Everything was fuzzy there for a moment. I knew it wasn't all what I thought it was. Surely some wise-ass hadn't pulled a gun on me and taken me out. Not after everything I'd gone through to get my daughter out of that situation. But, then, old Ockam reared his ugly head, and I stopped and considered what I knew. I'd cleaned up, and gotten my act together enough to get to spend a little time with Murph, that's Seargant Karrin Murphy of the Chicago Police Department to be exact, and then, as I walked out of my brother's boat, I had looked down to see blood on my shirt. And my hands. And everywhere else, come to think of it.
So, I had died. Or this was some crazy in between world where I was going to be tested for all my crimes. I closed my eyes, and called up my power, testing it. It was there, but it wasn't as close. Or as big. It felt like it did when I was with Justin. Young, raw, and small. I looked down to locate my rings, staff, coat, hell, any of my usual tools, and gaped in shock. My magic felt small because my body was small. I tilted my head, and stretched and tried on this new skin. It wasn't my body as a child, that much was clear. I'd been skinny, but I'd never been this skinny. If I'd have seen a kid like this in Chicago, I'd have taken him straight to Forthill and made the man place him somewhere where at least he'd get a square meal or three a day. Several questions came quickly to the forefront. Who was I now? Was I still Harry? Or was I someone completely new and different? What was I supposed to do? Here I was a thirty-something --- hey, shut up. Ok. Forty-something year old wizard in a small body. This body certainly did belong to a wizard, and now that I recognized the power, it was more than I had had at his age. But it was ... different. I had no clue where I was, or what I was doing. All I knew was that I was in a small, cramped room a quarter the size of one of Murph's holding cells, and less bright and cheery.
"Joy." I whispered to myself, not knowing who held me in this place, or if this was 'home.' As if in response to my thoughts, a skull with bright glowing orange eyes appeared right in front of me, startling the crap out of me. "Bob! Don't do that!"
"Don't do what, Boss? Dance around like the Headless Horseman's Head? Aw, c'mon. You don't let me have any fun. There are no pretty women here to ogle. I mean there's the kid's aunt, but I mean, have you seen her? She makes Maeve look sweet and cuddly." I rolled my eyes. Bob, the spirit of air and information, was my personal computer. Technology didn't seem to work around me in general, so I had to rely on this guy to remember things for me. Date book, calculator, encyclopedia, post-it note ... Bob.
"No. Don't scare me like that. I don't know what the kid's captors would do if you scared me enough to make noise. If they're cruel enough to put the kid into a small room like this, then they'd do just about anything. I'm assuming this 'aunt' you mentioned is his family?"
"Yeah, and oddly enough, one of your 'captors', Memsahib." I frowned. Fun. Family was always so complicated. Mine more so than most, of course. I reached up instinctively to my neck, and winced when I couldn't find my pentacle. I'd worn that thing since I'd gotten it, and it'd saved my ass several times. And that's only in recent memory. Maybe whoever this kid was would have the means for me to find another one, a kind of a security blanket, if you will.
"Joy." I repeated. "So, if I'm Sam, and you're Al, what's my good deed for the day?" For not having watched much television, I knew quite a bit about the storylines. "And, who am I now? I mean, who's the kid? Is he gonna worry about me inhabiting his body? And where is he? I hope I didn't kick him to the afterlife in my place in some cosmic shell game." I wouldn't put it past the Almighty to do something like that. With the sarcastic comments I'd made to Uriel a couple times, I was fairly certain he could call in a favor or two with the Big Guy and make my life very interesting. Hmmm, I pondered. Maybe Mab was right about pissing him off. Naw, couldn't be. Mab was as looney as a duck pond. My conscience niggled at me. She'd been right about a couple things here and there.
"Strangely enough, your name didn't change that much, Harry. Here, you're Harry James Potter. Son of Lilly and James Potter, and also known as 'The Boy-Who-Lived', though the kid didn't know either of those last things. He only knows he's their nephew, and ..." Bob's figure wobbled in front of my face, in a familiar movement I'd always taken to mean that he was nervous about the information he was reporting. Well, it was nice to know that whatever hallucination I was experiencing was right in this, at least. Bob was consistent.
