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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.

Chapter Text

I waited until Vernon had gone to work the next day, and Dudley had run off with his merry band of hellions. Then, I turned toward Petunia, and adopted a puppy-dog look. It'd worked decently for me at times in my own life, and his face was much rounder and more 'cute' than I ever was. Still had the same spiky hair, though. It must be an orphan wizard Harry thing. I snorted internally, keeping my face in the same expression, and spoke.

"Ma'am, may I speak to you for a moment?" I made my voice as soft and polite as I could. Which with the kid's voice ws pretty damn soft and polite.

"What, Freak?" She eyed me distastefully, and I had to bite my lip to keep from groaning. However, that might have been a good thing.

"Ma'am, I got a letter in the mail yesterday, and I have made some decisions about my own life that you will probably strongly dislike. However, I have learned it is what my parents wanted me to do, so I figured I would follow what they wanted, like a good son ought to." I saw her face pale as she glanced over to the calendar and thought for a moment.

"Are they coming here?" I blinked, completely nonplussed. What? This was what she was worried about? "Are more freaks coming here?" Oh. Disruption of normalcy. That I could understand. I'd learned many years ago that it was safest to give normals a reason for everything paranormal. A perfectly logical, perfectly bullshit reason. Some normals' minds just would not understand 'The Things that Go Bump in the Night.' They didn't want to believe that there was anything outside of their little box of beliefs. It was part of the reason that I had replied the way I had. Also, it seemed better to deal with the consequences of my actions than try to get permission.

"One, ma'am, but I will meet him or her outside the house at eight in the morning. I don't know how long I'll be gone, or whether I'll come back here before school starts. Classes begin on -- "

"September first, I'm sure." Petunia's voice dripped with bitterness. "And I suppose you replied by owl. Freakish little creatures." I was surprised again, until the logic circuits somewhere in my brain kicked in. Of course she knew. She'd been Lilly's sister, for Chrissake. "If you do come back, I won't be responsible for keeping your freak things. And you'll have to do your freakish work out of our sight. If you can keep it out of our sight, then it shouldn't be a problem. I will talk to Vernon. I was hoping they would forget about you."

Bob's voice popped up cheerily in my mind. "Forget about the Boy-Who-Lived? That'll be the day, Harry." He chortled in that raucous way he had, and I nodded to her demands.

"Yes, ma'am. You won't even know that this freak lives here." Sometimes it was best to kowtow to the power for a while and bide your time for a surgical strike.

"Good then. Now. Get to work." Petunia waved me off, and went into the living room to watch the telly.

"Well, that went better than I expected," I muttered to Bob once we were out of the horse-woman's hearing. "I fully expected to get bitch-slapped again."

"She's afraid of them, Harry. I don't know what they said to her, but she's scared they'll come and mess up her world, and find out how she's treated 'precious Lilly's baby boy' all these years. It isn't exactly kosher for little boys to live in cupboards after all."

I nodded, and headed to get back to my work. Tomorrow would be a busy day.

* * *

 

I finished the work that she set out for me, and crawled back into my cupboard, ready to sleep. However, when I laid down again, Alterna-Harry popped up, and I groaned. He was still dressed in all black leather, and still had that rakish grin. It was kind of weird seeing my real look on his face. I'd gotten used to wearing the kid's face in the last few days, and seeing my own ugly mug was a bit disconcerting.

"What's up, Darth Me?" I attempted to joke with my subconscious, but he wasn't having any of it.

"Shut up, midget. We've got a problem." I rolled my eyes at him. It was fairly obvious there was a problem. He was present. He only showed up in this form in really dire straits. And this time, there was no Lash.

"Ok, where's the fire?" I glanced around for something to give me a clue as to where he was headed. He'd picked the decor, for sure. It was all black satin and velvet. Very dark and sinister, or romantic if you were into Gothic pleasure dens, or something.

"I found the kid." I frowned. In this situation, 'the kid' could only mean 'little Harry.' "Yeah. I found the real midget. He's in here too. He wants to come out and talk. I don't want him to."

"Why not? We're the intruders here, aren't we?" Yes. I am completely crazy. I refer to myself in the plural. And it isn't the 'royal we', either. "Well, you, I, and Bonehead, over there." Bob showed up, and blinked owlishly at being called a bonehead.

"Hey! I'm not a bonehead! I'm a very important part of this process!" Bob grumbled, and both Alterna and I flipped him off.

"Shut up, Bob." He snickered at the bonehead comment, though. "I caught that one. Cute. Save it for the funny papers. I don't want him out, because we can handle this better. We have more experience, and more knowledge. We could sail through this without a care."

"True." I acknowledged this. "But, it is his damn head, and if we fuck up his life and head home, I don't think Michael's buddies will appreciate that too much. If we're going to be doing any sort of accounting before someone, we ought to at least attempt to do the right thing." It wasn't the complete reason I wanted to do this. It was the right thing to do. But as the Ego, the thinking part of this equation, I had to give it to old Id in a manner he'd understand. "Besides, as I said before. My brain. My rules. And I'll be dammed if a little kid gets caught in his own brain because we were stupid enough to piss off the Watchman Himself."

"Alright. I give. Hey, Short-stuff! Get your ass out here!" And for the first time, I saw Harry Potter. True, it was in his own head, and it was how he saw himself, but it was ... telling. He was a combination of contradicitons. He was powerful, that was for sure. Raw magic just seeped out of him. But he was very unsteady and unsure. And looked as confused as hell to see me. I didn't know what I looked like to him, but to me, he was the picture of some epic hero-child. A young Jason. A Peter Pevensie. If I had to compare him to the Carpenter kids, he'd be a male combination of Molly and Leech. Oh, excuse me. Alicia. He had Molly's power and the unsteady touch she had when I first started training her. But there was a quiet determination I'd only seen in Alicia's eyes. Especially recently. I sighed.

"Come here, Harry. This is going to be as confusing as hell. Ok. First thing. Do I look like you to me, or do I look more like him?" Another thumb-jerk to my dark twin.

"You look like him, now. But before, you kinda looked like me. That's odd." He frowned, and found a seat on the edge of one of the couches as though he wasn't sure he was allowed to sit on the furniture. "Is it all true? I've been sort of listening in here. Am I really a wizard?"

"Yeah. And the odd thing is, kid, I'm a wizard too. And I'm also Harry. So, we'll have to figure out nicknames. He's Alterna-Harry, or Evil Harry, or my subconscious, or ..."

"The get things done Harry, the willingness to try anything Harry, the one who wants to eat chocolate for breakfast and flip Petunia off just to hear her shriek." That got a shocked giggle from the small boy.

"Yes, yes, yes." I brushed him off. "Ok. I can be Senior and you can be Junior, if you like, or we can be Big Harry and Little Harry, or I can go by Cop ... it's one of my middle names..."

"Cop?" He was laughing again.

"Well, Copperfield. I have four names. Like I was someone from a prep school, or something. Like Smeltings." Harry wrinkled his nose at that.

"Ewww," he opined. I agreed. "How about Senior and Junior for now." I nodded.

"Alright. Now. I have an idea. I don't know if your magic is just like mine, but I imagine it's very different. However, this works with about everyone. If you look right into my eyes, you'll see something. It probably won't be pretty, but it will be true. It will show you my basic character. And I'll see the same for you. Everybody's soulgaze is different. My friend Carlos hears music. My other friend sees paintings. Me, I see all sorts of stuff. Sometimes, it's a quick memory. Sometimes, it's a series of possibilites. It's often what is most important. Like I say, though, it's seldom pretty."

"Alright." He pushed his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose, in a very nervous gesture, and lifted his head directly to mine. The soulgaze began.

The first thing I noticed was that the whole area was covered in an eerie green light. There was a high-pitched laughter, and a woman's scream.

"Stand aside, you silly girl. I don't have to kill you. I could let you go. I had to kill your blood-traitor husband, but I could let you go."

"Never. Not Harry. Not Harry." Then, she began chanting in a language I recognized. I recognized it because it was Elaine's language of choice. It made my heart ache to hear it. Ancient Egyptian. I hadn't a damn clue what Lilly was saying, even after studying years beside Elaine.

"Your foolish charms and plans won't save you. Avada Kedavra." The green light intensified, and Lilly Potter fell dead. Voldemort turned his wand toward the baby sitting on the floor. He repeated the curse. However, this time, a golden shield appeared around him, and the spell bounced back, hitting the caster.

Instead of dying, like I thought, the big bad guy appeared to separate from his body, the swirling mass of -- personhood becoming a dark cloud that floated toward the child again in an attempt to possess him. However, the golden shield remained strong. Then, when he realized the futility of his attempts, he floated away, screeching loudly.

I stepped away, and shook my head.

"Wow." Junior looked up at me with this wild appreciation in his eyes. "Wow." I never ask what people see on their side of a soulgaze. It's extremely personal, and they probably couldn't describe it, anyway. "Alright. So, magic is real, and I'm a wizard. Why are you here, then?"

"I don't know," I admitted. "Bob?"

"Our prevailing theory -- " Bob's explanation was cut off by a sharp yelp of youthful surprise. "What?"

"Oh. Yes. This is Bob. He's a spirit of air and information. He's like my personal computer, except more sarcastic and rude, and likes -- girly magazines more." Both the other Harrys snickered at my comments.

"You lot are so weird." Junior said, still snickering. "Ok, computer head, go on." He gestured imperiously.

"You gonna take that from him?" Dark-Harry asked me with a lifted eyebrow.

"Well," I stalled, "if we got technical, it's actually his head. So, if he wants to call us Frankie and Johnny, we'll play along." Evil-Twin was not pleased with this logic, especially when I'd just used a similar train of thought to win the other argument. Except putting myself in the driver's seat. "How about this. We'll consider power-sharing until we find out what the hell is going on. But I want to hear what Bob's theories are too. I've been too busy playing maid to Petunia Evans Dursley to even think about the whys. Besides, isn't that why we have Bob along in the first place?"

"It is so nice to be useful." The sarcasm in my familiar's voice was unmistakeable. "Okay. As I said." He wobbled along, and gestured toward a wall. "Do you gentlemen mind the use of visual aids?"

"I don't," Harry replied, quickly. Alterna-Harry just waved a hand as if to say, 'do what you will.' I shrugged, and gestured at the wall. Suddenly, a whiteboard was there, and there were pictures on it.

"Keep them clean, Bob." I knew if he could get away with it, he'd show the kid more than he really wanted to see. The kid flushed, and both Bob and Evil-Me scowled.

"Right. You're no fun. Our prevailing theory is that Harry..." Here he gestured to me, "died from a shotgun wound to the chest." A poorly drawn stick figure showed up, and died dramatically, and a red cloud separated from his body. "Because of several of the debts on his life, there was a pull between several different forces, and Uriel used that moment to tear open a rift. I don't know if he meant to do it, or if his yanking was just too much for the fabric of time and space. So, instead of heading to Heaven, Hell, the Nevernever, or somewhere else, he landed in Surrey, England in a totally different year. As far as I can tell, this is a different universe entirely. Some of the baddies are the same, gents, but many are different completely. Like the courts are fairly predictable, both faerie and vampire. But the magic here is -- different. I was surprised you could even soulgaze. Maybe it's because it's how your magic works, or because it's inside his mind. I don't think the witches and wizards here do that as easily as you're used to. So, you might not have to worry about it among others. Again, you're breaking the laws of nature, here. Both of you." He showed by bouncing between us that he meant Junior and I. Dark-boy was just along for the ride.

"Wow. That's so confusing." I snorted at Junior. That was an understatement.

"You're telling me. Okay, kid, here's the big question. Do you mind that I'm doing all this for you, or would you rather I let you take over and just make suggestions?" I was a bit nervous about this. For all my comments about not wanting to mess around in his head, I really hated being in the back seat.

"Oh, you're doing brilliantly. I'd have probably mucked the whole thing up by now. Gotten Vernon to yell at me about the letter, and even not been able to read the thing. You can guess what he would’ve done." He snickered. "Probably drive off to some stupid far away place and assume that they couldn't reach me. Nevermind that they probably can track me pretty easily." He was smarter than I thought. I sighed in relief. "Besides. I can feel your worry a mile away. You want to do this. I'll let you know if you really need to do something differently. Maybe I can talk to Bob, or something."

"Mmm, I think I could do that." Bob imitated a secretary, including the high-pitched female voice. Think Fran Drescher. "Incoming call on line three, boss. It's the little guy. Says, don't kiss the girl yet, because girls have cooties." All of us were in various stages of amusement after that.

"Alright, that's settled then. Well, I don't know about you, but I'm dammed tired. And we have to get up tomorrow to go get our stuff." I waved around, and they all nodded their farewells, Junior pushing his glasses up again. "Goodnight." It was echoed from three mouths -- or minds, and I fell into the waiting arms of Morpheus for another night, not exactly sure what tomorrow would bring. Whatever it was, I felt better about it, knowing that I wasn't completely fucking up a little boy's life. Yet.

* * *

 

Unfortunately, I was awake enough to hear the explosion from dear Uncle Vernon's lips as he heard about me getting the letter.

"What? We weren't going to let him go. Petunia, it's unnatural, it is. He's a freak." Vernon's voice was half scolding and half plaintive. What a creep! I opened my senses, and Listened, even as I got dressed in the cupboard.

"Boss," Bob whispered. "Junior wants to know how you're doing that." I snickered. He sounded like me when I first found out about my powers. I probably drove Justin up the wall with all the questions about how to do everything under the sun.

