For Your Own Good
Past and Future
"I heard an intriguing bit of gossip regarding you while I was investigating your situation at Privet Drive," said Professor McGonagall to Harry as they browsed through the shelves at Flourish and Blotts (with the knowledge that disguising charms were possible on books, Harry had decided to make his birthday present to himself a selection from the 'Muggle Views on Magic' section of the shop). "Something about your being a pathological liar, perpetually destructive, and possibly violent as well?"
"That's what the Dursleys tell everyone." Harry regarded the enormous single-volume Chronicles of Narnia and the boxed set of seven separate books beside it, trying to decide which one he wanted. "The violent bit is to explain why Dudley's always chasing me. He's trying to keep me from hurting anyone. And they tried giving me decent clothes, but I'd just tear them up and lie about how it happened, so that's why I only get what Dudley's done with anymore." Selecting the boxed set, he tucked it under his arm and moved over from L to N, smiling as he spotted the sequel to Five Children and It along with another series by the same author.
"And people believe this?" Professor McGonagall sounded deeply skeptical, and if Harry wasn't mistaken, angry as well. It reinforced his sensation of being Henry Blake for the day instead of Harry Potter, to have an adult nearby who was angry for him, instead of being angry with him.
"Most of them do," he answered belatedly, scooping up a misshelved copy of The Hobbit and adding it to the stack, watching as the dwarves marched across the cover with Bilbo scurrying along behind them. He'd already discovered the photographs in his schoolbooks could move, and it seemed magical drawings occasionally displayed the same talents. "A couple people haven't, like Miss Gray, one of my teachers at school. She made me a thing I wrote about having in a story assignment, and gave me some good advice later on."
"But by and large, your aunt and uncle's neighbors would be unsurprised if you were named on the evening news as having murdered thirteen people simply because you could." Professor McGonagall sniffed. "Every so often, I find myself more in sympathy with some of my colleagues' views on Muggles than I'd like. But that's neither here nor there." She tapped her wand against Harry's stack of books, and they lifted out of his arms to float tidily beside him. "It does, however, lend itself to what I'd been thinking about telling your relatives. Let's pay for these and your schoolbooks, and arrange to have them held here until the end of the day, and then we'll discuss it further on the way to the Apothecary…"
Professor McGonagall's plan, Harry thought as he listened to her outline it, had distinct similarities with the prank training he'd received in his dream life ever since he could recall. He was beginning to see why his mom, dad, and uncle mentioned her name with mingled affection and awe.
Aunt Gigi would too, I bet, except she never went to Hogwarts. I don't think she even knew about magic until she was nineteen or twenty…
The bell over the door of the Apothecary jingled as Professor McGonagall pulled it open, and Harry pinched himself once more as he stepped inside from the warm, sunny July day to the cool interior of the shop with its faint scent of rotten eggs. For the first time in his life, reality was offering him something just as interesting as dreams, and he didn't want to miss a minute of it.
"Browse as you like," said Professor McGonagall, waving her hand at the shop's dusky depths. "But do remember that locked bins are generally locked for a reason."
"Yes, Professor." Harry began to wander along one of the aisles delineated by rickety-looking shelves, wondering what kinds of potions called for preserved caterpillars or cockroaches, and hoping he wouldn't be expected to drink them. He was used to spiders and other creepy-crawlies, but preferred them to remain outside his body.
And why would anybody need a stone taken from the stomach of a goat? Funny name, though. Carefully, he committed the word to memory, tracing it with his fingertip to engrave it on his mind. Be-zo-ar, bezoar. Got it.
Arriving at the back of the shop, he found himself facing an enormous wall lined with drawers, all of which were labeled in faint, graying handwriting. Some of the labels made him smile, as things like blackberry leaves, marigold petals, and rosemary roots brought to mind his mother's garden and the small potion-brewing nook she maintained in the basement at Tudor Lane, just outside the laundry room. Others, such as wormwood, asphodel, and monkshood (under which was written 'aconite' and 'wolfsbane', the last of these getting a brief snicker out of Harry) were less familiar to him, but the skull and crossbones drawn next to each suggested a possible reason for this.
