Chapter 1: Unusual Gifts
Having stepped outside to pick up the mail, Harry's eyes caught on a letter that didn't fit. Smallish. Thick yellow paper and a wax seal, utterly out of place amid the mess of bills and ads the postman had brought.
It was addressed to him.
Mr. Harry Potter, Number 4 Privet Drive, the Cupboard Under the Stairs.
Harry put it in the back of his shorts, held tight by his belt, covered by his too-baggy shirt.
When he set the rest of the mail on the kitchen table, his Aunt and Uncle hardly looked at him. He escaped to his cupboard, and pulled the door to it tight in the special way that made it stick against the frame when anyone else tried to open it.
The only light in the cupboard was a single bare bulb lit by pulling on a chain, but it was a high wattage bulb, and two small mirrors fit into the corners of the cupboard stopped his head from shading the paper when he read.
The letter told him that he was to be a wizard, and go to wizarding school, and he should respond by owl. He read that line several times, swallowing and wondering where he was supposed to respond to. Hogwarts, but where was that?
His Aunt and Uncle were calling for him, so he put the letter in the space beneath the loose floorboard and went out to do the dishes. The letter was probably a joke cooked up by his cousin, or some neighbor's idea of a prank, telling kids they were wizards, like Santa Claus, but slightly cruel.
Some egg had been burned so tightly to the smaller pan that it would take serious elbow grease to get off even with the scrub brush so he rubbed a finger over the burned bit, and it came right off. There was a knack to it.
He went back to his cupboard, and copied the letter three times. One copy went into one of the books stacked in the corner, one went under his small mattress, (which had no frame, but, though it was very old, was just the right firmness and had never gotten lumpy) and one went into the nook under the loose floorboard-cold had used to sneak up in the night from the cement beneath, so he had lined it with styrofoam pieces.
"Phil," he said. "What do you think? Am I a wizard?" It sounded silly to say, but Phil susurrused in his right ear in a way that seemed to say, "Yes, you are a wizard, or what are you doing with me?"
He waited for Phil to hide back in his hair before leaving his cupboard to show the original letter to his Aunt and Uncle.
He had thought his Aunt and Uncle wouldn't like it. They disliked anything at all unusual or interesting. He wondered if they would yell at him, but he didn't expect them to yell so loudly. They seemed scared, and Uncle Vernon yelled at Aunt Petunia about her side of the family, and she said it was hardly her fault, and it was just her sister that was the freak, and it went on and on until eventually Uncle Vernon remembered that Harry was there and told him it was nothing, only a practical joke.
"Yes," Harry said. "That's what I thought it was. But are you saying that some other relatives of my parents are still alive, and one of them sent me this?"
His Aunt and Uncle took the letter, bundled him back into his cupboard, locked it, and didn't let him back out till dinner. After he showered they put him back in.
He tried to read a book, but couldn't concentrate.
He didn't think it was a practical joke. There was the stuff with the door, the dishes, the garden and his hair, his having Phil, the time he'd talked to a snake, and quite a bit else aside from the main and undeniable proof.
Harry guessed Uncle Vernon was nervous as well, because it wasn't till nearly three in the morning that the house creaked and the air changed in that way which meant that Uncle Vernon was asleep.
He ran his magnet against the inside of the door, and the throw latch screwed to the outside opened.
It shouldn't have been possible to do that so easily just with a magnet, but there was a knack to it.
He stepped into the hall wearing a wool cap, long pants that didn't fit, and his warmest jacket. He carried his shoes, walking quietly on padded feet. The kitchen door, never creaky, was extra quiet for him.
He locked the door behind himself. The magnet, again. Then sat on the welcome mat and put on his shoes. Then peed on a shrubbery.
It was dark on Privet Drive at three in the morning, but not very. Fingering the letter in his jacket pocket, he looked for an owl, but there weren't any.
He thought about putting the letter in with their normal outbound mail, relying on Wizards and Witches to use Witchcraft and Wizardry to intercept any mail addressed to them.
"Owl." He whispered. "Owl for Hogwarts." But there weren't any owls.
Till there was one. A juvenile great horned owl, brown, with streaks of red and gray, standing right where Harry had been.
Harry beat his wings and rose into the night.
Harry soared through the sky over Number 4 Privet Drive and waited. He could see a lot more and hear a lot more in this form, and now there were owls to choose from. He ignored the ones that hooted in trees and the ones that seemed to be hunting and kept looking for any that were acting unusually.
He was wondering about the time, starting to think about going back inside, when he noticed the one carrying mail.
At first he thought the cylinder was a wildlife tracking device, like he'd seen on TV, but those weren't so large. He flew closer, saw a bit of paper peeking out of the cylinder, and hooted.
The owl ignored him, and he followed it, slightly apprehensive. The one time he'd followed an owl in owl form it had gotten territorial.
This one flapped into the nearest park and circled the playset three times, Harry imitating its every move. They dove into the thicket of trees at the park's western edge, passing through the deepest shadows of the park, between the bulks of two old oaks, and when they passed out of the deep shadows between two old oaks, a lake unfolded in front of them.
There wasn't a lake in the neighborhood park. There was a pond in the larger park two miles over, but this wasn't that.
He beat his wings, half-hovering, trying to get his bearings in a confusion that was hastily tossed aside by the thought that he didn't know where he was or how to get back to where he'd been, but if he didn't keep following the owl, he wouldn't have any way of getting to where he was going.
He renewed his chase, not getting closer to the owl, but not letting it get farther either, flying exactly where it flew.
It flew into a deep shadow amid the sedge around the lake, and did not come out.
