Actions

Work Header

Harry Potter and the Greatest Show

Chapter Text

White.

Everything is white.

Utterly, completely, unescapably white.

And not white in that crisp white shirt fashion, oh no. Nor is it white like a unicorn’s pelt or white like a patronus. White like… like…

Like Dumbledore’s beard.

Kind of fluffy and wispy and if you stare at it long enough you become half convinced that there’s a single thread of gray in there. Somewhere. Or maybe a niffler.

Harry Potter turns in a slow circle and tries to figure out what is going on because he’s pretty damn sure he’s dead but if this is the afterlife than death sucks.

Of course a sucky afterlife would absolutely be his luck.

Out of the fluffy white whiteness there comes a wretched, broken wail and Harry whirls around, empty hand held in front of him as if he were brandishing a wand.

Well.

That’s kind of awkward.

Harry lowers his hand and takes a hesitant step forward. And then another. And with each step forward the whiteness around him solidifies into an enormous room with a high, glass domed ceiling. It’s still white – all the same shades of white, in fact – but there’s definition now. Walls. Ceilings. Unlit lamps that line the walls. Benches.

Ahead of him something shuffles and whimpers.

Harry stares.

There, underneath one of the benches, is a baby.

Or, at least, Harry thinks it is a baby. It’s quite possibly the ugliest baby that he’s ever seen – and he’s seen Dudley’s baby pictures. Hell, he’s repotted mandrakes that were cuter than this baby. But it is a baby. Red and scrawny with too thin limbs and a too large head and skin that gleams, slick and wet as if it’s been flayed but a baby nonetheless. Alone. Crying. With no blanket. No nappy. No nothing. Abandoned under a fluffy white bench in whatever this is.

Harry takes another step and then goes down on one knee, his hand reaching out to scoop the poor wretch up.

He might be uglier than a mandrake but he doesn’t deserve to be left here, to be discarded like trash.

“You cannot help.”

Harry freezes and looks over his shoulder.

There, sweeping towards him in robes of a brilliant midnight blue – which, quite frankly, are the only reason he doesn’t disappear into the landscape because Harry was totally right and it is the same color as his beard – is Albus Dumbledore.

“Harry.” The old man spreads his arms wide in welcome. “You wonderful boy. You brave, brave man. Let us walk.”

Harry looks back at the child snuffling miserably beneath his outstretched hand. “I’d rather not, sir,” he says, biting back the familiar rise of anger at the word boy. “What do you mean, I can’t help?”

Dumbledore lowers his arms and stares past Harry to thrashing infant. “Some things,” he says with an air of vague regret, “are beyond help. Leave it, Harry, and come talk with me.”

Harry stares.

Leave it, he says, like it’s not a baby alone and afraid, crying in this strange place.

“Aren’t you dead?” he asks tightly.

“Oh yes. Quite so.”

“Then… I’m dead too?”

“Ah,” says Dumbledore, his eyes gleaming. “That is the question, isn’t it? On a whole, dear boy” Harry cringes, “I think not.”

Harry stares. “Not?”

“Not.” Dumbledore sounds so damn smug that it makes Harry’s stomach turn.

The tale – the fantastical, impossible fairy tale – that comes out of the dead Headmaster’s mouth does not ease it. It’s a tale of greed and power, of sacrifice, of young love and young ambitions, of death and stones, of wands and loyalty, of a broken man who tried to break the world, of a broken man who broke his soul, and a boy who - apparently – has succeeded where they both failed and conquered death.

Harry doesn’t speak through the entire telling.

Freak, the voices of his aunt and uncle spit inside of his head. And well, they don’t exactly seem to be wrong, do they? He can’t even manage to die properly.

“So what happens now?” Harry asks, when Dumbledore is done.

The Headmaster looks down at him and smiles. “Why now, my boy, now you get to choose!”

“Choose,” Harry repeats and finds his eyes unerringly drawn to the baby. He has stopped wailing. Not because he wants to but because he has to, because his little throat has given out and his little chest can’t bring itself to make any more noise than the quiet, pathetic little whimpers that escape out of his mouth. Harry knows. Harry remembers that. He remembers what it was like to lay in his cupboard and cry quietly because he knew no one was coming but at the same time he couldn’t do anything but cry, the biology of his body forcing him to reach out, to search for caretakers that never answered.

“Choose,” Dumbledore says again with a magnanimous twinkle of his eyes. “Where does it look like we are, Harry?”

Caught off guard by the question Harry looks around. “Uh… Kings Cross?” he ventures after a moment. It kind of looks like the train station? Maybe?

“Yes, yes! And if you were to board a train it would take you… on.”

“On?”

On,” Dumbledore confirms with a tap to the side of his nose. “Of course, you could also choose to go back.”

Harry blinks. “Back?”

Dumbledore hums. “Of course, with all the horcruxes now destroyed it is entirely likely that someone else can destroy the little that remains of Lord Voldemort. Though,” he adds after a second of hesitation, “Tom has always been an excellent duelist and with so many of the Order fallen already…”

Harry stares.

Dumbledore stares.

Dumbledore smiles.

“No,” Harry says flatly and watches with restrained glee as the smile falls right off Dumbledore’s face.

“No?” the old man echoes faintly.

“No,” Harry repeats firmly and then he does what he should have done from the very beginning.

He reaches out and he picks up the baby.

 


 

Bang! Bang! Bang!

The sound of a fist hitting a wooden door jerks Harry awake. “…what?” he says after a moment as he stares into the darkness above his head and tries to figure out what the fuck is going on.

“Get up, boy! Don’t be late getting breakfast!” his aunt’s familiar screech cuts through his thoughts. Harry sits up so fast he bangs his head into the wall.

“… what?” he repeats, aghast.

“Breakfast!” Aunt Petunia shouts back. “Don’t you dare ruin Duddikins special day!”

“…WHAT?!?”  Harry says, one more time. Except this time no sound comes out, the shock of the whole thing driving his voice straight out of human hearing. Once he manages to find his glasses and shoe them on his face it is blatantly clear that yes, he is shoved in the dusty, spider filled cupboard under the stairs of Number Four Privet Drive.

He’s still dead, isn’t he? He has to be. He has to be dead and this is hell. Fuck, he doesn’t even believe in hell but if he did, he’s pretty sure that it would look like this.

Bloody, buggering hell.

After a few seconds, a minute tops, in which he hyperventilates to the point that he throws up in his mouth a little Harry opens the door and climbs out of the cupboard.

The inside of Number Four looks exactly how he remembers it. Well, no, that is not quite right. There’s no boxing medals and trophies displayed in the living room but the lamp that Harry is pretty sure Dudley broke when they were thirteen is still sitting over on the table in the far corner.

“…what?” he mouths to himself again and, in a fit of desperation, turns and looks at the mirror hanging over the entry table.

Harry Potter stares back at him.

Correction.

Little tiny baby Harry, who can’t be more than ten or eleven and is still short with a gaunt, pale face and overly messy hair, stares back at him.

Little tiny baby Harry yanks back his hair and stares.

There it is.

Still shaped like a lightning bolt. Still obvious.

He yanks up his shirt sleeve next. The flesh there is startling bare, the only scars the shiny burn on the inside of his wrist where he got splashed by hot bacon grease when Dudley shoved him into the stove. Missing are the angry, ropey scar that Pettigrew had left him with the night of Voldemort’s resurrection and puncture marks in his shoulder and upper arm from where the bloody basilisk had bit him.

“Move, you freak!” Dudley shoves him as he runs past and Harry does a header into the table, knocking Aunt Petunia’s purse and the handful of tacky knick-knacks to the ground with a crash.

“Bugger,” Harry mutters even as Dudley yells,

“MUM! Harry’s wrecking your stuff!”

“What’s this, then?” Vernon’s voice makes Harry freeze where he’s crouched over the mess, hip throbbing where it had hit against the corner of the table. “Thought you could ruin Dudley’s birthday, did you? Thought you could act out and steal the attention away from him, did you?”

“…what?” it falls out before he can stop it but honestly, how stupid are they? Why the hell would he ever want their attention? They’d made it perfectly clear by the age of three that any attention from his family was… uncomfortable. Neglect and starvation was (is?) the pits but it’s better than being smacked around because he won’t stop crying. Or trying to play with Dudley. Or asking for a hug when he skins his knee.

Uncle Vernon turns a rather unpleasant shade of puce.

“YOU WILL NOT RUIN DUDLEY’S BIRTHDAY!” he roars and Harry winces against the bits of spittle that hit his face. “You will pick this up and go make breakfast and…”

“No.”

For a moment Harry genuinely fears that his uncle’s face is simply going to explode. Or hopes. The two sensations are all mixed up in a funny twisting ball located somewhere in the pit of his stomach.

“Boy…”

“No,” Harry interrupts firmly, but calmly. Inside, he’s shaking but if he can stand across from Voldemort and let the other wizard fire a Killing Curse at his face without flinching he absolutely refuses to cringe away from the look of absolute fury on his uncle’s face. “My name is Harry. Harry. James. Potter. Not boy. Not freak. Harry. And… no. I refuse. I don’t care if this is a dream or hell or just another world inside of Dumbledore’s beard – I refuse.”

They’re still staring at him, all three of him, when he turns on his heel and marches out the front door. He figures he has about five minutes to get away before Vernon and Petunia come to their senses and try to haul him home to punish him.

 


 

Harry walks.

And walks.

And walks until he comes to some little park that he’s never been to before where he promptly picks the remotest corner and plops down in a heap at the base of a tree. He needs to think. Not his natural state of being, he knows, but he needs to do it nonetheless.

So.

The last real thing, that he is aware of, is watching the Killing Curse speed towards him. So, he’s dead then.

Except, there’d been the white place and that story that Dumbledore had told. It’s ridiculous and horrifying and thus, with Harry’s luck, is probably true, which means that he’s the Master of Death – because that doesn’t sound ominous at all, oh no – and thus can’t die. Not unless he chooses too. Or that was the implication he got from Dumbledore’s comments about choosing to get on the train and move on to the…whatever came next. Which he didn’t. He didn’t choose to do that. So, he’s not dead then.

Right?

Maybe. Probably. He certainly feels alive. There’s definitely a bruise on his hip from the corner of the hall tabe.

But he didn’t choose to go back, either because what was there to go back to?

No, instead he had picked up the baby. The baby that he rather thought was the little broken remains of one Tom Marvolo Riddle. Because the man might have become an absolute monster but not even a monster deserves to be left naked and crying under a bench in some fluffy train station limbo.

So he had picked up the baby and woken up in his cupboard.

Because that makes sense.

Not.

Harry lets out a sigh and pulls his knobby little knees up to his chin and wraps his arms around his legs.  “For the sake of what remains of my sanity I’m going to assume that I am actually live,” he whispers to himself. “Just… in my younger body.”

His almost-eleven-year-old body. He’s pretty sure.

Frankly, this might not actually be the strangest thing that’s ever happened to him.  It’s not even his whirl with time travel, though the whole seventeen year old mind in a ten year old body thing is definitely new. At least this time he doesn’t have to worry about seeing himself and thinking he’s his own dad.

So what is he going to do?

Keeping everything the same and preserving the timeline is already out. Because he definitely didn’t tell off his relatives, steal the money that had fallen out of Aunt Petunia’s purse, and run away on Dudley’s eleventh birthday the first time he’d lived it. Though he rather thinks the Dursleys will enjoy this a great deal more than having to drag him to the zoo and then getting a boa constrictor accidentally set on them.

And fuck the blood wards, he is not going back to that house.

He could go to Dumbledore, he supposes. That would probably be the smart thing to do. He could tell him all about the horcruxes and the Deathly Hollows and that would be that. Voldemort would be dead and Harry… Huh. Well, is he still the Master of Death? Or has it reset since he’s been sent back to before he had possession of all three hollows? If the latter, somehow he thinks that Dumbledore just letting Harry disarm him isn’t going to cut it when it comes to winning the allegiance of the Elder Wand.

Plus, if Harry’s being honest, he’s more than a little pissed off at the Headmaster because of… well, everything.

Some things are beyond help, he had said in train station limbo.

Harry’s not sure he believes him but he thinks that Dumbledore has believed it for a very long time. Probably starting with a whispered confession of “I can talk to snakes,” from an excited dark haired, dark eyed boy some fifty-ish years ago in little room in an orphanage in London.

He’s also not sure that it matters. If it saves the world…

Harry sighs.

This is getting him nowhere.

So, maybe if he approaches the problem from a different angle?

What does he want?

What does he, Harry Potter, want?

“To be normal,” he whispers because that’s all he’s ever wanted: to be a normal, regular boy with parents and homework and normal everyday things. It’s also the one thing he can never have. That train left the station when his parents died. Or before that, even, when the prophecy was given. Maybe even before that. Who knows? Maybe Harry Potter’s chances of being normal were well and truly fucked the moment Merope Gaunt laid eyes on Tom Riddle Sr.

Regardless, he’s kind of stuck as Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One, and the Savior of the Wizarding World etc, etc.

Which is kind of depressing.

So, what does the Savior of the Wizarding World want?

It takes a few minutes and some careful breathing to make himself set aside the dream of normal and try to picture something else but when he does…

He sees Sirius, alive, healthy, and walking the streets in broad daylight: a free man. A happy man.

He sees Remus, alive, healthy, gainfully employed, and understood without fear. A happy man.

He sees Pettigrew behind bars – or dead, dead is very attractive – for his role in the Potter’s murders.

He sees Severus Snape, alive, healthy, and free from the shackles his masters have trapped him with. A happy man. Or at least one that isn’t so bloody miserable.

He sees himself. He sees actually getting to learn. He sees attending Hogwarts and exploring the magical world and not constantly worrying about how Voldemort’s going to try and kill him and who he has to protect. He sees himself with friends. Real friends. Ron and Hermione…

… his breath catches in his throat at the thought of them. They’ve been great friends, mostly, and he loves them but they haven’t always been particularly good friends.  He wants friends that aren’t perpetually jealous of his ill-gotten fame or the fortune that sits in his vault at Gringotts. He wants friends that understand him and friends that don’t get huffy whenever he actually makes an effort at his school work.

He wants a job. Something besides Auror. He’s done enough Dark Wizard capturing for one life, thank you very much.

He wants a family. He wants a… spouse. He wants children. He wants a home.

He wants to help change the wizarding world. He wants to make it better while still respecting the culture that already exists. The culture that he knows he never actually got to learn or understand.

He wants a different ending to the story.

He wants to save everyone he can.

He wants for there to never be another war.

And he…

Harry lets out a long, shuddering sigh.

… he wants to give Tom Marvolo Riddle the chance that no one else ever gave him.

“Bloody hell, Harry,” he mutters to himself, “you’re insane. You’re bloody mental. You have lost the fucking plot.”

The picture in his head, however, stays the same.

“Fine,” he announces to the air. “Just… fine.”

He can do this.

He can.

He will.

He’ll be the Boy Who Lived but he is going to actually live.

He’ll endure a life spent with grandiose titles stuck next to his name and his picture in the papers and every detail of his existence filling up the gossip column but it will be his life. It will belong to him. Not to Dumbledore. Not to the Wizarding World. To him.

They want to make his life into a one trick pony show? Fine. Then he’ll give them the best damn show they’ve ever seen.

Feeling the familiar sensation of resolve settling into his chest Harry lets out another sigh and gets to his feet. No time like the present to get started and getting started in the wizarding world means one thing: a trip to Diagon Alley.

He rather hopes that the cash he’s taken from Petunia’s purse is enough to get him to London.

And buy him something to eat.

Merlin, he’s starving.

Chapter Text

It’s easier to get to London than he thought it would be. Frankly, it’s probably far too easy for a small boy of nearly eleven – one who doesn’t even look his bloody age at that – to make the journey without anyone expressing concern over him at all. Not for the first time Harry wonders if he has some sort of Notice Me Not charm attached to him. It would certainly explain more than a few things.

After carefully studying the bus schedule Harry determines he has just enough time and money to purchase his ticket and a lovely golden pastry from the café on the corner, the center of it filled with cheese and cherries. He wants to devour it on the spot, to shove the entire thing in his mouth and cram it down his throat before anyone can take it from him. He resists, barely. He’s not at the Dursleys anymore, he reminds himself, and he’s certainly not living out of a tent and scrounging fallen nuts from the forest floor. As soon as he gets to Gringotts he’ll have more gold than he knows what to do with. He’ll be able to buy himself real meals, real food on a regular basis.

He offers the barista a shy smile and accepts both the packaged pastry and bottle of water from her before dropping his change in the tip jar.

Through sheer force of will he doesn’t touch his newly gained food until he is safely on the bus, hunkered down in a seat at the back, and they are pulling out of the bus stop. It takes a bit of skill but he makes the flakey pastry last the whole way to London.

Once in London he manages to find his way to the Leaky Cauldron without too much trouble. He only gets lost twice, which is bloody impressive considering he can count the number of times he’s approached the alley from the muggle world on one hand and still have plenty of fingers left over. His relief at actually managing to find the place is enough that he almost runs straight for the door.

Almost.

Except for then his brain, which he does have, manages to kick itself on and sputter into working order.

Harry freezes, one leg extended mid-step over the curb of the street. The last time – or, rather, the last first time – that he’d gone into The Leaky Cauldron he had been recognized by every witch and wizard in the inn and promptly mobbed by them. Which just won’t do. At least, not right now. Not why he’s wearing nothing more than Dudley’s ratty, oversized cut off and he looks rather like a half starved kitten that someone has dumped in the gutter. When the wizarding world realizes who he is he wants to be firmly settled behind the persona of the Boy Who Lived.

But he can’t do that without getting into Diagon Alley. And he can’t get into the Alley without going through the Leaky Cauldron.

Bollocks.

He probably should have thought this through a little more than he had.

“Story of my life,” he mutters as he slinks back into the doorway of the shop across from the unseen magical inn. What he needs is a plan. An actual, detailed, thought out, does-not-involve-just-jumping-in-and-assuming-he-actually-knows-what’s-going-on plan.

Of course, try as he might, he can’t actually think of a plan.

His invisibility cloak is, at this time, in Dumbledore’s possession – a thought that makes him angry for approximately half a second before he rockets right past that to something dangerously close to terror because at this point in time Albus Dumbledore still possesses the Elder Wand. Which means that currently he’s only one cursed ring Horcrux away from being the Master of Death.  And that realization feels like being dropped naked into the Black Lake. In January.

Bloody hell, he just have found a new form for his boggart to take.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration but after everything he learned from Bathilda Bagshot and then from Dumbledore himself the idea of the man being in possession of all three Deathly Hollows is enough to make his heart jerk around inside of his chest like a cursed bludger.

After losing a good five minutes to panic and grand ideas of storming Hogwarts and ripping the Cloak out of Dumbledore’s grasp, Harry manages to shove the panic into a little box and lock it. He’ll have to bloody well worry about that later because he still hasn’t figured out how to get into Diagon Alley unnoticed.

A glamour is his next thought but there’s two problems with that plan: a) he lacks a wand to perform it with and b) his knowledge of glamour spells is limited to the vague memory of copying Hermione’s essay – or parts of it, anyway – as part of a homework assignment for Sixth Year Charms.

The wand problem dashes his idea of disillusionment.

He doesn’t have polyjuice or any way to get his hands on it.

In fact, magical means of disguise are pretty much out of the question. Well, unless he has a burst of accidental magic and turns his hair a different color or something.

Wait.

Harry pauses on that thought. Could he… maybe… do accidental magic on purpose? Wandless magic is a thing, right? And he hasn’t bought his wand yet so he doesn’t have the Trace and he wouldn’t be getting any warnings from the Ministry. Or at least he assumes so. He’s pretty sure that if his aunt and uncle had gotten a notification via owl every time he’d accidentally caused something to happen they would have done a whole lot more than lock him in his cupboard without anything to eat. He eyes his reflection in the grungy shop window with critical purpose. He doubts anything magical could actually cover up the scar, given what it is. Aunt Petunia’s make up certainly never managed to keep the thing concealed, even if Harry actually approved of her attempts. But if he changed his appearance enough that people didn’t look at him and think “Oh, there goes a mini James Potter” they wouldn’t attempt to look for the scar…

Taking a deep breath, Harry closes his eyes and tries to change the way he looks.

It doesn’t work.

Harry sighs.

Maybe…

He thinks for a moment of how it feels to cast a spell. Not the ‘foolish wand waving’ or his general fear that he’s going to perform the wand movements incorrectly and accidentally blow someone’s head off or something but the actual act of drawing on his magic. He thinks of the warmth he can feel singing through his veins and the way it bubbles up like a fizzy drink until it’s humming in his chest and tingling at his extremities. He holds on to that feeling and focuses on his… hair.

Yeah. His hair. That should be easy enough to change. Make it a little longer to help hide his scar and change the color… He imagines a deep, glorious red like his mum’s. That should change it enough without making him stand out.

He focuses and…

Well.

Harry stares at his reflection.

His hair is not red. It’s also not black anymore either.

It’s a bright, achingly familiar, bubblegum pink.

Well, that is depressing.

Of course, it’s also effective because he definitely doesn’t look like Harry Potter anymore. If anything he looks like he could be Tonks’ brother – or Sirius’ son.

That thought makes his bloody heart stop in a pained, hopeful sort of way. They’re still alive, both of them, and he’ll get to see them again if he can ever get his bloody act together.

“Get a hold of yourself, Potter,” he mutters to his reflection as he attempts to flatten his hair some more. It doesn’t really work – it never does – but at least the bright pink color makes it significantly harder to spot his scar. “Pretend you’re trying to sneak past Snape and you’ve forgotten the cloak and everything will be fine.”

Maybe.

Hopefully.

 


 

Everything is fine.

In fact, for all of the time he spent stressing over it, he is in and out of the Leaky Cauldron in less than five minutes. No one points or gapes at his scar. No one screams, “It’s Harry Potter!” and then tries to shake his hand off of his arm. No one draws attention to the little boy who simply wants to disappear. He doesn’t even have to speak to the barman, Tom.

He does little more than slink inside the dim space, look around, and then, when a trio of gossiping elderly witches rises from a table and makes their way towards the alley, he simply follows along behind them like some poor put upon kid left to go shopping with Great Aunt Mildred and all of her friends. It’s surprisingly effective and he can’t help but feel a little silly for actually worrying so much.

Of course, maybe it goes so smoothly because he thought of the risks and attempted to minimize them before diving on in.

Merlin, is this what it feels like to have a plan? Or something that’s at least within spitting distance of being a plan?

Huh. No wonder everyone is always going on about them.

 


 

“Name?”

“Harry Potter,” Harry murmurs back, as quietly as he can manage. Perched above him, the goblin actually pauses and looks up. Or down, rather.

“Key?”

Harry bites at his bottom lip. “I, uh, don’t actually have my key. No one’s ever given it to me. But I know I’ve got an account here. Can I, er, is there any way to…?”

Wow. Brilliant form of communication there, Harry. Top shelf stuff.  Inwardly, he slaps himself and adds ‘Learn how to speak without sounding like a fucking idiot’ to the ever growing list of things he’d started compiling on the bus.

The goblin eyes him skeptically and Harry resists the urge to flatten his hair again. Or lift the fringe and show off the scar. It’s kind of hard to tell, actually. “Three drops,” the banker instructs and with a small pop and fizzle a small piece of parchment and a small iron dagger appear in front of Harry.

“Er…” Harry swallows back his distaste for letting any of his blood out of his body. Historically it hasn’t been a great thing but he doesn’t think the goblins are going to go running off to resurrect a dark lord. Also, he’s not sure three drops would be enough. Wormtail had taken a bit more than that.

The knife is so sharp that the cut doesn’t even sting until long after he’s let three ruby red drops well up and drip down onto the parchment. The knife vanishes in a flash and the parchment flutters up into the goblins long fingers like a well-trained bird, were it is eyed just as critically as Harry himself had been.

“You’ve never been given a vault key?” the goblin asks and Harry jerks his head.

“No. Never.” And really, it’s not even a lie. He’s never actually gotten to keep his Gringotts key. It’s always found its way back to Hagrid or Mrs. Weasley. Truthfully, it was something that hadn’t even occurred to him as odd until sometime during his fifth year.

Harry bites back the urge to sigh.

Or slap himself.

“Very well,” the goblin replies after another moment of carefully scrutiny. “Everything is in order. Please follow Griphook.”

Harry swallows and, once it becomes obvious that he can’t think of a single thing to say that doesn’t give away the fact that the last time Harry had seen the goblin – seven years in the future – he had been so injured – tortured - that he couldn’t get out of bed, simply nods his head.

“This way,” Griphook announces and Harry follows.

He doesn’t take him down to the vaults.

The moment that Harry realizes this he stumbles, tripping over his own feet as he stare, horrified, at the back of Griphook’s head. Goblins can’t read minds, can they? Because just days after he’s broken into a high security vault, stolen a priceless treasure, and escaped on the back of a dragon while destroying a good portion of the bank in the process would be a fucking horrible time to make that discovery. Never mind that it hasn’t actually happened this time, that the cup is still sitting safe and snug in Bellatrix’s vault and the poor dragon is still chained up however many stories beneath their feet.  Harry’s pretty sure that the goblins would disappear him for crimes committed in a… different timeline?  Different reality?

“In here.” Griphook’s voice draws Harry out of his panicked thoughts and he stares at the goblin for a long moment before he notices the open door next to him and the room beyond.  It is a cozy, windowless room with paneled walls lined with built in drawers and bookshelves and a desk that’s nearly the size of the Weasley’s dining table set to one side of the fireplace with a pair of elegant, dark wood chairs set on one side of it with a smaller, more comfortable looking velvet wingback on the opposing side.

After several pointed looks from Griphook Harry takes a seat on one of the wooden chairs.

“Your account manager will be with you shortly.”

Harry blinks. “…what?”

But Griphook is already gone, the door clicking shut behind him.  A second later a large silver tray, complete with a steaming pot of tea, delicate looking cups, and an array of biscuits and small sandwiches appears with a soft pop on the desk-table.

“I have no idea what’s going on,” Harry tells the empty room which, sadly, remains empty and answerless. After a moment of hesitation, Harry caves and pours himself a cup of tea and doctors it with nothing more than a small splash of milk. He ignores the biscuits, sandwiches, and even the small bowl of sugar cubes despite the fact that his stomach has perked up and started growling at the sight of them. He’s probably pushed it enough with the pastry and really shouldn’t tempt fate with any of the nibbles that have been presented to him. Knowing his luck he’d end up retching all over something important.

With a sigh, Harry settles into his chair, takes a sip of his tea, and waits.

And waits.

And waits.

And waits.

He waits long enough to finish one cup of tea and start on another.

He waits long enough that his leg starts jumping. Or it would have, were his leg actually long enough to reach. As is, he waits long enough that it starts swinging.

He waits long enough that he’s sure that if he has to wait another bloody second he’s going to jump up and start pacing the room like the tiger at the zoo.

The sound of the door opening is enough to make him jump and spill tea all over his hand. Bloody hell.

“Greetings, Heir Potter. I am Urggrat,” the goblin announces as he moves further into the room, pointedly ignoring the way Harry is dabbing at his hand and the damp spot on the knee of his oversized lounge pants. “I am the Potter account manager.”

“Ummm…” Harry says, rather unintelligently. The goblin stares at him from where he’s settled himself in the wingback chair, an impressive stack of neat files stacked next to his elbow with a small box, like one might get from a jeweler, set on top.  “I don’t know what’s happening,” he finally admits because he can think of absolutely nothing to say.  He’s only ever visited the bank a few times – horcrux hunting included – and he certainly never remembers meeting an account manager before. Of course, he can’t exactly say that. So instead he adds, “I just needed to withdraw some money from my account so that I can get my school things.”

“And we will be able to visit your vault in a moment but first we have some other matters to clear up…”

Other matters?” Harry mouths to himself as his panic hits the bottom of his stomach like a rock. This is it. They know about the theft, about the dragon. They’re just going to throw him in a vault somewhere and not check on him for ten years…

 “…We have been trying to contact you for some time,” Uggrat continues calmly, as if Harry isn’t half a step away from a full blown panic attack in the chair across from him. “Since your last birthday in fact. There is the estate reports and the heirship ring. But first…” The goblin slides a small key across the table, the metal of it all shiny enough to do a snitch proud. “Your new key. Your vault was rekeyed and re-warded after the events of October 31, 1981 and are being done so again. Should someone attempt to use the old key it will be confiscated and destroyed. Would you like to press charges for attempted theft should someone attempt to access your account?”

“Err…” Harry pauses for a moment. Does he want to press charges? “…yes,” he answers quietly and is surprised to find that he means it. Or maybe not. He knows who currently possesses it and the idea of Dumbledore being charged with attempted theft is probably more delightful than it should be. Given the past few days – or his entire bloody life – Harry feels he’s entitled to occasional bouts of being a horrible person where the headmaster is concerned.

He’ll feel a bit bad if Hagrid shows up and tries to use it on Dumbledore’s orders. But not, he realizes, enough to rescind his agreement.

The guilt at that, at not letting it pass, is almost enough to make him open his mouth. Almost.

But then he remembers.

He already gave this world everything once. His family. His childhood. His life.

They don’t get to have it again.

“Excellent.” Urggrat notes something down in the file spread open in front of him before he closes it and takes the next file from the top of the stack. “Up next…”


 

What follows is perhaps the longest two hours of Harry Potter’s life.

It takes less than five minutes of that for it to become blatantly obvious that he knows next to nothing about the world he lives in – about the world he died to save.  This isn’t exactly something new. He had been thinking it himself just hours ago as he sat huddled at the base of a tree. Still, there’s a huge fucking difference between knowing, rather vaguely, that you don’t know as much as you’d like, that you’re so busy surviving that you literally have no idea how the world around you works and being bludgeoned in the bloody face with that knowledge. Repeatedly. For hours.

Really, by the end of it, he’s more than half convinced that he’s the stupidest bastard to ever walk down Diagon Alley and that it’s a bloody miracle he can tie his own shoes.

What really throws him his when Urggrat pushes the three little boxes across the table, opening them with a brush of his finger. Inside each one is a ring. Harry stares at them and distantly, beyond the great wall of I-don’t-understand-what-is-happening-here he feels something that just might be panic bubbling up.

“…what?”

“Your heir rings, Mr. Potter.”

Harry makes a weak waving motion with one hand. “No. No, I get… I get that. I just, er…but there’s three?” Three, he repeats to himself, a little hysterically.

“This one,” Urggrat motions to the ring in the center, a chunky gold signet with a stylized ‘P’ interposed over a leaping stag, “is the Potter ring. This,” the ring on the right is made out of a black material, its surface somehow matte and mirrored at the same time, “is the Peverell ring,” and Harry shudders at the sign of the Deathly Hollows staring up at him, the lines of it bold and uninterrupted but done in such a dark pewter that they nearly disappear against the dark backdrop. “Finally, there is this,” the goblin motions to the final ring and Harry’s lungs freeze in his chest. It is the most ornate of the rings: thick and silver and where the other rings have simple bands, this one takes the form of an ouroboros with gleaming emeralds for eyes. “Slytherin,” the goblin murmurs, almost reverently, as Harry stares at the familiar crest – an S and a serpent entwined – and wonders just how the bloody hell this is his life.

