To begin with: this is a version of events where, on the morning of November 1st, 1981, the police are called to a house in Surrey.
When they arrive, a large man with a red face and a moustache is waiting for them, brandishing a baby. To be more accurate: he is brandishing a basket. The basket contains a baby.
He tells the police that his wife found the basket on their doorstep that morning. “Gave her the shock of her life,” he says, with a chuckle that does not seem the least bit sincere.
The police officers have a lot of questions about this, but the man does not have any useful answers. His wife, he tells them, is not in any shape to be interviewed.
“She’s been poorly,” he says, “and we’ve got a baby of our own to worry about, keeping us up at all hours.”
The baby in the basket seems to be about a year old. He is cheerful, seems healthy aside from a cut on his forehead, with a crooked sticking plaster on it. He has startlingly green eyes. There is no identifying information in the basket, except for a torn scrap of paper with his name is Harry on it in a delicate hand.
There is nothing else to be done, it seems. The officers take baby Harry, and leave.
One of them comes back a few days later for a follow-up interview with the woman who found the baby. She seems a little fragile, and her own baby, in the next room, keeps up a constant shrieking tantrum the whole time the officer is there. “I’m sorry,” the woman says, with a brittle smile. “This has all been a bit much. I recently lost my sister, you see.”
So: that’s all for the Dursleys.
Baby Harry, on the bright side, is a sweet-tempered infant in good health, with no known legal claimants to custody. He is adopted very quickly, by a family who has had a nursery standing empty for some time, and for whom he is the fulfillment of a long-awaited dream.
So, rather than a cupboard under the stairs, Harry has a cozy bedroom with a window seat, a heap of stuffed animals, a rocking chair where his mother sings him lullabies that are really her favorite poems set to made-up tunes. He has a father who already owned a whole shelf of cookbooks the day they brought him home, and promptly starts filling a second shelf with South Asian cookbooks because he has read that children of color adopted by white parents should be encouraged to maintain links to their culture of origin.
He is not, from this point, Harry Potter. He is, perhaps, Harry Jones or MacIntyre or Lee; more importantly, he is happy and loved.
When Harry is two or three, something terrible happens that he knows nothing about. It does not make the Muggle papers, but it does, to Dumbledore’s dismay, make the Daily Prophet.
There is a great deal of upset, and a number of people want to know why no one noticed, before now, that the Boy Who Lived has gone missing. The question of why no one noticed the murder of his aunt and uncle is quite secondary.
Dumbledore has no good answers, and no luck at all in finding any. The problem of public attention, at least, solves itself when Sirius Black escapes from Azkaban, and captures the Daily Prophet’s front page for a good long while.
It would be nice to think that whichever Death Eater tracked down and murdered Vernon and Petunia did not bother to murder Dudley.
I am not sure I can offer you that comfort, sadly.
They left without what they came for, at least: even if they had been able to find the police officers (they weren’t, as Vernon had long since forgotten their names), or the social worker who handled Harry’s case (who had changed jobs six months ago), they would never have been able to navigate Muggle bureaucracy well enough to find Harry himself.
Some people are more determined, though, and have better motivations.
When Harry is six, a dog follows him home from school.
In fact, the dog had also followed him to school that morning, waited patiently by the gate to the playground until recess, allowed innumerable children to pet him and tug his ears, and consented to play fetch only when it was Harry throwing the ball. His parents are surprised, but not dismayed, when their son comes home with an extremely large and exceptionally well-behaved black dog, and begs to keep him.
“He looks just like that stuffed toy you loved when you were a baby,” his mother says. “Remember?”
The dog is christened Padfoot, after the toy, which name had been his parents’ best guess at what baby Harry called it. Luckily, they were good guessers.
Padfoot is a very good dog. He does not chew things that ought not be chewed, he is wonderfully protective of Harry, he sheds much less than you would expect. He does, however, have a strange knack for removing every dog collar Harry’s parents buy for him within twenty-four hours. Eventually, Harry goes out to the shed, locates a length of curb chain as thick as his thumb and a small carabiner, and attaches Padfoot’s tags and license to it. It ought to slip off right away, as it is far too loose to be called a collar, but to everyone but Harry’s surprise Padfoot tolerates it with perfect equanimity.
It’s not like he ever actually needs a leash, anyway: it was already clear that taking Padfoot for a walk meant that both parties agreed to the polite fiction that the leash meant anything at all. He is an extremely smart dog. It’s a little uncanny.
Harry’s parents never know that their dog’s original plan had been to kidnap their son, or that he changed his mind when he saw their cheerful, bright house, the shelves of cookbooks and the wall of strangely frozen family photos, the rocking chair where Harry’s mother sings come away, o human child to him at bedtime. Padfoot has lived with much worse. For Harry’s sake, he would again, but he’s glad he doesn’t have to.
When Harry is nearly eight, a number of extraordinary things happen:
First of all, Harry and his dad decide to repaint Harry’s room.
(This is not one of the extraordinary things.)
That night, Harry sleeps on the downstairs sofa, as his room still smells of wet paint a bit too much.
(Neither is this.)
He has a harder time falling asleep than usual: the sofa is a little too soft, and he is used to Padfoot sleeping on top of his feet, but there isn’t enough room so Padfoot is sleeping on the floor beside him instead. This is why Harry is still just barely awake when the extraordinary thing happens.
(Here it is:)
Harry hears a strange sound, a sort of fluttering, scratching noise, and cracks open one eye. The living room is not quite dark, so he can see Padfoot get up and go silently over to the window.
Padfoot noses the curtain aside. There is an owl outside the window, hooting urgently. Harry is now wide awake, but keeping perfectly still in case this turns out to be a dream after all. He doesn’t want to wake up in the middle of whatever this is.
He watches as his dog opens the window, and wonders how he manages it with paws. The owl flies inside, swooping over the sofa towards the kitchen. Padfoot follows it.
Very carefully, as quietly as he can, Harry levers himself up enough to peer over the back of the sofa. He can see into the kitchen, where the owl has just landed on the table. Padfoot and the owl regard each other silently for a moment. Then Padfoot lets out a doggy huff– a sort of ‘well, all right’ sound– and turns into a human being.
This is too astonishing for Harry to even gasp at.
The owl hoots softly at Padfoot, who is now a human person. “All right, all right,” grumbles Padfoot, formerly Harry’s dog, now a man with tangled black hair and ragged clothes. The man, who was until very recently a dog, takes a folded piece of paper from the owl. The owl hoots again, impatiently.
“Give me a moment, all right?” says the man who is also Harry’s dog, Padfoot. He opens the fridge and takes out the other half of the sandwich Harry’s dad had for lunch. He taps it with a wooden stick, and quite suddenly there are two identical sandwiches, one of which the man-who-is-Padfoot puts back.
The second one he eats. Just sits down at Harry’s kitchen table like he wasn’t a dog a minute ago, pulls up a chair, and eats the sandwich, while unfolding and reading the piece of paper that the owl gave him. He gives some bits of sandwich to the owl, too.
After he’s eaten, he takes a biro out of the jam jar in the middle of the table and writes something on the back of the paper, folds it back up, and gives it to the owl. The owl takes the paper in its talons, and swoops back out of the kitchen, over the sofa, and through the window.
Harry watches it go, still astonished. Then he turns back to the kitchen, where Padfoot, who is still a human and not at all a dog, is staring at him.
Harry stares back.
“Damn,” says the man. “I suppose you have some questions.”
“Are you magic?” asks Harry.
“Yes,” says the man. He is wearing Padfoot’s tags and license on a necklace.
“Are you a werewolf?” asks Harry.
“What? No,” says the man. “Why would I– that’s not how werewolves work.”
“Well, no,” says Harry, who has now had a second to think about it and feels a little foolish. “I suppose you’d have to be, like, a reverse werewolf, right? Because you’re a dog all month and now you’re a man.”
“I’m not a reverse werewolf either,” says the man. “I’m your godfather.”
“My fairy godfather?” Harry asks, because his mother reads him a lot of Brothers Grimm.
“Not -– in that sense, no,” says the man. “Just your regular godfather.”
“My regular godfather, who is magic,” says Harry.
“Yes,” says Padfoot, who has lived in Harry’s house for more than a year now, and read most of the books on its shelves in the middle of the night, including the ones with titles like The Adoptive Parent’s Toolkit and My Family, My Journey.
He says, “Your birth dad was my best friend.”
“Was he magic too?” asks Harry.
“Yes,” says Padfoot. “And so was your mum. And so are you.”
“What?” says Harry, who had not been expecting this turn of events in the least.