"Spit it out, Bob. Whatever you've got to say can't be that bad..." I mentally qualified that. Yes, it sure the hell could be, but I was hoping that it would be bright and cheery news to make this little dark corner of humanity a little lighter. Butters' 'Murphyphonic Field' in action, though.
"Well, a dark wizard Voldemort... He magically renamed himself that and it means 'Flight of Death' in French, so you can guess he didn't do kids' parties as entertainment ..." Bob snickered. "This guy, who was born Tom Riddle, cast a killing curse at the kid's mom, dad, and at the kid himself. Basically it's like small streams of mordite, except just one stream, green and unavoidable." He wobbled again. "The kid somehow survived. The going theory is that his mother's love saved him, but you know how likely that is." I really did. If love saved people, then Susan would be alive. As would my own mother and father. And Thomas wouldn't have been munched on by that Shifter. I would have somehow been able to keep him safe as well. I returned my thoughts to my mom, pointedly ignoring the feelings of guilt that poured through me when I thought of Thomas. Though Margaret Le Fay had been a flighty woman in some things, causing trouble and creating havoc in the preternatural world, she loved her sons dearly, and would do anything, had done almost everything to keep us safe.I had a feeling that was part of the reason she didn't live so long. The greater part being that she'd inherited the McCoy mouth and stubborn streak. I motioned for Bob to go on. "Personally, I think there were several factors at play. The geas of a prophecy, Lilly's will, and honestly, the kid's own will. He was only fifteen months old, but hell, at that age, you were stirring up trouble for everyone yourself." I snorted. True enough.
"So, I'm still Harry. That'll help. Let me guess. Petunia and husband were the only family left, and they don't particularly care for ... something. Either the kid himself, or the whole magic thing."
"The magic thing. Petunia and Vernon call him 'freak' on a regular basis, and make him work like a slave, while their own son Dudley sits on his butt and eats all day. He looks like those little guinea pigs at the zoo before they started their diet." Having to stay away from tech limited my entertainment options, so the zoo had been a good choice, as long as I stayed away from some of the big security monitors, or kept moving long enough. And besides. Animals. Completely adorable, carefree -- at least in this situation -- and something that could take my mind off my crazy life from time to time. I was a member. So, sue me.
"Fun. Alright. So, I get to play servant to three hating-but-clued normals, and wait for -- for what?" I hadn't heard that quite yet.
"Not telling, Boss, it'll spoil the surprise." He gave me the skullish equivalent of a maniacal grin, and I groaned. Loudly. But yes. Cleaning. Cleaning I could do. I'd gotten used to the brownies keeping my place clean after I'd solved the Summer Knight thing for Titania, but I was a big wizard. I could do this. If I couldn't do a little simple cleaning around the house, then, something was very wrong.
* * *
I asked Bob for the time, and since it was late at night, I tried to sleep. True, the mattress was as bumpy as hell, and the darkness was starting to creep me, but I did get a little sleep. When you've seen some of the stuff I've seen, you tend to try to have a little light, even if it's pentacle-glow. It helps keep the demons -- real and imagined -- at bay. That's not always possible, though, so I set Bob to watch, as best he could, and fell to sleep. As I slept, the memories from the boy's mind started to assimilate with my own. The big one was the memory of flying through the air in the arms of a huge man on a motorbike. If it had been any other person, I'm sure the dream would have caused serious consternation. I'd seen worse, so I sat back and enjoyed the ride. This being a dream, and my mind being a very strange place, I mixed my own memories in. Riding on the back of that bike with Murph, goosing the engine with my magic, and feeling her in front of me. It made the dream much more pleasurable, for sure, no matter how confusing it was. Then, the dream descended into the darker territory. The green light Bob mentioned, high pitched laughter, and screams. Those screams became all sorts of other screams. I hadn't had the chance to process my most recent terrifying experience with death, so my mind was doing me a favor, and letting it play all in front of my eyes in real, living color. Just great. However, before I could get too deep into the whole thing, Bob's voice sounded in my mind, and I awoke, calling out as I remember him doing. "Coming, Aunt Petunia."