“…how?” he manages to get out after several moments of strangled silence. The Potter ring is his, obviously, and knowing what he does the Peverell makes sense but Slytherin?

What do you know, the gossips were right, he thinks hysterically as his entire torso shakes with the panicked laughter he’s keeping locked behind his teeth. The whole of his second year seems even more of a farce in light of this – like some enormous cosmic joke.

The goblin shrugs. “The same way it usually happens, I imagine. We do not concern ourselves with the mating habits of wizards. We do, however, detest stagnant vaults and unclaimed treasures. Not only does it mess with the accounts but stagnant gold cannot be multiplied,” and here Urggrat offers him a feral, pleased grin that no doubt has to do with the fact that Harry’s spent much of the last hour figuring out how to update the investments of the enormous fortune available to him. “You willingly gave blood at the desk. We merely matched it to any open accounts we have on file.” The goblin taps the side of his nose. “Blood never lies, Mr. Potter, no matter what secrets it holds.”

And while that sounds uncomfortably close to all the pureblood nonsense he’s heard spouted, he has the sense to realize that that is not at all how the goblin means it and clamps down on his instinctive hotheaded response. “So… I just put them on?” he finally asks because he can’t think of a way to inquire if carrying a bit of another man’s soul around for more than a decade is enough to fool the bank.

Except…

That can’t be true, can it? Because if he’s simply Slytherin’s heir because of the horcrux sitting pretty in his scar than  wouldn’t there be some mention of the Gaunts in all of this? Even if they were penniless he can’t imagine that they didn’t have a vault at Gringotts. It would be a point of pride, if nothing else.

Except…

Dumbledore had said, point blank, that he wasn’t Slytherin’s heir. Of course, knowing what he knows now that qualifier is probably a hint that he should take whatever followed with more than a grain of salt. It’s also highly possible that Dumbledore didn’t even know.

“Essentially, though there are some considerations.”

Harry blinks. “Such as?”

“The Potter ring is the… least influential. The Potters are an Ancient House and a wealthy one but they are not members of the nobility and do not hold a hereditary seat on the Wizengamot. However, if you wear the ring visibly, this will be the ring everyone expects to see. Peverell and Slytherin, on the other hand, are both prestigious Ancient and Noble Houses and were it not for the fact that both became extinct in the male line centuries ago the Sacred Twenty-Eight would have been the Sacred Thirty. More than that, both lines, while prestigious, are also infamous for delving into darker magics. The Peverells in particular were very talented necromancers. To see their rings on your fingers, in our current world, would…”

“…cause a bloody riot?”

Urggrat’s lips twitch amusedly. “I was going to say that it would be a shock. But your suggestion is not unlikely,” the goblin allows. “Furthermore, both houses possess a seat on the Wizengamot, though you would not be able to sit them unless given dispensation by the current Lord.” The goblin gives him a long, pointed look that makes absolutely no sense to Harry until he adds, softly. “We are a neutral party, always, Mr. Potter and we do not discuss the clients of this bank with anyone, even other clients. However, I can tell you that the Lordship rings for both the Peverell and Slytherin houses have been claimed and they have not returned to us as they would in case of their wearer’s death.”

Oh.

OH.

OH.

The implications hit him like a full on blow from the Hogwarts Express.

“Additionally,” the goblin goes on, as if he didn’t just announce that Lord Voldemort is not nearly as dead as people think, “both the Peverell and Slytherin rings are goblin forged and have a great deal of protective magic woven into them. Curse deflection and poison detection, mostly. There are also vaults that cannot be accessed until the ring is on your finger. It acts as a secondary key.”

“And if I wear them? Would… would everyone know? Would anyone be, er, notified?”

Urggrat smiles toothily. “The rings themselves are designed to be unobtrusive. There is a subtle variation of a Notice Me Not anchored to the ring itself plus any additional protections the houses themselves may have put on them. Customarily the Lords or Heads of houses be present when the rings are given but that is not possible in your scenario.  As none of your guardians, to our knowledge, have any familial ties to the families represented here they will not be notified of your formal acceptance of your heirship status.”

Harry nods, accepting the goblin’s words and letting them sit in his mind while he stares at all three rings. The Potter one, for a certainty, will be leaving with him. This tangible piece of his family, his heritage, that he had no idea even existed. But the others…

Does he need them? Probably not.

Does he want them? That’s a trickier question and one he should probably take more time to think about but he can already feel the answer like some yearning beast sitting inside of his chest. What does he want? He wants options. He wants a life.

And, hell, he promised himself he would give the world a show. Might as well start now.

Merlin, he's going to regret this later. He's almost sure of it.

“So how do I do this?”

“Simply put them all on the little finger of your non dominant hand. I recommend the Potter one first because even though it is the least prestigious you have the strongest connection with it. You are, technically, already the Head of the Potter House but you are not legally eligible until your seventeenth birthday, barring early emancipation. Once they are all on the magic of the rings will reform them into something that is unique to you and your magic while still retaining the qualities of the rings themselves.”

Harry does as he instructs and slides the golden Potter ring onto his left pinky. “Ow!” he yelps as the ring seems to stab him and a bolt of electricity races up his arm.

“Oh, yes. There will be a little prick. And a bit of a shock,” the goblin tells him unrepentantly as he begins to gather up all the files and papers that they have gone over and – on Harry’s part in many cases – signed.

Harry scowls at the rings and mutters, “Brilliant,” under his breath as he reaches for the next one. The Peverell and the Slytherin rings go on in short order, each one seeming to stab at his skinny little finger before sending bolts racing up and down his arm. Once they are all on it looks a little ridiculous: three massive – even with their bands resized! – rings lined up on his undersized finger with just the tip of his nail peeking out from beneath them.  “Um. Weren’t they supposed to…?” Harry starts to ask because there is no way he’s walking around like this. Unobtrusive or not, he’d never be able to get a bloody thing done.

But then the rings convulse on his finger.

For a moment they just sit there, twitching and vibrating, bumping against each other until suddenly they’re twitching faster and faster and faster until the edges of them blur together and they grow very warm against the flesh of his finger.

And then they stop.

And there’s only one ring there.

“Bloody hell,” Harry breathes out. It is… it’s perfect. It’s absolutely bloody perfect. The ring has retained the black of the Peverell, so dark that it almost seems to suck in the light from around them. The band is the ouroboros of the Slytherin, with the small, perfect emeralds still gleaming up at him. A beautiful, golden ‘P’ adorns the center of the ring and behind it, still in a dark pewter is the symbol of the Hollows framed by the delicate gold branches of a stag’s horns.

Urggrat leans across the desk to get a closer look. “Very nice, Mr. Potter. I hope it serves you well.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I do not need to be thanked for doing my job,” the goblin corrects gently but he tips his head to the side as if accepting Harry’s gratitude all the same. “Should you ever have need of something, do not hesitate to contact me or the bank in general. We pride ourselves on our security and neutrality.”

“Of course,” Harry nods his head. After the last two hours it’s a familiar line. Ignoring his own adventures involving polyjuice, an invisibility cloak, an Unforgiveable, and a dragon it’s also probably true.

“In the interest of that, this is yours. I suggest you burn it before we go down to the vaults.”

“…what?”

Urggrat pushes a small, familiar slip of paper across the table and Harry picks it up, unthinking and reads the lines of crimson text.

He stops.

He reads them again.

He swallows. Hard.

 

Harry James Potter

Born: July 31, 1980

Died: May 2, 1998

Reincarnation via temporal displacement:  July 23, 1991

 

Current Titles and Accounts:

Master of Death

Heir Potter (unclaimed) Vault 687

Head of House Potter (unclaimed; underage) Vault 686

Heir Peverell (unclaimed) Vault 842

Heir Slytherin (unclaimed) Vault 799

Boy Who Lived (popular opinion)

 

“Also,” Urggrat adds as he stands up, “your hair is turning black.”

Harry sighs and gives in to the urge to let his hand slap across the front of his face.

Chapter Text

Three and a half hours after he had walked into Gringotts Harry Potter walks out again. He’s still wearing the same worn, overly large, dirty gray muggle clothes and is still sporting the same bubblegum pink hair. He is still small and easily mistaken for a young – well, younger than his body technically is – child as he slips quietly after full grown witches and wizards. In fact, he looks exactly the same as when he went in.

He feels different though.

He’s not sure if that’s the fault of the ring on his pinky or the charmed bag of galleons, sickles, knuts, and a bit of muggle money tucked into his pocket or if it is simply the result of all the new information whirling about his head like the entire stock of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes fireworks.

Or, it could be that suddenly finding his consciousness reborn into his practically eleven year old body is finally starting to sink through his thick skull.

Could be anything, really, but probably a bit of everything. Especially the last point.

Harry’s very much afraid that if he stops to think about everything that he’s either going to accidentally blow up half of Diagon Alley or he’s going to sit down in the middle of the street and just laugh until he’s nothing but a sobbing mess being gawked at by everyone that walks past. That would certainly be an interesting way to enter the wizarding world, he thinks with a wry shake of his head. He can see the headlines now: Boy Who Cries! Or something equally stupid.

He sighs.

Of course, if he doesn’t think about things he’s bound to do something irreversibly dumb and completely murder this chance of his before he actually gets started. He needs a plan, which means he needs to think.

Bollocks.

This is not his area of expertise.

Actually, the only thing that could be considered his area of expertise is not dying when he bloody well should have. A talent for which he is thankful for but hopes that he won’t have to use nearly so much this time around.

He’s too jaded to think that he’ll never use it at all.

Still, he’s managed to escape the Dursleys, sort out things at Gringotts – and Merlin, the Potter accounts had been a mess after ten years of neglect. Fortunately there hadn’t been any funny business in the numbers and the only outgoing expense had been a stipend delivered to his lovely Aunt and Uncle every month, which he had absolutely put a stop to. In fact, he’s almost disappointed that he’s not going to be there to see the dismayed looks on their faces when they realize that they’re suddenly lacking a thousand pounds a month. Almost. – and. Well. That’s the question isn’t it? What does he do now?

Well, he mutters to himself, the first thing you ought to do is get rid of Dudley’s clothes. If nothing else it would make him feel… like himself, whoever that is. Like an actual person, at least, and not the Freak Who Lives in the Cupboard Under the Stairs.

Not the Boy Who Lived, either. Not quite yet. Not until he has had the time to actually sit and think properly instead of trying to do it on his feet. But he supposes he will need to get anything he think he might need for that as well. After all, it’s a bloody miracle that no one has recognized him yet. It’s not like the bubblegum pink hair is much of a disguise. In fact, as far as he can tell, the only reason that he hasn’t been accosted in the street yet is that no one is actually looking for Harry Potter because no one expects him to be here.

He slows at the thought, ducking out of the crowd to stand unnoticed in the shadows at the corner of a building while his thoughts bounce around the inside of his skull like a pair of bludgers at a professional quidditch game.

Originally, his first Hogwarts letter had arrived the day after Dudley’s birthday. Tomorrow. A week before his eleventh birthday. He wonders if that is significant. It’s not something he’s ever bothered to consider, really. Hogwarts mail always came around his birthday. After his birthday, actually. Except for this first year. That first year it had come exactly a week before. Because it was different. Because it wasn’t just book lists or exam marks. It was the acceptance letter. The introduction to Hogwarts and for Harry – and many others – the introduction to the wizarding world.

He wonders if all the other first years had gotten their letters a week before their birthdays. Right now, he suspects so. Bloody hell, no wonder Hermione had managed to practically memorize a hundred books before ever stepping foot in Hogwarts. She’d had an entire year on the rest of them – because no doubt she’d gone out and acquired all the books and then some the moment she and her parents had gotten over the shock of it all.

And then there had been him. Poor little Harry Potter, chased all over bloody Britain by magical letters until a half giant finally caught up with him on a giant fucking rock and set flame to the tinder of his lonely childhood and aching need to belong.

He wants to curl his fist and snarl like an animal at that. At the weakness of it. Look what needing to belong had gotten him. Look what it had gotten Snape. Remus. Peter fucking Pettigrew.

Look at what burning out that need had done to Tom Riddle.

Harry sighs and barely resists the urge to rub tiredly at his scar. At the horcrux. At Voldemort’s soul piece sitting warm and heavy beneath his skin.

If his suppositions are true – and really, he rather thinks that they are, he’s not completely stupid – then the entire wizarding world knows that tomorrow Harry Potter is going to receive his Hogwarts letter. It’s not like his birthday is a secret. In fact, though he previously made a serious attempt to avoid reading anything written about himself, he suspects that he could march into Flourish & Blotts and find his date of birth written in at least a handful of biographies or modern history texts. Probably double that amount, really.

Which means that they’ll be looking for him. They’ll be waiting for him.

Just like last time.

Fucking vultures.

Which means that today is – likely – the last day that he can walk through Diagon Alley with the possibility of passing unnoticed and unmolested. Oh, he’ll give them their Boy Who Lived but the Boy Who Lived would like to have some semblance of a plan first.

He is very, very tired of having no control over his own damn life.

Harry exhales sharply and pinches his nose in a vain effort to stave off the headache beginning to form behind his eyes.

So. Shopping.

At least this time, having seen the ledgers for his vaults, he knows he doesn’t have to worry about using up all his gold before he graduates from Hogwarts.

 


 

Madam Malkin’s shop is empty of other customers, lines of pre-made and charmed clothing hanging in neat rows on hangers lining the shop walls with sleek mannequins showing off the latest fashions adorning the middle.  He catches the hem of a set of flowing red dress robes between his fingers as he walks past and shivers as the fine strands of silk and wool catch against the calluses and scars on his fingers.

Merlin, he’d forgotten how soft new, clean fabric could be.

“Just a moment dear!” a cheery voice calls from the back of the shop and Harry can’t help but smile as he watches the elderly witch shove a handful of pins into a rather ornate looking cloak with a swish of her wand. It’s a bit of a relief to see someone familiar, someone kind but who never paid him a lick of attention beyond the fact that he was her customer.  “Headed off to Hogwarts?” she asks as she offers him a smile and waves him towards the fitting rooms in the back corner.

“Yes ma’am,” he replies respectfully, ducking his head.

“Well, hop on up then and I’ll get you measured. We’ll sort that uniform out for you quick as a wink!” Still fighting a small smile Harry climbs up onto the platform and obligingly holds still while she twitters about him like a bird, measuring this and that with a handful of measuring tapes that follow along behind her like a pack of faithful lapdogs. Harry does his best to stand still and not get accidentally strangled, making polite noises as twitters about in kind, meaningless conversation as well as the occasional comment about him needing to eat more.

Madam Malkin, bless her, never looks above his pointy collarbones.

One transaction, thirty minutes, and three different promises that yes, he will eat more later Harry finds himself standing in the loo at the back of the shop staring at his reflection in the mirror.

“You’re a very handsome young man,” the enchanted mirror chirps, “but that hair…”

“It’s not permanent,” Harry mumbles, still staring. He’s never particularly thought of himself as someone who is handsome – certainly not at a mere (almost) eleven years old.  And yet… the mirror is not exactly wrong. He’s not sure that it’s right either but he definitely looks like a person now instead of an oddly shaped abandoned house elf.

In addition to the standard Hogwarts uniform (black) sitting in garment bags on the floor he has taken advantage of the rest of the store as well and is now the proud owner of something that might be actually called a normal wizarding wardrobe. Dudley’s oversized, elephant gray rags have been relocated to the waste bin and everything currently on his body is new.

And it fits.

This may, actually, be a brand new experience for Harry Potter.

Which is five thousand different types of embarrassing. No matter how much he had worried about running out of money or accidentally causing problems with Ron by somehow flaunting his wealth in the redhead’s face past him could have certainly afforded to purchase a package of basic cotton pants that actually fit.

Nervously, almost afraid that if he touches it it’ll disappear, Harry runs shaking hands down his chest and thighs. Over a pair of cotton and silk pants – one of the softest and richest feeling things he’s ever owned – he’s wearing charcoal gray trousers with a crisp black shirt, the top few buttons left unbuttoned so that the pale skin above his pulse point is visible. Matte black leather boots and a simple black over robe complete the look. It’s dignified but not extravagant. It’s nothing as rich as what Malfoy wanders around it but it’s not going to embarrass him – or his houses – if he gets found in it.

Harry inhales unsteadily and gives the stunned little boy in the mirror a firm nod.

He’s Harry fucking Potter.

He can do this.

 


 

He manages to hold onto that certainty for the rest of his trip through Diagon Alley.  At Slug & Jiggers he takes care to select his cauldron and various brewing tools as well as a couple of sets of the First Year Ingredient Kits. He’ll need only one, technically, but he wants to be prepared. He wants to know. For all that he’s always said that he’s pants at potions he did manage to score an Exceeds Expectations on his potions OWL. Not too bad for a student who spends most of his classes either fighting with the professor or attempting to fend off attempts at sabotage by members of the opposing house.  He owes it to himself to see what he can do when he’s actually attempting to understand.  He owes it to Snape too, to the version of the man who sacrificed everything for him.

Harry swallows roughly as he adds the auto-shrinking bags to his pocket.

Snape had been a bastard – a cruel, vicious bully. And Harry… in many ways Harry had ended up being exactly what Snape had accused him of. Oh, not his father, certainly. No matter how much he might have once wished to it is impossible for him to emulate a man he has never known. But rash, arrogant, and narrow minded all the same, so sure of his absolute rightness that he blinded himself to any other viewpoints.

Plus, there’s nothing like living on the run, in a tent, while being hunted by some of the most deranged and powerful wizards in Britain for nearly a year with limited hope and even fewer supplies to teach him the value of a well brewed potion.

He spends a small fortune at Scribbulus’, buying twice as much parchment as he thinks he might need, a veritable rainbow of inks, and handful of eagle feather quills in addition to a set of gorgeous fountain pens. He pauses at the selection of leather bound books, fingers brushing hesitantly over the binding of a particularly deep green one, the cover gleaming with a sheen that makes Harry pretty sure that it’s not ordinary cowhide stretched around the pale cream pages.  A journal, charmed to hold five thousand pages while appearing barely thick enough to account for the covers and a couple dozen pages and then warded to only open to those keyed into the magic. The warding itself is rudimentary and Harry rather suspects that any seventh or even an intelligent sixth year could break through the protections but the idea has merit.

And he’s not quite stupid enough to think that he’s going to be able to keep everything straight in his head.  For Merlin’s sake, he’s lucky if he can remember his own name somedays…

…well, no. That’s not quite true. It’s not like anyone would let him bloody forget it.

But still, the point stands that his brain is a fucking mess. A point that is becoming painfully obvious with each passing second.

Harry has a chance to rewrite history. It would absolutely be his luck to fuck it all up more than Dumbledore and Voldemort combined because he forgot something.

He buys the journal.

If nothing else it’s pretty and it’s his.

Truthfully, he uses that excuse more times than he’d like to admit before the day is done.

After collecting a telescope, star charts, and a small selection of sweets from various shops he is very happy to find the shop that sells wizarding luggage, where he promptly spends more than he will at any other shop that day. It’s the idea of wizarding space. The idea of having a flat inside of one of the compartments of his trunk – despite the fact that he has the ward keys to the three Potter properties in the British Isles sitting in the pouch from Gringotts – is simply too much to resist. The idea of having a place that is his, that will always be his and his alone makes his hands shake. Though he does manage to talk himself down to the single room studio style suite instead of the two bedroom layout he had been eyeing initially.

He’s not Dudley, Harry tells himself sternly. He doesn’t need two bedrooms.

The salesman, he can tell, is just a little disappointed in Harry’s restraint.

Once the various charms have been applied Harry takes a moment to resize it in the sheltered corner of a side alley and carefully load his purchases into the main compartment before shrinking it and placing it back in his considerably emptier trouser pocket. He’ll have plenty of time to organize everything later but he needs to finish with his shopping as soon as he can. The longer he’s here the better chance he has of being recognized.

At Flourish & Blotts Harry finds himself grateful for the complete lack of faith the store and its owners has in the average parent – and student’s – ability to remember their book list and tips the whole selection of the First Year books into the basket on his arm. Honestly, the only one he could remember with any surety is The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1 and he’s pretty sure that Crabbe and Goyle could probably manage to remember that so he finds such a feat to be a very hollow victory. Necessity satisfied, he wanders up and down the crowded, book stuffed aisles. Driven by curiosity and regret a large number of tomes make their way into his basket.

Even accounting for the feather light and expansion charms on the basket and the large number on the summaries of his vaults Harry limits himself to fifty additional books. The handful of best sellers from the children’s section will be easy reads. On the other hand, the dusty volume on the history of the Wizengamot and the influence and stances of the various families which hold seats on it promises to be a long, tortuous slog of many months, if not years.  It probably doesn’t help that the bloody thing is thicker than his head. In addition to the children’s books he picks up a number of wizarding novels as well as more practical things like books and treatises on potion making, advanced magical theory, magical history – including a few that no doubt feature a great deal of probably incorrect information about himself – and a short little series of books that seem to have been designed with muggleborns or muggle raised in mind. They cover everything from the basic structure of the Ministry of Magic to how to properly write with a quill.

Merlin, but those would have been useful his first time around. Hermione had found them, no doubt, and it kind of pisses him off that she never thought to mention them to him. Especially after she discovered that he had been raised by muggle relatives.

Thinking of Hermione though…

Harry nods in satisfaction as he drops his very own copy of Hogwarts: A History on the top of the stack sitting in front of the cashier.  The man’s lips twitch. “Let me guess,” he drawls wryly as he begins to ring up Harry’s selections. “Muggleborn?”

Not wanting to outright lie to someone who might remember him and eventually put two and two together Harry simply blinks and tries to look politely confused.

It works.

“Ah… I mean… your family isn’t magical?”

“Oh!” Harry gives a little laugh and shakes his head. “No, they’re not magical at all,” he adds, barely keeping himself from shuddering at the thought.  The idea of Dudley with a wand is frankly terrifying. The bloated shit would probably have made an excellent Death Eater if he managed to survive his first day of classes without accidentally blowing himself into a thousand different pieces.

“Well it’s good to see you take an interest in our world,” the man nods knowingly. “So few do.”

“Well that seems dumb,” Harry mutters, ducking his head to hide the burning of his cheeks. “It’s my world now too. I figure if I’m going to be part of it I better familiarize myself with it.” And yet he hadn’t. He’d run away to Hogwarts each year with relief, escaping the bitterness and abusive atmosphere of the Dursley residence with nothing but relief, but he had never bothered to learn anything of real substance about the world he was living in. About the world he had been expected to save.

Because quidditch teams and broom standings… they… they don’t count.

But this time he’s going to do it right. He hopes.

The clerk’s smile broadens as he hands over Harry’s bags. “A wise attitude to have. Welcome to your new world,” he adds after a pause. “I hope you like it here.”

Harry doesn’t bother to stem the brilliant smile that splits his lips.

And even though he’ll have Hogwarts’ library at his fingertips in a month’s time he also grabs one of the store’s mail order catalogues on the way out.

 


 

After Flourish & Blotts, despite his worry of being recognized, Harry finds himself dragging his feet. He kills some time and puts off the next task on his to do list by allowing himself to be distracted by the magical grocer that he’d never realized existed there in a little tuck of the road before it narrows and turns into the more meandering gloom of Knockturn Alley. It’s more delightful than it should be to purchase things like tea and cocoa and bread and other simple groceries that will fit inside the small kitchenette his trunk studio boasts. Fucking Dursleys.

He even stops and buys a copy of the Daily Prophet from a vendor on the corner but eventually he runs out of reasonable excuses and finds himself standing midway between the two shops, looking back an forth, considering.

You’ve faced down and killed a Dark Lord, he reminds himself, so grow a bloody spine and get on with it!

Still, it takes another three deep breaths and the reminder that he’d been in bloody Gryffindor for six years before he looks once more, gives a firm nod of his head, and walks forward to open the door into Magical Menagerie.

The inside of the pet store is dim compared to the bright, sun lit streets outside, and a wave of noise assaults his ears as soon as he steps through the door: a riot of croaking toads and singing frogs blending with the meowing of cats and the screeching of owls. It is to the last that he goes, eyeing the mass of feathers moving up and down the crowded perches with a wariness more appropriate to approaching a Blast Ended Skrewt or even a small dragon rather than the most common form of wizarding communication.  It’s just…

He misses Hedwig.

She hadn’t just been his mail carrier. She’d been his dearest companion and friend. She had never abandoned him, never mocked him, never called him a liar, and certainly never treated him like he was anything special, which is more than he can say about every other being in his life. He had been Just Harry to her and it had been the most refreshing and healthy relationship of his seventeen years.

And she had died for him.

Because of him.

Just one of many, in that regard.

But one of the most deeply mourned and the most dearly missed.

But he needs an owl of his own. The school has owls that students are welcome to use but they have no particular loyalty and Harry doesn’t dare trust them with any potentially delicate information or letters that he might need to send. The knowledge has been gnawing at him since the moment the realization had come crashing into his skull  while talking with Urggrat about the mail redirection that Dumbledore had set up for him nearly ten years ago.

(And he’s not thinking about that. He. Is. Not. Because if he starts then things are probably going to start shattering all around him. The meddling bastard.)

So yes, Harry knows that he needs an owl – one of his own, one that he can trust – but he can’t decide which option is worse: replacing Hedwig entirely or purchasing her and carrying on as if he didn’t already have six years of memories, a whole other life, with her swimming around inside his head.

He still can’t decide. Even though he’s standing here, staring up at a swirl of brown and tawny and gray and black feathers while the regal white bird that he knows is sitting in the building just up the street, he still can’t decide.

“See one that you like?”

Harry jumps a little at the voice at his elbow. “Uh… they’re beautiful animals,” he says, because it’s true, and because it avoids the question entirely. The clerk, clearly not long out of Hogwarts, blows a bubble shaped like a unicorn and pops it noisily while staring at Harry with a very Snape-like glare. “I’m not sure I want an owl,” he admits after a few moments trying not to twitch beneath her gaze.

The glare lightens a little at that.

“Well…” she says after blowing and popping a few more bubblegum animals. “It’s always best to wait if you’re not sure but owls don’t require a lot of care, especially if you’re headed for Hogwarts. They keep a nice owlery there. Plus they’re smart – usually,” she amends after what Harry has a sneaking suspicion might actually be Pig, or at least a relative of his, preens himself so excitedly that he falls off the perch and nearly brains himself on the perch staggered underneath it. “… and dead useful.”

“I know. I just…” Harry swallows. “I lost an owl recently and I…”

“…don’t know if you’re ready to move on yet?”

Letting out a shaky sigh, Harry nods. “Yeah.”

The clerk pats his shoulder in a clear, if somewhat awkward, attempt at comfort. “Well, kid, if you change your mind let me know.”

Harry stares up at the chaos of feathers and beaks and gleaming golden eyes for a long moment. He needs an owl. He just can’t bring himself to need one of them.

“You’re a sentimental idiot,” he mutters to himself and drags a hand down his face. Of course, as far as he can tell, being a bleeding heart is what got him here in the first place. He’s halfway to the door before something else occurs to him. “Actually…” He pauses, half turned back to where the Menagerie’s clerk is already back behind the counter.

“Yes?”

“Do you… uh. Do you sell snakes?”

“Snakes?” the woman repeats, gum nearly falling out of her mouth as her eyebrows practically crawl into her hair. “Yeah, kid. We have snakes. Not many of them, mind. They’re not very popular these days what with You-Know-Who. But, yeah, we have some. You want to see ‘em?”

For a moment Harry just stands frozen by the door, heart pounding erratically in his chest. Does he want a snake? In today’s political climate openly owning one, especially as a pet, is tantamount to declaring for the Dark Lord. Or for the Dark in general, at this point, seeing as how Volde – no, Tom – is still currently living on the back of Quirrell’s head.

But still…

He wants to live his life. He wants to be himself. Just Harry.

And Just Harry happens to be a parseltongue and have a piece of the Dark Lord’s soul entwined with his own.

“Yeah. That’d be great.”

The cage in the very back corner of the shop is nearly as large as the Dursley’s sofa. The rock and hollowed log adorned interior is barely visible in the dim light of the shop but even from outside of the cage Harry can feel the heat of the warming charms cast on one side of the habitat.

“Sorry about that,” the clerk corrects the light situation with a flick of her wand, illuminating the area with a soft glow. “Some people really freak out if they realize that we’ve got these back here.”

“Some people are stupid,” Harry mutters under his breath as he presses closer to the enclosure, though apparently not quietly enough because the young woman laughs.

“Yeah,” she agrees. “Anyway, this is all we got. Like I said, it’s not much, but really we only sell a few a year. Usually to Hogwarts graduates who want to show some house pride. These are regular muggle boa constrictors. I can look up the exact variety if you’re interested. If you’re wanting anything more exotic then you’ll probably have to file for a special permit with the ministry. Most magical snakes are venomous and are required to be registered.”

“No, no… muggle and non-venomous is fine,” he assures as he stares at the bodies inside the cage. And probably for the best, he adds silently. Giving a parseltongue a venomous snake is probably about as safe as handing Dudley a loaded gun and he doesn’t need that temptation.

There are two snakes front and center that Harry guesses are only about two feet long, give or take an inch or two. One of them is a pale, almost washed out gray overlaid with darker gray markings. He would call it pale, ghostly even, were it not draped over a serpent so white that it shone, its markings only visible when the animal moves, the miniscule difference in color making the spots pearlescent in the soft light. They’re both gorgeous.

“…are just babies. Barely two months old. Then there’s that poor fellow in the back…”

Harry doesn’t even see him until she points him out, which is ridiculous considering the contrast between the animal’s colors and the dark colored bedding. His body is a pale – so pale it is practically white - glowing yellow with deep reddish orange markings that start out smaller and fainter at the curve of his head and steadily throw larger and bolder as they move down his body until the tip of his tail is brilliant enough that it makes Harry think of the blaze of the sun as it bursts over the horizon. He’s also quite a bit larger than the other two and likely closer to three feet in length.

“…a bit older. He’s very polite at feeding time and very mild mannered overall. People just seem to object to him on account of his looks.”

Harry blinks and tears his eyes away from the snake. “…what?”

The clerk shrugs. “Too Gryffindorish,” she explains, the disdain heavy in her voice.

Well.

That seems to settle it, doesn’t it?

“I’ll take him.”

The clerk clearly wasn’t expecting him to actually want one of the animals. “Really? Sure your parents won’t mind, kid?”

“I’ve got my own money that I’m allowed to spend as I see fit,” Harry replies. “Besides, dad’s constant companion is a black dog that’s still a little iffy on following basic commands and big enough to eat a bloody hippogriff.” Which is true enough, even if it’s said in the wrong tense.

The woman holds up her hands in a gesture of surrender. “Sure, sure,” she nods. “You know that snakes aren’t allowed at Hogwarts,” she adds and he admires her tenacity to make sure that he’s sure.

