Harry cradled his arm against his chest, biting back tears, as he sat on the thin mattress in the cupboard under the stairs, surrounded by darkness. The house was quiet, his family asleep, but Harry’s arm hurt so badly that Harry couldn’t even lie down properly.
Uncle Vernon had yanked so hard on Harry’s arm when he’d caught Harry sneaking food from the rubbish bin after dinner that Harry had felt something pop on the inside. The Dursleys had enjoyed a lovely dinner of roast potatoes, pork chops and green beans, but Harry had been denied food for he second day in a row because Dudley had knocked over a vase of flowers and blamed it on Harry that afternoon.
And since Dudley refused to eat anything green and thus his green beans had ended up in the bin, Harry had tried to grab a quick handful for himself, just to have something in his aching stomach. But Uncle Vernon had gotten to him before Harry could eat even one little bean and now his arm hurt like it had never hurt before and Harry couldn’t sleep.
How Harry wanted to leave the Dursleys. They were his family, the only family he had, but Harry was already four years old and he knew that how his family treated him wasn’t right. Look at how they treated Dudley, and then compare that to Harry’s lot in life.
No, Harry was still very young, but he wasn’t stupid.
So he’d hatched a plan. A brilliant plan, if he did say so himself, to get him away from the Dursleys once and for all.
You see, Dudley’s birthday had been a month ago and one of the many presents his cousin had received had been a cassette player with a whole pile of cassette tapes, all filled with wonderful stories told by some very friendly sounding adults. Dudley had managed to break the cassette player within a week, but during that week he’d played all the stories loud enough that even Harry in his cupboard could hear them.
And one of those stories held the secret to Harry’s escape, he was sure of it.
The story of a boy names Aladdin who found a dusty old lamp which turned out to house a genie who granted him three wishes.
Harry wasn’t sure what a genie even was, but that hardly mattered when it could give you whatever you wanted.
And Harry really, really wanted to leave the Dursleys. He wasn’t actually sure where he wanted to go instead but he figured that anywhere would be better than a house where he wasn’t fed, where his aunt and uncle regularly hurt him and where he had to spend most of his time in a tiny, dark closet under the staircase.
And so ever since hearing the wonderfully inspiring story of Aladdin and the genie, Harry had taken to collecting any piece of rubbish he could find and that his family wouldn’t miss, just so he could rub it in the privacy of his cupboard to see if it housed a genie.
So far Harry had tried various rocks from the garden, and empty snail shell, some twigs, a small coin he found on the bathroom floor, and empty chewing gum wrapper, a rusty thimble and shiny piece of glass. None of those had worked, much to Harry’s disappointment, but today Harry had found something he thought might very well work.
And old key he found on the floor of the shed, half hidden behind the lawnmower. Uncle Vernon had made Harry put away some of his tools he’d used on the car and Harry had snatched the key up and quickly tucked it in his pocket before Uncle Vernon had noticed anything. He’d barely had time to examine it, but it looked old and worn, just like Aladdin’s lamp had.
Grimacing through the pain of moving his arm, Harry wormed the key out of his pocket. He’d been in so much agony he hadn’t been able to change into his pyjamas yet and no one had even noticed.
Holding the key between his small fingers, Harry started rubbing it in a steady rhythm, meanwhile muttering, “Genie, I wish for you to take me away from here,” over and over again, concentrating on those words with all his heart.
A floating ball of light appeared in front of Harry and Harry inhaled a surprised breath.
It had worked!
The light seemed to shine with all the colours of the rainbow, switching from one colour to the other very quickly and Harry watched in awe at the bright genie before him.
It had to be a genie, because what else could it be?
The pulsing light hovered right in front of Harry, who swallowed deeply and said in his most polite voice, “Genie, please take me away from here.”
The light pulsed but nothing happened and Harry bit his lip while pondering what to do. Maybe he should touch it? Rub the light like he had the key? It couldn’t hurt to try.
Harry reached out a finger and poked at the little ball of light and the next second Harry was gone from his cupboard, never to return there. The force with which he disappeared into the light was such that a small explosion rocked the house right at its centre, severing a gas line and causing a fire that burned so hot that it engulfed the house in minutes, starting with the stairs.
The Dursleys never stood a chance and died huddled together in the upstairs hallway. And no one knew what happened to the scrawny child that had lived with them.