“You’re a wizard, Harry,” says Padfoot. “And so am I.”
For obvious reasons, Harry does not get a lot of sleep that night. He wants the whole story, and Sirius -- without quite meaning to -- tells it to him. In another life, he might not have done so. In another life, there might have been things he’d been told that Harry shouldn't know, and things that he’d simply forgotten over the years, and things that still hurt too much to talk about.
But in this place, and at this time, none of those things are true. Sirius spent two awful years in Azkaban, and four years free. Since the day he found Harry, he has been saving up all the things he wants to tell his godson. So he starts at the beginning:
“I met James and Lily on the train to Hogwarts, when we were eleven. That's the school for witches and wizards; you'll go there too, when you're older.”
For the rest of his life, Harry will remember how his first impression of the wizarding world was formed: his godfather’s hoarse voice, full of affection for the dead, the only sound in the silent house. The darkened kitchen, the wandlight Padfoot casts throwing his too-thin face into sharp relief. That light and that warmth, keeping the dark at bay.
When he gets to the part about Harry’s aunt and uncle, Padfoot hesitates. He’s plowed through the telling of the awful night that James and Lily died, Wormtail’s betrayal, his own mad grief, and it’s only now occurring to him that much of it was not a story a small boy ought to hear. No matter how much of a right he has to hear it.
So he says, “You were supposed to go to live with your mother’s sister. I don’t know why, exactly, but you ended up here instead. No one in the wizarding world knew how to find you.”
(This is only very slightly a lie: some time ago, he and Remus tracked down the police report filed by the officers who took Harry away from the Dursleys. Then they destroyed it, so that no one else could follow the same trail to Harry.)
He tells Harry, “In Azkaban, four years ago, a visitor let me have a newspaper. I saw that your aunt and uncle had died, but you were missing. So I escaped, and I found you.”
Harry asks, “But what happened to them?”
Sirius says “I don’t know. Not for certain.”
(This is rather more of a lie. He has some very good guesses.)
This is clearly not enough of an answer for Harry, but he is not quite eight years old and it has been a very eventful night. He’s yawning, his eyes drooping shut.
“I’ll tell you the rest, but not tonight,” Sirius says. “Can you sleep on the sofa?”
Harry makes a face. “It’s too squashy,” he says.
So his godfather transfigures the sofa into a decent approximation of Harry’s bed upstairs, and tucks Harry in. He turns back into Padfoot and flops down across Harry’s feet.
Just before he falls asleep, Harry murmurs “You’re my godfather, and you’re a dog. You’re my dogfather.”
This is the funniest joke in the history of not-quite-eight-year-olds, and Harry falls asleep mid-giggle.
In the morning, Harry wakes up to find the sofa has gone back to being a sofa and his dog has gone back to being a dog. His mum is putting her earrings on in the hall mirror, and whistling to herself. His dad is making breakfast noises in the kitchen.
But: there is a large tawny feather on the end table. Harry recalls, vividly, watching the owl preen itself while Padfoot read his letter at the kitchen table.
He looks at Padfoot. Padfoot holds his gaze for a long, deliberate moment, and then he winks.
That whole day, Harry is full of restless energy. He and his dad finish painting the spots they missed the day before, and put his furniture back where it belongs, but his heart’s not in it. All day he is wondering: Am I really magic? What does that mean? What kind of magic can I do? Do I need to have a magic wand? How do i get a magic wand? Will Padfoot let me borrow his? Can I do magic without it?
His parents notice his distraction, of course, but they let it pass. Harry will tell him what's wrong when he’s ready to. He always has before.
By bedtime, Harry is practically vibrating. Padfoot flops down across the end of the bed with a little more force than usual, and fixes Harry with a doggy glare until Harry settles. His mum reads him a chapter of The Sword in the Stone, and Harry lets her sing him a lullabye even though he’s started saying, lately, that he’s too old for lullabies.
She sings, to the tune she made up when Harry was a baby, come away, o human child, to the waters and the wild, and Harry does his best to act sleepy as she goes through the verses.
When the house is finally silent, Harry sits up in bed.
“Now?” he asks. Padfoot sighs and grumbles and jumps down from the bed and turns into a human being again.
“Try not to explode,” says Sirius, and Harry’s eyes get very big.
“Can that happen? To wizards?” he asks, and Sirius has his first really good belly laugh in about six and a half years.
Once they have both calmed down a little, Sirius answers as many of Harry’s questions as he can. He tells Harry that, yes, most wizards need a wand to do most magic, but that children sometime will do wandless magic by accident. That there are wizarding banks and shops and bureaucrats. That there is owl post and order-by-floo. That there are wizarding towns and secret magical neighborhoods hidden all over the world. That while werewolves are real, reverse werewolves are not.
Harry remembers to ask, then: “Who sent you the owl last night?”
So Sirius explains that there is one other wizard in the world who knows where Harry is, and who knows that Sirius was wrongfully convicted, and that he is using the Fidelius charm to protect them.
Sirius has hardly seen Moony in person, not wolf-shaped, for the better part of a year. He misses him like hell. At the full moons, Sirius usually arrives after Harry goes to sleep and leaves just after sunrise.
The last time they spent any proper time together, both human-shaped, had been when Harry and his parents went to visit a family friend with very bad allergies, and been out of the house long enough that Sirius could Apparate away.
The flat where Moony was staying was shabby and awful, of course. Even though, years ago, Sirius had given Moony the key to his bank vault and all but ordered him to use it.
The shabby, awful flat had not actually mattered very much to either of them. It had a table where they sat side-by-side for an hour or so, shoulders pressed together, and went over what Remus had found in the course of hunting for Wormtail. It also contained a bed, where they spent the rest of the day. And that was all, really, for months.
Writing letters helps, a little. Their two-way mirrors help, a little. A very little.
(None of the above is included in Padfoot’s explanation. That is most definitely a conversation for the future, when Harry has known his dog is a wizard for more than twenty-four hours and Sirius has worked out what to say without using horrible euphemisms or embarrassing them both to death.)
Once Harry has run out of questions, or at least paused to pick out the next set, Sirius says, “We should talk about your mum and dad. What are you going to tell them?”
(He’s read all the parenting books in the house. They mostly recommend that parents should do the exact opposite of whatever his own parents would have done, so he thinks the Muggles might have the right idea on this particular front. And they’re all very big on honesty and communication.)
“Well,” says Harry, and falls silent, thinking. “Should I tell them I’m magic?”
“That’s up to you,” says Padfoot. “I think you’ll want to, sooner or later. And you’ll have to, before you go to Hogwarts.”
“Wait,” says Harry, “if no wizards know where I am, how can I go--”
“Don’t worry about it,” says Sirius. “Moony and I are working on that. We’ll sort it out.”
(This is not a lie because they are, in fact, working on it. They just haven’t actually had any success yet.)
“Okay,” says Harry. “Then I want to tell them soon. And they should meet you. But, um. You should get some not-magic clothes?”
“What’s wrong with my clothes?” asks Sirius, who is fully aware that they are basically rags. But he spends ninety percent of the time as a dog, nine percent alone, and one percent with Moony. So he only really wears clothes at all for that nine percent.
(Sometimes, as Padfoot, he condescends to wear a red bandanna.)
“They’re a bit, um.” says Harry. His trying-not-to-disapprove-and-failing look is so perfectly Lily’s that Sirius cannot bring himself to disagree.
“All right, all right, I’ll smarten up a bit,” says Sirius. “Think about how you want to break the news, eh?”
Harry agrees, and the day’s nervous energy is quite entirely gone, so he is asleep before Sirius has even changed back to Padfoot.
Before he does, Sirius nicks some of Harry’s dad’s clothes from the laundry and charms them to a) fit and b) not look obviously stolen. Also he cuts his hair. It makes his ears feel cold but he does look less like a crazed escaped wizard murderer, so ten points to Harry on that one.
The next night Harry says “Oh, that’s much better,” in deeply relieved and deeply Evans-esque tones, the moment Padfoot turns into Sirius.
Sirius is too happy to be insulted, much.
The next week of Harry’s life is very strange.
Up to this point, the biggest secret he’s ever kept from his parents was that his mum had bought his dad a stand mixer for Christmas last year. And that was only keeping a secret from one parent! This is at least twice as hard as that.
Luckily for Harry, painting his room has given Harry’s dad what his mum calls “a case of the DIYs,” so both his parents are a little preoccupied: his dad with pulling up old carpet and repainting cabinets; his mum with finding places to put the furniture and dishes until he’s done.
