Joe's Note: While I said I was going to do my best to keep from spreading my focus over multiple plot points in a single chapter, I don't think this entirely counts because it's two related plot points - two distinct moments during a span of time - in a single chapter. Namely, getting us from when Harry arrived to the point where his Hogwarts letter arrives so that he can go back to Diagon Alley and really get the story moving. Due to the somewhat vague storytelling, I've never been able to concretely pin down when the letters arrive in later years so I decided that everyone would be getting them on Harry's birthday this year… which means that they'll arrive at the tail end of this chapter instead of some point in the future. Oh! And covering two plot points in a single chapter means that you get not one but two exposures to Altaira Malfoy in this chapter. Which I'm all about because Altaira is one of my favorite original characters out of all the OCs and MCINOs that I've worked with in my decade and a half of writing fiction.
Dedications & Thanks: To Alexander, Nicholas, William, Koby, Wil, Thomas, Tracy, Christopher, Mitch, and Jess for sponsoring me on , and making it easier for me to spend more of my time writing.
July 26, 2006
Fowey, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom
The next month at Potter Manor was fun for Harry once he managed to settle in and find his place. It was just like he'd always dreamed life in a world without Voldemort ruining his childhood would have been like. Well, almost. He would have preferred two loving parents but a loving mother and a distant father was close enough for his tastes. And the two sisters and cool older cousin made up for James's absence pretty well. It was like being back at the Burrow again, back in the days before Ginny became an obsessive stalker and his friendship with Ron imploded. Except here at Potter Manor, he didn't feel bad about a poor family taking in yet another mouth to feed and could relax and enjoy things more. He'd even found a journal, stashed at the bottom of his school trunk, filled with regular enough entries by this universe's original Harry dating right up to the day that he'd followed Neville and the others into the Department of Mysteries. Having read that from cover to cover a few times, he was now doing a much better job of fitting in… or at least he was only arousing a little suspicion as he subtly began changing their expectations of him to match who he really was.
With three house elves - Urðr , Verðandi and Skuld - to take care of a lot of the menial tasks, Harry had been unable to mask his desire to be more active behind chores. That left exercising in his room and running, both of which had to be carefully timed to avoid arousing the suspicion of his family. Returning from his five-mile morning run - which was actually a run these days, instead of walking an equal number of laps around the property like when he'd started - Harry looked at the clock and smiled. He'd shaved another few seconds off his previous best time. Excellent. The house was still as quiet as a tomb and so after using a few spells to freshen up until he could take a proper shower, Harry decided to treat his family to breakfast. After all, he was up and surely his mother would enjoy a break from cooking. That and after years of being forced to serve the Dursleys, it felt downright odd to be staying at home and not cooking every meal.
With the experience gleaned from years of cooking for Vernon and Dudley, Harry worked quickly but efficiently, cooking up family-sized portions of scrambled eggs, sausages, black pudding, bacon, fried mushrooms and tomatoes, baked beans, and hash browns suitable for his family of six. He'd seen in the past how much food his family could pack away, especially his father, although Jasmine and Rose weren't exactly pixies either. And none of the three could hold a candle to his cousin when it came to packing food away. As much as it looked like on the counter, Harry severely doubted there'd be anything left when they were done. Footsteps on the stairs alerted him that his family was awake, and Harry grabbed the serving platters and bowls, moving them to the table in the breakfast nook. His mother and the twins were the first to arrive, stopping dead in the doorway and staring in disbelief at the breakfast he'd prepared. "Morning."
Jasmine was the first to break out of her stupor, hurrying over to the table while eyeing the food hungrily. "Wow, Harry. I never knew you could cook."
"Uh, well, I can't. Or would that be couldn't? I think whatever happened between me and the cognivore went both ways; I can't remember some stuff I used to know but I know some stuff that I probably shouldn't. Like how to cook. I wasn't sure how well it'd translate from my brain to the table, but evidently… well enough?" Harry was getting really good at telling lies that weren't entirely lies; as long as he worked the cognivore into his explanations, his family seemed to accept most anything that he told them. Which made him feel slightly bad because he was essentially lying to them for no reason other than that he was too scared to tell them who he really was and what had happened to their real son… but he still didn't know them well enough to be certain of how they'd react to that kind of news.