“Technically,” he replies and grins.

She snorts. “Technically,” she agrees with a bob of her head. “So I’m guessing you’ll need a full set up for him?”

 


 

Half an hour later Harry is finally settling the gorgeous creature’s habitat on the floor of his studio, various supplies and informational booklets arrayed around him. “We’re going to have to figure out a name for you,” he hisses as he eyes the glowing coils as they slowly move around the new enclosure, investigating. “Unless you’ve already got a name, that is.”

The snake freezes, half coiled over the pre-charmed rock, and raises its head until its eyes are nearly level with Harry’s.

You speak.”

“I do,” Harry smiles. It’s perhaps his first real smile since… well. It’s been a while. “I would have introduced myself in the shop but I’m trying to pass unnoticed for a little bit. Being able to speak to snakes is considered rather… remarkable.”

“Humans do startle rather easily,” the snake agrees. “They are always crying like a new caught mouse.”

Harry decides that he is going to quite like having a pet that can talk back.

 


 

Unnamed snake in his trunk aside, he still needs an owl and he’s still a bloody sentimental idiot which is why he finds himself holding a beautiful white owl on his arm, softly stroking her breast while tears prick at the corners of his eyes.

“Hello girl,” he murmurs.

 


 

There is only one place left to visit after that and it's the place that Harry’s been dreading visiting since he stepped foot in Diagon Alley. He pauses outside of the narrow little shop and stares up at the sign for a long time before he sighs, reaches for what’s left of his Gryffindor courage, and ducks inside.

It’s as crowded as he remembers, little boxes piled haphazardly in stacks that reach the ceiling and layered over every piece of furniture until every space is filled save for the bit of standing space at the very front of the shop and the narrow maze that leads around the boxes. As dusty as he remembers too, he thinks as he holds back a sneeze and watches the dust motes dance in the filtered beams of light that stream through half covered windows. This time though he can feel the hum of magic in the shop, subtle and soft like the buzzing of a bee’s wings, but there all the same. An entire river of it just waiting.

His fingers twitch.

“Ah, Mr. Potter,” a soft, breathy voice welcomes as the familiar image of Mr. Ollivander materializes out of the shadows, “I was wondering when you might be visiting me. A little earlier, are you not?” Harry opens his mouth, probably to say something stupid and ill advised but the wand maker continues without pausing. “I remember the day your mother walked through those doors to buy her first wand.  Willow. Ten and a quarter inches. Swishy. Lovely for charms work. Your father on the other hand favored a mahogany wand. Eleven inches. Pliable and with a bit more raw power – an excellent wand for transfiguration. Well, I say favored but it’s really the wand who chooses the wizard.” He pauses and peers down at Harry with pale eyes that stare straight down to the core of him.  Harry fights the urge to flinch back from the wand maker’s all seeing gaze.

If there is anyone in Diagon Alley that can see through him it will be this man and Harry doesn’t know if that reassures him or terrifies him. Probably a bit of both if he’s being honest.

“Hmmm,” the man muses after several moments of study. “You will be a tricky customer, I think.”

Harry swallows. “Why do you say that sir?” But the wand maker’s lips just twitch in a smile. And Harry doesn’t press him. He knows he is going to be a tricky customer. He certainly was the first time and he doesn’t imagine things have changed that much.

“Your wand arm?” he asks instead, pulling a measuring tape from his pocket and Harry obligingly holds out his right arm. Just like last time the tape begins taking measurements while Ollivander turns around and promptly disappears into the maze of wand boxes. By the time he returns the tape is measuring the distance between his nostrils and Harry is fighting the urge to bat it away. “Here. Cherry and unicorn hair. Pliant. Just pick it up and give it a flick.”

Harry sighs and does as instructed.

The cash register explodes.

“Oh my,” Ollivander looks rather impressed as he stares at the sprawl of gold and silver and bronze raining off the edge of his front counter. “Not that one. Here.  Ash and dragon heartstring, ten and half inches…”

A pile of paperwork is thrown violently into the air and falls to the ground as little more than confetti.

“No. No. Clearly not.  Walnut and dragon heartstring, rigid and… obviously not. How about Ebony and unicorn … Merlin! Clearly that is not acceptable. Let’s try…”

And so it goes, just like last time. Wand after wand shoved into his hands only to be rejected in a rather spectacular way that sets something on fire or destroys another piece of the shop. Ollivander, contrary to any sense whatsoever, looks almost delighted by each failure. Harry just sighs and keeps flicking wands until his wrist is sore.  

 “Interesting, Mr. Potter, very interesting. I knew you’d be a tricky one,” the wand maker mutters under his breath as he stands in front of his shelves, half a dozen wand boxes clutched in his arms. The front of the shop is an absolute wreck. The windows have been reparo’d at least a dozen times and Harry’s lost count of the fires that have had to be put out or the wands that have been knocked over. “Hmmm…” he pauses suddenly and turns back, his eyes widening as they flick up to Harry’s forehead where his scar is still covered by an unruly fringe of bubblegum pink hair. “I wonder…”

Harry slumps in relief as the man tosses all of the boxes in his arms onto the floor and disappears back into the interior. Finally.

When he returns the older man is slow and hesitant, an open box cradled in his hands. “They’re very curious things, wands,” he murmurs. “Very few trees can produce wood suitable for focusing magic and wand cores are notoriously difficult to source. I could have an entire handful of unicorn hair and only find a single strand to be suitable. I could pluck an entire phoenix bare and only come up with one feather with the strength to be the heart of a wand. Never mind all the trouble that ensues trying to match a core to a block of wood.” Harry listens, absolutely fascinated at this bit of insight. So much of his life – and the war that has consumed it - has been inadvertently decided by wand lore that he can’t help but greedily soak it up like a parched sponge. “The contents of this shop are the results of several lifetimes of work. Mine. My father’s. My grandfather’s. It is a never ending puzzle to fit all the pieces together and then to help match the right wand to the right wizard and sometimes we don’t get it right.”

Harry can’t stop the questioning noise that falls out of his mouth.

“Tell me, Mr. Potter, what you think of this wand.” Harry reaches for the wand only to stop, his fingers hovering over the box as the bottom drops out of his stomach. There, beneath his fingers, is a familiar holly and phoenix wand.

Shattered.

No, shattered is not the right word. It looks like it has exploded, erupted like some long suppressed volcano, the wood burst open until it is nothing more than an array of slivers surrounding a slender  crimson and gold feather. Slivers of wood that have been scorched.

“…sir?” he manages to croak out after several stunned moments.

“Go ahead,” the wand maker urges quietly. “Pick it up.”

The only thing he can pick up is the feather – Fawkes’ feather – and the moment he touches it a familiar heat blooms in his arm and races through his blood. He can almost hear the bird singing.

Ollivander sighs and suddenly looks decades older than he had a moment before, shoulder slumping as he stares down at the feather clutched in Harry’s tiny hand. “Curious, Mr. Potter. Very curious.”

“What is, sir?”

“I remember every wand I’ve ever made, ever wand I’ve ever sold. Every one. And the phoenix that gave that feather,” he nods his head at the feather that Harry can’t bring himself to let go of, “did, in fact, give one other feather. Those two wands were some of the easiest I have ever made. They went together so smoothly. Holly, eleven inches, and nice and supple.  A wand well suited to balancing a quick tempered wizard who might frequently find himself in dangerous situations. Coupled with the phoenix feather… well. It’s a very unusual combination. I have waited almost sixty years to see who this wand might go to. But it’s brother… thirteen and a half inches. Yew.  A fierce, singular wand. One of the most powerful I’ve ever made and in need of an equally singular wizard to wield it. Excellent for dueling. It’s the wand that gave you that scar.” Softly, reverently, Ollivander brushes the tip of one finger against the lightning bolt on Harry’s head and Harry shivers. “The holly. It would have worked for you, I think, had the feather not destroyed it.”

The sight of the holly splinters in the cloth lined box make Harry want to cry. Merlin, it’s just wood, but it had been – would have been  - his wand. His faithful wand that had introduced him to magic. That had seen him through his first lessons. That had held off a hundred dementors. That had dueled Voldemort. That had tried to crucio Bellatrix Lestrange. That had nearly killed Draco Malfoy. That had met its end in Godrics Hollow and that he hadn’t been able to throw away. Not even when it had been broken and dead, with not a glimmer of magic or sentience left in it. That wand had been as much a part of his body as his arm.

 “It caused quite the fuss. Woke me up at the crack of dawn this morning with a bang. It happens sometimes, that the core rejects the wood. Not often, but sometimes. Sometimes things… change.” Harry doesn’t dare look away. He doesn’t even dare breathe. Ollivander offers him a kind look and tucks the remnants of the holly wand beneath his arm. “Come along then, Mr. Potter. Let us see if we can find something acceptable to your feather.”

 


 

Ollivander leads him to a lower level that, in true wizarding fashion, is about ten times the size of what it should be and far brighter than any basement level has any business being. It’s lit by lamps hanging in regular intervals from the ceiling and an entire wall of windows across the back surrounded by a well on the exterior to allow natural, not magical, light to filter in. The entire space is open and airy, a study in worn, golden, polished woods with the smell of freshly cut wood hanging sweet in the air. There is a long, scarred workbench down the center of the room with a handful of wands in various stages of completion adorning its surface and the walls are lined with cabinets and shelving. The cabinetry is little more than long, shallow drawers piled one on top of the other. The shelves hold hundreds, if not thousands, of little bottles. If Harry looks closely enough he can see that each one contains a potential wand core: the silvery shimmer of a unicorn hair, the purple-red strands of a dragon’s heartstrings, or even the occasional glimmer and flash of a phoenix feather.

“Very well, Mr. Potter, please have a look,” the wand maker invites as he makes a sharp flicking motion with his own wand and all of the drawers slide open with a series of clicks. “Keep the feather in your hand and run it over the pieces. Let me know when you find the right one.”

“…the right one?”

The man smiles, giving the drawers a fond, if exasperated glance. “You’ll know,” he promises and settles down on a stool to wait. Clearly, he expects this process to be a long one.

Considering the bloody mess they’ve left upstairs Harry can’t say that he disagrees.

The drawers hold nothing but wood. Piece upon piece in every color from stark white to a rich red-brown to the deepest of blacks, each probably a foot and a half in length and a little over an inch in diameter. With a quick glance at Mr. Ollivander to make sure he’s doing it right, Harry lowers his rand hand and strokes it slowly across the woods.

They’re cold.

Bloody, fucking cold.

Stick-his-hand-in-a-dementer-and-keep-it-there cold.

Swimming-naked-in-the-Black-Lake-in-February cold.

He yanks his hand with a hiss and glares at the wood. Behind him, Ollivander lets out a little laugh. “So cold it burns, doesn’t it?” he asks and Harry nods.

“Yeah.”

“You’ll know when you find the right one,” the wand maker repeats and Harry… well. He’s got to go back to the drawers of freezing wood, doesn’t he? He needs a bloody wand and apparently the feather in his hand, the feather that ties him to Voldemort, to Tom Riddle, almost as much as the scar on his forehead has decided that the holly is no longer good enough for it.

Sometimes things change, Ollivander’s voice echoes in his head.

And isn’t that the understatement of the century.

The Harry of now is a completely different person than the boy who walked into this shop the first time. He doesn’t know why he’s surprised that his original wand has self destructed rather than come to his hand. It still hurts though.

He sighs and drags his hand across another drawer of wood pieces, the surfaces practically silky beneath his touch.

Nothing.

Nothing but cold.

Not for this drawer or the next one or the one after that. Or for any of the ones that come after.

Occasionally there’s a glimmer, a spark against his skin that’s like catching the glint of light of light off a mirror out of the corner of his eyes but nothing ever comes of it. By the time he goes back the glimmer is gone, the wood cold and ungiving beneath his touch.

Possibilities, he thinks.

Options that might have played out in a different world for a different Harry Potter.

But not here.

Not for him.

He’s three quarters of the way around the room when he finds it. It’s not just a warmth against his fingertips or a glimmer that he catches at the edge of his gaze. It’s a bloody inferno. It’s fiendfyre racing up arm and digging into his heart, scorching through his veins and his nerves until he feels like he might combust.

Ollivander is at his side instantly. “Which one?” he asks and Harry hands it to him.

It is black, so black that it practically eats the light inside of the studio, a beautiful swirl of darkness that howls gleefully beneath his touch.

The wand maker takes it reverently. “Interesting,” he breathes.

 


 

Harry is not quite sure how much time it takes to finish his wand. An hour, certainly. Maybe two. Maybe more. At some point a house elf pops in with tea and a sandwich that Harry inhales gratefully. Once Ollivander has to get up and return to the main shop when a twinkling little bell announces that he has a customer but he’s back within twenty minutes – the lucky bastard, Harry thinks, directing his thoughts to the customer even now stepping back onto the street. Other than that, though, the man remains unmoved for the entire duration.

Twice he calls Harry over to lay his hand against the wood and the feather and he stares, seeing something beneath the increased hum of magic in the air. The phantom of what the wand wants to be, maybe. Harry just goes where Ollivander tells him to and otherwise sits on a stool a few feet away and watches in silence as the other man carefully turns the wood and the feather into a piece of art. Into a tool. Into a weapon.

Harry is nervous, impatient, his knee jumping relentlessly but he doesn’t move from his stool unless told to. He’s rash and has had more than his share of idiotic moments but he’s not stupid. He stays put and waits and focuses on keeping his hair pink.

Harry’s fairly certain he’s never focused so bloody hard on something in his life. Except for catching the snitch. Maybe.

That probably says bad things about him.

When Ollivander finishes he slumps back on his stool with a sigh and holds out his hand toward Harry. “Ebony and phoenix feather,” he croaks. “Eleven and three quarter inches. Firm.”

It’s beautiful.

Harry is captivated. Enthralled. Caught like a teenaged Ron Weasley in front a dozen Veela.

It is a bit thinner than the Holly wand, thinner than a muggle pencil near the tip and gradually thickening until it’s a little more than half an inch in diameter at the thickest part of the handle, which then thins and turns in a wide hook that looks like it will rest comfortably around the heel of his palm. The majority of the wand is that inky, bottomless black and shined it loos more like a piece of  dark glass instead of wood. It is near the small lip separating the main blade of the wand from the hilt of it that the soft, wispy swirls of cream begin to appear. It’s not much, just a touch here and there as the grain spirals around the handle. They gleam like stars in the sky, the swirl and spread of a galaxy across the endless black of space.

It is smooth and sleek and simple.

It is nothing but a wand. It doesn’t need to be anything more.

The moment Harry touches it fireworks go off in his head and his magic rises to meet it like a cold tide, inexorable and fathomless.

“It’s perfect,” he tells the wand maker and it may be the most honest thing that has ever come out of his mouth.  Ever.

Ollivander gives him a weary smile that only pulls at half of his mouth. “I am glad that it suits you. It is a formidable wand. I expect you will do great things with it, Mr. Potter. Great things.”

Harry shivers and cradles the wand to his chest. “I’m going to try,” he murmurs and beneath his fingertips the wand hums in agreement.

Chapter Text

After spending no small amount of time thinking about the portkeys to the various Potter properties currently sitting in a magical pouch in his pocket Harry does a bit of shopping in the muggle world – because no matter how determined he is to fit in to his new world, he’s not giving up wearing muggle jeans – and takes a cab back to Kings Cross. There he finds a quiet, out of the way broom closet with a broken door handle that has – judging by the layer of dust on everything – not been touched in quite some time and once out of the sight of prying eyes, he resizes his trunk and climbs inside.

The flat is a mess of shopping bags spread across the hardwood floors, a riot of colors against the off white of the walls and Hedwig is sitting on a stand in one corner, her eyes fixed speculatively on the long tank set up against the nearby wall. The snake, at least, is happily settled and fast asleep.

The sight of...  everything, is enough to make something warm swell almost uncomfortably in Harry’s chest. “Well,” he announces to the room, earning a long, slow blink from Hedwig, “here we are.” The owl goes back to staring at the snake and Harry smiles, blinking away the tears that prick at the corner of his eyes.

And then he gets to work.

He needs a plan but first, first he needs to somehow organize this mess. Maybe that will help organize his mind so he can actually think without bursting into tears or having his magic accidentally shatter the glass in the faux windows on the far side of the room.

He finds his clothes first and changes into a pair of denims and t-shirt that are new and actually fit – and part of him wonders if that knowledge is ever going to stop sending a little thrill through him - after taking a moment in the loo to splash water on the face. The bathroom, like the rest of the flat, isn’t overly large but certainly has more than enough room for one person. It is done in tasteful neutrals: off white walls and a black and white tiled floor with a standard seeming white tub set in a tiled alcove and equipped with a showerhead sticking from the wall. In the living space the lack of color reminds him too much of that fluffy in-between place but in bathroom he actually likes it.

 It’s bright, airy, clean, and his.  Plus the jewel toned towels that he bought won’t clash with anything.

The only other space in the flat is a roomy dressing room with one wall devoted to drawers and a large mirror and another half filled with shelves clearly meant for shoes. The rest of it is outfitted with rods that are thankfully - because Harry hadn’t even thought to buy some - half full of empty hangers.  And now that he’s dressed in something slightly more appropriate for sorting through all the bags and packages he had acquired he sets to work filling up the drawers and hangers and shelves. Of course, referring to it as ‘filling them up’ is laughable at best. He’d bought what he considered to be a very reasonable number of clothes – extravagant, even, compared to the last seventeen years of his life – and they barely take up a third of the available space.

It’s soothing though. Soothing to set the few pairs of shoes on the shelf. Soothing to unload pants and socks and t shirts into drawers. Soothing to hang up robes and trousers and shirts and coats and cloaks, to hang enchanted scarves and ties over hooks.

It’s soothing to fold his towels and washcloths and set them away in the cupboard next to the sink, leaving one set out that he hangs next to the tub. Soothing to put his toiletries on the ledge next to the tub and on the countertop next to the sink and to place the few first aid items and medicinal potions that he’d bought in the medicine cabinet hanging over the toilet. Soothing to put the plush black rug on the floor to protect his feet from the cold tile.

It’s soothing to sort through the rest of his belongings. He doesn’t have any shelves or extra trunks and the cupboards in the small kitchen are reserved for the groceries and the minimal pots, pans, dishes, and cutlery that he’d bought but he can sort his school specific items into one neat pile and organize everything else as best as he can.

It’s soothes something dark and lonely and cold coiled in the center of his chest, something he hadn’t even realized was there until the quiet act of putting his things away in his flat quieted it. He’s never had a home, he realizes. He’s never had a place that was his. The closest he’s ever gotten has been his dorm room in Gryffindor tower… or his bloody cupboard.

But this is his. Just his. No one else has had it before him. No one else even knows it exists.

Harry lets out a little laugh and dashes the tears that have been leaking from his eyes while he’s standing here surveying his little kingdom. “Don’t mind me,” he tells Hedwig when she tips her head and hoots at him. “It’s been a long day.”

Understatement.

It has, quite possibly been the longest day of his life. Lives. Because the last time he really slept was before they broke into Gringotts – if he could actually call that tossing and turning ‘sleep’. Merlin, no wonder he feels exhausted. But he’s not going to bed just yet. He can’t. Because no sleep will wait for him there until he has some sort of… direction and organization to his thoughts.

Not for the first time he wishes he were a better bloody occlumens. Somewhere, somewhen in the long, miserable hours spent in a magical tent with hunger pains licking at his belly and a desperate, angry horcrux seeping into his every thought and emotion Hermione had at least managed to beat – by sheer bloody repetition – the basics of occlumency into his brain. He can organize his thoughts, at least a little, now. If he hadn’t managed to learn at least that much he doubts he would have been able to understand the magnitude of the knowledge given to him by Snape’s memories; doubts he would have been to put the pieces together fast enough to make his way out to the Forbidden Forest without anyone stopping him. He still can’t successfully clear his mind half the time and he wonders how much of that is him and how much of it is the result of fighting against the nature of the horcrux that lives inside of him.

It’s a thought that he quietly shelves for later.

Right now he needs to know what he’s going to do.

He needs a plan.

He takes a deep breath and then another and then one more for good measure and goes to make himself something to eat.

After he’s consumed a sandwich he settles down with a fresh pot of tea, a handful of biscuits, one of his new pens, an array of inks, and the journal. For a moment he just sits there, worrying at his bottom lip as he stares at the blank, creamy pages and wonders how the hell he is supposed to do this. Plans are… not his forte. In fact, his general approach to plans can be classified as equal parts bullshit, dumb luck, and rash bravery/willful stupidity. He knows this. Has known it for years. Snape’s snipes about his intelligence and arrogance wouldn’t have pricked so much if he’d been able to brush them off as obvious falsehoods. But it had been what was expected of him and it had, for the most part, worked in his favor.

But if the last nine months in that fucking tent has taught him anything, anything at all, it is how to be patient and how to take a moment to bloody think.

So.

A plan.

Hermione, no doubt, would have him write out and organize all the necessary information – horcruxes, Dumbledore, Voldemort, Snape, at least a half dozen other people, the prophecy, the Deathly Hollows, and his entire bloody life. Probably color code it and cross index it. And yeah… that’s, that’s not happening. Not that it wouldn’t be bloody useful to have all that information written down and Harry doesn’t doubt that it will happen but… what would he even do with all of it in one location?

Cry, probably.

Or break something.

Things tend to explode when he gets emotional. He should probably work on that.

But really, who is he kidding here? “I have no idea what I’m doing,” he tells Hedwig. “None,” he hisses at the snake that’s now lounging lazily on top of a tank and watching him with what Harry can only assume is curiosity.

What are you trying to do? You taste like prey about to be caught,” the snake tells him and really, that’s not surprising.

Not screw things up,” Harry mutters and runs his fingers down the warm, dry scales of the snake’s back. In the past, his normal reaction to a threat, to any problem really, had been to charge in and hope for the bloody best. Obviously, that’s not going to work this time around. The whole point is to do something different. He’s already lived the brash and brave life once and look what that fucking got him – dead. Dead, having watched the entire wizarding world be ripped apart by prejudice and war, having watched people he cared about – people that actually cared about him – die. Because of him. Because he had to be right, because the only bloody plan in his brain was attack.

No, he definitely needs to do things differently this time. Completely different – though simply doing everything the opposite of the way he had the first time sounds a bit like cheating.

“Well,” he muses after a thoughtful moment, “the Sorting Hat did originally want to put me in Slytherin.”

And sure, some of that is probably the result of the piece of Tom Marvolo Riddle that’s riding around in his body but Harry’s not totally stupid. He’s spent almost a year in a tent – and a handful of summers before that – with nothing to do but think, trapped inside his own head with only his own mind for conversation. And he’s willing to admit, here, when it’s just him and his owl and his snake that Harry Potter is more a serpent than a lion.

 Planning skills notwithstanding.

So maybe he needs to approach this like a Slytherin. He needs to look at the whole situation with cunning, ambition, and a healthy dose of self-preservation. That’s going to be new. Mostly. He’s never been overly ambitious for himself, his greatest wish simply being to blend in and be normal, but he gave his entire life – quite literally – in the pursuit of someone else’s ambition. Now, perhaps, it’s time for some ambition of his own and really, isn’t that what he’s been doing since he woke up this morning?

What does he, Harry Potter, want?

It all seems to circle back to that.

“What do I want?” he repeats. It feels weird to say it out loud. Even weirder than it felt to think it, to feel it. It seems preposterous somehow that he should get to choose.

But he does. He has been. He’s sitting in proof of it.

So yes, he needs to write down the information, anything he thinks might be useful, but first…

Harry selects a beautiful, deep blue ink and, after one more moment of thought, writes WHAT I WANT  in neat, blocky letters across the top of the first page.

Another pause and then, “Alright,” he tells himself. “You can do this.”

He can.

After another moment of consideration – not hesitation, thank you very much – he writes ‘be my own person’ as the first bullet point. And if it happens to be barely legible that’s because even after seven years of writing with quill and ink he’s never managed anything more than what could politely be termed as a tidy scrawl and not because his hands won’t stop bloody shaking.

Also, what does be my own person  even mean? Harry has no idea.

Well, no. That’s not quite true. He’s ten bloody years too late to prevent himself from being The Boy Who Lived but he’s not going to let that own him this time around. No, he can’t escape it and he can’t ignore it so he will own it. He will define it with himself instead of letting it define him. He won’t let it make him Dumbledore’s champion or Voldemort’s enemy. He won’t let it force him into being the  bloody Chosen One. Not again.

Biting back the snarl that’s purring at the base of his throat Harry takes a deep breath and rubs his thumb across the band of his ring, the cool metal a grounding force against his skin. Already, everything has changed.

That’s done, he reminds himself. It’s over. It’s never going to happen again. I won’t let it.

Still, he writes the basic points of it on his list just in case he ever needs a reminder.  

After another hesitant moment he hastily adds, ‘not a replacement or replica of my parents’ to the list.

Merlin, but that bloody hurts to write, even if it is true.

And he knows it is true. He knows he will never be James bloody Potter because he has spent years chasing after every scrap of approval given in his dead father’s name. Or had anyway, until the moment he’d watched his father and godfather hang Snape upside down in front of half of the school. And even then…

Harry shakes his head. His father loved him – loves him, if he dares trust the resurrection stone – but once upon a time he had, in his own way, been as bad as Dudley. Or Malfoy. And Harry doesn’t doubt that Snape gave as good as he got - even if it was three and a rat to one – but he didn’t grow up like his father or his mum. He grew up with the Dursleys. He grew up hated and starved and alone and there is part of him that will always wonder how his dad and Sirius – and his mum, for that matter – would have treated him had he shown up as a student in their time in Dudley’s ratty, oversized hand-me-downs and – without the bias against his parents’ killer – been sorted in Slytherin. 

He’ll never know for sure but he suspects that it wouldn’t have turned out well for him.

On the flip side of that, he doesn’t want to be his mum either. He doesn't want to be all that remains of her, a guilt fueled memory trapped in a boy’s body for Dumbledore to beat and bait and trap Snape with.

They gave their lives for him and they loved – love – him and he will never stop being grateful for that but he wants to be something more than an embodiment of their memories. He wants to be more than Lily and James’ son.

Something that, he acknowledges with a heavy sigh, is going to be bloody difficult. And he’s out flown a fucking dragon.

The easiest thing to change, of course, will be his Hogwarts house. Everyone expects him to be in Gryffindor, like his parents, and him being sorted there only reinforced the insubstantial idea everyone had of him by way of his parents’ lives and deaths.

Honestly, he’s not even sure he could convince the Sorting Hat to put him in Gryffindor again even if wanted to be there.  Even now, part of him does want to be there in that high, windowed tower with the crimson draperies and the comfortable couches and bubble like chairs pulled up to scarred desktops. It’s one of the closest things he’s ever had to a home and it calls to him in its familiarity, the promise of a lifetime of habits just waiting for him to slip back into.

“Different,” he reminds himself as he gets up to clean out the teapot and use the loo. “You have to do things differently.”

He ends up staring at himself in the mirror over the bathroom sink, fingers gripping the edge of the vanity until they turn pale. That is the other thing that is going to have be different. At seventeen, almost eighteen, he had finally grown into his own person. Age and puberty had brought out hints of his mum – beyond the green of his eyes, of course – in his face and given him features that were all his own, leaving him with a normal passing resemblance to his parents but not making him their duplicate. Like he is now. Merlin, he’d forgotten just how much he looked like pictures of his dad at this age.  Like someone had plucked his dad – well, a shorter, tinier, paler version – of his dad out of his school photos and plopped him down in Harry’s stead.

He’d liked that, the first time around. Liked the visible reminder that he hadn’t always been utterly alone. That he had come from someplace.

Not this time though. This time he’s more than the scared little boy who knew nothing but the darkness of the cupboard under the stairs and the Dursleys.

So he needs to make himself look less like his father.

Which means he needs to find some way to control and change his hair. Maybe if he grows it longer? Surely he can manage that without it regressing. His hair had always returned to this mess after Aunt Petunia had tried to cow or destroy it because Harry had wanted it to. Perhaps, it will grow longer if he wishes it? There are potions that he can buy to do that but he’d rather avoid going back to the alley. Owl order then, if doing it by sheer will doesn’t work.

And the glasses. He’d love to be rid of them completely but his eyes are shit and he knows it. New glasses then and maybe some contacts. He’s already taken care of a new wardrobe. The rest will be up to him and how he acts.

It’s our choices that make us who we are, he murmurs inside of his head and something suspiciously like a laugh bubbles in his chest. His mind is still muddled, his thoughts chaotic, but he thinks that maybe, somewhere in all of this he has – if not an actual plan – than at least a starting point.

It will have to do for now.

 


 

The problem with time travel, Harry decides as he sits on bench amongst the morning bustle of Kings Cross, is that the more changes he makes the less useful his knowledge of the future will be. The more he changes, the less he will know.

In the instance of his letter, it’s probably not going to change much. His first arrived by muggle post. He’s not sure if there will still be a letter lying on the rug in front of the door this morning or if the inevitable magic involved in them will mean that it will get delivered right to this spot in – Harry glances at the muggle watch on his wrist – approximately thirty minutes, give or take. He’s inclined to believe – and hoping – for the latter.

Of course, whether it comes by owl or whether Hagrid is going to suddenly be pushing through the crowd, booming like a jolly cannon remains to be seen.

As fond as he is of the half-giant, he’s sincerely hoping for the former.

So any changes to how he receives his letter are probably rather minimal in the grand scheme of things and they’re changes that he’s okay with happening, however it turns out. Not that he really has a choice, of course, given how he had rushed out of the Dursleys without thinking. Not that he would have stayed. Ever.

On the other hand, rushing out to the Little Hangleton and fetching the Resurrection Stone and horcrux from the ruins of the Gaunt shack – like part of him very, very much wants to – would probably cause a great number of problems. If nothing else, should he fail to actually get the ring, he has left a trail for Dumbledore to follow even if it is only in the memories of the people that see and dismiss his presence. Likewise, making his way to the Burrow and dragging Wormtail into the Ministry would tip his hand in far too many ways, likely exposing him utterly.

No, he is going to have to move slowly – more slowly than he would like, anyway – and build up some sort of support base because he still looks like a too small eleven year old and not a battle hardened young adult.

Ugh. That’s going to be a nightmare.

Of course, he’s got five weeks to figure out how to deal with it and to figure out how he is going to handle going back to Hogwarts and clearing Sirius’ name. The ring, he suspects, will have to wait until at least next summer but theoretically, at least, he’ll be able to retrieve the diadem. He’s not entirely sure what he’s going to do about Tom Marvolo Riddle – or the wraith currently living on the back of the Quirrell’s head – but he knows that he doesn’t want the horcruxes to be where Dumbledore can get them.

Or Voldemort. Not yet.

