Joe's Note: For all my eagle-eyed readers, I took the uniforms from the canon grey to black in the first version of this but have since moved them to realign with a singular - admittedly fanon - charcoal grey design that I now use across all my stories and their related fanart. Because while I originally liked the stark contrast that black and white presented, and I thought black would be good for a school where you're messing with potions and dirt in mandatory classes? The secondary color of the Hufflepuffs just up and disappears into the body of the uniform that way. I'm using the classical, ISCC-NBS definition for the color: a dark grey that's got the slightest blue-green tint. RGB of 54/69/79 or hex of 36454F if you want to see it yourself.
Dedications & Thanks: To Alexander, Nicholas, William, Koby, Wil, Thomas, Tracy, Christopher, Mitch, and Jess for sponsoring me on Pattreon, and making it easier for me to spend more of my time writing.
August 1, 2006
Fowey, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom
When Harry woke up early the next morning, he found himself trapped by a warm form lying across his left arm. Opening his eyes, he blinked muzzily and tried to process what he was seeing. Luna was a blonde, it would have been red if Ginny had snuck into his bed and taken liberties with his unconscious body… wait. Then he wandlessly summoned his glasses from the bedside table, put them on, and the night before came back to him as the fuzzy world snapped into crystal clarity.
Ah yes, Altaira. His tiny, adorable, hilariously opinionated limpet. They'd stayed up until long past when the rest of the house fell asleep, talking about Hogwarts, tomorrow's - or rather, by the time they fell asleep, today's - shopping expedition to Diagon Alley, and the potential existence of a third supergirl: a purple-haired girl their age who apparently could wipe the minds of Accidental Magic Reversal Squad teams sent to 'fix' her 'bespelled' hair. Harry found it hilarious that the Ministry evidently wasn't aware that muggles could dye their hair colors… which in turn had set Altaira to pondering whether Monet was dying her hair black to hide a more exotic color.
Wriggling his arm out from beneath his bedmate, Harry shook it a few times to work the feeling back into it before sliding out of bed. Shooting a glance back over his shoulder as he made his way over to the door that would allow him to pass through the walk-in and into his own room, Harry rolled his eyes at the sight of Altaira lying there awake with a grin on her face. Brat. Then again, what could he expect given that she'd made a multi-year habit out of being a pain in his arse? It was to be expected at this point. As he collected a change of clothes and then moved onward to the bathroom in his suite, Harry found himself thinking about the day's plans. He'd tried to talk his parents into letting him go to Diagon Alley alone to shop for his school supplies, but that had gone over like a muggleborn at a Death Eater gathering. Which was understandable: they thought he was freshly awoken from a month-long coma with a memory full of holes and no way of… wait, he'd hidden the loss of his wand from his parents. Still, even a promise to stick close to Altaira hadn't assuaged his mother's fears and so he was stuck with a chaperone for his trip to the alley.
It was almost enough to make Harry regret his particular choice of lie when it came to explaining away why he didn't recognize his own family and friends, especially considering that his sisters were being allowed to meet up with someone - a 'her' that nobody had seen fit to elaborate on and Harry didn't want to reveal yet another hole in his knowledge by asking - while he and Altaira were ushered around Diagon Alley by Lily. And Narcissa. Which meant that not only did he have to admit to losing his wand in front of not one adult witch but two, but there was another person - two if he counted Altaira - who would be there to bear witness if anything… off… came out of Ollivander's mouth again.
Showering and dressing, Harry left his bedroom behind and descended the spiral staircase to the ground floor. It was then that he realized that this morning was the first time he'd thought of anyone from his old universe in… probably close to a month. Well, outside of his family members and now Narcissa, who he was constantly comparing to what had been. The more he thought about it, though, the more sense it made. It was hard to wax nostalgic about a world where most of the people he cared about were dead and gone, especially when he had his family back here and would soon be returning to school with the rest of the people that he'd once known. Sure, he'd lost a version of Su by coming to this new universe, but she'd presumably be waiting for him at Hogwarts on September 1st. As would Hannah, Daphne, Tracey, and the others he'd lost during the war. Astoria would be a fourth year, and… Merlin, he'd get to see Luna again in one short month.
