Harry woke from his nightmare, screaming at the top of his lungs.
“Dammit Boy, stop that racket this instant!” Vernon Dursley’s voice boomed through the door.
Harry went limp, eyes staring blearily up at the ceiling. His head hurt so badly it felt it had been split open with an axe, like in one of Dudley’s video games. “Am I dying?” he whispered aloud. He wondered if he’d had a stroke, like they talked about on his aunt’s favourite hospital shows. He didn’t feel like one side of his body had gone numb. In fact, both sides of his head ached abominably.
He lay flat on the bed and tried to slow his breathing. As he closed his eyes, images began to flash again. He saw people fighting and dying. He saw red eyes glowing at him from the darkness, hate burning like a fire. He didn’t recall ever seeing a show on the telly about people fighting with wands, so he wondered if the dream had come because of his trip to Diagon Alley with Hagrid.
He smiled as he thought about the immense, rough-spoken man, the first adult wizard Harry had ever met, and really his first real friend. Even as he pictured the man’s beetle-black eyes and bristling beard, he also saw the man’s face gone slack and pale, the eyes staring glassily into infinity. Harry’s stomach contracted into a small hard ball as he realized he was seeing Hagrid dead. The boy shivered and clutched as his thin, ragged pillow.
“It’s just a nightmare,” he whispered to himself, “a really, really horrid nightmare.”
Maybe if he kept repeating that, he’d start to believe it.
Nightmares or not, Harry was up early cooking breakfast before Uncle Vernon went off to work. It was hard to focus though. He kept seeing images from his dream, most of which were quite disturbing. He almost dropped the frying pan as his Aunt swept into the kitchen to see why breakfast wasn’t ready yet.
“Be careful, you stupid boy!” she snarled. “You’re just as careless as your worthless parents!”
A cold draft seemed to blow straight through Harry’s chest, freezing the air in his lungs. He set the pan aside and spun around. Petunia Dursley was used to dealing with her unwanted nephew; she was used to sullen obedience, grudging respect, and general avoidance. She was not, however, used to cold rage.
“My parents were not worthless. My father was a star Quidditch player and my mother was one of the best Charms witches of her generation. If you weren’t so bloody jealous of her and her relationship with my father, you wouldn’t feel the need to make up petty lies.”
The blood could not have drained from Petunia Dursley’s face any faster if she’d had her throat cut.
Harry blinked as she turned and left the kitchen at close to a run. What had possessed him to say such a thing? He didn’t know his parents at all. Hagrid told him his mother and father had been Head Girl and Boy at Hogwarts, but no details beyond that. And that last part… he knew from what she’d said in the shack by the sea that his aunt had been jealous of her sister’s talents. But she said nothing about being jealous of Lily’s husband, his father.
And yet Harry’s words had stopped her in her tracks.
He shook his head as he put the bacon back on the burner until it sizzled properly. He brought the food out to the dining room and served everyone. Aunt Petunia was white-faced and silent, while Uncle Vernon glared at him and Dudley just looked confused. Harry slid the remaining bacon and eggs on his plate and ate quickly in the uncomfortable silence. He got the washing up done in record time as well and retreated to his room. On the way, Harry filched a couple of aspirins from the lavatory medicine cabinet and washed them down with tap water. Once he was back in his room, he checked his owl’s cage and made sure her water dish was full.
Harry sat on his bed, face in his hands, and elbows on his knees. As he took a deep breath, he remembered sitting in a chair in a similar fashion while arguing… with a portrait? The memory felt recent, like it was from something he’d done this summer, but parts of it were all wrong. He had a ton of aches and pains. But Harry couldn’t recall ever getting hurt that badly, even by Dudley’s gang at school.
Giving up trying to figure it out, Harry lay back down on the bed and closed his eyes. The headache was fading now, and if his aunt continued to avoid him, he might get a chance to rest.
When Harry awoke that afternoon, his headache was lessened, but his nightmares had been, if anything, even worse. When he stumbled downstairs, his aunt was sitting quietly in the living room. She didn’t look at him as he told her he was feeling ill and wouldn’t be down for supper, but just nodded her head.
Skipping supper was no hardship that evening, as his appetite was nonexistent. He couldn’t recall ever feeling so sluggish and weak, except perhaps the time his uncle struck him in the kitchen and he hit his head on the oven as he fell. This was different though. “Is this magic?” he whispered in the darkened room. It was still hard to think of the place as his bedroom, his place was the cupboard under the stairs. Taking a shaky breath, Harry settled back down onto the pillow and let the darkness claim him.
What happened next was like no dream he could ever recall.
Harry found himself sitting in the spare bedroom again. The chair was pulled away from the desk and a strange man was sitting in it. He was very thin, and looked incredibly tired and haggard. Lank black hair fell across his face and his eyes were shadowed. He stared at Harry; shock etched onto his features, and then wearily scrubbed at his eyes.
“I should have expected this,” the man said finally. “Too much natural resistance for this to have gone smoothly. Anyone who can throw off the Imperius at fourteen would not make this easy.” His face twisted into a grimace, “Maybe it’s better this way, rather than forced.”
