the library, we could find you something else. I received a collection of essays from a friend and one of those essays is about Hogwarts—"

"What're the others about?"

"It's rude to interrupt, Harry. Don't do it again."

"Sorry," Harry muttered, peering up at his mother warily, before speaking again. "What're the other essays about if only one is about Hogwarts?"

"Other schools," Lily replied. "Salem, Durmstrang, Beauxbatons... There are about a dozen magical schools in the world."

"I've heard of Durmstrang," Harry said. "Draco says it's the best school and that he wants to go there but that his mum wants him to attend Hogwarts. Why is Durmstrang better than Hogwarts? Why did you and dad go to Hogwarts if Durmstrang is better?"

"Durmstrang has the reputation of teaching Dark Arts, and it does not admit Muggle-born students," Lily explained quietly. "It's also said to be the school the Dark Lord occasionally visits and picks up potential Death Eaters from."

"Can I go there?" Harry asked, "To Durmstrang, I mean. Is it pretty? Dad says that Hogwarts is the prettiest school."

"I have never been there," Lily said gently. "If you attend Durmstrang, baby, won't you be lonely? As far as I know, all your other friends will be going to Hogwarts."

"But if Durmstrang is better..."

"It's too early, either way, for you to think of school."

"But!"

"When you turn ten," Lily said, "I will... James will take you to see Durmstrang and a few other schools, and then you'll get to pick which one you want to enrol into. How does that sound?"

"That's too far away," Harry pouted, and his mother snorted before giving her only son a loving look.

Back then, things were perfect.

Back then, things were normal.

*

By the time Harry turned ten he had forgotten all about his mother's promise. His birthday party wasn't extravagant and he hadn't asked for other children to be invited - his friendship with Draco and Ron had mellowed out during the two years and it had been months since he had even left the house.

James and Lily were slightly worried, but they couldn't exactly force him to spend time with other children if that made him unbearably uncomfortable. The only one to be invited was Sirius who, despite his loud and obnoxious entrance and the pile of brightly wrapped gifts that he levitated behind him, was just as worried.

"He's lonely," Sirius whispered to James later on. "I can see it, James."

"There really isn't much I can do," James sighed in response. "He doesn't want to spend time with other kids. We’ve tried to make him, but he just… it doesn’t go well at all."

"Maybe you should sign him up for a hobby?" Sirius suggested.

"Like what? All he does is read and fly when the weather is good."

"Read? He's not becoming a Lily-clone, is he?"

"Hardly," James scoffed. "Lily loved science. Harry loves stories and fairytales. Potions, magical theory, herbology; he's got no interest in those. But give him that stupid Beedle Bard book..."

"I remember that book," Sirius smiled. "I loved it – still do, actually. The Tales of Beedle the Bard. I used to transfigure the covers to look like Charms text books.”

"Good old days," James said, "Remember Dumbledore?"

"Who doesn't?"

"He used to be against the Dark Lord. We all thought he had a chance of defeating him, in the beginning."

"You know," Sirius sighed with a contemplative expression on his face. "This world could very well be different had Dumbledore not died at the end of our fifth year."

"He was a good man," James said. "Idealistic and foolish, perhaps, but also powerful and kind."

"I didn't much talk with him," Sirius said. "Once, when we went to talk to him about— well, remember that werewolf boy we discovered in our third year? What do you think happened to him?"

"Probably dead. I still can't believe that Dumbledore let a werewolf live in Hogwarts and pretend to be a human."

"Well, he let Snivellus in, too, and there's no way that slimeball is all human. There's got to be a bit of a slug in his ancestry."

"That's too disturbing for me to think about," James declared, though he couldn’t quite keep a straight face. "Although I can't really say that I disagree."

"Do you actually know what happened to him?"

"Snape?"

"No, you idiot. The werewolf. Do you really think he’s dead?"

"If he’s lucky, then yes. If not, then he was probably sent to one of those werewolf humanization camps."

"What did you give to Harry?" Sirius asked then, after a moment of silence while watching his godson at the other side of the room. "Wish I could give him a friend. I bought him pretty much everything else instead."

