For Your Own Good
The Journey to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters
Harry was up at five in the morning on 1 September, double-checking that he'd packed everything in the backpack Draco had sent him (which had, he suspected, been enchanted before it ever got to him, since both armfuls of books and all the Muggle clothing Professor McGonagall had sent him fit inside with room to spare), then pacing back and forth across his room out of sheer nerves. As he passed the window for probably the twentieth time, he stopped to have a look at Privet Drive.
The houses, shorn of any variations in color by the dim light of pre-dawn, sat in a primly identical row along the street, like a painted backdrop or magically copied properties for a children's play about Muggles. Harry had the unnerving feeling that in another moment he would see them start to collapse like balloons with the air being let out, or dissipate into nothingness as though they'd been hit by a Vanishing Charm.
Or they'll go away between one blink and the next. Like waking up out of a dream. He smiled a little as he imagined the plain white walls of his bedroom replaced in an instant with the comfortably shabby wallpaper of the Leaky Cauldron. No more Privet Drive, no more Dursleys, just my family and my friends and Hogwarts…
"But really, I'm doing all right." Harry went to his desk, taking one last sheet of paper out of the drawer and picking up the pen he'd be leaving behind in favor of quills and parchment scrolls. "Sleeping or waking, I'm going to Hogwarts. Friends shouldn't be too hard to find once I'm there. As for family…" He looked down at the backpack, and at the diagram of names he'd folded into fourths and tucked into one of its side pockets. "Well, we're working on that."
I've met Mal already, and Dora, and I know Pearl and Mom and Uncle John all exist here too. Most likely I'll be seeing Jeanie sometime today, and I know Dad did exist, but not if he's still alive, or if he's anybody I'd want to know on this side of things…
Shoving those thoughts away, Harry set pen to paper. The best way not to worry about the dissonances between the two lives he lived, he'd found, was to imagine a life he didn't, the way things might have happened if he'd never dreamed of the alterworld at all. He couldn't be sure what it would really have been like, but he'd enjoyed inventing some of the events to please himself, like Hagrid tracking down the Dursleys to hand-deliver his Hogwarts letter, and cursing Dudley with a pig's tail while he was at it.
The Journey from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, he wrote, and patted the pocket of his backpack where his ticket for the Hogwarts Express rested. The Dursleys, in this fictional universe, would grudgingly give Harry a lift to King's Cross, under the impression that this platform did not exist, and that Harry would therefore be stranded in the train station with a trunk he could barely lift, a pocket full of wizard money, and a large snowy owl named Hedwig.
But wizards have had an awful lot of practice at hiding things they don't want to be found.
After a moment to sketch a brick wall in his margin, its bricks on the verge of turning sideways to form an arch, Harry returned to writing. His own transportation to King's Cross would be arriving sometime around nine, if he'd overheard his aunt correctly on the telephone the week before, and he wanted to get as far as he could in his story before then.
All right, so who does he see going through the barrier? Not Tonks, I don't think, she'd get a little too much attention from the Muggles unless she tamed her hair down, and then he probably wouldn't notice her in the first place…how about the Weasleys? There's a whole bunch of them, they all have red hair, and Percy's a prefect so he's got an owl…
Nodding as the story took shape, Harry let his imagination fly free. What would really happen was yet to be seen, but in his stories, he could do whatever he wanted.
Like Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia taking Dudley to London anyway, because he's got to have his pig's tail removed before he goes away to Smeltings!
Footsteps sounded on the stairs. Harry glanced up at the sound, then scribbled one more sentence, a description of his fictional self's feelings as the Hogwarts Express pulled out of the station, and folded up the paper just in time to shove it into his backpack as the door of his bedroom opened.
"Here he is," said Uncle Vernon, stepping back from the door to allow two people into the room. One was Tonks, wearing her Ms. Nigellus face, and the other was a tall, bald, black man with a majestic look about him, one of his ears pierced with a gold hoop. "We've kept him indoors, as you suggested. I do trust there won't be any trouble about his staying at school over the Christmas and Easter holidays?"