Rubbing at his face, Harry tips his head back, breathes, and runs through the mental exercises Hermione had tried to teach him to help clear his mind. It certainly doesn’t do that but he feels more settled afterward and less like he’s about to break down again. Of course the six hours of sleep he’d managed to get the night before had helped a great deal on that front as well. It’d been one of the best nights of sleep he’d ever had. No Dursleys, no Death Eaters, no desperate horcruxes. Just him and the pallet of blankets he’d made up on the floor, lacking a proper bed to put them on. Enough furniture to furnish a small flat had been one of those things that he’d suspected that even the wizarding world would raise an eyebrow at a child buying on their own.  He’ll have to owl order some furniture or maybe there will be some in the Room of Requirement that Hogwarts will let him have.

In the somewhat calmed racing of his head he makes a note.

And speaking of Hogwarts…

“Hello there, lovely thing,” he murmurs, opening his eyes to smile at the familiar face of one of the school’s tawny barn owls who has taken up residence on the back of the bench and is hooting at him insistently. “Is this for me?” he asks, picking up the thick envelope that the owl dropped into his lap. The owl bobs her head. “Do you mind waiting around for my reply?” Another bob and Harry smiles as he offers her the owl treat he had stashed in his pocket hours ago, hoping that he would get a chance to use it.

Owl taken care of, Harry can’t resist turning the envelope over to look at the address  written gracefully in black ink.

 

Harry Potter

The Bench Beneath the Clock

Platform 7

Kings Cross Station

London, England

 

Well, at least that’s better than  ‘The Cupboard Under the Stairs’.

Breaking the seal, Harry pulls the sheets of folded parchment from within and scans it quickly. The letters themselves are exactly as he remembers and there’s nothing surprising on the supply list. He certainly has everything required – and then some. Dropping his acceptance letter onto the bench he pulls the short, polite reply he had penned this morning in the neatest handwriting he could manage and offers it to the owl. “This is for you.” The owl gives him a long, surprised blink and Harry just smiles, waiting patiently until the bird grasps the letter in its talons and lifts into the air.

He sits on the bench until it nothing but a speck in the sky and then he carefully rips the letter into dozens of tiny little pieces which he dumps in the closest garbage bin as he walks past. He doesn’t think that there are any spells on the letter – it certainly hadn’t felt that way but even though the last few years have honed his senses sharply he doesn’t dare think that he could find something if, say, Dumbledore wanted to truly hide it – but better safe than sorry.

Ten minutes later he’s disappeared into the swirl of humanity filling London’s streets.

 


 

Harry spends the next five weeks reading. Well, not entirely. But mostly. Definitely mostly. As suspected the book on the history of the pureblooded families and their influence in the Wizengamot is drier than burnt, day old toast but he only makes himself read one page of that per day and frequently breaks it up with other, more interesting books. The booklets written to introduce muggleborns to the Wizarding World are dry but certainly informative or at least more informative than the absolutely bloody nothing that he’d had the first time. The textbooks are a review. Mostly, anyway, though probably not as much of one as they should be. In the evening he curls up in his bed and reads through the children’s stories and the popular works of wizarding fiction. He reads his favorites out loud to the snake – whom, after consulting a baby name book and the snake himself, consents to be called Inigo. Harry’s not sure the constrictor actually gets anything out of the experience but it gives him a chance to practice speaking parseltongue.

When he’s not reading he’s making notes in the journal and before long his list of wants has expanded to include things like: do well at school, have a fulfilling career, have a family, never see the Dursleys again, free Sirius and see that his name is legally cleared, improved creature rights, free Snape from life debt, prevent the return of crazy, snake-faced Voldemort, and a half dozen other notations. Further on he’s started writing down all the details of his Hogwarts life could possibly be useful, arranging them in a neat timeline.

When he’s not reading, writing, or letting all of his thoughts seep in his head regarding the ongoing task of making A Plan he works on the parts of said plan that he already knows. After much thought he sends Hedwig off to Havesmere & Brown Cosmetics and Soaping Co with an order for hair growth potion and enough hair care products to make Hermione – or perhaps more accurately, Lavender – proud. When Hedwig returns the potion goes in the medicine cabinet and the rest of the products take up residence in his bathroom, filling an entire shelf of the linen closet.  Eventually, he finds a muggle optometrist who is willing to overlook the fact that he is a small child in favor of the cash held in his hand and has his eyes properly examined for the first time in his life. He’d always known that his eyesight is bad – the term blind as a bat bounces around inside his head – but he hadn’t realized just how bad it is until he put on a properly prescribed pair of glasses.

And, after spending his entire life trapped – in the cupboard, at the Dursleys, at Grimmauld Place, at school – Harry explores. He doesn’t go further than London but really, outside of a burning desire to go to the beach and a persistent, niggling itch to pay a visit to the Gaunt shack, he doesn’t want or need to.  Instead, he tours the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. He spends multiple days exploring the British Museum and even, just for kicks and giggles, visits the zoo. He doesn’t free the snake this time, though he does stand and chat with it for nearly half an hour.  Every night is spent in a different location and he finds a quick preference for the many parks, something that allows him to let Hedwig out to hunt and stretch her wings.

Despite the chaos in his mind and the worry that sits in his heart the days are peaceful. Quiet. His. Harry hasn’t had days like this in years.

Or ever, really.

So during the day Harry wanders through London and reads his books and tries to plot a new life for himself. When night falls he wraps Inigo around his shoulders like a shawl and sits on the ground and watches Hedwig wing across a star filled sky.

And the days tick down until suddenly, inevitably, it’s the first of September.

Chapter Text

“Alright, Harry,” he tells his reflection. “You can do this.”

His reflection blinks back at him. His reflection doesn’t believe him.

That’s okay. Harry doesn’t believe himself either.

“It’s just like a quidditch game,” he tries to tell himself. “Your hands sweat, your stomach heaves, and everything is absolutely bloody fine once you get on the broom.” Except there isn’t a broom to get on and there’s no snitch to catch. There’s just a scarlet steam engine and cars full of school children in various levels of excitement and terror who haven’t had to fight in a war. Who don’t even know that one is coming. Was coming? Would come?

“Only if you screw things up,” Harry mutters and tries, very hard, not to think about all the times he had screwed up. About all the people that are dead because of him. Were dead.

Damn time travel.

Behind him Hedwig hoots and shuffles around in her cage.

“I know, I know,” Harry tells her, glancing at the muggle watch lying on the vanity top. He’d bought it after the first day when he realized that not being able to cast a tempus would not so slowly drive him mad. He’s only taken it off to shower since then and as a result there’s a fine strip of paler flesh around his wrist. His robes will hide it, he’s sure, until the lack of being outside for most of the day pales his skin again. “We’ve still got an hour until the train leaves.” And he’s not sure he’s ready to get on it, his gut churning with nerves and his hands shaking and damp.

Bloody hell, he’d been more confident confronting Voldemort than he is getting on a train.

“You can do this,” he whispers, gripping the edges of the counter until it feels like his hands are going to break. It’s just getting on a train. It’s just the beginning, what feels like the real beginning, of everything. It’s his life. It’s the fate of the wizarding world.

So nothing new, really.

It just felt easier when the fate of the wizarding world could be solved with the murder of a dark wizard by a teenage boy.

“You can do this,” he repeats, a little stronger, and stares at the boy in the mirror. The face that stares back is almost a stranger. Part of that is because it’s been seven years since he’s been eleven years old and his past eleven year old self had never had much inclination or opportunity to look in a mirror. Mostly, though, it’s that his past eleven year old self had never looked like this. Past Harry had been a tiny, scrawny little thing with skin almost translucently pale from spending most of his life in a windowless cupboard. His hair had been an unruly bird’s nest, his glasses round and held together with a half dozen pieces of scotch tape. His clothes had been baggy and worn and despite all of that he had been so fucking innocent that it hurts a little to look back on it.

The kid staring back from the mirror isn’t innocent. His body might be small and scrawny again – though the past month of decent, healthy meals and regular exercise has filled out his face in a way that past him had never managed until months into each school year – but eyes staring back at him are the eyes that have seen a man burned to death and faced down a thousand year old basilisk. They’re the eyes that have seen murder and resurrection and have faced torture and death without flinching. There’s no innocence left in them.  He would have to be a better occlumens than Snape to even dream about hiding it.

He can almost hear the man laughing in his head at the thought, the sound appropriately biting.

It’s oddly steadying.

The physical changes are more noticeable – at least to him. His skin has darkened in the sun, the paleness of it morphing to a burnished gold and the small apothecary of hair care potions and products have done their job. Once a veritable tangle closely resembling a Devil’s Snare, it now falls in thick black waves to just past his shoulders. Half of it is pulled away from his face, exposing the curve of his cheekbones and – more importantly – the thin red line of the scar bisecting his forehead. Seeing the scar in the mirror is the weirdest thing and Harry feels naked with it exposed. More naked than, well, actually being naked.  He’s wearing contacts today, his new glasses carefully stowed in their case and sitting in the top drawer of the vanity next to his toothbrush.  Between that and the lack of hair falling over his forehead he feels bloody vulnerable but everyone knows that the Potters have crappy eyesight.  They’re as well known for it as the Malfoys are for their platinum hair or the Weasleys for their family size.

And he doesn’t want to be a Potter today.

No, he corrects himself silently as he smooths down the buttery soft weave of the black jumper he’d thrown on what feels like ages ago. I just don’t want to be James Potter.

Behind him, Hedwig lets out another demanding hoot and Harry smiles. “Alright, alright,” he tells the owl as he shuts the bathroom door behind him. “We can go now. You are comfortable?” he adds, hiss to the coils of pink and gold heaped across the charmed rock.

The mouse was tasty and the rock is warm,” Inigo replies, which Harry thinks means yes.

Enjoy your nap. I’ll come get you tonight once everything is settled.” The promise doesn’t warrant more than an assenting flick of the constrictor’s tail but Harry’s not fooled. Having discovered the joy of riding around on a warm blooded creature – especially one that can understand him and be directed towards interesting smells and the patch of sunlight that’s just right – Inigo’s tolerance for being stuck in his cage is limited – even if it is as big as the one at the shop and he’s got it all to himself.

Not that Harry blames him.

A cage is a cage is a cage.

Dudley’s second bedroom had been both better and worse than the cupboard but a prison all the same.

Grimmauld Place and that bloody tent had both, in their own way, been cages.

Even Hogwarts and the Burrow had been cages by the end.

Harry is so very tired of cages.

So, yes, tonight he’ll climb back into his trunk and bring Inigo out with him because the beautiful creature belongs draped around Harry’s shoulders – or coiled against his stomach beneath the warm weight of his bedding - and not stuck behind a centimeter of glass.

“Come on girl,” he murmurs and holds up his arm for Hedwig to fly to and the weight of her landing carefully on his arm is still enough to make his heart skip a beat. “It’s time to go.”

He has a train to catch.


 

He releases Hedwig before he goes through the barrier, unable to think of a single reason why he should make her sit in her cage for seven or eight hours when she is perfectly capable of flying to Hogwarts on her own. Once she’s gone he locks up his trunk, shrinks it down, and secures it in his trouser pocket before casually strolling out into the hustle and bustle of Kings Cross.

“You can do this,” he reminds himself and, grabbing hold of the last dregs of Gryffindor bravery swimming around in his veins, he walks forward and into the magical world.

Platform Nine and Three Quarters is exactly as he remembers it from his earliest trips: humming and alive. It’s a brilliant chaos of voices and emotion with magic that rubs and curls about his limbs like a friendly cat. It’s easier than he thought it would be to slip through the crowds, even with his scar exposed. He’s not sure whether it’s because he’s lacking a trunk to haul around behind him like nearly half of the school aged children are or if it is simply because he is so small for his age that, at first glance, no one quite thinks that he’s old enough to even be attending Hogwarts.

A bit of both, probably.

Keeping to the edges of the crowd he skirts around familiar faces – he very nearly stumbles at the sight of a younger Cedric Diggory standing with his parents, his expression caught between fondness and an exasperated eye roll – and makes it to the train without incident. He pauses on the steps though, unable to stop himself from looking back over the gathering student body, at the future of the wizarding world when the future looks bright and not shrouded in death and hopelessness.

He can do this. For them. For him. For the lonely, broken monster abandoned under a bench.

He can.

Sure.

Harry lets out a sigh and, just as he turns to go his gaze is caught from across the platform by a pair of pale blue eyes.  For a moment he is frozen, suspended in a single second as his heart begins to pound and his hands begin to sweat as his fingers curl in preparation to catch his wand, a number of curses crowding at the back of his tongue and…

No.

He’s an arrogant, entitled arse – perhaps not without good reason, Harry’s mind notes – and he’s no doubt already done terrible things. But so has Harry. So have a fair number of the people standing on this platform. More even, if he takes in the events of the future or at least, of the future as he lived it.

But right now, at this minute, he hasn’t poorly disposed of a horcrux, enabling it to possess an eleven year old girl and set a thousand year old basilisk on a school full of children. He hasn’t tried to curse Harry or chased him through the Ministry or spent time in Azkaban or lived night and day with a megalomaniac who is extremely disappointed in his life choices.

Right now he’s just an arrogant, entitled, well connected, and bigoted arse who Harry can’t say that he actually knows all that much about. But he knows that the world is nearly as black and white as he had believed it or as Dumbledore had painted it.

There is more to life than good and Death Eaters – and he needs to remember that, even if the scrutiny of that ice blue gaze sends him into immediate flight or fight.

Harry blinks. Time moves forward. He forces his fingers to relax, forces a calming breath of air into his lungs, and respectfully inclines his head before he turns on his heel and disappears into the dim interior of the train, leaving Lucius Malfoy to stare after him. No doubt Draco will find him on the train. Again.

Firmly pushing down the urge to find an abandoned compartment, shut himself in, and ward it like he’d had to ward the fucking tent Harry passes through the first few cars, sparing a glance here and there for the already occupied compartments.

Eleven, he reminds himself, he is eleven. He is eleven and he’s just been introduced to magic. He is eleven and he’s apprehensive and excited and awestruck – all of which is actually true, minus the age bit. He is eleven and while the wizarding world is a riot of problems it hasn’t reached the boiling point yet. He is eleven and no one is dead yet. Well, no on he knows. No one he feels responsible for.

He is eleven years old and Merlin, if he doesn’t get his head out of his arse he might as well as continued to waltz to Dumbledore’s whim and gone back and killed what was left of Tom Marvolo Riddle. Or just sat there in that insubstantial train station for eternity and done absolutely nothing. They amount to the same thing, he thinks. As does the constant worry roiling in his gut. He doesn’t know how or why – doesn’t understand it either – but he has a second chance. And maybe it’s not real. Maybe this is all in his head. Maybe he’s never left the cupboard at Number Four and everything from magic and Hogwarts forward is nothing but something a shattered mind has conjured up to explain and escape the abuse of his childhood.

But whether it’s real or not real he has a chance here. A chance to live his life. A chance that he’ll waste if he spends it all worrying that he’ll make mistakes. He’s Harry bloody Potter. Of course he’s going to make mistakes.  He just hopes they’re not the same ones and that when this life ends – whether it be in six years or sixty – that he doesn’t stand at the train station and think of how everything was such a colossal waste.

What happens next?

Why now, my boy, now you get to choose.

“Pardon, is this seat taken?” he asks politely and watches as the pudgy boy sitting huddled next to the window with his hands clenched in his lap nearly jumps out of his skin.

“Oh, uh, yes… I-I mean n-no,” the boy stammers out as he peeks up at Harry from underneath the neatly combed locks of honey blonde hair that Harry knows will someday darken to a deep, chestnut brown. Harry’s pretty sure the boy’s gaze doesn’t reach higher than his chin. “You’re welcome to s-sit there,” he adds after a moment, shoulders rising and straightening in an obvious effort to control his nerves.

“Thanks,” Harry tells him with a smile as he slides into the compartment. “I hope you don’t mind. There are still a lot of empty compartments but…” he shrugs. “I don’t really want to sit alone, you know?” The boy blinks. Harry bites back a sigh. He’d forgotten just how… beaten down the other boy had been in the beginning. As broken as Harry in his own way. “I’m Harry, by the way,” he adds, because if this doesn’t get a bloody reaction than nothing will. “Harry Potter.”

The other boy sits up so fast that he somehow manages to bang the side of his face on the window and – for the first time since they started speaking – looks Harry full in the face. “Y-you a-are …Merlin,” the boy breathes, gaze latching on to the scar adorning Harry’s forehead. Harry’s not sure whether he’s pleased at the boy’s reaction or disappointed that – once again – it’s his scar and all of the ridiculous nonsense attached to it that people see and not the boy that it marks. “Oh!” the boy lets out a squeak after less than a minute of gawking and promptly turns a red to rival a Weasley’s hair. “F-forgive me. I didn’t mean to stare. Gran says I’m h-hopeless,” he offers Harry a small, slightly pained smile as if to say what can you do?  and holds out hand. “I’m Neville Longbottom.”

Neville’s hand is trembling and slightly damp but Harry takes it without hesitation. “Pleased to meet you Neville.”

That, at least, gets a genuine smile out of the boy.

Well, at least until something dark leaps off his lap and disappears under one of the seats. “Trevor!” Neville cries and dives after him. “Come back!”

Harry has to bite his tongue to keep from laughing and, after a moment, gets down on his knees to help Neville search for his runaway toad. A few minutes and a silent accio later Harry holds up his hands. “Got him!” he announces and Neville nearly melts onto the floor with relief.

“Oh, thank Merlin,” he mutters as he gathers the toad back into his hands. “Gran would kill me if I lost him.” He clutches the toad protectively to his chest and Harry’s lips twitch as he watches the other boy stroke his familiar with gentle hands. “I know t-toads aren’t terribly popular anymore,” he says as he settles back into the seat across from Harry, “b-but I like them. They like to burrow in the earth among lots of green things.” The most genuine smile that Harry has ever seen slips across Neville’s face.

“You like plants?”

Neville blushes and nods. “Y-yes. Gran says it’s not really appropriate b-but I like to follow the gardener around and h-help.”

“I like gardening too,” Harry puts in and it’s even mostly true. Pruning the rose bushes and weeding the flower beds had always been preferable to being stuck indoors with whatever torment his aunt, uncle, and cousin had seen fit to dish out. “But outside of yanking up weeds I’m complete pants at it.”

“O-oh… I’m s-sure you’re n-no…” Harry waves away Neville’s protest.

“Complete. Pants. At. It,” he repeats. “Honestly, I have a bad habit of getting lost in thought and then poof, before I know it I’ve accidentally pulled up all my aunt’s dahlias. I imagine it will be only worse with plants that move or… whatever. But I bet you’re looking forward to Herbology.”

“I am,” Neville grins again, excitement bubbling over as he adds, “Hogwarts is supposed to have some of the most extensive greenhouses in Britain. They even have a mandrake bed!” And then, just for a moment Harry can see the man Neville becomes, passionate and thoughtful, with a sense of self and a steadiness that Harry had found himself envying more than once.  Harry gives his head a little shake, clearing away the ever encroaching fog of thoughts just as Neville asks, “W-what about y-you? Probably looking f-forward to Defense.”

Harry shrugs because, yeah, he kind of is looking forward to defense – though not at all for the reasons Neville is probably thinking. He’s not looking forward to it because he’s some prodigy at defense – he’s good, yeah, but he rather thinks that’s because in the past if he wasn’t good than there was an increasingly good chance that he’d end up dead in some Voldemort driven madness – though he does enjoy it when they have a good professor. Remus had been brilliant and Snape, much as sixteen year old him had despised the man, had been fascinating and insightful. Merlin, even Crouch-as-Moody had been amazing at the job. Bat shit crazy, of course, but amazing.

But no, Harry is not particularly looking forward to Defense this year because of the subject matter or because of Quirrell’s teaching style. No, he’s rather looking forward to the reassurance that what is left of Voldemort is living on the back of the stuttering professor’s head. As terrible and awful and… everything that the man was – had been, would be – Harry can’t help but remember the rush of relief he had felt at seeing the unfaded pink of his scar in the Dursley’s mirror, can’t help but remember the brief weight of an exhausted, abandoned infant in his arms.

But he really can’t tell Neville that, can he? There’s crazy risk taking and then there’s just asking to have Dumbledore try to murder him the moment he steps off the train.

Nor can he can the other boy that he has no idea what he’s looking forward to, in terms of content, because despite six years of magical education he has never actually had the bloody chance to really discover what subjects he actually likes. Each year had been filled with a mystery to solve – an evil or injustice he felt obligated to stop. School had been… secondary. In the end it had been nothing more than something that occasionally taught him how to stay alive while providing busywork to pass the moments between emergencies.

But it’s not like he can tell Neville that either.

So instead he shrugs. “I guess? Honestly, everything sounds really interesting. I still can’t believe magic is real.”

And that is not a lie. Not even a little bit.

Neville looks up from Trevor and blinks. “What d-do you…”

The sound of the compartment door sliding open interrupts and both boys look up as two girls peek into the compartment. There’s something vaguely familiar about both of them: one taller with strawberry blonde hair pulled back in a braid and cornflower blue eyes, the shorter with rounder features and a beaming smile half hidden behind a cascade of yellow curls.

“Oh, thank Merlin,” the taller one of them mutters. “Can we join you?” she asks, already halfway into the compartment, tugging her companion in after her. The train, nearly vacant when Harry had boarded a quarter of an hour ago, is crowded and busy with most of the students having to shout to be heard above everyone else.

“Of course,” Harry answers after a quick glance at Neville, who looks a bit like he’s gotten a good look at a basilisk in a mirror.

“Thanks! Everything is filling up so fast!” the shorter girl exclaims as she plops down on the bench near Neville. “I’m Hannah, Hannah Abbott.”

Huh. No wonder she looks familiar.

“Harry Potter.”

The sound of his name brings her head whipping up from where she’d been digging in the bag sitting on her lap so fast that Harry’s a bit surprised he doesn’t hear her neck crack. “Wow,” she breathes after a moment of stunned silence that makes Harry want to fidget awkwardly. “Wow,” she repeats, a little breathless. “I mean, I knew you would be in our year but…” Her eyes, the same clear blue of a spring sky after rain, stare at him so hard that Harry completely expects to burst into flame. Or have his clothes spontaneously vanished. “… wow.”

Hannah,” the other girl sighs in exasperation, sinking onto the same bench of Harry with a sort of properness that makes Harry blink. “I apologize for her,” the girl continues, turning to Harry. “She gets a little star struck and carried away. Susan Bones,” she adds, offering Harry her hand in a no-nonsense gesture that Harry takes before he’s even aware of it.

She’d been very competent and to the point in the DA too, now that Harry’s thinking about it.

Quieter, though.

Of course, that probably had something to do with the fact that her aunt had been – is – the Head of the DMLE. Trying to fight evil and corruption from the heart of it, while playing by the rules…

Yeah. Harry would have been quiet too.

“…of the summer was pleasant?”

Harry blinks back to the present in time to see Neville turn an interesting shade of pink and nod his head. “Y-yes. It w-was.” For a second it looks like he’s going to say something else but then his nerve fails him and he goes back to staring at the toad in his lap.

“So, uh, Neville and I were just talking about what classes we’re looking forward to…”

Hannah’s face is brightened by a sunny grin. “Charms,” she announces without hesitation. “They just seem so useful!”

This time Susan does roll her eyes. “Yes, because you’ll never have to brew a potion in real life.”

“I won’t!” Hannah insists. “That’s what apothecaries are for! If I’m going to be stewing over a flame all day I’d much rather make something that tastes good. I make the best lemon drizzle cake,” she boasts with a small smile. “Plus,” she adds with a poke of her finger at Susan, “cousin Elizabeth lent me some past copies of Witch Weekly and mum won’t be around to say that I’m too young to look like a hussy if I want to charm on some lipstick.”

Susan looks torn between amused and intrigued by that statement and Harry finds himself hiding a smile. It’s ridiculous. This whole conversation is ridiculous but there is something… innocent about it. Something pure and hopeful and he soaks it up like a bloody sponge. Like quiet sunsets and the weight of Hedwig on his arm, it’s a salve on the weary, broken bits of him.

“Well, I’m excited for potions, even if Professor Snape is supposed to be terrifying and strict,” Susan confesses. “And Aunt Susan has always been a dab hand at transfiguration. I think she’s hoping that I’ll follow in her footsteps there.” The slight brush of pink across the girl’s cheeks says that her aunt isn’t the only one hoping that. “What about you two?”

“H-herbology,” Neville answers instantly and clutches at Trevor tightly enough that his little eyes sort of bug out.

“Everything,” Harry answers with a shrug as the girls eyes turn on him. “It’s just fascinating and… amazing what magic can do.” Terrible too. Wonderful and terrible and utterly mad. “I’m sure I’ll have a favorite eventually but…” he shrugs again. “It’s all a bit brilliant, isn’t it?”

With the ice broken the four of them fall into a comfortable get-to-know-you sort of conversation. Well, the three of them, really, but Neville contributes more than Harry thought he would. Or remembers him ever doing during such conversations in the Gryffindor common room. Bloody hell, it’d been their fourth year before Harry had even noticed that Neville liked herbology and even then it only happened because a crazy Death Eater gave the other boy a book in the hopes that Harry would sit up and take a hint about how not to drown in the Black Lake. Which actually hadn’t worked. Because Harry is a dunderhead.

Just as the train begins to move they are joined by another first year, a girl who absentmindedly introduces herself as Mandy Brocklehurst as she shoves her dark hair up into a messy knot on top of her head. Harry can’t place her for the life of him, which is ridiculous because there’s all of thirty-odd students in their year. She definitely hadn’t been in Gryffindor or Slytherin or the DA. Or played quidditch, which pretty much means that Harry has no bloody idea who she is. Six years attending school with her and he has no idea who this girl is. Knows nothing about her. It takes a great deal of effort not to laugh rather hysterically as the others introduce themselves because apparently if Voldemort had ever bothered to enlist a Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff student to do his dirty work Harry would have never made it to their confrontation in the Forbidden Forest. Hell, he would have never even seen the attack coming.

Merlin.

 Harry manages to exert some measure of control over his emotions just in time to introduce himself. Unlike the others Mandy doesn’t melt into a puddle of star struck goo – or exasperation, in the case of Susan – like the others had as he gives his name. Instead, she blinks rather rapidly at him and asks, “Are you really?” before turning to everyone else and asking if they mind if she lets her cat out of its carrier, which then leads to a mad scramble to find some sort of container to hold Trevor.

It’s delightfully refreshing.

“H-h-he’s got a cage, in m-my t-trunk,” Neville stutters out apologetically, “but h-his travel c-carrier was b-broken.”

“And you didn’t have time to buy a new one?” Susan asks, not unkindly as she digs through her own bag, scowling at the obvious lack of a container suitable for holding a toad.

Neville shrugs and huddles down into the slope of his shoulders. “It w-wasn’t b-broken when I g-g-got on the t-train.” The three girls promptly pause as they dig through their bags and turn to stare at him, eyes wide. “Some o-older y-years pushed past a-and…” he trails off and stares down at the amphibian clutched between his hands. “I d-didn’t w-want him t-to cut h-himself on the broken g-glass.”

“Well of course you didn’t,” Susan murmurs gently, while Mandy presses her lips into a flat frown and glares at the compartment door.

“That’s awful!” Hannah tells him and shoves her arm nearly up to her shoulder into the bag that clearly has some space expansion charms on it. “I don’t understand why some people are such idiots… would this work?” The box clutched in her hands is one of Honeydukes’ boxed assortments. One of the larger sizes that advertises Enough to satisfy an entire quidditch team! in flashing gold script at the corner of the box. “I mean, I’d have to take the chocolate out of it but we could punch some holes around the sides to let in air…”

“Thank you,” Neville whispers and Hannah beams at him. Five minutes later Trevor is settled securely in the chocolate box and sitting on the seat next to Neville and a sleek tortoiseshell colored cat named Thea is investigating the compartment, chirping as she hops up in laps and pokes her nose in bags and in the shadows underneath the benches.

“You should report them when we get to the school,” Susan tells the round-faced boy as they ease back into conversation. “The older years that broke the cage,” she adds, just in case Neville needs the clarification. The look of horror on Neville’s face is enough to make Harry’s heart twist.

“N-no… but t-then t-they’ll…” he tries to protest and Harry privately agrees with the other boy’s fears. He can’t picture any of the older students – Gryffindors or Slytherins – that would react well to being told on for something as small as shoving into a first year.

 “They could have hurt your familiar,” presses Susan, her face grim. “That’s a serious allegation and you know it.”

Harry blinks. “… what?” He gives his head a little shake. “I mean… it is?”

Susan gives him an odd look. “Of course it is. Even an improperly bonded familiar is an extension of your magic and the bond itself is sacred. One of the oldest bonds there is. To harm another wizard’s familiar is a rather hefty fine at the very least. If the older years had hurt…”

“…T-trevor.”

“…Trevor with their bullying they would have faced suspension. Death would have resulted in their expulsion from Hogwarts and, if they were of age, an Azkaban sentence would not have been out of the question.”

Harry stares, his heart pounding painfully in his chest as he remembers Umbridge’s blatant attack on Hedwig. How had he not known this? How had no one mentioned it? Why had no one mentioned it? Why had no one done something?

“…Harry?”

“Yeah. Sorry. Still here,” he forces himself to give an awkward laugh. “I just… I didn’t know that.”

“Oh.”

Now Hannah and Mandy are giving him odd looks as well.

That… that’s just bloody great.

Harry sighs and plasters a smile that he’s not sure anyone believes onto his face. “So Mandy, what subject are you looking forward to the most?”

 


 

It takes Draco less than half an hour to find him.

Harry’s not sure why he’s surprised that the platinum haired boy locates him so quickly, but he is. He’s also impressed but he’ll be damned if he mentions that.

Not the Draco you knew. Not the Draco you knew, he repeats mentally as he and the rest of the compartment spare a glance for the Malfoy heir standing in the doorway, the familiar forms of Crabbe and Goyle filling the area behind him.

“Can we help you?” Susan finally asks, polite, but there’s an unmistakable wariness to her tone.

“They’re saying that Harry Potter is on the train,” Draco’s eyes move over the compartment until they come to rest on Harry’s face. His entire face. That surprises Harry. Or maybe Malfoy’s just received some super posh lessons on how to stare at something without looking like he’s staring at something. It wouldn’t surprise him. “I was just curious if what they were saying was true.”

“It is,” Harry’s heart his hammering away inside his chest and his palms are embarrassingly sweaty but outwardly he’s calm. Or, at least, he thinks he is. He’s not going off like a tea kettle, hissing and spitting and whistling at everything which is, frankly, an improvement over most of his past interactions with Malfoy. Not the Draco you knew. Not the Draco you knew. He’s not the Draco that tormented Neville or called Hermione a mudblood or mocked him endlessly through most of their school years. Not the Draco that let Death Eaters into Hogwarts or tried to murder Dumbledore. Not the Draco that won the allegiance of the Elder Wand and in turn lost it to Harry.  He’s not that Draco. Not quite. Not yet. Hopefully, not ever.

Harry forces himself to breathe and hold out his hand. “Harry Potter,” he offers and can’t help the way his mouth turns up at the reversal of original events.

