"Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!"
"Stand aside you silly girl… stand aside now."
"Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead-"
Some children are afraid of the dark, of spiders and mice and things that go bump in the night. Not Harry. He's grown up in a kitchen drawer, just below the knives and forks, and then when he couldn't fit, a cupboard under the stairs.
Most children outgrow their imaginary friends, reflections to talk back to, creatures of whimsy given human form, anthropomorphized toys. Harry never has a toy. And he never outgrows his imaginary friend either.
"He's too quiet," Marge Dursley says. For a six-year-old Harry is remarkably quiet, able to stand for hours at his punishment corner without fidgeting. That might be because he's used to it. Nevertheless, Marge pronounces it uncanny. "Always looks like he's up to something. Plotting."
"Harry, stop sulking," Petunia snaps. "Go out and take your aunt's dogs for a walk."
She's not your aunt.
"Don't glower at me like that, you ungrateful brat. You heard your aunt. Go!"
Marge has brought three of them to Privet Drive with her this time. Bo, Hurricane and worst of all - Ripper. They don't like him. Bo nips at his fingers, not playfully, and Harry stumbles back, right on to Ripper's paw. Ripper is not pleased. Ripper is not pleased at all.
Marge sips her tea - three cubes of sugar, just the way she likes it - and watches the scene in the garden unfold with unruffled placidity. She wears a little smirk that makes her look remarkably like Ripper. "Nasty little rotter," she tells Dudley, "I'll leave him up to stew in the tree for a while. Teach him his manners."
Petunia hovers anxiously at the window for a moment but then she squares her shoulders and turns back to the table. "Another slice of cake, Marjorie?"
Harry clings to the branches, warmth spreading through the seat of his shorts. He's wet himself - like a baby. He's crying like a baby too. The tree is so big and Ripper has so many sharp teeth. What if he falls? Ripper will chew his face off, starting with his ears, just like that little girl who's pet bulldog went mad. He's seen it on TV.
You're not scared, my love.
"I'm scared," he whispers.
No. Not while I'm here.
And then a most curious thing happens. One of the little pebbles bordering the driveway comes flying through the air, so fast that it seems to blur below Harry, and hits Ripper in the head. He drops like a rock, like a very dead thing. There's no blood at all. One moment, he's pawing at the tree, jowls quivering, slobbering and snarling, teeth a yellow gleam in the twilight and the next - he's not.
Harry's memory of the hours afterward are curiously blurred, as though they sped away like the spectators' faces when he rode the merry-go-round at the Christmas carnival. Afterwards, Marge says in a slightly dazed voice, "Well he was getting old. Quite sudden, the heart attack but at their age-" Vernon and Petunia quickly nod their agreement. Dudley stuffs himself with chocolate cake and snatches Harry's piece from his plate too.
But he wasn't that old, Harry thinks, puzzled. Marge Dursley always put down her dogs when they got too old and Ripper was her favorite.
And it wasn't a heart attack, Harry.
Aunt Petunia doesn't have a great many things from before her marriage that she's proud of. The Evanses were never rich, not like the Dursleys, and she likes to gloss over that facet of her life when she has company, to will it into non-existence.
She does have a pretty string of pink pearls. "They were my grandmother's," she tells Mrs Roberts. "A family heirloom, you know. She gave them to me when I was married, over my sister." She throws Harry a particularly nasty look. "She knew Lily would never come to any good, no matter how much my parents favored her, went and married a reckless young man who couldn't even keep down a job..."
Harry sits quietly in his corner, pretending to be deaf. Its the way the Dursleys like him best. That night, he has a very strange dream.
He dreams that he goes up to his aunt and uncle's room, as quiet as a mouse. They are asleep, Vernon snoring as loudly as a lawnmower, Petunia curled up beside him looking smaller than ever. At peace. It would be so easy for him to put them to peace forever now, but he puts that thought away from him.
You need their blood.
Shelves and drawers and cupboards open for him, all silent, and he browses through them at his leisure. His aunt has never kept any of his mother's letters, as though she could will Lily too into non-existence.
But he finds the pink pearls, in a green velvet box. Mother meant them for me, not her. They never looked good on Petunia's skinny neck so he flushes them down the toilet instead.