Then Harry’s dad decides it is Time To Re-Roof The Shed. Harry’s dad has claimed it was Time To Re-Roof The Shed at least once a year for as long as Harry can remember. It’s the first time it has seemed at all likely that it will actually happen. This is what leads to the following:
Harry’s dad is on top of a ladder, tugging old pieces of tar paper off the shed roof. His mum is holding the ladder. Harry is holding a ball, which Padfoot is waiting patiently for him to throw. Harry sees the following happen, in what seems like slow motion:
His dad pulls a little too hard at a stuck piece of tar paper. It comes loose abruptly. He loses his balance, and goes toppling backwards off the ladder with a shout. Harry’s heart, it seems, makes a valiant attempt at leaping out of his mouth --
And then his dad, rather than falling to the ground with a bone-rattling thud, floats softly as a soap bubble to the ground. He sits up, bewildered but unharmed, and looks to Harry.
Harry remembers it later, very vividly. The first thing his mum and dad did was look at him.
Then their gazes slide past him, going from startled to outright astonished. Harry turns to see that, behind him, Padfoot is human-shaped and brandishing his wand.
“Um,” says Harry.
“Hell,” says Padfoot.
“Language!” says Harry’s dad.
“Oh, honestly," says Harry’s mum, and helps Harry’s dad to his feet.
When they all go inside to have a very long and awkward conversation, they are brought up short when they remember that the the living room carpet has recently been torn up and there is not really anywhere to sit. There are only three chairs for the kitchen table. Everyone looks at each other for a moment, a bit helplessly. Harry tries and fails to stifle a giggle.
Padfoot sighs and points his wand at the pile of torn-up carpet bits and mutters something that turns it into a chair. He drags it behind him, into the kitchen, and Harry and his parents follow.
“Right,” says Padfoot, and plonks the chair down at the kitchen table. It is almost but not quite a match for the other three: the spindles are the wrong shape and the seat has a slightly different print.
“Padfoot’s my godfather!” Harry says brightly, climbing into the next chair. “He’s magic! He says my first mum and dad were magic too!”
Harry’s mum and dad exchange a look that Harry cannot interpret in the slightest, and sit down.
“So are you… I don’t know, some kind of werewolf?” Harry’s mum asks.
“Where are Muggles getting these ideas -- no. Sorry, let’s start over.”
Padfoot tells them a heavily edited-down version of the story he told Harry, doing his best to elide over the ‘technically an escaped convict’ and ‘evil wizards want Harry dead’ bits. They are surprised by this, but not… quite as surprised as Sirius expected them to be.
“When Harry was a baby, he had a mobile,” his mum says, slowly, considering. “Over his crib. It used to spin on its own, all the time.”
“D’you remember -- the courgettes,” Harry’s dad says, and his mum nods.
Harry makes a face. “I hate courgettes!” he says.
“We know,” says his mum.
“When you were two, all of the courgettes in the house disappeared,” says his dad. “For a month, every time we tried to bring any home, they would vanish again. We gave up buying any for a year!”
“This is why we always had snakes at the back of the garden at our old house!” says his mum. “Harry, you made friends with them. I'd be hanging out the washing, and you'd toddle over with half a dozen snakes wrapped ‘round your arms, wanting to introduce me.”
“So you knew I was magic?” Harry says.
His mum makes a face. “We didn’t know what to think. It seemed impossible.”
“But we thought you were -- special, somehow,” says his dad.
Sirius feels as if he has lost control of this conversation, a bit.
(It occurs to him that perhaps there was a reason, beyond Muggle silliness and superstition, that Harry’s parents have gone to such lengths to fill their son’s head with stories about Muggle myths and Muggle magic: with fairy godmothers and wise sorcerers and noble quests. They were trying, as best they could, to give their adopted son a sense of connection to the culture of his birth -- without knowing what it was.)
(Harry is an adult before he works this out for himself. He is grateful for it, and realizes that he has been grateful for it, all along.)
“All right, let’s leave that aside for now. We’ve got off track,” says Harry’s dad. “You’ve been hanging around here for over a year, pretending to be a dog. Why not just tell us?”
“The fewer people know, the safer Harry will be,” says Sirius. “I promised James and Lily I’d keep him safe. That’s all I care about.”
There is a short, uncomfortable silence, broken by Harry when he tugs at Padfoot’s sleeve and hisses, “Tell them about the wizard school!”
For the first few months there is an uneasy sort of detente between Sirius and Harry’s parents.
They’re afraid, but he expected that. All his life, Sirius was told that Muggles would be afraid of wizards, if they knew about them. But he realizes, very quickly, that they are not afraid of but afraid for: afraid for Harry, for his safety, for how he will fit into a world he only knows from Sirius’ descriptions. Afraid for themselves a little too, for what their warm, bright house will feel like when Harry leaves it for some impossible-seeming school that they can’t ever see for themselves. For what might happen, if he chooses to leave them behind for good.
They’re afraid for Sirius too, though that takes the longest for him to see. Afraid he won’t be able to clear his name, that he’ll be sent back to Azkaban, that their son will lose his godfather so soon after finding him.
(It never occurs to him that he is, to their eyes, still so very young. He isn’t even thirty, and they waited a long time before Harry came to them. They’re old enough that he could be their son, if things were otherwise.)
So: things are weird.
But there are consolations.
Harry is brilliantly, incandescently happy. He loved Padfoot when Padfoot was his weirdly clever dog, but that is nothing next to how he feels now that Padfoot is his secret magical godfather in disguise as a weirdly clever dog.
Over dinner every night Harry has a new list of questions: about magic, about Hogwarts, about his birth parents.
(His parents insist that Padfoot be human-shaped for dinner and eat at the table, which is funny because when he was dog-shaped he was very strictly Not Allowed on or at the table.)
When they can get a word in edgewise, Harry’s mum and dad have questions too. To start with, things like Harry’s medical history (a work in progress; Moony will have the records soon), his real birthday (a month later than his social worker’s best guess), if there are other Potters or Evanses somewhere in the world (no. Not so far as Sirius knows.)
They loosen up, in time. It helps when Sirius recounts his schoolboy mischief, the summer he spent with James’ family, the time Lily hexed James’ hair bright blue, so comprehensively that he had to let it grow out.
“We were idiots,” Sirius admits, but Harry’s mum and dad look at each other across the table, and both are thinking no. You were children.
That makes it all easier for them, somehow. More comprehensible. Children with magic wands are still children. Children who have to choose sides in a war, who sign up to fight it before they’ve lived any kind of life, are still children.
As for Sirius, even one dinner at that table would have been worth the years before it, but he gets to sit there every night.
(Not every night. He can go to Remus openly for the full moons, now, even take the afternoon before and the morning after. The house is warded to the gills and he's left emergency portkeys in every room. He makes Remus teach him how to use a telephone so he can call and check in as soon as the sun rises, just in case.)
So this is how the days pass:
Harry’s dad teaches Sirius to cook Muggle-style, not that he’d ever learned to cook any other way. Harry’s mum writes back and forth with Remus, long letters that often aren’t about magic at all, but about the books they’re reading, the funny things Harry did that day, Remus grumbling about his current dreadful job. Padfoot walks Harry to school every morning, and waits for him at the gate after class every day.
Remus doesn’t visit. He and Sirius aren’t quite sure enough that it would be safe, not absolutely certain that he wouldn’t lead anyone to Harry. By now they would just as soon keep all of wizardkind from Harry’s door, Death Eater or no. It was Dumbledore who lost him, after all.
And Sirius is still a fugitive, though Remus says that no one is looking all that hard anymore, given how thoroughly he’s vanished. So none of Harry’s grown-ups entirely trust that he wouldn’t be taken away, ‘for his own protection’ from Muggles or murderers or some other flimsy excuse.
But there are letters going back and forth constantly, gifts at Christmas and birthdays and just because. Harry’s dad sends Sirius off at the full moon with a hot meal, packed up, and Harry’s mum tucks a book she thought Remus might like into the top of the bag. All of them are happier than they ever could have expected to be.
Except for Harry, of course, who is just as happy as he ought to be. Why should he ever expect to be otherwise?
One thing that Sirius relearns, in those years, is that time passes faster when you’re happy. Maybe that’s why his school years go by in a blink, in his memory, and Azkaban stretches out far past its rightful span. So it seems to be no time at all before Harry is ten, and Sirius comes back from a full-moon night at the beginning of summer, and says:
“Right. We’re going to need to figure out Hogwarts.”
The trouble is, there are a few too many variables. Sirius is trying, though.