"Lily said that she wants Harry to go to Durmstrang if it's possible," James said quietly, seriously. "Said he suggested it first and she ended up liking the idea. Maybe he'll find kids there he can connect with. I would really have wanted him to go to Hogwarts, though. I should have known that Lily would want Durmstrang for Harry, if only to emphasize the fact that Harry isn't a—   That Harry isn't like her."

"Durmstrang has its reputation," Sirius said with a nod. "It'd help Harry immensely in the future if heäs Durmstrang student. I heard, however, that they have an entrance examination of sorts."

"Of course they do."

"What are you going to do about that?"

"I need to talk with Harry and I might get him his wand early."

"You're going to train him?”

"Not much, but at least the basic spells that any other pureblood child would or should know."

"I can give him some lessons too, if you want," Sirius offered. "Or we could get him a tutor."

"A tutor would be great, actually," James said, looking excited. "I'm sure that Lily will love the idea!"

"I'll love what?" Lily said, appearing suddenly while holding a tray on which there was a slice of cake and a cup of milk. "I'm taking this to Harry first and then you'll tell me."

"Yes, ma’am!”

*

"A tutor," Lily breathed, eyes wide after James and Sirius had told her of their discussion, "I can't believe I hadn't thought of that yet! This is fantastic! Do you have anyone in mind?"

"I'll ask around at work," James said. "Employing tutors is a fairly common practice. I’ll ask for recommendations and see where that takes us."

"This is brilliant," Sirius grinned. "Will you tell Harry now or later?"

"I'll tell him," Lily offered, standing up and walking towards her son, who was still immersed in reading the book on his lap. Lily sat next to him and wrapped her arm around his shoulders.

"Harry darling, I have important news for you. It’s about something you’ve really been looking forward to."

"My own library?" Harry asked, looking up with an excited expression. “Or, or, we’re going to watch a real Quidditch match?”

“Not quite,” Lily replied with a fond smile. “You’re already ten, sweetheart, and school is not so far away anymore. Do you remember us talking about our options before? Hogwarts and Durmstrang?”

“Yeeeees,” Harry said hesitantly, not exactly sure if he remembered whatever his mum was talking about, but unwilling to have her repeat what could possibly end up as a long lecture.

“We decided to enrol you into Durmstrang. There will be an entrance exam that you must pass, but don’t worry, it won’t be too tough for you,” Lily told him gently. “Part of success lies in preparation, and that is why your dad and I have decided to buy you your wand as soon as possible, as well as find you a tutor who will help you prepare for the exam.”

“My wand,” Harry breathed, excited. “Yes, mum! I want my wand! When are we going?”

“You have to be responsible and careful with it,” Lily instructed. “No independent attempts at magic until you’re older, is that clear?”

“Yes, yes,” Harry agreed immediately. “When will we go? Can we drop by Flotts too?"

"Flourish and Blotts, Harry, not Flotts. But yes, if you wish, we can go and buy you a new book. Adventure this time?"

"I'll see what Flott- Flourish and Blotts has on their recommendation list. The lady who makes that list every month is a genius."

On the other side of the room, James and Sirius were watching the two talk, feeling rather satisfied with the new development. “I'll go and have a talk with Igor," Sirius said. "Igor Karkaroff. He's the Headmaster of Durmstrang and a Death Eater, so I know him somewhat. I'll be back tomorrow to tell you what news I've got."

"You’re going now?" James asked, and his best friend nodded.

“A lot has been going on in the warfront,” Sirius replied quietly. “I’m actually really busy, but I couldn’t just not drop by on Harry’s birthday, you know?”

“Thank you,” James said, walking Sirius towards the fireplace. “Take care, all right?”

“Always,” Sirius grinned, before hollering his goodbyes loud enough for Harry and Lily to hear, and then leaving.

"Where is Durmstrang, anyway?" James heard Harry ask as he walked closer.

"It's Unplottable," Lily replied, "But most likely somewhere in Sweden."

"Sweden? What language do they speak there?"

"Well, Swedish, of course."

"Do I have to learn Swedish?"