The other boy hesitates for just a second, the silvery gray of his eyes assessing Harry for a moment before he seems to nod to himself and step into the compartment, clasping Harry’s hand with his own. “Draco Malfoy. These are Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle,” he motions with his chin to the other boys. “Mind if I join you?”

“But there’s only one seat!” Hannah points out in a bit of a breathless rush. “Sorry. I’m just saying…”

“I know,” Malfoy drawls with a quirk of his eyebrow. He gives the boys behind him another elegant jerk of his head. “Go back to Pansy. She will keep an eye on you until we get to Hogwarts.”

“Is that how you treat your friends?” Harry asks before he can stop himself, the disdain heavy on his lips but the look Malfoy gives him is more quizzical than anything else.

“Friends? They’re not my friends,” Malfoy dismisses with a callousness that Harry can’t – even after everything – believe. How dare he? How dare he? Of all the arrogant, insufferable…! Crabbe died because of him. Them. All of them. Died because he followed a friend into… Harry clenches his fingers in his lap and tries to calm himself, tries to ignore the way the windows are rattling harder in the walls of the train.

Neville notices first, though Harry’s not sure if that’s because he’s sitting the closest to the windows or because he’s just that much more observant than everyone else in the compartment.

Everyone else is just looking at him oddly. Even Mandy, who is absentmindedly batting Thea’s paws away from the wisps of her hair that have escaped the knot on top of her head.

“T-they’re v-v-vassals. H-have been f-for centuries.”

Vassals? The word is vaguely familiar, rattling around in Harry’s brain as he tries to push past the blinding frustration that Malfoy has always managed to raise in him and the echo of Ron’s voice muttering about slimy gits and Slytherins and honestly, what did you expect from the ferret? He’s read about that recently. Probably in the enormous book on the Wizengamot and pureblood alliances that is so bloody dry that it makes Binns’ class look as exciting as trying to ride a dragon in comparison. Which would be why it’s all swimming together in incomprehensible mush that does nothing but leave vague impressions on Harry’s mind.

Impressions that aren’t very favorable.

“… slaves?” Harry snorts. “Is that supposed to make it better?”

Malfoy recoils like he’s been struck. “What in Merlin’s name are you on about, Potter?” And his tone is so familiar, so like every miserable interaction Harry had ever had with the blonde prat that Harry can feel himself puffing up like a pissed off cat.

Not the Draco you knew. Not yet, the reasonable part of his mind tries to repeat but the rest of him is brimful of indignation, like a volatile cauldron one stir away from exploding all over the damn place and earning him a month of detentions. 

It’s a bloody miracle that he doesn’t roll his eyes. “You just said…” he begins hotly but Neville interrupts him, his voice quiet and shaking but with a hint of steel.

“Vassals a-aren’t s-s-slaves.”

Harry jerks in his seat and turns to Neville, blinking. Because he’s pretty bloody certain that’s… the book… it said… “…what?”

“Vassals are Houses that have surrendered their political autonomy to another House,” Mandy butts in, sounding entirely too much like Hermione as she recites the information.

Harry blinks. “…what?”

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” Malfoy takes another step into the compartment and lets the door click shut behind him. “What she means, Potter, is that my family is responsible for their families much like a parent is responsible for their child. Did your tutors not teach you anything?”

“Didn’t have tutors,” Harry mutters and just like that he feels like a puppet whose strings have been cut and he collapses against the well-worn bench seat, sighing. Clearly, the month spent reading has not made up the difference between what he should know and what little is actually rattling around in his brain. “My apologies,” he offers and Draco gives him a short, sharp nod after a moment, confusion still flickering at the corner of his steel gray eyes. The Black eyes, Harry realizes with a start. Sirius’ eyes. He forgets – of course, he forgets – that Draco is related to Sirius as well as Bellatrix. He forgets that he’s the only person in this carriage who has lived through a war. Who has been tortured. Hunted. Controlled. He wants to shed the past, to let his former life slip off of him like water off a duck’s back, or a snake shedding its skin when it outgrows it. He wants it, but he doesn’t need Snape’s voice calling him a narrow minded imbecile in the back of his head to realize that such a thing is not going to happen. He forgets, though. Harry gives his head a little shake. “Of course you can join us.”

Draco eyes him warily but then he takes the seat between Harry and Susan, pale fingers absentmindedly rubbing at Thea’s ears when she hops up into his lap. The silence is awkward, the six of them sitting there on the edges of their seats and trying not to look at each other too much. Harry bites back a sigh. Of course he managed to bollocks everything up.

“So, what subject are you looking forward to?” Hannah asks just as Harry is contemplating throwing himself from the moving train and being done with it all. Draco looks a little taken back at the bubbly cheerfulness in the girl’s voice and looks around like he can’t quite believe that she’s talking to him. “We’ve all answered. I’m excited for Charms and Susan for Potions and Transfiguration. Neville likes Herbology and Mandy’s rather keen on History. Harry here thinks everything is brilliant,” and Harry can’t stop the blush that burns at his cheeks when she rolls her eyes and winks at him. “So what about you?”

After a moment of hesitation Draco confesses, “I like to fly, but going through the intro classes will be a bore. I… potions, I suppose. My godfather is a Potions Master and is the professor at Hogwarts and he’s been teaching me the basics. I enjoy it.”

“Professor Snape is your godfather?” Susan asks, eyes round as bludgers, and Harry blesses her for her question because it means that he doesn’t have to ask it and inevitably have it come out insulting. Or something.

Frankly, he’s just grateful that his mouth isn’t hanging open like a bloody fly trap.

Instead, he fights the urge to laugh rather hysterically because that makes so much sense. A horrible, twisted sort of sense.

And yet, at the same time, it doesn’t. It doesn’t at all. Snape’s a half-blood, brilliant, but from a poor background. And he’d have been young, not much more than twenty, when Draco was born. A Death Eater, sure, but only for a couple of years at most, for all that he’d likely been friends with many of them in the years proceeding. So what had made Lucius bloody Malfoy, one of the most arrogant, influential blood supremists that Harry had known name a poor half-blood with limited connections as his heir’s godfather?

There is more to life than good and Death Eaters.

At this rate, he should get it tattooed across his bloody forehead so that he stops being surprised every time the world illustrates it to him.

“…he as strict as everyone says?” Susan continues as he stares at Draco. Fascinated by Malfoy, he thinks rather hysterically, and Snape. Apparently true in both lives.

A fond sort of smirk breaks across Draco’s narrow features. “Merlin, probably worse,” he admits with a shrug. “He takes potions very seriously. Bit of advice? Memorize his syllabus and don’t ever show up to class unprepared. He has no tolerance for stupidity or lack of effort.”

It is, all things considered, probably the best advice Harry has ever heard.

Merlin help him, he should probably listen to it.

 


 

Despite the rough start and the initial wariness the others in the compartment clearly felt at Draco’s presence the rest of the train ride is smooth and… pleasant. Surprisingly so. His first train ride had been filled with excitement and apprehension and the hot flash flare of indignation mixed with the absolute glee bubbling in his veins. And that’s all still there, but in different quantities: the same ingredients blended together to make a cake where once he had made biscuits. It is unsettling. It is exhilarating. It is…

Harry doesn’t know what it is but he thinks he might like it. Maybe. Probably.

Regardless of how he feels about it though he suspects that the rest of his life is going to feel this way. Or at least the next six or seven years – all the same ingredients mixed up and formed into something completely different and new.

Hopefully something better.

Letting a small smile pull at the corner of his mouth, Harry follows the rest of their little group from their compartment and off the train into the chilly night air.

“Firs’ years! Firs’ years, over here!” Hagrid’s booming voice is enough to make him shiver. “C’mon now, follow me! Firs’ years, this way! You’ll get yer first glimpse o’ Hogwarts in a moment. Just come…”

Like a herd of nervous unicorns, all gangly and innocent, the eleven-year-olds cautiously peel away from the chaos of the older students swarming across the platform and follow the half giant’s instructions and waving hand, letting their feet carry them down a well-worn path and around a curve to the Black Lake. Harry follows along behind them with Neville at his side and the rest just in front of them, a mixture of apprehension and longing beating away at the inside of his chest. Even the others are quiet, eyes wide as they peer through the darkness to catch their first glimpse of the castle.

There.

Proud. Whole. Weathered stone walls and sweeping turrets and hundreds of windows glowing gold against the great expanse of the starry sky.

Hogwarts.

 

Chapter Text

Walking through the doors of Hogwarts is one of the strangest things that Harry has ever done. Which is an odd thought to think because Harry’s life has been nothing but a long chain of strange things, each one more bizarre than the last. But still, it is true.

This isn’t being hunted and killed by a supervillain strange or even left with the milk on my aunt’s doorstep by an eccentric old man and a woman who can change into a cat strange.

This isn’t my hair never stays cut or I can speak to snakes strange. It’s not even yer a wizard, Harry strange or the inevitable feast of strangeness that comes with living in an old magical castle.

It’s not even I died and suddenly found myself seven years in the past strange, though that, Harry thinks, probably comes the closest.

It’s the strangeness of standing – seeing, feeling – two different things at once.

The entrance hall is pristine and brightly lit, long cream tapers floating in the air above his head and sconces full of fire flickering against ancient stone walls but in his mind he sees the memory of the last time he was here – of half destroyed walls and stones streaked and crackling with the remnants of fired spells. Of blood, pooled and tacky on the floor, barely visible in the dim, dust filled light – and the juxtaposition of memory and reality is nearly enough to take him to his knees.

Draco, of all people, notices.

“You okay there, Potter?” he asks, grabbing Harry by the elbow and Harry… Harry is not fine. He is not fine at all. He flinches at the touch, barely aborting the reflexive grab for his wand and the hex that fills his mouth until it practically chokes him. Instead, he shakes beneath Malfoy’s touch and forces himself to inhale through clenched teeth until his lungs feel like bursting.

“Yeah,” he tries to pass off as soon as he feels like he can speak without screaming. “Just a little lightheaded. Probably didn’t eat enough on the train.” As far as excuses go it’s true enough. He had taken a piece of the chocolate that Hannah had passed around after emptying the box for Trevor but he hadn’t eat much more than half a cauldron cake during the rest of the train ride despite the fact that he and Draco had bought a ridiculous amount of snacks and sweets off the trolley to share amongst their compartment.

He had pointedly refused to open any of the chocolate frogs.

Draco narrows his eyes suspiciously but Harry is saved from having to find a better excuse by a familiar voice shouting, “Potter? The Harry Potter?”

And just like that the entire group of First Years falls silent and swivels towards him.

Thanks, Ron.

The redhead in question shoves his way forward and Merlin, Harry had forgotten how little eleven year old Ron is. He’s always been tall and gangly with long limbs that had – would, someday – make him an incredible Keeper but right now he’s awkward and round faced with a bit of dirt on his nose and a coltish, unfinished look about him. “Blimey,” he breathes out, staring at Harry’s exposed forehead with fascination that makes Harry shift uncomfortably. “Look at it! Is that where You-Know-Who…?”

“…tried to kill me after murdering my parents?” Harry asks quietly. “Yeah.” There’s a sound like rushing water in his ears but for now, for this moment, he can’t take his eyes off the boy who was the first child to ever treat him with a modicum of kindness. He’s so young. But he’s also so terribly, consistently Ron and just like the hall around them the memory of the man who had walked into battle at his side, who had helped him break into Gringotts, who had turned away and left him – more than once – imposes itself over the child he’s faced with.

“Wicked,” the boy reaches out towards Harry’s head and Harry jerks away. Violently. Violently enough that he ended up on his arse despite Draco’s last minute effort to haul him up by his elbow.

“Harry!” Hannah is at his side in a flurry of blonde curls, her eyes wide with concern. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” he reassures her and he is. He is fine. His tailbone is throbbing but not enough to signal any actual bruising to his flesh – just his bloody pride – and thirteen years of being hauled around by Uncle Vernon like a bag of rubbish has given him ample experience with the tingly pain in his arm. It will go away soon enough. His magic will see to it, if nothing else.

“Oh good. I was really worried,” and that, that catches Harry off guard because he’ll never not be surprised when someone is worried over him. Hermione had, upon occasion, expressed concern over his well being but it had always, inevitably been followed up with lectures and berating about how he needed to be more careful, about how it was his fault in the first place and if he would only just think.

Which, if he’s being perfectly honest – and he’s trying, Merlin, he’s trying to be honest these days. At least with himself – she was usually right. But still, making him feel like he’s an inch tall and of lesser intelligence than the average garden gnome sort of ruins the warmth of concern. In his opinion, anyway.

“And you…!” Hannah rounds on a gaping Ronald Weasley with the force of a small tornado. “What are you doing, grabbing at people’s faces! Did your mother not teach you any manners?”

Beside him, Draco sniggers and Ron turns a bright red that clashes horribly with his hair.

Harry sighs.

Still, the sight of Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy reduced to staring at the each other like something disgusting found buried under a literal ton of thestral shit is refreshing in its normality. Grounding, even, and Harry calmly accepts Draco’s offered hand and lets the other boy help pull him to his feet. The interaction makes the color on Ron’s face darken, the almost purple hue creeping up to the tip of his ears as he stares. The danger color, Harry notes absentmindedly. The color that indicates that the red head is approximately half a second away from losing his temper. And sure enough…

You…!” he stabs his finger angrily at Draco, only missing shoving the blond in the chest because Draco is smart enough to step out of the way. Something he accomplishes with much more grace than Harry managed.

“Is something the matter, gentlemen?”

Whether he’s eleven or seventeen Minerva McGonagall’s voice is enough to make him snap to attention and fervently wonder if his hair is combed and his shirt tucked in while simultaneously panicking because he automatically feels like he’s running fifteen minutes late and he’s forgotten to finish his homework.

She looks younger than he remembers. Which seems a stupid thought to have but McGonagall had always seemed unchanging: a stern, constant presence from year to year.

He wonders what she sees when she looks at him. Does she stare at his face and see his parents’ lives laid over his features just as he sees a different future lying over hers?

Time travel, Harry decides, is going to make him lose his bloody mind.

“No professor,” he replies politely, ignoring the way Draco stiffens next to him and both Susan and Hannah make some sort of disagreeing noise in their throats. “Just a little jostling in our hurry to get up the stairs.”

She doesn’t believe him, of course. He doubts McGonagall has ever believed a single excuse he’s ever given her – truthful or not. Harry’s a bloody terrible liar. Always has been. It’s an unfortunate by product of spending most of his life shoved into a closet or distant room pretending he doesn’t exist. There’s no need to control your facial expressions if no one ever sees you.

It’s on his list of things to correct about himself. Not that he really wants to be a liar but he figures it’s probably unavoidable at this point. What with the whole time travel mess.

Harry sighs as McGonagall gives them a curt nod and sweeps past them to take her place in front of the doors leading to the great hall.

 


 

If being in the entrance hall had almost brought Harry to his knees, stepping into the great hall is a thousand times worse. He gags at the room he’s always associated with home, with belonging, and his heart hammers in his chest so fast that he can’t breathe. He can’t breathe and he can’t hear anything over the rushing of his blood and his hands are cold, so cold, as he clenches them in the pockets of his robes in a desperate attempt to keep himself from falling to the ground and being violently ill. The great hall has always been one of the most wonderous things he’s ever seen and vaguely he can hear Hermione’s familiar voice nattering on about how the ceiling is enchanted and he wants to put his face in his hands and laugh and laugh and laugh.

Or sob.

Mostly sob.

Because there, there where the Hufflepuff table ends before the head table that’s where the Weasley’s were gathered. That’s where Fred lay. Where Mrs. Weasley sobbed. Where George sat blank faced and empty, half of him torn away.

And there. There, right about where Cho Chang and Marietta Edgecomb – bloody hell, but they’re so young – that’s where Remus and Tonks lay.

And little Colin Creevey, just there, with half his torso blasted away and Lavender Brown with her throat torn out and her body mauled almost beyond recognition.

And… and…

He recounts the names, one after another, remembers the faces and the blood and the cries and the stillness and how he had just stood there – just stood here in this bloody spot – and watched and…

… and he’d left. He’d left them all because it was his fault. His fault and Voldemort’s and Albus Dumbledore’s and…

He’d died, hadn’t he?

Just like everyone else.

But here he is.

And they’re not dead yet.

“… H-h-harry?”

Harry blinks.

The great hall swims back into focus in a riot of color and noise. Tapestries in the house emblems cover stone walls. Hundreds, if not thousands, of candles float in the air. The shuffle of feet, the jostling of limbs, the whisper of conversation and the tinkling of giggles half hidden behind hands raised to lips hit him like a wave. Somewhere, Hermione is still lecturing. He wonders which poor bastard is having to listen to her regurgitate a chapter of Hogwarts: A History in her excitement. The four long tables gleam in the candlelight, their benches are filled with black robed children and young adults and not replaced with rows of corpses.

They’re not dead yet, his mind repeats frantically, his heart beating it in a frantic tattoo against his ribcage. They’re not dead yet.

“I’m fine,” he manages. He’s not, of course. He’s not fine. It’s probably even obvious that he’s not fine. He’s still standing in the doorway like someone has hit him with a sticking charm and his little group, formed by a seven hour train ride, has not left him even though the rest of the first years are halfway to the front of the hall.

Draco and Susan and even Neville make disagreeing noises and Mandy fixes him with a look that can only be termed exasperated disbelief.

“You’re not,” Hannah tells him bluntly. “I said that you needed to eat more!” And she had, back when he had been nibbling on a cauldron cake and nothing else. She’s already digging in the pockets of her robes and she lets out a small cry of triumph as she finds something and pulls it out.

A chocolate frog.

Harry sighs but he takes the wiggling treat from her and bites its head off with a frustrated sort of viciousness that bubbles in his gut.

The chocolate is delicious, melting across his tongue and hitting his stomach like some sort of warm hug.

The card is Dumbledore.

Some things, apparently, are inevitable.

But not everything, Harry thinks as he spots Lavender’s glossy blonde curls bouncing across her shoulders.

They’re not dead yet and Harry needs to get his bloody act together if he wants them to stay that way.

 


 

The sorting, at first, goes pretty much how Harry remembers it.

Or rather, he thinks it does. He hadn’t really paid that much attention the first time. He’d been too busy quietly freaking out.   

Hannah and Susan are both sorted into Hufflepuff. Mandy, apparently, is a Ravenclaw and well pleased with it. Hermione spends almost five minutes under the Sorting Hat before it announces “GRYFFINDOR!” and Harry wonders if she had to convince it to put her there, like he had. If it had to tried to shout “Ravenclaw” the moment it touched her head but she’d overridden it, laying out a verbose, carefully formulated argument for the house of the lion. It’s not something he had ever bothered to ask. Maybe he’ll get around to it this time. Eventually.

Neville also ends up in Gryffindor and, like last time, stunned and bewildered he runs halfway to the table with the hat on his head.

When McGonagall calls Draco’s name he saunters up to the stool and is promptly sorted into Slytherin. 

He draws more notice now that the protective ring of friends – are they friends yet? He thinks they might be and Merlin, the thought of being friends with Draco makes his head spin – has vanished. Ron’s continued gaping, interspersed with not so silent exclamations of “Bloody hell!” and the occasional confused look only exasperates the situation. It’s not long before the entire hall is whispering behind their hands and pointing in his direction, necks craning as people contort themselves to get a glimpse of the mark on his head.

Harry ignores them. Or at least he tries to, fisting his hands in his robes to stop himself from reflexively patting his hair down over his scar.

And then…

“Potter, Harry!”

The whispers explode into a cacophony of excited exclamations and there’s several people that lean out from the benches – Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw both – to try and touch him as he walks past. He shudders and slips away from their fingers with the grace of someone who has spent their life running and gingerly perches on the stool at the front of the Great Hall.

 


 

Well, well, well. What do we have here?

“Not Gryffindor. Not Gryffindor. Not Gryffindor,” Harry chants as the brim of the sorting hat settles against his head.

Not Gryffindor? I must admit that’s not a request I receive very often. Are you sure? Bravery and boldness– you’ve got them in spades. Godric would have liked you.

“Not Gryffindor,” Harry repeats firmly. Not again.

Not again, hmm? You time travel lot are always so fascinating. So many complexities. So many stories inside your head.

“Not Gry… wait. You’ve had other time travelers? This has happened before?”  The force of the relief sliding through his veins makes him slump momentarily on the stool. It’s not just him then. He’s not a freak. It’s happened before.

Oh, but of course. Not very often, mind, but there’s probably one every hundred years or so. It’s always a treat to be sat on a head and find that I’ve already sorted it.

“… it is?”

Of course it is. I get to see if I was right. It’s difficult, quite difficult you see, to try and force an eleven-year-old into a box. So many possibilities at eleven. So much potential.

“And where you? Right?” Harry can’t stop himself from asking. Terrified and exhilarated all at the same time over what the hat’s answer might be. “About me?”

I told you, Mr. Potter, that Godric would have liked you. There’s a great deal of bravery in you. You’re bold. You’ve got an impressive streak of chivalry and forthrightness. All very good qualities to have. So you tell me – was I right to give you to the lions?

Harry swallows roughly. “You’re in my head,” he points out. “You already know what I think.”

Not Gryffindor.

“Not Gryffindor,” Harry agrees. Saying it out loud – admitting it to someone beside himself and his familiars – is like lancing an infected wound: a sharp, burning burst of pain and pleasure followed by nothing but the heavy weight of relief.

So, then, where do I put you this time? You know the value of hard work and your loyalty – you have done some great and terrible things in the name of loyalty, Mr. Potter. But it has been stretched too far, I think. No – Hufflepuff is not for you. Let’s see. You’ve a decent mind and your newfound thirst for knowledge is commendable. In Ravenclaw you would get to stretch your wings. Be given a chance to explore new depths without quite so many people taking notice. Oh yes, you would do quite well there. On the other hand, I stand by my first assessment: you could be great in Slytherin and there, I think, you’ll find true friendship.

 Draco’s face swims before his eyes as it is now: young and soft faced with just the evidence of the devastatingly sharp cheekbones and chin that he’ll grow into in the coming years. They’ve always been something, he and Malfoy. Two sides of the same coin. Reckless, snarling rivals who promptly lose all sense in the face of the other. He knows how to be the other boy’s enemy. It’s easy. Like breathing. Harry wonders if being his friend will be the same way.

…and I don’t just mean young Mr. Malfoy. Or even the other denizens of the snake den.

A pertinent reminder, Harry knows. It’s hard to shake those first impressions, those certainties formed at eleven when the world is black and white and simple. Or, at least he has always found it so. Is finding it so.

Figured it out then? Where I’m going?” He’s not sure how long he’s been sitting on the stool with the Sorting Hat perched on his head but it’s been long enough that he can hear the Great Hall growing restless. Even McGonagall is shifting. He can’t hear her, mind, but he can see the bottoms of her robes twitching just enough to make him think that she’s shifting from foot to foot in quiet concern. Or anticipation. Everyone expects Gryffindor after all.

Mr. Potter, I knew where you were going thirty seconds after I sat on your head. After all, there’s only one place for someone with enough ambition to remake the world to suit his desires. Better be…

“…SLYTHERIN!”

The roar of the Sorting Hat silences the Great Hall. For an entire minute no one speaks. No one moves. Harry’s beginning to suspect that no one is even breathing.

Bloody hell.

And then, just as he’s setting the hat back on the stool – because McGonagall utterly fails to take it out of his hands when he offers it to her – a single, steady clap shatters the stillness and makes McGonagall visibly start at the noise. Harry’s lips curl up in a small smile at Draco’s politely restrained enthusiasm. Neville applauds as well, though the pudgy faced boy looks a bit like someone has hit him between the eyes with a hammer. From there it ripples outwards until most of the students are at least attempting to be polite about the whole thing, though Harry is pretty sure he hears Ron let out a strangled “What?!” from where he’s waiting for his own turn beneath the hat.

“You’re going to be trouble, aren’t you Potter?” Draco drawls as Harry sits down next to him and Harry can’t help but laugh.

“Probably,” he admits honestly and Draco lets out a laugh of his own.

“Let me introduce you,” he says and begins with Crabbe, who is sitting on the blonde’s other side.

By the time he is done Harry has officially met the rest of the first year Slytherins (Zabini slides onto the bench and holds out his hand just as Draco drawls his name, perfectly composed and like the whole thing had been choreographed) and several of the older students. Most of them survey him with the cold, unfeeling politeness that had driven him mad over the past seven years but only two of them eye him with the open hostility that he’s expecting. Harry remembers nothing about Cassius Warrington besides the fact that he had joined the Slytherin quidditch team as a Chaser in Harry’s third year but the enormous third year, with shoulders nearly as broad as Harry is tall, glares at him from underneath thick brown eyebrows and refuses to speak to him. Pansy acknowledges him with a clipped “Pansy Parkinson” and more or less looks like he’s a steaming pile of hippogriff shit that’s been shoved onto her plate. Or maybe that’s just her nose. Regardless, she clearly has no idea how to react to the fact that he’s sitting across from her – or, more accurately, sitting next to Draco who is treating him as if he’s known Harry his entire life instead of just the one day.

The welcoming feast is both the same and different than he remembers it. Dumbledore gives his welcome speech complete with his ridiculous, curiosity inspiring warning about the third floor corridor. Harry refuses to look any higher than the wispy, fluffy strands of the man's beard. The food is as fantastic as Harry remembers and while he’s not quite the starved child that he had been last time it’s been months and months since he had a warm meal of this magnitude and he lets out a nearly indecent groan at the bite of roast that practically dissolves on his tongue.  Merlin, that’s the best thing he’s tasted since… since Bill and Fleur’s wedding, if he’s being honest.

“So this must have been a shock,” Zabini observes and Harry blinks.

“What’s a shock?”

“Being sorted into Slytherin. Your parents were Gryffindors,” the other boy points out and Harry finds himself blinking again, confused at the bluntness.

“I’ve never known my parents,” he finally answers because he can’t tell them that he had been sorted here on purpose, can’t tell them that he all but asked for the snake pit. He can’t tell them that he’s not a Gryffindor – because he is, was – or that he’s so, so done with viewing the world through a lens decided by an enchanted hat and the brain of a nervous eleven year old but that he’s not sure he’ll be able to stop himself from doing it either. He can’t tell them that the bravest man he’s ever known is a Slytherin  and that the most manipulative, cunning man he’s ever met is a Gryffindor – or that both of them are sitting at the staff table. He can’t tell them that, the opinion of the Sorting Hat aside, he’d have picked Slytherin because a Slytherin Boy-Who-Lived will create the biggest uproar. That he’s here because even a month later he is so angry that he can hardly think sometimes and that this – this most unexpected of happenings – is his silent, two fingered salute to Albus Dumbledore and to the whole of the wizarding world for spending the last ten years (the next seven years) building him into some sort of savior and spinning fairy tales around his name while he starved in a bloody cupboard.

Harry takes a deep breath and forces himself to stop thinking. To stop remembering.

 “I don’t even know what they look like,” he admits to cover the long period of silence. It’s not even a lie. The real eleven-year-old him had never seen a picture of them or been able to remember their faces. Just their screams and the color of the curse that killed them. “Or I didn’t until I read about them in Important Wizards of Witches of the Twentieth Century. There was a picture.”

Beside him Draco stiffens and across from him Daphne Greengrass stares at him, brows furrowed. “What do you mean you…” she begins but them stops, her jaw snapping shut with an audible click as she glances furtively at the hall around them. “I will have to write to my mother,” she says instead. “My parents were in different houses and a few years ahead of yours but at the very least there will be pictures in some of their yearbooks – or the society papers from when their engagement was announced and from their wedding.”

Harry nods numbly. Gratefully.

Society papers? He echoes internally. Why would their engagement and wedding be in the paper? They weren’t anything special. They weren’t…

…but they were, weren’t they? Or his father had been, at least. Not a member of the nobility, Urggrat had told him, but still the only child of a wealthy and ancient line. Still the son of a respected and influential family.

It’s weird to think of any acclaim attached to his name that isn’t part of the Boy-Who-Lived nonsense. It leaves him wrong footed – unsettled and vulnerable. It’s become a familiar sensation, one that inevitably sweeps over him nearly every time he opens up a damn book and deigns to learn something more than the minimum needed to pass his exams. He definitely owes original Hermione an apology. Or something.

“I’d be grateful.”

“Do you really not know?” Pansy hisses across the table, ignoring the steely looks that Draco and Daphne promptly turn on her.

“I didn’t even know my dad’s name until this summer,” he hisses back and that actually stuns her, he thinks. It certainly does everyone else. He’s careful not to draw attention to the Ravenclaws sitting behind Pansy who suddenly has eyes the size of dinner plates. “I don’t know anything about them,” he repeats more calmly because he’s not that person anymore. He’s not. He’s not going to blow his top every time he gets frustrated or annoyed. He’s not, he’s not, he’s not.

Maybe if he repeats it enough he’ll actually remember it.

Unlikely, but he can hope.

“Most of what I know I read in a book,” Harry returns his attention to Zabini, “So you’ll understand that it’s hard to be shocked for failing to meet an expectation that I didn’t even know existed.”

The dark eyed boy shrugs. “That’s fair,” he agrees calmly, though Harry is not dumb enough to think that Zabini’s done with him yet. “Pass the potatoes?”

And Harry does, content to fade into the background and listen to the familiar – if different – hum of the Great Hall ebb and flow around him. Inside, he breathes a small sigh of relief. Things are far from over yet – he hasn’t even made it through the first day – but he’s here. He’s in Slytherin. Things are different.

They have to be.

They will be.

He lets his eyes flicker to the staff table, to the man sitting next to Snape’s familiar form with the ridiculous purple turban that is almost garish next to the potion master’s unrelieved black. Quirrell meets his gaze and for a moment, just a moment, the scar on his head burns. Once he thought it pain but he's felt true pains since then. He's broken and regrown bones. He's nearly had his soul sucked out. He's been tied up and maimed. He's felt the cruciatus curling through his veins and ripping at his muscles. He's watched loved ones die. He's been betrayed. He's died. So today, this time, it doesn't hurt. It doesn't hurt at all. This time he feels the warmth of it all the way down to his bones.

Harry smiles.

Different, he promises and with a nod of his head he goes back to his pot roast.

Chapter Text

Back in his second year when he and Ron has snuck into the Slytherin common room disguised as Crabbe and Goyle he hadn’t really paid attention to the décor. It was the Slytherin common room, right? Located in the dungeons, at least partially under the Black Lake, it had been cold, dark, and dim: the perfect nest for budding dark wizards with lots of green, silver, and snakes. It hadn’t been worth noticing. Not when they were there to prove that Draco was the Heir of Slytherin and doing his fucking best to attack and kill muggleborns.

Except Draco hadn’t been the Heir of Slytherin.

And the common room is nothing like he remembers it.

Well, no, that’s not quite true.

It is located in the dungeons and it is at least partially under the lake. There is a lot of green and silver (but, to be fair, the Gryffindor common room is a lot of scarlet and gold) and there are some decorative snakes here and there.