Moony, to start with, is conducting a stealth information-gathering campaign by way of getting his few remaining Muggle-born school friends drunk and nostalgic, so as to find out how they got their Hogwarts letters.
“You mean you don’t know?” asks Harry’s mum.
“It never came up,” says Sirius.
What he means is, at Hogwarts in those days Muggleborns didn’t advertise the fact if they could help it. They laughed along with jokes they didn’t understand, nodded at references to Beedle the Bard and Martin Miggs. They tried not to talk about television or Muggle film. If everyone assumed they were half-bloods or just not from a very old family, so much the better.
Evans was the rare exception. She was the one who never made a secret of it, who hung posters of Muggle musicians on the walls of Gryffindor Tower and dared anyone to say a word. She started defying Voldemort long before she ever knew his name.
Sirius doesn’t know it, but he’s worrying for nothing. Even as he and Remus and Harry’s parents fret, Minerva McGonagall is climbing the stairs of a tower in Hogwarts castle. In the room at the top of the stairs, she sits down to copy out names and addresses from the Book of Admittance.
(There are names without addresses, some years. Children who have left the country, usually. There are more such names from the war years than before or after. Some of them are living somewhere else in the world. Some of them are not living at all. Minerva doesn’t know which category Harry Potter fits into, and has tried not to let the thought haunt her.)
So: Minerva copies down her list of names. They’re in order by when the child first showed signs of magic, so there is a bit of skipping around. She’s always careful to check for late bloomers.
Ah, she thinks, another Weasley. Last but one, if she remembers correctly.
The Granger girl and the Finch-Fletchley boy will need someone sent to the house -- she makes a note of it.
Oh dear, the Malfoy boy. As if she didn’t get enough condescending owls from his father already.
Another Muggleborn boy, and his first name is Harry. Poor thing , Minerva thinks. He won’t even know what the fuss is about. She takes down the address, resolves to make that visit herself.
She’s relieved to see Neville Longbottom, a full three pages later than the rest of his year-mates. But not surprised, not really -- as she recalls, Alice was a late bloomer too, and a wonderfully talented witch when she was grown.
Weeks later, she Apparates to a small park a short walk from her destination. The house, when she arrives, is snug and well-kept. There is a bicycle propped by the gate, a swing hung from a sturdy tree branch, a large black dog napping in a patch of sunlight.
It is also heavily, heavily warded. And warded well: Minerva doesn’t sense magic at all until she steps through the gate, and if she didn’t consider Alastor Moody a close personal friend she might not have thought to look closer at the faint buzz of magic she can sense. When she does, it becomes clear: whoever protected this house was operating on Moody-level paranoia.
This is... concerning. And puzzling. But Minerva has a job to do. She strides up to the door and knocks firmly, but no one answers.
Well, it is a weekday. If the parents are at work, and their son is being looked after somewhere else...
(Some family friend, perhaps? There were those who’d hidden in the Muggle world, during the war, and never came back. That would explain the wards. It’s not unheard of.)
Minerva considers her options. There had been a little café around the corner. She’ll have a coffee -- the Muggles really have done better at coffee than wizards -- and try again at dinnertime.
Minerva sits, and enjoys her coffee, and is thinking seriously about ordering another when Remus Lupin sits down in front of her.
“Hello, Professor,” he says.
She hasn’t seen him in -- years, now she thinks about it. Four or five at least. Could that be right?
He looks wonderfully well, by Lupin standards. Too much grey in his hair, perhaps. But not nearly so thin and hollow-eyed as he was, in the days after the war. And if the clothes he wear are Muggle, at least they don’t look like he bought them third-hand.
“Remus, what on Earth,” she begins.
“I can’t tell you, he says. “Or, I could, but -- this is not a spell I am willing to take risks with. Not again.”
And the pieces fall in place. “Oh, Remus,” says Minerva. “Fidelius?”
“I’m sure I couldn’t say,” says Remus.
“I see,” says Minerva. “So the name in the register--”
“Is his name,” says Remus. “He was adopted, entirely legally. He had been turned over to the Muggle police as a foundling.”
“Oh,” says Minerva, “how could they! Albus warned her, he said they’d only have the blood protection if she kept him--”
“Well, she didn’t,” Remus says. “And I won’t blame her. She’s dead, and he’s been safe and happy.”
“And you’ve been... keeping watch,” says Minerva.
“Exactly so,” says Remus.
“All alone,” says Minerva, but that can’t be right. He couldn’t have cast Fidelius by himself--
“Not quite,” says Remus. “There’s something else you need to know. I didn’t know it myself, at the time, but -- Peter was their Secret-Keeper. They switched, at the last minute.”
This is a great deal more world-shattering revelation than Minerva had been planning on today.
“So he was the one who--”
“Yes,” says Remus.
“And he didn’t really--”
“No,” says Remus. “He’s an animagus. He transformed and ran. I’ve looked for him, on and off, but lately I’ve had -- other priorities.”
“An animagus,” says Minerva.
“Yes. Not just him,” says Remus.
There had been a black dog, napping in the yard. “Ah,” says Minerva. “So the two of you found him.”
“Yes,” says Remus. “We weren’t... inclined to trust anyone else, when we did.”
“I don’t think I can blame you,” says Minerva. Two years in Azkaban! she thinks. “And you’re completely certain?”
“When he first found me, I didn’t really believe him until he’d got down about a gallon of Veritaserum,” Remus said.
“Wise of you. Speaking of which,” Minerva says. She pulls a small glass vial out of her sleeve.
“Fair enough,” says Remus, and orders a coffee.
Harry knows that Padfoot and his parents are worried, but very little of it trickles down to him. It can’t: he’s too excited.
His letter comes in the post, in July, a little after what he has started to think of as his old birthday. Technically it is the newer of the two, but he didn’t know his original birthday until Padfoot told him, so now he has the birthday he was used to, at the beginning of July, and the one he apparently had all along but didn’t know, at the end.
The letter is just like Padfoot said it would be: his name in bright green ink, we are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed--
But now he needs all sorts of things! Robes, and a cauldron, and books with titles that sound a lot like some of the books he already has, except those books are just stories and these ones will be real. And, best of all: a magic wand. So he and his mum and his dad and his Padfoot are going to Diagon Alley, in London, and they are meeting Moony in person, for real.
Harry has been trying to act a little more grown-up, now that he’s a wizard and nearly eleven, but it’s extremely difficult when he is this excited. He does his best, though.
When the day arrives (ages later, all the way at the end of the month on his new birthday), they take the train to London (Padfoot gets his own ticket, since he’s too big to stand in the aisle) and then the Tube to Tottenham Court Road (as dogs aren’t allowed on the escalators). When they emerge into the daylight, Harry’s dad says, “Right, this way!” He leads them a block and a half in the wrong direction before Padfoot barks exasperatedly and takes them back the other way, to a pub with outdoor seating where Moony is waiting to meet them.
Harry knows what Moony looks like, of course, but most of the pictures Padfoot’s showed him are from when they were at Hogwarts together, so it’s not until Moony stands and Padfoot lets out a joyous yelp, and yanks the lead out of Harry’s hand to run to him, that Harry recognizes him. But it’s definitely him: Moony the Marauder of Padfoot’s stories, the valiant fighter of Death Eaters, the only other person who knew Harry’s first mum and dad as well as Padfoot did, the only other person besides them who really knew him when he was still Harry Potter.
Harry thought he’d be a little taller. But that’s all right. Harry runs after Padfoot, and waits until Moony has shoved Padfoot off him.
(He jumped up, a paw on each of Moony’s shoulders, to lick his face, while Moony laughed and said “honestly, stop, that, Padfoot, where’s your sense of propriety--”)
(Which is silly. Harry hasn’t known Padfoot nearly as long as Moony, and he knows perfectly well that Padfoot doesn’t have one.)
Once Padfoot has subsided, Moony turns to Harry and offers him a hand to shake, very solemn.
“Hello, Harry,” he says. “It’s very good to see you again.”
And then Harry’s mum and dad catch up to them. Their response to Moony’s offered handshake is an incredulous look and a hug, so that means Harry gets a hug too after all, which he was secretly hoping for.
Then, bafflingly, they all sit down and have lunch.
Harry spends most of lunch wondering if sheer impatience can cause accidental magic, and also whether there is any magic that makes time go faster. He only half-listens to the grown-ups. They spend the first ten minutes being grateful at each other, anyway, and the next twenty on boring stuff.