Harry tried not to stare as the odd-looking man talked to himself. He was used to strange dreams that didn’t make a lot of sense at the time, like flying motorcycles and flashes of green light. But he’d never had a dream figure that ignored him to talk to itself.
The man glanced at Harry and let out a sigh. “I’m not explaining this very well then, am I? Look, Harry, have you met Hagrid yet?”
The boy nodded eyes wide.
“Good, then I didn’t botch that part. You’re getting ready to head off to school, right?”
Harry nodded again.
“Right then. You’re going to love Hogwarts, and it will become a home away from home for you. More home than you ever had here with the Dursleys.” The man’s voice went hard and Harry’s mouth dropped open. His aunt and uncle were usually brilliant at keeping up appearances in front of the neighbours. How did this man know what went on? Harry felt his face grow hot with shame.
“None of that,” the man said firmly. “It’s got nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. They’ve earned themselves a special place in hell for what they’ve done to you.”
Harry took a shaky breath and tried to make himself accept the man’s words.
“Don’t worry about it. It’ll take time and someone a lot more persuasive than I am to make you believe. Anyway, you’re going to enjoy your time at Hogwarts, and the friends you make there, but things will not always be good.”
Harry just looked at the man calmly as he appeared to gather his thoughts.
“There’s quite a bit that going to happen, and some of it is very bad. The man that killed your parents is going to come back, and he’s going to kill a lot of people. Some… some of the people he kills will be your friends, people you’ve come to… come to love.”
Harry felt the blood drain from his face. He didn’t know you could go into shock in the middle of a nightmare. “W-why are you telling me this?” he whispered. “How do you know all of this?”
The man looked at Harry for a long moment, and he realized the sunken eyes were a dim, murky green. Finally, his visitor pushed back the hair on his forehead to reveal a very familiar scar in the shape of a lightning bolt.
Harry stared at the man for a long moment. He opened his mouth and said the first thing that popped into his mind. “But how? If you’re me, why aren’t you wearing glasses?”
The man smiled for the first time, a slow, sad grin that made Harry’s stomach seem to twist painfully. “Hermione - uh, one of my, or maybe our, friends you’re going to meet at school, developed a vision charm that corrects for nearsightedness. She got tired of my glasses getting knocked off at inconvenient times.”
Harry noticed the man was blinking rapidly and his eyes were a little shinier than they had been. “It doesn’t turn out very well, does it?” he asked.
“No, I’m sorry to say it doesn’t. I won in the end, but everything was destroyed and everyone I cared about… died. Afterwards, I realized that there was nothing left for me, so I used some really advanced magic to take my… spirit… out of my body and send it back to this time. I can give you my knowledge of what is going on, what is going to happen. Hopefully, we can make a difference.”
“You say ‘we’,” Harry asked cautiously.
His older self nodded. “The original plan was for our spirits to merge, which means our consciousnesses would meld as well. You will stop being just you, and I will stop being just me. We will become more of an us, I think.” The man fell silent for a moment, and then continued in a softer voice. “I don’t want to deceive you, Harry, if you agree you will not be the same Harry Potter you were. A lot of my memories are… not very pleasant.”
The boy looked up at the man, eyes growing damp as well. “Will I really have friends at this new school?”
The man nodded and took a shaky breath. “Oh Harry, you are going to have great friends. You are going to have so many people love you that you won’t be able to believe it.”
The boy stood up from the bed. “Then I am not letting anything happen to them. Not if I can stop it.” He stuck out his hand.
The man whispered as he took the boy’s hand, “Somehow I knew you were going to say that.” The man disappeared as an unseen breeze blew through the room.
Harry awoke with his skin burning like it was on fire. He bit back his cries as the pain faded. When he was sure he could move again, he sat up and swung his feet to the floor. He looked around at Dudley’s abandoned storage room. It was the most beautiful thing he’d seen for years. He looked over at the Snowy Owl that was still staring at him. “I bloody did it, Hedwig!” he whispered fiercely, “It bloody well worked!” The owl didn’t react to her name, and Harry reviewed his recent memories in confusion. “Oh, sorry girl,” he said as he got up and opened the cage door. He stroked her soft head feathers, something his future self hadn’t gotten to do for too many years. “How do you like the name Hedwig, girl? It’s a pretty name for a pretty owl.” The owl bobbed her head and rubbed her beak across Harry’s knuckles. He gave her an owl treat and she hooted softly at him.
Harry sighed happily and looked up at the paper pinned to the wall that counted down the days until he left for Hogwarts. He still had nearly two weeks. The battered clock on the desk told Harry it was a little after two in the morning. Harry stood thinking for a moment before pulling on his battered trainers and sliding his wand under his over-sized shirt. Finally, his vault key and money bag went into his pocket. Harry slipped out of the house with the stealth he learned at a young age from trying to avoid his relatives.
Harry stood on the darkened kerb, the moon just beginning to peek around the clouds, and held his wand up. He stared at it for a moment, surprised to see smooth wood, unblemished by the scorch marks and nicks his memory showed him. He jumped as the Knight Bus appeared with a loud bang.