But that’s the extent of the similarities between reality and his memory of the place.

“Wow.” Harry pauses just inside the common room entrance and stares. It is bigger than the Gryffindor common room, perhaps closer to the size of the great hall, and the bulk of the wall opposite the entrance is taken up by a floor to ceiling window that looks out into the depths of the lake. The ceilings are taller than he remembers them but not so tall as to make the room seem cavernous and the walls are painted a soft gray. There are plush rugs in green and gray laid across the cold stone floors and fireplaces flanked by staircases on the walls perpendicular to the entrance. Sofas and elegant, if comfortable looking, armchairs in black leather and green velvet are arranged in small groupings around the room. Several tables fill the space between the entrance and the window, chairs neatly pushed in and several books sit on a small raised shelf in the center of the table.

All in all, it is a comfortable space – airy and warm and cozy and Harry thinks it is quite possible that he might never want to leave this room again. The Gryffindor common room had been pleasant and comforting in its familiarity but it had also often felt packed beyond capacity with no place to escape to. Here, Harry is barely five feet in the door and already he can spot several promising hiding-in-plain-sight spots.

For someone who has never quite gotten over ten plus years of being shoved into dark spaces and told that he didn’t exist it’s remarkably reassuring to have places to hide.

Gryffindor had been that favorite sweater that is loved because of all the good memories it holds but it makes you itch when you put it on. Maybe Slytherin will be something better. The Sorting Hat had seemed to think so.

It will be different, at least, and that alone makes something ease in Harry’s chest.

“Brilliant, isn’t it?” Draco grins as he catches sight of Harry’s face.

“Yeah,” Harry agrees.  “It really is.”

Once all of the first years had stood around and looked at the common room for several minutes the fifth year prefects led them further into the room until they all huddled together like little lost ducklings waiting for directions. Which, Harry supposes, is true enough.

“Alright first years, gather round and listen up,” one of the prefects instructs as he leans against the back of a black leather couch, one arm crossed over his chest and the other lazily waving in the air to indicate where they’re supposed to go. Beside him the other prefect, an attractive girl with dark chestnut hair done up in a series of complicated looking braids and dark brown eyes, smiles kindly at them.

“First of all,” she begins, “welcome to Slytherin House. My name is Gemma Fawley and I am one of the fifth year prefects for this year. My counterpart here is Maxen Travers. Our head of house is Potions Master Severus Snape and he will join us shortly to give his beginning of the year speech. Before he does that though let us go over some of the basics, shall we? This, as you might have gathered, is our common room and will be your home here at Hogwarts.” She motions to the room around them. “Boys dormitories are on the south wall, to your left, and girls dormitories are on your right. Both are accessed by the staircases to the west side of the fireplaces…”

“… that’s the side closest to the windows,” Travers interjects, apparently having caught Crabbe and Goyle’s rather blank stares.

“… and your belongings have already been taken to your quarters. Of the other staircases this one,” Gemma points to the staircase on the other side of the fireplace next to the girls’ dorms, “leads towards the Depository. You are welcome to make use of the resources there while working on homework and personal projects but the books are not allowed to leave the room. In fact, they are charmed and hexed not to and any attempts to do so will be met with increasingly nasty consequences…”

Harry feels the corner of his mouth twitch involuntarily. That sounds more like the Slytherin that he knows. The small dose of expected viciousness is steadying. The whole day has been terrifying and exhilarating; gut churning and heart wrenching. This little bit of normalcy is… well, it reminds him that he hasn’t fallen sideways into some backwards dimension.

Though, given how little (nothing, absolutely nothing) he knows about this whole time travel mess that he’s stumbled into he supposes that such a thing could be a distinct possibility.

But he’s assuming not. Because assuming not means that his head hurts less.

“This staircase,” Gemma continues as she turns to point at the final staircase, “is access to Professor Snape’s office. In addition to his public office hours he holds additional hours in the evenings and on the weekends for members of his house. There is also a private potions lab that is used for additional tutoring and can be reserved by individuals or groups for work on various projects. In case of an emergency, there is a portrait at the end of the hall that has a duplicate hanging in the professor’s personal quarters so that we might contact him during the off hours.”

Harry stares. He’s staring. He knows he is. He’s staring and it’s obvious and someone is going to notice and…

He inhales sharply and offers Draco a reassuring smile when the platinum haired boy gives him a look that is somewhere between concerned and suspicious.

Harry is pretty certain that the number of times he has seen McGonagall in her capacity of Head-of-House can be counted on one hand with numerous fingers left over. In fact, he can think of exactly two times: when he was given a spot on the Gryffindor quidditch team and when he met with her during his fifth year for his career counseling. And honestly, he’d kind of always assumed that that was the way it was for all the houses.

If he’d had to pick a Head of House for a “Most Likely to Act Like an Actual Parent” award he would have probably picked Sprout… because Hufflepuff. He certainly wouldn’t have picked Snape of all people.

Because clearly you knew Snape so well, he mutters to himself and barely manages not to roll his eyes.

That would be a bad first impression to make on the rest of his new House.

“Now if I might direct your attention behind you,” Travers drawls, oblivious to the fact that he and Gemma Fawley are kicking the foundations out of Harry’s world just as surely as Snape and Dumbledore had done six weeks ago. As one the first years turn and find themselves staring to a large cork board hung to the left of the common room entrance and divided into two sections by what Harry suspects is an actual silver frame. “This is the bulletin board. The large section on the left is for student led announcements: the formation of study group, the quidditch schedule, classified ads, and party announcements – that sort of thing. The section on the right is reserved for notifications to the entire house: official communications like exam schedules, and messages from Professor Snape. This is where you will find the password that allows you entrance. It is changed every two weeks. You are not to give it out or write it down. If you cannot remember it, seek out one of your housemates or one of the Slytherin Prefects. Students that are not members of Slytherin are not allowed in at any time. If you have siblings in other houses there is a sitting room that is available for that purpose just down the corridor and to the left.” Travers motions at the common room entrance.

“Besides the password, the other important thing of note up there currently are the sign-ups for the beginning of the year physicals. These are mandatory so make sure to sign up…”

“…because if you don’t, Professor Snape will drag you out of your bed in the middle of the night to make sure it gets done. You won’t like it, he really won’t like it and you’ll find yourself scrubbing cauldrons quicker than you can say ‘quidditch’.” Travers’ voice has a distinct ask me how I know edge to it.

Several of the first years shift uncomfortably around him and Harry can’t decide if they’re apprehensive over the idea of scrubbing cauldrons like a mere muggle or the idea of having to have a physical.

Oh, Merlin. He’s going to have to have a physical.

Bloody, buggering fuck.

If he’d been sorted into Slytherin the first time around this announcement would have terrified him down to his very bones. Because people would know. They’d know how the Dursley’s treated him. They’d see the bruise on his arm from where Vernon had dragged him around. They’d have been able to count his ribs rising like mountains from beneath the too pale stretch of his skin.

(They’d know. They’d know he was a freak. That he was worthless and good for nothing – just like his parents!)

Fuck, he’s still terrified. In no small part because he can hear six years of Snape berating him for being like James overlaying ten years of being told his father had been a worthless drunk who had gotten he and his equally worthless mom killed in a car crash. Unnatural. Worthless. Freak. He can still hear the words beating a staccato around the inside of his skull.

But his unfortunate treatment at the Dursley’s hands are, he feels, the least of his problems in this instance.

The goblins had known.

The goblins had known. It had been in his blood, in his magic, that he had traveled through time. Would it show up on whatever tests Madam Pomfrey – he assumes, anyway – subjects him to? Will his real age show on her scans? Will there be the evidence of basilisk venom and phoenix tears in his blood? Will this all be over before it begins?

Oh, Merlin, if Dumbledore knows… If Dumbledore knows… well. If Dumbledore knows Harry is reasonably sure that he can kiss all chances of freedom goodbye. Because if the Headmaster knows that the answer to defeating Voldemort is – both literally and figuratively – inside of Harry’s head he won’t stop until he’s forced it from Harry. For the greater good.

Harry thinks he’s going to be sick.

He inhales sharply and shoves the whirling panic from his find.

Clear your mind, he tells himself. Be different. Don’t just react. You can’t do anything about it now and freaking the fuck out will not help you.

He exhales slowly.

“Does anyone have any questions?” Fawley gives them a few minutes before she nods her head decisively. “Then please give your attention to Professor Snape.”

Harry blinks.

Snape is here?

He looks around the common room, searching for the familiar black clad form. He’s not the only one. Draco is practically standing on his toes as he searches for his godfather.

“Thank you, Miss Fawley,” Harry freezes as Snape’s deep voice whispers around the edges of the room. With the unerring precision of someone who has spent years subconsciously tracking the other man he turns just in time to watch the Potions Master materialize out of the shadows in the corner near the entrance to the Depository.

If he thought seeing Ron and McGonagall had been weird, if he thought walking into the Great Hall would bring him to his knees suddenly finding himself face to face with Severus Snape is so, so much worse.

Merlin, he’s so young. So healthy.

When he’d really been eleven he’d thought the dark wizard pale and ugly, sickly and mean looking. A vampire that never saw the sunlight. A man who felt nothing, who never smiled.

But this, this Snape is only thirty-one years old. This Snape is pale but there’s color there in his cheeks and his lips. This Snape isn’t smiling but there’s a quiet gleam in his eyes: the spark of intelligence and passion that drove him to create spells and potions before he even took his OWLs, the fire of genius that not even guilt and grief and a decade shackled in a job he must hate can extinguish. His back his straight, his shoulders squared, his head held high. He always was graceful but there’s a fluidity to his movements now that Harry realizes he hasn’t seen since Voldemort’s resurrection.

This is a man whose life has been as painful as Harry’s. As painful as Tom Marvolo Riddle’s. This is a man who has been beaten and chained and weighed down; who has been spit upon and reviled from all sides and yet he’s still standing, still fighting.

He’s a mean bastard; a nasty sonofabitch. Life hasn’t given him much chance to be anything else, Harry thinks.

Altogether, that might even be why and how Snape is still alive.

For a moment their gazes catch across the Slytherin common room and the cognitive dissonance of seeing those black eyes stare back at him while his mind replays the man’s last moments – sick and weary and alone in all the ways that count as he bleeds to death on the floor of the Shrieking Shack – is enough to make Harry’s hands shake as his vision whites out and his blood roars in his ears.

Look…at…me…

“Welcome to Slytherin, the house of ambition and cunning.” The smooth strength of Snape’s baritone is enough to break him from his memories, a lifeline thrown into the dark whirlwind of his thoughts and he clings to it more than he’s ever clung to anything in his entire life.

Breathe, he tells himself. Breathe and exist. Don’t react.

Harry opens his eyes.

He doesn’t even know when he shut them.

“You are here,” Snape continues, “because you have drive, because deep within your hearts beats the desire to prove yourself and to succeed. Our alumni are numerous and their accomplishments are many. From Salazar, to Merlin, to half of the Wizengamot, more than half of the Ministry's Department Heads, and the last twelve Ministers of Magic – we are those that shape the nation and our society; we are those that discover new magics and preserve the old ones. I expect great things from each and every one of you. The fact that you are here proves that you have the potential for them. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Snape’s dark eyes sweep over them, lingering slowly on every face.

 “And they will tell you otherwise,” Snape continues, the richness of his voice dropping, morphing into something slow and mournful that makes Harry’s heart hurt with the clear inevitability presented in it. “You will not only be looked down upon and reviled by many of your classmates and their families but such behavior will quite possibly be encouraged with varying levels of subtlety by the other professors. The world is unfair and you will be treated unfairly because nearly everyone else has lost the ability to differentiate between ambition and evil.”

If Harry had ever thought what sort of speech Snape might give to the snakes on their first night at Hogwarts… this would not have been it.

For one thing, he would have expected a great many more insults. Or any insults, for that matter. But this is a terrible, gentle thing. If he hadn’t seen the man’s memories Harry wouldn’t have known that Snape even knew how to be gentle.

“Because of this there is one rule that I expect you to follow above all others: Slytherin stands together. While you are here at Hogwarts these rooms are your home, these people your family. Within the safety of our quarters you are free to have opinions and disputes amongst yourselves but once you walk out that door you will stand united regardless of status or blood. Do not go anywhere alone. Be respectful, complete your work, and follow the rules. If you are attacked you are legally allowed to defend yourself but get away as soon as possible. Report all such instances to me. Within these halls and in absence of the presence of your parents or guardians I am your legal guardian. You are entitled to my presence and protection during any meeting with other members of the staff.  The headmaster will have little respect for your worries and complaints. If, for some reason, you find yourself in a situation where rules must be… bent… do not get caught. Is that understood?”

“Yes, professor,” Harry finds himself murmuring along with all of the other first years.

“Good. Ten points to Slytherin for your ability to listen to instructions,” Snape drawls and Harry catches the small upturn of the corner of his lips. “Miss Fawley and Mr. Travers, as well as the other prefects, are available to you should you have any questions. If you are not comfortable approaching them feel free to make use of my office hours, which will be posted on my door, or speak with the portrait at the end of the hall.  Do not forget to sign up for your physicals and I will begin handing out your time tables in the Great Hall tomorrow morning at precisely eight o’clock. Do not be late.”

For a minute, it looks like Snape will leave it at that, dismissing them to go unpack their things and get settled before their first day of classes but instead he pauses and looks back, “Mr. Potter, a word.”

Harry swallows nervously and nods, following the other man as he sweeps away.

He doesn’t go to his office, as Harry is half expecting, but instead leads Harry away from the first years and the scattering of older students – not nearly as many as Harry expects, he knows Slytherin has more students than this– to the center of the expansive window where he stops, staring out at the lake.

Harry nearly walks into him.

Brilliant.

The look Snape gives him is disdainful but having seen the man in the throes of a complete fury it is kind of hard to take the average sneer seriously. But he should probably try, shouldn’t he? If only for appearances. He shifts a little nervously on his feet and carefully doesn’t look the man in the eye.

“I know this is not what you were expecting Mr. Potter but since the unthinkable has happened it falls to me to inform you that you will just have to deal with it.”

Harry blinks. “…er, deal with it?” he repeats, baffled.

“Yes. I will not tolerate any whining or histrionics about the supposed unfairness of the situation. Complaining about it will not do you any favors.”

Well, if nothing else is the same it’s clear that Harry will always have Snape, sniping after him for some Merlin perceived offense. Fuck, but he’d been hoping that they would avoid this. He doesn’t want to be at odds with the other man. He’d hoped that because he doesn’t look exactly like James and he’s in Slytherin…

Oh.

Harry’s brain abruptly grinds to a halt.

It can’t be that simple. Can it? Is it?

“… what situation?” he asks before he can stop himself, eager for confirmation. “Sir,” he adds rather quickly because he doesn’t want to be rude.

Snape looks at him like he has all the intelligence of a flabberworm. Harry nearly bites his tongue in half to keep from beaming back at him, thrilled at the familiarity of it all and the growing surety that it is that simple. Snape lets out a longsuffering sigh. “This situation, Mr. Potter – or did you imagine somewhere in that mess between your ears that you could just waltz right up to the Headmaster’s office and demand to be resorted to your proper place?”

Not smiling is the hardest bloody thing Harry has ever done in his life.

And yes, he is including hunting horcruxes and breaking into Gringotts in that comparison.

“Why would I demand to be resorted?” Harry asks innocently, desperately trying to think of every moment that he’s ever been confused in his life. There are… more moments than he’d like to admit. A lot of them even include interacting with Severus Snape. Like his first day of potions class. That’s a good memory to think of.

Though he has spent a month practicing – and a great deal of time before that in that stupid, fucking tent – he still has issues clearing his mind. Understandable, he thinks, when he’s constantly thinking at least five different things and trying to self-correct all of the Gryffindor ingrained behaviors and trying to figure out what he’s going to do… But remembering? He’s gotten really good at that.

And so he does.

He remembers how excited he had been (potions sounded like cooking! And Harry was at least decent at that. The Dursleys had made sure of it) and how it had felt sitting in the cool, artificially lit potions lab. He remembers the way that excitement had taken a sharp nosedive beneath the rapid fire questions coming out of Snape’s mouth and the mixture of confusion and humiliation at the questions that he didn’t know the answers to.

Snape sneers. “Mr. Potter, are you so befuddled that you do not know where you are?”

“No, professor. I’m in the Slytherin Common Room,” Harry shoots back, unable to take back the slight upturn of his lips. “I am a little confused about this conversation, though. Sir.”

“Confused?” Snape repeats, hissing so sharply that it almost sounds like parseltongue. “You are confused? You are the Boy Who Lived! If I were to stand here and enumerate the reasons why you are in the wrong place we would be here until dawn!” The dour man looks like he’s about five seconds away from throwing up his hands and screaming.

“Oh,” Harry says after a lengthy pause. “Is this because of my parents? Blaise thought I might be disappointed in my placement because both my parents were Gryffindors. I hadn’t known. Is there something wrong with being in Slytherin?”

Snape stares.

And stares.

…and stares.

He stares so long, in fact, that Harry begins to legitimately worry that he’s accidentally broken the potions master. And then…

Snape lets out a shaking breath and his shoulders slump. Well, not really, not enough that anyone who doesn’t know him will even notice but Harry knows him – or his body language, at least, if not the man himself. For good or ill, he’s spent a lot of time watching Snape. But it’s enough for Harry to almost see all the fight suddenly just drain out of the man.

“No, Mr. Potter,” Snape answers quietly. “There’s not.”

Harry finally lets himself smile. It’s too sharp, he knows, and too wistful - too aware of a world that actively believes that there is something wrong with being in Slytherin.

“I don’t think so either,” he says softly and part of him can't help but wonder how things might have turned out if he’d learned that sooner.

 


 

When he and Ron had smuggled themselves into the Slytherin dorm they’d never made it further than the common room. Something that is probably a good thing because Harry’s reasonably sure that if he knew that they had dormitories like this he would probably have done exactly what Snape had just accused him of plotting – namely, done his best to get resorted – the next time the crowded tower room had become too much. He’s not even sure that the prejudices that had clouded his mind would have been enough to distort this memory enough to make it seem like the distasteful nesting ground of the Bad Guys.

Also, now he’s pretty sure he knows why the common room had been oddly empty.

The staircase from the common room empties onto a large landing at the center of a large spiral staircase. Across the landing, on the other side of the landing is a large door labeled with Class of 1997 in a flowing, silver plated script. After glancing around and finding a directory posted on the wall to his right Harry takes a deep breath and heads down the wide steps. The landing one floor down has a door labeled Class of 1998 and is open enough that Harry can just walk right in.

The room itself is probably the same size as the Gryffindor common room and there’s an enormous fireplace on the same wall as the door, flames crackling merrily and shedding a golden glow on the rest of the room. A thick green rug and a small seating area consisting of a sofa and two cushy, velvet chairs nearly large enough to be sofas themselves are set in front of it. Across from the fireplace is another massive window out onto the depths of the lake that stretches nearly from the floor to the ceiling, though the expansive view of this one is marred by a handful of partial walls that neatly divide the area into six equal cubicles, which seem to be as close to individual bedrooms as they can get without the walls going all the way up to the ceiling and there being a door at the entrance.

There is a plaque next to each opening, though, and Harry walks down the line past V. Crabbe, G. Goyle, D. Malfoy, T. Nott to H. Potter with B. Zabini on his other side as well as a door that Harry assumes leads to the bathroom and showers. The little cubicle-room is enough to make him pause in the doorway and take a deep breath, something tight and aching in the center of his chest. The room itself is about the size of Dudley’s second bedroom – maybe a little smaller. It’s actually hard to tell with the way the water covered window distorts his perception. The stone floor is laid with rugs thick enough to swallow his feet up to his ankles. These ones are a very soft gray. Or a really pale, silver-green. He’s actually not quite sure. He blames the lake window.

Directly in front of him sits a small bookcase and a decent sized personal desk – with chair – and wizarding lamp sitting on the corner. A full sized, four-poster bed hung with thick green curtains sits in the corner diagonal from the entrance and at the foot of it is a fancy looking screen sectioning off a portion of the room for privacy. A quick look behind the screen reveals his trunk and a modestly sized wardrobe to hang some of his clothes in.

“Bloody hell,” he mutters and sinks into the chair pulled up to the desk. He’s pretty sure he’s found the source of all the anti-Slytherin sentiment. Everyone is just pissed that the snake’s quarters are ten times the size of the others.

“So what did Uncle Sev want?”

Harry very nearly jumps out of his skin.

“Uncle Sev?” he repeats, just to buy himself some time to reign back the magic that’s already through his lips and itching into his wand. “He lets you call him that at school?”

“Only when we are in the Slytherin dorms or his private quarters,” Draco says, and Harry can absolutely tell that he’s reciting a rule that has been relayed to him more than once in recent memory. “So what did he want?”

Harry shrugs. “He seemed to be under the impression that I was going to throw a temper tantrum over my sorting.”

“Oh, I bet somebody is throwing a tantrum,” Draco nods sagely. “I thought the Weasley’s head was going to explode. Pity that it didn’t. McGonagall seemed rather shocked too. She’s the head of Gryffindor, though. I imagine she thought you’d end up a lion.”

Harry shakes his head rather vehemently. "Nope. The Hat and I agreed that Gryffindor would have been a terrible option for me. It thought Ravenclaw might have worked but we decided that Slytherin was the best choice.”

Draco gives him a surprised look. “Really?”

“Really.”

“I bet Dumbledore is having kneazles right now,” the blond boy smirks gleefully and Harry can’t help but laugh because he wouldn’t put it past the old man to be sitting in his office quietly freaking out – and quite possibly berating the poor Sorting Hat – over Harry Potter being sorted into Slytherin. “Anyway, since you missed it, I just wanted to let you know that everyone is taking a few minutes to change and then we’re going to have some tea and get to know each other over in the sitting area.”

Harry’s pretty sure that the other five boys probably know each other at least passingly so what Draco means is get to know you and he swallows, suddenly nervous.

Don’t fuck this up. You've got a plan, he tells himself firmly and offers Draco a small smile. “Sure, just let me get Inigo.” He can always unpack later. He’s not even sure how much he wants to unpack, wary of exposing his belongings to the moods and whims of others without being able to ward the hell out of them. And wards strong enough to withstand a pack of Death Eaters would probably (definitely) be noticed in the First Year dorms.

“Inigo?” Draco asks, intrigued. Harry just smiles and disappears behind the screen, half surprised that Draco doesn’t follow him. A propriety thing perhaps? Ron wouldn’t have hesitated to bumble along behind him, poking and prodding into his things. Of course, that means he should probably be less surprised by Draco’s actions.

“I’ll just be a minute,” he calls, before he begins unlocking his trunk.

The trunk apartment is exactly as he left it and it takes just a moment to swap his school uniform and robes for a butter soft, emerald green jumper and a set of the lightweight, open front black robes that he's found himself preferring. Once changed, Inigo is happy to leave his warming rock to slither up Harry’s arm and drape himself around his neck and shoulders like some sort of living scarf.

Doing okay?” he hisses, stroking a finger down the back of his reptilian familiar’s head. “You didn’t get jostled around in here, did you?”

“The day was boring,” Inigo reports. “The mouse was stupid and the big nest stayed still.”

Harry laughs softly. “I am glad that you were not hurt or startled but I am sorry that your day was boring. I missed you.”

I missed you too. You are much nicer for napping than the warm rock.”

“Well you can nap but if you want there will be another, even bigger nest to investigate as well as more people that I should introduce you to so that they don’t accidentally hurt you.”

“A bigger nest?”

“It is a communal nest for several humans. We have a small part of it that will just be for us but we will still keep this as our Home Nest,” Harry explains as he climbs out of the trunk.

That is a lot of nests,” the snake muses. “Will there be other Speakers?”

Just one but it might be some time before we can speak with him. He is very dangerous…”

“…and you are just a hatchling. I know.” Harry bites back his laughter at the sulky tone and instead offers more scratches at a point that has been particularly itchy for the past few days as mollification.

“That’s a snake!”

Harry looks up to find the rest of the first year boys looking at him.

“Um… yes?” He motions at his familiar. It’s kind of hard to mistake Inigo for… well, anything else. But it is Crabbe speaking so certain allowances should probably be made.

“The rules state that a student can only have an owl, cat, or toad,” Nott remarks coolly. He’d been polite, if distant, in the great hall but there’s a marked coldness to the brown-haired boy now that they’re in the dorms. It’s not unexpected. Nott’s father is not only a Death Eater but he had been one of the very first, one of the Dark Lord’s followers back when they were still school boys together and Tom had just begun to use the name by which he would be feared.

“Oh, I know,” Harry agrees calmly, “but I had Inigo before I got my Hogwarts letter. I’m not about to give up my familiar because of a rule that I didn’t know existed. But because he isn’t a typical familiar, I thought it best to introduce him so that he didn’t startle you. Everyone, this is Inigo. He’s a boa constrictor and not venomous so you don’t need to worry. Inigo, these are my new nest mates. Say hello. Make it obvious.”

Indigo lets out what can only be described as a chuckle-hiss and raises his head up next to Harry’s, his tongue flickering in-and-out as he tastes the air. “Hello, fellow nestmates,” he greets as instructed. “The big ones taste like prey,” he adds after a moment.

The big ones are not the most intelligent of nestmates,” Harry tells him seriously. “But I think they are under the protection of the skinny, pale-headed one. That’s Draco. I’ve told you about him. I think we might be friends?

Ah, he is one of the ones whose sire belongs to the other Speaker.”

Harry beams at the snake – and at his year mates who have all gone gratifyingly pale at the hissed conversation. He may not have much of a plan quite yet (or much idea of how to implement it) but this part is easy. The original exposure of his parseltongue ability had instantly earned him derision and suspicion from the other three houses. He’s willing to bet it will have a much more pleasant response in Slytherin – especially because he hasn’t already spent an entire school year antagonizing them.

Is he cashing in on the fear and respect that Voldemort has built up surrounding it to make an obvious point that he's not the little golden lion that everyone obviously expected? Yes. Yes, he is.

“You can speak to snakes?” Draco looks like he’s about to vibrate out of his skin. Theo Nott looks like he’s been slapped. “Why didn’t you tell me?” It’s practically a wail.

Harry blinks. “…tell you?” he repeats innocently. “You mean you can’t?”

“No!”

Harry blinks again. “Oh. I thought it was a wizard thing.”

Blaise drops to the couch and buries his face in his hands. “Merda,” he mutters.

“It’s not!” Draco practically screeches and Harry’s suddenly confronted with an uncomfortable reminder that Draco is as much a Black as he is a Malfoy. “I mean, yes, it is… but…! But it’s not common. At all. It’s really, really rare. Only the descendants of…”

Merda,” Blaise repeats, with feeling.

“…Salazar Slytherin can speak it!”

Theo Nott goes even paler. Harry’s slightly concerned that he’s about to fall over.

“Draco,” Harry says patiently. “There’s nothing stopping you from speaking to my snake. Inigo would understand you. Wouldn’t you?

I would understand that the non-Speaker is talking to me but I only know a few of the word noises that he makes.

Huh.

…Can I teach you the word noises?

“Yes. I cannot make them myself but I could at least understand what your nestmates say.”

“…like have Blaise go on a rant in Italian and expecting you to understand what he’s saying!” Draco is all but shouting in the background. “You don’t speak Italian, do you?” Draco stares at him, a little wild eyed as if he expects Harry to suddenly announce that yes, he speaks Italian and any other language Draco can care to think of.

“…er, no,” Harry replies.

“But you speak parseltongue.”

“Um… parsel-what?”

Blaise swears again. Nott actually whimpers.

“Parseltongue,” Draco enunciates slowly. “The language of snakes.”

Harry blinks and tries to look as bewildered as he had felt the first time Ron and Hermione had explained this to him. Minus the whole fear and dread of being vaunted as Slytherin’s Heir. Because he is, actually, Slytherin’s Heir.

The irony is still not lost on him.

“You mean I’m speaking another language?” Across the room Crabbe and Goyle both nod in over enthusiastic synchronization.

“Yes,” Nott replies tightly, his normally tawny skin as pale as parchment. “You are.”

“Oh. Sorry about that,” Harry shrugs. “It just sounds like English to me.”

“Merlin,” Draco mutters as he staggers over to a chair and drops into it, still staring at Harry. “Just wait until my father hears about this!”

Chapter Text

Harry spends his first week at Hogwarts feeling like a quaffle being thrown from one side of the quidditch pitch to the other. In the rain. Because on one hand so many things are the same and the backdrop is a place that he knows better than the back of his own hand. By the end of the second day of class he has had to stop himself from taking a secret passage or route seven times, has garnered attention for his astounding, effortless ability at avoiding trick steps and predicting the movements of the staircases, accidentally led the entire class of Slytherin First Years to Transfiguration, and given a panicked third year instructions on how to find Trelawney’s tower. He tries to play the latter two incidents off but he’s not sure that anyone but Crabbe and Goyle buy his excuses of memorizing a route out of nervousness and parroting instructions he heard from a fifth year, respectively.

Slightly odd and hopefully inexplicable behavior aside, the first week is a study in being swung from the familiar to the new and back again until Harry is convinced that his head is going to explode from the sheer effort of trying to keep everything straight. Writing things down in his journal helps but even that is reduced to a further mess and Harry predicts that it will take several hours to straighten out the tangle of notes and questions hastily scribbled on the thick parchment pages. Merlin knows when he’ll find the bloody time.

Clearly, organization is not his strong point.

He should probably do something about that.

He makes a note of it.

Like before, whispers and pointing follow him everywhere: three quarters of the student body reduced to nothing more than vicious little gossips following around an eleven-year-old school boy. Harry is torn between being amused – like when Ernie Macmillan is so busy staring at him that he walks straight into a banister before tripping and stumbling down half a flight of stairs – and a cold, bubbling sort of anger that fizzes through his blood and makes his lips press together into a thin, white line when people sashay up to him and bat their eyelashes or sneer at him when he walks back, all but spitting his name at his feet.

 The Slytherins, Harry has to admit, follow Snape’s rules and reserve any gawking or spite for the safety of their quarters in the dungeons. It’s slightly galling. It also amazes him how little of the latter there is and he’s not sure if the lack of antagonism is down to the fact that he’s a parselmouth – a fact that he hears whispered between a fifth year and a sixth year huddled together in the main common room as he passes through on Wednesday so he knows that just about everyone in the snake pit has heard – or because he is on friendly terms with Draco and, at this point, he’s yet to meet anyone in Slytherin that wants to get on Malfoy’s bad side.

Probably a bit of both, he thinks.


 

The whiplash of his life continues through the actual classes. His very first class is Herbology and it throws him more than he thought it would to take it with the Ravenclaws instead of the Hufflepuffs but Mandy looks thrilled to see him when the eagles come bursting into the greenhouse and plops down on the bench across from him and Draco without hesitation.

“Enjoying everything as much as you’d hoped?” she asks him without preamble and he wobbles his hand back and forth.

“The castle is brilliant,” he tells her honestly. “I’ve never felt so at home somewhere but I could do without half the student body stalking me and asking to see my scar.”