Mom wouldn't grow poisons in the same garden she uses for vegetables and ordinary ingredients, not when we're all in and out of there every day, weeding or chasing cats or picking stuff for Aunt Gigi to cook with. She does have a few poisonous plants, but she's got them set up with grow-lights in the storage room, on the top of one of the shelves at the back, and warded all around so there's no chance we'll get into them even by accident…
Another label caught his eye, and he pulled open a drawer near the left side of the wall. A soft, minty, familiar fragrance rose to meet him, and to Harry's surprise, he suddenly had to swallow against tears.
Finding out my dad and mum weren't freaks and neither am I, getting ready to go away from the Dursleys to attend wizard school, looking forward to learning real magic and making real friends—it's amazing, the best birthday present I've ever had, and it ought to be enough. And maybe, if I'd never had the dreams, if I'd never been Henry Blake, it would have been enough. He took a pinch of the dried leaves which filled the drawer and crumbled them between his fingers, releasing more of their sweet, tangy scent. But I have and I have been, and that changes everything. Even meeting up with Mal and Dora, or Draco and Tonks I suppose I should call them if I don't want to get my worlds mixed, doesn't really feel like enough, because—
His traitorous mind supplied his cousin's eyes in a stranger's pointed face, his cousin's voice speaking in oddly cultured tones.
"If it's not just you and I who're real on both sides…if it's everybody…why haven't they at least come after you?"
"There's a reason." Harry didn't realize until he heard the words sounding hoarsely in his ears that he'd spoken aloud. "There's got to be a reason, and it isn't because they don't care about me. I won't believe that, not unless I have to." Looking around, he spied a small stack of cloth bags and helped himself to one, picking up the scoop which hung from a silver chain and measuring out an ounce of the leaves which had begun this chain of thought. "Not unless there's proof. Real proof, not just 'everybody says'." The injudicious use of this phrase had sparked one of the only moments of true anger Henry had ever seen his easy-going dad display. "Besides." He tapped a finger against the drawer which bore three names. "I know one of them already."
The "furry little problem" belonging to Henry's Uncle John had never been kept a secret from the children resident at 2319 Tudor Lane, but it had been carefully impressed on them that the rest of the world would not be so understanding. As far as anyone outside their household was aware, Mal and Jeanie's father suffered from chronic headaches, which could be controlled most of the time with medication and pain management techniques, but which flared up badly for a day or two every month, keeping him housebound for that period and leaving him looking drawn and worn afterwards.
And during his worst times, he can't deal with any sound at all, not even whispering or tiptoeing. Which is why, whenever his headaches get that bad, Aunt Gigi takes us to stay with Mom's aunt Amy in her apartment downtown for a day or two, so he can sleep it off. Harry grinned, pulling tight the drawstring closure of the cloth bag. Or that's what we tell everyone, anyway. He's really spending the night down in the Doghouse with Dad, with Mom standing by in case someone has to use magic to keep things contained, but she's never been needed, not once in all the time we've lived there…
Still, Harry had a strong suspicion that John Reynolds, or whatever his name was in Harry's waking world, would have been disqualified from Harry's guardianship almost automatically, simply by virtue of being what he was.
And never mind that I'd a million times rather live with a werewolf than with the Dursleys!
Shoving these thoughts aside (since he wouldn't have to live with either of them after another month, at least not until the end of the following June), Harry started for the front of the shop, arriving just in time to add his bag of leaves to the counterful of bottles, vials, and jars Professor McGonagall and the wizard behind the counter had collected between them. The wizard opened the bag, took a quick sniff, and nodded. "One ounce catnip," he said, punching buttons on his antique cash. "Which brings your total to…"
Professor McGonagall raised an eyebrow at Harry as he dug the required Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts out of his moneybag, but refrained from comment until they had left the shop, the catnip in Harry's pocket and the rest of the ingredients packed up to be owled to Hogwarts that night. "Are you thinking of a cat to bring to Hogwarts?" she asked as they walked along the pavement. "Certainly a very traditional animal, though keeping it hidden for the next month might be a problem."