“Leaky Cauldron,” Harry said coolly as he paid his fair. A slightly younger Stan Shunpike than he remembered from his third year took his money. Harry avoided the young man’s eyes and made his way to a sliding bed before anyone noticed his scar.
Once he got off on Charing Cross road, Harry walked into the tavern and cut through to the back wall with purposeful strides. He avoided meeting anyone’s eye as he cut through the pub. He had his wand out and was tapping the bricks before he heard a voice behind him. “Hey Tom, who’s the lad?”
This late Diagon Alley was quite different. Many of the shops were closed, though a few stayed open. The streets were almost deserted, and the few figures that were still abroad were wrapped in dark cloaks. Harry felt horribly exposed in his ill-fitting Muggle clothes, but he kept his wand tightly clenched in his fist and marched down the centre of the lane. He didn’t really want to be interrupted, so he summoned up the scowl he first developed as Quidditch Captain for the Gryffindor team. He just hoped it didn’t look completely laughable on an eleven-year-old.
When he arrived at the large white marble building, he was relieved to see that his deductions were correct. Gringotts was open for business, though only a few workers were on duty. Goblins, commonly living underground, were a lot more flexible about their sleeping schedules than humans. Also, the fact that some of their customers had an aversion to daylight almost guaranteed they would stay open late, if not all night long.
Harry walked up to the nearest available goblin and nodded politely. “I’d like to visit my vault, and ask a few questions about my account.”
The goblin looked at him curiously, but gestured for Harry to follow. After another rollercoaster journey through the tunnels, Harry unlocked his vault with the key Hagrid had given him. This time he scooped out a larger pile of galleons. He knew this vault would be refilled by the family vault if it ever became depleted. The Potter Family vault would be inaccessible to him until he was seventeen, the age of majority in the Wizarding world. He hadn’t even been aware of its existence until the owl from Gringotts reached him the day after his birthday. Harry never stopped being frustrated by the things that had been kept secret from him, but this time it would be different.
The only complication lay in finding a way to use his foreknowledge without revealing too much of what he knew. If the ministry knew he had knowledge of the future, Fudge would have him locked away and drinking Veritaserum until they drained him dry. Merlin only knew what Fudge would do with the information. Albus had also cautioned him about changing the past too far too quickly. If the course of events deviated too far from his memories, then his foreknowledge would become useless. Harry knew he had to use his memories with care, but he didn’t want to be paralyzed with indecision either. As they rode the cart up to the surface, Harry decided to be as subtle as possible and see what results that obtained.
Once they were back in the lobby and he’d exchanged some galleons for pounds, Harry turned to his guide. “Did may parents leave anything beside money? Any papers, journals? I have so little to remember them by,” he added wistfully.
The goblin did not appear to be comfortable dealing with emotional humans. “I believe there is a family vault, and some investments, but by the terms of your inheritance I’m afraid you will not be able access them until you are of age.”
“Really?” Harry asked, feigning surprise. “Would it be possible to speak to the account manager?”
“Why would you wish to do that?” The goblin asked suspiciously.
Harry shrugged nonchalantly, though later he imagined the gesture looked somewhat odd coming from a child. “I have a few general questions about how it is being handled. I also have to consider whether I may want to move my assets once I am old enough,” he replied coolly.
The goblin’s eyes widened. It wasn’t often that a junior employee got the opportunity to receive the blame for a multi-million galleon account being lost to one of Gringotts’ overseas competitors. “I will see if Goldfarb is available,” he said quickly and scurried off.
Within minutes Harry was escorted into a comfortable conference room with an extremely fat goblin who wore a plaid waistcoat and had a tiny pair of gold-rimmed spectacles perched on the bridge of his bulbous nose. “Mr. Potter,” the goblin rumbled, inclining his head without smiling.
“Master Goldfarb, may your gold always flow,” Harry replied with a slight bow. He’d interceded between the American military forces and a group of surviving Gringotts employees after the ‘liberation’ of Diagon Alley. While he helped them salvage what they could from the destroyed underground vaults, Harry had picked up a smattering of Goblin language and customs.
Goldfarb’s eyes widened for an instant, surprised at hearing a formal greeting from a wizard, let alone such a young one. “How may I assist you today?” he said politely, eyeing the youngster.
“I was only recently made aware of my family vaults, and the fact that you manage my family’s investments.”
“That is correct,” Goldfarb replied carefully, obviously wondering where this was going.
“Have you any means of investing in Muggle businesses?”
The goblin blinked. “Er, yes, we have done so on certain occasions. It is not usually done however.”
Harry pondered his options for a moment. “I will be frank with you, Guardian of My Vaults,” he said, using a formal Goblin title that denoted great respect and trust. Goldfarb inhaled and straightened in his chair at that. “I live with my uncle, a Muggle who hates my kind. He obtains his livelihood from a Muggle manufacturing company named Grunnings. I would consider it a personal favour if my entrusted portfolio were to include a controlling interest in this company.”
“You wish him dismissed from his post for revenge?” Goldfarb asked, but it wasn’t really a question.