Albus sighed deeply as he looked over the unopened letters addressed to Harry Potter. It had been their last chance to find the boy, using the complex magic of the Hogwarts letters. The charms used to send out the letters had been first cast in the time of the founders and since then they’d been fed, as all of Hogwarts had, by the magic of the hundreds of thousands of students and staff which had called the castle home over the many centuries since the founding of the school.
But alas, even the astonishing magic that Hogwarts was capable of wasn’t enough to locate this one missing child, and all the owls Albus had sent out had come back within a week, every single letter unopened. Albus sighed again, chest filling with deep regret over some of the choices he’d made when it came to Harry Potter.
Albus had known, of course, that Harry probably wouldn’t have the happiest of lives with Petunia Dursley, given how she felt about magic after learning she herself would never be a witch. Petunia was the kind of petty person who would take out her own regrets in life on a child, Albus was well aware of that. But he figured that the protection the blood wards offered were more important than the boy’s happiness. And the prophecy child had to stay alive until such a time he could vanquish the Dark Lord, just like the prophecy had foretold. Besides, it would probably do the boy some good to grow up humbled instead of spoiled rotten like James had been.
Furthermore, Albus had realized early on that he needed Harry to respect authority and to want to save the wizarding world, and the best way to do that was to make sure his life at the Dursleys was one he would gladly leave behind, even if his new life in this exciting magical world proved full of dangers.
But Albus hadn’t counted on the Dursleys’ house burning down and the Dursleys themselves perishing in the process. The only reason Albus was convinced that Harry was still alive was because one of his trinkets told him so. If Harry had died, the trinket would have stopped rotating and turned black. But it hadn’t. It had slowed down significantly, though, and even if Albus was unsure what that meant exactly, he was sure that Harry was at the very least still alive somewhere. He hadn’t mentioned this to others, since it was blood magic that powered the trinket and therefore dark, and while Albus frowned upon others using such magic, he himself occasionally reached for it as long as it was for the greater good. He just didn’t want anyone to know that he did so.
What also helped to convince him was the fact that the Aurors, and later the Unspeakables, who had examined the scene of the fire had detected some traces of magic. Intriguingly, they hadn’t been able to identify what kind of magic it was exactly, but it had been there.
Albus’ current theory was that Harry had performed some form of accidental magic that caused the fire and somehow sent his body elsewhere. Of course, Albus didn’t have a clue where that might be, but after reading the reports of the Aurors who had questioned the neighbours, Albus realized Harry very well might have wished himself away.
Some of the neighbours didn’t even know a second child had been living with the Dursleys. And those that did know described a small, unkempt child in clothes far too big for him, looking constantly starved compared to the rest of that family. One neighbour had even caught the boy stealing some mouldy bread from their compost heap once. She’d literally found the boy stuffing a slice in his mouth while he ran away as fast as he could.
Yes, perhaps Albus had underestimated Petunia’s vindictiveness and Vernon’s cruelty and he certainly hadn’t wanted the boy to starve, but Arabella had never made any mention of such things and thus Albus had never bothered to check up on the boy himself. He had plenty to do in his life already, especially right after the end of the war. He had counted on Petunia being stern and perhaps slightly cold towards her nephew, but he hadn’t thought her capable of literally starving a child in her care.
And now Harry was missing and Albus was unsure what to do about Voldemort, who he knew was going to come back one day. Rumours were already everywhere and while Albus didn’t always know which rumours were true and which were mere fabrications from people such as Xenophilius Lovegood, he knew for a fact Voldemort would find a way to regain a body sooner rather than later. Voldemort had always been far too clever for his own good and Albus knew with certainty that Voldemort would have activated more than one contingency plan to prevent his own demise.
“Face it, Headmaster, the boy is dead,” Severus said, sporting an unimpressed sneer as he sat in front of Albus’ desk. Beside him, Minerva sat with her back ramrod straight, staring daggers at Albus with frosty eyes. She’d never quite forgiven him for leaving Harry with the Dursleys, especially not after the fire that killed them all.
“I know you believe that, Severus,” Albus said, trying to placate his most treasured spy. Getting Severus Snape to swear loyalty to him was one of Albus’ most important achievements when it came to Voldemort’s future demise. The problem was, of course, that Severus had sworn that loyalty through a vow to always protect Lily’s son. But with Lily’s son missing, Severus seemed to grow more and more distant from Albus. Part of it was resentment towards Albus for leaving Harry with Petunia in the first place, but Albus also sensed something else that was slowly pulling Severus away, though he didn’t have a clue what that was just yet.