He's not entirely surprised when Hagrid shows up. Somehow, all his life, he's expected something of this sort. But he feigns it well and then, Diagon Alley is better than every Christmas, birthday and summer vacation he's ever had - all put together. The rightness of it - cauldrons gleaming out in the sun, the fragrance and the stench of a thousand herbs bundled together in the apothecary, a brand new owl on a child's shoulder - takes his breath away. The Muggle world fades away. It was never his.
Don't forget to visit Quality Quidditch Supplies, my love. I have a feeling you're going to like it.
"Hagrid," he says, slurping ice-creams companionably with his new friend, "Are wizards different from Muggles?"
Hagrid chortles. "Course they are, Harry. Us lot can do magic, remember?"
"Not that," Harry says patiently. "I mean - are we made differently from Muggles?"
Hagrid's smile seems to die away a little but he rallies quickly. "We'r all humans."
This isn't going anywhere. "Can we talk to people who're... not there?" Harry asks. "Like an imaginary friend but real, only you can't see them? Well, I mean I sort of can but-"
Hagrid's face creases in concern but then a moment later, he says in triumph, "I know what ye'r mean, Harry! Ghosts. Might'o seen one round 'em Muggles, they can't see them but you might've. Ye'll see a lot o' them round Hogwarts!"
"No, not ghosts," Harry says patiently. "I know what ghosts look like." Well, he's seen them in books and in movies, at least. "I mean like something I can't really see but I can feel it-"
"Umm, no. I can't see it but it talks to me. It helps me."
Hagrid's face softens and he claps Harry on the back with a dustbin-sized hand that buries his nose in his ice-cream. "Ah, I had one too when I was a tot," he says reminiscently. "Named him Ragnolf, I did, if ye can imagine that! Course I was a bit smaller- er younger than ye but I never lived with no Dursleys. It's a phase, Harry, happens."
"Alright," Harry says doubtfully but he doesn't really believe it.
Ron has a fat brown rat. It seems strangely familiar. "What happened to its paw?" Harry asks, inspecting Scabbers. A rat's not a very good pet, he decides but he supposes its better than having a toad.
"Came off worse in a fight, I guess," Ron shrugs. "He was like that since Percy found him."
"He seems old," Harry says doubtfully. Too old.
"Yeah he is," Ron says. "Percy had him for years before me." They fall to talking about Chocolate Frog cards - Ron has hundreds and he's ready to help Harry start his own collection! Its so fun that Harry can't stop smiling all the way to Hogwarts.
"Hey," he says suddenly, feeling the words drawn out of him as though by a fishing line, "Do you know Peter Pettigrew?"
Ron scrambles to adjust to this abrupt change of subject. "No," he says uncertainly. "Should I? Is he a professor?"
"Never mind," Harry says quickly. "I just heard his name mentioned somewhere, that's all." Its only a tiny lie. "Do you know Sirius Black then?"
Ron brightens, relieved to be of use. "Oh yeah," he says, "the bloke who killed a dozen people?"
"No way!" Harry says.
"Well it happened when I was a baby, mind, just after You Know Who fell but he was a Death Eater, I mean one of You Know Who's supporters, and he went right raving mad I guess. Killed a street full of Muggles and then they carted him off to Azkaban, that's wizard prison, Harry. Suspect he's dead by now, no one lasts in Azkaban too long. Harry... what happened? You've got a funny look on your face."
"I-I," Harry swallows hard. "I heard he was my dad's mate." Where had he heard that? Had Hagrid mentioned it?
"Oh." Ron's blue eyes are wide with sympathy and he looks like he doesn't quite know what's expected of him at the moment. "Er," he tries bravely, "Do you want a cup of tea? Maybe the trolley lady's still going round... that's what my mum always does when people are upset. Tea."
"No thanks," Harry mumbles. "I'm good." And he turns his face to the window, a dull sense of horror sweeping over his body like cockroaches crawling down a corpse
He has better luck with Minerva McGonagall. "Peter Pettigrew," she says and her eyes narrow as though she thinks he's trying to be funny and she doesn't like it at all. "Who mentioned his name to you, Potter?"