Lily just smiled in delight before leaning in to kiss Harry on the cheek. "This probably makes me sound like a terrible person, but maybe we should expose more men to cognivores if this is what comes out of it. This looks lovely, Harry." He found himself blushing a bit as his sisters mocked him, but their amusement at his expense didn't keep them from descending on the food like Ron Weasley, serving up heaping plates for themselves that they began to devour. His mother followed suit, albeit a good deal more slowly and neatly. Biting into one of the fried mushrooms, she let out a moan the likes of which Harry had previously only heard when he interrupted romantic interludes while on patrol. Well then. Evidently she liked his cooking?
Stumbling into the kitchen, Nymphadora 'Dora' Black announced herself with a sleepy 'wotcher' before plopping herself down into a chair and fixing herself a plate. Finding out that she was the occupant of the second floor's nanny suite had been one hell of a shock. Unfortunately, for whatever reason the original Harry and Dora hadn't gotten on very well and so she'd featured very infrequently in the journal entries that Harry relied on to educate him about the people of this universe. It had taken a bit of creative questioning, eavesdropping, and detective work on Harry's part but in the end, he'd been able to figure out why the young woman lived with his family. Evidently Bellatrix Lestrange and her husband had dropped by to 'chat' with her sister Andromeda shortly before the end of the war, executing Ted Tonks before turning their attention to Andromeda herself. Showing herself to be a true daughter of the House of Black, Andromeda had led them on a running battle through the house, making her way from the foyer to Dora's room, at which point she'd managed to actually overpower and blow through the anti-apparition ward her sister had cast over the house. She'd arrived in the lobby of St. Mungo's and promptly dropped dead from a burnt out magical core, leading to some back and forth legal wrangling that ended with Lily taking over guardianship of the orphaned Dora as a favor for Sirius. After all, she and James had plenty of room and experience with raising children - minimal as it had been at that time - while Sirius had no such experience and called a different hotel in a different city each week 'home'.
Dora began to choke and gasp and Lily rolled her eyes before drawing her wand and flicking it. A glowing hand appeared in the air behind the metamorphmagus before swinging down and slapping her hard on the back. Two chunks of half-eaten mushroom came flying out of her mouth to land on the table, eliciting squeals of disgust from the twins before Lily could vanish the mess. Tucking her wand away, the older redhead just rolled her eyes. "There's this newfangled thing called 'chewing', Dora. Try it for me, would you?"
Hair shifting from the long black curls of her base form to a long, straight, bright red mane, Dora ducked her head in an attempt to hide her blush. "Sorry, Aunt Lily. This is really good, though." After a few seconds, her hair shortened and lightened into the bubblegum pink spikes that Harry was used to seeing and she gave Harry a thumbs up before selecting a fried tomato, popping it into her mouth, and chewing with exaggerated slowness.
"Hey, what's that smell?" James was the last to make his presence known, stumbling into the kitchen with his hair mussed and standing up strangely. Or maybe not. Maybe he was just trying to do something new with it today? "Wow, Lily. You haven't bothered cooking a full breakfast for something other than a holiday in… Merlin knows how long, actually. What's the occasion?"
Shrugging, Lily swallowed another mouthful of mushroom before pointing her fork at Harry. "Ask him. He's the one who cooked it."
James almost missed his chair as he stared at Harry in disbelief. "What… Harry? Since when can you..?"
"Wow!" Everyone turned to look at Jasmine, who was staring at Harry with wide eyes. "I wanted to try everything first to make sure he hadn't gotten lucky… it's all great! Sorry, Mum, but Harry's a way better cook than you. No offense."
Rose nodded in agreement as James stared at his food suspiciously, looking from it to Harry and back several times. "Considering your mother has been cooking longer than Harry's been alive, I find that hard to believe." After serving up a bit of everything for himself, he decided to try a forkful of Harry's scrambled eggs first. After chewing slowly and swallowing, he turned to stare at Harry with an unreadable expression on his face. "Huh. I'll be damned."
Letting out a vaguely affirmative noise, Lily sliced off a piece of her fried tomato and popped it into her mouth before patting Harry's hand. "Sweetie, this is wonderful. Any chance you'd wanna help me and the elves out by cooking breakfast from now on?"
Looking up from where he was cutting up a piece of sausage for himself, Harry continued to blush from all the praise, only to freeze at the question. "Honestly, it was just going to be a one-time thing. I wanted to give you the morning off because you cook all the time."