I stood up, barely missing whacking my head on the shelf near my 'bed', and moved out of the cupboard. Bob bobbled in front of me, and I squinted to get used to the light. Something was missing. I couldn't see very well at all. Bob cackled and bounced back toward the cupboard, pointing to the shelf. "Glasses, Harry. Spectacles. Clear lenses meant to correct sight."
"Shut up," I muttered, trying to keep my voice low enough not to be heard by the Harry-hating relatives. I could keep my head down fairly well, when I really needed to. I just often chose not to.
"Boy! Come make breakfast! And if you burn the rashers, none for you!" The woman's voice was shrill, like a banshee I'd chased while still working with Nick. I winced and walked out to meet my doom, a skull bouncing cheerily beside me, making inane comments on everything around us, like the cleanliness of the house, and the likeness of Harry's cousin to a demon we'd once summoned for information. I rolled my eyes when the adults weren't looking, and glared at Bob.
"If you get me in trouble, I will hurt you. For real. My brain, my hammer." I had quickly deduced that these whales and their horsey-woman weren't able to see Bob. Thank the Heavens for small mercies, right? Very small mercies. And I had learned with Lash that it was my mind, and my playground. Or, to be more accurate, mine and Alterna-Harry's. He's the darker side of me, and only comes out to play when I'm really hurt, really angry, really horny, or ... okay, most all the time, then. He's not evil, just more pragmatic than I tend to be awake.
"Alright, Boss." He backed off a lot then, and I spent most of the day doing repetitive work. Cleaning, cooking, cleaning some more. Weeding, watering, mulching, painting... I couldn't believe it. This kid had it almost worse than I had as a kid, and I had Justin "The Sadist" DuMorne as my Mentor. I had to use some of the skills I'd developed in the orphanage to secret a little food away from the pan when they were all watching television. Apparently, my 'Murphyphonic Field' wasn't as active in little Harry's body, because I could walk past the thing and not break it. It was something to think about. His magic might have been different enough that I'd have to learn all over. I didn't really look forward to that. But ... as I was saying, I could walk past the 'telly.' I could clean the 'telly.' I couldn't sit and watch it, though. Definitely not allowed by these people.
My life fell into a pattern over the next few days. I'd cook, I'd clean, I'd get yelled at, I'd sneak food, I'd drink water from the waterhose, and take short cold showers when they couldn't deny I needed them. It wasn't a great life, but it was a life. And if this was some weird version of the afterlife, then I was getting way more than I deserved. I wasn't going to interrupt the status quo.
But something did, of course.
* * *
I was sitting at the breakfast table, eating on my single piece of toast, and listening to the inane chatter of both Bob and Vernon when I heard the unmistakeable 'plop' of the mail coming through the mail slot.
"Dudley, go get the mail." Vernon didn't even look up from his paper.
"Make the freak go get it, Dad!" Dudley stuffed another rasher in his mouth.
"Boy, go get the mail." I saw that one coming a mile off. I stood up, and walked out to the entryway to get the mail. Bob appeared near one of the letters.
"Stick that one in your pocket, Harry. That's what we've been waiting for." He grinned at me as only a bodiless skull can, and I shuddered.
"Alright, bonehead. Give me a moment, and I'll get the rest of this...." My whispers were interrupted.
"Boy! What's taking you so long?" Vernon bellowed.
"There's a little more than usual, Uncle Vernon. Give me a moment." Luckily for me, I wasn't lying. Besides the letter -- which looked remarkably like that damn invitation to Bianca's ball except not quite as high-class -- there were several more letters. Bills, I supposed. Or invitations to society functions for the woman.
"Hurry it up, boy." I did so, and set the pile of mail neatly in front of the huge man, and ducked away quickly, in case he should decide it wasn't quick enough.
"Sir, may I be excused? I'd like to get an early start on that list." Vernon frowned at me, looking directly at me for a long moment. I had to avert my eyes to avoid a soulgaze. I wasn't sure Little Harry could do that, but I didn't want to risk it. I'd attempt it on someone I really needed to know more about.
