Chapter 4: The Prince, the Knave, and the Ace of Hearts

Four days passed in a routine that was the same as the first morning Harry had arrived. He did pretty much everything the younger children did, except lessons, which he took to studying on his own (he hadn't had any formal schooling since he was eight, but he'd done a lot of Dudley's math homework at the Dursley's and knew a fair bit of Geography), and playtime he usually spent reading "Witches, Wizards, and Whatevers; a Practical Guide to Modern Culture in Wizarding Britain". Miss Marilyn had given the book to him so he would stop bugging everyone else with questions.

The book was pretty vague and its references obscure or inaccurate, but Harry got a general idea of the Wizarding World. Non-magical people were called muggles, and since he was born from muggles he was called a muggleborn. Not exactly common, but not really rare. Wizards and witches who had wizarding parents were called purebloods. Harry wondered what they called a magical person born from a muggle and a witch or wizard. There was no reference for it, so Harry assumed it just didn't occur very often.

According to his book, even though wizards lived amongst or beside muggle communities, there wasn't any real interaction. Wizards had their own government, economy, education, and culture completely separate from Muggles. As far as the Muggle world knew, there was no such thing as magic. In fact, it was apparently illegal to do business with or marry a muggle. It would explain why there weren't any muggle/wizarding children.

Otherwise, the Wizarding World ran a bit like the muggle world, only everything seemed to involve magic. They had radios (although not televisions oddly enough), newspapers (the photographs actually moved!), and all sorts of magazines (He was curious as to what Potion's Weekly involved). There were sporting events (Quidditch was apparently the national sport of choice), a wide selection of hobbies, festivals, and Halloween and Christmas had their own particular traditions. While none of them looked familiar, many of them did look like fun. The government was a cross between a monarchy and a bureaucracy, and a representative body called the Wizengamot that didn't really seem to have a purpose. He also couldn't figure out who was the head of the government, and only knew that it wasn't a king or queen or some other form of royalty. They referred to this person as You-Know-Who, but since Harry really didn't know who it was very frustrating.

He was almost to the chapter that went into magical vacation spots when Saturday arrived. All the boys spent an extra long time grooming themselves and their younger friends in the bathroom. There were light hearted bets about who might get picked that day. After a particularly energetic breakfast, everyone went to lessons, but groups of four or five would routinely be called out of class. When they returned their hair was trimmed or curled or modestly styled. Harry got a turn as well, and in the shower room he was set on a stool. His barber, an elderly man with neatly trimmed mustache, took one look at his wild mop and declared it hopeless.

As soon as lunch was through, most of the boys and girls were gathered up into two lines. About a dozen remained behind, some of them marking their fellow's departure with a distinct pout, and went on to playtime and study period. Harry and the children were escorted by two nurses and two guards to a room that he had never seen before. It was a small room with plain white walls and wood flooring. The only thing there was a large cabinet standing directly in the middle of the room. It was carved of dark wood and had a small brass nob shaped like a lion, and as Harry moved closer he could make out symbols burned along the outer edges.

Miss Marilyn went to the door. She took a moment to check her pocket watch, nodded to herself and then tapped the cabinet lightly with her wand. "Aquo questo portello all'atro lato." The dark symbols turned a electric purple, flickered into light blue and then faded to dark. When the symbols had faded completely, the door fell open.

"Bloody hell," Harry muttered, looking through the door to see not a cupboard, but a the parlor of a large mansion.

"Harold!"

"Sorry, Miss Marilyn."

She let it slide, and moved out of the way so that the children could file through. As Harry moved through the door he felt the briefest moment of disorientation, as if he had just stepped off of an elevator. He quickly moved aside to allow their guardians to step through behind him, and looked back. They had all apparently stepped through someone's grandfather clock, and Harry could only shake his head at the concept. Did the cabinet and the clock connect only to each other or did they connect to other places? If wizards could do this sort of thing, why had Snape taken him to WYRA in a car?

Harry lingered close to the adults at first, but the other children quickly scattered into little clusters of friends to play games or investigate the room. It was a very lovely room with an air of antiquity Harry was coming to understand as the norm for the Wizarding world. There was an enormous white marble fireplace, engraved with dragons, a phoenix, and other fire related creatures that he couldn't identify. Elegant furniture that looked more beautiful than comfortable was scattered about the room, and a long table stood laden with an assortment of finger food.

"Where are we?" he finally asked, to no one in particular.

"Gnarlsbriar Manor," replied one of the guards offhandedly, watching closely so that none of his wards broke anything. "Summer estate of the Brimwoods Family, just south of Edinburough."

Harry glanced up to see a enormous gold and crystal chandelier laden with plain wax candles. "Are all wizarding homes this nice?"

The older man snorted. "They certainly like to pretend they are. Run off, Harold. My job isn't answering your nosey questions."