Harry was pulled from his thoughts when his mother kissed him on the cheek, joining him at the stove as he got to work on breakfast. Now that he was helping most mornings as well as pitching in with the other two meals every now and again, his sisters were getting off easy and were quite happy about the fact. He didn't mind, though. Not only did it let him spend plenty of time with his mother, but it also cut down on the overall amount of whining in the house now that Jasmine and Rose weren't being forced to cook against their will. The amount of burnt food making it to the kitchen table had also decreased markedly since he'd replaced them as Lily's primary kitchen helper. Whether they actually lacked domestic skills and his parents were too stubborn to let them stop or it was a passive-aggressive attack for being forced to do something they disliked, Harry wasn't sure. But whatever the reason, burnt food was still burnt and he was glad he didn't have to eat it anymore.
When they were done, they moved the food to the kitchen table just in time for Narcissa and Altaira to arrive for breakfast. Harry eyed the former curiously; unless she'd somehow managed to floo in without him noticing and then circled around to meet up with her daughter before entering the kitchen… she'd come from somewhere within the house. Hopefully the guest suite. Harry really didn't want to ponder the alternative, especially given that he'd never solved the mystery of Lily's 'You-Know-Who'.
After they finished eating breakfast, Lily cast Stasis Charms over the remainder of the food to keep it hot and fresh for the others before leading the way into the great room. "Last thing we need is the girls trying to make their own breakfast. Or even worse, your father. Seeing as how they have their own plans for the day, they can wake up and eat and leave on their own schedule. So I figure that we can do your shopping, hit… the Leaky Cauldron!" Throwing floo powder into the fire, Lily disappeared in a flash of green flames and Harry followed suit, stumbling out upon arrival in London but managing to stay mostly upright for once in his life. Lily paused for a beat longer, waiting for Narcissa and Altaira to join them, before continuing. "…hit the Leaky Cauldron for lunch, and then you and Tara can take some time to sort through your new belongings and repack your trunk as best you can at this point. If you need any help, we can go over things together after Narcissa and Tara go home tonight."
Narcissa let out a huff at that. "I don't see why we couldn't just bring Tara's trunk over with us and let her leave it at your house after she repacked it tonight. We're going to be leaving from your house on September 1st, aren't we?"
"Yes, and supposedly you still live at Malfoy Manor so we agreed to keep at least some of Tara's belongings there. Including the important ones." Lily rolled her eyes before beckoning for them to follow her. "Let's go. Last time I left the house for this long, I came home to find food on the ceiling."
Nobody reacted to their group apart from a simple nod of Tom's head, which was a novel experience for Harry. Ever since his first visit to the wizarding world with Hagrid, he'd been mobbed most anywhere he went. Well, except for fifth year, but that didn't count because the Ministry had turned the populace against him. But now… nobody knew who he was. Nobody cared. It was bloody awesome, to borrow one of Ron's favorites.
Their first stop after entering Diagon Alley was Gringotts, much to Harry's delight. Unlike most wizards, he found the goblins fascinating and had been genuinely upset to see how badly they suffered both during the two years of open warfare against Voldemort and in the time immediately afterward. While hundreds of goblins had died to repulse numerous Death Eater attacks, the populace hadn't been able to see past the few vaults that had been emptied in the process. A run on the bank had ensued within days of Voldemort's defeat, crippling the bank's ability to conduct business and leaving the goblin nation a broken and listless shell of its former self. And so while Harry wouldn't say that he was doing this for them the way he was his friends, he took solace in the fact that unless he seriously screwed something up, these goblins would never have to live through those events.
Although walking past stores would sometimes conjure up memories of the past, such as the currently empty storefront that in his world had housed Fred and George's dream by this point, the company helped keep Harry's mind mostly on the present. Who would have thought that shopping could actually be somewhat fun? His first visit to Diagon Alley largely had been, but second year shopping had been marred by both the Malfoys and the Lockhart incident, Sirius's escape had cast a shadow over his time in the alley before his third year, and he'd missed the following year due to the events at the Quidditch World Cup. After that? The specter of Voldemort's second rise had hung over public areas like a dark cloud the few times he had been able to escape Grimmauld Place. Here, Voldemort's return was public knowledge but while people seemed a little bit more rushed as they moved from store to store, things were still largely business as usual.
While Lily and Narcissa had slowed them down to peek into storefronts here and there, their first real stop ended up being Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions. Both families were wealthy enough that school robes were replaced yearly just to compensate for the wear and tear that came with wearing the same outfits day in and day out for nine months in a row. He was also looking for some new casual clothes to fit the slightly taller and more muscular figure that had come about from a combination of teenage growth and his new workout regimen. Shopping for new clothes was something he hadn't found too enjoyable the few times he'd gotten to do it, but Harry found the process far more enjoyable with the proper company. Lily tended to make suggestions based around practically, while Narcissa was more concerned with his overall appearance, and Altaira just liked to tease him. It was definitely a far different - and better - experience than his last shopping trip with companions, where the Weasleys had been forced to sit there and watch him be fitted for new clothes, Ron sulking all the while, before the family headed to the second-hand store themselves.
