Waking up to a sure, undeniable sense of wrongness was never a good sign.
It wasn’t an entirely new phenomenon—living at the Dursley’s had instilled an ever-present sense of impending doom that seemed to linger constantly at the edges of his consciousness—but this was different. It wasn’t a “Dudley and his friends are going to play Harry Hunting again” kind of itch. It wasn’t an “Aunt Marge is coming to visit” sort of nausea.
It was a bone-deep almost-ache when he opened his eyes and spotted the light flitting through the slats of his cupboard, both a familiar sight and at the same time distant like an old memory. It was a twist in his chest when he sat up, expecting—strangely—to hit his head on the sloped ceiling only to pause when he realized, of course, that he was far too short for that to happen.
Harry was struck with a strong sensation—which had no apparent reason at all—that he should not be here.
It persisted through breakfast when he nearly burned Uncle Vernon’s bacon, through the morning as he weeded Aunt Petunia’s garden—and nearly flooded her sweat peas with the garden hose—and even into the early afternoon. Nothing he did seemed to loosen the tightness he carried in his shoulders or soothe his jumpiness.
Not until the mail came, at least. He picked up the stack of letters mechanically, sorting through them out of habit. Spam mail and, specifically, letters asking for money donations were second on Uncle Vernon’s list of “things wrong with this country,” right after “abnormal people” and just above “unions”. Harry had gotten in the habit of removing those sorts of letters before handing over the mail, if only to save himself the headache of one of Uncle Vernon’s rants.
He was only half paying attention when his fingers slid across a heavy, expensive-feeling envelope. Glancing down, he saw his name written in an elegant script in thick black ink, below it an address that started, “Cupboard Under the Stairs.”
A wave of unaccountable relief swept through him. It’s here, he thought for a single instant, and then frowned. For a moment he’d thought…it had almost been like he’d known what the letter was. Like he’d been expecting it.
Except he hadn’t, had he? He flipped it over, thumb brushing reverently over a strange crest on the back, just above a red wax seal.
Who still seals their letters with wax? Harry thought, frown deepening. Parliament? He shook his head as if that would clear the ridiculous thoughts. Nobody from Parliament was going to send him a letter. Nobody from anywhere ever sent him letters.
He was in the midst of prying off the wax when the entire letter was snatched unceremoniously from his hand.
“Mom, Dad!” Dudley shouted, waving the letter in the air. “Harry’s got a letter!”
Uncle Vernon’s head snapped up from the TV. “Who’d be writing to you?”
That’s what I’d like to know, he thought but didn’t say. That was a good way to get locked in the cupboard for the next 12 hours, and frankly, he tried to avoid that as much as possible. Besides, he wanted his letter back.
But then Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia peered at the crest on the back, faces pale and eyes wide as they shared a look that Harry had never seen on them before: some strange mix of terror and disgust and determination. And when Uncle Vernon tore the letter up right there in the kitchen, not even glancing at its contents, all Harry could think was, Not Again.
Again? What the hell does that mean?
He wasn’t sure how he knew there would be more letters. He just did.
It wasn’t like he could predict when they were coming or how they would arrive. But when another letter showed up with their mail the next day, he wasn’t surprised. When three more came the day after that, he didn’t even blink. When a barrage of owls flooded Privet Drive and hundreds of letters spewed out of the fireplace like some sort of lotto machine payout, Harry thought he probably should have been utterly mystified because none of this made sense.
Instead, he grabbed a handful of the letters as he ignored Uncle Vernon’s irate shouting. On instinct, Harry tucked one of the letters discretely into the waistband of his pants where it would be hidden by the loose material of Dudley’s hand-me-down t-shirt. For all that it seemed Uncle Vernon wouldn’t be able to ignore the letters this time, Harry was certain the older man would find a way to stay in denial just a bit longer.
Which was how they’d ended up on some island accessible only by boat. Harry hadn’t had a moment alone since Uncle Vernon had hauled him up by the collar, forced everyone to pack a bag, and shoved them all into the car to drive them to this seaside hellscape.
There was only one bedroom and Dudley had taken the couch, leaving Harry to a spot on the floor in front of the fireplace. Dudley’s wrist-watch said it was nearly midnight, Dudley himself was snoring soundly, and Harry finally felt safe enough to open the letter he’d managed to smuggle out of the house.