Harry flew through the shadow amid the sedge around the lake, and nearly crashed into the ground before pulling up and rising out of the deep shadow amid the sedge around a creek, not a lake in sight.
On the next hop, he recognized the shadow they'd pass through before the owl went through it. There was a shininess to the black, but also a depth, and a glimmer of what lay on the other side.
He thought that they were passing by many such portals, but felt no temptation to experiment. The owl delivering mail occupied his attention.
Four more hops through deep shadows and there was a forest, a lake, and a fairy tale castle rising above, a mess of spires and turrets.
The owl circled twice around the highest tower, then disappeared through a slit.
Harry went through it too, landing on a pier of wood. There were a lot of owls resting on various perches and nests, but no cages. Perhaps they didn't need cages. Two small brownish humanoids with very big noses were among them. One was grooming an owl, which made a contented purring, and the other was taking what was indeed a letter from the cylinder on the leg of the owl he'd been following.
They paid him no more than a glance. There were lots of owls to look after, and he didn't have any mail.
He fluttered past them into the hall and down a long spiral staircase of stone that let out into a much wider hall hung with paintings and banners. There were candle posts, but most were unlit, and he flew from candle post to candle post, wondering what the time was. Late enough in the night that most would call it morning, but still hours till light, he thought.
He wondered if the whole castle was full of nothing but owls and the strange goblin-creatures he'd seen with the owls. Perhaps the letter was for drawing young wizards to them so that they could eat them.
Though if it were a goblin castle it shouldn't be so full of pictures of humans. Though if it were a human castle, the pictures shouldn't be of humans sleeping.
"Ahoy up there," said a very human voice. "Shoo, shoo, you'll dirty the hall."
It was a woman in her 40s, yawning into a handkerchief. The only problem being that she was inside a painting.
"Shoo," said the painting. "Owls don't belong here."
He flew on, around a couple of turns, and took a closer look at the paintings of people sleeping. The people were breathing, some were snoring, and one man rolled over. He went a little further, to a place where there was one painting off by itself, and, taking a deep breath, Harry turned back into a human.
"Hello," he said. "Hello. If you wouldn't mind waking up..." The man in the painting kept sleeping.
Harry touched the man in the painting on the nose.
The man in the painting blinked his eyes, stared at Harry, and shot to his feet. "A student. What are you doing here?"
"Looking," said Harry. "Are you the product of some evil soul imprisoning dark magic?"
The main said, "You shouldn't be here. School doesn't start for weeks. Months."
"Yes, very sorry, so this is a school?"
"Of course it's-" the painting stopped. "Are you muggle-born?"
"What?" said Harry.
"If you don't know, you are one."
Harry said, "If you could answer my first question, are you human?"
The man in the painting drew himself up. "I'm Janeth Crocker of House Hufflepuff."
"And you're really human? Are you trapped in this painting?"
"That's a very rude question."
"The second one?"
"The first. The second is easy; I can go to any painting in Hogwarts I like except for the paintings in the Professors' studies and the House rooms, so no I'm not trapped."
"And you're human?"
The painting sighed. "I suppose fresh muggle-borns being intolerably rude must be tolerated. I am merely a painting of Janeth Crocker."
"But you can talk."
"I'd be a very poor painting if I couldn't do at least that much."
Harry said, "Is there-"
The painting said, "You should talk to a teacher. There's at least one here. Look for Dumbledore or whoever. Go that way." It pointed, and Harry set off in that direction.
He woke up more paintings as he went, getting vague and often conflicting directions from the drowsy and the startled, but guessed that, whether he was going in the right direction or not, he was bound to run into someone sooner or later.
"What are you doing here?" said a woman's voice.
Turning toward the painting, he said, "Could you tell me where I might fi-" He stopped. Not a painting. An elderly, straight-backed woman in red robes and a high pointed hat like witches wore in old stories. "I've been looking for you," he finished.
Her eyes narrowed. "Are you Harry Potter?" she said.
"Did you read my mind?"
"I knew your parents. You look just like your father."
That was a warm feeling. His parents had been magical. He'd already guessed that, based on his Aunt and Uncle calling them freaks.
"Potter, how are you here?"
He said, "I got a letter this morning, or I guess yesterday morning now, telling me I was a wizard and I should reply by owl, but I wasn't sure how to do that, so I found an owl carrying mail, turned into an owl too, and I followed it."
Her eyebrows rose into her short bangs. "Turned into an owl. Show me."
He turned into an owl, seeing her with the sharp eyes and low vantage of the species, and nearly fell over when she turned into a cat. Then back into a witch, so he played along and turned back into a student.
"I'm Professor McGonagall," she said, extending a hand. "Welcome to Hogwarts, Harry Potter. I'll take you to Dumbledore."
He learned that the goblin-like things were house-elves, that an owl would've appeared if he'd gone to the mailbox, and that Dumbledore was an old man with a long white beard and lots of socks. Layers of them, like bundles on his feet.
Dumbledore said, "So aside from turning into an owl..."
"I have a few knacks. I can clean things easily, unlock locks more easily than I should. My hair does whatever I want without any gel. I can communicate with animals a bit."
"Tell me about that." said Dumbledore.
"Just a few. All the neighborhood cats. Various birds a little. Ravens. Owls. Spiders, though there are loads of species and they're all different. It's not talking. I look into their eyes, and after awhile we understand each other. Except with snakes. I've only met two, but both times I could just talk to the snake."
Their expressions became strained.
"What?" said Harry.
Dumbledore said, "Keep that last part secret. It's not bad, but it's the sort of thing you might want to be a surprise one day. Same for turning into an owl. All wizards can transform, but it usually takes special spells. It's not especially rare to be an inborn animagus but it's not common either. Like having perfect pitch."