“Of course I believe that,” Severus grumbled, crossing his arms tightly. “I’ve seen the burnt down husk and I’ve read the muggle firefighters’ report on what occurred. The fire burned hot enough to destroy most anything, even a small child.”
Minerva made a sound somewhere between a moan and a snarl. “I told you, Albus, not to leave the boy there. And now James and Lily’s only child is dead because of you.”
Albus held up both hands. “I know I made mistakes, and I deeply regret doing so. But trust me when I say Harry Potter is still alive. I am sure of it. We just have to find him.”
“Then do so!” Minerva all but jumped up and marched out of the office with her head held high. Severus followed her without any comment, robes swishing as he stalked out the door.
Yes, Albus would dearly love to find Harry Potter, but he’d tried anything and honestly didn’t have any more ideas. Perhaps it was time to pay more attention to the other child that might have fit the prophecy if it wasn’t for Voldemort’s choice to attack the Potters.
Hermione craned her neck to see the Goblet of Fire sitting on a pedestal in front of the great hall. Any moment now the names of the champions would be announced and Hermione was genuinely curious who would get chosen for Hogwarts.
Beside her sat her best friends Neville and Ron. They hadn’t always been her friends. When Hermione had first started Hogwarts she’d had no friends at all and most people seemed to avoid her or resent her for her high marks and clever mind. But when Hermione had been trapped by a mountain troll in the bathroom during Halloween in her first year, only Neville had realized she was missing and had come to her rescue. Brave Neville, who turned out to be a true Gryffindor after all, had helped her keep the troll at bay until the teachers arrived to take it out. Neither Hermione or Neville had gotten away unscathed, but spending a few days together in the hospital to heal a concussion, a few broken bones and cuts and scrapes allowed them to bond and form a genuine friendship.
Ron, who’d been the reason Hermione was crying in the bathroom in the first place, had received a few weeks of detention and had at least stopped being so rude to her. But it had still taken until the end of the year for him to really speak to them. Ron had formed a friendship with Hagrid, the groundskeeper, and one day after classes he overheard Hermione and Neville discuss the enormous three-headed dog they’d seen behind a locked door in the forbidden corridor. Ron told them Hagrid had mentioned owning a three-headed dog and from then on Ron had joined their research into what exactly was being hidden at Hogwarts and who was trying to steal it, starting with the three of them having tea and inedible biscuits at Hagrid’s.
By the time they tried stopping what turned out to be Professor Quirrell from stealing the Philosopher’s Stone, Ron had become their friend and the three of them did their very best to keep Quirrell from running off with the stone, but they were only three first year students and Quirrell was a grown up and an experienced wizard, so in the end they didn’t stand a chance and Quirrell got away.
They did get to spend another few days together in the hospital wing, though, so they could bond some more over their shared misery.
Their second year had been filled with quiet terror as something petrified students and left bloody messages on the wall. Hermione herself had been petrified and she got to spend a few months in the hospital wing until the mandrakes were ready to be harvested. When she woke up and Madam Pomfrey told her this, Hermione had asked her in genuine bafflement why they hadn’t simply purchased some mandrakes. And if the cost was an issue, Hermione knew her parents would have been happy to pay for something that would cure their daughter from a two-month coma.
But Madam Pomfrey had brushed Hermione’s questions off while mumbling that this was what Dumbledore thought best, and that was perhaps the first time in Hermione’s life she lost some respect for a few authority figures.
She’d missed months of school, and worse yet they still hadn’t figured out who or what was causing the attacks, but Ron’s younger sister Ginny had gone missing and to this day no one knew what happened to her. All that was left behind was one last bloody message on the wall that said, ‘The mudbloods have been punished and a blood-traitor is gone for good. For now I leave you but I am always watching. Until next time. The Heir of Slytherin.’
All summer long there were rumours Hogwarts wouldn’t reopen since a student had been presumably killed, but Dumbledore pulled every string he knew how to pull if rumour had it, and managed to keep the school open. Hagrid did have to spend some time in Azkaban during the schoolyear but he was eventually freed when another attack happened when he was locked away, proving it couldn’t have been him.