Actually, that had been his second to last trip with company. The last had been a good deal more fun, at least until Madam Malkin had thrown him and Luna out of her store after catching them snogging in one of her changing rooms.
It was while he was at Madam Malkin's that Harry spotted one of the first connections to his old world, or rather his first connection to the Hogwarts of his old world. After selecting his favorites from what Lily and Narcissa put forth for consideration - along with the uniforms he'd need to wear to class - Harry was led back to a corner of the store with platforms for measuring the patrons and making the necessary adjustments to their purchases. All three platforms were occupied when he arrived, though, with three very familiar faces. Well, one very familiar faces and two fairly familiar ones. He'd never seen Parvati sneer quite like that in his original world, much less at her own sister. "Can't believe our parents still can't tell us apart even after sixteen years. Oh well. Sucks to be you, I suppose. Hope you enjoy being grounded for a week, bookworm."
Rolling her eyes, Padma kept her arms out from her sides as one of Malkin's assistants adjusted her charcoal grey Hogwarts robe. "Whatever you say, sister. But that's my favorite jumper. Make sure it's back in my room by tomorrow or… well, I've been reading ahead and I think I'm ready to try my hand at human transfiguration. On you. After all, if you want Father's attention so badly, what better way to get it than to let him fuss over you while he tries to put you back together when I'm done?" Parvati paled as Padma shook her head in dismay. "One of these days, maybe you'll figure out that negative attention isn't better than no attention at all."
"Attention seeking brat."
Huh. That was interesting. While Harry was very well aware that Padma and Parvati were very different people even in his universe, he'd never seen them being openly antagonistic to each other. A bemused disinterest at most; Padma preferring the less 'wooly' subjects like Ancient Runes and Arithmancy instead of her sister's predilection for Divination, while Parvati wasn't too impressed with her sister's overly studious behavior. Still, they at least got along most of the time. These two weren't quite at him and Draco levels of enmity, but they definitely didn't seem friendly to him either.
The third and closest of the fitting platforms was occupied by someone who had become very familiar over his final three months in the old world. Li Su stood there stoically as the Patil twins sniped at each other next to her and the seamstress adjusted the hemline of one of her dark grey uniform skirts. Well, Su Li to those who weren't close enough to her to have received 'the name speech'. And… wait. Dark grey? That was new, Harry mused, before looking down at the slacks that were draped over his arm. He hadn't even noticed at the time, but apparently the uniforms here were white and charcoal grey instead of white and a shade slightly past medium grey.
And now that he was looking, the differences didn't end at color, either. The hideous jumpers had gone the way of the dodo; here, both genders wore a white button-front shirt, charcoal grey vest, and a tie that was being sold a flat black but Harry guessed would shift to match the student's house colors after their sorting… or when he returned to Hogwarts grounds, in his case. The boys' section had offered both slacks and short trousers, while the only option available to girls were knee-length skirts. Or perhaps not; a girl his age was standing by the trousers, shouting across the store in Cymraeg at a woman who was waving a skirt around as she shouted back. Harry had no clue what the discussion was about, but even if it was 'stop wasting time, silly girl, you're only allowed to wear skirts', his fellow student would still have some flexibility when it came to her uniform: a display near the skirts featured stockings, tights, and knee socks - all in black - and he was willing to bet good money that they would take on the girl's house colors as well. Which was nice. His original world's uniforms had been so… drab.
Eyes wandering back to Su, Harry found himself debating whether or not to actually approach her. While she hadn't occupied a position in his inner circle of friends - at least until things had fallen apart and she'd become his sole true friend - she'd been in the next ring out for as long as he'd known Luna: members of the DA that he was closer to than the average student, albeit not as friendly with as the five who'd accompanied him to the Department of Mysteries. But given that the last five years had unfolded dramatically differently in this universe… who was she here? Both in a general sense and to him? Would she even know who he was? Would she care?