"Give him the basic idea, and be quiet. I'm trying to Listen." I shushed my friendly neighborhood information carrier, and returned to my regularly scheduled program -- already in progress.

"--know about us, Vernon. We can't keep him if they decide he needs to be there. You don't know what these people can do. I got the Freak to promise to keep it hidden or outside our neighborhood where nobody will notice. That's more than will happen if we keep him. They'll send some adult freak -- he can't do his hocus pocus outside that school," she spoke the word as though the place had caused her some personal wrong, and maybe it had, "but if they send an adult, you never know what they might do. They might even turn our little Diddykins into some foul creature." I snickered, and drew a sweater over my head. I could see that. A pig, most like. And Vernon would be a walrus. Petunia -- Petunia would be like a old nag of a horse, thin and sparse, but able to neigh very effectively. The Dursleys fell silent, and I sighed in relief. For about three seconds.

"Boy!" Vernon's loud mouth shattered my senses for a moment, like a flashbulb in the face. I stopped Listening, and shook my head.

"Yes, sir?" I tried to make myself sound as demure as I possibly could.

"Get out here and make breakfast. Make it quick! Your friends will be here in about a half-hour, and I don't want them knocking on the ruddy door. I want you to be waiting."

"Yes, sir." I nodded even as I opened the door, and went to make breakfast.

When I had finished, I waited outside on the front steps. I wondered how the representative from the British Wizarding World would arrive. In my world, we traveled like normals, or often more slowly. Unless we were well-acquainted with the Ways. Then, we could cut travel time considerably. However, the Ways were dangerous unless you had my mom's jewel. I idly wondered who got that and my pentacle. The rest of my stuff could be replaced easily.

Then, I heard it. I knew the sound very well. It was a motorcycle. Loud and distinct. However, it wasn't coming from either direction on the road, rather it was coming from across the street, or so it seemed. I listened more closely, and realized that it was coming from ... the air.

Bob appeared beside me. "Now, that's something you don't see every day." I snickered at his dry humor. "So much for no freakishness in the neighborhood." He laughed. "Junior says, 'Wicked'. It's positively spiffing to have a British teen on the other end of the line, boss. Or should I say, 'Guv'nur?'"

"Shut up, Bob," I said, laughing. "You're ruining the moment."

"Spoilsports. That's what he said." Bob whined, but fell silent nonetheless.

The motorcycle landed softly on the ground in front of me, and I looked up at its driver. And kept looking up. And up. Wow. The tallest man I had ever seen was astride an old Triumph motorcycle. The cycle itself was a classic, but it appeared to have been modified. I whistled. "Nice bike. But definitely not how you want to show up in a Normal neighborhood."

"Normal? I thought tha' the motorcycle was a muggle thing?" The tall man's voice was very accented. Scottish, I think. Which made sense seeing as the school itself was in Scotland.

"Oh, the motorcycle is normal enough. It's the flying bit that isn't quite what we're used to." I grinned, and stuck out my hand. "I'm Harry --" I had to force myself to say Junior's name.. "Harry Potter."

"Drat. Knew I forgot somethin'." The big man winked at me. "O'course yeh are. Known yeh since the day yeh were born, I did. I was th' one that carried yeh in th' little basket to yer aunt and uncle's." He nodded toward the house. "On Dumbledore's orders. Great man, Dumbledore." I felt Bob shiver, and wondered what it was about this old man that scared my ancient familiar so much. "Well, then, 'Arry, let's be off. Gotta lot to be doin' today, and got t' get yeh back before nightfall..." I winced visibly, but nodded.

"Where do you want me, then?" I asked, wondering how two of us were going to fit on this size bike.

"Oh, well, just budge up here, and I'll sit behind yeh. There's a charm on it t' make it seat as many as needs..." To a point, I was sure.

"Alright." I climbed aboard, and sure enough, there was just enough room for him and I. "If I can suggest, let's not fly until we get out of this neighborhood. I think it'd make thing easier on my aunt and uncle." I wasn't really inclined to make it easier for them, but the less freakishness they saw, the more ... bearable they'd be to me.

"Sounds like a Slytherin thing to do, Señior." Bob piped up, making a play on my new nickname by pronouncing it the Spanish way. "Oooooh!" If he'd have been a person, he'd have been waggling his fingers in front of my eyes. "Spooooky."

"Bob, clam it, yeah? Unless you want to tell me about our big buddy here." I muttered.

Said estimable big man turned to me. "Oh, hey, I forgot t' introduce m'self. I'm Rubeus Hagrid. Keeper o' Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts." He beamed at me like this was the realization of a dream, and I wondered if it really was.

"Nice to meet you, Rubeus Hagrid." I replied, not sure what I was supposed to call him. 'Keeper?' No, that didn't sound right. He corrected me, though.

"Oh, jus' Hagrid'd be fine, 'Arry. Now..." With that, we were off. He did wait until we were out of the neighborhood, but only just. While we flew, it was too noisy to talk, so I got the basics of Hagrid's life from Bob.

"He's actually much older than he looks, Boss. He's almost in his seventies. He's a half-giant. Similar to a Winter Changeling, without the chance to Choose." I mentally nodded my understanding and he continued. "He was thrown out of Hogwarts in his third year for something it's believed he didn't even do, but the administration then wanted to be seen doing something, so he had his wand snapped. Supposedly, he released a monster on the school that caused four petrifications and killed one student. He loves animals, the more magical and dangerous, the better."

"Well, after living with Mouse and Mister, I've got some experience with odd animals." I missed my pets. Mouse had been such a help to me, and Mister kept me grounded. I idly wondered who would take care of them for me. I could see Mouse going to Molly's or maybe Karrin's, and Mister could definitely survive on his own. I missed the damn furballs, though. Deciding that was plenty maudlin for now, I thought more about Hagrid's situation, and the fact that they snapped his wand. "And as a focus, and the symbol of his belonging... it basically kicked him out of the community. No wonder he looks like he's in perma-Christmas when he mentions his job. And this Dumbledore stood up for him, too?" This time it was Bob's turn to assent quietly. "Hmmm. Maybe there's something about the Snape man, too. Something we don't see. I'll have to watch him."

And we fell silent, letting the thoughts whirl around in our respective minds, and soon enough, we were landing in London.

We landed in front of an old pub that immediately put me in mind of Mac's. MacAnally's is a pub in Chicago that caters to the paranormal community. It is designed to interrupt the flows of a wizard's wayward magic, and clearly states on the outside that it's a Neutral Ground for the other members of the Accords. That means vampires -- all three kinds, and the two Faerie Courts. We wizards are a fairly predicable lot. We like our old ways. And here, was an example of Old World ways in action. I looked at the pub, and noticed something odd about it. For half a second, I opened my Sight up. As usual, it was really hard for me to close it again. However, as I looked, I saw the depth of the spells and wards on the place like a shimmering net. If I was seeing this right, it was invisible to everyone except those who had the specific kind of magic. If I had been in my own body, it would've been debatable as to whether or not I could see it at all. Except ... except, if you knew about the magic, there was a small tendril that would reach out and tap you. Sort of a backwards key. Huh. That must be how the Normal parents could come in. The kid'd see it, and beckon them in, and ... suddenly there it was. It must have been very unsettling. But, on the plus side, it certainly would demonstrate what magic could do, and that they wanted to keep this, their world, hidden from the world around it. Very impressive. Hagrid must have thought the sight of the place was enough to send me into raptures, because he gave me a couple moments to gaze.

"Beautiful, innit?" I nodded like a young boy might, and with his help, got off the motorcycle. I was very glad that Junior wore glasses then, because I could take them off and clean the bug guts from the lenses pretty carefully. "Well, c'mon. Jus' wait until you see Diagon Alley." He sounded like a kid headed to a candy store. For all I know, he was.

 

 

* * *

 

We walked through the pub, and I noticed the usual mess of people that frequent a place like that. There was the middle aged woman who probably showed up every couple days for the gossip, the man in the back with his face hidden, the couple sitting at the corner table ignoring the world in favor of each other's eyes... they were all there. The old man who was the bartender was a friendly sort, and it was clear he talked much more than Mac.

"Your usual, Hagrid?" He scurried over to the big man, eyes hopeful, clearly used to a sale here.

"Nope, sorry, Tom. Jus' passin' through. Got Hogwarts business today." He grinned widely, clearly in recognition of a friend. He gestured down to me.

"Is that..." Oh, dear. Here it came. I attempted to forestall it. I winked, and lifted a finger to my lips.

"Shhh. Incognito, you know." I put on my most innocent grin.

"Oh, right." He lowered his voice. "It is an honor to meet you, Mister Potter. I hope you have a grand day in the alley."

"Oh, I intend to. Maybe we can stop here on the way back. We'll see." I couldn't promise anything, but if it was up to me, we'd stop for supper. Here.

"Well, if you're able, I look forward to that." I nodded, and we continued on our way, unmolested.

We stepped out through the back and Hagrid pulled a pink umbrella from his pocket. I had noticed it, but I wondered why he'd need an umbrella ... especially a pink one. "Now, don't be mentionin' this t' nobody, 'Arry. I ain't technically supposed to be doin' magic." I understood, and nodded my head. Magic wasn't something you could deny. It was in your very bones. If you tried to deny it, it would pool up in your gut and just beg for release. Sometimes, rather forcibly. Shortly after the incident with Mavra, I'd wanted to give up on all magic together. I tried. For about a day or two. After that, the pull of the sweetness singing through my veins got so loud that I had to release some just to sleep properly. I had to pity this large man who evidently had some good magic, but no legal outlet for it. Maybe there was a second purpose to breaking the wand. Maybe it drove people insane. To have that magic singing through you and not be able to use it would be, for me, a very real hell. I watched as my companion tapped a series of bricks on the wall, and a portal opened.

"It's a rune, Harry." Bob answered my question. "You have to tap the bricks in the correct order, and the shape is a rune from an ancient language. Funnily enough, it means 'open.'" Oh, so predictable, we wizards.

"Thanks, Bob." I replied, and then got my first view of Diagon Alley, making sure Junior got to see it to. It wasn't every day that a kid who thinks he's a normal gets to see the wonder of a magical world. I was just worried my severe paranoia and pessimism would ruin the experience for him.

It truly was a magical sight. The sights and sounds of this small out-of-the way slice of magical Britain was very much like magical communities I'd seen all over. When we wizards get together, one of the few things we're guaranteed to do is to show off. Well, that's a human thing -- correction. That's a sentient thing. I thought of the vamps and faeries who were definitely not human, but they still liked to strut their stuff when they congregated. There were shops for all sorts of things. Being in the guise of the little boy I was, I asked a question that came up when I saw a sign. "Hagrid, what's quidditch?"

"Hmmm? Magical sport. Played on brooms." I had to bite back a laugh. So stereotypical, and yet so human. Witches on broomsticks was one of the oldest twists of the rituals we'd drawn from the Wiccan understandings. True, the broomsticks in that case were used to sweep in a circle to push out the evil magical energies, much as I did with salt or chalk, but the picture remained.

"Really? Tell me about it?" I imbued my voice with serious curiosity. I wanted to know, especially if this was their 'football.'

Hagrid went on about players and positions, and I tried to picture it in my mind.

"You've got it about right, Boss, only..." I got visual aids this time. I saw photos of a real game, and then ads for sets of the balls, and grinned.

"Brilliant." I interrupted Hagrid, and then apologized. "I'm sorry."

"Oh, it's no problem, there, 'Arry. I figured you'd be right stoked about th' game. Yer father was a Chaser fer his House Team, wasn't 'e?" Now it was Hagrid's turn to grin.

"Oh, wow." I felt Junior's intense need to know, and empathized. Every word everyone ever spoke about Margaret McCoy LeFay Dresden (or however you want to string those together) was like pure liquid gold. I had to know. "You knew my dad?" I was letting Junior guide us through this part.

"Oh, yeah. Brilliant man. Bit of a troublemaker, but then, I got no room to talk, do I?" Hagrid seemed more at ease with me. "Firs' stop, Gringott's Wizarding bank." And with that, the subject was closed again. But the joy it brought to Junior was worth the dangerous territory.

"Bank? Do I have money then?" We all wanted to know that. Of course, Bob wanted to know so that I could replace his supply of smut, but since he was internal now, and not external, I wasn't about to buy girly stories just so that he could make me read all about 'heaving bosoms' and 'shuddering manhoods'. Besides. Impressionable young boy along for the ride.

"Oh, yeh. Yer mum and dad were well off, they were. Not like say, th' Malfoys, or somma them upper class families, but they did pretty well, yeh?" That was interesting to know. I wondered if Junior had any roles to fill. It also confirmed what Bob had found out. The Potters Were Somebody here. Junior needed to know that. It'd change how he looked at himself, at his evil stepmoth--alright. Evil aunt and uncle, and everything else around him.

We headed toward the bank.

Chapter Text

Gringott's bank was a huge, palatial building at the end of the Alley. God. I thought to myself and the other occupants of my mind. What a stupid pun that is. Diagon Alley. I rolled my eyes, and walked up the steps, taking careful note (and heed) to the sign there. Hagrid mentioned offhandedly in his odd reflections of the wizarding world that he would like to have a dragon. I quirked an eyebrow at that news, but otherwise, I kept silent. Hell, I had a temple Foo dog. I was really one to point at strange pets.