"No one," Harry says, improvising rapidly. "I-er was just looking over old editions of the Prophet in the library." He lets a faint warble creep into his voice, as though he's on the verge of tears but holding back bravely. On a tiny eleven-year-old it works wonders and McGonagall softens instantly. "I wanted to see if I could find my parents' names anywhere and I saw-"
"Of course, I can see why you would be curious," she says gently. "Well, since you've found some evidence already, there's no point keeping the rest from you." She Transfigures a pen into a little tea-tray complete with cups and bowls of milk and sugar. "Sit down, Potter, this is a long, sad story. Ginger snaps?"
She waves the tin of biscuits irritably under his nose. "Do you take ginger snaps, Potter?"
"Oh er... yeah." And he can't stop himself from grinning widely at her.
Ah Minerva. Never change.
It's easy to stay up late one night, on the pretense of wanting to practice some Transfiguration. His matchsticks, while gleaming silver, are not quite as sharp as needles should be. He refuses Ron's offers of help, he insists he can get it done if he just spends a little more time on the theory by himself.
"Well alright," Ron says doubtfully. He certainly doesn't want to spend more time than he absolutely has to on A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration. And really who can blame him? Transfiguration's a bore, not like Charms at all. Ron stifles a yawn behind his fingers and takes the stairs to the dorms. On an afterthought, he pauses. "Have you seen Scabbers, Harry?"
"No," Harry says, busy taking his books out of his bag. "Should I have?"
"I guess not but I haven't seen him all day. Well if you find him, can you bring him back?"
He waits for the last straggles to trail out of the Common Room, the sixth-years slobbering over eachother in the shadows, Hermione Granger drawing up star charts in front of the fireplace, the Weasley twins hefting a big, black box that's make odd chirping noises up to their room. And then he takes Scabbers out of his bag.
He's taped its paws to a piece of cardboard, all four of them. The rat can struggle but he won't be able to escape. Not this time.
Yes, it's him alright.
"You killed James," he tells it, the tip of his wand poised on its plump little belly. He tests it lightly, poking it once to make it squirm and then, smiling, harder. "You killed Sirius." Killing rips the soul apart. Almost tenderly, he places it within the embers of the fireplace. "You would have killed Harry if you had a chance." He sets a spark to the fire with the tip of his wand, it begins to burn brighter and now the rat truly begins to squeal, harder than you would have thought such a filthy little creature could.
"But I'm not a killer, Peter," he says. "I only dropped you." He turns to pack his bag, folding parchment into tight, neat scrolls, sorting the books by order of size and not throwing them pell-mell together, smoothing his quills into their cases so that they last longer. He is neat and meticulous.
By the time he is quite finished, the squeals have stopped and the fire burns low. He gazes at the simmering flames for a moment but he can't really see anything left behind, no tiny skeleton, no patches of brown fur. No matter. Even if there is anything left behind, the house-elves will sweep it off in the morning.
Hermione Granger is such a nice girl.
He takes an instant liking to her, just as disliking Malfoy comes naturally to him. He can't quite explain it even to himself. But she's a Muggleborn and the smartest girl in class and he really, really wants to be her friend.
She'll be a good influence on you. Keep her close.
It's Hermione, her eyes alight with sympathy when she finds out about his quest to find out more about his parents and their friends, who waves a letter in front of his face at breakfast one morning. She's quite flushed with triumph, waving imperiously at the large barn owl who's brought the letter. Ron tells him it must be an official Ministry owl.
"I wrote to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement," she tells them importantly. "You can you know, if you want information. I just thought of it a few weeks ago but anyway, I wanted to know what happened to Sirius Black."
Ron shoots her an annoyed look. "Nice of you to bring that up at breakfast," he says. "What do you think it'll make Harry feel like?"
Hermione looks quite taken aback at his protectiveness. "Well I-"
"I'm fine, Ron," Harry says quickly. "What did they tell you?"
"Well they wrote back that he's still alive! And quite healthy too it seems," Hermione says, opening her eyes very wide. "Its been ten years, I think he must have set some sort of record for staying alive the longest at Azkaban."
"Maybe you can look that up," Ron tells her.
Hermione looks pleased at the idea. "I never thought of that! Yes, I suppose I will. A statistical survey of life expectancy at-"
Behind her back, Ron rolls his eyes at Harry but he's grown quite cold inside. Sirius is alive. He knocks over his glass of pumpkin juice without seeing and Parvati Patil squeals in alarm as it drips on her skirt. "Watch it!" she says angrily but Harry has already gotten up.