Dear Mr. Potter,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.
He froze, staring down at the words. He reread the line a second time, and then once more for good measure.
The words “Witchcraft and Wizardry” stared back at him plainly no matter how many times he looked.
This has to be some sort of trick, Harry thought out of habit, because magic wasn’t real. Except that he couldn’t reasonably explain the literal owls that had delivered those hundreds of letters otherwise.
And now that he thought about it, there was a lot he couldn’t explain. How that one time, Dudley and his friends had been chasing Harry all over the school-yard, and Harry had been running—he’d been certain he was going to get caught and end up with more bruises and dirt in his clothes and probably have his glasses broken again—and the next moment he’d been on the roof. He didn’t remember how he’d gotten up there, and when he’d said as much the teachers had accused him of lying. But to Harry, it had happened in the span of a single blink.
Much the way the snake incident at the zoo had happened less than a week ago. Much the way many inexplicable things had happened over the course of Harry’s life, all of which he had been punished for, all of which he’d been told to never do again.
But maybe at Hogwarts there would be others like him. Maybe they would teach him how to make the strange things happen when he wanted them to. Maybe, if it wasn’t all some tremendous mistake—
The wrist-watch chimed midnight, a small ping that pulled Harry from his thoughts. His birthday. Amid the excitement over the letter, he’d forgotten. There was no cake, no candles—not that there ever had been that Harry could remember—but he drew eleven lines in the soot.
“Make a wish,” he whispered to himself, eyes squeezed tight as he blew out the imagined candles.
Before he’d even fully finished the thought, there was a loud bang at the door. Dudley jerked awake mid-snore, bolting upright. Harry might’ve said that Dudley looked rather dazed, but then Dudley always sort of looked like that.
There was a second bang. This time the whole house shook with the force of it. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had been roused from sleep as well, and now stood halfway down the stairs, a shotgun—where on earth had Uncle Vernon gotten a shotgun, Harry wondered—in hand and aimed at the door.
On the third bang, Aunt Petunia shrieked.
On the fourth, the door finally gave way with a crash. Lightning illuminated the tallest, broadest man Harry had ever seen. The light was still too dim for detail, but there was no mistaking the shape of a wild head of hair and even wilder beard. He ducked his head as he passed through the entry-way and lumbered inside, each step heavy enough that Harry wondered if he might bring the whole house down around them.
And yet, curiously, Harry was not afraid.
Not even as Dudley scrambled off the couch and backed towards a window on the far-side of the wall with such speed that Harry was half convinced the momentum of it would carry his cousin straight through the pane of glass and out onto the hard earth of the island Uncle Vernon had stranded them on. Not even as Aunt Petunia screamed louder than before, as she clutched Uncle Vernon’s shoulders, as Uncle Vernon clutched the shotgun and pointed it at the tall man.
And the tall man? The tall man said, “Sorry ‘bout that,” and picked up the door, leaning it against the frame.
See, Harry thought. He’s polite. Nothing to worry about.
“I demand that you leave at once! You are breaking and entering,” Vernon shouted, because he was not polite.
The tall man thudded over to the stairs, right up until he was in Uncle Vernon’s face. For all his bravado, Uncle Vernon was plastered against the wall, trying his damnedest to get away from the practical giant.
“Dry up Dursley, you great prune.”
Harry wished he’d had a video camera so he could record the single greatest moment of his life thus far. The tall man gripped the end of the shotgun, bent it upwards mere seconds before Uncle Vernon pulled the trigger and blasted a hole in the ceiling.
And this is why you need a special permit to have guns, Harry thought.
The stranger, for his part, merely walked further into the room.
“I haven’t seen you since you was a baby, Harry,” the tall man said, voice cheerier now that he wasn’t looking at Uncle Vernon. He was also distinctly not speaking to Harry, but to Dudley. “I’d’ve thought you’d look a bit more like your parents, but, well—”
“I-I’m not…I’m n-not Harry.”
“No.” Harry pushed off from the wall where he’d been only-sort-of hiding. “I am.”