"If I practice, can I learn to become more animals?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "Just the one, as a general rule."
It occurred to Harry that he might be talented, and he followed Dumbledore's advice by saying nothing about it. Secrets were treasures, and Harry was used to hiding his treasures.
Dumbledore said, "Minerva, could you take young Potter to get his school supplies?"
"But wait a while. Potter looks ready to fall asleep right here." He pointed to a cot in the corner, and suddenly the rumpled bed sheets were replaced with fresh ones, and Harry needed no encouragement.
McGonagall had led Harry out onto the castle grounds, Harry trying to drink everything in as McGonagall forced him to hurry. There were a lot of buildings, some very old trees, and the forest looked good for walking in.
They had been walking for about 10 minutes, and Harry had been starting to wonder whether they were going to walk all the way to the market, and whether wizards had more effective methods, when McGonagall took his arm. "Hold on."
There'd been a flash of light, then a flash of dark that had cleared away to reveal cobblestone streets, shops with high-pitched roofs, and one very impressive edifice called Gringotts. Now he was being faced with a very large pile of gold, big enough to roll around in like Scrooge McDuck, and being told it was his.
"This belonged to my parents? Is it a lot?"
"It's a good amount."
"Could I buy a house with it?"
"Why would you buy a house?" McGonagall filled a small bag with coins, then handed it to him. It was heavy. "This should do."
On the one hand, it was a very, very small fraction of the coins in the room. On the other hand, if he was remembering how much gold was worth in the muggle world, it was worth a very, very nice car. Or maybe a small house.
Probably, gold was less valuable in the wizarding world than the muggle world.
"Can we take some more," said Harry. "Just in case."
"It's already enough to buy all your school supplies and have a good amount left over."
"Just in case we see something. I won't buy anything without your permission. If we haven't spent it at the end of the day, we'll put it back."
McGonagall frowned, and filled another little bag.
"Now we go shopping?"
"I've had a busy morning, Potter. A muggle-born's reply arrived about the same time you did, and as you slept, I picked her up. I left her here to fill out forms for the muggle-born's school fund while I got you, and she should be done by now."
"A first -ear, like you. Try to be friends."
Harry wished this weren't happening. "Yippee," he muttered.
Near the front of the bank, in a set of open air offices, a girl with wavy dark brown hair, sitting on a stool, reading a book called Hogwarts: A History. "Professor," she said, and tried to hand over the book.
"Keep it. Have you been waiting long?"
"Not long," she said, tucking the book under her arm and flushing with pleasure. "He wants you to sign a couple things," pointing to a goblin behind a desk.
McGonagall went to the goblin, and the girl introduced herself as Hermione Granger.
"Harry Potter," said Harry, shaking her hand, hoping that something had gone wrong with her forms and she'd have to stay at the bank while he and McGonagall went shopping.
"Are you muggle-born too?" she said.
"Sort of. My parents were wizards, but I've been raised by my Aunt and Uncle. I didn't know about wizards."
"It's very remarkable. I didn't believe it till Professor McGonagall levitated my father and turned the sofa into a pig."
"Did she change it back?" said Harry.
"After it had eaten a radish.
"Was there any-"
"There wasn't any radish in the sofa afterward. I checked."
"You didn't believe at first? Hadn't you noticed anything... odd?"
"The time I fell from a high tree but was unhurt. But I thought that was just luck. The way I could always open a book to exactly the right page. But I thought I just had a knack for it. The way I always knew the time. But that's the same. The time I turned a girl blue. I worried I might be going crazy."
Before Harry could think of how to phrase questions about that last one, she'd said, "How about you?"
"About the same." And it was, except for the transformations. And he hadn't ever done anything like turning someone blue.
By the time McGonagall was done talking to the goblin Harry had forgotten his displeasure at having a second companion.
As they excited Gringotts, McGonagall brushed Harry's bangs down over his hair. "Cover that scar," she said. Then, "I'll explain later."
First they went to get measured for robes at Madam Malkin's, which was empty except for them and Madam Malkin.
Something started to seem odd to Harry.
Hermione said, "I haven't seen any other students."
McGonagall said, "Muggle-borns get their letters early, as they often need time to get matters sorted. But you two responded right away."
Madam Malkin stared at him a little while measuring, but said only, "The uniforms will be ready in an hour or two."
Then on to Flourish and Blotts where they filled their book lists and got telescopes, scales, and small knives for cutting potions ingredients.
"You should both get this," said McGonagall, pointing at a book which was not on their school list. The Muggle-born's Guide to Understanding the Wizarding World.
"Get the expanded reference book as well. Make sure you've read them before the school year starts."
When Harry went to pay, and the cashier said, "Merlin's beard. Is that Harry Potter?"
"Where?" said Harry, looking behind himself.
His expression was blank. "I'm David."
"That scar beneath your hair."
"I hit my head on a rock."
Hermione, who was near enough to hear, "David, look at this," so he quickly finished paying, then went to look at it.
Hermione stared at him, so he shrugged.
All the books were put into the trunks, which, at a flick of a McGonagall's wand, rolled behind them. Harry said, "I was recognized. That's twice, counting you." And the goblin at Gringotts had said his name slowly, like he was tasting the syllables.
McGonagall led them to an ice-cream shop, seated them at an outdoor table slightly cut off from view by two potted plants, bought three ice-creams, and had them get out The Muggle-born's Guide.
"Look in the table of contents for the section about You-Know-Who, and then the section for the Boy Who Lived.
Harry was not a slow reader, but Hermione had read it all and several parts twice by the time Harry got to the bit about the Dark Lord killing his parents, but somehow, miraculously, being unable to kill him.