"What—oh, no." Harry shook his head. "I like cats, but I don't think I want one just yet. Though I do know somebody who might take care of one for me, if I asked nicely," he added with a small grin, thinking of Mrs. Figg and her perpetually furry house. "Or if I got a grown cat, not a kitten, it might be able to take care of itself. There was one I kept seeing over the past few days, a tabby with markings around its eyes, markings kind of like—"
He broke off with a gasp. Professor McGonagall had vanished, and standing in her place was the spectacle-marked cat. It looked up at Harry and nodded, then shot upwards into the shape of the Professor once more. "You're quite observant," she remarked, straightening her robes. "Generally people look past me in that form."
"I was trying to keep my mind off things." Harry looked from the Professor's face to the place where the cat had been and back again. "Was that—are you—"
"I'm what's known as an Animagus, as compared to Miss Tonks, who is a Metamorphmagus. Mine is a learned skill, while hers was inborn, but both are quite rare. I don't think there's been more than a handful of Animagi this century. And yes, conceivably, you could learn how," said the Professor before Harry could ask the question now burning in his mind. "Not tomorrow, or next week, or next year—the process encompasses several different fields of magic, and takes a great deal of dedication and hard work to complete successfully—but you could learn. Now." She brushed her hands against her sides, as though to dismiss this topic. "Why did you buy catnip, if you aren't thinking of getting a cat?"
"I liked the way it smelled," Harry began, then stifled a grin as a way to tell only the convenient portion of the truth came to mind. "And my uncle was in a good mood this one day, and he showed me how you could brew tea with herbs. So I thought I'd try it."
Professor McGonagall raised an eyebrow again (the other one this time) but let this pass. "Very well. Where next? Cauldrons, or telescopes?"
A few hours later, Harry took another bite of his hamburger, which he was holding with his left hand only. His right hand was resting across his pocket, from which protruded the grip of a holly and phoenix feather wand, eleven inches long, nice and supple. Beside him on a plastic chair sat two piles of books, all carefully charmed to show titles like Applied Geometric Theory, Introduction to Organic Chemistry, and Philosophy: A Comparative Study. Professor McGonagall had bought them both some dinner when they'd arrived at Paddington station, then excused herself for a moment. Harry didn't mind. He had a lot to think about.
Mal, my cousin Mal. He's real. So's his cousin Dora. And she's grown-up, so she can legally do magic. Lucky.
One of the first things Professor McGonagall had told him after they'd left Ollivanders was that unsupervised magic by underage witches and wizards was strictly forbidden, and could get him into a lot of trouble, with official warnings from the Ministry of Magic or even expulsion from Hogwarts for repeat offenses. Harry could see the sense in this, but still couldn't help but be disappointed. He'd been looking forward to cursing Dudley.
But why do I need to think about him? He's not worth it. And this is. Harry glanced down at his wand again and brushed his fingers across it, smiling at the wash of warmth through his hand. He hadn't quite understood what was meant by "the wand chooses the wizard" until the moment in Ollivanders when he'd taken hold of this wand.
It felt like finding a missing piece of me. Like something stopped aching that I hadn't even realized was hurt. Or like…
"Like recognizing him." Harry slid his fingers down to the bag of catnip nestling against the wand in his pocket. "Like watching him recognize me. We're going to find the others. We are. And then we'll have our family here just like we do there."
Except for one problem. He bit into what was left of the hamburger. Draco's already got a family, and they were on the other side of the war from mine.
Still, nothing says he can't have us as friends.
Unless his father does.
Harry shivered a little. He hadn't liked the look of Lucius Malfoy at all, and hadn't needed Professor McGonagall's quiet warning in the next shop they'd visited that the older wizard was not to be trusted. His own situation and Draco's, he thought, had more in common than they might outwardly appear.