"Can't you give me all the mornings off then?" Lily held up a piece of sausage speared on the end of her fork. "But no, seriously, this is amazing, especially for a first timer, and-"
Was it really fair to complain after deliberately showing off, Harry wondered, especially after he'd been thinking it was odd to not be cooking anymore just that very morning? "It's okay, Mum. How about I'll start helping out with breakfast or lunch a few days a week? We can cook together. You like my food, but I like your cooking too, you know." Well, it was enjoyable enough. Even after a few subtle hints, her stuff still trended towards the blander side of things, except for when she dove into the cookbooks that Sirius had brought home for her at the end of his world tour. What in the world was 'chicken fried steak'? He understood the 'fried steak' part, but what did chickens have to do with it?
Lily smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "Okay. And thank you for cooking this morning, it was sweet of you. I'm sure the girls are going to be all over you when they find out about your new talent. A man who knows how to be useful around the house is hard to find." James scowled at her comment but Lily quelled him with a glare and the family went back to eating, chattering about everything and yet nothing at all over breakfast.
The first to finish eating, James disappeared into his study for a few minutes, emerging in the red cloak of an auror and disappearing through the floo to go to work. Tonks likewise disappeared up the spiral staircase in the foyer before returning with a similar garment, subtle differences marking her as a lower-ranking auror than James was, and stepping through the floo herself. The twins finished next, disappearing back upstairs to change and get ready for their day, leaving Harry alone at the table as his mother began to levitate the dirty dishes towards the sink. Hmm. Now what? Shower?
Harry leaned down, doing his best to covertly sniff at his armpit without being noticed as Lily continued to bustle around the kitchen.
Yeah. A shower sounded like a really good idea right about now.
After emerging from the shower, feeling a good deal more human than when he'd entered, Harry went into his room and retrieved the copy of Hogwarts, A History he'd found in the library before curling up in a chair in the living room. Who would have thought the book was so interesting? Well, apart from Hermione? It also helped him see that, apart from who Voldemort had attacked, the only differences between the two realities were those in the last fifteen years or so. Slytherin wasn't suddenly a hero of the wizarding world, and it was still Helga rather than Herbert Hufflepuff or something bizarre like that. It was comforting to know that he could at least expect school to be familiar, even if the people around him weren't.
Now used to him holing up in the library to read about this or that, he was left largely alone for the rest of the morning by his mother and sisters. Shortly after the clock struck noon, though, the fireplace whooshed and two new - distinctly female - voices entered the house. One was young and unfamiliar. The other was neither, but why the owner would be at Potter Manor, Harry had no idea. As Lily led the conundrum further away down the length of the hall, Harry heard an unusual cadence approaching: two lighter thumps mixed in with the sound of footfalls on hardwood. Evidently he'd be solving one of the new mysteries sooner rather than later.
Shuffling into the library came a remarkably short - seriously, he'd met first years who were taller than her - teenage girl whose black hair was liberally streaked with platinum blond. Carefully setting her crutches aside so they leaned against the arm of his chair, she bounced excitedly on her toes for several seconds before squealing and launching herself at him. Harry let out a grunt as she landed on his lap, and then abruptly looked up as the hem of her green dress inched upward due to her squirming in his lap. Finally, she decided on a comfortable position and curled up with her head resting on his shoulder. "Mmm. Tu es à l'aise."
"Hello to you too."
"Salut." Reaching out, she grabbed the book he'd been reading off the table and eyed it curiously. "Hogwarts, A Snoozer. I realize that I was gone when you woke up, Harry, but are you really this desperate for something to do?"
While he'd been willing to wager a guess based on who the girl arrived at the house with, the blatant invasion of his personal space made it child's play for Harry to confirm her identity. Which meant that really was Narcissa Malfoy wandering the ground floor with his mother, and Altaira Malfoy was sitting on his lap. Tara to everyone else around her and vehemently so, but for some reason he was allowed to use her real name. Her return was something that Harry had honestly been dreading; he'd grown apart from his parents over the years as all teenagers were wont to do, but Altaira was his best friend. If anyone was going to see through his lies and expose him for being someone other than the original Harry of this world, it was gone to be her. And to top it off, he still didn't know enough about the girl or their relationship for his comfort.
What he did know? They'd met through their respective mothers, the details of whose friendship were completely undocumented in the journal and Harry had no clue what to make of. The children's first few encounters had been both physically and magically violent, a pair of alphas - albeit miniature ones - sparring for dominance as they tried to figure out what to make of having a peer in 'their' domain who wasn't specifically there for their amusement. In the aftermath of scoldings, spankings, and a few repair and healing charms, Harry and Altaira had been left with a healthy respect for each other… and the realization that working together meant they'd have someone to help them torment their siblings. Or rather sibling in Altaira's case; Draco was the sole target of their mischief at Malfoy Manor, while Jasmine and Rose suffered equally when Narcissa brought Altaira over to 'play' as a child.