He felt her eyes on him as he found out, and as he read the three paragraphs devoted to shaky hypotheses endeavoring to answer the question of why.
There was a picture in the book of Lily and James Potter, taken at their wedding, the first picture of his parents he'd ever seen. He really did have his father's face, his features just a little more pointed. But his green eyes were his mother's. Both were good looking; he wondered if he might grow up to be good looking too.
What made his eyes water a little wasn't the thought of being good looking, but the thought of taking after his parents, who'd been killed.
"So I'm famous," said Harry, when he was done, and pushed his bangs down flat over his scar.
"Their recognizing you is just as much from your looking so like your father. Everyone who bothers to add knows that this is the year Harry Potter starts at Hogwarts. Some shopkeepers might be on the lookout. Shake their hands, ask their names, don't tell them you're named David, and thank them for whatever they say. It shouldn't be bad."
Then there was nothing to do but have a second serving of ice-cream and think about how the world was.
A sign on a shop they were passing said that the bags could hold 67 times their volume.
"Can I get that," said Harry, pointing.
"Do they get heavier when you load them?"
"Not much. Why do you want it?"
"To put things inside."
She arched a brow.
"I'm afraid my Aunt and Uncle will try to lock up my school books, and I won't be able to study."
He wanted it to be unobtrusive, so he looked for a small one, and though he didn't quite understand wizarding money the price of the bag that held 67 times its volume was frightening, so he was about to get a 37 times expanded, but McGonagall told him it would be a waste of money since he'd just end up buying a bigger one later, so he got a 59 times, which cost 40% less than the 67 times despite carrying nearly as much. It could hang over your shoulder like a satchel, you could pin it up so it was halved in size, and have it cling secretly to your chest like cops wore guns in movies. Either way, it held all the books; he checked.
The clerk pricked Harry's finger, squeezed the droplet of blood onto the snap, then burned a seal onto the snap. If anyone but Harry opened it, or if Harry opened it in a particular way, all that would be found was a normal sized bag with whatever items he'd chosen to keep "up top." This was called Muggle Mode, but as the clerk explained how hard it was for Wizards to discern that it was an expanded bag, and how hard it was to open it, Harry guessed that was just an excuse.
McGonagall said, "Remember Potter that I know that you have that, and that every Professor of Hogwarts has more than enough ability to discern what it is and open it."
Harry apologized to Hermione for taking her time.
"No bother. But carry something for me when we're at school."
The shop advertised a first aid and camping kit to go with it, so you'd always be prepared, and he bought that too.
At Amanuensis Quills, Harry and Hermione spent several minutes fooling around with a demo quill and inkwell, and Harry laughed at how weird it was. Then Harry bought quills, parchment, and a necklace which you could call for help with.
"Pets," said McGonagall.
Hermione said, "I shouldn't get a pet without my parents' permission."
"An owl could carry letters back and forth once you're at school."
"Can't I just rent an owl?"
"Very cheaply," said McGonagall.
Harry said to McGonagall, "I'm not getting one either. There's no way my Aunt and Uncle would allow it."
"You might be surprised."
"You don't know them. Anyway, I don't have any space to keep a pet." Except Phil.
"I spoke to your Aunt and Uncle this morning, while you were sleeping. You're moving out of your current space and into your cousin's playroom."
Harry's mouth dropped. He imagined McGonagall in his Aunt and Uncle's sitting room, tall, imposing and strange, but still couldn't imagine what she could've said to them to get them to agree to that.
Then he remembered Hermione saying that McGonagall had levitated her father and turned the sofa into a pig and thought that it was probably not what she'd said that'd done the trick.
She said, "You can get a pet if you like."
After looking wistfully at the cats, Harry found a brown Great Horned owl with streaks of red and grey.
"That looks familiar," said McGonagall. "This isn't a decision you should be making for those reasons."
"It sounds like the wizarding world is dangerous."
"Eleven years ago was a dangerous time."
"And he had a lot of followers. They'll be angry at me."
"You'll be quite safe at Hogwarts."
"And at my Aunt and Uncle's?"
"There are very strong magics that keep you protected there, based on their being family and your being a child. And the ministry keeps an eye on it."
It was a little scary that they felt the need to do that, but he felt a little better. They were taking precautions.
"Potter, be smart, not prudent. You said you can commune with animals. Show me, and find an animal that will suit you."
He looked into the eyes of the owl in the cage he held. It was thinking that it didn't like to get carried, and about when it might get its next mouse. It paid no attention to him at all.
He sent it an impression of mousiness. It sprung to attention, and looked for the mouse. He sent it an impression of warmth, comfort and affection. It looked for the mouse.
He put the owl back.
Harry looked among the other pets. Cats, toads, rodents, snakes, ravens, though only owls, cats and toads had been on the list of allowable pets. No spiders, though presumably Hogwarts wouldn't care too much if you brought a small one.
He looked at the owls. Some beautiful, others cute.
"Are they good pets?"
"Wizards have bred captive owls for centuries to make better pets, but no, they're still not especially good pets. They are good for carrying letters."
"This white one looks too small to carry much."
"It'll grow," said McGonagall, but Harry had stopped listening.
Its eyes were big, black, glancing curiously all around. When they met his gaze, the glancing stopped.
He sent it a feeling of mousiness, and twisted its head, seeming to ask, "Where's the mouse?"
He sent it feelings of warmth and affection, and it stopped thinking of the mouse and basked in that.
It was young. It had only recently left its parents. This was her first day for sale: maybe. She wanted to fly, and she missed her mother. Being in the shop was scary. Now she was getting the strange and certain sense that the human in front of her was not scary at all. Was a bit like a mother, and a bit like a nest.