The beings running the place confused me for a moment until Bob and Hagrid said at the same time, "Goblins." Hagrid went off on something else, I can't recall exactly what, but it involved some of the odd detritus in his pocket, and the key to my vaults. Bob was left to explain that he had to do some errand for the Headmaster and that it was in Vault 713. Seven ... Thirteen. Auspicious numbers if I ever heard any. However, I never have put much stock in the astrology portions of magic. Fate is a bitch, and she needs kicked in the teeth several times a day. By multiple people. I muttered something to that effect, and Bob snorted inside my head. Bitter much? Yeah. You could say that.

Hagrid finally pulled my little key from his cavernous pockets, along with some snacks, some ... creature dander, and ... something else, I really didn't want to contemplate what all was in there. It was like the Magic Pockets on a Cloak of Much Stuff from the Arcana game we'd played. Georgia had gotten one after a huge battle. Picked it right off a dead wizard. I had been jealous. Not for my barbarian, but for myself. I wanted it. I eyed the little key and wondered why Hagrid held it in his pocket. It was fairly evident that the Headmaster had given it to him this morning, or he'd have probably not found it even that quickly. Bob tried to explain it to me -- something about executors and power of attorney and things like that. I stopped listening when he said executor. Who was mine? Who got all my stuff? Most of it I had spirited away into the depths of the Nevernever in safe places, but there had been a few things... Did they all know I wanted every last bit of it to go to Maggie when it was time? That Molly would be a good tutor for my daughter if she got my magic (which I assumed she did). That I loved her and Thomas and Michael and Karrin and ...

I stopped following Hagrid and the small, wrinkled creature apparently named Griphook. They noticed, and waited for me. It took a moment, and I fought back the tears. I missed them. I was only really related to that prick of a brother of mine and my little girl, but I loved each of my friends as deeply, if not more deeply. I'd attempted to move Heaven and Earth for them as well as for Maggie. I'd spun the wheel one too many times, though, and lost all the dough. I attempted to pass my pause off as childish wonder. It seemed to work, at least for Hagrid. Griphook looked at me, and I looked down. I wasn't sure about Goblins and whether they could soulgaze, but I wasn't going to risk it.

"Is everything alright, Mister Potter?" I looked up, still avoiding his eyes. "You seem..." It was as though he knew. However, he didn't seem the type to share secrets, so I shrugged, putting my finger to my lips in a very human gesture, hoping he understood. The quick nod indicated he might actually have understood what I meant. I closed my eyes again, got myself under control, and we moved on.

The cart ride was a thrill. It reminded me a bit of the motorcycle ride earlier. I had a feeling that Junior was an adrenaline junkie, at least in some ways. He'd be the guy standing at the edge of the encampment, waiting for the bad guys to show up so he could start the rumble. Too much like me for my own peace of mind. Bob snorted mentally, and Junior stirred, not understanding my thoughts clearly, but getting some sort of signal about them. This was definitely a new experience.

"I always forget," I said to Hagrid, because Junior wanted to know, and it was making conversation. "Are stalactites the up ones or the down ones?" He turned to look at me, and I regretted having asked. "Nevermind." He nodded quickly, turning his greenish-cast face forward. The big man didn't like movement. Bob answered Junior's question, and all was well until we got to the vault.

Hagrid stopped at another vault, getting something from it for Dumbledore. "Great man, Dumbledore." Hagrid repeated under his breath as he walked off toward the vault. I had a feeling that if he didn't have such a love and debt to this man, he wouldn't have done this errand. Griphook led me to Junior's vault, explaining about the monetary system and the fact that this was only just a portion of the funds, only the school funds, and that the other funds weren't accessible until I -- well, Junior, anyway -- was seventeen. That was six years away. I wondered about why it was seventeen instead of sixteen like some things or eighteen, twenty-one or twenty-five for others. Bob patiently explained that a wizard or witch's magic came into full force in the seventeenth year, and that they thusly considered that the maturing process. Nevermind that according to a lot of studies, the mind had done so by thirteen, and the body didn't until the early twenties. It seemed awfully arbitrary. I fished out a decent amount of gold from the vault, consulting with Junior about how much, but also cautioning him on how much he should spend. This had to last, and no one knew what kind of hell he could go through during seven years of life. I sure was a prime example of that, wasn't I?

We all traipsed back to the carts, and I sat down beside Hagrid. I heard a soft clunk as something fell out of his pocket. "Hagrid, I think you lost something." I held up the small, paper-wrapped object, and felt the thrum of its power. It sang to me like Lash on a good day, except with all the creepy-evil vibes, and I nearly dropped it in my surprise. Bob gasped, and fell utterly silent, ceasing the inane conversations he'd been having with Junior. It seemed he was interested in the thing as well.

"Oh, right. Thanks, 'Arry. 'At'd been awful if I'd'a lost the very thing I'd come t' get...." His voice trailed off as though he'd revealed much more than he'd intended to. "Now, you won't be sayin' nuthin' about this, will ya?" I shook my head, not speaking a promise, because if something happened, I would speak about it, but only if I really needed to. I wanted to keep my options open. "There's a good lad." And after stuffing it more securely in another pocket, and buttoning the thing in, Hagrid reached over and ruffled my hair like I was Mouse after a long run. I inwardly rolled my eyes, and we left the bank without much more trouble.

* * *

 

After we left the bank, we headed to a clothing shop. The banner announced brightly, "Madam Malkin's Robes for all occasions!" It set my little wizard mind to thinking about how this world seemed to have a different emphasis on Names than mine did. In my experience, a wizard would never give his full name out to someone, because that was Power. With a capital P. Even that Headmaster had seemed to sign his form with his full and complete name. "Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore." He even had more names than I did. And that's saying something, honestly. I was christened "Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden." It's a mouthful, but I'm convinced it's led to my ability to get out of tight spaces like Houdini, my flashy evocation techniques like David Copperfield, and my inventiveness like the book written for the Blackstone company: The Wizard of Oz. I was mulling on this when Junior prompted me to respond to the friendly, plump witch who was attempting to get my attention.

"Hogwarts, dear?" I nodded, that being all the information I needed. I frowned, and considered how much things were, or at least finding out how much things were. We needed new clothes.

"Ma'am, do you have a catalogue, or a way of purchasing from you while I'm in school? I think I need a few new things, but I want to check with my guardians first." I smiled that little-boy-innocent smile that had caught my eye on Junior's face, and she gobbled it right up.

"Oh, you are such a polite thing. Hold on a moment. We do have a catalogue, and it is self-updating. We offer owl-order service, but we do charge a surcharge, so do ask your guardians about that, as well." I had no intention to do any such thing, but I nodded again.

"Thank you, Ma'am." I slipped the catalogue into a waiting bag, and stood up on the stool to be measured. This should be interesting, I thought. I snorted to myself as the tape measure started to measure my body on its own. Not only are we all pretty much show-offs, we're pretty lazy on the whole as well. If we can get our powers to do something for us, we do. Of course, that makes up for the lack of technology. Normals do the same thing with their tech. Again, it's a human thing. After awhile, it started measuring things that didn't have anything to do with clothing. The distance between my eyes, the curvature of my face... If I'd have been in my world, I'd have freaked out and burned the slimy little thing to ashes, because it was getting more information than it really needed. I've seen a necromancer take measurements like that, and create a golem from dirt or other things that would replace the body of the deceased and let the Necro get away with whatever the hell he wanted with the dead flesh. I shuddered slightly at the memory, and Madame Malkin finally noticed.

"Finite Incantatum." Even with my very limited grasp on the Latin language, I caught that one. Me Dresden -- well, Potter. Me smart. It sounded like an all-purpose "Stop that" to magic. I pondered that idea for a while while she pinned up the material draped around me. Or I would have done that had the door not swung open, and a mass of blond swept in imperiously. It was like Laura and Thomas and Daddy Raith all together, except the bleached version.

"Now, Draco, you may wait here and get your robes. Only your school robes, and get the basic ones on the list. We cannot have you being too different. It would spoil things too early." It was clear that Daddy dearest had something in mind. "Your mother and I shall fetch your books and potions ingredients."

"Yes, Father." Draco replied with a hint of impudent annoyance. With that, the Daddy and Lara-wannabes stepped out, and continued down the alley.

The voice apparently had alerted Bob. "Uh-oh, Boss. Malfoys." I rolled my eyes. Malfoys. I did have a little tiny touch of French rolling around in my brain. Bad -- something. Mal was bad. Even their names were indicative. "Bad Faith." Bob had been listening to my thoughts. "They're bad stuff, Harry. They're followers of yon Dark Lord, or were at least. He claims the Imperius..." He explained that spell to me, and I shuddered again, making Malkin grumble at me. "However, everyone who knows anything about the 'First War' knows that's a bunch of bullshit." I blinked. Bob didn't swear that often, so when he did, it merited listening to. "Think of Vittorio Malvora, Boss. All prick and no pulse."

"Bob!" I scolded him mentally. "Remember the kid!" He'd been around Molly, but not really the younger ones. And he was such a pervert anyway that this was probably just his normal way of speaking when he wasn't kowtowing to me, or avoiding my hammer.

"Right, Memsahib. Sorry." He sounded at least slightly apologetic. That was something I supposed.

"Madam," Draco's voice had a nasally, uppity tone to it. " I do not have the time to sit and waste while you..." Whatever he was going to say was cut off by the proprietress.

"Oh, Master Malfoy. It's good to see you again. Now, come step up on the dais, and let me measure you. I'm almost finished with my other client, and I'm sure you know that I don't need to be there when you are measured."

I rolled my eyes. This also was the same. I could feel her pain. Anything professional or retail, you ended up bending over backwards to let the customer abuse you, get their need meet, and then walk away. Cynical much, Harry? I snorted, and continued to watch the Raith-wannabe posture, and the poor woman kowtow to get a sale. As I say, I felt her pain.

"Get on with it, Madam. I have places to be this afternoon." Draco was whining again. "If I didn't know that you were the only one able to make the Hogwarts robes for first years, we wouldn't even have come. I mean, Father much prefers Twillfit and Tattings, and I say...."

"Madam Malkin," I spoke up, but politely. "Do you also sell trousers and tunics?" She turned around, and caught my eye, and I winked. I wanted her to know that I understood.

"We do, but only for special clients, sir. As you'll see in the catalogue I gave you." She gave me a bright, relieved smile, and I nodded.

"Thank you." I turned toward the boy on the stool, and before I could even do anything to avoid it, our eyes met.

I was in a dark room, with mirrors all around. I looked in the mirrors, but they didn't show anything in particular. So, it wasn't like Molly's head. However, there was light pouring from all the mirrors to a statue in the middle of the room. Each mirror had its own color of light. Some pink, some green, some blue... all the colors of the light spectrum, focused on this tall statue.

I knew at once who the statue was. Hell, I'd just seen the man walk out of the room. But this was freaky. There were flowers around the base of the statue, and voices that whispered in his mind. "My father. My father. My father. Yes, father. Certainly, father." It was near enough to a liturgical chant. The sun seemed to literally rise and set on this man -- who, even in the mind of his biggest follower, was made of solid stone. I looked around the room for Draco Malfoy, and found him. He was portrayed as a toddler, and a man almost perfectly like his father at the same time. It was freaky. I could see the kid, but the man was this ghost of a figure behind the tot. Somehow I knew, though, that he felt like both at times, and sometimes all at once. Oddly enough, I remembered a conversation I'd had with Murph about abused kids. Karrin's words rang in my ears. "They have a really hard time of it, Dresden. They're like babies in some things, and like full-fledged adults in others. And the worse the abuse, the worse the split." Gazing at the ages of the two forms, I could tell that life had been rough for the kid, but his father had managed to twist his son into this replica, this automaton.

I pulled out from the soulgaze, and tried not to let my eyes tear too much. Damn, these teenage hormones. I scowled quickly at myself, and then centered, drawing back into what I knew. I gazed over at Malfoy to see his reaction.

"What the hell!" All the composure and correctness was gone.

"Mister Malfoy, kindly watch your language." The poor shopkeeper was caught between two immovable objects.

"Yes, ma'am. Pardon me." He waited for her to finish, and then stepped down, moving close enough to me to stick his face right up next to mine. "What the hell was that," he hissed, his voice silent, but sibilant, and still as sharp as Amoracchius on a good day.

"A soulgaze." I offered, adding just a little bit of cheek to my voice, feeling a prod from Junior to do so. "It won't ever happen again between us. But, it lets me know exactly what kind of a person you are. The images you saw, or whatever you experienced, is who I really am. Well... sort of." I wasn't going to get into the fact that there were three of us in here. "I saw your soul just as openly." This made him blink, and he stepped back, hastily concluded his business, and headed out the door to find his parents.

"Here you are, Mister Potter. Don't hesitate to come back." The lady seemed to be rushing me out of the shop, too. I didn't blame her.

"Thank you, ma'am." I put the robes into the bag I'd gotten, and stepped out into the late summer air.

 

 

* * *

 

When I stepped outside, Hagrid was standing there, munching on an ice cream cone. He held a second one out for me. "Here yeh are, 'Arry. I got yeh an ice cream. Ready to go get yer books?"

I took the ice cream, and shook my head. "I think we'd probably better finish these first, Hagrid. I don't know if they'd let us into the store with them." I started to lick, and closed my eyes as I tasted the flavors swirling around on the cone. It was treacle tart, something that Junior really liked. That much was obvious. However, it seemed like there may have been another underlying flavor. I couldn't place it at first. It took nearly finishing the damn thing before I realized what it was. It was pine nuts. Seriously. Justin had taken Elaine and I to this fair... well, it wasn't exactly a normal kind of fair, but that's what they called it. It was a bunch of wizards and paras and people in the crowd, getting together and showing off. This one lady had been sitting there, holding fire in her hands, roasting pine nuts to sell. I think she'd been a fire mephit / human crossbreed, however that worked. Justin had given us a couple bucks to buy something for ourselves. Not enough to really enjoy anything, but just enough that we could stay out of his hair while he did his heinous deeds. Elaine got herself a small caramel apple. Me, I went for the pine nuts. Mostly so I could sit there and watch the lady roast them for hours. The taste reminded me of that day, and I smiled a contented smile. After we'd eaten the treats, we'd found an out of the way place and sat there and necked and waited for Justin to call us. It'd been a wonderful day. I still remember the taste of caramel on Elaine's tongue. Very similar to the treacle in the cone.