(”I thought it best we skip Gringotts. James and Lily had a vault that should be Harry’s, but Padfoot’s hardly touched his family’s money so that can wait. I’ve already withdrawn enough for everything, I think--”)
Because Harry is secretly famous and no-one is sure who might recognize him, his mum and dad agree that they should try to get in and out of Diagon as quickly as possible. Harry does understand why -- they just don’t know if it’s safe for anyone else to know that Harry’s going to Hogwarts, and they don’t want the wrong people to find out before he gets there. But he is, he has to admit, more than a little disappointed.
The plan is this: Moony and Harry’s mum will get the books and the Potions supplies, while Harry gets fitted for school robes with his dad and Padfoot. They’ll regroup at Ollivander’s for Harry’s wand, and leave straightaway after that.
So off they go. The Leaky Cauldron doesn’t look very impressive to Harry, but he sees his mum and dad react when Remus flicks his wand, surreptitiously, and they can suddenly see it too. They look wonderfully surprised, but also... sad, a little, when they don’t know Harry’s looking.
(They still, both of them, had some small back-of-the-mind stubborn disbelief that all this could really be real. Yes, they’ve been exchanging letters by owl with a werewolf for some years now, and sitting down to dinner every evening with their dog, who turns into a man for meals and special occasions. But they’d never seen the larger world that all the magic in their lives had come from, until a pub appears from thin air, and that is that.)
(Their son really will be leaving, very soon. He’ll come back, but they’d never planned to send him away at all. They waited for him for a very long time, and expected to have him for longer.)
Inside, the Cauldron is smaller and shabbier than Harry was expecting. It is appropriately weird, though: there are people in the strangest clothes Harry’s ever seen, a woman (a witch!) feeding her sandwich crusts to the owl perched on the back of her chair, a man in a vivid silk turban sitting at the bar, chatting with another man who must be at least eight feet tall.
All of these people are magic, just like Harry. The thought gives him chills, just a bit, as they pass the giant and the turbaned man at the bar.
(Had things been otherwise, Harry might have drawn a great deal of unwanted attention before he could get anywhere. Perhaps if there had been articles in the Daily Prophet every year or so, with pictures of the poor doomed Potters, or if unscrupulous wizarding paparazzi had been able to take surreptitious snapshots of him as he grew up, his face would be better-known. But here and now, there are precious few people in the world who remember what James Potter looked like at the age of eleven, and so Harry goes unrecognized.)
(A Saviour of the Wizarding World whom wizards can look in on every now and again, to reassure themselves that he’s still there in case a Saviour is needed, is very different from a Saviour of the Wizarding World who vanishes due to wizards not looking in on him quite often enough. No one wants regular reminders of the latter, really.)
In the courtyard behind the Leaky Cauldron, Remus taps at the brick wall with his wand, and a doorway blooms like a flower. Harry stares, his eyes wide, until Padfoot tugs impatiently at the lead.
Harry is too old to hold his dad’s hand, but from the look on his face his dad would feel much better if Harry held his hand. So he does. It’s not too far to Madam Malkin’s, anyway.
Inside the shop, a woman in mauve robes with a kind face says “Hogwarts, dear?”
She leads him over to a footstool, where another woman (another witch!) helps him into a set of long, black robes and starts pinning up the bottom. Harry is not sure how he feels about spending the next seven years of his life dressed like a judge in the kind of legal drama his mum likes to watch on the telly when she’s had a long day. But he supposes it’s worth it, if he gets to learn magic.
He’s nearly done when he hears the shop door open again. After a moment, Madam Malkin leads another boy over to his own footstool, next to Harry.
“Hello,” says the boy. “Hogwarts too?”
“Yes,” says Harry. He’s never met another wizard his own age before. He’s thought about it: Padfoot and Moony and Prongs met at Hogwarts. His birth parents met at Hogwarts.
“Was that your father, back there by the door with the dog?” the boy says. He’s very pale, with fair hair and a pointed face. He doesn’t sound like he has a very high opinion of dogs, or of Harry’s dad.
“Yes,” says Harry. Padfoot and Moony and Prongs and his birth mum also met most of their mortal enemies at Hogwarts, he recalls.
“My father’s next door buying my books, and Mother’s up the street looking at wands,” says the boy, as though the very idea bores him. It has not occurred to Harry, before now, that anyone could be bored by magic.
“Then I’m going to drag them off to look at racing brooms. I don’t see why first years can’t have their own,” the boy continues, oblivious to Harry’s rapidly-forming first impressions. “I think I’ll bully Father into getting me one and I’ll smuggle it in somehow. Have you got your own broom?”
“No,” says Harry.
“Play Quidditch at all?”
“Not yet,” says Harry. “But I plan to.”
(For some time, there has been a quiet but protracted battle ongoing between his dad and Padfoot. Both have taken notice of Harry’s hand-eye coordination and athletic ability, and are determined to claim him for, respectively, cricket and Quidditch. Padfoot has tried to give him a broom for Christmas for three years running, and thus far been thwarted.)
“My!” says the boy. “Confident, aren’t we? I’m sure I’ll be picked for my house, Father says it’s a crime if I’m not. Do you know, when I came in I thought for a moment your father was a Muggle? I ought to have known better, I do apologize.”
Harry is acutely aware that he is nearly done with his fitting and that he is also nearly ready to renew the family tradition of making mortal enemies at Hogwarts. He says, “He is, actually. My godfather’s a wizard, but my parents aren’t magic at all. See you at Hogwarts,” and doesn’t add, I'm tremendously looking forward to beating you at Quidditch now.
This is, thankfully, the worst of it. Padfoot leads the way once they’re out of the shop, and to Harry’s surprise, he leads them not to Ollivanders, but to Eeylops Owl Emporium, where his mum is waiting with Moony and a large birdcage containing a beautiful snowy owl.
"Happy birthday, dear,” says his mum. “What do you think we should call her?”
When there is a quiet moment, a little later, Harry’s mum whispers to him that the owl had been Moony’s idea and that it was really a present from him, and Harry had better remember to thank him because magic is no substitute for manners.
They make their way to Ollivander’s as a group, laden with shopping bags that Moony charms feather-light. There is a bit of a tense moment, when they run into the giant man from the Leaky Cauldron, and he greets Moony like an old friend. But Moony smoothly lies that Professor McGonagall has asked him to help out with the new Muggleborn families this year, as she knows he’s been hoping for a crack at the Defense position.
“Oh, aye,” says the huge man. Moony introduces him as Hagrid, the Hogwarts groundskeeper, and manages to avoid introducing Harry or his parents. “It’d be my job ordinarily, showin’ ye around, but I’ve got quite an important errand at Gringotts today, for Dumbledore. Great man, Dumbledore. But you’ll see for yourself soon enough, eh, lad?”
He ruffles Harry’s hair as he says this. Harry likes him, but he could do without the hair-ruffling.
(Harry has been growing his hair out all summer. He usually likes it shorter, because it gets messy so easily, but at this length it hides the faint scar on his forehead. Really it only shows when his hair is short and he’s been in the sun a lot more than usual, but it’s not something he thinks about much. Why would he?)
(Of course it’s faint. When the wound was new, the doctor who looked him over at the hospital dressed and bandaged it, after the police took him away from Privet Drive. When his parents brought him home, they had strict instructions to clean it and change the bandage regularly. For six months after that, his mum carefully applied smelly scar-reducing ointment every night before she put him to bed, until she read that scar-reducing ointment wasn’t all that much more effective than plain petroleum jelly, and then she switched to an ointment that smelled nicer.)
Ollivander’s is -– weird.
It’s tiny and narrow, so small that Moony and Padfoot opt to stay outside. Harry and his parents crowd in, and stare at all the long narrow boxes piled nearly up to the ceiling. There doesn’t seem to be anyone around, until Harry glances over his shoulder, out the grubby window, to reassure himself that Moony and Padfoot are still there.
“Good afternoon,” says a soft voice. Harry jumps, startled, and turns back from the window.
Mr. Ollivander is a little old man with huge pale eyes that are a bit too bright for the dim shop. He seems as otherworldly as his surroundings, which are otherworldly even for Diagon Alley: in here, even the dust in the air tastes of magic.
That doesn’t stop Harry’s dad from stepping forward and introducing himself, or offering a handshake. Mr. Ollivander does not seem to have expected this. He takes Harry’s dad’s hand as if he thinks it might react badly to sudden movements.
“No wands for you two, then, I expect,” says Mr. Ollivander.
“I’m afraid not,” Harry’s mum says. “We’re very proud, though. We’re told this is an important moment.”
“Oh yes,” says Mr. Ollivander. He pauses. “Ahem. I, ah…”
“Dad put the camera away I told you not to bring it-–” Harry says.