When the human opened the cage, she hopped on its shoulder.
Harry stroked her, and she rubbed her body against his hand.
Hermione came over. "Can I touch it?"
"They're not very friendly with strangers," McGonagall started to say, and stopped when the owl let Hermione pet it, and made a sound that related both to a cat's purr and a Spanish rolled r.
"I'll buy her," said Harry, and named her Hedwig.
Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC. The shop was crammed floor to ceiling with long thin boxes, and the tall thin man amid the boxes greeted them by saying. "Harry Potter. You have your mother's eyes. And the other?"
Hermione frowned a little at being "the other," but smiled and posed back when Harry posed with the first wand he was handed.
Ollivander snatched both from them, then immediately handed them each another. "Wave them."
Hermione's made a few pale sparks, and Harry's did nothing.
On the third pair, Harry's wand made a few sparks, and Hermione's did nothing.
On the sixth try, Hermione's wand made a flash of warm yellow light which lit the whole room and took a moment to subside, like a wave passing by. Hermione squealed.
"That's the one," Ollivander said, "10 and three-quarters, vine wood, dragon heartstring, excellent for charms."
Harry tried another, then another, the boxes starting to mount. He tried some that had already been tried by Hermione, making now and then a few sparks, but nothing like that flush of light.
Harry began to worry that his magic was defective, though he told himself that was silly.
"I wonder, why not, try this one."
More sparks, but not the pale scattered ones of before, a thick stream of bright red and gold accompanied by a sound like trumpet and drum.
Ollivander smiled slightly, not giddy, but deeply pleased in some wry manner. "Holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches, nice and supple, with a martial flare. How curious."
McGonagall said, "Mr. Ollivander, if you could put child locks on both wands."
"Of course," said Ollivander, affixing metal covers to the tips and ends, still muttering about how curious it was.
McGonagall said, "Study your books, but you're not to try any magic at all till you're at Hogwarts. The locks remove temptation."
Harry said, "What's so curious?"
"Perhaps the girl should leave," said Ollivander, nodding to Hermione.
It occurred to Harry that this very fledgling friendship might not survive his keeping a secret from her. "Hermione can hear it."
Ollivander said, "It is curious that the wand destined for you should be brother to the wand that gave you that scar."
McGonagall said, "Keep that a secret."
"If I'd known what he was going to say, I wouldn't have let you hear it. I'm not sure I'd have even let Harry hear it."
"But you heard it. Hopefully that works out."
McGonagall took them to the office of the owl post to arrange newspaper subscriptions.
"I don't usually read the newspaper," said Harry.
"I'd rather study my textbooks," said Hermione.
"Do that too," said McGonagall, "but scholastically, those from wizarding families won't have nearly as much of a leg up on you as you might think. They'll have learned very little about magic that's practical and specific. What they'll have and you don't is background knowledge. Just knowing basic matters that 'everyone' knows. Read The Muggle-Born's Guide, a daily paper, your History of Magic book and your Introduction to Magical Theory book and you'll be as prepared as any of them."
They'd each get The Daily Prophet, the large, moderate, prestigious paper, 5 times a week, and The Wonky Wizard, which was edgier and had more in the way of a high culture section, twice a week. It was cheaper for Harry, since his owl could do the carrying (Hedgwig had come with an instruction booklet), but it was just till they left for Hogwarts, two or so months away, so it wasn't expensive even for Hermione.
They went back to Flourish and Blott's, where Harry apologized to the cashier lying, introduced himself, and, at the cashier's recommendation, bought two slim volumes. A biography of James Potter, and a biography of Lily Evans Potter.
They got potions ingredients at the Apothecary, swung by Madam Malkin's to pick up their uniforms, and McGonagall said, "Grab your trunks, then grab me."
When the flash of darkness cleared they were on a residential street not unlike Privet Drive, though the houses were a room or two larger.
"Thank you, Professor," said Hermione. "See you at school, Harry."
She pulled her trunk toward a house with a red door.
"Should I write to you? I'd like the excuse to use the owl."
"That'd be nice."
With one glance back, she went through the red door into the house.
"She's eager to tell her parents about her day," said McGonagall. "Grab on."
The flash of light, the flash of darkness, and they were on Privet Drive.
"Isn't it a problem if someone sees you?"
"I've cast a spell to make us very hard for muggles to notice."
Harry took a deep breath. His clothing, wand and the like were in the trunk, but the books and the telescope, the things he could actually use before going to Hogwarts, were in the expanded bag, which was hidden in his jacket. Nothing to do but go inside.
"It's an impressive garden," said McGonagall.
"Thank you, I'm the gardener."
"Not a very interesting garden though."
"I'm not the landscaper."
"Remember that you owe them very little," she said, and went through the door.
His Aunt and Uncle were huddled on the sofa, watching TV with an odd desperation, and they pressed back against the sofa when McGonagall came in behind Harry. "The second bedroom is empty?" she said.
Uncle Vernon nodded, purple faced and unspeaking. Aunt Petunia was looking at the owl on Harry's shoulder with a odd mixture of resignation, disgust and wistfulness.
Harry pulled his trunk up the stairs, then carried everything from his cupboard up in four armloads, then considered the only thing left, the cot mattress which passed for his bed and took up most of the cupboard.
Professor McGonagall peered over his shoulder, and sighed. "Harry, consider this an early birthday present."
She waved her wand, and the cot was gone. She went upstairs, to the smallish room that was his, palatial in comparison to the cupboard, and waved her wand a few more times.
A bed, a writing desk, a small bookcase, a dresser, and a perch for his owl, with a sandbox and a bowl of water.