He frowned, but did as he was told. He found himself standing by an open window, looking out over a verdant Scottish countryside. In the distance, he could make out the dark shape of horses grazing behind stone paddocks. Trying to keep his thoughts from speculating on what strange thing might happen next, he kept his attention on those horses and their strange reddish hues. The longer he looked at them the stranger they began to look. Were those wings?

The sound of doors opening and the muffled thump of many footsteps drew Harry's attention to the other end of the parlor. Approximately twenty witches and wizards entered the room, all of them in pairs. At first Harry assumed the pairs were spouses, but there was one pair of only women and two of only men. As he pondered the peculiar arrangement, the witches and wizards (for that was the only thing they could possibly be dressed in their elaborate robes and some even with pointed hats) filed into the room and without preamble began cornering children. When ever a child was corner, they'd stop what they were doing to talk to the pair. Some of the children were better at it than others. The bolder ones smiled brightly and chatted as if to one of their friends, while others stammered or looked down shyly or nearly burst into to tears. Harry had a feeling he was going to fall into the second category, and even though he was incredibly curious, he turned back towards the window and prayed no one would approach him.

For a while, it seemed to work. The adults would always pass him by, occasionally turning curious glances at him, but never stopping. With this blatant disregard, it wasn't long before Harry began overhearing conversations he was certain he shouldn't have been privy to. One of the pairs of males, both young, slender, and dressed in a way that reminded Harry of accountants and investors, stopped not two feet away from him and began gossiping between themselves.

"Not much to pick from, is there Robert?" said the darker of the two.

"Josephine did say it was to be expected. It took her two years and eight parties just to find Carolyn. It's always a gamble when dealing with Muggle-stock."

Muggle-stock? What were these men here for? Children or cattle?

"The little black haired boy might be worth looking into."

"He's a bit of a scaredy-cat."

"He's five. He can be trained."

Fetch. Speak. Sit. Stay.

"I wanted a brunette or a blond. If he doesn't look at least a little like one of us then we'll look like a rather motley family. You remember Dorsey, right? His wife's has a light complexion just like him, but they kept adopting red heads. Their family portraits look like they've been mobbed by freckled woodsprites."

They both laughed loudly to each other, and Harry felt an up-welling of resentment towards them. Suddenly, both men stopped laughing, and slowly turned around to look at him. They both seemed startled to see him there, and even more startled at the malevolent look in his brilliant green eyes.

"Oh...h-hello," the blond said first, obviously embarrassed. His partner ( Harry believed they were in fact one of those 'special couples' his mother had told him about) looked startled, but recovered quickly and looked down on him with a certain smugness. It was certainly more dignified than Dudley's infantile smirk, but no where near as grating as Snape's had been. Now, Harry may not have known how to be polite and sociable to adult witches and wizards, but he certainly knew how to be rude to them. Rude was easy.

"Hallo. Mein Name ist Harry. Ihr seid unheimlich eingebildet, oberflächlich und aufgeblasen. Ich würde euch nicht einmal eine Katze adoptieren lassen, geschweige denn einen kleinen Jungen,"(1) he rambled off. The wizards both looked at him blankly for a moment, then the blond one hurriedly opened up a pamphlet he was carrying and flipped through it. At first, Harry though he was looking up what he'd said, but was proven wrong a moment later when the blond found what it was he was looking for.

"Ah... Harold James Potter. English born, but raised in Germany. Returned to England around eight or nine. Oh look there... almost eleven already. WYRA just picked him up last week. Imagine that? You rarely see them this old."

"Kein Grund so mich anzugaffen, du Fisch."(2)

"Are you sure the German wizards didn't just throw him back?"

"Robert!"

"He's mocking us, Kyle."

Harry grinned, all teeth.

"Er... yes, well... he is a brunette though. And your mother's eyes were green too."

Both Harry and Robert turned a disbelieving look at the smaller man.

"Don't even suggest it. Does he even speak English? Never mind, of course he does. It's bad enough dealing with backtalk in one language, let alone two."

"Why not? You can each have your own language of sarcasm," Harry offered.

"Yes, now see there," Kyle continued. "You'd get the English sarcasm. You of all people should appreciate that."

Despite himself, the corner of Harry's mouth twitched. He still did not like them, but they were...a cute couple? The moment Kyle saw the little slip he broke out into a full out grin.

"Oh and he's cute! He's almost eleven and still cute."

Harry blushed, which only seemed to delight Kyle further.

"No," Robert said firmly. "Absolutely not. Aside from being a brunette- and we can't be certain that bird's nest is his natural color or it just hasn't been washed properly- he's the opposite of everything we were looking for to begin with! He's too old, he's disrespectful, doesn't look a thing like me, and come on... it took ten years for his magic to pop up? He's probably a wink and a whistle from being a squib."

"Hey, I don't go calling you seafood..." Harry objected. "Oh, wait..."

"Squib, squib, not a squid. A muggle born from wizarding stock. God, what do they teach you all day?"

"How to make puppets out of popsicle sticks, but that doesn't matter. I'll be going away to a real wizarding school come September, and that will be that."

"There! See? He'd be in the house for what? A month? And then he'd be off to some trade school to making candles from the rest of the year."