“Why don’t we get started,” Mr. Ollivander says. He takes out a silvery tape measure and lets it start to measure Harry, all on its own. “Was that Remus Lupin I saw at the door, just now? He has a cypress wand, if I recall. Ten and a quarter inches. Pliable.”
“That’s very nice,” says Harry’s mum, gamely. The tape measure is making a bigger mess of Harry’s hair than Hagrid did.
“I remember every wand I’ve ever sold, madam. Every one,” says Mr. Ollivander. “Now, let’s see–-”
Harry proves to be a tricky customer. He isn’t sure what will happen when he does get the right one, but Mr. Ollivander seems to know what he’s waiting for. Wands and their boxes pile up on the counter: beechwood and dragon heartstring, maple and phoenix feather, ebony and unicorn hair…
And then Mr. Ollivander hands him a holly and phoenix feather wand (”eleven inches, nice and supple–”) and when Harry takes it the wand feels warm and alive in his hand. He waves it through the air, and it sends up red and gold sparks like a firework.
His dad claps. Mr. Ollivander cries “Oh, bravo!” and his mum just cries.
They pay Mr. Ollivander, and his mum and dad begin to gather their things and make their way out of the shop, to where Moony and Padfoot are waiting. Harry is the last one out the door.
Before he goes, Mr Ollivander stops him. “Young man, I ought to tell you,” he says, “that the wand chooses the wizard, and it is rather curious that this wand in particular should choose you.”
He says, “I remember every wand I’ve ever sold, young man. It just so happens that the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather– just one other. It is very curious indeed that you should be destined for this wand when its brother -– why, its brother gave you that scar.”
He points at Harry’s forehead, at the scar that’s just visible under his mussed-up hair.
“Darling,” says Harry’s mum, leaning back in the door to the shop, “It’s time to go!”
They make their way out of Diagon Alley. Harry had been expecting to drag his feet, to want to stay, but he finds he’s glad when it’s just him and his family on the ordinary streets of London again. He only has a few more weeks 'til Hogwarts– he wants to spend them here, in the world he’s known as long as he can remember.
Anyway, then his dad announces that they’re going to spend the rest of the day at the Natural History Museum, since it would be a shame to come all the way to London and go right home.
Harry gasps. “Can we see the dinosaurs?”
So that’s all right. When Harry remembers that day, he’ll remember Diagon, yes, and Ollivander’s words -– but he’ll also remember the dinosaurs.
The next few weeks pass too quickly and too slowly, all at once. Harry knows there is a lot of frantic planning going on, all around him: Hedwig comes and goes with letters almost daily. Padfoot goes back and forth nearly as much. Everyone seems to be planning his trip to Hogwarts with the sort of grim determination Harry usually associates with films about the invasion of Normandy.
But there are too many pleasant distractions for him to be very worried. He makes a valiant attempt at reading his schoolbooks, and gets at least a few chapters into each before he gives them up in favor of the large stack of wizard novels his mum brought back from Diagon Alley.
(“Well, they’re not exactly Wodehouse,” is his mum’s considered opinion, “but they’re not bad.”)
Anyway, he doesn’t really think anything bad could happen. Padfoot has explained how the Fidelius Charm works, and Harry doesn’t see how there’s any way around it.
(He is not exactly right. The secret Remus keeps for him is this: that the boy who lives at Harry’s address was once known as Harry Potter. It will keep Death Eaters from his door, but will not prevent the observant from drawing their own conclusions, in the world outside the safety of his home.)
So Harry spends the end of his summer lying on the window seat with a book, and his mum in the armchair behind him with her own book, and the radio on. He lets his dad live his dreams of all-England cricket vicariously through Harry, and goes for long walks with Padfoot. He pages through the photo albums Moony gave him, which are full of laughing strangers with Harry’s eyes or face or smile. He learns to make crepes with his dad. He sits through yet another of Padfoot’s lengthy lists of Things He Needs To Know About Hogwarts.
“Let’s see, that’s all the secret corridors but one,” says Padfoot. Throughout this recitation, he paces back and forth, from kitchen to living room and back again. “Damn, I wish I still had the Map--”
“You’re coming with me, you know,” says Harry.
“Yes, but I’ll have to be a dog all the time, so I’ve got to make sure I tell you everything important now,” says Padfoot, very reasonably. “I can’t turn into a wanted criminal in the middle of Gryffindor Tower just to tell you I remembered where the last secret corridor is.”
“You might have to turn into a wanted criminal in the middle of Ravenclaw Tower, you know,” points out Harry’s mum, who has been watching this from the armchair with some amusement. “Or -- what’s the other one called? Oh no, there’s two more, aren’t there--”
“I shan’t turn into a wanted criminal anywhere, because they won’t like it any better in the Ravenclaw common room,” says Padfoot. “Or in Hufflepuff. If it was Slytherin I’d probably earn you the House Cup, but if you’re sorted into Slytherin I want you to know in advance that you’re disowned.”
“I don’t think you can disown godsons,” says Harry, who knows that Padfoot doesn’t really mean it.
“Well, there’s an easy way to find out,” says Harry’s mum.
“Don’t encourage him!” says Padfoot.
On the morning of September first, Harry and his dad wake up extra early and make a huge, elaborate breakfast.
Harry had hardly slept in any case: he was already awake to watch the sun come up. He doesn’t know it, but his parents and Padfoot only went to sleep themselves a little while before that. They stayed up late, working out the next day’s plan yet again, trying to think of anything they’d missed, reminiscing about Harry’s childhood and listening to Padfoot reminisce about Hogwarts.
“He’ll be all right there, won’t he?” Harry’s dad asks.
“He’ll love it,” Sirius promises.
And, because they have welcomed him into their home and treated him like family, for years now, he adds: “But he won’t be like I was. I’d never have left again, if they’d let me. He’ll be like James. James loved Hogwarts, but he was always happy to go home again, too.”
After Harry and his dad have made piles of eggs and bacon and rolls and fried tomatoes and the whole house smells wonderful, Sirius pads downstairs on human feet, a little bleary-eyed, and sits down for one last breakfast with Harry’s family. Before they go outside to get in the car, Sirius gives his godson a bone-cracking hug. They aren’t sure yet if Padfoot will have to stay dog-shaped the whole time they’re at Hogwarts, so he wants to make it count.
Elsewhere, other families are preparing for the day:
At the Grangers, Hermione is checking over her list one last time. Her mum slips a couple of extra toothbrushes into her trunk, just in case. Her dad will do the same, in about half an hour. When she arrives, Hermione will find she has enough toothbrushes for half of Gryffindor.
The Longbottoms are having breakfast, though Neville is fretting more than eating. “What if the Hat says I’m not magic enough?” he asks his gran.
“It will do no such thing,” says his gran, in tones that imply that if it did, she would give it a stern talking-to. This is very reassuring for Neville. “Now,” says his gran, “where did you leave Trevor?”
At Malfoy Manor, Draco’s parents are quietly reading their respective sections of the Prophet, over tea and a light breakfast. The house-elf fetches Draco some more jam, without having to be told.
At the Burrow, Ron and Percy are having a disagreement over a rat.
Percy decided, when he got his prefect’s letter, that he would be too busy to look after his pet rat, and anyway he was getting too old for such things. He (very generously, he felt) offered custodianship of the rat to Ron, and spent quite a bit of his valuable time instructing his youngest brother on the finer points of rat care.
Ron has proved to be a very ungrateful and inattentive student. “You needn’t act so high and mighty about it,” George says when Percy complains.
Adds Fred, “You did manage to lose the last one.”
“I did not,” Percy says. This is still a sore point.
The previous rat, a fat and lazy gray creature named Scabbers, vanished some months ago, when someone -- certainly not Percy -- left his cage door open overnight. His replacement is brown and white and rather livelier than her predecessor, and was dubbed ‘Whiskers’ by Ginny.
Anyway, it is Percy’s considered opinion that if Ron is going to be so cavalier about rat care, perhaps he ought to reconsider allowing his brother to look after his rat. This, naturally, leads to a blazing row that still has Ron and Percy muttering sullenly at one another over the breakfast table.
Their mother glares at them. “That’s enough, the both of you. Percy, I told you -- a gift is a gift, you can’t take it back. Ron, you’re going to take good care of Whiskers, aren’t you?”
“Of course,” says Ron. Before they leave for the train, Percy catches Ron offering Whiskers a small dish of carefully cut-up grapes, and is appeased.
At the station, Ron and his family head for the platform. They nearly cause a small pile-up just on the other side of the barrier, where a very obviously Muggle family has stopped dead at the sight of the train.