"Yer probably right, 'Arry. Well, let's go get yeh a birthday present then. I've got an idea fer a perfect gift." I opened my eyes, and followed Hagrid down the road, having to increase my speed three times to keep up with his leisurely pace. We stopped in front of a storefront that proclaimed loudly, "Eyelops Owl Emporium." An owl. He wanted to get me an owl. I started to object, but Harry and Bob both stopped me. I listened to their objections in turn.

"I've never gotten a birthday present before, Senior. I'd like to enjoy it." Harry sounded wistful. That made sense. I nodded.

"Owls are very useful in this incarnation of wizardom, Harry." This was Bob. "Mail carriers, some can be alarm systems, you know." I pondered this for a moment, and then I nodded again.

"Alright. Thanks. Honestly, Kid, this is your show. I have to remember that. I wonder if Draco saw me or you in that soulgaze." I felt a mental shrug come from the young one, and supposed it didn't matter. It would help him either way, I figured. We entered the store.

We were drawn to one owl the moment we stepped in. All of us. Even Hagrid. He walked right over to the perch, and gazed down at it, eyeing the tag. "A white Snowy Owl. Well, ain't she a beaut." I couldn't help but agree. If I was going to get an owl, a beautiful, regal white owl seemed just the thing.

I nodded. "Yeah, she really is." I grinned. "Does she have a name, Hagrid?"

He looked at the tag again. "Nope. Says to be named by owner." I frowned a bit, and waited for the discussion between my familiar and my host to finish.

"Hedwig." That was Harry. Alright, 'Hedwig' it was.

I repeated it to Hagrid. "That sounds like a lovely name, there." He went up to pay for the owl, and asked them to hold it until we finished shopping. I thought that was a very considerate thing to do.

"Thanks, Hagrid." I said, giving him the bright smile.

"Oh, well, t'weren't nothin'." His face told me otherwise.

We finished our shopping rather quickly after that, buying a few books in Flourish and Blotts, and potions ingredients in an apothecary. I would have wrinkled my nose, but it made me think of my little lab beneath my apartment, and I merely closed my eyes and sniffed for a moment. It was the smell of home. I grinned, and finished buying my stuff. Within moments, we were airborne again, headed back to Surrey and to a small cupboard to wait for September.

Chapter Text

The days passed more quickly after that. I read through the books I'd bought pretty easily. Bob had been right. This was a very different form of magic than I was used to. I was used to more intuitive, more wild, taming of magic that you found outside in the world. Kind of like free electrons flying through the air. This was electricity bridled and coiled, ready to strike like sticking fingers in a light socket. Same power, same ideas, just very different applications. I wondered if I would be able to do this stuff if I ever went home. Bob wasn't sure.

Junior and I got to know each other a lot more. He bent my ear quite a bit about his life. I learned about "Harry Hunting", about Aunt Marge and her dogs, about how Dudley would stomp every day right over his cupboard, and he'd just gotten used to it. He heard about quite a few of the things I'd done. Cleaned up, usually, though I'd gotten really tired one night and told him about Susan. Not sure what all I said, but Bob was chortling and Junior sounded mortified. I probably said way more than I ought to have said on that subject. Luckily, he didn't ask too many questions, and when I started talking about my Maggie, he listened attentively, soaking up the words of a father unable to know his child.

I also told him stories about living with my father. I didn't know my mother that well, but I did tell him what I had known, and what I'd learned recently. I told him a lot about Justin, Ebene--my grandfather, and the others I'd been trained by. By the time the first of September rolled around, he had a pretty good idea of the major types of people in the world, just from listening to the stories.

The first finally showed up. I was extremely nervous. Harry was so excited I could feel the little guy jumping up and down in the back of my head like my namesake after Charity had left the cookies out one day. Little Harry (not to be confused with Junior) had been so hyper that Michael had taken him outside and chased him around the yard five times or more before he'd fallen asleep on the floor. My mental landlord was almost that hyper. I thought about it, and realized that I would've been the same if I'd been away from magic much at all. I'd just sort of been picked up by Justin after my dad died. My world didn't have all the restrictions on underage magic they had here. It was expected, natural and celebrated in the community. However, the strictness came in with what you did with that magic. The Laws of Magic. Do not murder. Do not mess with others' minds. Do not open the gates. Do not .... et cetera. It worked fairly well, I thought. I was interested to see how effective the methods were in this realm.

I'd convinced Vernon to give me a ride to King's Cross, and told him I'd figure it out from there. I didn't mention the abnormal number, nor did I mention that I wasn't sure the actual mode of transportation. "Hogwarts Express" left a lot of room for imagination. They used brooms and had used magic carpets (Bob told me) until some bureaucrat had gotten it into his head that they were unsafe. I could see why, but hell's bells. Walking outside is unsafe. Living anywhere but a tiny cupboard is unsafe, and even in the cupboard, there are spiders.

All the way to the station, Vernon decided to wax eloquent on the evils of magic and how I was headed to hell. Hypocritical bastard. If any one was headed to hell, he and his wife were. Locking a kid up in a tiny room, only feeding him the barest minimum. It was child abuse. Not overt, and luckily not as life-changing as the shit that Justin had done to Elaine and me, but Murph wouldn't have thought twice about tossing him in the lockup with the enormus druggie who missed his 'girlfriend' named Bill.

I and my mental companions were extremely relieved when I stepped out of the car, got all my stuff on a trolley, and bid the huge man goodbye. Silence. Finally. Seriously. I hadn't been this annoyed at someone so unimportant since the last time I'd talked to Murphy's ex.

I walked into the station and gazed around. There were normals everywhere, and Hedwig was an odd sight. I decided to cover her cage with my jacket, thus cutting down the attention we were receiving. That helped a lot. It allowed me to walk casually to the area between Platforms Nine and Ten, and just look for a while. I had asked to be here at ten-thirty, because I wanted to scout the place out before I had to commit. So, I had the time to gaze around. I wanted to see if I could figure it out without using my Sight, but if I had to, I would.

I frowned slightly, and counted the pillars between the two gates. One... Two... Three... Four. Right. And numbers One and Four were right near the lines of people awaiting the trains. So, Nine and Three Quarters had to be somewhere between Pillar Two and Pillar Three. Okay. We'd gotten this far. Bob reminded me of the reverse-key wards on the Leaky Cauldron, and that these wizards and witches didn't think the same way I was used to thinking. I frowned again, and sighed. Nothing for it. I opened up my Sight.

And my attention was drawn instantly to Pillar Three itself. Damn, that was bright. I looked closely at the supernova of magic in front of my eyes for as long as I could, and then forced my Sight shut. It took me a moment or two to get my bearings and then I chuckled. It was pretty simple, but still genius. A portal to a separate pocket of space. Right in the middle of the Normal world. I walked up to the portal, wondering if there was a code, or if it was just 'walk through.' A simple touch test proved that it was just that easy. I pushed my cart through first, and walked through.

I stepped back in time at least a hundred years. If I understood what I'd read about this bunch of people, it was even more than that. A huge red steam engine sat on the tracks lazily puffed steam into the air. The cars behind the engine were all standard passenger cars, if you were riding a train in one of those historical mock-ups or areas where railroad history was on display. Huge panes of glass made up the windows in each compartment, and they looked pretty inviting. There were wizards and witches bustling everywhere, though not as many now, I assumed, as there would be roughly ten minutes from now. In fact, I jumped in the air as I heard a distinct 'pop' and a man and boy appeared, the man holding tightly to his son.

"Apparition." Bob explained the 'popping' noise for me. "It's like teleportation, except with magic, and only in unwarded areas. I bet they've relaxed the wards in here today so everyone can get here quickly." I nodded, or at least sent him the mental equivalent, and pushed my cart over toward the train. The man who had Apparitioned -- okay, Bob corrected me -- Apparated in was lifting his son's luggage into a compartment, and gestured to mine.

"Need some help there, son?" The man was tall and wiry and had a friendly look about him.

"Please." I nodded, and pulled Hedwig's cage off the trolley, holding it close. Junior and I both felt it was best to keep her close to us if we could.

"There you go. My name's David Entwhistle, and that's my son Kevin." He gestured to the boy he'd just helped aboard. "And there's no mistaking who you are, is there?" He chuckled and gestured to my forehead.

"Unfortunately, nossir. It's pretty obvious." My tone was dry, but I figure there was no reason to be rude. He'd been helpful, and I could sense no duplicity about him. He was just pleased to be meeting a celebrity.

He snorted. "I suppose you're right about that." He grinned. "Go ahead and get on board. Find yourself a seat early. It'll fill up fast." I nodded again, and moved to do exactly that.

 

 

* * *

 

I found an empty car fairly easily; it was early enough that not many kids were aboard yet. I set about arranging my things around me. Hedwig's cage ended up sitting next to me on the seat, jacket removed. I draped the jacket over my lap, keeping it ready in case I needed to wear it, ball it up for a pillow, or cover her again. I settled down into my seat, and began to talk to Bob about what he thought I could expect at Hogwarts. He tried to explain as much as he could, but he couldn't explain some of it. Apparently, there were four houses, as he had told me. You were sorted into your house in first year, and it never changed. It seemed to influence the kind of man you became, or woman, I suppose, for all the witches out there. He gave me a fairly in-depth report on what he had seen in literature and even in life. He said he could probably predict with fairly good accuracy what house someone was in. Not perfectly, but more than half the time, he was right. I chuckled. I tried to get the knowledge of how we would be sorted from him, but it seemed it was a well-protected secret. If Bob had a clue, he was protected by a geas or something. He just said he didn't think it would be that painful. I pursed my lips and nodded. I don't like surprises. Wizards have a tendency to do best when they can prepare for a situation. Going in blind is usually where we end up in serious trouble. Anything can be dealt with if I can prepare for it. I'd proven that several times.

The four houses were very different, Bob said. Slytherin -- he'd kind of explained them to me. Raiths and Ortegas. Not necessarily all evil, but cats'-paws. Wheels within wheels. Always moving and doing things behind the scenes. Faeries. They were consummate Slytherins. Ravenclaws were like a lot of the White Council. Study a problem back, forward, sideways and upside down until you knew exactly what you wanted to do, and then -- and only then -- you do it. There was a place for study and research, but too much could cripple you. And it made those of us who preferred action want to kick you in the fucking face when you weren't willing to move on something. Me, I was a classic Gryffindor. Brave and brash. Bold and active. Moving first, considering consequences later. Billy and the Alphas reminded me strongly of the fourth house. Everything was for the pack. If you're a Hufflepuff, you fight for those in your family, your world. Your loyalty to those around you is paramount. And hard work is your modus operandi. Billy took forever to learn to change into their wolf forms, it seemed, but he did it. He kept at the work until it was done. Damn, I missed all of them.

My musings and Bob's explanations were cut short when the door slid open, and a small -- well, he was taller than I was now -- redheaded boy stepped into the compartment and gestured over to the other seat. "Mind if I sit with you? All the rest are full." I shrugged. I didn't really care one way or another. I did help him get his things into the car, and arranged the way he wanted them. When we were both sitting again, he spoke again. "M'name's Ron Weasley. I'm just starting this year." He shifted a little in his seat, allowing him to reach his packed lunch. "Corned beef. I told her. I hate corned beef." Spoken like a child who has never had to fend for himself. Who's always had 'mum' around. "So, what's your name, then?"

"Harry." Both Junior and I were a little wary, considering his fame here, and we were right. He looked up at us, and frowned for a minute as though trying to puzzle something out.

"No! Not Harry Potter?" I nodded. "Can I see the -- " He didn't go so far as to touch my head, but it was a near thing. I flipped up my bangs ... okay, my fringe and watched the redheaded boy's eyes widen. "Blimey!" I snickered. I couldn't help it.

"Yeah. It's a bit much sometimes. I hate having people stare at me, but they do. At least now I know why they're doing it. It's like having someone peep on you when you go to the loo. It's ... frustrating."

"I understand that, mate." The boy -- Ron, I reminded myself -- nodded. "I've got five brothers and a sister. Finding private time in the loo is near impossible."

"Five brothers and a sister? Really?" I couldn't help myself. Both Junior and I were hungry for that sort of connection. Me, I immediately thought of the hustle and bustle and happy-crazy noise at the Carpenter house. Junior didn't even have that to look back on. "What's that like? I'm an only child. So, I don't know what it's like to have a brother." I heard Darth Me's evil laugh in the background, mocking me for using my bad experiences to make someone feel better. I mentally told him to 'shut the fuck up' and then belatedly realized that Junior was listening too. Oops. Hopefully, I didn't scar the little guy. I didn't count Thomas, though I wish I could. I meant growing up with them. And I wanted to know about what it was like to live in that happy-crazy, noisy, love-filled...

"You're taking the mickey." After getting a translation from Bob, I shook my head.

"No, I'm serious. I had some friends who had a big family and I always wanted one." This was sort of true for Junior. He practially knew the Carpenter family through my stories, and if I knew Michael and Charity, they'd take the poor kid under their wing and give him all the love and food his situation would allow. I'd seen it before.