The stranger took one look at him and smiled broadly. “Of course you are!” Abruptly, he patted down his own coat—a long, ragged brown thing that looked in desperate need of a wash—and procured a white box. “I’ve got something for you. ‘Fraid I might’ve sat on it a bit, but I figure it’ll taste good just the same. Baked it myself. Words and all.”
Harry took the box gingerly. He knew what he would find even before he lifted the lid. A cake sat in the middle, not too squished despite the stranger’s warning, the lettering horribly misspelled but distinguishable as an attempt at “Happy Birthday, Harry!”
“Thank you,” Harry said, unable to take his eyes off it.
“Not every day you turn 11, now is it, eh?” The tall man helped himself to a seat on the couch. He pulled out an umbrella and with a single tap, shot a fire into the fireplace. Harry stared at the flickering yellow light for a moment.
Magic is real. The flames danced happily as if agreeing with him. My birthday wish worked.
“Excuse me.” Harry laid the boxed cake down on the end table and approached the stranger. “But who are you?”
“Rubeus Hagrid. Keeper of keys and game at Hogwarts. Of course, you know all about Hogwarts.”
Warmth like nothing Harry had ever known spread throughout his chest, heart pulsing against his ribs, and for a single moment, Harry almost said yes. Because when Hagrid had said it, had said Hogwarts, Harry had felt like he was saying home. And he couldn’t explain it: how he knew home meant stone walls and courtyards, meant chilly northern air and the smell of pumpkin, meant smudged ink and callouses between his thumb and forefinger. He couldn’t explain how he could almost imagine the outline of a castle against the skyline, with a lake and mountains and grass so green it couldn’t be real.
It was incredibly disconcerting, to think he had all these associations and no reason to have them.
They won’t let you in if they think you’re crazy, Harry thought in something of a panic. How many times had the Dursleys threatened to send him to a school for special children—when something’s just not right with them, as Aunt Marge liked to say. Maybe Harry was crazy. Why else would his brain feel like someone had come in and scooped out something terribly important and he was only just now becoming aware of it? Why else would he think—feel so certainly—that he knew things he couldn’t possibly know?
No one can ever find out.
“Sorry,” Harry said with a shake of his head. “No.”
“No?” Hagrid was incredulous. Harry wasn’t sure this was a good thing or not. Maybe he was supposed to know what Hogwarts was? “Blimey Harry. Didn’t you ever wonder where your mom and dad learned it all?”
“Magic, of course!”
“My parents had magic?” Harry asked. “But…but they were normal. They died in a car crash.”
Even as he said it, he knew it wasn’t true. Again, something tickled at his memory that he couldn’t quite catch. There was some commotion—Hagrid yelling and Aunt Petunia yelling back—but Harry ignored it. His parents had died, and not because of a car crash. His parents had died, and his aunt and uncle had lied about it. For eleven years.
“And then they went and got themselves blown up!” Aunt Petunia was screaming.
“That’s an outrage!” Hagrid shouted. “Lily and James Potter—” He trailed off as soon as he caught Harry’s gaze and took a deep breath. “The point. The point is that your parents were magical, Harry. And you’re a wizard too.”
YOU’RE A WIZARD. YOU’RE A WIZARD. YOU’RE A WIZARD, one part of his mind thought.
The other, quieter part said, I know.
So while in one timeline—that Harry knew about but didn’t remember—he had tried to refute this, had tried to say that he was just plain old Harry, this time something inside him just knew that it was true.
“And Hogwarts is where I go to learn?” he asked, already knowing the answer.
“Best school in the world,” Hagrid said with a firm nod.
“Great.” Harry held up his contraband letter and ignored the indignant gasps of Petunia and Vernon. “When do we leave?”
Vernon took that as his cue to speak up. “Absolutely not!”
When it was all said and done, Dudley had a pig’s tail protruding from his rear, Uncle Vernon looked like he was going to have an aneurism, and Aunt Petunia…well, Aunt Petunia had been too busy fussing over the two of them to give Harry much thought.
And that was all before he’d gotten to ride on a flying motorcycle.
Best. Day. Ever.
Eventually, Harry and Hagrid had arrived at a hole-in-the-wall pub in London called The Leaky Cauldron where Harry had been accosted by adoring fans who wanted to thank him for something he had the distinct feeling was entirely undeserved.