But Harry shook his head, making the goblin raise a gnarled eyebrow. “I wish leverage, not vengeance. There have been… incidents. I want a way to end those.” Harry looked thoughtful for a moment. “If they… continued… and something happened to me, my uncle’s family constitutes my sole remaining relatives. Were they to gain control of my assets they would immediately withdraw them and place them in a Muggle institution.”
Goldfarb said nothing for a moment as his nostrils dilated. “As your account manager, it is my duty to promote a balanced investment strategy. I have noticed that your holdings in the Muggle sphere are rather sparse,” the goblin said in a formal voice. “You will receive notification by owl once we have acquired a controlling interest,” he added quietly.
Harry nodded and immediately got up from the table, a gesture of respect implying that he didn’t wish to waste any more of Goldfarb’s time.
Harry stepped out into the darkened street and looked around. The figures wandering around this late didn’t appear to be paying him any special attention, but he still felt like someone was watching him. He quickly made his way to a disreputable-looking second-hand clothing store near the entrance to Knockturn Alley. It was still open, and he was able to pay more than he should have for a shortened black hooded cloak. He felt a little more confident now, as he made his way back to the Leaky Cauldron. It wasn’t immediately obvious how young he was – and a short figure in a cloak could be anything from a dwarf to a goblin. No sane person wanted to accost a goblin in a deserted street in the middle of the night.
Harry wore the cloak all the way back to Privet Drive. He took it off and rolled it up under his arm as the Knight Bus stopped in front of number four. He nodded as he pushed by Stan and scrambled to the curb. The cuckoo clocks on the bus mostly agreed that it was somewhere around half past four, and he was knackered. Harry stuck his wand inside the rolled up cloak and slowly let himself into the darkened house. He was almost betrayed by a creaky floorboard, but remembered it just in time.
The boy stretched out on his lumpy mattress with a sigh. He had to get up and cook in little more than an hour, but he’d slept most of the previous day. He slowly closed his eyes and dropped off for a few minutes.
The fire burned unnaturally bright, and even at this distance the skin on Harry’s forehead was hot and tight. He and Hermione had hold of Ron’s arms, digging their heels in as they tried to hold back the larger man.
“Let me go!” he screamed.
Hermione was sobbing incoherently as well. Harry finally found his voice and got his friend’s attention. “I’m sorry, Ron. We’re too late. She-she’s gone.” His voice trailed off into a whisper as Ron’s knees buckled and he collapsed onto the dirt path.
“Mum!” he sobbed as tears rolled down his face. Hermione knelt in front of him and hugged his face to her chest, comforting him.
Harry looked away and watched The Burrow burn.
Harry sat up so quickly he nearly fell off the bed. He grabbed the marred headboard to steady himself as his head continued spinning. I did not need that! He thought as he crossed his arms over his contorting stomach. I do not need to be throwing up right now either. Get it together, Potter.
He imagined Snape sneering at him for his weakness and an icy chill ran through his veins. The boy reminded himself that he needed to figure out what he was going to do about the potions master. As he pondered his options, he was ashamed to admit that cold-blooded murder was not immediately eliminated from the list. At least that damn mind-raper won’t be picking through my thoughts and memories this time around.
He still kicked himself sometimes about the implications he had not realized when he discovered that Snape was a master Legilimens. All those times he’d taunted Harry about being a glory seeker, all those times he’d blamed Harry when Draco sabotaged someone’s cauldron… he’d been able to see into Harry’s mind. He knew Harry didn’t crave attention and fame. He knew Harry wasn’t responsible for all those sabotaged potions. He knew… and still he punished Harry and made his life a living hell whenever possible. At that point he should have realized there was no way someone so evil and vindictive could have been truly working against Voldemort. He should have killed him on the spot. There would have been trouble, more than he’d ever had to deal with before, but Dumbledore wouldn’t have been killed. With the headmaster alive, Voldemort would never have dared to attack the school. A life sentence in Azkaban would have been well worth it.
Harry shook his head violently, whipping away the cobwebs of sleep and memories. He got up and put another tick on his sheet of paper. He had less than two weeks to plan what he needed to do. His face resolute, the boy marched down to the kitchen to start preparing breakfast.
Between meals and chores, Harry made it a practice to absent himself from the Dursleys' house at every opportunity. Not that Aunt Petunia minded. Since his outburst, she tended to avoid him as much as possible. Reading his mother’s journals from the Potter Family vault after he turned seventeen had paid unexpected dividends.
So each morning he’d walk toward the play park and as soon as he was out of sight, call the Knight Bus. Harry made several shopping trips to Diagon Alley and other parts of London. He took great pains to make sure he wore the hooded cloak when visiting the Alley. He didn’t want random “Harry Potter Sightings” to be reported in The Daily Prophet and start people asking questions.
During his excursions to Muggle London, Harry was tempted to buy some clothes that actually fit, but he refrained. He wanted people to believe him when he finally told them about the Dursleys, so he didn’t want to do anything that would suggest he was being well treated in any way. Instead he purchased books on psychology, martial arts, and fencing. The latter two would be useful as references, and to supply cover for any skills or knowledge he might accidentally let slip. The psychology books were the most important. He needed to change how things happened this time. He couldn’t very well tell eleven-year-old Ron and Hermione, “You two will become lovers before you turn twenty, so stop arguing and be nice to each other.” There was also the matter of what to do about Ginny.