"Blimey." I wondered if that was his favorite pseudo-swear, and snickered again. Without much more prompting, he started in on telling me about his brothers, and some of the craziness they'd gotten up to. I listened, but was careful not to meet his eyes. Not sure what a soulgaze would do at this point. Halfway through a story about the twins blowing up something, which had me (and Junior) laughing so hard I was contemplating going to take a piss, Malfoy wandered in.

"What's so funny? Telling a story about the Galleons you do have? Or about how your things fell apart?" He gazed over at Ron. "Red hair, obnoxious laugh, hand-me down robes," He sneered. "You're easily picked out. You're what? The tenth child?" I wanted to strangle him, but held still, quieting my laughter.

"And blond hair, single child, and thinks he craps gold." I spoke up before Ron could. "Hmmm. That must mean he's ... a nobody." Ron stared at me and then broke out in nervous laughter.

Instead of spouting like I thought he would, he took one look at me, and probably my very grumpy expression, and left.

"Blimey, mate, what'd you do?" Ron asked, settling back into his seat. Hedwig hooted as I turned to look at her a moment.

I snickered. "I ran into him in Diagon, and we had a bit of a ... discussion." I shrugged, trying to play it off. "Plus, Hagrid was with me." I purposefully mentioned the half-giant, hoping that he'd think that's why the bastard ran.

"Who's Hagrid, then?" He only looked confused.

"Keeper of -- "

"Keys and Grounds -- "

"At Hogwarts --"

"School of Witchcraft -- "

"And Wizardry!"

Two nearly identical voices chimed in. I say 'nearly identical', because one of them was just a note or two lower than the other. I only recognized this as I Listened to the last two exchanges. I looked up toward the voices, and, avoiding their identical gaze, grinned widely at them. "You're FredandGeorge, I'll bet." I spoke their names as one unit, much the way Ron had in his stories.

"Ooh, the ickle firstie -- "

"Knows our names, Gred." Ah. So that one was most probably George. The lower voiced one. Now that I'd Heard them, I could tell them apart without Listening. My magic had labeled them individuals. It was a handy trick I picked up a while back Helped with investigations.

"Oh, no, Forge. Should we run away now?"

"Oi, you too, shut it, and let Harry get a word in edgewise!" Ron's yell stopped his brother short, and Fred leaned over and looked straight at me. I narrowly avoided a soulgaze, and looked up at his forehead, just as he looked up at mine.

"Oh, blimey. George. George. It's Harry Potter." And that clinched it for me. That was Fred. My magic seemed to relax in a very minute way. If I'd have been adult, I probably wouldn't have noticed it. Nor would I have noticed it if I were Junior and untrained. Maybe this situation had a couple perks after all. I rolled my eyes, and snorted.

"Yeah. That's me." Just as I was about to say something witty, a bushy-haired girl peered around the corner. She looked at the twins, and then over at me and Ron.

"You boys aren't bothering the younger ones, are you?" I wasn't sure if she saw the familial resemblance between the redheads, or if she spoke in that strident tone because she noticed.

"Us, bug -- " Fred began.

"Ickle Ronnikins -- " George continued.

"And the famous -- " Fred again.

"Harry Potter?" George finished up, and I rolled my eyes.

"You're Harry Potter? I've read about you in The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Famous Wizards and Witches of the Twentieth Century. Did you know your birthday is a national holiday? Most people think it's just an excuse for the Goblins and Ministry workers to get an extra day off. Not that I think so, mind, but that's the prevailing theory." She didn't seem to breathe during that whole paragraph.

"Breathe. I haven't read those books, but someone told me what they said. A lot of it is true, but there are parts of it that are complete and utter -- " The four faces turned toward me, and I heard Bob clear his throat. "Crap." They looked a little disappointed, at least the twins did. Ron looked in awe. Hells bells, that didn't bode well for me. The girl just looked disapproving. She was like Charity and Georgia rolled into one. Georgia's love for learning, and Charity's strict rules. There was one everywhere. I gazed over at the conscience of our group, and asked her name. "What's your name, then?"

"Hermione Granger." She stated, frowning, as though trying to remember why she came in to the car in the first place. Apparently amused by the situation, Fred and George pushed their way in, finding a place to sit. They were careful not to jostle Hedwig, luckily. Ron gave them the evil eye. "Oh, that's right. Have any of you seen a toad? There's a boy called Neville in the last car over there who lost it. It's his familiar, you see, and ...."

"For you there's rosemary and rue; these keep / Seeming and savour all the winter long." I quoted, startling her into silence. The Winter's Tale. Shakespeare. She looked more closely at me and seemed to be trying to figure something out. That expression looked more like Karrin, and I had to close my eyes against the tears that threatened. This immature body had a lot of things going for it, but one thing that drove me nuts was having all these strong feelings so close to the surface, like the lava in the Deeps. "I know I haven't seen a toad, but I've been in here most all of the time. What about you two?" I gazed toward the twins, nodding at each in turn. "Fred, George?"

"Blimey, mate." I knew I was going to get tired of that particular phrase pretty quickly. Hopefully he'd find something else to say.

"Like Hells Bells?" Bob's voice sounded like it was far away. I snickered to myself and rolled my eyes. Nothing like being called on your hypocrisy.

"We have not seen this excellent, escaping toad, but -- " That was George. For sure. I could tell them apart easily now

"We do know how to get him to where he is. Accio's a lovely little spell, isn't it, Forge?" Fred, of course.

Both Hermione and I turned to the twins, hungry for the information, and weren't disappointed.

"It's a summoning spell, you see." Fred started this time.

"You just have to focus your mind on the thing you want -- say a Trevor-Toad --" George.

"And -- " This twin shut his eyes, and spoke the spell, and we heard a zooming sound. Trevor-Toad flew through the air. "Now."

"Where is this Neville boy? He wants his ickle Toadie back, he'll have to come here and get it." George gave a sage nod that was anything but, and Hermione frowned at him disapprovingly. I knew what was coming next, and felt duty-bound to intercept.

"He's a first year, too, this Neville?" This earned a nod from my Shakespearean heroine. "Then I'd like to meet him. And I assume Ron wants to meet him to, right?" I quirked a brow at the youngest redhead. He nodded, understanding what I was trying to do. Or just overwhelmed by my popularity, one or the other. I surely hoped it was the former. "So, since all of us have some sort of business with him, wouldn't it be easier if he came here, instead of us all traipsing down the corridors to see him?" I gave her a small smile with Junior's face, and she nodded.

"Oh, that's probably true. I'll go down and grab him. He'll be ever so glad to get Trevor back." I sighed in relief as she scurried off.

"Blimey, that one's mental." Ron blurted out, almost before she was out of range. If I had been in my own frame, I'd have put up an air shield. However, that wasn't an option here, so I just glared at him.

"Have you ever been in the Nor--Muggle world, Ron?" I started.

He shook his head. "Mum's got a cousin who's an account-or-ant or something, but ... "

"Accountant." I corrected absently, and then nodded. "And you're a bit nervous today, right?" I think the twins saw where I was going with this, because the expressions on their faces were interesting. Like they were trying to dissect me with their eyes.

Ron nodded. "Yeah. I mean, they said," he paused, jerking a thumb toward the matching pair, and continued. "They said we'd have to fight a troll to figure out which house we're in." I considered that thought, then threw it out. Maybe after we'd had a couple years, and a spell or two, they'd do something like that. But not right off. We'd have no ammunition. No skill to be able to defend ourselves from it. I guess it could be kind of like the Kobyiashi Maru -- where it depended how you responded to the insurmountable problem -- but it didn't seem to fit them. I nodded, then returned to making my point.

"And you've lived with magic all your life." I waited, letting Blimey here connect the dots.

"Oh. Yeah." Light dawns upon marble head! I heard Bob snickering in the background, something about Justin and Ebenezer and hard heads. I tuned it out, and hoped it wasn't X-rated for Junior's sake.

"Yeah." No recrimination, just agreement.

"Blimey, she must be nervous." Ya think? I rolled my eyes, and leaned back into my seat to wait for Hermione to return with Neville, whoever he was.

* * *

 

While we waited for Hermione to return, I just sat back and listened to the other three bicker. It was so much like the Carpenter household I had to hold myself back from crying again. Dammit. I cursed inwardly. My evil plot had been to just sit back, look cool, and make a decent impression on this bunch. Make it easy for Junior. Instead, I'm mourning old ghosts, and if those clone-kids were as intuitive as I expected they were, I'd be discovered in no time flat. In fact, 'if' was probably turning to 'when' as they spoke. I rolled my eyes at my own dramatics, and sighed.

This caught their attention, of course. "Everything alright there -- "

"Ickle Harry?" I snickered at their way of speaking, but nodded.

"Yeah. I'm alright. Just ... tired." I thought about saying 'missing some friends,' or 'dealing with old ghosts', but that was me.. Junior was actually doing fairly well, as the only dealing he was doing was with my morbidity and with the hopping of excitement fo finding out about his family and heritage. I grinned at that thought.

"There's the ickle Harry we all -- "

"Know and love. Come on." Fred gestured for me to scoot over, and I did. He sat down beside me, leaving George to bicker good-naturedly with Ron about daffodils and pet rats.

"That's never a real spell, George. You're having me on." Ron complained, his voice cracking a little. I grinned, and shifted in my seat a little, getting more comfortable. If Hermione and Neville were coming into the car, then we'd have a fairly full house.

It wasn't long until Hermione returned, a chubby boy in tow. He had a round face, expressive eyes, and gangly limbs. "Hermione said you found Trevor?" His voice shook with nerves.

"Yup." Fred popped his p, holding out the toad. "Have a seat, there, ickle Neville." He gestured to the space on the other side of Hedwig. "How's your gran, then?" Bob piped up in my head that the wizarding world in Britain was as communal as a small town. Everybody knew everybody.

"She's alright." He drawled the word out in such a way that I thought of old Rawlins. That poor guy.

"That's good." George piped in, watching the halls. "Should be getting the trolley here soon."

"Oh, good. I've been saving my galleons." Neville grinned, reaching into his robes for a bag. It clinked as he grabbed it. "Who're you?" He looked over at me, leaning forward. "Don't recognize you. Are you muggle-born?"

"Do you have a problem with muggle-borns, Neville?" Hermione asked, her hands on her hips, her hair getting a little more frizzy as she asked the question.

"No, 'course not. Just Gran made sure I'd know all the pureblood kids that were on the list, and I don't recognize him. That's all." He ran a finger over Trevor's back, calming the nervous toad.

"I'm, um, Harry." I decided it would be enough to give my first name.

"Oh! Yeah, Gran did say that Harry Potter was comin' this year. I'm Neville. Neville Longbottom. Your Da and mine were friends, I think. When's your birthday? Gran said to ask. She couldn't remember if it was the same as mine, or just really close."

I almost answered 'October thirty-first,' but caught myself in time. "July thirty-first."

"Wicked!! My birthday's the thirtieth. We should get together and have a joint party or something." While Bob and evil-me joked inside about joints and parties, I tried to hold back the eye roll that threatened.

"I dunno, mate. My aunt and uncle are muggles, and they're not really sure about magic. They don't let me do much of anything." I shrugged, putting a little bit of the annoyance I had with the Dursleys in my voice. "But, if I get the chance, then, sure." I grinned, pushing the infernal glasses back up on my nose. I held out my hand. "Nice to meet you."

"Oh! Right." He switched Trevor to his left hand, nearly dropping him in the process, and held out his hand to shake. I shook it, making sure to keep my eyes away from his. I didn't want to break any rapport I might have with him by freaking him out with a soulgaze. "Nice to meet you too, finally. Gran says we were playmates when we were babies, but I don't remember, so ..."

"Don't worry about it." I grinned, and moved to scoot over a little more, settling Hedwig's cage on my lap. "Have a seat." I gestured to the empty place beside me. "There's enough room for all of us, just. And I think someone said something about a snack trolley?" I quirked my eyebrow in a way I wouldn't have done much in my old, worn-out body. Junior's face seemed to be made for it.

George picked up the thread of conversation, and spent a few minutes explaining about the snack trolley, then, wonder of wonders, just as I was getting ready to send a small gust of wind his way to shut him up, the lady appeared.

She was a kind-looking older woman, her gray hair piled up on top of her head in a serviceable bun. She wore a long, black robe, similar to the ones I'd had to buy for school uniform. I grinned up at her, and pulled out my little bag of galleons. "Can I try a little bit of everything, ma'am?" I asked, waiting for the total.

"Give us a few choc frogs, some Bertie Botts, and ...." Fred began, and then George finished for him.

"And a couple-a licorice wands for the ickle firsties." George grinned.

"Oh, no, nothing for me, unless you have something sugar free. My parents are dentists, you see, and I'm not particularly allowed to have anything that might rot my teeth." Hermione piped up.

"Oh, we've got these lovely pumpkin cakes that aren't necessarily sweet-free, but they're more like little scones than candy, miss." The lady held one out, and I looked at it. Indeed, it was a little cake in the shape of a pumpkin.

"That'd be lovely, thank you." Hermione beamed. Neville made his own order, and with all of us satisfied with our purchases, we settled in to eat them.

"So, someone want to explain to the muggle-raised among us what these things are?" I grinned, looking down at the pile in my lap, absolutely uncertain about any of it. Harry wanted to try it all and see what they did, but I wasn't too sure.