(That part hadn’t been so fun, but once again, Harry had found himself almost expecting it. Sure, he’d still blundered his way through the jostling and hand-shaking and weirdly earnest gratitude with all the grace of a newborn giraffe, but he had the instinct that it would have been far, far stranger if no one had noticed him at all.)
(Harry was resolutely ignoring all signs of his newly discovered madness lest Hagrid catch on and take back the invitation to Hogwarts, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still supremely unnerved by his comfort with fame.)
However, all of that was forgotten shortly thereafter because there was more magic to be had.
Diagon Alley was the magical equivalent of Tesco as far as Harry could see. There were clothing shops and book stores, window-fronts filled with brooms and cauldrons, signs with unusual words like “Apothecary” and “Owlery.” It was positively bustling, too. Everyone must have come for back to school shopping, Harry thought.
Hagrid’s height was an advantage. Crowds tended to part for the man, and Harry grabbed on to the edge of his rugged coat so as not to get left behind. The down-side was that Harry couldn’t see where they were going, and so when Hagrid came to an abrupt stop, Harry ran head-first into the man’s back.
“This is Gringotts, the wizarding bank,” Hagrid said. “Safest place in the world, ‘cept for Hogwarts.”
A bank, Harry thought, a fresh wave of unease washing over him. Of course he’d need money for his school things. Maybe even for tuition to Hogwarts as well. He hadn’t thought of that when he’d agreed to leave the Dursleys behind. How am I going to pay for all of this? I haven’t any money.
He was about to say as much to Hagrid, but something stopped him. It was that blasted weirdness again. Déjà vu, he was starting to realize. Because he was almost 100% sure he’d had that exact conversation before. Only that was impossible. Wasn’t it?
Before Harry could sort through his thoughts, let alone figure out the right questions to ask, they were already inside the bank. It was large and marbled and beautiful, and of course, the tellers were monsters.
“Goblins,” Hagrid said when he noticed Harry looking. “Shrewd and clever creatures. You’re not likely to make friends with them, what with how they feel about wizards even on the best of days, but you’d be best not to piss them off.”
A ringing endorsement. He continued to watch as Hagrid brought them to one stand in particular.
“Mr. Potter is here to make a withdrawal for his school supplies,” Hagrid said. The goblin atop the desk leaned over, eyes peering from the top of his small glasses as he gave Harry a thorough once-over. The goblin looked supremely unimpressed.
“And does Mr. Potter have his key?”
“Ah,” Hagrid said, somewhat sheepish as he began patting down his large coat again. “I’m sure it’s in here somewhere…”
“Check your left breast pocket,” Harry said automatically, and then froze as the goblin’s eyes landed on him. It was like being seen-through completely, like having the essence of his very being laid bare. Is that a power goblin’s have?
Hagrid did and instantly pulled out a small but ornate gold key, surprise evident.
“How’d ya know that, Harry?”
“Oh.” Think, think, think, think. “It…just seemed like the place to keep it, I suppose.”
“Hmmm.” The goblin was still watching, as if waiting for Harry to mess up. “Very well.”
“And,” Hagrid lowered his voice and leaned in. “I’ll be withdrawing from the vault on the Headmaster’s order. You know the one.” He passed over a thin note that was not too dissimilar from Harry’s Hogwarts letter.
“I see,” the goblin drawled. “Griphook will see to you.”
Griphook turned out to be another goblin no friendlier than the first. But he was extremely efficient and wasted no time in taking them on a terrifying cart ride through underground caverns to what Harry learned was his vault.
He had a vault. His parents—who, less than 24 hours ago, Harry had thought to be completely average people with no magical ability whatsoever, and who he had believed to have died in a car crash (which was clearly not the case, though no one had yet explained what had actually happened)—were apparently loaded. Ergo, now Harry was loaded.
Not just, “I can actually afford to go to a magical boarding school,” kind of money. Not even, “I could afford my own house, now,” kind of money. Genuine, honest to God, rich. Yacht Club, rich. Untaxed Swiss bank account, rich. Chalet on the Mediterranean, rich.
There was a lot of gold there.