"Hmmph. Finally learning his place, the little freak. Alright, off with you then." Vernon seemed somewhat pleased to let me just get on with my work. So, I did. I cleaned for a while, and then, when Dudley ran off with his gang, Vernon headed to work, and Petunia settled in to watch her favorite soap opera on the telly, I went into the bathroom, locked the door, and sat on the john. I pulled the letter out of my pocket, and opened it.
I read through it, and thought. "This is the school that Lilly and James went to, right? And lots of others like them? Normals can't go, can they?" Bob nodded his assent, agreeing with my thought processes. "So, I have two problems. First, owl delivery, and second..." I pulled out the list behind the first one. "How to get all these supplies. And who's paying for all this?"
"Probably his dead parents. They weren't lower class, Jefe. James Potter would have been titled in the Normal world. They don't use those in the wizarding world here, but if they did, he'd be a Lord, at the very least. Maybe a Viscount or an Earl. Their families are very well-connected. Everybody's related to everybody else. So, don't insult anybody until you know who their ugly uncle is. Or their ... godfather. Okay, Harry?" He delivered that last jab with a bit of an Italian accent, alluding to Gentleman Johnny Marcone who ended up having ties to a Greater God. And I'd set him up as a Freeholding Lord. I shook my head, and reached out with a mental hand to rap lightly on Bob's skull. "Hey! I'm just saying! You have a tendency to overdraw your physical and magical account with those verbal checks."
"I'm still -- Well, hell. I'm not, am I?" I rolled my eyes. I had been going to say 'I'm still alive, aren't I?' But that was actually in question. So, score one for the bone brain. I snorted. "Alright. You win. This time. So, what do I do?"
"There's an owl waiting outside near the garden. Write a reply ... a civil one, and ask for help to get your things. They'll understand." Bob clearly knew what to do. I was rather glad. I didn't really want to ask Vernon to give me a ride anywhere.
"Okay." I flushed the stool for appearances, and stowed the letter. In the middle of cleaning the kitchen, I snagged a pen, and scribbled off a reply. 'Why not? Will need help getting stuff. Wear 'normal' clothing. My relatives don't like magic or wizards.' I put the pen back, and hurried on with my chores. When I got outside, I found the owl waiting just like Bob said. I tied the letter to his -- or her, I don't know which -- leg, and sent the bird on its merry way.
Two days later, I got another letter the same way. 'Potter.' The handwriting was clear and concise, much like Butters' when he was writing a report. Not his personal notes, but one that had to be kicked up the chain. It spoke of precision and accuracy. I read the rest of it with a scowl. 'Be ready tomorrow morning at eight am. Someone shall be along to escort you to Diagon Alley to get your things. Be waiting outside for them.' It was signed, 'Professor Severus T. Snape, Potions Master, Head of Slytherin House'. Oh, joy. He sounded like a real barrel of monkeys.
"What can you tell me about Severus Snape, Bob?" I wanted to know who had written me the response.
"Oh, old Snape. He's the Potions Master at Hogwarts, and Heads Slytherin House. That's where the cunning and sneaky go. So, I'd fit, but you wouldn't. Not a bit." I rolled my eyes and gestured for him to continue. "He also was a Death Eater. That's a lackey of Mister Scared of Death himself. The Headmaster -- who by the way, I know personally, " and I watched with amusement as Bob shuddered, muttering something about lemon drops and 'off his rocker further than Old Mother Winter', "vouches for him, but that's as much as I know. I'm not sure of his blood status, since the name 'Snape' isn't common or well-known at all in the British Wizarding world."
"Fun. Alright. Thanks, Bob." I kind of hoped it would be this 'Snape' character who would come to get me, but the wording of the letter told me that it probably wouldn't be. Maybe Headmaster Dumble-whatsit didn't let his dear friend out to play very often. However, knowing what I did about the man, I would have to say it was better than even odds that I wouldn't see Professor Head of Slytherin Snape until I got to Hogwarts on September first. I finished my work, all the while thinking about how to tell whales and giraffe about their nephew's freakishness coming home to roost. All I knew was... It wasn't going to be pretty.