"Unlikely," James told him, sitting down on the couch nearby. "Overall, there are about two dozen – well, could be more but who really knows – schools in the world that teach magic. Four of them are in Europe. Hogwarts is the only one that has limited its student to only those who live in Great Britain and it's also the only school that sends invitations to its students without having them pass any kind of test. The other three schools accept students worldwide, but only after a test. The language requirements depend on the institutions, of course, but in Europe the only required language is English."

"What are the other three schools?"

"There's Beauxbatons Academy of Magic in France. It’s said to be a great school, although its curriculum emphasizes arts and etiquette over, say, duelling. Then there’s Hogwarts, which you know already. The third school – and currently the number one choice of every Pureblood family with a shred of ambition – is Durmstrang Institute.”

"What's the fourth school?" Harry asked, curious.

"Flora Charm's School of Magic. It's for witches and wizards with special needs," Lily explained. "You have two great options: Hogwarts and Durmstrang. Although, of course, Durmstrang would be better."

"When will we go get my wand?" Harry repeated his earlier question, unsure of which school he would want to pick.

"Why not today," James said with a shrug. "The day is still young and we've got no reason to wait."

"We'll go to Ollivander's, of course," Lily smiled. "All right, let's get ready!"

*

Diagon Alley was always crowded and noisy, which tended to make Harry slightly dizzy - he simply wasn't used to seeing and hearing so much at once. Being surrounded by people was strangely draining.

"Stay close to me, Harry," Lily said, hand on his shoulder. "Don't wander away from me. We’ll head first to get your wand."

"Will I get my own owl too at some point?" Harry wanted to know as they walked past Eeylops Owl Emporium, "Can I get one; may I get one?"

"Did I just hear a comma splice?" Lily asked him, smiling slightly, "But yes, fine, you'll get one. Not yet... though if you pass the entrance exam, I'll buy you whichever owl you want."

"Promise?"

"I promise. Now, here we are."

The shop they had stopped in front of was rather narrow and shabby. Peeling gold letters painted over the door read Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C. A single wand lay on a faded purple cushion behind the dusty glass of the display window. A tinkling bell rang somewhere in the depths of the shop as they stepped inside. It was a tiny, tiny place – barely able to fit them all at once.

"Good afternoon," said a soft voice, and an old man appeared from the back of the shop, looking at them with his wide, pale eyes that shone like moons through the gloom of the shop. The old man was unnerving, and reminded Harry of the tricksters in his fairy tales.

"The Potters," said the man, then, "A bit early, but not overly so. Indeed, not overly so. Mrs. Potter – nice to see you again. It seems only yesterday that you were here yourself, buying your first wand. Ten and a quarter inches long, swishy, made of willow. Nice for charm work."

"Yes, Mr. Ollivander," Lily replied evenly, "It has served me well."

"Glad to hear that. Glad indeed. And James Potter! Mahogany wand, wasn't it? Eleven inches. Pliable. A little more power and excellent for transfiguration."

"Yes," James said awkwardly. "We're here today for my son's wand, however. Shall we, um, proceed?"

“Of course. Let me see, young Mr. Potter,” Ollivander said and pulled a long tape measure with silver markings out of his pocket. "Which is your wand arm?"

"Right."

"Hold out that arm then. That's it." He measured Harry from shoulder to finger, then wrist to elbow, shoulder to floor, knee to armpit and round his head. As he measured, he said, "Every Ollivander wand has a core of a powerful magical substance, Mr. Potter. We use unicorn hairs, phoenix tail feathers, and the heartstrings of dragons. No two Ollivander wands are the same, just as no two unicorns, dragons, or phoenixes are quite the same. And of course, you will never get such good results with another wizard's wand."

"Is that set in stone?" Harry asked, as Ollivander stopped measuring him and stepped back.

"Perhaps not," the old man said evasively, before reaching for a box, "Right then, Mr. Potter. Try this one. Beechwood and dragon heartstring. Nine inches. Nice and flexible. Just take it and give it a wave." Harry did, and instead of shooting sparkles like he knew it should, the wand's tip exploded with a small bang. Ollivander blinked a few times rapidly, before shaking his head.

"Wand was too weak, eh. Maple and phoenix feather. Seven inches. Quite whippy. Try." Harry tried, but he had hardly raised the wand when it burst up in flames, making him yelp and drop it just as a bowl of water was thrown on the burning stick. Ollivander frowned again and turned away for a moment, before pulling out yet another wand.