But in another month, none of that will matter any longer.
In another month, we'll be going to Hogwarts, and all of that will be in the past…
"Finally," said Professor McGonagall, slipping into the seat across from Harry. "I thought I'd never find what I was looking for. I hope you haven't been worried, or bored?"
"No, Professor," said Harry, making sure to swallow first. The see-food diet generally got his head swatted at Tudor Lane. "I was thinking about…" At a loss for words, he circled a hand. "Everything."
"It is quite a lot of everything to think about, isn't it?" The Professor smiled, unwrapping her own hamburger. "It struck me, Harry, that there was one thing you hadn't previously had that I could provide you. And it being your birthday, a gift seemed appropriate. Many happy returns of the day, by the by." From under the table, she produced a small wrapped package and passed it across to him. "I hope you enjoy it."
Tucking the last bite of hamburger into his mouth, Harry wiped his fingers carefully on a napkin and hefted the present in one hand. It was compact, not terribly heavy, and felt as though it might open…
And if I just unwrap it, I could find out!
Action followed word, and moments later there was a small pile of shredded paper on Harry's tray, while Harry himself frowned at the rectangular piece of wood he was holding—or no, he discovered upon further examination, it was three pieces, hinged together to fold up like a letter, but when unfolded—
His heart surged up into his mouth as he saw what Professor McGonagall had given him.
From the left side of the trifold picture frame waved a man, his eyes behind round-framed glasses a clear and laughing hazel, his hair as black and as uncontrollably messy as Harry's own. From the right smiled a woman with a cascade of red hair flowing across her shoulders, her face reminiscent of his Aunt Petunia's but slender rather than bony, her eyes identical to the ones now gazing at her.
"You said you had never seen their pictures," said Professor McGonagall softly into the silence. "It seemed to be the least I could do."
Not trusting his voice, Harry only nodded, and turned his attention to the center of the frame. His father, in what looked to be formal black dress robes, and his mother, in a gown of flowing white, were standing together beneath an arch of flowers, waving to the crowd around them, stopping every so often to kiss. Behind them, he could see flashes of movement associated with other sets of dress robes—someone, he thought, had thrown his head back to laugh, while someone else was shaking his own head ruefully—
A flash of red on his mother's side of the photograph drew his attention away from the groom's party, and his mouth went completely dry.
That's Mom. That's my mom. Standing next to—my mum, I guess, though that sounds so strange—
"Is something wrong, Harry?" asked Professor McGonagall, looking at him in concern.
"No." Harry knew he wouldn't be believed, not when the word had come out as half a sob, but hoped its cause would be misunderstood. "I—I just—thank you, Professor."
"You're quite welcome. Pardon me a moment." The Professor bent down to disentangle the heel of her boot from the hem of her skirt, allowing Harry time to blot his eyes on a spare napkin and get his thoughts together.
"I wonder if you can tell me, Professor," he said when she had straightened up again. "Who's this?" He indicated the red-robed witch now standing beside Lily Potter, handing her a bouquet of flowers and making throwing motions in the air. "Was she a friend of my mum's?"
"She was, and quite a good one, given that she traveled all the way from…" Professor McGonagall cut herself off, shaking her head ruefully. "Except that she didn't," she said. "How strange, to find myself believing the stories we told back then."
An announcement echoed through the air, and the Professor got to her feet. "Our train," she said. "I can continue the story once we're on board, if you like."
"Yes, please, Professor." Harry folded the picture frame up again and set it on top of one of his piles of books. "But what was her name? If you don't mind," he added hastily.
"Her name was, and is, Aletha Freeman." Professor McGonagall smiled at the interest Harry couldn't quite mask. "Yes, she survived the war. But I'm afraid you're unlikely to meet her any time soon, Harry. She lives in America, and has for a number of years."
