For Your Own Good
It Takes All Sorts
Something sharp and hard smacked into the back of Harry's hand. He groaned a little but didn't move. It was always possible that a box had dropped from the top of a stack and hit him, and if he held still he might be able to fall back to sleep.
Not that last night was so great in the dreams. Getting pulled out of my body would be scary no matter where it happened. But at least it was on that side of things, so Dad was there to come and rescue me. And afterwards was good, even if I did have to spend most of my birthday in bed or on the couch. I still got cake and presents, and cats sitting on me, and we all started planning our trip to London for school shopping…
The sharp thing struck the back of his hand again, eliciting another groan, but also a thought.
Am I still there? Still being Henry? Pearl did get that Dervish and Banges' Good-As-Live Rubber Chicken from her pen-friend Cassie when she turned nine at the start of June. Putting it on my bed so it could peck me on the hand would be just the kind of thing she'd think was funny. Besides, there's sunlight in here. And a breeze. I don't get those in the cupboard under the stairs.
Still, it doesn't feel right, or smell right, to be Tudor Lane…
The third peck was accompanied by a bad-tempered hoot, sending Harry's eyes shooting open.
He wasn't at Tudor Lane, but neither was he in the cupboard under the stairs. Instead he was in what had been Dudley's second bedroom until the night before, dressed in only the T-shirt Professor McGonagall had magically fitted to him on the way to Diagon Alley. A number of brown blobs (so far as he could see without his glasses) were lying underneath the open window, and an annoyed-looking tawny owl was perched on the edge of his mattress, sticking out its leg, to which a small scroll was tied.
"Sorry." Harry grabbed his glasses from the nightstand with one hand and started to loosen the knots on the scroll with the other. "Hope you haven't been waiting long." The brown blobs, with the help of his glasses, resolved themselves into a stack of parcels neatly bound up in brown paper, and the scroll came free quickly once he had both hands to untie the knots. "Thanks." He glanced out the window at the bright sunny day beyond. "Would you mind waiting in here for a while, maybe even until tonight? It's a Muggle neighborhood out there, so they're not used to owls. I can get you some water, and maybe something to eat if you like."
The owl considered this, then bobbed its head up and down before spreading its wings to flap to the railing at the bottom of the bed. Harry wondered for a moment what Aunt Petunia would make of the talon scratches on the woodwork, then abandoned that thought in favor of tearing open the scroll.
Harry, it began, in Professor McGonagall's handwriting,
I realized last night when I got in that I'd carelessly had all your clothing sent to my attention, not your Hogwarts robes only. I've rectified that now, along with adding a precautionary spell similar to the one on your schoolbooks. Your relatives, and any other Muggles who look at you while you're wearing these clothes, will see you dressed in your cousin's castoffs as usual.
You also started me thinking with your questions about Aletha Freeman, so I've checked the records. According to the magical registrar, she does indeed have a child. Meghan Lily Freeman was nine years old on 1 June, and although she was born in America, her mother has filed all the proper paperwork to have her added to the list of prospective students for Hogwarts, so you'll be meeting her there in just over two years' time.
Don't forget what you still need to do this summer. A story, after all, is only as good as its weakest chapter.
I look forward to seeing you at Hogwarts in September.
"Nine years old on 1 June." Since none of the Dursleys were present to demand what he meant by it, Harry didn't bother to mask his smile. "Check and double-check."
Looks like I might have that little sister after all.
"Not that I really wanted her, of course," he muttered, getting up to open one of the parcels (socks, neatly rolled together in pairs). "She's a proper little nuisance and I could have done just as well without her. At least I'll have two free years at Hogwarts before she gets there."
From the other side of his dreams, he could have sworn he heard Pearl blow a raspberry at him.
Nymphadora Tonks, dressed in her maroon Auror apprentice robes, hurried through the maze of cubicles which was the Auror Office without really looking where she was going. Her foot caught on a jag in the floor just outside her mentor's cubicle, and she stumbled, but caught herself on the opposite side of his doorway.
"Easy there," said Kingsley Shacklebolt, looking up from his Daily Prophet. "Where's the fire?" He raised an eyebrow. "On your head, I see."