Third year was filled with dementors and escaped convicts and Ron who seemed to not understand that cats chased small, furry critters and took that out on Hermione more often than not. That year ended in a chaotic meeting in the Shrieking Shack of all places, where they learned that Sirius Black was innocent, Scabbers was really a man named Peter Pettigrew who had betrayed the Potter family and Professor Lupin was a werewolf who sometimes forgot to take his potion. By the end of the evening Sirius Black was on the run, Professor Lupin had lost his job, Peter Pettigrew managed to sneak away and Professor Snape saved them all from having their souls sucked out with a Patronus charm that took on the form of a doe and for some reason caused Sirius to snarl even more at Professor Snape than he already had.
During the summer Hermione was invited, along with Neville, to spend some time at the Burrow with the whole Weasley family. Mrs Weasley seemed to be a woman who had once been warm and inviting but who now shifted constantly between foolish hope that her daughter was still alive and would come home any day now, and unimaginable grief over having lost her youngest child to some unknown enemy at Hogwarts. She still made a genuine effort to look after her family and her guests, and Hermione helped her out where ever she could.
The Quidditch World Cup was far more exciting than Hermione had thought it would be, mainly because of an unexpected Death Eater attack in the middle of the night. And when they started their fourth year at Hogwarts and learned that a deadly tournament was going to be held that year, Hermione lost all hope of having a quiet year for a change.
Sometimes Hermione questioned herself why she even attended Hogwarts at all, what with all the near-death experiences she’d had so far and she was only fifteen years old! But she loved Hogwarts, she loved her friends and the classes and she wanted to learn magic and she knew with certainty that she wanted to be a witch and live in the wizarding world and that she could never go back to just being a muggle now that she knew she could be so much more.
And so she sat in anticipation, along with the rest of the students, to see who would be risking their lives that year. Hermione was secretly very happy it wouldn’t be her and her friends, again.
“Viktor Krum!” Dumbledore announced the first participant and Ron clapped and yelled extra loudly for his Quidditch idol while Hermione and Neville exchanged a look that was both fond and exasperated. Neville cared about Quidditch as much as Hermione did, which was to say, not at all.
Again Ron made a bit of a fool of himself with his far too enthusiastic response and this time Hermione felt a flare of genuine annoyance in her chest. She had started noticing Ron over the summer for some reason and while she wasn’t yet sure how she felt about this development she did know she didn’t like it one bit when Ron paid any kind of attention to another girl like he did whenever Fleur Delacour was around.
The whole hall went wild, even the Slytherins, and Hermione clapped along with everyone while hoping with all her heart Cedric would survive the tournament. Not all participants had been so lucky, after all, throughout the years. She’d read some gruesome tales about all the horrible accidents that befell a number of participants in the past.
“I told you it would be Cedric!” Neville yelled over all the noise.
“I was still hoping it would be Angelina,” Ron replied with equal volume, while offering Angelina a huge grin. Angelina rolled her eyes and went back to cheering for Cedric. It wasn’t a secret that Ron had ambitions to one day join the Quidditch team and he had supported Angelina openly and loudly as his preferred Hogwarts champion. This time, though, Hermione merely laughed at his antics, not at all jealous because she knew Ron was in it for the Quidditch this time and nothing else.
Dumbledore calmed everyone down with a lot of gesturing and eventually shooting some sparks from his wand. “Yes, now that we know who our champions are…”
Before Dumbledore could say more, the goblet flared up again and another piece of paper was ejected from it. Dumbledore caught it, his face full of surprise.
“Harry Potter.” Dumbledore seemed shocked while reading that name out loud. Immediately the whole hall burst out in loud whispers. “Harry Potter!” Dumbledore called again, this time with more confidence.
Hermione looked around the hall, as did everyone else, as if the boy who had been missing for years was hiding in the shadows of the great hall after all.
Once she started Hogwarts, Hermione had heard all about Harry Potter. She’d read about how he’d stopped the Dark Lord Voldemort when he was a baby, and how he’d gone missing when his family’s home mysteriously burned down. While he was officially presumed dead by the ministry and the majority of people believed this, there were still a lot of rumours and conspiracy theories going around that Harry was alive somewhere.
Some claimed he was being held captive in the Department of Mysteries, where he was being trained to become the best combination of Unspeakable and Auror that had ever lived, forced to serve the ministry whether he wanted to or not. Others were sure he’d been secretly shipped off to the United States where he now attended Ilvermorny under a new name to keep him out of the hands of any Death Eaters that had escaped punishment. And there were the more outlandish ideas that Harry Potter had gone to live with either the centaurs, the merpeople or the goblins. For reasons.