Molly takes them under her wing more or less instantly. “First time at Hogwarts, dear? Ron’s new, too.”
The Muggles look rather relieved. Their son, who doesn’t really look anything like his parents, has an enormous black dog and a nervous expression. They introduce themselves: Timothy and Caroline MacIntyre, and their son Harry.
“And this is Padfoot,” Harry adds. Padfoot barks, and allows Ginny to scratch his chin.
(The whole Weasley family carefully does not wince at Harry’s name. Poor thing, he wasn’t to know. And this the year that Harry Potter would have gone to Hogwarts, too! Bad luck, all around.)
Having absorbed the family into the general mass of Weasleys, Molly tells Fred and George to help Harry with his trunk, while Arthur asks Harry’s mother if she knows much about these ‘radio waves’ he’s been reading about. Harry’s father has some surprisingly thoughtful questions about magical cookery, and Molly finds herself writing out a few recipes for him with a funny self-inking Muggle quill that he produces from a pocket.
“Well I do work for Radio 4, but not on that side of things,” Harry’s mum says, just audible over Ginny complaining that she wants to go to Hogwarts now and Ron protesting Molly’s attempt to clean a smudge off the end of his nose and Percy bickering with the twins.
Eventually, all the children are on board (except Ginny, despite her best attempts) and the train begins to pull away from the station. Ron and Harry lean out the window of their compartment, waving. Harry’s dad alternates between snapping photos and waving back frantically. His mother looks distinctly teary-eyed.
“Don’t worry, dear, he’ll be just fine.” Molly tells her. “There’s no safer place than Hogwarts, and I’ll ask Percy to keep an eye out, make sure he’s settling in. We were rather a wreck when we sent our eldest off, weren’t we Arthur?”
“Oh, I cried buckets, I’m sure,” Arthur says cheerfully. “Harry’s your eldest, I suppose?”
“Our only,” says his mother.
“Any magic in the family tree?” asks Arthur. “It’s quite common for Muggle-borns to have a witch or wizard they didn’t know about, or even a Squib, somewhere in the family.”
“Er, no,” says Harry’s dad. “But we met some friends of his birth parents, a few years ago, who told us they were a witch and a wizard.”
Ah. The war, of course. Molly does wonder, but she elbows Arthur into dropping that line of inquiry: there’s no need to go poking at old wounds.
Before they part ways, Caroline writes down their address and a few book recommendations for Arthur, and lets him keep the pen.
“What a lovely family,” Molly remarks, as they make their way back out of the station.
“Oh yes,” Arthur agrees. He stops short. “Hang on, though -- didn’t they have a dog when they arrived?”
On the train, Harry is relieved to have a compartment nearly to himself. He’s in with Padfoot and the youngest of that big noisy family from the platform -– Ron, who also seems quite glad for a bit of quiet, and space to catch his breath. Two of his brothers invite them to see someone’s giant tarantula, but Ron doesn’t seem to like spiders any better than Harry does.
They subside, for a bit, into the slightly awkward silence of two strangers whose parents clearly expected them to befriend one another. Padfoot flops over onto his side, puts his head on Harry’s shoes, and goes to sleep.
Ron makes the first overture. “Are you allowed dogs at Hogwarts? I thought it was only cats, rats and toads.”
“If anyone asks, I’m going to say he’s a very large cat,” Harry says.
Ron laughs, and the ice is broken. “D’you want to play Exploding Snap?” he asks Harry. “Or -– sorry, I guess you’ve never played it, it’s a wizarding game.”
“No, I have,” says Harry. “But I’m not very good. My godfather taught me.”
“That’s lucky,” says Ron. “There’s loads of people from Muggle families, and they all learn everything quick enough, once they get to Hogwarts. But it does make things a bit easier, doesn’t it?”
“I hope so,” says Harry. “My godfather says that my birth parents were really clever and got really good marks, when they were there.”
Now Ron has a slightly pained expression that Harry has grown to know well, from a lifetime of having parents who don’t look anything like him: that trying-to-make-the-math-add-up-without-being-rude look.
“Adoption’s not all that common for wizards, I guess,” Harry says, and Ron brightens, having been given the bit he needed to make the math come out right.
“Not really, no,” says Ron. “So your Muggle parents raised you? What are they like?”
Harry shrugs. How to answer that? They’re his parents. They do all the things parents do: they look after him and they love him and they don’t let him stay up til midnight on a school night, even though Padfoot had never seen Star Wars before and he missed watching Padfoot watch the end of the second one.
“Dunno,” says Harry. “What are wizard parents like?”
Ron considers this, and seems to come to the same impasse as Harry.
“Funny how you’ve got wizard parents and Muggle parents and a godfather,” he says. “You’ve got as many parents as I’ve got brothers.”
“I only saw three,” says Harry. “Are the others younger than your sister?”
“All older,” says Ron, suddenly gloomy. “I’m the sixth in our family to go to Hogwarts. You could say I’ve got a lot to live up to.”
He sighs, and reels off the next bit as if he’s practiced it: “Bill and Charlie have already left– Bill was head boy and Charlie was captain of Quidditch. Now Percy’s a prefect. Fred and George mess around a lot, but they still get really good marks and everyone thinks they’re really funny. Everyone expects me to do as well as the others, but if I do, it’s no big deal, because they did it first. You never get anything new, either, with five brothers. I’ve got Bill’s old robes, Charlie’s old wand, and Percy’s old rat.“
At the word “rat” Padfoot surges suddenly to his feet, ears flattened, growling. Ron, who has produced a perfectly innocent brown-and-white rat from the inside pocket of his jacket, freezes. The rat, on the other hand, stands up on her hind legs in Ron’s hand to get a better look at Padfoot. She’s surprisingly fearless, given that Padfoot is big enough to eat her without chewing.
“Padfoot!” Harry says, startled. But Padfoot is already subsiding. His ears go back up, and he carefully leans in close enough to satisfy the rat’s curiosity. They very nearly touch noses. And then Padfoot lies back down and puts his head back on Harry’s feet and, to all appearances, falls dead asleep again.
“Er,” says Ron. “Her name is Whiskers?”
Thankfully, there is a clattering in the corridor outside that forestalls the need for any further explanations. A smiling, dimpled woman slides back their door and says, "Anything off the cart, dears?”
Harry had an enormous breakfast, but he also has spending money and, before today, very limited access to wizarding sweets. He wants to see what he’s been missing. He gets a few chocolate frogs, and a couple of all the things he’s never tried before: pumpkin pasties, cauldron cakes, a licorice wand on the off chance that wizard licorice is better than the regular kind. He learned his lesson about Every Flavor Beans years ago, and skips them.
(Harry still has not really gotten used to calling non-magical things “Muggle.” Padfoot still does it sometimes, but less and less as Harry got older, and so he’s not used to hearing it very often. He thinks of ‘candy’ and ‘wizard candy,’ not ‘Muggle candy’ and ‘candy.’)
(He thinks of ‘his parents’ and ‘his wizard parents,’ too.)
“Hungry, are you?” Ron asks, when Harry tips his armful of sweets onto the seat beside him.
“I’ve never tried these,” Harry says. “And I didn’t pack a lunch.”
At Harry’s feet, Padfoot barks– not loud, just enough to get Harry’s attention– and paws at Harry’s knapsack. As it turns out, he did pack a lunch: his dad has bundled a lot of the leftover bacon and eggs into rolls and wrapped them in foil.
“Ta, Pads,” says Harry, and, turning to Ron: “Want one? There’s enough to share.”
Ron takes out a lumpy package and unwraps it, revealing four sandwiches inside. They looks a bit dry. He pulls one of them apart and says, "She always forgets I don’t like corned beef.”
Padfoot barks again, a little louder.
“He loves corned beef,” says Harry. “Have one of mine instead.”
It’s nice, sitting with Ron and Padfoot and working their way through the pile of food. It’s much harder to worry about what might be waiting for him at Hogwarts (Where will he be sorted? Will Padfoot get sent home? Will anyone find out who his wizard parents were? Will they let him try out for Quidditch?) when he’s warm and full and no longer has to wonder if he’ll make any friends at Hogwarts.
Harry looks out the window as the countryside grows wilder, and tries to picture what they’re doing at Hogwarts right now.
At Hogwarts, everyone is busy.
There are flurries of frantic house-elf activity everywhere you look: preparing for the evening’s feast, lighting the candles, turning down the linens in all the dormitories, currying the thestrals, a thousand little tasks.