That won't stop me. Harry hefted his pile of books, allowing himself a momentary grin since the Professor's back was turned. Or rather, it won't stop Henry. And he doesn't have to go very far, either. Just a step out of his bedroom door and turn left, and there she'll be…
"So, Aletha Freeman," Professor McGonagall began when the train was under way and the private-conversations spell had been cast once more. "She was at Hogwarts about the same time as your parents, a year behind them, if I remember correctly. She and your mother struck up a friendship on account of a mutual talent for potion brewing, and she and one of your father's friends were very reluctant Beating partners for Gryffindor—you remember what Beaters do, I'm sure."
"Hit the black balls, the Bludgers, that try to knock players off their brooms." Harry mimed swinging a bat. "She must have been very strong, then."
"She was, and a highly gifted witch as well." Professor McGonagall chuckled. "Which irked the pureblood students no end, because not only was Aletha Freeman Muggleborn, but her father had the abysmal taste to be American. But in any case, she finished her schooling, sat her examinations, and then announced her intention of leaving the country immediately, to seek Healer training in her father's native land. She saw, she said, no reason to stay and lose her life for something she couldn't help when she could be learning how to save the lives of others if she left."
"But she didn't actually go?" Harry unfolded the picture frame again, seeking two female faces close together, one so fair, the other so dark. "What did she do instead?"
"She went into hiding, so to speak, in a semidetached house in a Muggle suburb of London. An assumed name, a bit of disguise, though her best disguise was simply becoming too ordinary to notice, and that she knew how to do. And from that very ordinary semidetached, she pursued her Healing studies privately, while also running one of the only safe houses on our side of the war which was never discovered by the followers of You-Know-Who, the Death Eaters, as they styled themselves." The Professor's eyes grew momentarily distant again. "But then the war ended," she murmured, more to herself than to Harry. "And Aletha had to contend with heartbreak on top of heartbreak."
"Did someone she loved die?" asked Harry, uncertain if he wanted to know the answer but positive he needed to ask. Something told him he was approaching one of the core reasons why he had grown up at number four, Privet Drive, instead of 2319 Tudor Lane.
"No." The Professor's voice was iron. "It would have been better if he had. But no, Harry, the man Aletha Freeman loved did not die in the war. He betrayed her instead, betrayed her and your parents and all of us. He became a Death Eater, a spy for You-Know-Who inside our forces. And in his madness after his master disappeared, he killed thirteen people with a single curse, including a man he had once considered a friend." She sighed deeply. "He was sent to Azkaban for his crimes, and Aletha chose to make the story we had circulated the truth. She left the country to join her aunt, her father's sister, in America. I never saw her again."
Harry opened his mouth to ask one of the million questions buzzing in his brain, then closed it again. Professor McGonagall, he was sure, was telling him the exact truth as she knew it.
But that doesn't mean she's right. Not about everything. Not about everyone.
Sometimes things happen that people don't find out about until too late.
"Does she have any kids?" he asked instead.
"Aletha?" The Professor frowned, looking down at the photograph Harry still held on his lap. "I suppose it's possible. She was a young woman still when she left us, and very beautiful, as you can see. She may even be married by now. Though I do hope she didn't abandon her training, good Healers are hardly a Sickle a score." She pressed her knuckles momentarily to her lips, then sighed again. "Ah well. All in the past, and there's still a future to contend with. Two versions of it, even." Her eyes, so sad a few moments before, were now alive with the enjoyment of the joke she and Harry would shortly be playing on the Dursleys. "There's what will truly happen, and then there's what your relatives will think is going to happen…"
And I was going to write that here, but I think I'll leave it to start off the next chapter. It'll be more fun there, when I'm fresh. Thanks again for reading, and I shall see you next time!
A reminder that my blog, Anne's Randomness, is housed at my website, annebwalsh.com, and that today was Fiction Friday, when I post an original bit of fiction for your reading pleasure! Today's Fiction Friday piece was the start of a longer story instead of an individual flash fiction, a retelling of a Hans Christian Andersen tale entitled "The Most Incredible Thing"—if you have a few moments, why not check it out?