Personally, Hermione thought Harry had died in the fire. All the evidence pointed in that direction and she’d thought it very sad that such a small boy had been burned alive after he’d saved their whole world, but in the end she’d put it out of her mind and focused on her own life, which proved exciting enough already.
But now, at least for a moment, Harry Potter was firmly back in her mind and everyone else’s as voices were raised and people got up from their chairs to take a better look around the great hall. But after a few minutes the ruckus died down when nothing happened.
Dumbledore nodded a few times with a resigned look on his face, as though accepting that Harry Potter really wasn’t going to appear out of thin air. “Well,” Dumbledore said with a small smile. “That would have been –“
But before Dumbledore could continue speaking, lightning rolled across the ceiling, a bright beam that forked all over the hall. People screamed and jumped up but more lightning appeared, now flashing down the walls and at once people lowered themselves off their benches to take cover under the tables.
“What is happening?” Neville asked as he huddled against Hermione, Ron pressed against her other side.
“I don’t know!” Hermione yelled over the crashing noise of more lightning striking left and right. Dark smoke rose from the floor in front of the teacher’s table, engulfing Dumbledore and the Goblet of Fire, which had died out the moment it had spewed out Harry Potter’s name. Dumbledore appeared again as he all but fled towards the teacher’s table and took cover beside it in a crouch. He waved his wand around but seemed at a loss of what to do.
The smoke intensified until nothing behind it could be seen and the dark cloud grew so big that it took up most of the empty space between the student tables and the teacher’s table. More lightning flashed, some going through the dark smoke and the air pressure seemed to change, much like when one travelled in an airplane, Hermione realized when her ears popped.
Some students still screamed or called out in fear, but most people just huddled together, unsure what in Merlin’s name was going on.
Finally, the lightning stopped and the dark smoke started to dissipate, slowly revealing two figures, one human and one decidedly not.
The man that appeared was tall with long, dark hair and a dark beard. It wasn’t as wild as Hagrid’s, but it wasn’t exactly neatly trimmed either. Throughout both his hair and beard there were small braids with metal trinkets and gems hanging from them. He was dressed all in black, with high leather boots, a short leather vest that tied in the front over what appeared to be a linen shirt and trousers. Over all of this he wore a long, sleeveless fur cloak, with shorter black fur on the mantel and long, rough fur covering the wide collar, giving the man the appearance of having a lion’s black mane spread out over his shoulders. On second thought, Hermione realized as she took a good look, it might very well be fur from a lion’s mane.
The man carried a large staff that was imbedded with lots of bits and pieces of metal, gemstone and what looked to be bone. Around his waist he carried a small satchel, and on his shoulder sat a raven, which immediately took flight and soared around the great hall, cawing loudly. It was at least twice the size of any raven Hermione had ever seen in any book.
The most striking thing about the man were not the tattoos that covered every visible piece of skin. Hermione couldn’t see them very clearly from the distance, but they looked like some type of unknown runes. No, the most striking thing were the man’s eyes, which were green and shone like radium as he took his time taking in the great hall around him.
The man made an imposing figure, but the beast at his side did even more so. Hermione had never seen such an animal and knew at once it had to be magical, but it looked utterly alien even to a witch.
It was the size of a Siberian tiger, had four legs and a long tail ending in a few spikes. Its back was covered in thick scales and its belly in dark fur, both which appeared black with a green or blue sheen depending on how it caught the light. Its head was massive, with a wide mouth filled with very sharp, silver teeth. And it had four eyes, two on either side next to each other, which glowed with an eerie ultraviolet light. The most striking thing about the beast was that every time it breathed, cracks would appear alongside its whole body that glowed a fiery orange, as if the whole animal was filled with burning embers that appeared and disappeared with every breath.
The man drew himself up even more while the beast growled beside him. “Who has dared summon me across worlds?” The man bellowed, voice like a rumble of thunder, while people all around the great hall emerged from their hiding places to stare at the newcomers in both awe and fear.
Dumbledore approached the man with cautious steps, wand in hand but pointing down. “Harry Potter?”
The man whipped around while the raven cawed, “Harry, Harry,” as it circled above them. “Yes,” the man said, giving Dumbledore a onceover and obviously not finding him very impressive. “That’s my name. Who are you?”
Before Dumbledore could answer the whole hall descended into utter chaos.