They talked a lot during the brief period of time they’d had after they’d gotten together. She told him she’d never really given up on him. The fact that she’d waited more than five years for him to get his act together both disturbed and amazed him. There was no way in hell he would be taking her for granted this time, but he also needed to help her with her shyness around him. What she told him about the aftermath of her time in Chamber of Secrets also haunted him. He just didn’t know whether he needed to be there for her, or try to prevent it altogether. How far could he alter events without making them unrecognizable?
Thinking about meeting Hermione and the Weasleys on September first both elated and terrified him. He couldn’t wait to see them alive again, but at the same time he was worried he’d muck it all up.
Eventually, the last mark on the paper was ticked off. The morning he was to leave for Hogwarts, Vernon, Petunia, and Dudley piled into the car and left. They were taking Dudley to London for some elective surgery to remove the pig tail Hagrid transfigured onto Harry’s spoiled cousin. They left without a word about Harry’s departure, which was fine with him. Harry remembered that he had to mention needing a ride to King’s Cross the first time around.
Once they were gone Harry dragged his trunk down the stairs. With the extra books and his smaller size, it was quite a chore. He opened it up and pulled out a sack from a Muggle luggage store. After propping up the end of the trunk opposite the pull handle, he clipped a pair of rollers onto the bottom edge and tightened the screws. “This isn’t nearly as good as a shrinking charm,” he said aloud, his voice echoing in the empty house, “but it’ll do for now.” With that he ran back upstairs to get Hedwig’s cage and checked to make sure he hadn’t missed anything.
If the ever-dreaded neighbours had anything to say about Harry pulling a trunk, complete with caged owl on top, out to the curb, they didn’t choose to express themselves.
The Knight Bus brought Harry to the train station by ten, a good hour before he had to leave. He chose to wait on the Muggle side of the nine and three quarters barrier, figuring that asking how to get through was just as good a way to introduce himself to his second family as any other. After a few minutes of staring up at the clock and fidgeting, Harry became bored. He hopped off his trunk and pulled out one of his Muggle psychology books to re-read. Try as he might, he couldn’t pay attention to the words.
He was terrified.
Meeting the Weasleys was the best thing that ever happened to him, but beginnings were such delicate things. One wrong word, one wrong move…might result in a bad first impression. Losing his friends wasn’t nearly as bad as watching them die, but what he did over the next few hours could make or break him. Added to that was the fact the he was going to deliberately try to change some things. He wanted to shore up the foundations some of his relationships were built on, but he wasn’t sure if he was doing the right thing. Would this backfire and make things worse? Did he even have the right to do this? Was he just manipulating the people he claimed to love?
Harry took a deep breath and closed his eyes. His Occlumency exercises were good practice for getting his emotions under control again. As his heartbeat began to slow, Harry tried to sort out his concerns in a logical fashion. The Weasleys had always considered him family, especially since the start of his second year. They did that the first time around, when Harry had no prior knowledge of the future. This time around, he would just be… extra considerate. He’d be a better friend, that’s all. He knew someday he would have to tell them of his journey back, and how things turned out the first time. To be honest, he was dreading that conversation. Until that happened, he’d just have to try and do the best he could with what was available. Harry nodded to himself and opened his eyes. A line of red-headed people was starting to enter the train station. He stowed his book back in the trunk and began to work his way toward the gap between platforms nine and ten.
Harry hung back as the Weasley matriarch directed her older boys through the barrier. Just hearing her voice again was music to his ears. He had to swallow twice before he could speak and Ron was already heading toward the barrier.
“E-excuse me,” he said, damning his voice for shaking. “I… was wondering how you get through…?”
Molly, peering worriedly after Ron’s progress, hadn’t heard him at first. However, a soft voice answered him. “I can show you,” it said. He turned and stepping around her mother was Ginny Weasley.
Harry had wondered how he’d react to seeing her again for the first time. By ‘react’ however, he hadn’t anticipated massive cardiac arrest. His heart gave such a thump he was amazed he hadn’t deafened everyone in the station. Her face was rounder, with a few traces of baby fat, but he could still see the lines of the beauty she’d become. He could feel the trunk handle quivering in his hand and struggled to get his emotions back under control. Hadn’t he been practicing Occlumency just a few minutes ago? He grumbled as he felt the blood rushing to his face.
At least her cheeks were a little pink as well, Harry noted. “Er, sure.” He swallowed. “I’d really appreciate that,” he said in a clearer voice.
“Follow me,” she said, taking his free hand and leading him through the crowd. It was an innocent gesture, but it took all of Harry’s willpower not to squeeze it like he never wanted to let go.
When they drew near the metal barrier she turned back toward him. “My brothers all told me about this before. You just run toward the wall like it’s not there. It helps if you close your eyes first.”
Harry made a show of nodding thoughtfully. “Okay, you’re the expert here,” he acquiesced.