Harry touched the foot of the bed, and his hand did not go through.
McGonagall said, "You may do very small matters – communicating with the owl, things you have a knack for, perhaps transforming yourself – the energy is directed internally - but don't attempt any spells, or anything that isn't tiny, or try to do anything with your wand, even if it is child-locked.
He sat on the bed, and knew he'd been fooling himself by thinking his cot mattress was comfortable. Hedgwig few onto the perch.
McGonagall raised her voice so that the entire house could hear, "And if you have any trouble, contact me. You know how. I'll come right away."
"Professor, thank you so much, I..."
"Happy almost Birthday, Harry Potter." A crack and flash, and she was gone.
The Dursleys were even more frightened than he'd expected.
"Did she turn something into a pig?" said Harry.
There was a lot of shouting, though not at him, which was a change, and Harry gathered that she'd turned Dudley into a pig. And then Dudley had eaten a radish, and Dudley, it seemed, wasn't that upset by being temporarily turned into a pig, regarding it, to Harry's surprise, as an interesting experience which hopefully would not put him off bacon, but he was bothered by his having eaten a radish, as he didn't like radishes, and where had the radish come from in the first place?
Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia worried that being turned into a pig and back again had unsettled Dudley's mind.
Harry thought an unsettling of Dudley's mind could only result in improvement.
But mostly he ignored the Dursleys, and the Dursleys ignored him. He stayed in his room, where no one gave him any dirty looks, and settled into a wholesome routine.
The morning was devoted to chores. He made breakfast, did the dishes, and took care of the garden, which involved a lot of listening to the plants and bugs, directing good vibes at them, and doing small, wandless, wordless, instinctual magics to help them grow. He figured those were chores enough, and the one time Aunt Petunia had asked him to do something else he'd frowned, not done it, and she hadn't said anything.
After gardening, he read The Daily Prophet, (which always, when it mentioned the incoming Hogwarts class, mentioned that he would be in it). Then he read his textbooks till lunch, made himself lunch, most likely a sandwich, went back to his room, read textbooks, practiced tongue twisters, because the books were always emphasizing the importance of pronouncing the spells correctly, ate dinner, cleaned dinner up, and read more. He played with Hedgwig, who was affectionate and loved chasing whatever he threw. Still, though he'd been called a bookworm a time or two, that was more reading than he liked, and somewhere in it all went for a walk.
He took different routes on his walks, but always went through the park, and swung on the swingset if it was free. If it wasn't free, he waited.
Then he slept, woke, and did it again the next day.
He read his parents' biographies. Getting them at Flourish and Blotts, he'd imagined that they'd been written just because of what had happened with Voldemort, but as he read, he realized that if Voldemort had never existed, Lily and James Potter still would've had biographies written, though they wouldn't have been big sellers. The Muggle-born's Guide had briefly described James as a prominent transformations expert, and Lily Potter as a prominent expert on Ancestral Curses, but that had undersold them.
They'd died at 22, and had already made enough important discoveries to furnish long and distinguished careers. It was an extra weight, thinking that he had to try and fill a Lily and James Potter-sized hole in the world.
Sometimes he drew, though he wasn't good at drawing, and read muggle books, though they didn't interest him so much as they had used to.
Sometimes at night he pointed his telescope through the window to at look at things from his astronomy book, though mostly he didn't bother with the telescope. He didn't have a good angle. It worked better to turn into an owl, fly onto the roof, and look at the stars with an owl's powerful eyes.
He let Hedgwig out to hunt every night, and sometimes, though he didn't hunt himself, he flew with her.
He sent Hermione two letters, and she sent him two back. From what he could tell, she had a similar routine, though she made it through the textbooks much more quickly, and had nothing to do with owls.
Still, by the time the seven weeks till it was time to go to Hogwarts were up, he'd been through his Transfigurations, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Charms and Potions books once, History of Magic, Astronomy and Herbology twice, and The Muggle-born's Guide and Introduction to Magical Theory going on three times.
In preparation for his trip to Hogwarts he'd teased his bangs into growing in extra thick, thoroughly covering the half of his forehead that held his scar, opaque as a granite slab. He'd brushed it down with water and told it to stay, so it would. He might still be recognized on account of looking like his dad, but with the scar covered people would just wonder, not know.
The Muggle-born's Guide had made very, very clear what to do. Go to Platform 9, walk three-quarters of the way toward platform 10, and step through the wall, preferably with a decent head of a steam, with no one looking, and a lot of confidence that you would go through it.
That was fine in theory, but tough to work himself up to while facing an apparently solid wall. He should hurry up though. He was getting looks from passerbys, even though Hedgwig's travel cage cast an illusion that made her look like a parrot.
A skinny red-haired boy, by himself with a big wheeled trunk and a rat on his shoulder.
"Hullo" the boy. "Are you muggle-born?"
"So you probably don't know how to get through."
"I do, actually."
"What you do is face the wall at 9 and three-quarters, wait till no one's looking, and run through. You have to believe that you won't hit the wall, or at least not be certain that you will."
"Yes," said Harry.
They didn't run, but walked quickly, the wall looking very solid indeed, but glimmering faintly, closer and closer, Harry worrying not that the wall might be real, but that he might believe in the wall too much.
He kept his eyes open.
He could see the grain of the bricks, the mortar, a bit of dirt stuck on, the remains of an old cobweb, bigger, bigger, and just as it expanded to take in the universe, it disappeared.
Without encountering any resistance, they burst into a bright train station, full students in robes, carting trunks.
He laughed a little, and the red-haired boy said, "I'm Ron Weasley."