"Aww... but Robby-"

"For the last time, no! Now I'm going to go check out that blond kid, you can join me when your common sense returns." With that, the man stalked off, leaving Harry alone with Kyle. The man put his hands on his hips and his expression was such that Harry was suddenly, and painfully reminded of his mother. He quickly went back to staring out the window.

"I'm sorry, Harold, but he's being quite unreasonable," the wizard said, ignoring the fact that his young companion was ignoring him.

"He sounded perfectly reasonable to me."

There was a silence, and he wondered if Kyle hadn't taken the hint and left. But no, the man merely moved closer towards the window to see what he was looking at. There was a look of surprise on his face, and then understanding as he looked towards the young man.

"You can see them, can't you?" he said.

"What? The horses? Yeah, my eyes aren't that bad."

"Harold, those aren't horses. They're thestrals. Beasts of the underworld. Only someone who has seen death up close can see them."

"..."

"Harold-"

"Harry. My name is Harry."

"Harry, then. Why are you so against getting adopted?"

"I've been adopted before, thank you very much. I'd rather be on my own now."

"Ah..." They said nothing for a moment, Harry pondering thestrals and death and family and how they were all connected in his life. He had almost forgotten Kyle, when the man put his hand on his shoulder. "If you should ever change your mind, you can reach either Robert or me here."

He handed Harry a business card. It read:

ROBERT ALLEN REIGER

ATTORNEY AT LAW

CRIMINAL DEFENSE AND CIVIL SUITES

165 TAPERTY RD, LONDON

"I'm his personal assistant, so if you write there you'll get to me first."

Harry studied the card and then Kyle, more than a little baffled. "Thank you, sir, but... why are doing this? I'm a complete stranger and you've no benefit in befriending me."

"I've got a feeling about you, Harry. I think you're going to make something out of yourself. I've seen all sorts in my line work, and I can just tell. You've got character. It glows out through those pretty eyes of yours. Ten or fifteen years from now Robert is going to be kicking himself for missing out on the opportunity to adopt you. I'd bet my wand on it."

Harry blushed, not expecting the compliment and unsure if should believe the man. He certainly didn't feel special. He felt tired, small, and a little bit lonely. Kyle gave him an encouraging smile, a pat on the shoulder, and wandered off to find his husband? boss? Harry gave the business card a long speculative look and then slipped it into the folds of his shirt.

For the remaining hour and a half, Harry remained undisturbed by the other wizarding couples and eventually his gaze returned to the thestrals. Gradually, the adults left, a few of them taking a child in hand as they went, but most of the children were left and started to join him by the windows.

"Hey, Harry," began Norton, tilting his head curiously. "What are you looking at?"

"Thestrals," Harry said automatically.

"What's a thestral?"

Now Harry wasn't sure what to say. Could he really explain something as sinister as a horse that only one who has seen death can see them to an eight-year old? He didn't like the idea that he was ten and could see them.

"It's a type of bird. Those little brown birds hoping in and out of the grass."

"Oh...I thought those were just sparrows."

Edgar, the smallest of the boys there, stepped close to Harry looking off towards the meadows. He looked up to the older boy and gave him a confused looked, but said nothing.

It was an epiphany for Harry. The realization that death did not care where and on who it landed, and it did not care who it left behind. It was a scary, horrible truth. It made Harry feel older and more prepared for his life to come, and he was glad it had been revealed to him.

1) Hello. My name is Harry. You are conceited, shallow, and pompous. You best bet is to adopt a cat, not a little boy.

2) That's no reason to gape, you codfish.

Author's note: Many of the people who are in this first book of the series (yes, I intend to have a series with all seven years of Harry's life at Hogwarts, just like Rowling) will seem superfluous since they don't contribute to current plot much, but almost all of them with reappear in later books, including several of the orphans and Kyle and Robert (who does regret not adopting Harry when he had the chance). Have a bit of patience.

Also, if Harry seems a little OC, well, he would be given the circumstance. Rowling's Harry was raised by the Dursley's since he was one, but my Harry lived with his parents in Germany until he was eight and then lost them. So I think of him having more self confidence having grown up with his loving parents, and he understands his circumstances with the Dursley's was abnormal and not himself. His view of the wizarding world at the moment is that his life is better than what it was at the Dursley's, but not as good as the life he had with his parents, so he might come off as a bit cynical at times and then completed enchanted at others.

Please review, I will reply if you have questions (that don't reveal plot twists or future events in the story). Sorry, though, I don't take request in plot. I have a definite picture of how this story will flow and the events that transpire are all related so they cannot be altered.

P.S. For those people whom it bothers, yes there will be some yaoi couples like Kyle and Robert occasionally (and some lesbians every so often as well), but nothing explicit and most of the characters in my story, including Harry, are straight. There's no male pregnancy anywhere in the series. And in case you're worried, Voldemort is still his delightfully evil (albeit mellower and much less deranged) self, without resorting to pedofilia.