Her face grew a little pinker at the comment, but she turned and walked quickly toward the barrier. Harry didn’t follow her advice, but instead watched her as she walked through the wall. He followed her through, and smiled as he saw the Hogwarts Express.
Harry turned toward his guide, just in time to see her mother emerge from the wall behind them, a small smile on her face. “Well, you were right,” he said, smiling. “I owe you one. By the way, I’m Harry. Are you coming to Hogwarts as well?”
That was evidently the wrong question. She looked down, “I’m Ginny. I’d like to come, but I’m too young yet. Mum says next year.”
“Well, it’s good to meet you, Ginny,” he replied, but her eyes stayed downcast and he could see her face getting pinker. Harry racked his brain for a way to keep this going. He saw Ron and the twins heading their way when it came to him. “Could I possibly trouble you for another favour?” he asked quietly.
She looked up at him, puzzled.
“Well,” Harry began with a sheepish expression on his face. “I have this owl now, but no one to write to. You see, I was raised by Muggles, and not terribly nice ones. They said I’m not to allow Hedwig anywhere near their house. Anyway, I have a lot of questions about how they do things in Wizarding houses, things most of the other students have been around since they were born. You don’t, er, suppose I could write you and ask you a few questions, you know if something comes up? I don’t fancy looking like a berk in front of everyone in my classes, and you obviously know all about stuff that everyone takes for granted…” he looked away, a little uncomfortable.
“If-if you think that would help, I don’t mind,” she said shyly.
“That would be brilliant,” Harry said, smiling. “If you want, I’ll tell you all about what goes on in my classes, so you’ll know what to expect.”
“I’d like that, Harry,” she said.
He smiled at her again. This was going better than he expected. “Well, I hate to cut this short, but I’d better get my stuff on board.”
She nodded and started to turn toward her mother.
“Don’t worry though,” Harry said smiling, “I’ve already got half a dozen questions for you.”
Ginny pinked up again, but she was still smiling as she went back to Molly.
Harry worked his way down the train, knowing it was full almost all the way to the back. He smiled seeing Neville looking for Trevor. That was another friend he didn’t want to see waiting five years to come into his own. Eventually Harry made his way to the last compartment, and began trying to stow his possessions. Hedwig’s cage wasn’t a problem, but Harry’s trunk was even heavier this time. I really need to build up my strength, was his exasperated observation, I’m getting really tired of being a bloody weed.
As if on cue, one of the twins appeared like last time and they helped him get his trunk into the compartment. When they were done, one of them peered at the scar on his forehead and let out a low whistle.
“Blimey,” the other one said, “’e looks like-“
“I think he is,” the other one said.
“What?” Harry asked stupidly.
“You’re Harry Potter!”
“Yeah, I guess I am. Wait a minute,” Harry said, narrowing his eyes. “There’s two of you.”
“I hadn’t noticed, mate.”
Harry took a step back and made a horrified face. “Y-you’re not the infamous Weasley twins are you?”
Fred and George looked at each other in confusion.
“They warned me about you in my Hogwarts letter,” Harry continued in an accusing tone. “Where is that slip of parchment? Never mind, I remember what it said. ‘Notorious pranksters, approach with caution, do not touch, eat or drink anything they have been near!’” Harry resolutely clasped his hands behind his back and edged away from the confused red-heads.
“Oi, brother of mine, I think—”
“—our reputation has begun to get—”
“—a bit out of hand. Especially if the headmaster is—”
“—including warnings about us—”
“—in official school correspondence.”
“Too right, brother of mine.”
“Unless Mister Potter is having us on.”
“There is that.”
Both of them turned and stared at Harry.
“Would I kid a Weasley?” Harry asked innocently.
“Brother of mine,” the one on the left began.
“We have been had.” Finished the one on Harry’s right.
“Good one, Harry!” They both said in unison. The one on the right stuck out his right hand, while the one on the left stuck out his left hand. Harry didn’t miss a beat and shook both simultaneously. The twins smiled at each other and exited the compartment.
Harry settled down next to the window and listened to the Weasleys begin to make their goodbyes. He smiled when Fred and George immediately revealed who he was, even before Percy got there. This time Ginny didn’t ask to get on the train to take a look at him, which made him smile even wider.
Ron evidently used the confusion to escape him mother’s ministrations, and boarded the compartment while she lectured his brothers about not asking poor Harry what You Know Who looked like.
“Mind if I sit here?” his future best friend asked.
“Not at all,” Harry replied with a smile. He still had a smudge of black on the end of his nose. “I’m Harry.”
“I’m Ron.” The boy peered at him for a second, and Harry waited for Ron to ask to see his scar. “Why did you want to talk to my sister?”
Things were already starting to happen differently, Harry noted as he stumbled over his prepared answer. He wondered about the open window behind him. The conversation outside seemed to have dropped off. “Well, er, she was really nice and helped me get through the barrier.”
Ron frowned slightly. “Everybody knows how to get onto the platform,” he scoffed.