Harry knew what it was like to go without. He’d slept under the stairs for eleven years while Dudley had two bedrooms. He’d cooked the Dursleys breakfast and often dinner ever since he could be trusted not to burn the house down, and he’d only ever been allowed to serve himself last.
(Which meant sometimes he got very little at all, if Dudley was in one of his moods to take an excess amount just so there’d be nothing left.)
He’d worn nothing but hand-me-downs for as long as he could remember, always two or three sizes too big for him. He’d been shuffled off to Mrs. Figg while the Dursleys had gone to see movies or on vacations.
He stared at the piles of coins. Now he could buy his own food. He could buy his own clothes. He could take himself to the movies. Would it be ridiculous to buy himself a pony just because Dudley didn’t have one? He could—
“Let’s hurry on, Harry,” Hagrid said. “We’ve got lots to do.”
They had one more vault to visit, for starters.
“Vault 713,” Griphook said.
It was complex, far more secure than Harry’s own vault had been. That alone might have filled him with an anxious anticipation. But there was something more. Something like an itch at the back of his mind. Something that felt like his instincts, the ancestral, lizard-brain he still retained some parts of, if muggle science lessons were to be believed.
Please just be empty, his lizard-brain wished against all reason.
It wasn’t. A small, poorly wrapped lump sat alone in the center of the vault.
Oh, but for fucks sake, he’d forgotten about the stone. What bloody stone, Harry wanted to scream at the part of his brain that was telling him, “We’ve seen this. We know this.” Or, more accurately, he wanted to ask how he knew. How could he be so sure and yet know so little?
Hagrid pocketed the package.
“Hagrid,” Harry asked, keeping his voice carefully neutral. “What is it?”
“Can’t tell you that, Harry.” He was perfectly serious, far more grim than usual. “Top secret Hogwarts business.”
Danger, screamed the lizard-brain.
Danger, agreed the déjà vu brain.
“I understand,” Harry said, resolving not to pry further and already failing at convincing himself. “Let’s get the shopping done, then, shall we?”
After being fitted for robes and buying his schoolbooks and purchasing a cauldron—who knew they came in pewter?—Harry had only one thing left that he absolutely needed. A wand. Hagrid, on the other hand, apparently had a few other errands to run.
That’s how he’d ended up here, alone, in Ollivander’s wand shop being watched like a bug under a microscope by a pair of glassy gray eyes as Harry tried wand after wand with disastrous results.
“I think not,” Ollivander said, hurriedly plucking the still-smoldering wand from Harry’s hands and carefully laying it back in its box. The older man watched Harry for a few seconds more and then, “I wonder.”
He returned no more than a minute later with a dusty box that looked like it hadn’t been opened in several decades. “Eleven inches, holly, and with a phoenix feather core. Give it a whirl.”
It was instantaneous. The moment Harry’s fist closed around the sturdy wand, a bright, golden glow radiated from the tip. Warmth flooded through him and for the first time since stepping into the shop, Harry felt like her could finally breathe.
“Curious,” Ollivander said, looking troubled rather than relieved, as Harry had thought he’d be. “Very curious.”
“What? What’s wrong?” He knew he was panicking, but if Ollivander said this wasn’t the right wand—if Ollivander tried to take this one back, Harry wasn’t sure he would be able to.
“Nothing is wrong, per se.” The older man hummed, seemed to debate himself for a moment, and then sighed. “The wand that has chosen you has a twin. The phoenix whose tail feather rests in your wand gave a second feather. Just one other feather.”
Harry had a sinking feeling in his stomach. “And the twin wand?”
Ollivander nodded. “Gave you that scar. It is curious, as I said. One wonders if destiny is at work.”
Oh he hoped not. He really, really hoped not.
But if Ollivander knows the wand that gave me this scar, then maybe….
“Mr. Ollivander, I was wondering what you know about my parents’ deaths,” Harry asked.
He was not prepared for the way the old man paled further at the question, nor the way he tightly gripped his desk and sank into the chair behind it.
“Everybody knows about what happened that night,” Ollivander said in such a way that implied that would the end of it.
So it must be terrible. That was just as he had expected, seeing as his aunt and uncle hadn’t told him the truth and even Hagrid had stopped himself from saying anything too telling back at the house. It obviously has something to do with my being famous, and most likely the scar too.