In their offices, professors check over syllabi; in their classrooms, they do last-minute inventories. Are there enough quills? Rolls of parchment? Fire-proof gloves? Have all the broomstick bristles been trimmed, all the cauldrons scrubbed clean, all the portraits given their yearly stern talking-to about Not Swearing In Front Of The Children?
In the infirmary, Madame Pomfrey makes ready for the yearly wave of stomach bugs and colds, the inevitable result of hundreds of children bringing their germs along from all over the country.
In the Divinations classroom, Professor Trelawney is stacking teacups just so.
In his office, Albus Dumbledore is having the shock of his life.
“My goodness, Minerva,” he says. “You certainly have a flair for dramatic timing.”
“Lupin was adamant that I keep silent on the matter,” says Professor McGonagall. “At least until he and Black got the boy safely on his way to Hogwarts. It’s a miracle, honestly, that they’ve gone this long without anyone finding out; it’s not as if there aren’t still Death Eaters at large.”
“I suppose it helped matters that his staunchest protector is an unregistered Animagus,” says Dumbledore. He had gone quite pale when Minerva told him about Black.
Not that it had ever been far from Minerva’s thoughts, this last month. They sent Black to Azkaban, and did their best to never think of him again. Albus took it very hard, at the time -– that betrayal. But Black was the one betrayed, all along.
(Dumbledore would never say it -– he’d never even let the thought form fully -– but back before the war ended, he sometimes looked at Lupin and Black and saw two other young men. He saw how Black became the center of any room he entered; the way Lupin orbited him, too enthralled to ever want to break away. It was familiar.)
(He hoped, back then, that their version of the tale would end happily, but he was not surprised when it ended instead in death and betrayal and heartbreak. Perhaps if he’d looked closer, he might have seen through his own ghosts, superimposed on the living, and prevented a terrible mistake.)
Anyway. They agree to keep their new student’s identity to themselves, for now, though they both expect the truth will out. “Lupin tells me he looks remarkably like James,” says Minerva. “Someone will make the connection.”
“With any luck, by the time they do we’ll have ensured his adoptive parents’ safety,” says Dumbledore. “And Black’s, and Lupin’s.”
“Lupin’s keeping watch already,” says Minerva. “And as for Black -– well. We always say there’s no safer place than Hogwarts.”
The train arrives that evening, just as it ought to. They change into their school robes before they disembark, having been warned by a bossy girl with lots of hair. Before they leave the compartment -– Padfoot has to stay behind, which makes Harry a little anxious– Ron stops him.
“Listen, mate,” he says. “There’s something you ought to know. There’s a famous wizard named Harry who’d be about our age, except he went missing, so some people might be a little odd when you introduce yourself. Don’t worry, though. If anyone gives you any trouble, let me know, and I’ll set them right.”
This is an extremely kind gesture but it does not make Harry any less anxious.
But never mind that -– Harry has to get off the train, and follow the giant man he met in Diagon down a narrow path through a dark forest. He can only just see Hagrid’s bobbing, dancing lantern light, and he’s not sure where Ron went, and he’s concentrating so hard on his footing that he only half hears what Hagrid’s saying.
And then the path goes round a bend. Suddenly they are standing at the edge of a great black lake, and the lights that shimmer on the surface of the lake are beaming out of the windows of a castle, bright against the starry sky behind it-–
And Harry falls in love.
While they wait to be Sorted, Ron gets more and more nervous.
Harry nudges him and asks, quietly, “All right?”
“Mm-hm,” says Ron. “Just. I dunno what we’re going to have to do, for the Sorting. Fred said it hurts a lot, but I think he was joking.”
“Oh!” says Harry. “No, it’s fine. My godfather told me. We just have to wear a hat.”
“A hat?” says Ron, but the sudden appearance of the school ghosts -- and Professor McGonagall -- cut off any further conversation. They don’t make Ron any less nervous, either.
Harry’s nervous too. Not about the Sorting, so much, but everything else.
He knows that some of his teachers will be people who knew his wizard parents. He wants to ask about them, ask for stories that Moony and Padfoot might not know, but he also isn’t sure yet if he want people to know that he used to be called Harry Potter. The more time he spends in the wizarding world, the more he thinks that people are probably going to be weird about it.
(He’s not wrong. People are definitely going to be weird about it.)
Harry thinks about this while the Hat sings a song, while the older students whisper and giggle to each other, waving to the first-years they know, staring at the ones they don’t. He thinks about it while he looks up at the star-strewn ceiling, up above the floating, flickering candles, and resolves to ask the bossy girl from the train about the ceiling later, since she seems to know all about it. He thinks about it while “Abbot, Hannah!” and “Bones, Susan!” become Hufflepuffs, and “Boot, Terry!” becomes a Ravenclaw.
He decides to put it out of his mind, as best he can, shortly after the bossy girl, or rather “Granger, Hermione!” becomes a Gryffindor.
The line of first-years has gotten shorter as the names are called, and they’ve bunched up, scooting sideways as kids step forward to try on the Hat. Harry finds himself standing between Ron and the snobby boy from the robe shop in Diagon Alley.
The boy gives Harry a dirty look, which seems uncalled for. “Hello again,” says Harry quietly, doing his best impression of what his mum calls her ‘being polite to utter knobs’ voice. “Did you get that broom after all?”
“Shan’t matter to you,” the boy mutters at him. “It’s not as though a Muggle-born has any chance of playing proper Quidditch.”
He says ‘Muggle-born’ as if there is a different, much ruder word he would rather use. This makes Harry feel unaccountably cheerful: that’s his nemesis sorted, and he can now be rude back with some impunity. The best kind of rude, according to his mum, is the kind that sounds almost perfectly polite.
“I said my dad’s a Muggle, not that I’m Muggle-born,” Harry points out, in his mildest tones. “Have you never heard of adoption, or are you just a bit dim?”
And then Profesor McGonagall calls for “MacIntyre, Harry!” so he gets to step forward out of the line before the boy can muster a response. He hears Ron snicker, behind him.
As he sits down on the stool and the hat drops over his eyes, Harry remembers to be nervous again. He waits, looking at the black inside of the hat.
“Hmm," says a small voice in his ear. "Difficult. Very difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind either. There's talent, my goodness, yes -- and a nice thirst to prove yourself, now that's interesting… so where shall I put you?"
Gryffindor would be nice, Harry thinks, and I’d be all right with Ravenclaw. Hufflepuff doesn’t sound bad. Not Slytherin, though, if you don’t mind.
"Not Slytherin, eh?" says the small voice. "Are you sure? You could be great, you know, it's all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that -- no?”
No, thank you, Harry thinks firmly. Padfoot would be upset, and even once he got over it they’d have to spend all their time in the Slytherin common room, which is underground. Harry doesn’t like the idea of spending years and years in a cold stone cellar, and he dislikes the idea of Padfoot having to even more.
“Well, if you're sure -- better be GRYFFINDOR!"
There’s a bit of applause from the Gryffindor table as Harry makes his way over, and Ron’s brothers cheer, which is nice of them. By the time Harry finds a seat, the snobby boy, now known as “Malfoy, Draco!” has already been declared a Slytherin, which only makes Harry more relieved he’d turned the Hat down.
He can see the high table properly now that he’s sitting down, and a few familiar faces on it. Hagrid’s there, and the man in the purple turban from the Leaky Cauldron as well. That’s Professor McGonagall, there, and a tiny little man who, from Padfoot’s descriptions, is probably Professor Flitwick. He doesn’t recognize most of the others, except for one. Professor Dumbledore looks exactly like his chocolate frog card.
More importantly, though, the Sorting’s almost done. Ron is nearly last of all.
“GRYFFINDOR!” the Hat declares. Harry cheers and claps as loud as he can, along with Ron’s brothers, until Ron collapses with relief onto the seat next to him.
“Not so bad, right?” Harry asks.
“Yeah,” says Ron. “I’m going to kill Fred, though.”
Harry laughs, and then stops because the whole hall falls silent, when Albus Dumbledore gets to his feet.
"Welcome," he says, beaming happily down at them. "Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you!"
He sits back down.
Everyone claps and cheers as if this is a normal sort of thing to do. Harry feels like Padfoot should have mentioned it, if it is.
"Is he -- a bit mad?" he asks Percy uncertainly.
"Mad?" says Percy. "He's a genius! Best wizard in the world! But he is a bit mad, yes. Potatoes, Harry?"
Well, all right. That does sound a bit more in keeping with Padfoot’s stories. And anyway, there is, very suddenly, too much food in front of him for Harry to think about anything else. So much, in fact, that he doesn’t notice when Dumbledore and a few other teachers slip away from the high table for a little while.