"Oh, stuff it," Tonks muttered, willing her hair back to pink from its current phone-box red. She wouldn't have dared say anything of the sort to any other Auror in the Office, but her mentor had taken very little time to convince her that he preferred an informal, friendly relationship between them.
When he's not snapping my nose off for making stupid mistakes, that is. But I deserve that, most of the time.
"Sorry, I'm just a bit dazed by this past Tuesday still," she apologized, sitting down in her usual seat to one side of Kingsley's cubicle. "I'd gone down to Diagon Alley to meet up with my cousin on my free time and ran into Hagrid there, and we got to talking, and then Professor McGonagall comes strolling along, and guess who she's taking around to get his school supplies for Hogwarts?"
Kingsley glanced up at her. "Harry Potter?"
Tonks stared. "How'd you know that?"
"Your hair." Kingsley nodded towards it. "It's gone all to lightning bolts."
"Damn it!" Tonks ran her hands along the offending fibers, telling them firmly to turn back to pink and stay that way this time. "Don't tell me, I know," she said with a sigh as Kingsley opened his mouth again. "I'm going to have to get that under better control, if I want my Metamorph to be a help and not a hindrance in this business."
"Doesn't look like I'm needed here any longer," said Kingsley idly. "Suppose I'll just sit back and read my newspaper." He shook it out and folded over a page. "Another one of your cousins in here today," he added before going back to perusing the columns.
"Oh?" Tonks craned her neck, trying to read across the cubicle. "Which one? I've only got about a dozen, on Mum's side, that is. More than that on Dad's, but I doubt they'd be making the Prophet, they are Muggles after all."
"I'm sorry, did you say something?" Kingsley lowered the newspaper. "I wasn't listening. No point, if you're going to be your own mentor from now on."
Tonks glared at him, but gave up after a moment. There was only so much that even her best glare could do against that unshakable Kingsley calm. "I'm sorry for cheeking you," she muttered. "Now which one is it?"
"One of the more famous ones." Kingsley unfolded the paper to reveal its front page. "Have a look for yourself."
"Sad news in your family today, my dear," said Lucius Malfoy to his wife at the breakfast table, turning the newspaper around to display the headline.
"So I see." Narcissa drew her wand and Summoned the Daily Prophet from her husband's hand. "Found dead in cell by dementors who'd come to investigate unusual noises, Ministry personnel confirm identification, will be buried outside the prison, and so on, and so forth." She sighed, laying the newspaper aside. "I fail to see why this merits such a fuss. It has been nearly ten years since any of these was news."
"Ah, but these terrible crimes will shortly be brought back into the public eye." Lucius tapped a finger against the table. "Or rather, one of their victims will. A child closely affected by that awful tragedy is very nearly the same age as our Draco, and will be starting Hogwarts with him in one month—and here he is now," he added as the son of the house stepped into the breakfast parlor. "Good morning, Draco."
"Good morning, Father. Mother." Draco nodded his head to Lucius and kissed his mother's cheek before sitting down in his usual spot. "Is something the matter?"
"Not exactly." Narcissa folded the newspaper with its headline inside and set it on the chair beside her own. "We were simply discussing one of the less reputable members of my family. Nothing you need to concern yourself with."
"No, indeed." Lucius clapped his hands twice, summoning Dobby from the kitchen. "Fresh tea, and be quick about it," he ordered, and sat back as the house-elf vanished with the teapot. "There are much more important things to discuss. Such as ensuring your personal safety when you go away to Hogwarts. The place is full of Mudbloods, and Dumbledore coddles them shamefully. They'll feel threatened by your obvious superiority, and there's no guarantee they'd be adequately punished if they harmed you, so I want to be sure you're never alone. Young Crabbe, of course, you already know, and I believe Goyle has a boy about your age as well. I'll see about introducing you."
"Yes, Father," said Draco dutifully, but Narcissa caught the tiny quirk in his lips on the side away from Lucius. "Is there anyone else I should make a special effort to get to know?"
"Well, you already know most of the people who're worth knowing, but there is one special case I think I should mention." Lucius looked around as Dobby reappeared with the teapot. "Did you go to China to pick the leaves yourself?" he snapped. "Fingers in the door, five times."
"Yes, sir." Dobby set the teapot on the table and vanished once more.