“I don’t, sir.” Harry stared the man straight in the eye. That had always worked on the teachers who pretended not to notice Harry being bullied. Maybe it was harder not to care when they had to humanize the victim of their negligence. “No one ever told me what happened, so I don’t know.”
Ollivander took a deep, shuddering breath. “On Samain night, while you and your parents slept, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named—”
“I’m sorry—” Harry noticed Ollivander flinch “—but who is that?”
“A great and terrible dark lord. The darkest magical Britain has ever seen.” There was a pause before the older man continued. “His reign of terror was such that we do not speak his name. May I continue?”
Harry had so many more questions, but he could already imagine—he could already guess at where Mr. Ollivander’s story was headed.
“On that night, the Dark Lord came to your house, your parents’ having been betrayed by one in their closest confidence. Your parents, it is said, fought to defend you, but they could not withstand his power. But—”
“I did,” Harry finished.
“It is so remarkable, Mr. Potter, not only because none had ever escaped You-Know-Who’s clutches,” Ollivander continued. “But because you survived an unsurvivable curse. We call it the killing curse because it kills without fail. Yet you lived, the only evidence a scar on your forehead.”
Harry frowned. “And You-Know-Who?”
“Destroyed. By you.”
Oh good. It’s worse than I thought.
Get used to it, his déjà vu brain said.
“Right. So.” Harry pushed the money for his wand—7 galleons—onto the table. “I’ll just be going now, I think.”
He’d made it nearly to the door when Ollivander called out once more.
“I think we can expect great things from you, Harry Potter.”
The next bit, Harry wasn’t sure he was supposed to hear, for Ollivander’s voice had lowered quite significantly.
“After all, You-Know-Who did many great things. Terrible, yes, but great.”
Harry didn’t wait around to hear anything else he definitely didn’t want to know, but probably should have been told at some point by someone with more authority than a kind-of-batty wand-maker. He just pushed through the door, intent on finding Hagrid as soon as possible, and possibly as far away from here as he could manage.
Which is why it was only fitting that Harry should immediately crash into the very man he was looking for. The crash itself was accompanied by a sharp screech, and when Harry looked up, he saw that Hagrid was now carrying a beautiful snowy owl in a cage.
“Hagrid! Hedwig! Sorry, I—”
Hagrid was frowning even as he helped steady Harry. “S’alright. No need to worry.” A pause. “How’d ya know the owl’s name?”
How did I know the owl’s name?
This plan to hide that you’re going absolutely mental isn’t going to last if you can’t lie faster than this.
“I…uh…” He spotted, then, like a blessing from a god he had better learn to worship soon, that the name was engraved in the bottom of the golden cage. He pointed at it. “It says so right here.”
“Oh. Didn’t see that there.”
If only Harry would be able to accept such a plausible solution. He might have been able to trick himself into thinking he really had seen the name on the cage first, might have been able to rationalize that he was really losing it, his brain was just processing things faster than he consciously could.
Except that didn’t explain the wretched ache in his chest when he looked at the beautiful owl. How when he’d said, “Hedwig,” it had felt as natural as saying, “This is my left arm.” She was his, or had been, or would be, or was in a parallel universe, or whatever it was his brain was doing to him. And he had the horrible, awful, miserable feeling that she’d died.
“I got ‘er for ya,” Hagrid said, holding the cage out to Harry. “Every wizard ought to have a familiar, and there ain’t no better one than an owl.”
“Thank you,” Harry said, desperately trying not to tear up for a number of reasons as he gingerly took the cage. In a softer voice, he murmured, “Hello Hedwig.”
She hooted back.
He wasn’t doing a good enough job of not crying, though.
“What’s wrong?” Hagrid asked, suddenly panicking. “I thought you’d like an owl. Having a pet. Some people don’t, I s’pose. Never thought to ask—”
“She’s perfect, Hagrid.” Hedwig hooted again, and this time Harry couldn’t be bothered to stop a smile from taking over his whole face. “I’ve just…nobody’s ever given me a gift before. Thank you.”
Hagrid had nothing to say to that, so he hugged Harry instead. And if Harry cried a bit more into Hagrid’s awful coat, nothing was said on the matter.