"Blimey, Harry." Ron gaped at me. "You've never had a cauldron cake? Or a chocolate frog?" It seemed like that was inconceivable to him.

"No, Ron. I'm used to Mars Bars, and Snickers and Laffy Tafy..." Hermione rolled her eyes at my listing of candy. "Jelly babies..." That one came from Junior.

"Jelly BABIES?" This rather startled them. I had to stop and explain.

"Not real babies. They call them that because they're so tiny. Like so." I showed them the shape of a Jelly Baby in my hand.

"Oh. Muggles are weird."

His attitude started to annoy me. We were the 'weird' ones; in fact, that was one of the old definitions of the word 'weird'. Strange or magical. Off somehow. I didn't voice that thought, but shared an annoyed glance with Hermione.

Fred chided his brother, and we settled in to eat and chat. I found I really enjoyed this bunch of kids. Junior did too, though he was still more introverted than I was. Bob commented offhandedly about that not being hard, and I snorted. They gave me a strange look. "Was just thinking about Dudley and this pile of sweets." Then, I had to explain about Junior's fat cousin and his penchant for sweets.

"Nasty." Neville had opened up a bit, and was relaxing.

"Too right, man. It's completely disgusting." I let Junior frame the reply, since he knew more than I. I looked out the window. "How long until we're there, George?" I turned to face the right twin, realizing only belatedly that I'd given my trick away.

"How'd you -- ? Nevermind. It's about that time. So, you'd better go ahead and put on your robes." They stood up, pocketing all their trash from their food. "We'll be in the compartment where Lee is. Lee Jordan is our friend. He fell asleep early on, s'why we came down here to bother you lot." George grinned, ruffling my hair, and Fred did the same with Ron.

"Gerroff, Fred!" Ron shoved his brother just enough to push Hermione into the wall beyond him, and Hermione complained.

"Stoppit, Ronald! That's quite enough. I should probably go get my own robes, too. I wouldn't want to be late, or out of uniform on the first day." That wouldn't do.

I tapped her arm lightly and smiled. "It's okay, Hermione. I think we're all just as nervous. Well, all us First Years, anyway. Even Ron's a bit nervous. Especially since his brothers have been feeding him some line about fighting a troll." I rolled my eyes to show what I thought of that idea. "I don't think it's possible to be late, well, maybe it is, but it would take some serious doing. You'll be fine."

She smiled brightly at my words, and then strode out of the car to go get her robes on, much more at ease.

"Blimey, mate, why'd ya say that?" Ron stared at me, then turned to fish his robes out of his trunk.

I pulled mine from the top of the trunk where I'd rolled them. I unrolled them, pushed a little bit of wind into them to straighten out any wrinkles, and then put them on. "Because, Ron, she'll make more mistakes if she's nervous. And then, that makes her even more nervous, which leads to more mistakes. And so on." I'd come to that realization early on in training Molly. If she was nervous about something, it took forever to learn. But if we stopped, took some time and did it slowly, or if I made her laugh and forget the nerves, she excelled.

"Oh, right. That makes sense." Dressed for school, I sat back down, getting the little body used to the look and feel of robes as opposed to jeans and t-shirt. I'd worn robes for a good portion of my life after the Doom fell, because I was always hanging around places with my grandfather. Doing things with the Council, etc. They wanted to know that old Wizard McCoy had his apprentice on the straight and narrow.

It wasn't long after that that the train began to slow down, and pulled into 'Hogsmeade Station.' I saw the sign, and pointed it out to Ron.

"Blimey, mate, we're here!" Grasp of the obvious, much? I snorted.

"Yeah. We're here." I grabbed Hedwig's cage, and looked up to where my luggage was situated up on the top rack. "We're not meant to carry that down, are we?"

It was pretty clear that Ron didn't have an answer, but the twins did. They, and their friend Lee, I gathered, poked their heads back in. "No, Harry, just leave it there. They'll get it up to the castle for you."

I grinned. "Fantastic." That was a word I'd heard Junior use a time or two, and so I employed it here. "Come on, Ron." I stepped out into the hallway, and looked around for Neville and Hermione. We found them quickly, and the six of us stepped off the train.

"Firs' Years over here!!" I heard a very familiar voice call.

"Hagrid!" I called back, waving to the large man.

"Oh, hey, there, Harry! Y' alright?"

I grinned my response and he gestured me over.

"No more 'n' four to a boat. There ya are. Four of ya right there. Hop on in, then, and go!" We all got seated into a little wooden boat. I wondered where the twins had gone, but they seemed to take a completely different route to the castle. I wasn't going to worry. This was another thing wizards loved. Pomp and ceremony. Tradition. Hazing. I mean, initiation ceremonies. I won't tell you about the initiation into the White Council as a wizard proper, nor about the more ... interesting one into the Wardens, but they were definitely life-changing. No upside-down pentagrams or goats' blood, but there was some teasing and grandstanding involved. I keep the secrets more to prevent embarrassment than out of some sort of oath.

Anyway. This particular initiation required me to sit my ass in a little wooden boat, and have the Keeper of the Grounds tap his fist on the side, sending it on an automated course through the waterway. "Hold on to Trevor, Neville." I grinned, seeing the little toad squirm.

"Oh, right." He cupped his hands together, keeping the critter in his hands, when he might have jumped off.

"Blimey. Look at that!" I couldn't fault Ron this time. It was a truly spectacular sight. The entire castle seemed to be bedecked with a million candles, each flaming its little welcome. Night had just started to fall, so the sky was a beautiful deep blue, and the candles stood out like sparkling faeries in the sky. Damn. I even missed Toot-toot.

"Oh, it's gorgeous." Hermione said. "The pictures definitely do not do it justice."

"Never do," I murmured.

We arrived on the other side of the lake, and clambered out of the boat. I was last, and it was only Junior's good dexterity that kept me from falling in the water when Neville caught his foot on the edge of the canoe. "Watch out, mate." I held out a hand to steady him, keeping Hedwig's cage steady with my other hand.

"Thanks, Harry." Neville grinned back at me.

"You're welcome. Now, c'mon. I think Hagrid's over here." Sure enough, there he was. We walked the rest of the way toward the castle.

Chapter Text

"Per-fesser McGonagall, I present to ya, the First Years." A small shiver ran through my body at the pronouncement. It was a magical handoff. We were being officially welcomed, magically welcomed, to the castle. I could feel the magic of the place change just slightly as a tendril of welcoming, warm power touched me, greeted me, knew me. I must've been the only one to notice, because the others were bickering amongst themselves.

"Thank you very much, Hagrid." And there was the second half of the ritual. She accepted. If I remembered the signature on the letter correctly, she was Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress. So, she stood in place of Dumbledore himself. Powerful. I suppose one of the other teachers or staff could have done this part, but it made it fairly secure for it to be the deputy headmistress herself. It probably would have been slightly more powerful if it had been Himself, but he had another role, I assumed. Watching over all those other students, making sure they didn't misbehave. Even sitting in his place, looking across them benignly, had its uses. The Merlin did it all the time. It was like the king on his throne. When the king was seated, you behaved. When he wasn't, you could misbehave, at least a little.

Speaking of powerful. Minerva McGonagall cleared her throat once, and the children all fell silent. "Thank you. Welcome to Hogwarts. I am Professor McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress, Head of Gryffindor House, and Mistress of Transfiguration. Let me explain a little about the House System, and how we do things around here." She spent the next few minutes explaining rather concisely about the four houses, their primary qualities, and the fact that our Houses were our family now. I nodded at that. That's how it was in some of the orphanages I'd lived in. You had a 'wing', or a 'team' or something, and there was a 'mother' or a 'father'. You'd go to them if you really needed something. The level of 'need' they'd respond to varied from place to place, 'wing' to 'wing'. I assumed that was probably true here too. So, business as usual. Okay. She started to leave, and I spoke up.

"Professor?" I stepped forward, so that I didn't need to yell.

"Yes, Mister Potter?" She looked down at me, and I had visions of Charity giving her children 'the look.' I inhaled, pushed past the natural recoil, and pressed on.

"Ma'am, if it's possible, could I speak to you or one of the other professors at your earliest convenience?" I'd decided to be up front about this.

"Regarding what, Mister Potter?" I could see she wanted to know what would be bugging the little boy thus far.

I asked Bob a question, quickly, and got a response. "Ma'am, I was told to contact Professor Dumbledore when I arrived. I was to mention Hrothbert of Bainbridge." I'd Named Bob, but for a while, shortly after I'd done so, he'd gotten this fascination with Names. He'd never use his real one unless he absolutely had to. Besides, he'd complained that 'Bob' was such a common name.

I heard a sharp intake of breath at the mention of Bob's alias, and she nodded, face pinched. "We shall see, Mister Potter. I suspect the Headmaster will want to see you following the Feast. I shall give the Prefect instructions for you." She sighed, and waved me off. "Now, I do not want to be late, so I shall return for you momentarily. Please keep quiet and still."

I rolled my eyes at that. We weren't kindergarteners. Well, most of us weren't. I glanced quickly over toward where Ron and Malfoy were starting to poke at each other. Money, fame, dark heritage, the works. It was like a record player stuck on stupid.

Hermione, true to my estimation of her, was trying to intervene. I snorted, and stuck my fingers in my lips, hoping this would work with this body. It did. The whistle rang out sharply, and all the First Years stopped their bickering and turned to me.

"Listen." I said, gesturing up to the castle. "We're at the only purely magical learning center in the British Isles, and all you can argue about is where you come from?" I shook my head. "I'm not muggle-born, but I was muggle raised. Somebody tell me. What's Transfiguration?"

Hermione answered, repeating the textbook verbatim. I nodded, and then looked around at the others. "Yeah, that's what I read too, but what is it?" They all looked at me confusedly. "Like what can you do with it?" I had some pretty good ideas, but I wanted the kids to brainstorm.

"Oh, blimey, mate." Ron first, of course. "You can change the color of your walls to orange. Like the Cannons." That got a round of snickers. Sports team, I guessed.

"Or, if your gran gives you an ugly vase, you can transfigure it into a prettier one." Cool. I could see that being handy. This came from a pretty East Indian girl. She looked like she was one of a set of twins. Yeah. There was the other one. Laughing about the comment.

"Or, you can change your cotton knickers into silk ones." That came from another young girl, and I had to blush profusely at it. The girl had short black hair, and a small pug nose. She was kind of cute, but I could tell she'd been raised by money.

"Change the flavor of your peas into chocolate?" That came from Neville.

"I dunno, mate. Mum always said that transfiguring food was tricky." Ron piped in.

"And so it is. My what an enlightening discussion." The Professor returned. "Come along, class. It is time to be Sorted." We all gulped, yes, even me, and followed dutifully after the teacher, like little ducks in a row.

The interior of the castle was as beautiful and crazy as the outside. "Boss," Bob's voice rang in my mind. "Forgot to tell you. All the paintings move. There's a little bit of their essence... kind of like a ghost, but not quite. And ..."

He didn't get to finish, because floating toward us, were four unique ghosts. One looked like Friar Tuck, except he was more portly and jolly; one looked like a dashing gentleman with a high-ruffed collar that looked a little ... off; one looked like a country gentleman except for the chains he wore and the huge gash in his chest caused possibly by a sword wound; and one, the only woman in the bunch, was dressed formally, with sad eyes and a proud face. I instinctively reached into my pockets, looking for my ghost dust.

"...there are ghosts here. They're harmless. Tied to the castle, Jefe. Each House has one. And there's a few others here and there." I rolled my eyes, and scolded him under my breath, listening to the muggle-born girls screech.

"Would've been nice to know before I was reaching for the ghost dust." I scowled. "Any other surprises?"

"Well, just one." I waited for his explanation, but again, it came too late.

"Ickle Firsties, waiting to be sorted, are they?" Shit. Teasing tone, able to move and touch things. Jester's hat. I knew exactly what this was.

"A poltergeist." In my world, poltergeists were Fae. They were born where the battles between the two courts were strongest, and had bled through to the living world. They were most likely to show up in places that were in contest by very different groups, and on the equinoxes when the power was the most even. I shuddered. "What is he doing here, then?" There weren't faeries inside the castle, were they? I knew I could probably carve a rod and tear a way into the Nevernever, but with Harry's young magic and the strange wards around this castle, it'd be unpredictable at best, and hellishly awful at worst.

"Here, he's a natural occurrence. Thousands of years of kids training their magic. All stuffed into these walls." I snorted. Yeah. I could just imagine. There was a reason we took Camp Kaboom out into the New Mexico desert. Lots of empty space, and no walls. Walls would absorb the magic, which could strengthen the wards and thresholds if you set it up properly, but in the process, unpredictable things could happen. Like poltergeists and all sorts of weird shit.

While I was having this conversation with Bob, the Professor was waiting to be called in. Finally, the moment came, and we strode in, waiting for each of our individual names to be called. I paid attention to each name and where they were placed, noting that yes, Bob was right eight out of ten times. Smug bastard.

"Potter, Harry!" I sighed and stepped up to the table to where the magical talking hat -- stars and stones, I never thought I'd be saying that -- sat on the stool. I picked it up, placed it on my head, and felt the push into my mind not unlike a soulgaze.

"Hmmmm. Interesting. Very interesting." The voice began. I was certain this part wasn't being broadcast, simply because I hadn't heard anyone else's conversations with it. "You're not Harry Potter. Who are you, and where is young Harry?"

"You can't tell who I am?" I snarked, making sure to keep my comments mental. "I'd have thought you'd be able to tell that."

"I can see who you are, but I don't know why you're here." The Hat replied. I considered what to call it.