"Not at all," boomed Tonks in the gravelly voice she'd used for this role before, though it was clearly new to the man, as he raised an amused eyebrow in her direction before gesturing to Harry to pick up his backpack. "We prefer to have them as long as possible at a stretch. Gives us more of a chance to get them used to our ways, if you know what I mean."
"Yes, well, you may find him a bit of a challenge." Uncle Vernon was having trouble keeping his smirk from breaking through his worried-relative-of-a-troubled-boy expression. "We've tried our hardest to keep him in line, but it doesn't seem to have been enough."
"We'll do the keeping in line from here on out," said the man, his voice deep and calm as he took Harry's elbow in a grip Harry suspected looked much tighter than it was. "You won't have to worry about a thing."
"That's for sure." Tonks leered at Harry, forcing him to cough into his hand rather than laugh outright at her antics. "Come on, boy, we've got a ways to go to get you to St. Brutus's on time, and it's not the sort of place you'd want to be late."
"Bye, Harvey!" called Dudley, leaning out the living room window and grinning all over his face as Tonks and the man escorted Harry down the front walk towards the dark green car with its uniformed driver. "See you next summer…maybe!"
The man glanced back towards Dudley, then down at Harry. "Harvey?" he asked, in tones too low to carry back to the house.
"She started it," said Harry promptly, indicating Tonks with a twitch of his elbow.
"Oh, sure, blame everything on me," grumbled Tonks, taking Harry's bag from him, then opening the door so that Harry could climb into the car. It was far nicer than any of Uncle Vernon's company cars, with a partition of tinted glass separating the front from the back, and the seat on which Harry found himself was approximately the length of a park bench, though much more comfortable.
Probably the same kind of spell as on my pack.
He pulled his feet out of the way of that very item as Tonks tossed it negligently into the car, then climbed inside herself, her colleague just behind her. Peering past them to take one last look at number four, Privet Drive, Harry saw Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia standing together at the front door, with Dudley still filling the frame of the living room window. On a whim, he waved, and saw Aunt Petunia's hand rise for one half-hearted little motion, while Uncle Vernon snorted and Dudley made a face.
Then the earring-wearing wizard leaned forward and pulled the door shut, and Harry sat back as the car leapt into motion. Number four, Privet Drive, and its neighbors receded into the distance, and a strange certainty filled Harry's mind that he'd never see them again, that this leavetaking was for always, that he'd left the Dursleys and Little Whinging behind for good…
Except I know I haven't. I'll be back here next summer. But that gives me ten Dursley-free months, and who knows what could happen? He grinned inwardly. Maybe I'll make friends with the house-elves and they'll fix me up a little room at the castle where I can stay over the summers, and then I really never will have to go back!
"Phew." Tonks exhaled a long breath as the car turned the first corner, letting her features slide back into their natural form. Her hair cycled through four or five colors before settling into its usual pink. "Wotcher, Harry. Glad to see you made it through. This is Kingsley Shacklebolt, my Auror mentor. Kingsley, Harry Potter."
"Pleased to meet you." Harry shook hands with Kingsley. "Thanks for coming to get me."
"Not at all." Kingsley smiled. "It makes a pleasant change from my everyday routine. Even chasing Dark wizards has its boring parts."
"Chasing Dark wizards is mostly boring parts," Tonks corrected. "Loads of gruntwork, sorting through tips that've come into the Ministry, researching spells and potions and family trees in moldy old scrolls and books. I get stuck with most of that because I'm the apprentice."
"Why else would I have saddled myself with you?" Kingsley chuckled deep in his throat, then frowned as the sound of chimes in a slightly dissonant chord filled the car. "Pardon me," he said, pulling what appeared to be an ordinary lighter out of his pocket. "I need to take this." With a flick of his wand, his section of the car was screened off with what looked like a thick blanket of smoke.