That had become an incredibly frequent occurrence over the years, to the point that Altaira had been given her own room at the manor. Specifically, the one that shared closet space with his. Harry had absolutely no idea what to make of that, nor did he know where Narcissa slept when she stayed over, assuming she was an overnight guest as opposed to dumping Altaira on the Potters so she could get some peace and quiet. But while learning that the room wasn't the domain of his crossdressing alter ego had been comforting, Harry would have much preferred it be empty - or his second bedroom à la Dudley in his original world - than home to someone he only knew through journal entries.
It did leave Harry wondering about the obvious chicken and egg paradox that the room represented, though did their semi-shared living space have something to do with why Altaira was evidently the sole exception to a younger Harry's 'girls are gross' policy, or had she been given the space by Lily after Harry decided she wasn't so bad? Then again, did it really matter? Either way, things had grown over the years to the point where he was supposed to be okay with her invading his personal space at will. Oh, and based on his other self's journal, he was evidently proficient at giving piggyback rides up and down moving staircases at Hogwarts without complaint. Not for the first time, Harry found himself considering breaking his 'no legilimency' pledge and taking Altaira's mind for all that he could. Trying to keep up a friendship - much less being someone's best friend - with the painfully little information that he had at present was a recipe for disaster.
A slender finger with a glossy green nail flicked his nose, pulling Harry from his thoughts. "Did you fall asleep sitting up from reading that thing? I've heard of people who talk in their sleep… are we having a sleep conversation?"
Rolling his eyes, Harry brought a hand up and batted at Altaira's finger as she tried to follow up with a poke to the end of his nose. "Har bloody har. I was thinking, thank you very much. But anyway, speaking of, how was France?"
"Oh, you remembered! My mother warned me that I'd have to be patient because your brain has the consistency of emmental these days. But it was good. Very French. I don't know, the same as last time and the time before that? Although f you tell our mums that I said this I'll deny it, but… I think I believe you about the green-haired girl." After looking both ways, Altaira lowered her voice. "While we were in Monaco, Father took the family to a party that had both magical and muggle businessmen and their families at it. I met this Monégasque girl named Monet… she could run all the way across the room, snitch food from the buffet table, and be back at my side in the blink of an eye!"
So this world had what, superhumans? Faster then a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and so forth and so on? Or was it just supergirls? Because so far Harry had heard mentions of exactly two - the 'green-haired girl' being a reference to a flying teenager that the other Harry had documented multiple sightings of over the years - and they were both young and female. Then again, if they were so well hidden that even most magicals weren't aware of them, who knew how many were out there and what they could do? "I don't want to say I told you so, but… actually, I do. I told you so."
Altaira stuck her tongue out. "Shush, you. If I hadn't seen Monet do it, I wouldn't believe in her either. Anyway, before we get any more off-track… still waiting for an explanation." Harry raised an eyebrow curiously and she groaned. "The book. Mother said your memory was iffy; are you worried that you forgot something important about our school?"
"Chances are I forgot something important about you but there's not a book I can read to make up for that, now is there?" Taking the book back from Altaira, Harry used a bit of wandless magic to keep it balanced atop his hand as he transferred it to the nearby table, using his other arm to keep Altaira from spilling onto the floor in the process. "But yeah, I've been trying to jog my memory by reading history books. Modern Magical History, this… I'll probably start in on our old textbooks soon. I don't realize I've forgotten something until I need it, so I'm trying to find the gaps and plug them before I need that information for something."
Turning in his lap, Altaira leaned forward and ran her dainty hands over the cover of the book as she let out a thoughtful hum. "Makes sense. Let me get back to you about a book about me; maybe I can duplicate my journal and give you a copy after I censor a few things. For now, though… how about we go for a walk down to the beach, and then we can come back and you can read out loud to me?"
"Wait, why do I have to read to you? Shouldn't it be the other way around? You're better at it than me. In two languages, even."
"Because I'm asking you to? And I'm tiny and adorable and you're not?"