Mandy wrinkles her nose. “Merlin, that sounds awful. You should complain to the professors.”

Somehow, Harry doesn’t think that will be very helpful and he tells her so. She looks like she’s about to object some more and probably rope Draco into trying to persuade him so he changes the subject quickly by asking, “How is Ravenclaw?”

“Well enough,” she finally replies after staring at him for a minute. “And Slytherin?”

“I like it,” Harry says after a second of thought and beside him Draco deflates like a balloon. He hadn’t even realized that the other boy had been tense. “It’s nice.”

Now there's a sentence he didn't ever think would come out of his mouth.


 

Charms is with the Hufflepuffs instead of the Ravenclaws and it is a relief to walk into the classroom and be greeted by Hannah’s frantically waving hand and Susan’s half-assed attempts at reigning her bubbly friend in to more manageable levels. Draco rolls his eyes and lets out a put upon sigh but he’s pleased too. Harry can tell by the small smile pulling at one side of his mouth.  They haven’t even had a chance to sit down at nearby desks before Hannah is pressing chocolate into their hands and launching into a story about how she accidentally charmed her lips orange and had to go to the hospital wing to reverse it on the first day of school.

Flitwick still lets out an excited squeak and topples off the top of his stack of books when he reads Harry’s name from the roll. Honestly, it’s not as if Harry’s presence here is a shock. Everybody in the whole of wizarding Britain knows that he’s at Hogwarts this year. Ignoring that, Flitwick had been at the bloody Welcoming Feast so Harry is not entirely sure why the professor is so surprised.

Part of him is entertained and part of him is just pissed off – pissed off enough that his lumos nearly blinds the entire class.

Bollocks.

“Very impressive, Mr. Potter!” the diminutive professor proclaims, all the while blinking rapidly to try and refocus his vision. Behind him Blaise swears and next to him Draco stares, round eyed and stunned. Hannah beams and gives him two thumbs up.

Harry sighs.


 

History of Magic remains the most boring class to have ever existed and yes, he is counting Umbridge’s Defense lessons or Hagrid’s overcautious use of flabberworm care.

“But why is the teacher a ghost?” Harry asks, still completely baffled by the fact. In the beginning, the idea of having a ghost as a professor had been awesome. It had been very affirming as far as yes, you are a wizard and you do go to a magical school. But even starry-eyed Harry had only been impressed by Binns for the first half of the first lesson. After that, each class had never been anything more than an exercise in trying to stay awake. After six years under the man – er, ghost’s – tutelage Harry can say that he literally knows nothing about magical history.

Well, no. That’s not quite true.

He can wax poetic about the Goblin Wars of 1497. And really, he can only do that because the Goblin forces had been led by a general known as Pilcox the Thruster and the third year Gryffindor boys had spend an entire evening bursting into giggles every time Hermione had tried to pound Binns’ monotonous lecture into their skulls through sheer force of will.

But other than that? Nothing. Everything he knows about Britain’s First Wizarding War he learned from Tom Riddle’s diary or Dumbledore’s pensieve. Everything he knows about Grindelwald he knows from Rita Skeeter’s book about Dumbledore. Everything he knows about the founding of Hogwarts, the school itself, and its founders he learned from the Sorting Hat, the Marauder’s Map, and Hermione’s rants. Everything he knows about their governments he knows from his own narrow perspective and Ron repeating things he’d heard from his dad.

So, in short, he knows nothing.

And on the heels of… everything it’s beginning to make him really, really annoyed.

“Dumbledore,” Nott replies shortly, sounding very much like he’s staring at something foul stuck to the bottom of his boots.

“Father has been trying to get him replaced for ages,” Draco adds and for once in his life Harry whole heartedly agrees with Lucius Malfoy. It makes him feel kind of slimy and in need of a scalding shower.

 Still, the man has a point.

It’s galling.

 


 

Galling, galling, galling.

The whole fucking week is galling.

Bloody hell.

 


 

Harry makes it all the way to his first Transfiguration class before he has the urge to just fuck everything up.

Which, if he’s being honest with himself, is longer than he thought he would make it.

Still, it’s not until he’s sitting in a desk halfway up the raised seating in the Transfiguration classroom, staring at a very red-faced Ron Weasley and the stern, tartan clad woman who had moments before been a tabby cat sitting on the desk at the front of the classroom that he feels the rush. The urge. The overwhelming brashness to just leap in like a rampaging dragon. The result of seven years of conditioned, bullheaded Gryffindorness.

His hand is in the air before he even realizes what is going on.

“Yes, Mr. Potter?”

“Can everyone do that?” his mouth asks, completely independent of his brain and his hands motion vaguely at her and her desk to help the question along.

It’s like playing quidditch, some part of his mind notes distantly. It’s like the beginning of a big, important game and he’s been circling high in the air. He’s been stuck watching while the other players clash below him and now, now he’s spotted a glimmer a of gold out of the corner of his eye and he’s diving without any thought or real intent.

Bugger.

“No,” McGonagall replies, turning her attention to him and Ron takes the opportunity to scamper off to one of the available seats near most of the other Gryffindors. “Becoming an animagus – a wizard or witch that can transform between a human and animal form – requires an innate grasp of self and mastery of Transfiguration. Very few ever manage it. It is a highly dangerous endeavor and closely monitored by the Ministry. There are currently only seven animagi in Britain, of which I am one.”

Registered animagi, his brain corrects.

There are only seven registered animagi in Britain. He knows of at least three others, currently living. One of them is even in this room.

Not looking at where Scabbers is almost surely sleeping away in Ron’s pocket is one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do.

“Oh,” Harry murmurs and does his best to look both crestfallen and fascinated at the same time. “Is there a way to tell if someone is an animagus?”

McGonagall purses her lips together and gives him a look that leaves him feeling rather like she’s reached into his brain and spread all of his thoughts out on a table before nailing them down just so she could study them without interruption. “All animagi are required to register themselves with the Ministry. Failure to do so carries a five year sentence in Azkaban,” she replies almost stiffly, “but yes, there are a series of spells that are complex variations on a standard revelio that can be used to identify whether a person is an animagus or if there is one in the same room as you. Is that all, Mr. Potter?”

Harry opens his mouth…

… and for just a moment he can see it. He can see himself asking for a demonstration. Curious Harry Potter who wears the shadow of James, who had been one of McGonagall’s favorites, on his face. She might agree, might deviate from her lesson plans, for him. And Peter Pettigrew would be exposed for the sniveling, traitorous, cowardly little rat that he is in full sight of almost two dozen school children and a woman who remembers every student she has ever had.

It’s a pretty future, floating there just in front of him with delicate, fluttering wings.

And then he pulls himself out of the dive.

The game has just started and he has no idea what he’s doing or even a hint of how things would play out for him if the truth of that Halloween night came out today.

Now is not the time for action. Now is the time to be stealthy and hidden. Now is the time to be a snake in the grass.

“Yes, professor,” he says, giving the woman a small smile. “Thank you.”

Sorry, Snuffles.

“W-w-what w-was that a-a-about?” Neville stutters out quietly once McGonagall has turned her eye from them and launched into her first year transfiguration speech.

“A third year followed me into the loo this morning,” he mutters back and the sad thing – the really, horribly sad thing – is that he’s not even making it up. He’s not that good of a liar, for one. “To get a better look at the great Harry Potter,” he spits his own name like a curse. That is certainly what it’s felt like these past few years. "Wanted to know if I need to be worried about every animal I see too."

Neville’s eyebrows disappear into his hair. “R-really?”

“Really.”

“Complain to Snape and hire a solicitor,” Blaise murmurs from the seat behind him. “That is bloody ridiculous.”

Harry blinks… why would he…? Snape, he understands though he doesn’t know what Blaise expects the professor to do about everything (and experience tells Harry not to expect anything good to come from him bringing up issues with popularity and fame to Snape) but why would he need a solicitor?

If he didn’t suspect that McGonagall would turn the full force of her displeasure on him if he dared to turn around he absolutely would. Instead, he makes a note to ask Blaise to clarify that later this evening when they’re all in their private common room. And then to ask Susan the next time he sees her because she’ll give it to him straight. That way he gets both advice and to see if Blaise is trying to fuck him over.

Surprisingly, he thinks it unlikely but still… better to be certain.

 


 

Defense Against the Dark Arts is just as disappointing the second time around as it was originally. The first time he had been disappointed because he had been looking forward to the “cool” sounding class. Vampires, werewolves, curses – it had all sounded so brilliant, especially to a boy who had spent ten years tossed around and bullied by his relatives.

This time he’s disappointed because he knows what remains of the main portion of Tom Marvolo Riddle – of Lord Voldemort, madman and genius - is on the back of that stuttering imbecile’s head and he’s stuck listening to Quirrell mutter about garlic and vampires.

Again.

Harry doesn’t slam his forehead into his desk to save himself from the misery of it all but it’s a very close thing.

 


 

By the time Friday rolls around Harry has learned a not inconsiderable number of things. Absolutely none of it pertains to the actual classes that he’s sat through in what can only be described as a fit of nostalgia. Or an act of self- torture. Or both. Probably both.

He learns that Draco Malfoy has all the grace and coordination of a newborn hippogriff before he has a cup of coffee in the morning. And that his hair sticks up like a peacock’s feathers until the he wrestles and charms the fine platinum locks into submission.

He learns that the smell of Draco’s coffee brewing in a press that he keeps in his cubicle-room is the only alarm that Crabbe and Goyle need to get up in the morning.

He learns that Theodore Nott rarely speaks outside of Slytherin’s quarters – and when he does, his words are usually short and clipped, even when he’s speaking to a teacher.

He learns that this rudeness is nearly enough to make Hermione Granger leap out of her seat and demand he apologize in the middle of Transfiguration. Nearly.

(He also learns suspects that Nott has even less respect for authority than he does. Or at least the authority represented here.)

He learns that Blaise swears. A lot. Usually in Italian. And that even though the mocha skinned boy is only a first year, in his first week of classes, he already seems to know everyone. And everyone seems to owe him favors. How or why, Harry has absolutely no idea. He's not sure if that is something he wants to know.

He learns that while the Slytherin quarters have always been a little larger than the other houses by virtue of their location their current massive, sprawling size only came into being when Snape became their Head of House.

He learns that Crabbe has a gift with animals that rivals Hagrid’s and that his familiar is a little gray and white mouse named China. (Harry promptly instructs Inigo that he is absolutely not to eat the pretty snack. Inigo pouts.)

He learns that Goyle can barely read but that he can weave. Like with a loom and everything. Which is certainly interesting but he’s not quite sure why everyone else seems so awed by it. Or why Nott spends the entire night watching Harry warily the first evening Goyle brings his lap loom into their sitting area.

And, by the time Friday arrives, he learns that he is exhausted.

Harry is exhausted and he has only just begun.

It’s exhausting thinking things through and sticking to the plan. Or a plan. Or a thought that might someday be a plan. Keeping track of what he says and how he acts… Merlin, it’s exhausting. How do people do this all the time?

The need to act, to do something is like a hum in his veins. He busies himself with homework (easy) and extracurricular reading (not so easy) and talking to his housemates and more or less trying not to murder, maim, or inadvertently give away the fact that he knows the castle better than he should in his attempts to avoid a significant portion of the student body. And bloody hell, he hopes that tapers off quickly. He’s pretty sure he’s given himself a headache trying to remember exactly when people had stopped following him around in herds during his first year.

More than that, though, is the uncomfortable double vision of living through the same events twice but from a slightly different position. How had Hermione managed that as she ran all over the place in her third year?

Probably with a color-coded schedule, carefully highlighted route through the castle, and meticulous notes that say things like only use the loo on the third floor, second stall from the right and don’t smack into Malfoy when he goes stomping around the third corner coming from the Potions classroom.

Harry sighs.

“You alright?” Draco’s voice pierces through the fog of his thoughts. Harry blinks and gives his head a little shake to clear it before offering the other boy a small smile.

“I’m fine,” he assures and Draco narrows his eyes suspiciously.

“You do that a lot,” he finally says, leaning forward and keeping his voice low so that the others don’t overhear. Harry doesn’t have it in him to try to lie. They both know that Harry’s disappeared inside of his head – inside of a memory - quite a few times this week. Frankly, it’s a bloody mind trip to see how concerned Draco gets over him when it happens. He understands, objectively. This version of Draco didn’t start out their relationship with a bad, snooty impression and a bit of bullying. This version of Harry didn’t slam the proverbial door in Draco’s face. Objectively, he gets that without that initial conflict they are both very different people and their relationship is something completely different.

Plus, you know, he's actively trying to befriend Draco. 

Still, it’s confusing.

Because every time he sees Draco worry over him he also sees the other boy trying to knock him off his broom, or sabotaging his potions, or petrifying him and stomping on his face, or…

Well.

It’s just bloody exhausting.

“I’m fine, Draco,” he repeats, feeling an unexpectedly fond smile tug at the corner of his mouth. “It’s just… it’s been a long week. Everything,” he waves a hand in general indication of the castle around and above them, “is a bit much to take in. It’s brilliant,” he hastens to add at the further furrowing of Draco’s forehead, “but it’s a lot. And so much more than I’d ever thought I’d see.”

His words don’t have the reassuring affect on Draco that he’d hoped. Instead, the other boy only stares at him even more closely, his lips pressed into a thin white line. “You didn’t eat much at breakfast,” he finally mutters and shoves something into Harry’s hand, “eat this so you don’t fall over again.”

Harry blinks and looks down.

It’s a chocolate frog, somewhat squished from being shoved into a pocket or the bottom of a bag. Harry sighs. He can’t even grumble about it because he literally fell over and had spent five minutes curled up into a ball and hyperventilating into his knees during their first practical Astronomy lesson.

Professor Sinistra had wanted him to go to see Madam Pomfrey. Harry had argued that his blood sugar was just low and that he needed a snack because what else was he supposed to say? Oh, don't mind me. I'm just remembering how Professor Snape had to kill the Headmaster while I hid under an invisibility cloak and watched. Yeah. No. Sinistra hadn’t looked like she believed him but she had given up on making him leave after a worried looking Hannah had shoved half a cauldron cake into his hands.

He rather suspects that all of their little train compartment formed group now carries small snacks and sweets shoved in their pockets (see: the chocolate frog currently clutched in his hand) and Harry can’t decide if it is sweet that they care or annoying that they think he’s going to collapse at any bloody moment.

Probably a bit of both.

 “Thanks.”

Draco shrugs. “Please, if I let you fall over then people would say it was my fault and that I’d tried to murder the Boy Who Lived.”

Harry would laugh except for the fact that the rumor mill has churned out the idea that Draco – or his father, Harry really isn’t quite sure – has Harry under an imperio and that is why he is in Slytherin.

“People are idiots,” he mutters and tears open the packaging.

“Of course, they are,” Draco agrees blandly, sticking his nose in the air like the proud little ponce that he is. Harry smiles at the familiarity of it and then nearly walks into a wall at the warm fondness that curls through him at the gesture instead of the typical flush of annoyance and anger.

Mental, he thinks as he waves off Draco’s concerned hands. I’ve lost my bloody mind.

He bites off the head of the frog and then hastily shoves the rest of it into his bag. He knows better than to have food out in Snape’s classroom and he’d really rather get through his first potions class without dying, thank you very much.

Harry makes sure to smile and wave to Neville as he sits down at the worktable across the aisle from the round-faced boy, completely unsurprised as Draco slides into the seat next to him. Hermione is already sitting next to Neville. She’s got a stack of books, her wand, her potions kit, and a sheaf of parchment with a quill already laid out in front of her.

“Put your wands away.”

The whispering curl of Snape’s voice around the classroom is enough to make the entire Slytherins side snap to attention, their wands already safely secured in their bags, and send the Gryffindor students scrambling to do as asked. The door at the back of the classroom slams with an ominous bang and Snape sweeps down the center aisle in long, graceful strides, his robes fluttering behind him.

Harry bites down to keep from smiling.

“Now,” he says once he has taken roll – without any snide comments, Harry is pleased to note, “You are here to learn the subtle and exact art of potion making. As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through humans veins, betwitching the mind, ensnaring the senses…” he trails off for a moment and lets his dark gaze move over the students who are all staring at him like a frightened rabbit might watch a hunting dog– with the exception of Hermione, who is busy writing down every word he says, for Merlin’s sake – and lets his focus stop on Harry.

Harry swallows and very, very carefully looks just to the inside of his eyes instead of meeting that cutting, all seeing gaze.

“I can teach you how to bottle fame,” Snape murmurs and Harry catches the faint curl of amusement there at the corner of his mouth, “brew glory, even stopper death…” And Harry feels the words like a punch to the gut because he didn’t. He didn’t put a stopper in death. He died, died practically in Harry’s arms with everyone thinking him a traitor and a coward and…

Harry shuts his eyes and takes a careful breath.

“ – if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach,” Snape drawls.

… and there he is. Harry nearly laughs in relief.

He doesn’t but it’s a close thing.

“Mr. Potter!”

He tenses in his seat. “Yes sir?” He says cautiously.

He’d expected this, of course, but he’d hoped…

“What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

Harry swallows the lump in his throat even as part of him laughs at the sight of Hermione’s hand shooting into the air. “The Draught of Living Death,” he answers carefully. “It’s a sleeping potion.”

Snape lifts an eyebrow. “Correct,” he murmurs silkily, sounding surprised and… pleased? Harry blinks. He doesn’t think Snape has ever been pleased with him before. Not unless he's counting the time the professor thought he would get to expel Ron and Harry for driving a car into the Whomping Willow, which he doesn't. “Two points to Slytherin. Mr. Malfoy," he continues and Harry sighs in relief as the attention of the brilliant, cutting professor turns elsewhere. "Where might I find a bezoar?”

Draco smirks. “In the stomach of a goat, sir.”

A smirk of his own curls across Snape’s lips.

Huh, Harry thinks. I see it now.

Correct. Two points to Slytherin. And what does a bezoar do, Miss Greengrass?”

“It is a general antidote to most poisons.”

“Very good. Two more points to Slytherin. Mr. Weasley,” Snape whirls on the other side of the room with a snap of his robes and Ron flinches back so quickly that his seat rattles and nearly falls over. “Tell me, if you can, what is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?”

“Um…” Ron squirms in his seat. “Um. One is a piece of clothing?”

Oh, Ron.

Beside him Draco coughs to hide his laughter and Snape sneers, “Five points from Gryffindor for not preparing for class.”

“But…”

“…and five points for talking back to a teacher,” Snape continues on with that crook of his eyebrow and set of his jaw that says that he can do this all fucking day, just try me. Ron, purple in the face but clearly seeing the wisdom of keeping his mouth shut, flops down into his seat with a huff and glares at the table in front of him. “Now, can anyone else tell me what the difference is between monkshood and wolfsbane? Or are you all complete nitwits?”

Hermione, by this point, has her hand raised so high in the air that Harry’s surprised that she’s not levitating, vibrating at the edge of her chair in her effort to gain Snape’s attention. When he’d been her housemate Harry had just wanted the man to call on her. Obviously, she knew the answer and if Snape would just ask her then he’d stop picking on Harry. But looking at her now, from the other side of the room he almost wants to curl up under the desk from secondhand embarrassment.

Look. Hermione had been/is/would be, maybe his friend. She hadn’t always been a very good one, though she definitely tried, and their priorities are wildly different but she’d been loyal (which is more than he can say for Ron) and she’d saved his ass enough that he probably, technically, owes her a slew of Life Debts. But she’s also desperate: desperate to fit in, to prove herself, to be the best and brightest and have everyone acknowledge her brilliance. And she is brilliant, she is, but she’s also arrogant and brash and so fucking stubborn that it makes Harry’s teeth itch.

And really, Harry calling someone stubborn is like the ocean describing something as wet.

All in all…it’s not a great combination for a twelve year old. And Harry would know.

So watching her squirm in her seat with her hand shoved in the air until she resembles a half-grown puppy trying to perform a sloppy rendition of sit-lay down-roll over for every person it comes across in the hopes that said person will throw it a treat (or a piece of dryer lint, or something, anything) is not just mortifying but it actually hurts to watch.

He makes a note to talk to her. If he can. If for no other reason than past-future Hermione would have loved to have someone speak to her and help her fit in.

Snape spares her a glance and she practically falls off of her seat in excitement. He sneers, his eyes flicking to the side. “Mr. Longbottom?”

Neville freezes and turns a truly impressive shade of white.

C’mon, Neville, Harry thinks, caught in the kaleidoscope vantage of seeing his entire world, his entire life spiral into something completely different if he but nudges the trajectory.

“M-monkshood a-a-and w-wolfsbane are the…the s-same thing,” Neville stutters out without looking up. “It’s…it’s h-highly t-toxic and a-also called a-a-aconite.”

For the second time in five minutes Harry gets to see Snape look surprised and pleased.

First at him, now at Neville.

This is how the world ends. Harry is sure of it.

“Well, at least one of you is not completely incompetent,” Snape drawls, his pointed glare to the red and gold side of the room leaving no room for misinterpretation. “One point to Gryffindor for actually managing to open the correct book. Now, why isn’t everyone writing this down?”

The rest of the class is uneventful. Snape spends the hours swooping and prowling from one side of the classroom to the next, barking out corrections and awarding and detracting points for a handful of successes (Slytherin’s) or failures (Gryffindor’s) and Neville… Neville doesn’t melt his cauldron. Or make anything blow up. His Boil Curing Potion is definitely not perfect – Harry would rather swim naked in the Black Lake in February (oh, wait…) than put it on any part of his body – but he does actually have a finished product that he can put in a potions vial and bring up to the front of the classroom to place on Snape’s desk.

Harry beams at him and Neville turns pink but smiles in return as he stands off to the side, waiting while Harry turns in his own potion.

“Mr. Potter,” Snape’s drawl makes Harry pause and look up at the man now seated behind the desk, a quill filled with familiar red ink held in his hand and the carnage of some other year’s first week’s essays sitting in front of him.

“Yes sir?”

“Do not forget our appointment this evening.”

Harry swallows nervously because he’d really, really rather forget about the whole thing but he’d taken Travers at his word (not that he’d needed to. He has six years of experience to show him just how bad of a plan pissing off Snape is) and obligingly signed up for his beginning of the year physical.

He’d picked the very last slot available but still, inevitably, the day had arrived.

Merlin, he’s going to be sick.

“Of course,” he agrees, hoping that he isn’t as pale as he suddenly feels. “Eight o’clock at the Infirmary. I remember.”

“See that you do,” Snape agrees and with that, he slashes a big red line through a full foot of parchment and writes a big, glaring T at the top of the essay.

It’s all a little too foreboding for Harry’s nerves so, with a respectful dip of his head, he turns tail and flees.

And by flees, he means he lets Neville and Draco herd him to lunch.

Chapter Text

You voluntarily walked to your death, Harry reminds himself as he stares at the double doors leading into the hospital wing. You have thrown yourself headlong into dangerous, potentially fatal adventures with little thought. It should not be that hard to simply walk in there and get this over with.

Initially, he had put his name down for the very last appointment slot on the signup sheet simply because he wanted as much time between him and this moment as possible. It had seemed like a smart idea at the time. It, supposedly, gave him time to think and prepare himself. Really, it just meant that he’d spent the entire week quietly freaking out. Part of him is worried about being discovered. The goblins had known that he is a time traveler. His temporal displacement had been written in his blood for everyone to see. Had it just been goblin magic that allowed them to discover it? Or is it going to show up on whatever Madam Pomfrey does to him? He doesn’t know enough about magic to know and if it shows up… well. He has no illusions that it will end well.

So there’s that.

But if he’s being honest with himself, he’s mostly just scared that people will know.

He’d only ever really told one person in his first life, besides Dumbledore, how the Dursleys had treated him. The Weasleys had suspected, he is sure, especially when he had gathered up the courage to ask if they would send baskets of food during the summer. Still, almost all of what had arrived had been treats – candies, cakes, and cookies – so he doubts that Mrs. Weasley ever realized that he wasn’t being fed. She probably just assumed that his relatives were health nuts like Hermione’s parents or something. Fred and George had definitely realized something was up but they’d also had to break bars off of his window and pick locks to get at his school things, which had resided in the cupboard under the stairs where there had still been a faded, worn sign proclaiming it “Harry’s Room”.

Even Dumbledore had gotten the watered-down version, just enough for Harry to feel out if the Headmaster would consider taking him from there. He wonders if the Order members that had been assigned to watch over him the last few years ever realized anything was wrong. Or if they, like the Headmaster, had thought it an acceptable price to pay for whatever protection the blood wards gave him.

He had only ever told Hermione. Even then the confession had only come out in bits and pieces as they huddled together in the tent with a painful gnawing in their stomachs.

And now others are going to know. Snape is going to know.

Oh, Merlin, he’s going to be sick.

Somewhere in the room behind them a clock begins to strike the hour and Harry sighs. If he doesn’t go in now Snape will filet him and use his entrails for potions ingredients. Probably. Or at least stick him in detention for the rest of forever.

Gathering the frayed remnants of his Gryffindor courage he takes a deep breath, squares his shoulders, and walks through the doors.

The hospital wing is silent.

Harry supposes that’s a good thing. Silence means that there isn’t anyone else here. It means that there won’t be a new wealth of rumors following him around school tomorrow. It means that there isn’t anyone to notice if things go terribly, horribly wrong in the next five minutes.

He goes straight to where Snape is standing at the foot of the bed directly next to Madam Pomfrey’s office, arriving just as the clock strikes eight.

“Mr. Potter, so pleased you could join us,” Snape drawls, crooking an eyebrow that tacks the word finally onto that statement so loudly that Harry swears he can hear it. It’s then that he notices Madam Pomfrey is standing somewhat behind him and to the side of the bed. She’s got a file open and is writing something on a piece of parchment.

Harry swallows and twists his hands in the folds of his robes. “Sorry for keeping you waiting, sir,” he murmurs and the look Snape gives him at that is slightly incredulous but he’s too nervous to point out that he is, in fact, exactly on time. He’s too nervous to do much beside stand there in front of his head of house, who – in his swathe of black robes and unamused looking face – looks rather like how Harry might have pictured Death, and try to not shift pathetically from one foot to the other.

Madam Pomfrey looks up at the sound of his voice, a welcoming smile lighting up her face. It’s a new experience for Harry. He’s not sure he’s ever seen her smile at him like this. Usually, depending on the situation, she looks at him in distress or with fond exasperation. Both of which are followed up by the inevitable, stern, no nonsense you will stay in that bed Mr. Potter, so help me look when he insists that he’s fine, really, and can he go back to Gryffindor tower?

“There you are Mr. Potter,” she greets cheerfully as she bustles around Snape. “It is a pleasure to meet you. I’m Madam Pomfrey and I’m the mediwitch here at Hogwarts.”

“Er… hello.”

“Now, I notice your file is empty. Did you have any paperwork from a private healer to give to me?” She asks politely and gives him an expectant look.

Harry swallows roughly. Opens his mouth. Shuts it. Swallows again. “I’ve never been to a healer,” he finally gets out.

The matron stares at him for a few moments before understanding flashes across her face. “Of course, dear, of course,” she says, bobbing her head and motioning him closer to the bed. “The Headmaster said that you had been raised by muggle relatives.” Beside him Snape goes unbearably, unnaturally still and it takes everything Harry possesses not to turn and look at the man’s face, curious at the reaction. Did he not know? Surely, he had to. Who else could Harry possibly be living with? All of his other relatives are dead. “But did your doctor send anything? Or will your relatives be sending it later?”

 “Er. No. They…”

“Oh, that’s fine dear,” she continues over top of him, though now there’s a pinched look on her face that makes Harry think that no, it’s really not all that fine. “Do you happen to remember when you had your last vaccination? Even just knowing the month would be enough. Some of those muggle vaccinations can be aggravated by certain magical procedures and...”

“I’ve never been,” Harry breaks in, unable to take the kindly prattle for another second. Bloody hell, he’s never heard the woman talk so much in his life. Of course, he’s only ever seen her after perilous situations when she’s busy saving his arse and/or regrowing his bones. “To a doctor,” he adds, in case that isn’t obvious.

To his surprise it’s Snape’s silken drawl that demands an answer. “What do you mean, you’ve never been?”

Taking a deep breath, Harry tips his head and looks up at Snape. The man’s mouth is pressed into a thin, unhappy line and he looks about as pale as the last time Harry had seen him in his first life. Which, considering the potions master had just had his throat torn out and he’d hemorrhaged all over the Shrieking Shack’s floor, is pretty damn pale.

Think, he reminds himself, don’t just react.

So he looks Snape in the face (focuses just at the edge of his eyebrow as it dips towards his nose) and tests the waters, “Aunt Petunia said that fr…people like me didn’t need doctors.”

And it had been true enough, after a fashion. His magic had seen to that.

As a child, before Hogwarts (before he knew he was a wizard) he had thought it completely normal to be able to live for a week (or more) with only a single bottle of water to drink. As a child, he had thought it normal that he never got the flu, that he never had a fever, that despite the fact that he wasn’t fed or clothed and had never owned a proper coat in his life that he never got so much as a sniffle or anything more than a slight scratching sensation in his lungs. It had been normal, for him, to cry himself to sleep with a dislocated shoulder and wake up with it popped back into place. He hadn’t thought it odd that no matter how much something hurt or how empty his stomach was that he could get up and keep going.

Well, no, that’s not true. It had been odd. Abnormal. Freakish. And he had known that.

But he is a Freak, so freakish things were to be expected.

Or so his five-year-old self had reasoned.

Snape’s face – well, just his eyes really and the corners of his mouth – goes through a whole range of emotions faster that Harry can process. “She did, did she?” he murmurs in a voice cold enough to make steel snap and Harry shivers, wincing beneath the weight of memories that it brings bearing down on him.

“Yeah,” he says, because he gets the feeling that the question isn’t rhetorical – questions from Snape rarely are. “She did.”

“I see.”

Snape and Madam Pomfrey exchange glances over his head that he pretends not to notice. They’re the type of looks that are entire conversations contained in nothing more than flickers of eyelids and twitches of lips. The sort of conversation that go over the heads of most children. Both literally and figuratively.

At the end of it Snape rather looks like he had that night on the Astronomy Tower in those last, terrible minutes as Albus Dumbledore had commanded his own death.

Severus…please.

Harry nearly jumps out of his skin when Madam Pomfrey’s hand lands on his shoulder and she retracts it almost immediately with a gentle apology.

“On the bed, Mr. Potter.”

Harry jerks his head unsteadily and takes another deep breath as he moves for the bed. His hands are shaking, just a little, as he sets them on the familiar crisp white sheets. “Do I need to take off my clothes?”

“That won’t be necessary Mr. Potter. I will just be performing a basic diagnosis charm. It can take a minute or two so you might as well be comfortable,” the matron explains, giving the bed a little encouraging pat.

“Okay.”

Godric would have liked you, Harry reminds himself with a mental slap, and you spent six bloody years being the best lion you could be so get up on the bloody bed!