Seeing the spark in her son's eyes, Narcissa cleared her throat, drawing his attention and Lucius's to herself. "Your father is referring, of course," she said, "to Harry Potter. He has grown up with his mother's Muggle relatives, so while he may be aware of his identity and his fame in our world, he will likely not be prepared for the reality of it. Almost certainly he will be eager to find acceptance among his own kind, to make friends with the right sort of people."
"Like me." Draco grinned briefly. "I think I could do that. But…" He paused, looking worried. "There could be a problem," he said. "What if the Muggles were…it sounds strange, I know, but what if they were kind to him? Trying to curry favor, maybe? If he likes his relations, he might not listen to anyone who said something bad about them, or about Muggles in general. So if I really want to get to know him, maybe I should sound him out first."
"A good thought." Lucius nodded in approval. "How very Slytherin of you, Draco. And after you sound him out, if you are correct and he is—temporarily, I trust—well-disposed towards Muggles, what then?"
"Someone would need to get close to him," said Narcissa, picking up her teacup to cradle it between her hands. "Become friendly with him. Slip past any barriers he might put up, in fear or in ignorance or both. But that would require being not only friendly, but entirely unthreatening, and that…" She stared down at her tea. "No. It would be too much to ask."
"What?" Draco sat up straighter, looking intently across the table at her. "What would?"
Lucius frowned. "Yes, what are you suggesting, Narcissa?"
"I am suggesting that Draco, if he feels himself capable of it, might attempt to influence his Sorting." Narcissa looked up to meet her son's eyes. "It would be a terrible sacrifice for you, my love," she said. "You would be trapped among people entirely unlike yourself, forced to mingle with half-bloods and even Mudbloods on a daily basis. Or should I say, Muggleborns, since if this is to work we must begin training you in the proper habits immediately. Still, the ultimate reward might well be worth the pains and rigors you would undergo."
Draco looked equal parts appalled and enthralled. "You want me to be a spy?"
"I do." Narcissa nodded, setting aside her teacup. "But perhaps not quite as you think. A spy must either be impossible to remember or impossible to forget, and if you will forgive my saying so, Draco, I have met quite enough of your contemporaries who are impossible to forget."
"No matter how hard one tries," murmured Draco, winning a chuckle from Lucius and a cool smile from Narcissa. "So I'd be the kind of spy who's always there, but always in the background. Everyone sees him, but no one ever thinks anything of it."
"Indeed." Narcissa clapped her own hands twice, and Dobby reappeared, wincing as he slid a plate of breakfast onto the table in front of Draco. "You would be effectively invisible, even more so than if you had the Cloak of legend."
"That sounds like fun." Draco picked up his fork. Then he stopped, and his eyes widened. "But then that would mean I'd have to be—"
"Narcissa!" Lucius started to his feet. "How can you even think of such a thing?"
"What I think, Lucius," Narcissa retorted, snapping her fingers and pointing Dobby towards her teacup, "is that no sacrifice can be too great to bring the Dark Lord back to power. Or would you disagree?"
"No." The answer came instantly, if a trifle reluctantly. "But this—"
"This is not your decision to make." Narcissa lifted her refilled teacup and took a sip. "It is our son's. What do you say, Draco?"
"I say…" Draco poked at a sausage with his fork. "Do you really think it would work, Mother?" he asked, lifting his eyes to hers. They held just the right amount of doubt and reluctance for a pureblood child faced with a decision of this magnitude, but somewhere in their depths lurked a tiny, suspicious sparkle. "I mean, I am a Malfoy. They might not believe it of me, no matter what happens."
"Then it is your job to make them believe it." Narcissa gave her son her sternest maternal glare. "Unless you think it would be too difficult for you, in which case I believe you and I, Lucius, should speak to some of your friends who also have children of the proper age. This chance is too good to waste."
"Mother!" Draco dropped his fork, staring aghast at her. "You wouldn't!"
"If you doubt your capacity to play the part, I certainly would, and will." Narcissa took another sip of her tea. "If you are too fond of your own comfort and security to take a chance for the Dark Lord, to do your part in ridding our world of the encroaching Mudbloods who taint it and the fools who encourage them. I leave it to you, Draco."
"Father?" Draco looked towards Lucius. "What do you think?"
Lucius had spent most of this exchange looking from his wife to his son like a man who had discovered a pair of erumpents in the bed where his pet crups had gone to sleep the night before. Now, slowly, he seated himself, his brow furrowed in thought. "Your mother," he said, as though the words were being extracted from him with tweezers, "has a point. As much as I hate what it means for you, Draco, this could be a chance to slip a spy inside our enemies' ranks completely unsuspected. But you must be willing." He leaned forward, emphasizing his words with sweeps of his hands. "More than willing, you must be devoted to the cause with all your mind and soul. Enough to wait, perhaps for years, until the truth can be revealed."
"I can do that." Draco lifted his chin, squaring his shoulders. "I can." He smiled, the expression uncertain at first but firming after a moment. "It even fits, doesn't it? Loyal, patient, and true." His smile twisted to one side, becoming very definitely a grin. "It never says true to what."
Both elder Malfoys burst into laughter, Lucius applauding his son with his fingers against his opposite palm, Narcissa shaking her head playfully. "Be careful of the way you think," she chided her son gently. "You might find yourself Sorted more properly than we wish!"
"Oh, I can fool whoever does the Sorting." Draco picked up his fork again and sliced the end off his sausage. "I can fool anyone."
"And if it were a magical item, instead of a person?" Lucius brought himself back under control, dabbing at his eyes with his napkin. "If you were forced to control not only your actions but your very thoughts, what then?"
"I'd still do it." Draco set his jaw. "You'll see. If this is how I can serve the Dark Lord the best, then I'll make it happen. And I'll do it right, too. You watch." He smiled again, this time a trifle timidly. "Draco Malfoy is going to be the very best Hufflepuff Hogwarts has ever seen."
"I believe you will." Narcissa nodded. "I truly believe you will."
Upgrade Mother knowing about us from "maybe" to "probably". Also from "neutral" to "friendly". At breakfast this morning she played Father like I play my recorder and the upshot is, he's now expecting me to end up a Badger! And he's halfway to thinking it was all his own idea, for the glory of the Dark Lord, no less! I'm only sorry you couldn't have seen it. It was a beautiful thing.
Thanks for sending on Harry's letter. Mine back to him is enclosed. I'm glad to know you're looking out for him along with Professor McGonagall. Nothing against her, but I trust you more.
Was there something in the Prophet this morning about one of our Black cousins? Mother wouldn't let me see the headline. Though if I remember the family tree right, most of them besides you and me and Aunt Andromeda aren't worth the breath it'd take to curse them.
Write back soon, if your mentor hasn't got your hand cramping up too badly with spell-casting practice. But you could always use a DictaQuill, so really you've got no excuse. Let me know if you think we can meet one more time before I have to leave for school. If Mother really is friendly, we might be able to pull it off. Here's hoping.
Don't let the Aurors get you down,
P.S. Forty-seven seconds this morning, for the whole thing. I'm hoping to get it under thirty-five by September. Any tips?
Thea Blake stared into her cauldron, counting silently until it should be time to add the next ingredient. They're just dreams seven, they're just dreams eight, they're just dreams nine—
An arm wrapped around her shoulders. She jerked, but managed to keep herself from either screaming or jabbing an elbow backwards. "What have I told you about coming into my potions nook without permission?" she demanded of the person holding her.
"Hmm." Her husband pursed his lips, thinking hard. "That it was manly and impulsive?"
"Yes, that's right." Thea sighed, trying to keep her amusement from showing. "Except I think the word I used was 'Don't'."
"Well, I'm already in, so too late for that." Ryan nuzzled at her ear. "What's wrong, love? Bad night?"
"Worse than some," Thea acknowledged, shying away from too close an examination of the breathtaking grief and accompanying guilt her dream-self had locked away under nearly ten years' worth of iron self-control. "What about you? You didn't seem as bad as you sometimes are."
"That's a fair assessment." Ryan nodded, amusement dancing in his eyes. "Things took a bit of an unexpected turn, you might say. Matter of fact—"
"Dad!" shouted a panicked girl's voice from the main floor. "Daddy, where are you?"
"Down here!" Ryan called back, sparking a four-part chorus of gasps and cries of relief from the kitchen. "What, did everyone have bad dreams last night except me?"
"Daddy!" Pearl launched herself at her father from the fourth step. "You're all right!"
"I told you so," said Jeanie smugly to Henry and Mal as they stopped about halfway down the stairs. "Now will you please stop obsessing over those stupid dreams? Just because something happens there obviously doesn't mean it's going to happen here too."
Pearl wriggled in her father's hold until he got an arm wrapped around her and shifted her to his back. "Mama," she said, pointing. "Should it be doing that?"
"Should it be doing what, love?" Thea turned to look at her cauldron, which was starting to smoke and tremble. "Oops." Quickly, she cast a Shield Spell around it. "Everybody hold on."
The explosion, even contained as it was, rattled the windows throughout the entire house.
Harry sat at the desk in his bedroom (even after a week of having it, he wasn't tired of thinking that, and suspected he wouldn't be for a while), looking from the newspaper clipping Draco had sent him to the letter which had accompanied it. Finally, turning them both over and pushing them to the back of the desk, he pulled out a fresh sheet of paper and began to write.
I don't know what to think either. On the surface of it, everything in the newspaper story makes sense. But then I start thinking about the place we both know—I thought of something to call it, by the way. Professor McGonagall said Henry sounded like my other self, my alter ego. Why don't we call it the alterworld? Everything's certainly altered from the way it is around here!
In any case, in the alterworld, he's my dad, and Pearl's, and your and Jeanie's uncle. He'd do anything for us. Like changing his name, giving up everything he ever knew, and moving to another country to make sure we'd grow up safe and happy. And maybe that's just another thing that's different from this world to the alterworld, but maybe it's not. There seems to be an awful lot we still don't know. Doesn't he always say himself that you've got to have proof before you go around believing things about people?
Whatever's true in this world, though, we can't do much about it right now. We'll just have to keep our eyes open, and go on hoping things will turn out. At least we still have the alterworld, and getting ready for Hogwarts is even more fun there than it is here. Except for keeping Pearl from booby-trapping our trunks. That's just annoying. Do you think we could bribe her to do Jeanie's instead?
I've enclosed what I've been working on lately, in between reading and keeping track of where Dudley's been going when (getting ready for that incident I told you about). After I finally got used to the idea of going to Hogwarts, learning magic, all of that, I started wondering, what if I hadn't had the alterworld, and the grownups to help me figure out what to do with my letter? Would I have just opened it straight away and got confused, and missed my chance to go to Hogwarts because I didn't reply? Or maybe would I have been so surprised by getting a letter of my very own that I would have let Aunt Petunia or Uncle Vernon spot it?
Miss Gray used to say it was ironic how often the most horrible thing, in terms of being a person, is the most dramatic or enjoyable thing, in terms of being a writer. So I decided the me in the story was just that stunned, or stupid, or whatever, and he let the Dursleys see the letter. And of course they snatched it away from him and told him it was a mistake, but they also moved him out of the cupboard because it scared them that somebody knew about that. And then, of course, he hadn't read the letter, so another one came the next day, addressed to "Mr. H. Potter, The Smallest Bedroom", and of course the Dursleys didn't let him have that one either. And the next day three letters came, and Uncle Vernon tried nailing up the mail slot, and…
But I'll let you read the rest for yourself. I went a little wild near the end. Hope you like it.
Twenty-five days until Hogwarts!
P.S. Bet you a Galleon we spot Jeanie on the train.
Folding up the letter to send with Merope when she arrived after sunset, Harry got up and went downstairs to see what Aunt Petunia wanted him to start for dinner.
A breeze blew through his window, flipping over the newspaper clipping. From its front, a wild-eyed man threw back his head and laughed maniacally, under the headline printed in font size gargantuan:
SIRIUS BLACK DEAD
Yeah, I really just did that. Or did I? As the boys have reminded one another, all they've got at this point is hearsay. And I was going to settle it this chapter, but this is too good a breakpoint to ignore. So you get to do a little bit of wondering, until I have time to clear it up.
If you would like to encourage me to clear it up sooner, there is a new way to do that. Please see either my blog post, The most incredible thing, part 2, or go straight to patreon.com/AnneBWalsh to sign up as one of my Patreon patrons for my weekly Fiction Friday posts. If I reach my next monetary goal, I've promised to commit to biweekly chapters for this story as long as I am able. And given that my brain is now plotting behind my back, in much the way it did when I was first conceiving of the DV, this story is probably only the beginning…
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