Well, when she put it like that…
July 31, 2006
Fowey, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom
When July 31st finally rolled around, Harry got to experience another first: the first time his family had ever thrown him a birthday party. Or rather the first one that he could remember; presumably his real parents had celebrated his first birthday a few months before their death. While the party itself wasn't too different from the ones he'd spent with the Weasleys - apart from the people present, obviously - the fact that he was celebrating it with the closest thing he'd ever get to blood family made it all the more special for him.
For once, his father had actually remembered that he was a part of the family, and Sirius had come over with Olivia in tow. Remus had poked his head in briefly to hand off a gift before retreating, citing post-transformation tiredness, and Amelia Bones and Susan had likewise made a brief appearance. Susan had seemed cordial enough but Harry got the feeling it was more of a work friendship between their parents. Then again, considering his other self's diary had been maddeningly vague about friendships other than Altaira… who knew? Oh, and the Malfoys were there. Harry still wasn't sure what to make of what was apparently a very close friendship between his mother and Narcissa, although thankfully history was on his side in this world and he didn't have to play nice with Draco for the sake of appearances. So instead he'd spent his free time with Altaira, who was actually a fairly decent companion for someone who was begat of Lucius Malfoy.
HIs presents were nothing special and yet incredibly special to him at the same time: new clothes, new books that gave hints as to where his previous self's talents had lay - Transfiguration and Defense Against the Dark Arts - a few trinkets from Zonko's from Sirius, some new quills from Remus… nothing of earth-shattering significance, but full of sentimental value in that they were the first presents he'd received from his extended family, save for the Firebolt from Sirius. Well again, that he could remember. Presumably his first birthday had been full of clothes fit for an infant, charmed stuffed animals, and other presents suitable for a small child. Narcissa had even come through with a forearm holster for the wand that he'd still yet to confess to his parents that he no longer owned. Considering the frown that earned her from James, it might have made her more thoughtful than his own father. Wonderful.
Not that Harry was upset with the gift. He just wasn't wild about the idea that he might have missed out on owning something so useful if not for a woman whose presence he still didn't fully understand.
Later that day, a veritable parliament of owls had descended on the property bearing school letters for Harry and both the Malfoy and Potter twins. Skimming it, Harry confirmed that as much as the recent past seemed to be different in this universe, some things were still blissfully similar and he was already familiar with all the textbooks that they were being asked to buy. And thankfully he'd gotten his OWLs in before the cognivore attack, so there were no issues with him wanting to sign up for a class that he wasn't qualified for.
Eventually all good things came to an end, and Harry headed up to his room as his parents and their friends said their goodbyes. Closing the door behind himself, he headed to his closet to put away his new clothes, only to find the opposite door open as well and a familiar face puttering around in the adjoining suite. "Altaira?"
"The 31st is an odd-numbered day, isn't it?"
"That means you sleep in here."
"Well, it looks like we just found one of those gaps in your memory. And I have to say that I'm insulted, considering we've been doing this since we were both ten or so." Entering the walk-in closet, Altaira grabbed an oversized t-shirt from the shelf that held all his pyjamas before turning and retreating back into her room. "Just act casual and try not to make a fuss about this. You've done it before, I promise."
Ah yes, and there was the return of that lovely, utterly confused feeling that Harry had worked hard to banish over the past two months. Given that their entire relationship occurred while they were at Hogwarts, him and Luna had 'slept together' in the Biblical sense, but never in the literal sense. And yet evidently he was sharing a bed with Altaira for long enough that they'd come up with a system to decide where they slept on any given night? What a strange, strange world.
Figuring that Altaira would likely be back for him and not wanting to get caught half-undressed, Harry quickly changed into an oversized shirt of his own along with a pair of pyjama pants. Even if it did raise Altaira's eyebrow, getting into bed with another girl - especially one her age - was going to be weird enough. He wasn't doing it with any less clothes on than that. Mere seconds after he finished changing, Altaira knocked a strange little rhythm on the door and - when Harry failed to respond quickly enough - opened the door and peeked her head in. Scowling, he reached out and ruffled her hair. "I could have been changing, you know."
"Yes, because I've never seen that before." Altaira rolled her eyes before latching onto his wrist and dragging him into her room. Having already prepared for his arrival by turning back the covers, she proceeded to push him down into bed and tuck him in before circling around to the other side and climbing in herself. "So, I didn't want to give it to you in front of the others but I did make you a copy of my diary. I'll only give it to you if you promise to be nice about second year, though. I don't need you mocking me for going through the same Lockhart phase as every other girl at Hogwarts. And I didn't remove much from it, so chances are that it'll change the way that you look at me…"