Harry didn’t comment on how Molly seemed to feel he still needed watching to make sure he got through okay. “Well, I didn’t,” he said, fighting the urge to snap at the boy. Ron had always been a bit thick at times. “And she was kind enough to offer to show me how.” Harry thought about the open window again and added in a louder voice. “Besides, she’s awfully pretty.” Harry swore he heard a quick gasp that was almost submerged in the crowd noise.
Ron stared at Harry with something akin to horror. “You’re daft, you know?”
“Do you know you’ve got something on your nose?” Harry replied smiling.
Percy showed up at this point and Harry and Ron smiled at each other as the twins proceeded to heckle their older brother mercilessly. Ron kept surreptitiously peering at him until Harry simply lifted up his fringe so Ron could see his scar. The boy flushed a little but still leaned forward to look. Harry was tempted to use his Legilimency to see what he was thinking, but he drew the line at using it on his friends. During the war, he only used it on enemies, potential hostiles, and to communicate with allies who also possessed the skill. Harry was tempted, but knew that he needed to set some limits and stick to them.
As the train set off the twins leaned out the windows to wave goodbye. Harry leaned out the next window, ostensibly to look around.
“Don’t cry, Ginny, we’ll send you loads of owls.”
“We’ll send you a Hogwarts toilet seat.”
“We’ll get Harry to autograph it.”
“We’re only joking, Mum.”
Ginny was laughing and running along the platform as the train picked up speed. Harry raised his hand and waved to her, and he saw her wave back before the train rounded the corner. Harry smiled as he settled down in his seat again. He wouldn’t be able to see her for almost a year now, but at least he had built a good start. He sighed and wondered how many letters he’d end up writing this year.
Ron was still looking at him funny.
“I’m really glad to be getting out of town,” Harry explained.
“I heard you were sent to live with some Muggle relatives. What are they like?”
Harry sighed. “Not too bad, except for the fact that they hated my parents and wish I’d died with them.”
Ron made a choking sound.
Harry shrugged. “They can’t stand the whole idea of magic, and thought if they beat me often enough, I’d decide to be normal,” he said bitterly.
“That’s awful,” Ron said in barely more than a whisper. At one time the look of pity in his eyes would have angered Harry, but he’d grown past that. He also hoped that giving Ron as unvarnished a look into the life of the Boy Who Lived would kill any jealousy issues before they even got started.
Ron tried to cheer Harry up by describing the downsides to being the youngest son in a family full of brilliant wizards. As he listened to the boy’s litany, Harry wondered if he could do something about Ron’s sense of inferiority compared to his brothers. That was something even more delicate, but Harry didn’t really want to wait until fifth or sixth year for him to finally get over with it. Ron needed to find his own identity and get comfortable with it. He settled for commiserating about not having money, and told Ron stories about the awful hand-me-downs he’d gotten from Dudley over the years.
When Ron pulled Scabbers out of his jacket, Harry jerked back with a hiss. Sitting asleep in Ron’s hand was the bastard who’d betrayed his parents to Voldemort. It took a moment before Harry could get his hands to stop shaking. It would be so easy to kill him now, but Merlin knew what it would do to their time line.
Ron flinched back, cradling his pet protectively against his chest. Harry noticed his reaction and started apologizing. “Sorry about that, Ron, you just, kind of startled me. I’ve had a couple of bad experiences with rats, wild ones you know. It just took me by surprise. My aunt and uncle, they, well, never mind.”
Ron looked apologetic. “Sorry, I just didn’t think, I—”
Harry held up his hand. “Nobody got hurt, so I think we should stop apologizing to each other.”
Ron smiled, a little sheepishly, and they got past an awkward moment.
When the woman with the snack cart came by, Harry was hit by an inspiration as he again purchased a wide variety of sweets. Ron’s ears went pink and he muttered about having brought sandwiches. Harry looked at him out of the corner of his eye and asked what kind.
Ron unwrapped the package and made a face. “Corned beef,” he sighed.
“Really?” Harry asked happily. “That’s my favourite!” He looked down at the sweets on the seat next to him and frowned. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to take some of this junk for one your sandwiches, would you?”
Ron looked at Harry like he’d gone mental.
“Damn, I suppose not,” Harry sighed, grinning ruefully. “Can’t blame a bloke for trying, can you?”
Wide-eyed, Ron handed him a sandwich. Harry gleefully shoved a handful of pastries and cakes toward his friend, and then dug into the sandwich with obvious relish. He was glad he’d bought a bottle of pumpkin juice, because it was a bit dry. On the other hand, he’d gotten out of the habit of eating a lot of sweets after everything had gone to hell in the future, and Molly Weasley’s cooking was something he’d loved, even if it was just a leftover sandwich.
Harry ended up trading the majority of his goodies for three of Ron’s sandwiches, and acted like he’d still gotten the far better deal. Ron held onto the last sandwich and chewed it slowly, staring at Harry all the while.
“I suppose it makes sense, with as many boys to feed as your Mum has, she’d have to be a fantastic cook,” Harry said thoughtfully. “I don’t know what she does differently, but her corned beef tastes a lot better than mine.”
“You know how to cook?” Ron asked, a little incredulously.