Once he’s on the bed, fingers clenched in his lap, Madam Pomfrey casts the diagnostic spell in two short flicks and a jab of her wand. The magic of it tingles against Harry’s skin, millions of little pinpricks leaving his entire body feeling like a limb regaining blood flow.

“Hmm, a little anemic,” the mediwitch murmurs to herself, “and…” she trails off. Lips pressed tightly together she shoots Snape a look that he’s pretty sure eleven-year-old him is not supposed to notice.

  Beside him Snape drifts closer to the bed, a living black wall that towers over him. It should make him fell afraid, he thinks, or at least nervous. Snape spent six years of his life being an absolute bastard to him, spent six years doing his seemingly level best to make Harry absolutely miserable. He’s ripped his way inside Harry’s head and, even before that, he knew exactly how to find the pressure points, the cracks in Harry’s armor and press them until they bleed. So the fact that he’s looming at Harry’s side with as much subtlety as an unhappy dragon should probably make Harry at least a little nervous. And it does, somewhere, he’s sure. But Snape is also the man that threw himself between Harry and a freshly transformed werewolf. He’s a bastard, yes, but he’s also a man who probably knows the mix of fear and hope and shame churning in Harry’s gut and is probably smart enough to spot it.

So instead of tensing in fear, instead of shrinking away, Harry feels something calm at the man’s presence. Some tight, coiled thing unrolling in his shoulders and easing down until he no longer feels like he’s about to snap like an elastic stretched too far.

Snape will probably always be a bit of a bastard. He’s earned that right, Harry thinks. But he’s also the man who continually lied right to Voldemort’s face, lied about everything he is, and got away with it. Harry doesn’t regret – and hasn’t regretted – his choice in that wispy, beard-white limbo but if he regrets one thing, just one, it’s that he never got to throw Snape’s brilliance in Voldemort’s face. He never got to stand there and rip the mask away, never got to tell what remained of Tom Riddle that Snape had always been Dumbledore’s man (that he’d always been Harry’s). He never got to see the Dark Lord’s face as he realized that Severus Snape had bested him.

It would have been something to see, Harry is sure of it.

So regardless of what is happening or what might happen in the next two seconds Harry trusts that, one way or another, Snape will protect him.

The realization is enough to make Harry quietly ask, “Is something wrong?” as Madam Pomfrey makes some sort of complicated twirl with her wand that ends with her jabbing the tip in the direction of the parchment she had been writing on earlier and words bloom across its surface.

“There’s a few unusual readings, dear. I would like to do a more in-depth diagnostic,” she tells him and tries to smile reassuringly but it is thin and flat and really not very reassuring at all. “May I?”

Harry just gives her a jerk of his head, not trusting himself to speak.

Another flick of her wand and the tingling sensation is back, buzzing in his ears and making his tongue tingle as the magic of it presses in on him.

Madam Pomfrey looks decidedly displeased with whatever the spell is telling her.

Harry swallows.

“Well,” she says after a moment. “There are some… complications.” And Harry feels his stomach sink.

“Complications?” Snape repeats and Madam Pomfrey appears just as aware as Harry that his words are a demand and nothing less.

The matron looks at Harry, staring at his face with her lips pressed into a thin, unhappy line and her shoulders slumped. She doesn’t want to tell him, he realizes suddenly. She doesn’t want to say whatever it is out loud.

“Madam,” Snape prompts sharply and the Matron jumps ever so slightly before turning to the Potions Master.

“He is anemic and showing a severe deficiency of Calcium, Vitamin D, and quite a few other necessary things – all of which are indicative of severe, chronic malnutrition. He is exhibiting beginning signs of organ failure. His bones are brittle and there is obvious stunting to his growth, though not as much as I’d expect, and a slight curvature to his spine,” the mediwitch rattles off tersely. “Bone restructuring indicates multiple healed fractures in both of his forearms and wrists. There is evidence of frequent, repeated dislocations to his shoulders and multiple concussions. His eyesight is terrible and he is exhibiting a twenty-three percent hearing loss in his left ear.” She stops and inhales sharply, shooting Harry a horribly sad, apologetic look. “It’s… it is a miracle that he’s even walking, Severus,” she finally exclaims before she turns to Harry and adds, “And I apologize, Harry for speaking to Professor Snape instead of you. It is your body and your health and you deserve the respect of me addressing you about it.”

Harry blinks.

“Er… that’s alright.”

The matron reaches out like she wants to pat Harry’s knee – like another version of her has many, many times before – but stops herself before her hand can actually land. “It is not, Mr. Potter. Your medical information is yours and you should expect your privacy on the matter to be maintained.”

He blinks some more, feeling more than a little off-balance at Pomfrey’s words. Because, well, honestly he’s familiar with the whole doctor-patient confidentiality thing. Objectively. He’d had it waved in his face when he’d tried to get status reports on various friends and pseudo family members over the years but, like so many other things, it had seemed to be something that only applied to other people. It certainly had never applied to him before.

“Now, forgive me Mr. Potter, but I must be blunt,” she says and pauses, waiting until he nods unsteadily before she continues. “These are some very serious health issues. Your body is very, very unwell and has been for quite some time. Normally, I would need to contact your guardians but you are exhibiting several common indicators of abuse.” The mediwitch pauses and takes a deep breath. “Mr. Potter, do your guardians mistreat you?”

Yes.

The obvious, correct answer is yes. Yes they do bloody well mistreat him.

But…

But… do they?

Harry stares at the mediwitch, at the woman that has nursed him through comas and regrown his bones, and is absolutely flummoxed by the simple question.

Because they do. Mistreat him. Of course, they do. Harry knows that. Harry knows that throwing a child into a dark, stuffy cupboard and making them go days without food or only giving them stale bread and making them cook your breakfast and clean your toilets and dragging them around by their arms and screaming at them until you’re purple in the face is bad. He knows. He knows that that isn’t the way children should be treated.

But…

That’s the way that Harry has always been treated.

That’s the way that everyone treats Harry because Harry isn’t a child. Harry has never been a child. Not since his parents died, anyway. He has always been The Boy Who Lived and sure, yes, it’s fine to send him Christmas gifts and birthday presents. It’s good to include him on a family holiday or invite him over from Christmas dinner but when it’s all done, when the moment is over then they just put him back in his place (put him back in the cupboard) until the next time they want to trot him out again.

Because it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t matter, does he? He’s just the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One. He’s a weapon to kill Voldemort and that’s the only use anyone has for him. He’s not a person. He’s an icon. He’s public property. He doesn’t even belong to himself.

And Harry…

He’s been abused. He knows, objectively, he knows. He’s been abused and mistreated his whole life and all he has to do is open his mouth and say it. In some distant corner of his mind he can feel himself screaming it over and over and over: Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! But his mouth is frozen, his tongue is fuzzy, his throat is swollen and he can’t… he can’t…

Snape lets out a loud sigh that sounds mysteriously like, “Honestly, Poppy” and Harry jumps half a foot in the air and nearly falls off the bed only for Snape to stop him with a quick flick of his wand that sends him back to the safety of the mattress.

“Mr. Potter.”

Harry turns to look at him and for a moment, just a moment, he stares the man straight in the eyes. “Yes sir?” he manages to make the words come out.

“I am going to describe a scenario and I want you to tell me – yes or no – if that is how your homelife is like. That is all. Just yes or no. I do not want to hear any other words coming out of your mouth right now, is that clear?”

Harry nods. “Yes sir.”

Snape eyes him for a moment and Harry doesn’t understand the look on his face. Snape has never looked at him like that before.

No.

That’s a lie.

He looks at Harry like he did when he was dying. After he had given his memories, after his last duty had been discharged, after he had given it his all – he’d looked at Harry and Harry had thought that this, this was the first time that Severus Snape had ever looked at him properly.

“There is a boy who lives with his family. Not his mum and dad like most kids, but with his aunt and uncle. They do not like him very much. They yell at him, sometimes, and call him names. They get frustrated when he doesn’t do what they want or when he gets in their way. They don’t want to wait. They like to grab him by his arm and yank him around so that he moves faster, so that he gets out of their way. Sometimes they throw him instead of pull him. Yes or no?”

Harry swallows.

“Just a yes or a no,” Snape reminds him firmly, if more gently than Harry is used to. “Or if that is too difficult for you to manage simply nod or shake your head.”

Harry inhales sharply.

“Yes.”

“This boy doesn’t get to eat very much. Other children get three meals a day but not him. He knows what it is like to go to sleep with his stomach twisting in his gut. He knows what it is like to be so hungry that his body just gives up and doesn’t feel hungry any more. When he gets food he eats as much as he can but it makes his stomach hurt too. If he eats too much, too quickly he throws it up.”

Harry nods, blinking back the burning feeling that’s beginning to gather at the corner of his eyes. “Yes,” he whispers.

“This boy, he knows that sometimes other people don’t have enough food to have three meals a day. He’s heard about them at school or on the telly but it is not like that at his house. At his house it is only he that goes hungry. Everyone else gets to eat every day. His aunt and uncle tell the boy that he can only have food if earns it but no matter how hard he tries he almost never succeeds. His aunt and uncle might throw away more food than he ever gets to eat. Yes or no?”

 “Yes,” he finally answers after a long, heavy pause. He stares at his lap, unable to look either adult in the face.

The room is silent except for the sound of his own blood rushing in his ears.

“Thank you, Mr. Potter,” Snape tells him and part of Harry wants to laugh. It figures that the only time Snape would thank him is now, after he’s as good as told the man that his relatives like to starve him and toss him around like a rag doll. “I know that must have been difficult for you.”

It’s not a slight against his intelligence, Harry realizes after a rather muddied moment. Snape actually means it.

“I should inform the Headmaster…”

“No.” Harry speaks before he thinks, an instantaneous, knee-jerk reaction to Madam Pomfrey’s proposed course of action. “No,” he repeats, shaking his head frantically as something wells up inside of him. Like watching water boil it begins with one bubble, and then another, rising, faster and faster and faster until he can feel his heart pounding with it. “You can’t.”

She can’t.

And suddenly, instantly, Harry is very, very angry.

So angry that he is filled to the overflowing with it. So angry that he can feel it like an electrical shock in his fingertips. So angry that all he wants to do is open his mouth and scream and scream and scream

In his fifth year, he had looked Dumbledore in the face and been consumed with such a rage that he thought he might actually reach over and wrap his hands around the old man’s throat and squeeze. At the time, he hadn’t the foggiest idea where it had come from but now, he thinks, now he understands. And there’s a part of him, a crazy, irrational part that wants to turn and flee – a part of him that wants to go bang on Professor Quirrell’s door and yell at the face on the back of the man’s head. He wants to throw his hands up and scream to someone that understands.

“Mr. Potter, school policy recommends that I inform …”

“No!” Harry cuts her off again and just like that he feels all of his hard-won control lost, all of his calm rationality shattered and he has to get up, he has to move. He can’t take it again. He can’t take standing in front of Dumbledore and being told that it’s a necessary evil. That his safety from Death Eaters and Voldemort’s wraith is more important than his day-to-day physical wellbeing.  He’s up out of the bed before he can stop himself, fingers fisted so tightly in the front of Snape’s robes that his hands ache from the tension. “You can’t tell Dumbledore,” he begs of the other man. “You can’t!”

“Mr. Potter…!” Madam Pomfrey sounds like she’s about to order him back to bed and Snape is going to yell, Harry just knows it. He’s going to call Harry a selfish, arrogant dunderhead and take off a hundred house points…

Except he doesn’t.

Snape is as still as a statue as he stares down his nose at him, eyes widened in surprise at Harry’s sudden and unexpected assault. “And why not?”

“Because he’s the one who left me there!”

Oh, Harry thinks distantly as he stares at the line of buttons down the front of Snape’s robes. Oh.

He had spent the last month coming to terms with the knowledge that Albus Dumbledore had constantly kept him in the dark, that the man had manipulated his life or failed to step in when he should have in an effort to pit Harry against the Dark Lord again and again and again. He’s tried to come to terms with the fact that the man he had once viewed as a surrogate grandfather ultimately not only orchestrated his death but set it up in such a fashion that he knew Harry would have no choice but to go to it.

He’s tried to make his heart understand that Dumbledore might have cared about him but that ultimately, he cared about beating Tom Riddle more.

Dumbledore had rebuked the Dursleys only once for their treatment of Harry. Even then it had only been after his time there was up, in the moment before Dumbledore had whisked him away to entice Slughorn out of retirement. Only in the final hour, after their purpose had been nearly exhausted, did the Headmaster retract his tacit permission for the way they treated Harry.

Prior to this moment he had never thought to address the fact that Dumbledore had placed him with the Dursleys, that he had sent him back there again and again. That… that might have been a bloody big oversight on his part, a detached part of Harry admits.

The moment Harry had woken up on Dudley’s birthday for the second time and then walked out the door of Number Four Privet Drive he knew he would never be going back. He hadn’t been sure how, exactly, he would manage it, but he knew he would never go back there. There isn’t a force on this earth that can make him darken the doorway of Number Four ever again so it hadn’t occurred to him to think about the years that he had already spent there.

But now he is.

Bollocks.

“He left me there,” Harry repeats and sucks in a shaky breath, trying to calm the spike of rage that he can feel like a literal spear shoved up his throat until it pierces the roof of his mouth. Distantly he can hear the sound of glass breaking and he knows that’s him. That’s the force of his anger and his hurt moving through the room like a separate, living thing. Harry sucks in another breath and tries to walk himself through the breathing exercises that Hermione had drummed into his head while trying (and mostly failing) to teach him to meditate. He realizes that he’s still got his hands fisted in Snape’s clothes and that’s… awkward. And grounds enough for Snape to quietly plot his murder. Which he’ll get away with, of course, because he’s Snape. He lets go abruptly and stumbles backwards, fingers still curled into tense little talons.

“When I was a baby. He left me on the doorstep with nothing but a blanket and a note and Aunt Petunia didn’t know a thing until she opened the door in the morning and found me lying there.” It all comes out in a terrible rush. He can’t get the words out fast enough. He can’t bear the idea that they don’t believe him or – possibly worse – will let it be swept under the rug again.

Because that had to have happened, he realizes. He has never been in the Hospital Wing for something as mundane as a physical before but he had been a semi-regular fixture in this vaulted, airy room for the duration of his stay at Hogwarts and he wonders, now that he’s thinking about it, why no one has had this discussion with him before.

Probably because in absence of a responsible adult Madam Pomfrey took her concerns to the Headmaster as school policy apparently dictates. The manipulative bastard.

 “You can’t really suggest that he just…”

“It’s not a suggestion!” Harry barks out, hands clenching into uncomfortable fists as he glares at the matron. “I’m not lying! Aunt Petunia likes to tell me all the time about how I ruined their perfect, normal life by being dumped on their doorstop with nothing but a note!”

He backs into the bed hard enough to rattle it and the sound is enough to make him jump, wincing away from an attack that never comes.

Merlin, he’s losing his mind.

Harry inhales until his chest burns with it and lets it out slowly.

Once.

Twice.

Thrice.

Think, don’t just react, he tells himself and scrambles for the threads of his control. He can’t let it all come undone now.

“I’m not lying,” he repeats lowly, fiercely. “I’m not.”

“I know,” Snape replies instantly, his voice filled with a quiet defeat.

He can’t bring himself to look up, can’t bring himself to see whatever might be written on either of their faces but that doesn’t stop him from quietly begging, “Please don’t tell him.”

“I won’t.”

Harry swallows harshly and stands next to the bed in the infirmary feeling rather like a drowned kitten, the blinding panic and rage rushing away in the face of Snape’s acknowledgement. Suddenly he wants nothing more than to go away and hide. He wants to crawl inside of his trunk and into his nest of blankets and curl of with Inigo. He wants the world to go away. He wants to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

 He wants to pretend that he doesn’t exist.

Blinking rapidly against the sudden well of tears threatening to spill down his face Harry hunches his shoulders and wraps an arm around his stomach.

“Neither will I,” Madam Pomfrey’s voice is soft and reassuring. He doesn’t trust it, not when less than five minutes ago she had jumped straight to thinking he was lying to her because his story disparaged the Headmaster but it’s reassuring all the same. “School policy strongly recommends that I take any concerns to the Headmaster but legally, I am only required to submit my suspicions to your Head of House, which I have done so. The next course of action is up to him.” She takes a deep breath and looks at him. “Forgive me, Mr. Potter. Once again I find myself distracted when I should be focused on doing my job.” Harry must look as confused as he feels because she once again reaches out like she’s going to pat him but stops, her hand hovering awkwardly in mid air before she pats the bed next to him instead. “Healing,” she says gently, “and discussing your treatment plan.”

Treatment… plan.

Harry stares.

He is staring.

He doesn’t… he doesn’t understand.

Which can truthfully be applied to a lot in his life. Really. But this seems rather straightforward and it just…

“Treatment plan,” he repeats carefully, hoping that it will make more sense if he says it out loud.

It doesn’t.

“Well, yes,” Madam Pomfrey replies, sounding perplexed. “You can’t have thought I would just leave you like this?”

Harry doesn’t answer that because he thinks the question is probably rhetorical but also because, yes, he had. What is there to do? He’s scrawny and underfed. That will go away, eventually, with regular meals and the exercise of moving around a place larger than the yard of Number Four. He doesn’t have any injuries for her to heal as he made his escape from the Dursleys before Uncle Vernon could get particularly angry again and drag him around a bit before throwing him into his cupboard. Honestly, the largest hurt he’s suffered since he woke up in this life was the ache in his arm from the not-scuffle with Ron in the entrance hall – and that had gone away by the time he went to bed!

He also has no intention of joining the quidditch team as a first year, confronting the troll, or battling a possessed Quirrell for the Sorcerer’s Stone so he had expected his interactions with the mediwitch to be minimal this year. In fact, where it not for this mandatory physical he would not have expected to see her at all.

Madam Pomfrey sighs loud enough to draw his attention from his thoughts. “As I said before, you are very ill. To put it bluntly: your physical body is literally being powered by your magical core. You have severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Your bones are brittle. You are in the beginning stages of organ failure. You are lucky that you appear to be so powerful because you have a great deal of magic to devote to perpetually healing and supporting yourself. I do not want to scare you but I must make clear the seriousness of this situation: without your magic it is likely you would have died some time ago.”

He knows this, of course, had even thought it as he walked through the infirmary doors but it’s one thing to know it and another to have the mediwitch that’s put him back together at least a half dozen times say it to him.

Even then though…

Everything feels simultaneously fuzzy and crystal clear, his focus narrowed to the words coming out of Madam Pomfrey’s mouth and the way Snape stands next to him: not close enough to feel threatening  but close enough that Harry can feel the heat of him against his clammy skin. Everything else is just… there. A mix of blurred lights and colors and noise revolving around the fixed point of his position. An entire existence whirling around him while he stand there, empty.

He had felt this way when he walked into the Forest, never to walk out again.

 “Thankfully, much of what is wrong can be alleviated or reversed through a specially formulated diet, some regular physical therapy, and a rather extensive potion regimen,” she continues, shooting a look at Snape who nods in response to her unasked question.

“Provide me with a list and I will see that it gets made… and taken,” the look they both give Harry makes it clear that neither one of them will hear protests on this subject. Not that he is going to offer them. For starters, he’s not that stupid but mostly he’s not sure he could open his mouth even if he wanted to. His mind may still be running a thousand miles a minute beneath his unruly thatch of hair but his limbs are like lead. Even the barest of movements seems like too much effort and truthfully, he doesn’t want to move. He wants to hold still, to curl up, to cease to exist.

To hold so still that everything passes him by, never to bother him again.

“It will be unpleasant,” Madam Pomfrey tells him frankly and the sound of her voice is like an explosion going off in his ears. He flinches, minutely, but he knows that Snape sees. “You will need to take specially formulated nutrient potions, bone strengthening solution, muscle regenerative, an appetite stimulator, and a stomach soother just to start. The bone strengthening solution in particular will likely cause cold sweats, body aches, and headaches so you’ll likely need to take Pepper Up and Headache Relief in moderation. The muscle regenerative will cause spasms and a frequent tightness. A daily exercise regime and soaking in a warmth bath will help, as will the salve I’ll give you. I will give you a mild Pain Relief Potion if it is needed but it mixes badly with the appetite stimulator so I would rather you hold off as much as you can.”

Harry wants to tell her that it’s not going to be a problem. He’s had a bloody basilisk fang through his arm and spent years with Voldemort trying to make his head burst like a melon, not to mention been under the man’s very heartfelt Cruciatus. Mere muscle tightness and pain is nothing. That’s just what follows an Oliver Wood run quidditch practice.

But he doesn’t.

Too much effort.

But he thinks she probably gets it anyway.

“So all that,” he says slowly, once it becomes painfully, glaringly obvious that she expects him to actually say something, “and I’ll be… fixed?”

Harry can’t help sounding skeptical. It’s not that it sounds like an easy fix, exactly, but it’s certainly not a difficult one and while he realizes that Dumbledore ultimately probably didn’t give a flying fuck about Harry’s state of health (so long as he was alive to walk to his fate and die at the right moment) he can’t believe that no one else thought to suggest… well, any of it.

Or maybe he can.

“Relatively,” she tells him briskly. “You will probably always be a little smaller than you would have been and your immune system will never be as strong as it could be – you’ll get sick easier than most people so you will have to be especially careful of your health during cold and flu season.”

Harry wants to scoff at that. He’s never actually been sick a day in his life.

He doesn’t.

It doesn’t matter.

“But other than that, yes, you will be ‘fixed’. Better than, in fact,” she assures him with a smile that he tries to return. “You’ll need to be careful of your magic usage during the initial dosing period. Though, as you’ve not had any problems yet and more than one professor is well content to sing your praises, I don’t anticipate any of the first year spells overtaxing you but do limit your spell practice sessions to no more than a quarter of an hour at a time so that you don’t overextend your magic. Picking up the habit of utilizing short, intensive practice sessions will also help you remain in control as you regain your magic.”

Harry blinks.

Once.

Twice.

Thrice.

“…what?”

Madam Pomfrey looks at him, not unkindly, and he suddenly hates it except he doesn’t have the energy to hate it. Instead, he’s focused on her words, the implications of it chasing around and around in his head. Surely, she couldn’t mean…?

“Your magic, dear,” she repeats. “I told you that it is keeping your physical body functional, didn’t I? Once it no longer needs to do so it will return to you and be available for you to utilize elsewhere. It will be quite a bit of power too, I daresay. It’s always hard to tell for certain with a core that hasn’t fully developed yet but I estimate that running your body is consuming approximately half of your magical core. Possibly more.”

Half.

Half of his bloody magic tied up and unavailable to him.

Half.

Harry wants to cry. He wants to run. He wants to collapse onto the floor and wrap his arms around his knees. He wants to disappear to the rooftops or jump out a window. He wants… he wants…

A short, bitter laugh bubbles up Harry’s throat and out of his lips as he shakes his head back and forth.

Half.

He had faced Voldemort – more than once! - with half of his magic. He had fought Death Eaters and fought for his life, seeming constantly, with half of his magic. Or less.

He laughs again.

Beyond him, beyond the bubble of his thoughts, he can hear the concerned tones of Madam Pomfrey and Snape’s answering rumble.

How…? How had he survived? How had he managed? How had…

He had always thought himself an average student, an average wizard. Had always thought the idea that the he is Boy Who Lived and The Chosen One to be utterly ridiculous because, prophecy or no, he’s just Harry. Just an average, teenage wizard with no special training and no special abilities.

But now that’s not true, is it?

He had been an average, teenage wizard with no special training and no special training – or as average as Harry Potter could possibly get. But really… really he had been operating at half of his potential.

Half.

It seems ridiculous. Absurd. Fucking impossible.

And yet…

He had once driven hundreds of dementors back, including one mid-way through administering the Kiss, with a single patronus.

He had locked wands with Lord Voldemort himself, arguably one of the most powerful wizards in centuries, and forced his wand to submit.

(In his head a little voice reminds him that he alone, out of the thousands that have tried, managed to unite the Deathly Hallows and conquer death.)

He doesn’t realize that he is being moved until he stumbles out of a fireplace and lands flat on his face. The floor is hard and cold beneath his cheek, the stones worn smooth by nearly a thousand years of being walked upon.

He wonders what it’s like to be like the stone: enduring and uncaring of all that passes over it.

“Merlin, Potter,” Familiar black wool fills his vision along with the toe of a polished dragonhide boot and Harry blinks as Snape carefully slides an arm under his shoulder and helps him sit up.

“I hate the floo,” he mutters, closing his eyes against the ash that is falling from his hair. “Never manage to keep my feet.”

“Well at least you’re talking again,” Snape’s voice rumbles near his ear and Harry blinks as the ash vanishes from his hair and clothes with a flick of the potion master’s wand. He’s standing now though his legs are liquid and the only reason he’s not back on the floor is Snape’s arm around his shoulders.

“I…” he begins but Snape interrupts with a familiar tightness to his thin lips,

“You’re experiencing a bit of shock,” the man tells him. “Why don’t you…”

The next time Harry blinks he’s sitting in one of the chairs opposite the desk in Snape’s office with a mug of steaming, cream dotted hot chocolate clutched in his hands and a thick, green knit blanket draped around his shoulders. There’s a fire roaring in the grate. Harry didn’t even know the man’s office had a fireplace. And there has to be a cushioning charm on this chair because it is significantly more comfortable than he remembers it being.

“Umm…” he begins and then stops because he has no idea where to begin.

“You had a shock, Mr. Potter,” Snape informs him, looking up from where he is sitting next (next!) to Harry, one leg crossed over the other with a stack of parchments balanced across his knee and a familiar, red-inked quill held in one hand. “Madam Pomfrey and I thought it best that you retire to somewhere a little less threatening than the hospital wing. I will go over the details of your treatment plan with you once you have had the opportunity to… collect yourself.”

Harry blinks again because he is pretty sure that Madam Pomfrey has never voluntarily let someone leave her domain, which means… Snape must have made her.

“Thank you, sir,” he whispers roughly. “And I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be an idiot, Mr. Potter,” Snape interrupts with a sneer. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“But…”

But if he had just been stronger, if he hadn’t been so weak…

Snape pins him in place with a glare that is probably meant to be threatening – first First Year Harry had been positively cowed by it, he remembers – but really, Harry just finds the familiarity of it to be a warm, comforting weight and his protestations die in his throat. “You have nothing to be sorry for,” Snape repeats slowly, but firmly. “None of this is your fault.”

Harry hears the words and he knows – he knows – that Snape is right.

It doesn’t feel that way though.

It’s never felt that way.

Snape sighs, long and drawn out. There is a shuffle of parchment, the dry leaves rustling against each other as he sets them on the corner of his desk and lays the quill that has cut better students than Harry into naught but bloody ribbons down on top of them. He watches the man carefully from the corner of his eyes as he sips at his hot chocolate. Its rich and creamy, sliding down his throat with ease, but there’s something odd about it. A slight, vaguely floral coolness that curls around in his mouth as he swallows.

Calming Draught.

He might complain under other circumstances but considering he can’t actually remember leaving the Hospital Wing Harry is inclined the let the incident pass without comment.

“When I was three years old my father hit me with bottle of whiskey. Broke my nose,” Snape tells him and there’s a tightness in his fingers as he laces them over his knee, knuckles going white as he speaks. “Then he belted me across the face with his fist for being such a pathetic baby. It is my first vivid memory: the pain of it and the way the blood tasted in my mouth. That, and wondering what I had done wrong. It was quite a few years before I realized that he didn’t treat me that way because I had done something wrong but because he was a pathetic, piss-poor excuse for a human being and decades before I realized that him treating me that way didn’t mean that I was weak. It meant that he was.”

Harry stares over the rim of his mug and tries to make sense of the man sitting next to him. Tries to reconcile the Snape sitting there with white knuckles and viciously squared shoulders with his lips pressed so tightly together that they’ve practically disappeared with the Snape who spent six years berating Harry and telling him how stupid and arrogant and useless he was.

How much of it had been an act? How much of it had been real?

Is Snape the fiercely brave, stalwart spy or the vicious, bullying bastard?

Perhaps they are just two faces of a lonely, bitter, deeply remorseful man forced into a life he would have rather not lived, seeing one of his own tormentors come again in a child’s face.

He takes another sip of his hot chocolate and lets the frantic beating of thoughts drain away to be written out and mulled over later.

“They kept me in the cupboard under the stairs,” he says suddenly, unable to stand the strained, uneasy silence that has settled over them with Snape’s confession. “I’ve never had a real, proper room of my own even though my cousin has two. I don’t have a bed or even a mattress and when I’m not doing chores I was expected to lay in there and pretend I didn’t exist. If I made any noise then I didn’t any food for the day. A lot of days I didn’t any anyway, because they could feel my freakishness ruining their perfect life.”

Snape’s lips twist in a hateful sneer. “Petunia always was a spiteful bitch,” he mutters so quietly that Harry barely hears him and thinks that he wasn’t supposed to hear him because Snape’s next words are noticeably louder. “You will never have to go back there.”

“But Dumbledore…”

“I have already stated that I do not intend to tell the Headmaster anything,” Snape reminds him. “I am a man of my word. This will not be the first time that I have had to make alternative arrangements for one of my students and I doubt it will be the last.”

Harry fidgets, tapping his fingers restlessly against the side of the mug. “It’s not that,” he mumbles, staring at the dregs curling around the bottom of the cup, though honestly that doesn’t surprise him at all. “It’s just…”

“Yes?” Snape prompts.

“In the letter. Dumbledore… he said that I had to stay there. That something my mum did provided me with protection so long as I stayed with family and that it would also protect them from wizards that might come hunting them because they were related to me.” Harry shrugs. “So I have to go back.”

“Mr. Potter,” Snape lets out a long sigh. “If you think for one moment that I will send you back to an abusive environment when I have the power to prevent it, then you are an imbecile.”

Harry’s brow furrows in consternation. “But my relatives…”

“Their well being is not more important than yours, especially against an insubstantial and imprecise threat.”

“Oh,” says Harry quietly, because he doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t know how to respond to the blasphemy of Snape’s words. A significant portion of Harry’s life has revolved around those blood wards, around ensuring that they were maintained no matter the cost. He doesn’t know how to react to the idea that they are not worth the price being demanded.

At the idea that maybe, just maybe, he actually matters more than the protection in his blood. More than what he can do.

Now that is a terrifying thought.

That he, as a person, might matter. Might be entitled to something silly like security.

“Oh,” he says again and he hates how broken and lost he sounds to his own ears.

Snape’s hand on his shoulder is… gentle and unthreatening, nothing but a solid, warm weight to keep him tethered in his skin. “I promise you, Harry, you will never have to go back there again.”

And Harry believes it. He has to.

Because he knows just how far Severus Snape will go to keep his word.

He nods once in understanding, a jerky, ragged thing as he stares unseeing into the mug still clutched in his hand, tears pricking at his eyes and splashing down his face.

For the first time since he arrived here –

No.

For the first time since he left Dumbledore’s pensieve he doesn’t feel so utterly, terrifyingly alone.