"Nice to meet you. I'm looking for a friend." He looked around, but it was quite a crowd. "A brown-haired muggle-born named Hermione Granger."
"A girl," Ron said.
Ron said, "If you're both muggle-borns, how do you known each other? Are you from the same muggle neighborho-that's unlikely. Did you meet while getting your school supplies?"
Harry blinked. "Professor McGonagall took us together."
He and Ron found her in an otherwise empty train car, desperately reading a book.
He wondered if she wanted him to join her. She probably didn't want him acting like they were friends just because they'd gone shopping together. And it wasn't as if he didn't have anyone else to talk to. He seemed to have acquired Ron, though it was unclear whether that was good.
She looked up from her book. "Harry! Take a seat."
"Harry?" said Ron.
Harry took a seat as Hermione closed her book. The potions book.
"How many times have you read that?"
"I don't remember."
Ron said, "Harry Potter?"
"Okay, but only after you prove you're Ron Wesley."
"See, you can't do it."
Hermione said, "Harry, everyone will know, and doing that will get old. Just-" she motioned.
Harry brushed his hair aside so Ron could see the scar.
"Wow. Cool. Like a lightning bolt. From when you killed You-Know-Who."
Harry said, "You're from a wizarding family? Hermione and I were raised by muggles. What's a wizarding family like?"
That changed the topic, and Ron waxed on about his having a mom and a dad (very magical and mysterious, that) five older brothers (that was a lot of brothers) and a younger sister (would wonders never cease?)
When Ron started talking about Quidditch and who his favorite players were, a topic he seemed to have segued into from something about one of his brothers, Harry began wondering how to make it stop.
Hermione said, "I've never seen Quidditch."
"You've got seven positions, two beaters, three chasers, one-"
"I know the rules," said Hermione. "It's explained in the guide." She waved it. "I've just never seen it."
"It's very fast. Very fun. I remember one time-"
Hermione said, "I wondered about the snitch. Doesn't it make the rest of the game kind of pointless since catching it is worth so much more than scoring a goal?"
Harry had wondered the same.
Ron said, "Yes, so, not really. That's the whole basis of Quidditch strategy. If you have your beaters help the seeker, the other team will run up the score so much with goals that even the snitch won't help, but if you have your beaters focusing on goal scoring, the other team, one that's focusing more on snitch-catching, might catch the snitch before you've run the score up high enough."
He kept talking about Quidditch strategy, Harry and Hermione changed the subject a couple times, and quickly realized that Ron was a walking, talking version of The Muggle-born's Guide. You could put him on any topic and he'd tell you about it till he'd exhausted everything he knew, or you'd changed the subject.
Harry had worried that once they were in Hogwarts, surrounded by many other students, and probably some of them muggle-born, the friendship with Hermione might evaporate. Especially since he was a boy and she was a girl – there were fewer friendships like that. And they'd probably get sorted into different houses. But for now, the friendship was surviving the train ride.
Harry said, "Which house do you want to get in?"
"Gryffindor," said Ron. "All my family are Gryffindors."
Hermione said, "Gryffindor would be good, or Ravenclaw."
Ron said, "All my brothers, my parents, my grandparents, all Gryffindors, there's one Uncle who's a Hufflepuff, we don't hold it against him."
Hermione said, "If I had to choose one I'd say Ravenclaw, but Gryffindor is a close second."
Ron said, "But would you believe it, he always comes to Christmas wearing Hufflepuff colors."
"How about you, Harry."
Harry shrugged. "I thought Slytherin had a lot to recommend it."
"Except for the one, very unfortunate trait it has which puts it completely out of the question," continued Harry, and Hermione relaxed.
Ron said, "But anything would be fine, I guess, except Slytherin. My family would disown me if I got sorted into Slytherin."
Harry said, "So maybe Hufflepuff."
Ron said, "Horrible place, Slytherin. All the dark wizards are from Slytherin."
"Hufflepuff?" said Hermione.
"It sounds very peaceful."
Ron said, "They ought to kick all the Slytherins out and make it just the three decent houses. They're very exclusionary."
Hermione blinked at Harry. "A house that takes pride in its plainness, where no one's likely to get any unwarranted attention."
Ron said, "Harry, which house do you want to get into?
"That's for the Sorting Hat to decide."
The hat had just finished singing.
Professor McGonagall said, "Abbott, Hanna."
Ms. Abbott stepped forward, put it on...
The procession went on. Sometimes it took a moment, sometimes thirty seconds passed. A brief procedure to decide what was, from what Harry could tell, one of the most important outcomes in a wizard's life.
When he'd first read The Muggle-born's Guide's descriptions, he'd thought Slytherin sounded very Harryesque. Ambitious, but prudently. Pursuing their aims in ways that weren't obvious. And very fond of history and heritage, which fit as well, since he'd always like history in school. Though there had been a few things about "Heritage" he hadn't understood.
On his second read, it'd dawned on him that the book was couching in delicate terms that House Slytherin was aggressively and openly racist against muggle-borns and the descendants of muggle-borns.
Harry knew about racism; it was in his muggle history textbooks, which generally explained that racism was very, very evil, and their country had used to be racist, but it wasn't anymore, which was how you knew their country was great; it had stopped being so evil.
A few details in The Daily Prophet had corroborated, and he'd decided that Slytherin was not an option.
Ravenclaw sounded intimidating; he'd been an unexceptional student, and he got a little bored when people talked too long about ideas.
Gryffindor: brave, passionate, headstrong, following their hearts and getting into trouble. He didn't know whether he was brave, but the rest wasn't him.
That left Hufflepuff, which was full of practical, hard-working ordinary people. If you went to Hufflepuff, and were ordinary, fine, that was all anyone expected, but if you went to Hufflepuff and you were awesome, you were twice as awesome as if you did it at another house, because you were understated while you did it.