"Well, Floppy, join the club." I snickered. I really do have a thing for Naming.

"I like it." He poked around a little more. "Ah, there he is. That makes it rather easier. He doesn't quite have the strong character you do to push him in this direction, but he'd get there on his own, especially with what's been foretold about him."

"Oh, yeah. I heard about the prophecy. Have you heard it? Or can you share it?"

"Since it refers to him, I'll share it. And since you asked." I sighed in relief, at least until the artifact quoted Trelawney's words to me.

"Shit." I growled, shifting on the stool.

"Something like that, yes." The hat was clearly amused. "At any rate, your familiar was right, as were you. All of you, well, excepting dear Hrothbert there," it was Floppy's turn to snicker, "belong in Gryffindor." The last word was magically echoed around the room, announcing something. Again, I felt the magic shift. Something had washed over me. I looked down as I set the hat down, and there was a gold and red badge on my chest, a gold and red tie around my neck, and red trim on my sleeves. Ah. A labeling charm. Or something very like it. More ritual magic. The hat Sorted, and then someone, or something, fixed everything so that you became magically, visibly and emotionally part of that House.

"House Elves." Bob popped the information into my mind.

"House Elves? Explain." Luckily I could do two things at once; the Weasley twins had started a rousing chorus of 'we've got Potter' that made me snicker and made Junior beam brightly inside me. I allowed him to come a little closer to the forefront to enjoy the notoriety for now. I'd listen to Bob.

"They're kind of like your brownies, Boss. They live to do. If there's work to be done, they get a magical boost from doing it."

"Huh." I was intrigued. "What do they look like?" I asked. "And do they have the same weird laws as the Fae?" Brownies would clean my place on a regular basis after I saved the Faerie world from civil war, but if I mentioned them, or if someone tried to find out how it happened, they'd just not show up for a while. Then, there was the whole mess with the Za Lord's Guard and the pizza. That was another thing. Damn. Who'd pay for the faeries' pizza? I snorted again, managing to keep it internal. The things I worried about.

"Like this, Harry." Bob showed me a picture of a diminutive, wrinkled creature with a round nose and floppy ears. He looked like King Triton after Ursula the Sea Witch had cast that spell on him. What? Hope had a book. Which she wanted read to her about sixty times a day for a while. So, I did thirty, and the family did the other thirty. I don't think I'd ever forget the little one slapping a book into my hand and demanding that I 'weeeeed me.' Or, if Michael or Charity was around, it was 'weed me, pweeze.' I grinned, letting the feeling show on my face.

Soon enough, the Sorting was over and Dumbledore stood up. He gazed over us like a king surveying his land. "Good comparison, Boss." Bob commented, still nervous around the old wizard.

I chuckled. "What did you do, Bob?" It had to have been pretty bad for him to shake like this inside my head still.

"I um..." Bob started to tell me, but then both Junior and my alter-ego shushed us.

"The old man's starting to talk. It'll be important." That was my Id, of course. Junior would've been much more polite. My mental avatar rolled his eyes at his evil-twin counterpart, and shushed. I would get the story from Bob later. If I remembered.

"Welcome. To our old students, welcome to a new year of classes. To our First Years, welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I am your Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore." He gestured grandly and carried on. "Before we eat, I have a few start-of-term announcements. If you are interested in joining your house quidditch team, please keep an eye on the notice boards in your common rooms. A sign up sheet shall appear shortly, with more information. Mister Filch, our caretaker, has increased the list of banned items to include Fanged Frisbees and a total of twenty new items. Please look over the lists, and assure that you do not have these items among your things. If they are discovered, it will mean an immediate and irrevocable loss of points for your house." We first years looked around, and saw the hourglasses that McGonagall had mentioned. "Finally, this will be new to every student this year, so listen up. The Third Floor North Corridor is off limits to all students unless you wish to die a horrible death." I looked toward the redhead with the badge on his chest. That wasn't good. Weasley, Percy I assumed, was surprised. Dammit.

"A few more words before we eat, children." And then, with a grin, he gestured again, and said, "Nitwit, Blubber. Oddment. Tweak." With that, he nodded to something or someone out of our line of sight, and the meal began.

I voiced a question to Percy who just happened to be just in speaking range. Junior wanted to know. "Is he mad, then?" I didn't see any trace of anger, but it took me a moment to realize that he meant 'crazy.' Like 'mad dogs and Englishmen, out in the noonday sun.'

Percy just laughed, and piled some mashed potatoes on to his plate. "Mad, well, maybe a bit. He's just eccentric. Brilliant, though. Never met a wizard smarter than Professor Dumbledore." I nodded, both of us satisfied for the time being, and ate my meal.

* * *




The food had just appeared, and even expecting it as I was, I drew a sharp breath in. The food was -- amazing. There was mashed potatoes, some sort of beef dish, some vegetable mix, some delicious bread... piled high on the tables. I asked Bob about it, and he gave me several interesting pieces of information, including the fact that the weather would get cold enough to merit the extra calories. Also, the curriculum was hard enough here that the young wizards and witches would go through a lot of energy, both physical and magical, getting through their year. Thirdly, he said that there were enough stairs in the place that I'd be walking or running for a good portion of the day -- well, when I wasn't sitting on my ass in class. So, eating a lot was a good thing. Plus, these kids were still growing like weeds, as Father Forthill might say. So, I ate up. After we had a little of everything, the food disappeared, and the table groaned again under the weight of dessert. There were all sorts of different things, including a treacle tart. I knew Junior loved it, so I grabbed some, munching on it slowly while I waited for dinner to be done.

It wasn't long at all until the food had all disappeared, either into the students' bodies or back to the kitchen. After the tables were cleared, the headmaster stood up again, smiling his bright, benign-seeming smile, and verbally chivvied all of us off to bed. I dutifully followed Percy through the halls, up the stairs, around corners, through passageways, and up to the top of the castle. When we arrived at the Seventh Floor, Percy gestured toward an alcove with a winding staircase inside it. "Mister Potter, please go through that door. Someone will escort you to your dorm when you are finished with your meeting." Thankfully, the boy had the good sense to avoid mentioning exactly who I was going to be meeting with.

"Thank you." I replied demurely, and moved toward the staircase. "How do you want to play this, Bob? You know him best."

"Honesty, Harry, at least for the basics. He is an expert Legilimens so if you make eye contact with him beyond your initial soulgaze, he will be able to pick up a few of your surface thoughts." That rankled with me, because for a strict constructionist, that definitely broke the Fourth Law. I remember sitting in on debates in council, only understanding bits and pieces, but learning one thing: messing around inside someone's head was bad mojo. That understanding had only been reinforced by my experiences with Mab and Molly.

"Got it." I inhaled, stepped up the staircase, letting it take me toward the topmost part of Dumbledore's office, and prepared to brave the lion in his den.

* * *




The staircase wound around and around, lifting me magically up to a clutter-filled office. There were several little machines in the corners that seemed designed to take measure of things. One looked like it measured something, but it was wired to magic. Bob explained to me the concept of wards as this community understood it, and I realized the device measured the wards around the school. Another one looked like it was trying to take a picture of me, or of my magic. I was sorely tempted to cast Hexus and be done with it, but it might help me explain what was going on. I opened up my magic and felt Junior doing the same after Bob explained why. The little machine whirred and split.

"Welcome to Hogwarts, Harry," Dumbledore began. "Now, as I understand it, you wanted to speak to me?" I pondered how to answer this man. "Oh, I nearly forgot. Lemon drop?" He held out a tin of plain, Muggle lemon drops.

He hasn't done anything to those, has he? I asked Bob, making sure.

Funnily enough, no, he hasn't. It's the possibility of what he might have done that makes it interesting to him. Bob snorted and replied fairly quickly. I understood. It's like the scenario I'd envisioned for the Sorting. It wasn't the situation itself but the possibilities that he worked with. I suppose I could too, though I wasn't like my brother or any of his family enough to be able to do that part myself. Plus, I'd gotten lazy when I relied on Bob to do that much. Being as sneaky as he was, it came naturally to him.

"Yes, sir. I have a little bit of a problem. Well, I can't say... problem, per se, because I have no clue as to whether it's a benefit or a drawback." I grabbed a lemon drop then looked up, avoiding his eyes.

"Oh? And what kind of a problem would it be that it would require my attention as opposed to your Head of House, Mister Potter?" Dumbledore sounded much more like a Headmaster. I wondered about the change, and then realized how I'd sounded.

"Oh." I paused, collected my thoughts, and began again. "I'm sorry, that came out wrong. It's just I've never had this happen before, and I don't know whether to worry or to try to fix it, or ..." I shrugged. "Let me explain." Inside, both Alterna-Harry and Bob were reciting the Princess Bride line. No, is too much. Let me sum up. I rolled my eyes at their predictabilty and inhaled. "My Name, sir -- and if it please you, would you refrain from Using it? -- My Name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. I was born on Halloween night thirty-eight years ago to Malcom Dresden and Margaret McCoy Dresden LeFay. Both are now deceased. I was reared by a man whose idea of training was to mind rape my fellow trainee and make her try to kill me. I ended up having to kill him to get out of the situation. I thought I had killed her in the process, too, but I met her a couple years ago. She's a mess. Because of that, the Wizards of the White Council, based about oh... twenty miles from here or so, sir, tried and convicted me for my Mentor's death. I was only saved from death myself by the actions of my second mentor, whom I later learned is my Grandfather. Ebenezer McCoy, Blackstaff of the White Council trained me, kept me alive. I tell you all of this to confirm who I am. I am also a Warden of the White Council, the Knight of the Winter Court, the Za Lord, the owner and Caretaker of Demonreach the Island, friend to all three Knights of the Cross and Uriel himself, former Host to a Denarian, and father to a little girl. She's being taken care of." I wanted to reassure him of that much, at least. "Bob, whose name I mentioned to get the audience with you, thinks that I'm here in a separate reality because of all the Debts and Liens on my soul and power at the time of my death. I don't know whether that's true, but that's the closest I can come to understanding it at this point. Harry James Potter is here.." I tapped the side of my head. "I've talked to him. He's kind of like a passenger in his own head. It was mutually agreed on that I would take the reins for now because I know more. He's listening, contributing, and wants you to know that he doesn't like his relatives. I'd have to concur, sir. They reminded me of Justin, my first teacher." I paused, letting the small body catch its breath.

Dumbledore looked stunned. "Would you mind if I confirmed this?" He sounded like he wasn't sure whether to believe it. "It would just take a moment..."

"Sir, if you're intending to use the mind thing, I have to warn you. When I meet a person's eyes for the first time, I get images from their mind. It's something that happens to us as soon as our power manifests. We learn quickly not to meet another's eyes unless we want to see what's inside and show what's inside our heads. It's called a Soul Gaze, and only happens the once. It would prove the truth, probably better than your legilli-whatsit would."

Legilimancy, Bob corrected me, floored at how much information I'd given the man. I tried to console him, telling him that I didn't think their magic worked like that. I hadn't seen or heard any Name magic or anything like it in their world, and wondered if it was a Lost Art, or just not possible for them.

"You have given me much to think about, Mr. Dresden." Dumbledore began.

"Harry, please. That way, you're including all of us." I grinned.

"All of you?" Dumbledore looked confused.

"All of us. Me, Junior, and my Evil-Twin. The part of my subconscious that wants to act without repercussion, or at least willing to take a lot more of the consequences than I am consciously."

"Interesting." Dumbledore stroked his long beard. "And you say you know no way to separate yourself from Young Harry?" He looked at me, intensity in his gaze, though he did not strictly meet my eyes. He wasn't willing to enter a soulgaze with me.

"Yes, sir. Bob, who is a Spirit of Air and Intellect -- and he's met you before, he says -- knows about everything there is to know about possession and other kinds of blending, and he's never seen anything like it. He's with me -- I must have pulled him along, sorry Bob." I sighed, feeling like I'd messed things up for Junior, Bob, and now, for the Headmaster, who seemed to have a Grand Plan for Harry's life. I decided to make things easier for him. "Sir, Floppy's already told us about the prophecy. I'd be willing to help the kid get rid of the Monster, but I've found I do better with more information, not less. My magic is more based on thammaturgy and Calling. There are some huge differences between the way my magic works and the kid's. I'll let him learn and do the homework for now, but I'll probably help with the social interaction and stuff. I'm not that socially adept, sir," I added this last bit with the prompting from Junior. "But I'm sure I'll do better than Junior here. Being raised in a cupboard doesn't do much for one's social skills." I shrugged again, trying to pass off his living conditions as incidental, even as I was internally fuming. I remembered that Murph had met a couple officers of the British Police force. I didn't remember what city they'd lived in, but I did remember their faces. It wouldn't take much for me to have Bob look them up and locate them for me.

When I mentioned that we knew the prophecy, the color drained from the old man's face. When I mentioned Junior's cupboard, his lips thinned. He wasn't sure whether to believe me, but the way I'd mentioned it so casually meant that I'd had time to get used to the thought, even experience it myself. "As I say, young Harry," I'd take that. I mean, even in my regular form, I was still much younger than he. "You have given me much to think about. For now, I think that would be the wisest course of action. Let your protege learn the magic he can through the classes. You may assist, but do not control his efforts in classwork and homework. I shall find out the truth of his living situation. Does your Bob know anything about Blood Wards?"