Harry shrugged. “My aunt and uncle make me do most of the cooking and cleaning. It’s not like I had much choice. I think that’s a big part of the reason why they didn’t want me to know about Hogwarts. My cousin won’t do any chores, so they’re going to be stuck while I’m away.” Harry smiled a little vindictively while Ron shook his head.
Soon they were both full and just nibbling. Ron explained about the Chocolate Frog cards and Harry stuck the Dumbledore card he’d been given into a pocket. He might need to drop that clue about Nicolas Flamel at some point in the future.
They were sampling the Bertie Botts Every Flavour beans when Neville stuck his head into the compartment, asking if they’d seen his toad. The boy looked depressed when they said they hadn’t, so Harry spoke up. “I think there is charm you can learn to summon things. That might help out next time he goes on walkabout.”
Neville brightened a bit at that, and then left to resume his search. Ron was just getting ready to try and turn Scabbers yellow, a colour which Harry felt to be highly appropriate for the rat, when the door opened again and a very familiar bushy-haired girl asked if they’d seen Neville’s toad.
Having already seen two of his oldest friends that day, Harry was better able to control his reactions this time. It was probably just as well that he’d run into Hermione last. She tended to pick up on things other people missed.
After Ron’s spell failed to turn Scabbers yellow, Harry decided to try and smooth out some first impressions.
“Are you sure that’s a real spell?” Hermione asked. “Well, it’s not very good is it? I’ve—”
“Ron,” Harry interjected, “did you get that spell from Fred or George?”
“George,” Ron answered with dawning comprehension.
“Your brother was just winding you up, mate,” Harry confirmed.
“Well, that wasn’t very nice of him, was it? Trying to make his brother look foolish is just mean,” the bossy girl fumed.
At least she’s being bossy on Ron’s behalf this time, Harry thought with a laugh. He watched Ron’s eyes get wide as Hermione went off on a rant about how hard she was working to learn magic, and George’s joke was just like all the myths that surround magic in Muggle society and make it harder for someone new to the art to understand what was really going on. She concluded with “-and that’s really a sore point for me as nobody in my family is magic at all. My name’s Hermione Granger, by the way. And you are?”
“Are you really?” she asked in a delighted tone. “I read about you in Modern Magical History, The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts, and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century.”
“Don’t believe everything you read,” Harry practically growled. He did end up reading all those books eventually in the future, and each one of them was laughable wrong on the major points.
Hermione blinked. “Why ever not?” she asked, sounding almost appalled.
“Books still have to be written by people, Hermione,” Harry said gently. “They say that history books are written by the victors. The only person that was there that night and is still alive is sitting right here, and I sure haven’t given any interviews, mainly because I’m not even sure what happened. So how could they honestly claim to know?”
Hermione looked a little stunned as she drank this all in. One of the less endearing traits she was starting to develop is the habit of depending on her books first and foremost for everything. Hopefully the seed Harry planted today would help her to recognize that blind spot before it came back to bite her too many times.
“Well, that is something to think about. Are you hoping to get sorted into Ravenclaw, Harry? I’m hoping for Gryffindor, that’s where they say Professor Dumbledore was sorted, but Ravenclaw wouldn’t be too bad I suppose.”
Harry shook his head. “My mum and dad were both Gryffindors, so that’s where I’ll go. Ron, too.”
“How did you know that Harry?”
Damn, I got to watch myself, Harry stopped himself from wincing just in time. “Ron, everyone’s heard of the Weasleys: Red hair, lots of boys, and too damn brave to end up anywhere but Gryffindor.”
Ron ducked his head to cough, but Harry noted his ears had turned a delicate shade of fuchsia.
“Well, I don’t have any family traditions to guide me here,” Hermione fretted.
“I heard someone say that if you really want to go into a particular house, and make your desire clear during the sorting process, it will almost always send you to that house.” Let them think I heard it from a parent today, Harry mused, rather than coming out of my own mouth a life time ago.
The girl looked thoughtful for a moment, then thanked them and left to continue searching for Neville’s toad.
“I’m not sure I’m too crazy about her being in the same house with us, Harry,” Ron said slowly, staring at the closed door.
“I am. I think she’ll be right handy when we’re revising.”
“You’re already talking about homework? Harry, we’re not even to Hogsmeade yet!”
“Ron, I have to take it pretty seriously. If you flunk out, you go back home to your mother’s cooking. I’m not so lucky; if I flunk out I go back to hell with the Dursleys.”
Ron made a face at Harry’s remark about how lucky he was. “She still seems kind of mental to me,” he said stubbornly.
“You mean when she was getting mad about George tricking you with that fake spell? Ron, she was getting mad on your behalf you know.” Harry stopped and cracked an evil smirk. “Maybe she fancies you?” he asked.
Ron choked and coughed. “Harry, that’s not funny,” he gasped.
“No funnier than you harassing me about talking to your sister.”
Ron let out a quiet snort. “You’re an odd duck, Harry.”
You have no idea, old friend, Harry thought sadly. There was still such a long way to go.
Beta’s Note: the author sent me chapters three through twenty-two this morning. I will do what I can to beta three megabytes of work and get them promptly up on this archive. Growl at me, not at him.