"Will that one be safe?" Lily asked warily, "I don't want my son injured."

"Here," Ollivander said, handing the wand to Harry, "Ebony and unicorn hair, eight and a half inches, springy. Go on, go on, try it out." Harry tried. And tried. And tried some more, with more or less destructive results. The pile of tried wands was mounting higher and higher on the spindly chair, but the more wands Mr. Ollivander pulled from the shelves, the more interested he seemed to become.

"Tricky customer, eh? Not to worry, we'll find the perfect match here somewhere."

"Are you sure?" Harry asked, "Do I have to try all of these wands?"

"When you reach for the wand, what do you feel?" Ollivander asked, and Harry shrugged, not quite understanding why the question was being asked.

"Nothing, really," he replied, "I feel nothing."

"Your wand will be the one you feel yourself pulled to," Lily explained softly, and Ollivander nodded.

"Walk around there," the old man said, gesturing to the back of the store and the corridor between towering shelves full of wands, "and try to feel which wand would be… appealing." Harry wasn't sure what exactly he was supposed to do, but went to walk between the shelves anyway. He had an odd feeling though. An odd feeling that he couldn't quite place. As if... as if...

And suddenly Harry remembered a book he had never opened. A book that had no title. The half-hidden, dusty book with dirty brown covers that Harry had seen years ago and forgotten. Why was he remembering it now? It couldn't be useful, now, could it? Except that remembering the stillness of time when he had seen that book reminded him of what he was doing now, and suddenly there was a pull, and, blindly and without hesitation, Harry reached for a red box that seemed to jump into his hand.

He stood there for a long moment, clutching the box, before hesitantly making his way back to the front of the store.

"Found it, have you?" Ollivander said with a smile. "Let me see, young ma— Oh, Merlin." The man's reaction, the abrupt change in his voice and attitude when he saw the wand, made Harry both worried and self-conscious.

"Is there a problem?" Lily asked, gesturing for Harry to come and stand next to her, which he did. Ollivander looked up from the wand and gave Harry a long stare, as if he was seeing the boy for the first time.

"Holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches, nice and supple. This is your wand."

"Y-yes? And?"

"I remember every wand I've ever sold, Mr. Potter. Every single wand. It so happens that the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather – just one other. Yes, thirteen-and-a-half inches. Yew. Curious indeed how these things happen. The wand chooses the wizard, never forget that."

"I'm not sure I understand," Lily sighed, "You're shocked because Harry's wand's brother is in the possession of someone already?"

"No," Ollivander said. "While indeed brother wands are not common, that is not the reason for my... awe, Mrs. Potter."

"Then what is the reason?"

"The one who own the other wand, of course."

"And who might that be?" James asked, curiously. Ollivander looked at Harry again, eyes gleaming oddly.

"The Dark Lord, Mr. Potter. The Dark Lord himself."

*

"We cannot speak of this to anyone until Harry learns how to defend himself. If even then," Lily declared as soon as the three were back home. Harry was clutching his wand, wondering why everything had to always be so complicated. "The Dark Lord has enemies and if this became public knowledge, Harry will be thrust into the spotlight and people will make assumptions."

"Yes," James said, nodding. "We don't want or need the attention. Remember that, Harry, and never tell anyone of your wand. All right?"

"Okay," Harry promised. He was still thinking of the untitled book that he had seen years ago, and wondered if he could still find it. Maybe he should ask help from a house-elf? "Will you tell Uncle Sirius, though?"

"He'll be the only one told," James told him, "I'm so glad that Ollivander swore to not speak of this to anyone."

"Tell me about it," Lily agreed, "Imagine Skeeter smelling this scoop."

"Would’ve had to kill her to keep her quiet," James said with a grimace. "Not something I think I could do, honestly. Ah, I'm tired. I think I'll take a nap."

"Are you tired, birthday-boy?" Lily asked, and Harry shook his head.

"I want to go the library room, actually," Harry said, "We didn't go to Flotts after all."

"Have you read Pride and Prejudice yet?" Lily wanted to know, and her son made a disgusted face.

"I read a bit. It's so lame."

"It's romantic, that's what it is. But I suppose you want adventure and fantasy? There's the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I think you'll love the books."

"Wasn't that the series written by a squib?" James asked.

"Yes, James. Doesn't make the books worse, I assure you."

Harry left his parents to talk with each other and made his way towards the library. He didn't quite remember where he had seen the book, but since he had been spying on his father and godfather back then, it must have been near the chairs.

'Reclaiming Magic, Redemption and Traditions, Resolutions and How To Keep Them... these aren't fiction. Pity. Maybe I won't want to even read the book after I find it? What if I— there!'

Eagerly, Harry pulled out the ugly notebook and felt yet again the odd tingle of magic at the contact. The book itself looked just like Harry remembered: old and uninteresting. His fingers pressed against the soft leather of the cover, and he carefully wiped off the dust on the book.

After a few minutes of hesitation, Harry opened the book to look at the first page, and squinted at the almost illegible writing he found there. He couldn’t quite make out the date written, but the text below it was somewhat readable.

I do not know what will be said of me in the future, if anything. I’ve heard them calling me Haines the Foul when they think I do not hear them. Foul, they say, as if ambition is something to shirk away from.

"Is this a diary?" Harry muttered aloud, frowning. Why would they have a stranger’s diary in their personal library?

I grew in the shadow of those whose powers manifested well before mine. My brothers, each one more successful than the other, were considered of far greater value than mine. Belittled, my ambition was set aflame by desperation. I went to lengths I shouldn’t have even thought of.

Harry stopped reading and browsed through the rest of the book, noticing a reoccurring signature. It took him a moment to read the name: Haines Potter.

‘A relative of mine? I’ve never heard of him before,’ Harry thought. Then again, researching his own family history had never been one of Harry’s interests.

Deciding to take the diary with him, the boy held the book against his chest as he made his way out. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to read it quite yet – he had already three other books he was only halfway into – but preferred to keep the book in his room anyway. Just in case.

Tomorrow, Sirius would come and tell them about Durmstrang and whether or not he managed to find a tutor for Harry. What would his tutor teach him anyway? Would he make Harry read about magical theory and history like his mum did sometimes?

'I hope it's not some strict aunty,' Harry thought, entering his room. 'I don't think so. Surely Uncle Sirius isn't going to doom me like that.'

Absently Harry wondered if Ron or Draco had tutors, or if they were going to get any at all. It had been quite a while since he had last seen either one of them, and sometimes Harry wondered whether or not the other two boys even thought of him anymore.

Probably not.

Maybe they even forgot him. People always seemed forget Harry easily.

'I wonder if everyone will be like that at Durmstrang, too,' the boy thought, feeling a little bit upset by the possibility. His dream of having a best friend was still living in his heart, but Harry feared that perhaps he simply wasn’t interesting enough for that to actually happen.

He wondered if that was ever going to change.

*

The following day, Harry woke up to someone sitting down on his bed. He opened his eyes only to see his godfather looking down at him with a serious expression.

"It's half past ten," Sirius said, "Aren't you going to wake up?"

"But it's so comfortable here," Harry replied, and yawned, burrowing further into his warm blankets.

"Your parents told me about your wand," Sirius then continued, moving his hand to rest on Harry's head, "They have... told you already to not talk about it, right?"

"Yeah."

"They're worried."

"But," Harry started, "isn't it sort of cool that I have the Dark Lord's brother wand?"

"It'd bring the attention upon you," Sirius explained softly, "and the Dark Lord's attention is a heavy burden to bear. He would consider your wand his own, and, if you were to be unworthy in his eyes, he would kill you to get it back."

"Really?" Harry whispered, eyes widening while a cold feeling settled inside. He didn’t feel sleepy anymore, and the blankets weren’t enough to keep him warm all of a sudden. "He would?"

"He would," Sirius confirmed, "and, even if he would let you be, his Death Eaters – the ones that are actively still fighting for him, fighting against anyone and everyone, even their own – wouldn't leave you alone."

"Just because I have that wand?"

"The smallest of things can bring the biggest of problems."

"That's why mum and dad are worried."

"Yeah."

"I'll keep it a secret," Harry promised, "I'll be so secretive that no one will know."

"That’s the spirit," Sirius said, and finally smiled. "Brush your teeth, wash your face and get changed, kid, and then come down. There's breakfast ready and I'll tell you about Durmstrang."

"You went there?" Harry asked, sliding off his bed and rushing to the bathroom to wash his face and teeth. Sirius followed him and stood in the doorway.

"I attended Hogwarts, so all the information is provided by Igor Karkaroff, who’s the headmaster there. But I did visit Durmstrang yesterday, yes."

"What is it like?"

"The building is smaller than Hogwarts. Uglier too. But their curriculum is better and for now there are more students attending."

"But how come Hogwarts is bigger if Durmstrang has more students?" Harry asked, voice muffled by the toothbrush in his mouth. Sirius grinned at the adorable sight, before answering the question.

"Hogwarts has many unused classrooms. Durmstrang's school building is only four stories, and it's all classrooms. The dorms are in separate buildings. The grounds, though, are far more extensive due to their three Quidditch pitches and two open-air duelling arenas. The student count, however, is set to be cut down to a fraction of what it is now – I’m not yet sure why or how, but that’s what Igor told me."

"Duelling arenas?" Harry repeated with disbelief, after finishing washing his mouth, "Are you serious? Do they really duel there?"

"Duelling is actually a course that starts during the third year of education," Sirius said, "Karkaroff said that it's very advanced there. And you know that the Dark Lord occasionally tests the seventh year students himself, don't you?"

"I didn't know that," Harry said, "Will the Dark Lord recognize my wand if he sees it?"

"We're not sure," Sirius told him, while leading the boy towards the kitchen where they'd eat their breakfast, "but there's always a risk. That's why, Harry, when you start attending Durmstrang..."

"We want you to come across as mediocre," Lily said, finishing Sirius's sentence when the two entered the kitchen; she had obviously heard them talking. "Of course I want you to do well, but don't give others a reason to single you out."

"You're making me sound like a secret agent," Harry grinned and sat down next to James, who set down a muffin in front of his son.

"Here," the man said, "Treat!"

"Cereal first!" Lily said, grabbing the muffin before Harry could, setting instead a bowl of cereal in front of him. "There."

"Oh, mum."

"What did Karkaroff say about the entrance exam?" James asked, and Sirius, who was now sitting in front of him, grinned.

"I signed Harry in. Next July he'll sit through the exam. If all goes well he'll start school September the first, next year."

"Did you ask him what kind of exam it is? Practical, theoretical?"

"Actually, they're just going to test his magic's compatibility to certain spells and materials. It's nothing he could really study for. Having a tutor, however, will help him prepare to what comes after he gets in."

"Did you see what the dorms are like?"

“Yes, they’re very different from how Hogwarts was,” Sirius said with a nod. “They’re cutting down the student number and changing the accommodation system completely. The dormitories are newly built and will be taken into use once the student body has been cut down. The Seven Towers is what Igor called the dormitories, and that’s what they really are. Seven apartment complexed with one studio flat on each floor.”

“How many floors will there be?” Lily asked, curious.

“Ten, I believe. There will be a total of seventy students once the new changes have been made.”

“That is so few,” James said, clearly surprised. “How much do they have now, six hundred?”

“Just about, yes,” Sirius replied. “They’ve been preparing for this for quite a while now, and there are many partner school willing to accept the students who’ll be kicked out after the cut.”

“That is cruel,” Lily murmured. “What is the reason, do you know?”

“Nothing for sure,” Sirius admitted. “I did take a look at the apartments, however. They’re really nice, let me tell you. If Harry gets in, he’ll have his own bathroom and a small kitchen. Apparently the students have a choice between eating in the main hall the food made by the house-elves or making their own food in their apartments."

"Maybe we should sign Harry up for cooking lessons," Lily suggested. “Even if he's too young to cook now, he’ll surely find a use for that skill later on in life."

"Mum!" Harry all but shrieked, "I can't cook! That's—"

"Girly stuff," Sirius continued, "Baking cookies is what girls do for their boyfriends."

"There's nothing effeminate in butchering a chicken for dinner," Lily snapped, "There's nothing girly in using sharp, big knives to cut and slice and dice. And honestly, you two, it’s cooking. How on earth is cooking related to gender? What, is eating feminine too?"

"She's got a point," James said with a grin, "By the way, did you find a tutor for Harry?"

"Asked a friend, she recommended this guy," Sirius started, "His name is Gilderoy Lockhart. Apparently, he's some sort of a genius? A hero? I'm not too sure, but he's won Witch Weekly's Most-Charming-Smile Award five times in a row."

"I know him!" Lily exclaimed, delighted, "Such a handsome, charming man! Oh, James, we're definitely going to hire him!"

"Just for smiling?"

"He also has an Order of Merlin, Third Class, and is an honorary member of the Dark Force League! Not to mention that he has written so many books about, well, everything!" Lily explained rapidly, eyes shining, "He wrote Wandering with Werewolves and Voyages with Vampires, for example. He's incredibly popular!"

"Mum," Harry started with disbelief. He, his father and godfather were all staring at Lily with surprise. "Are you a fan of his?"

"No!" Lily exclaimed, blushing. "I just, well, he's courageous and said to be powerful and has achieved so much, and—"

"And won Witch Weekly's Most-Charming-Smile Award five times in a row," James cut in, repeating Sirius's earlier words, "Fine, if he agrees, we'll hire him to tutor Harry. You said you haven't met the guy personally?"

"I haven't," Sirius said, "I've got no idea what he looks like, but I'll ask Sinistra to schedule a meeting. An interview."

"I can take care of the interview, since I have read his books and know what I'm dealing with," Lily offered, "I'm sure that he'll be a fantastic teacher for Harry."

"Hurray," Harry muttered into his cereal, "Can't wait."

*

It was three days later that Harry finally was to meet his tutor. The Potter Manor had been cleaned and Harry was wearing a new set of uncomfortable robes. He was sitting in the living room next to Sirius who was trying to make him feel anxious.

"What is he going to teach me anyway?" Harry asked, "And do I always have to be dressed like this?"

"You know Harry," Sirius chuckled, "I've noticed that more than half of your sentences are questions. You're one curious baby stag, aren't you?"

"I'm ten. Not a baby."

"Of course not."

"He'll be here soon," James said, entering the living room, "Best behaviour, yeah?"

"When have I ever been rude to guests?" Harry asked, and his father grinned.

"I meant Sirius, actually, not you."

"Hey!" Sirius exclaimed indignantly, "I'm always at my best behaviour!"

"Merlin save us, then," James replied cheerfully just as they heard the floo activating. Soon enough Lily stepped into the room with a bright smile on her face, followed by Harry's future tutor. He was a tall man with wavy blond hair and bright blue eyes. A smile showed straight, shiny white teeth and dimples.

He was also dressed in bright purple robes.

"Hello, hello," the man said, shaking hands with James, then Sirius, and lastly with Harry. "I am, as you without a doubt know, Gilderoy Lockhart. Or Professor Lockhart in this case, heh. Beautiful home, Mrs. Potter. Absolutely delightful."

"Oh please, call me Lily," Lily said with a smile, "And thank you. Um, please sit down. Would you like some tea, coffee?"

"Spring water, please," Lockhart requested with another blinding smile, "I don't really drink tea or coffee – they're bad for my teeth you see."

‘Really? This is the tutor?’ Harry thought with disbelief, eyeing ghastly purple robes. 'This guy?'

"He sounds incompetent," Sirius whispered, and after making sure that Lily wouldn't notice. James nodded with a pained expression as they watched the interview go on.

"He doesn’t sound too convincing to me," James hissed, "but Lily clearly likes him and if I don't hire him, she'll be mad at me."

"Whipped."

"Married."

"Dad, am I seriously going to be that guy's student?" Harry asked quietly, "I mean, not that I think that his skull is full of nothing, but I don't really think that he'll be able to teach me anything."

"He could teach you how you shouldn't be like," Sirius replied with a grin. Harry scowled, and shot him a glare.

“You’re the one who found him,” Harry said. “Uncle Sirius, I hate you right now.”

He really wasn't looking forward to his future lessons. Not anymore.