From there, Harry found his mind wandering to Hogwarts as a whole. At first, he'd thought that he had an incredible advantage over his peers when it came to making friends at Hogwarts: he knew roughly how people were going to turn out as they got older. That in turn meant that he didn't have to worry about attaching himself to someone who seemed interesting in the here and now but would turn out to hurt him in the end. But now… his original self had been very different in this world. Draco was similar but not identical. The Patil twins were definitely showing signs of being different. And that was to say nothing of people like Altaira, who flat out didn't exist in his original world. Who was to say that this Su was at all similar to what his Su had been like at sixteen? Or that she'd turn out to be anything like the person that he'd known by the time he left his universe behind?
A spike of pain in his right shin abruptly pulled Harry from his thoughts, and he just barely managed to avoid uttering a word that he was still reluctant to use within earshot of his mother as he peered down at… a shoe? Quiet giggling drew his attention to where Su was still standing on the platform, now short one loafer. Then their eyes met, and Harry barely managed to keep from reacting to yet another surprise: this version of Su had brilliant violet irises instead of the brown, verging on black ones he'd been expecting. Parvati was brattier than usual here, Dora was an orphan who lived in his house, and he had two sisters. Oh, and Altaira was a thing. Su having purple eyes really wasn't that big of a difference, all things considered. Before he could say anything, though, Su decided to… err, kick things off. "Didn't anyone ever tell you that staring is rude?"
"And kicking your shoe at someone isn't?"
"Well yeah, it is. But you started being rude first, so you can't really complain, now can you?" Su gestured for him to approach, held up her hand to stop him, and then pointed downward. What? Harry peered down before rolling his eyes. Ah yes, Merlin forbid she summon her own shoe back to her. Harry was tempted to leave it there just to be contrary, but decided against it. His first impression seemed to be off to a rather shaky start; no need to make things worse. Picking it up, he carried the loafer over and dropped it in front of Su, backing off as she slid her foot back into it. "So, I'm Li Su… and you're not."
"I'm Harry. Harry Potter."
"I know. We have classes together. I don't think we've ever talked before because when it comes to girls, you're pretty singularly focused on that Tara… except for today, evidently." Su glanced off to the side for a moment before returning her gaze to Harry and arching one eyebrow inquisitively. "Why are you staring at me? I'd ask if you'd gotten bored of your girlfriend but seeing as how she's here with you, obviously that's not it. I've heard rumors that you like to flirt with other girls; I have nothing against girls who don't mind sharing but that's not really my bag, I'm afraid."
Caught completely off-guard by that, Harry sputtered helplessly for a few seconds before shaking his head vehemently. "I'm not dating Altaira. And I'm not here to flirt with you."
Su's other brow rose to match. "Really? Because that would be the least creepy reason for you to be staring at me that hard. Now I'm worried that you want to like, wear my skin or something."
Groaning, Harry buried his face in his hands as he shook his head despondently. "I just… you're pretty, sure, but I was staring at you because you remind me a lot of someone I used to know. I thought maybe you were her just older, but… well, obviously not. Because this conversation would be going a lot less awkwardly if you were her."
"Well, now that we've established that… do you want to talk to me even though I'm not her, or should I let you slink off in shame now?" Su waited as Harry pondered that before ultimately shrugging and nodding. "Fair enough, I'm bored enough that I'd actually talk to one of the Patils at this point. Oh and wait. I went back home for a few weeks and fell back on old habits. I'm not Li Su, I'm Su Li. Or at least that's who I am when I'm living here in Britain. I've had six years to get used to it, and I still can't get over the fact that you lot use backwards names."
Harry's lips quirked upward at that, thinking back to when he'd had this very same discussion with his Su. "You do know that from everyone else at school's perspective, you're the one who uses a backwards name, right? Except for maybe Cho Chang, or-"
"Jessica Chén Yuè, and yes, that's the entire extent of Chinese students at Hogwarts right now. Pathetic, isn't it? And even worse, there's only three of us but we don't even speak the same dialect." Su shook her head in disgust. "Cho and Jessica both speak Cantonese, which puts them with the rest of the three-quarters of Chinese Britons who speak it. Fat lot of good that does me, seeing as how Shanghainese isn't mutually intelligible with Cantonese and I've never had a reason to learn anything other than Wu dialects." That made Harry blink, and Su let out an exasperated sigh. "That means we're all speaking dialects of Chinese but they might as well be speaking French or German for all I can understand them."
Opening his mouth to respond, Harry let out a grunt as something collided with his ribs. He didn't even have to look down to see what - or rather who - it was; there were precious few people who were this tactile with him and only one small enough to fit neatly under his arm as she wrapped her arms around his waist. "I know what mutually intelligible means. I'm just surprised someone else my age does. My house isn't exactly the home of intellectual elites. And Su, this is Tara Malfoy. Altaira, this is Su Li. She's in sixth year like us and a Ravencl-"
"We're in classes together, Harry. That makes me a Gryffindor."