Hermione went up, and took longer than anyone else had. Nearly a minute had passed before the hat shouted "GRYFFINDOR!"
When Professor McGonagall said, "Potter, Harry!" the hall broke into whispering.
Harry ignored it, and McGonagall set the hat on his head.
"Not Slytherin," he thought.
"Not Slytherin?" said a dry voice that noticeably skipped his ears. "There's a confident request from a confident young man. No matter how much you're losing, you always think you're going to win, don't you? Not Slytherin? You could be great there."
"Maybe, but not Slytherin. Hufflepuff."
The hat laughed. "You're balanced, more or less, but Hufflepuff is your third. More Hufflepuff than Ravenclaw..." The hat paused. "'Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.' You read that in English class, and it comforted you when you were locked in the cupboard. Still, you don't care quite enough about the abstractions themselves. Gryffindor suits you better."
"Gryffindor! I'm not at all like them." And it was the flashiest House.
The hat laughed at him. "You don't want Slytherin, you don't want Gryffindor. I do take student's opinions into account, but I am the sorting hat – you don't get to sort yourself. Your friend's already in Gryffindor."
"Gryffindor!" shouted the hat, and this time his ears heard it.
The hat was taken off, and the entire hall was cheering.
That's how it sounded for a moment, but it was just the Gryffindor table making all that noise, chants starting of "We got Potter, we got Potter, we got Potter."
Smiling weakly, trying to suppress the rise of red to his face, he walked to the Gryffindor table.
Teenagers slapped him on the back, welcoming him to Gryffindor, and a boy named Percy, who seemed to be one of Ron's older brothers, shook his hand and sat next to him.
Harry nodded, smiled, thanked people for whatever nice things they said, just as McGonagall had told him to, and wondered how long it would take for people to more or less stop looking at him.
Harry ate till he was full, ate more because he'd always eaten as much as he was allowed, ate more than that because it was so good, and stomach bulging, concluded he could eat no more. He stuffed several biscuits in his pockets, noticed his hand had grabbed another of the biscuits and was reaching for the honey. He put the honey back, ate the biscuit, told himself that was the end, had the mixed greens, a dish he hadn't known could be so good, more mixed greens, a piece of ham, and, as his stomach began to really hurt, desert appeared.
"I can't eat anymore," Harry groaned.
"There's always room for pie," Ron said, taking two large slices and a scoop of ice-cream.
Harry watched him eat, thinking that Ron, who was shorter and nearly as scrawny, had already eaten more than he had, and seemed ready to eat it all again, and their stomachs must be made of different stuffs.
"Come on," said Ron. "It'll only be your first Hogwarts meal once."
Harry set to it heroically, eating a slice of apple pie, a cherry tart, and something that reminded him of brownies, fudge, and an orange.
All at once, the deserts disappeared.
In the hush, Dumbledore rose. "Just a few more words now that we're all fed and watered. First-years should note that the entire forest is forbidden to them without supervision. Second-years up and should remember that the Forbidden Forest is forbidden to them, which is why we call it that. Do not go through the hedge.
"First through third-years are not to use any magic without supervision. In class, in the practice room, and nowhere else. Fourth years, don't abuse your new privileges, and everyone, remember not to use any magic in the corridors.
"Quidditch trials will be held in the second week of the term. Anyone interested in playing for their house teams should contact Madam Hooch. First-years, you are not eligible, and no, an exception will NOT be made for you."
"Finally, I must tell you that this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death."
A few students laughed, and trailed off as they realized few others were laughing.
"Is he serious?" Harry asked Percy.
Percy nodded, drawing himself up. "Us prefects have already been told about it. It shouldn't be a problem. The seals on the door are very, very good."
Harry mostly thought about that as the Dumbledore introduced the Professors, noting only that the core subjects had elementary and advanced teachers, and Professors McGonagall and Talbor were switching, meaning that Professor McGonagall would be his transfiguration teacher.
He started when, at the introduction of the new Elementary Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor, a Professor Quirrel, who was sitting next to the black cloaked man Harry thought taught potions, the students broke into oddly timbered cheers, and the Weasley twins congratulated the turbaned man on being brave.
Harry supposed it was a tough class to teach, young students using dangerous spells they couldn't control.
All of a sudden his scar burned. Harry slapped his hand to his forehead.
An older Gryffindor boy stared at him, and he turned the slap into an absent-minded scratch.
"Is something the matter?" said Percy. "You look pale."
"Just tired," said Harry. "It's been a long day. When do we go to bed?"
The dorm was full of four poster beds, and next to each unoccupied bed was a set of luggage. Harry recognized his own trunk, and, with it, Hedgwig, anxious to be let out of her cage.
When he undid the latch she burst out of the cage, flew twice around the room, causing Neville to stumble back and fall on a bed, before settling on his shoulder and rubbing against his neck.
He stroked her, showed her the owl stand by his bed, then opened the window. She disappeared into the night, and Harry turned to see his roommates casting him admiring glances.
"You're really close with that owl," said Ron.
Harry said nothing, then nodded slightly, the response he'd developed to deal with Uncle Vernon's rants. More seemed required, so he curled his lips and said, "Yes."
Percy pointed out their beds, explaining that they were four posters beds, as if that wasn't perfectly obvious, said the curtains which would provide a modicum of privacy, then showed them the quieters, which would assist that privacy, but more importantly, would guarantee that snores did not keep them up.
Author's Note: I've added a few details I realized I needed in here for what I want to have happen later. But no, don't fear, I'm not planning a re-write of the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone.