"Well, it's nicer than our old flat."
Jim wasn't wrong. It was definitely more spacious than their old flat and it didn't have a view of a building yard outside the window. What it did have was the head of some kind of beast mounted on the wall and a mirror that had insulted Sam's hair as she passed, as well as what looked suspiciously like bloodstains on the floor.
"I've always wanted to live next to a necromancer." Sam said idly, collapsing on the surprisingly comfortable bed.
"He didn't say he was a necromancer." Jim pointed out as he examined the bizarre animal head on the wall. "He just offered to take any dead bodies we may or may not aquire. He could be a cannibal or a necrophiliac, you shouldn't assume things, Sammy."
Sam couldn't even argue with that because their new neighbour could, in fact, be any or all three of those things. It would stand to reason that a place willing to let two unsupervised eleven year olds rent a room would have no problem letting a necromancer-necrophiliac-cannibal stay on the premises.
The two of them had decided that returning to their respective fake-families wasn't on the agenda and had hatched their first of many schemes in this world. Convincing the Grangers that there was a before-Hogwarts getaway for Muggle-borns to learn about the new world they were now a part of before going to school had been too easy, and it was well worth the teary goodbye Sam had to endure with the promise that she'd come home for Christmas.
Now she was free from her fake-parents for a whole year, giving her plenty of time to come up with another excuse to leave next summer.
Jim's fake-family didn't care that he was gone, possibly for good, and Sam was a little jealous at how easy his escape was.
After leaving their fake-families the next step of the plan they were making up as they went along was finding somewhere to live. The Leaky Cauldron had no free rooms and finding somewhere in the non-Wizarding World that would let two underage children rent a room would be impossible, so they'd done what any rational people would do.
They found the shadiest place they could and started their search there.
Knockturn Alley was a stereotypically creepy shopping district at the edge of Diagon Alley, all looming buildings and mysterious hooded figures lurking about the place. Sam had almost lost Jim half a dozen times when he'd wandered over to the many street vendors selling everything from human fingernails to cursed jewellery, having to physically drag him away from the hunchbacked man with an eye patch selling an array of wicked-looking knives.
Sam might have been scared of Knockturn Alley if she was actually eleven years old, but she'd been to shadier places than this creepy little shopping district. She'd lived in shadier places. Knockturn Alley was trying way too hard to be edgy, giving off less of a 'dangerous' vibe and more of a 'haunted house theme park' vibe.
The Spiny Serpent Inn was nestled between Tallow & Hemp Toxic Papers (which sold poisonous candles) and Dystyl Phaelanges (which specialised in furniture made from bone) and it was their new home for the remainder of the summer. The owner, Moribund, was all too happy to let two children stay in his strange little Inn, no questions asked, after they'd offered to pay upfront for a month's stay and then some.
It was nice to know that wizards, just like Muggles, would turn a blind eye to anything if the money was good enough.
"So, first things first." Jim jumped onto the bed next to her and sat cross-legged on the mattress. "How are we going to do this?"
Sam frowned up at the stained ceiling. "If you could be a little less vague I might have an answer."
"The whole magic thing." He elaborated, which really didn't help much. "I know we'll learn spells at school and all that, but I'm thinking we take matters into our own hands, learn the spells that are less... mainstream."
Sam turned her head to look at him. "Such as?"
"You know, the cool spells." Jim grinned. "None of that beginner's crap."
"I think the beginner's crap is how you actually learn magic, Jim. Like riding a bike." Jim waved a dismissive hand.
"Yeah, but we're not actually eleven, that'll give us an advantage."
Sam sat up and mirrored his pose, their knees touching. "Maybe." She allowed, frowning as she thought it over. "There are probably books that explain magic. We can figure out what we can learn on our own and go from there, find the 'cool spells' once we know what we can do."
Jim beamed at her. "See, that's the kind of planning I'm talking about." He said cheerfully, slapping her knee. Sam grinned back, but then something less fun came to mind.
"There's something else we need to plan for." Jim raised an eyebrow in question. "There's a big bad evil wizard out to get you, remember?"
Pursing his lips in consideration, Jim h'mmed. "I mean, the bloke's never done anything to me. Maybe we can talk it out, come to some sort of compromise."
"He tries to kill Harry in, like, every book." Sam pointed out. "I don't think he can be talked down, they probably would have tried that."
"Good point." Jim frowned at the mounted head on the wall like it held the answer to their dilemma. "Let's just kill him."
This time it was Sam who raised a questioning eyebrow. "And how are we going to do that?"
"I've only seen a couple of the films. You're the one who read all the books, you tell me."
Sam's gaze drifted over to the wall as she tried to remember the last book. She'd seen the film, too, but right now all she could recall were bits and pieces and she wasn't even sure which events happened when.
"Okay," she said finally, turning her attention back to Jim. "There's a necklace in the middle of a zombie lake we need to get - there's these things called hor... somethings, we need them. There's something in the bank, like a cup or something, we can use a dragon to get out - oh, and we need a sword. I don't know why, we just do." Then she remembered the most important piece of information. "And Harry dies."
Jim, who had been listening with idle curiosity, blinked in surprise. "He dies?"
"He lets Voldemort kill him and he goes to speak with ghost-Dumbledore in heaven or something." Sam recalled. "But he's fine. He comes back to life."
The person who was currently Harry Potter considered that for a moment. "Well, that's stupid. I'm not doing that. Whatever real-Harry did, consider me not doing it." Sam nodded. That sounded fair. "Do you remember anything, y'know, useful?"
"That was useful!" She protested. Jim made a seesaw motion with his hand. "It'll come back to me. We've got about four books until he becomes a problem, we've got time to plan."
"We need a gun." Jim decided.
"Come on, it'll be so much easier!"
"...Fine. Let's get a gun."
It turned out, to Sam's relief and Jim's irritation, that there were no guns to be found in Knockturn Alley - because wizards didn't even know what guns were, which had been a fun conversation with Moribund, who'd pointed them in the direction of some cursed objects that could do more harm than any Muggle weapon. They put it on their to-do list.
But first, magic.
Jim scowled down at the feather when it refused to rise into the air like he could scare it into obeying him. Sam bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. It had been ten minutes and Jim had failed to get the feather to so much as twitch.
"This is bullshit." He declared, looking at the wand in his hand. "Great and terrible things my arse - can't even move a feather!"
"Just because I got it before you." Sam smirked, twirling her own wand between her fingers. She'd got the feather to levitate on her first try.
The three weeks before school started had been split between reading as many books as they could between trying out various spells from The Standard Book of Spells: Grade One. So far they'd mastered two spells each; Sam could cast the Wand Lighting Charm and the Unlocking Charm, while Jim had opted to go for the Severing Charm and the Fire-Making Spell. Their priorities might have been different, but both of them wanted to make things levitate solely so they could make Star Wars references.
Finding out about 'The Trace', which was used to make sure underage magical children didn't practice magic outside of school, had initially been a source of great disappointment before Sam decided to look into it further and found the perfect loophole. If underage magic was performed in an all-wizard environment - such as Hogwarts or the two Alleys - it was completely untraceable. Jim had wanted to go straight into Curses And Counter-Curses, but Sam had managed to convince him that some useful, every day spells would be a good place to start.
Learning spells was far more complicated than either of them had anticipated. You had to move the wand in the right way, speak the incantation perfectly, and concentrate on the desired outcome. The books warned that doing any of those things incorrectly would make the spell fail or backfire, but that hadn't deterred them. Even after Sam set the curtains on fire.
Jim collapsed on the bed he next to her with a loud sigh, apparently done with the feather for today. His owl, G-Mail, swooped down from the Graphorn head on the wall to land on the headboard next to him.
"Can't believe we're going to Hogwarts tomorrow." He remarked as he tossed his wand in the air and caught it. "Fucking about with magic is one thing, but Hogwarts?"
"That's when shit gets real." Sam's eyes were drawn to the scar on Jim's forehead. "We still haven't talked about Voldemort." Jim let out a long-suffering sigh.
"I still don't see how he's our problem." He complained, which had been his response every time Sam brought the matter up. "Why can't we just let Gandalf -"
"- deal with it. Isn't he supposed to be all-powerful?"
It was Sam's turn to sigh. "Because in the books the adults are completely useless, which is kind of the point. How interesting would the stories be if any of the teachers actually did shit?"
Jim made a noise of acknowledgement. "But why is Lord Vanderdoodle our problem specifically?"
"Because he wants to kill you, Jim." Jim groaned.
"I can't be arsed to deal with him." He whined, and Sam pat him on the shoulder sympathetically.
"Well, you should have hijacked a side character's body instead."