I asked. Bob did know, and realized what the Headmaster was referring to. "There were hints of old wards there, but they no longer work. They're supposed to be powered by the strong feelings of care one family member has for another. The only 'strong feelings of care' are directed from Petunia to Dudley, Junior's cousin. Since neither of them are magical, the wards are defunct. They have been for years." The Headmaster closed his eyes and inhaled, deep disappointment and pain etched on his features. "If it's protection you need, I know a few ways to protect us. If nothing else, I'll rip a hole into the Nevernever and go through the Ways. I don't have my mother's pendant, but I've got almost all the routes to HQ memorized. I could get there pretty quickly."

"Now, I'm sure it would not come to that," Dumbledore replied. I felt a pulse of something wash over me, and I pushed it off.

"Please don't do that, sir. I felt it, and innately fought it. That won't work."

He looked up at me just as I looked up at him, and our eyes locked. Guess we were going to get that soulgaze after all.

I stood in the middle of a street. Two young men were walking up the road arm in arm. One was obviously Dumbledore, except with long red hair and a red beard. The other was a baby-faced man with blond, curly hair. "Ah, but Gel, we must consider the consequences of our actions, don't you think?"

"But, Al, it's for the Greater Good, luv. Think of what we could do..." The scene changed, and there were fireworks of magic blaring off every which direction. Albus and another young man who looked like him stood at one end of a similar street, and Gel stood at the other. A young girl, maybe about fifteen or a little younger, crouched down in the middle of the firefight, completely unaware of her surroundings.

"Too much," I heard her say. "There is too much. Too LOUD!" She shouted the last word, and it reverberated through the space. Her magic released and I was shocked by its enormity. Gel was knocked out by the power, and the two other men rushed over to her, checking her. It was obvious that she had expended all her magic and life force into the explosion, reminding me eerily of a Death Curse. She was gone. The two boys stood there for long moments, then the younger one turned to the older one, slapped his face hard, and walked off, muttering about damn fools and fairy stories.

I watched the man sit down on the road, tears streaming down his face.

My breath caught in my throat. That was an awful experience. I knew it must have happened to him, and I winced. "Hells bells," I whispered, not even thinking about the vulgarity of the phrase. I wondered again what he had seen in those moments. They stretch endlessly on, or appear to, but in reality, a soulgaze lasts only a few seconds. "I won't tell anyone what I've seen."

"Likewise. I understand." Whatever it was he'd seen, it was enough for him to trust me with the life and care of the boy who carried the fate of the Wizarding World on his shoulders. I still wondered what it was. I knew I'd never see it. "Now, Mr. Potter," he snorted, but didn't change his address to me. I was Potter here, and I had to get used to it. "It is getting very late and you both need your sleep. Sleep well, little ones."

"Yes, sir, thank you sir." I nodded and headed out to the hall. Professor McGonagall was there to walk me up to the dormitories. She gave me a curious look, but didn't ask any questions.

"Off to bed you get, Mister Potter." She gave the portrait the password, and it swung open. "Pip, pip. Classes begin early. If you need anything, a Prefect knows where I am at all times." She nodded, and turned away from the entrance. I smiled at her, then went in to find my room and my bed.

Chapter Text

I wasn't sure how I would wake up, so I told Bob to be sure none of us -- meaning any of us in the room -- would be late for class and plonked my ass on the bed in the dorms. It was a homey little bed, and definitely much cozier than my spot at the orphanage had been. I was grateful for the small number of boys in the room, and the clear delineation of space for each boy. Having four other boys around to talk to, but not being crowded? To me it was heaven, and to the small boy, it was even more. It was life.  I grinned, letting him chat with the boys, enjoying the camaraderie that came with spending time with friends, even brand-new ones.  I interjected a couple times, explaining something that should have been obvious to someone who had been raised in a normal family, but otherwise, I let Junior do what he needed to do while I cleared my mind.

 

I'm not normally a very contemplative person. I'm a doer, not a thinker, and I like doing things loudly, quickly, and with no thought of the consequences.  That had cost me more than I probably would ever realize, but it's who I am. However, when I was first learning my magic, I had to learn to tame it.  I had to stop, focus on what I knew and what I wanted done, and Eb gave me no shortcuts whatsoever. He taught me theory, slowly, almost like Mister Miyagi and the flies, but he taught me well.  If I know much at all about anything, it's the way my magic works. I didn't study the esoteric stuff, the way everybody else's magics work -- well, except for Elaine, but that was unavoidable if I wanted to stay alive through my teenage years -- but I did sit down, buckle down, and learn my own magical core.  I decided, while Junior was learning the theory -- the spells, the words, etc. -- I'd do the same for his. I'd meditate, navel gaze -- that was almost a literal description sometimes -- and figure out the differences between my own magic and his. That way, I could see if any of the tricks that worked for me worked for him. It might save him a little trouble, and after taking over his mind and body, it was the least I could do. I allowed my mind to sink down into his body and let him chatter away. It would be a long process, but I knew I could do it. I'd done it before.  After a short while, I heard everybody else clambering into their beds, and I brought myself back up to awareness of my surroundings.  Junior was changing into his pajamas and crawling under the covers himself.  When he'd set his glasses up and flung his arm up on to the pillow like he did every night, he spoke to me inside our mutual brain.

 

"That was weird. What did you do? I almost felt like I did before you showed up."  He grinned, and I grinned back at him, enjoying his effusive cheer. 

 

"I was starting something. I wanted to talk to you about this." I beckoned my Darkside and Bob over and explained it all to them.  "You remember when I was about ten, and Justin made me start meditating, and then, after I started making progress, he made me quit?" 

 

Evil-Me piped up, continuing the story. "Yeah, and we had to do it all over again when we got to Missouri.  That was a pain in the ass."

 

I snorted, nodding. "It really was, but it was a perfect way for me to be able to get a good sense of what my magic is, and what it does. Not necessarily how powerful it is, or what I can do with it. That comes later. What I learned was how it felt to have my magic flowing through me and what happened when I used it. Where did it come out? Did it come out of my nostrils? Could it?  Could I breathe if it did?" I laughed, remembering an experiment I did when I'd figured out that I could possibly send raw magic through any portion of my body that could point in a specific direction.  "That didn't work so well, but it was sure fun."  I grinned again, and the boy's grin widened. I could see that was going to be a story to tell him in a while.  I held off on it, holding my hand up.  "I'll tell you about it later. Tonight, we all need to sleep.  The first day is always the hardest, because you don't know what to expect. And if I don't miss my guess, in a place like this, there are going to be more quirks and strange things than in a normal situation.  However, I wanted to let you know, Junior, that I'm not going to do your work for you. I'm going to let you do it. I'll help, and I'll learn it too, but I can't in good conscience let you slack off, because I have no clue how long I'm going to be here. If it's only a short period of time, then, that's great, and you'll have a head start on some of the others." Or, probably more like catch up to where many of them are. "If I'm here long-term, then we need to figure out how our magics work. Do they work similarly? Do they work differently? Will your magic work weirdly now that I'm here, or will mine work at all? We've already seen that soulgazes work."

 

"Yeah, that was weird."  Harry shook his head, remembering the ones he'd been involved in already. "Blimey. Every time you meet someone new? That's gotta get old fast."

Of course, this was where my twin piped in, muttering darkly. "You have no idea."  I knew he really wanted to say something even more crass, but the guy is a dad too, so he got the gist. 

 

I chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, you either get used to it, or you avoid seeing anybody else's eyes. I mean really do everything you possibly can to avoid it.  Sometimes, it's nice to just get it over with, but other times, you really wish you hadn't done that. And you'll never forget what you know about Draco or the Headmaster. Never." 

 

"I can put some context to that latter one, Boss, but I don't think we should do it tonight."  I agreed.

 

"Good idea, Bob. We'll figure out when would be a good time, and you can tell us the story." 

 

"Splendid."  Bob's tone was dry.  "Reduced to reading bedtime stories to young wizards named Harry. Three of them."  Were he more than a possessed skull, he would have been rolling his eyes right about now.  I snickered, and sent a mental quick hug to the boy, and we all settled in to sleep. 

 

* * *

Though I had promised to stay back and let the kid learn, I was finding keeping my promise very difficult.  Go figure, huh?  We woke up on time, thanks to Bob and the internal, amazing technicolor alarm clock.  No, seriously. He floated out of his skull for a few moments, flashed about as many colors as my Molly in her One-Woman-Rave mode, and then, sang some loud song when we didn't immediately waken.  Heh. I mumbled something about hammers, of course, but I was awake.  After I got cleaned up, all the boys in our year went downstairs, heading for breakfast. 

 

"There you are," Hermione began. "I was afraid I was going to have to come up after you." 

 

"Is that allowed?" I wondered?  Junior wanted to know too, so I wasn't overstepping by much. 

 

"I don't know, but if it wasn't, then maybe the noise of being caught would have awoken you, so it wouldn't have mattered, would it?"  She snorted.

 

"Unless they took house points for it," Seamus replied.

 

"Oh, well, there is that."  A light flush covered her cheeks at his words.  Internally, I nodded. She was like Charity. She liked all her ducks in a row.  I got that.  It made for an easy path, if you could do it.  We fell silent and headed back down to the Great Hall, only getting lost one time, thanks to the staircase moving on us while we were going down it. 

 

When we arrived, only the Ravenclaws were awake. It looked like the older students were already up and chatting, but that made sense to me.  I let Junior decide our choices for food since I didn't really mind any of it -- well, except for the kippers, but he didn't seem too keen on them either, so I lucked out.  We filled up rather quickly, and then made our way to the Transfiguration classroom.  We were just a little late, because we'd gotten turned around, but there was no sign of the teacher, or at least that was my thought at first. Then, I saw the cat on the desk.  The cat was gray with black stripes, and there was a squarish shape to the stripes around her face that looked ... no.  "Can wizards turn into animals here, Bob?" I asked, inside my mind.

 

"Yeah. It's called, funnily enough, animagus.  From the Latin for animal magus."  I rolled my eyes at Bob's dry, sarcastic humor, but the little guy was laughing so hard it started to make the body shake. Luckily, it was only a little, and he was laughing inside. Otherwise, it might have been really embarrassing.

 

"You alright, mate?"  Ron whispered as we found seats in the middle of the classroom.

 

"Yeah, I'm fine."  I let Junior take over and tried to content myself with watching.  Harry was unsurprised but still amazed when the elderly professor jumped off the desk and turned into a woman mid-jump.  I was pretty impressed, too. 

 

"Mister Potter," she narrowed her eyes at me, "you do not seem overly surprised."  Oh, damn.

 

He asked me how to handle it, and I bit my lip, or whatever the mental equivalent was, and thought for a long moment. I didn't have an answer that wouldn't tell her more than I really wanted anybody else to know. I disregarded the snickers coming from both my evil twin and Bob and told Harry to try to bluff her.  We were surprised, we just didn't show it.  

 

Didn't work. "I do not believe that for one instant, Mister Potter, but as it is not germane to the current lesson, I shall let it slide." She gave a loud sniff, seemingly upset that we had stolen her dramatic moment, and then settled in for the lesson. As promised, I let Junior have the lead, taking the notes and learning what he could. I wasn't sure exactly how either of our magics would work with the weird head / body sharing thing we had going on.  I drew back enough to try not to bother him and set back to my task of meditation. Part of me wanted to pipe up and correct her on a few points, but I kept silent, only curious to know whether the discrepancies were between worlds or if this world really was that back-ass-wards.  Luckily, the class passed without incident, and we headed to Flitwick's domain to learn charms.  Of course, this was when we ran into our first problem. 

* * *

"Wingardium Leviosa. That is the incantation for the spell." Wait. The incantation?  I stepped back even more and consulted with Bob.

"Bob, is there only one incantation to every spell here?  What about raw magic?  Spell creation?" 

"That's a touchy subject, Harry.  It's regulated. All spells must be registered and evaluated.  If they aren't, they're immediately classified as dark." 

"What?!"  Uh-oh. I said that out loud.

"Mister Potter, is there a problem?"  I swallowed. 

"No, sir. I'm sorry.  I ..." I wasn't sure how to cover this. I asked Junior.  He took the reins again. "Oh, Professor, I was just surprised about reading this... New to the magical world, you see." 

"That is as it may be, Potter, but that is no reason to disrupt my lecture.  Five points from Gryffindor." 

"Yes, sir."  I could feel Junior's scowl, so I quieted down and let him work. 

"Every spell, Bob?"  I wanted to make sure.

"That's the law.  Of course, Purebloods don't follow that.  Every family has a grimore with family spells.  If they know to use the excuse, they operate the same way you do, and just say that it's a family spell. It's just one more way that they exert their control over the Muggleborn. Which, by the way, they call 'Mudblood.'"  Bob spoke that word with more disgust than I'd heard in a very long time. Bob doesn't have a lot of morals, but even he can get annoyed by idiots.   "Like dirtying their blood will make them lose their magic."  He snorted. "Some of these idiots believe that muggleborn -- or, I prefer the old American 'No-Maj born' -- are only magicals because they stole the magic from a pureblood.  That that's why there's Squibs.  Normals born of Magicals." 

"That's idiotic," I said, being sure to keep the conversation inside.  "And who are the major players in this new Nazi group?"  Because that was basically what they were. 

"Voldemort and his Death Eaters front it, but it's everywhere, Boss. Looks like a lot of the old families believe it to some extent. Not all of them, but it's to the point that if you come into this culture as a Muggleborn and don't marry a Pureblood, you can't even get a job at the Ministry for Magic. You might get a job as a Healer or a store clerk, but owning a business, working in the government -- which means any governmental office, or here at Hogwarts is pretty difficult."

I sat there through the whole lesson, half listening to Flitwick speak, and tried to come up with a plan.