"Oi! We have Herbology first period!" Ron shouts behind him.
"You'll lose even more points for Gryffindor!" Hermione says shrilly but he's picking up speed, he has to see Dumbledore, has to...
The office won't open for him. The only password he remembers for the gargoyles is decades old and though he rakes his brains, bursting out names of sweets at random they remain stubbornly shut to him.
"Potter what are you doing?"
Its not Flitwick or Hagrid or even McGonagall, oh no, its Snape. Of course it is. "Please, Professor, I have to see Dumbledore!"
Snape's eyes glitter with delighted malice. "The Headmaster is otherwise occupied," he drawls. "I doubt he has time to attend to children's quarrels... particularly those of pampered children who should be in class. Ten points from Gryffindor for skipping Herbology, Potter."
He is so pleased with himself, his thin lips quivering in the closest approximation of a smile that Snape can muster up that Harry loses all control. He can't duel Snape, he's just a little boy, he can't touch him with a wand but there are other ways to hurt a man. He takes a step forward and the words flow out, like a quill being jerked over parchment and spouting fat blobs of black ink.
"You know why Lily never loved you, Severus?" he hisses. "You say you loved her but it never went past the surface. Maybe you loved the idea of her, because she was pretty and kind to you and you thought she was maybe, almost as smart as you. But if you ever truly loved her, you wouldn't have wanted her husband to die and break her heart. You would never have treated her son the way you treat me."
Snape's hand trembles, perhaps he means to draw out a wand and then Harry can say it was in self-defense, he can try... but he remembers himself and acts his age for once. "Follow me, Potter," he says coldly. "I suppose an interview with the Headmaster is in order. Acid pops."
Dumbledore is at his desk, reading what looks suspiciously like a Muggle magazine of knitting patterns. A pair of knitting needles click busily before him, knitting a thick pair of yellow socks. "Professor Snape," he begins affably, "And Mr Potter. What a pleasant surprise."
Before Snape can begin, Harry blurts out baldly, "Lily Potter killed Peter Pettigrew." The words are hers but he thinks he's always known her. His mother. The fleeting shadow he's sometimes almost caught a glimpse of, the comforting presence that lulled him to sleep when the narrow walls of the cupboard seemed to close in on him. He wasn't a quiet child, not like his teachers at the Muggle school or Marge or Petunia thought. He's always had her to tell things to. And now really, it's a relief to let her take over for him, he'd be too scared to face Snape and Dumbledore if it weren't for her.
"He was their Secret Keeper," he says confidently. "Peter, not Sirius. Search my memories, Professor, search theirs."
Dumbledore's needles settle themselves neatly on the table before him. His eyes are so blue that it takes all Harry's courage to keep on looking into them. When he speaks, there is none of the gentleness in his voice that he would reserve for an eleven-year-old boy. "Come here, Mr Potter. I believe there is a great deal that I have missed about you."
Afterwards, the only immediate effects he feels are Snape's reaction to him in Potions - where he had once been so thoroughly sought out now as a target, now he is just as strenuously avoided. Once or twice he catches Snape shooting him furtive looks, blanching when he meets Harry's eyes.
Even Ron is bright enough to catch on that something has changed. "What's up with Snape?" he asks curiously.
Harry shrugs and then seized by a moment of candor, says bluntly, "He was in love with my mum."
"No!" breathes Hermione, agog at this piece of information. "How did you find out, Harry?"
"Hagrid told me." The lie flows easily off his tongue, he no longer thinks about these little things. He takes his knife and chops the roots before him into tiny pieces. He can imagine they're Snape's slimy cold fingers. "But she never loved him," he says savagely. "She hated him."
"Blimey, an Invisibility Cloak!" Ron squeals when Harry opens Christmas presents with him. Harry drapes it around him and it feels like the closest thing he's had to a father's embrace. He wishes he knew his father.
He goes exploring at night, feeling very much like his father who used to be a known troublemaker, and stumbles on the Mirror of Erised quite by accident. Its not an ordinary mirror. There he is but he's surrounded by his family and people who he's never met and some he has, all smiling and waving at him.
His mother, holding him close, one arm wrapped protectively around his father's shoulder, smiling the widest. Sirius Black, dark and handsome and winking mischievously. A slim, frail-looking man with dusty brown hair and a big bar of chocolate. Even his Aunt Petunia, looking kinder and pleasanter than he would have thought possible, resting her hand on her sister's shoulder as though she's ready to be friends with her once again. Behind them, people he thinks must be his grandparents. A young Snape, the hard lines of his face softened.
This is the future Voldemort stole from him.
Dumbledore catches him at it, one day. He supposed it had to happen, he supposes its not really healthy but still he's sad when Dumbledore tells him its the last time he'll see the mirror before its taken to its new home. Perhaps someday he'll have another family, like the one he saw in the mirror. Perhaps.
"You'll be glad to know that I have successfully tracked down the last of the eye-witnesses, Harry," Dumbledore says quietly. He smiles wanly when Harry looks at him, bewildered. "The Muggle eye-witnesses to the attack that was - wrongfully - considered to be propagated by Sirius Black. Their memories of the incident had been Obliviated - that means changed, Harry - by members of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement but old memories, if not rewritten, can be retrieved. When Sirius Black's case is re-opened in the spring, their memories will serve as testimony in court."
"Why weren't they looked into in the first place?" Harry asks angrily. "I mean, from what I can tell, they just wiped the Muggles' memories and decided Sirius Black must have done it since Peter Pettigrew wasn't there. He never had a trial, he might've been innocent for all they knew."
"You have touched the heart of the matter," Dumbledore says mildly. "They were Muggles, Harry, and thus considered beneath notice after a wizard - Pettigrew in this case - had proclaimed another wizard's guilt. And with Sirius Black's behavior at the scene of the crime, his rather dark and doubtful ancestry and Pettigrew's carefully laid trap, the matter was considered an open-and-shut case. And the political climate at the time was rather explosive, accusations flying thick and fast - there was much eagerness to catch a real Death Eater, to put those dark times behind us in one sweep as it were."
"It boils down to the fact that wizards don't seem to think much of Muggles," Harry mutters. "It just doesn't seem fair, does it?"
"An apt observation, Harry, but one which you'll find yourself bewoeing more and more as you grow older."
"I know the world's unfair, Professor," Harry says. "You left me at the Dursleys, remember?"
"It was necessary to maintain the blood bond that was your protection, Harry," Dumbledore says sadly. "You know that."
He nods, even he can understand that. He takes one last look at the Mirror and now all the other figures have vanished, leaving just two little girls on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. They are both dressed identically in Hogwarts robes, with Gryffindor badges and ties, owls perched on their trunks, smiling and waving goodbye to their parents. The smaller one has dark red hair and mischievous green eyes. The older one is blonde.
This is the past that never was.
He feels her gradually releasing her hold on him, letting him be himself. He plays Quidditch, he naps or builds exploding card-castles with Ron when sometimes he should be studying for exams, he eats rather more black forest cake than he should and gets a fearsome stomachache.
But every night, no matter how sleepy he is he whispers, "Good Night, Mum," to his pillow. Its one of the few secrets he keeps from Ron, who's a little too dim, and Hermione, who's a little too narrow-minded.
And always, the same whisper back. Good night, my love.
That summer, the Dursleys don't come to take him away. Instead, a tall, emaciated man with too-long black hair waits for him. The crowd makes a wide circle around him, though Sirius Black's name has been cleared in court there are very few who really trust the man at large. After all, once a Death Eater... and they straighten their pointed hats and sniff haughtily.
He has a slightly forced smile on his face, as though he's trying to hide his anxiety. Harry's heart almost breaks for him.
"Hello Sirius," he says quietly, walking up to him.
Sirius gives a start of surprise, as though he wasn't expecting someone so little, and then scans him from head to toe. "You look just like him," he says eventually, "Just like your father. Except for your eyes-"
"-I have my mother's eyes, yeah," Harry says. "I've been told." He looks curiously at Sirius, wondering how much Dumbledore has told him. As far as he knows, only Snape and Dumbledore know everything. But then, they probably wouldn't tell an eleven-year-old about all the webs they've been spinning.
"I heard you like flying," Sirius says. His smile grows brighter when Harry nods eagerly. "I hope you like motorbikes too."
Oh dear no.
"Because," Sirius says, a broad grin breaking over his face, "we're going to be taking my bike to your aunt and uncle's place. I thought I might pop by and have a word with them about my godson."