Huh. Another difference between the two versions of Su, evidently. Then again, he couldn't really say anything on that front given that he was a Slytherin in this universe rather than a Gryffindor. Unaware of his thought processes, Altaira unwrapped her right arm from around Harry, balancing on one crutch and holding her free hand out to Su with her palm facing downward. When Su just stared at it uncomprehendingly, Altaira let out a soft huff. "Just because you're a girl doesn't mean you're not capable of treating me like the lady that I am." Rolling her eyes, Su took Altaira's hand in her own and leaned forward, pressing her lips to the dark-haired girl's knuckles before straightening back up. "Why thank you. I'm going to have you all properly trained by the time I'm actually the lady of my house if it kills me."
"I notice that you didn't ask Harry to kiss your hand."
"True, but he doesn't complain that I kick him in my sleep so I'm willing to cut him a little slack."
Su appeared to consider that for a few seconds before shaking her head. "Harry claims the two of you aren't dating so either he's lying or… I don't even really want to think about it. Or do I? Because if he's lying about dating you then he might be lying when he says he doesn't want to wear my skin…"
Letting out an exasperated sigh, Harry shook his head. "I don't want to wear your skin, Su. Honest. Altaira's mom and mine are good friends and so she's been around my house since she was little. We bonded better than her and my sisters did and so when she stayed over, she stayed in my room. It's just sorta kept up over the years to the point that we still share beds because it's… I don't know, comforting? Familiar? I guess we're lucky that we got sorted into the same house or else she'd be getting detention for sneaking into another house's dorms to sneak into my bed."
"…still not going to ask. Not my business. Not my problem." Su thought for a moment, cocking her head to one side as she stared at Harry and Altaira speculatively. "So do you sneak into each other's dorms or just her into yours? Because in Gryffindor Tower, the stairs are charmed to keep the boys from going up into the girls' dorms."
It took all Harry's self-control not to blurt out a response that would give away that he had knowledge about a corner of Hogwarts that he had no business knowing about. Instead, he did his best to look innocent, remaining silent long enough that Altaira took it as her cue to respond to Su's question. "Evidently Salazar trusted his students more than Godric did his lions, because we're allowed to come and go freely from each other's dorms. Which means that all we have to worry about is annoying each other's roommates… although I like it better when Harry comes to stay with me. He's actually pretty tidy for a boy, but I can't say the same of most of the boys he's picked as his roommate."
There was a lot of useful intel in that for Harry to unpack, he quickly realized. One: yes, he'd still be sharing a living space with Altaira once they got to Hogwarts. Or rather, each other's living spaces. Two: Slytherins had paired dorms instead of a singular large room the way Gryffindors did. Three: he was allowed to pick who he wanted to room with. That… had Harry hoping that there were more Slytherins in his year at Hogwarts than there had been back in his universe. Because there was no way he was sharing with Crabbe or Goyle, and while it might be amusing to see Draco's reaction to his twin sister curling up with Harry in bed? He'd probably murder the ponce before Christmas break. Nott and Zabini… he wasn't one to judge people for actions they'd yet to commit, but neither of the boys were good enough people to survive with him any longer than Draco.
Silence descended for a few seconds, broken by Su clearing her throat before perking up with an awkward-looking smile on her face. "So, as long as we're talking about living spaces… homes! I'm from Harwich, up in Essex. Where are you from?"
"Fowey. Down in Cornwall. It's like Harwich, up in Essex, except warmer and dryer."
"Amesbury, in Wiltshire. Never been to Essex, or at least I don't remember going there, so I'm not sure how we compare." Altaira's head bumped against Harry's ribs; presumably she had tried to nod in his direction or something along those lines. "We're a bit cooler than Fowey, and we get a lot more rain. I think we set a record three years ago when we went three straight weeks without any sunshine. Which is part of why I'm never upset to hear that Mum wants to visit the Potters. The rest being Harry, obviously."
As the assistant who'd been working on her pulled away, scribbling furiously on a floating piece of parchment, Su buried her face in her hands and shook her head several times. "Okay, that's it. I can't do it anymore. What's the truth with you two? Are you two dating already, or betrothed, or… what?"
Altaira glanced up at him with a smirk before looking back over at Su and shrugging. "He's my best friend. Why?"
"Best friends don't act like that. At least when it's a boy and a girl."
"Well obviously they do, because here we are."