"Take this?" Harry asked Tonks.
"Portable Floo." Tonks mimed flicking open a lighter. "You remember how I firecalled Mal from my place? Well, technically it was Dobby I was talking to, and I put on my old man face and acted like I'd got through to the wrong grating." She sprouted a beard and mustache, dirty white to match her hair, and her voice turned wobbly and petulant. "Magnus? Magnus, is that you—oh, dragon's blood, not again! Wrong fire, beg pardon!"
Harry laughed, and Tonks took a seated bow as she restored her face once more. "It's how we make sure Uncle Lucius doesn't find out I'm corrupting his ickle Dwaco," she said. "But the Floo Network's only ever been able to connect to established fireplaces, which means if someone's not home, you're out of luck. With these new little portables, you can get a Floo connection to just about anywhere. Voice only, but miles better than nothing." She cast an envious glance at Kingsley's smoke screen. "Not that I rate one. They're brand-new and imported to boot, so they cost a bagful of Galleons and only high-ranking Ministry types get them. But by the time you leave Hogwarts, I bet you almost everybody'll have one."
"Cool." Harry looked out the window at the swiftly passing houses and buildings. Already they were further away from Privet Drive than he had ever been, except on his trip with Professor McGonagall to London. "Can I ask you something?"
"You just did." Tonks grinned, and reached over to ruffle Harry's hair at his look of disgust. "No, go on. What's on your mind?"
"I was just wondering about being an Animagus. Professor McGonagall showed me what she can do, and it looked amazing, but she said it was hard and it took a long time to learn." Harry pulled his wand out of his pocket, running a finger down its length. "Can't wizards turn things into other things, transfigure them? So if I wanted to be a dog for a while, couldn't I just get a friend to change me into one?"
"You could, but it's dangerous. Physically dangerous, first off." Tonks drew her own wand and conjured a mouse onto her palm. "I know that looked easy, but do you have any idea how hard I had to study to get it right?" she asked as the mouse sat up, its whiskers wiggling. "You can't just think of a mouse. You have to know, at least a little bit, what goes inside a mouse, or you'll get a pile of fur with nothing in it. Or the inside bits without the fur, which is worse. Now imagine that happening to you, and your very own personal inside bits."
Harry pressed a hand against his stomach, and Tonks nodded grimly. "Not pretty, is it? But even if the transfiguration goes off without a hitch, there's the problem of thinking." She swirled her wand the other way, making the mouse vanish. "Animals don't have the same sort of brains that people do, and if you're transfigured into an animal, you're transfigured all the way, brains and all. You might remember that you used to be a human for a while, but eventually your memories would get shoved out to make room for your animal instincts, and once they're gone, they're gone, even if you get turned back. That's one of the reasons becoming an Animagus is so hard, because you have to find the right spells to bring your human mind along for the ride."
"Oh." Harry considered this. "So then—"
With a little whoosh, Kingsley's smoke screen vanished, revealing the wizard with an annoyed expression on his face. He leaned forward and tapped the partition between the front and back seats. "Stop a moment, will you, David?" he requested the driver when the little window slid open. "Thanks. For once, urgent really did mean urgent," he said to Harry and Tonks, returning the lighter to his pocket. "I've got to get back to the Office. I'll leave you a note with more details, Tonks—come find me when you're finished here, all right?"
"All right." Tonks nodded to her mentor as the car slid to the side of the road and stopped. "Best of luck with whatever it is."
"Thanks again," Harry added as Kingsley opened the door and stepped out. "Why did we have to stop?" he asked Tonks once Kingsley had closed the door behind himself, taken two steps away from the car, and vanished in the turning-around motion which Harry now knew signaled an Apparition in progress (Henry's parents tended to rely more heavily on Muggle modes of transit, as was the American norm). "If he was just going to Apparate anyway?"
"Because when you Apparate somewhere, you get there moving the same speed and direction as you were in the place you left." Tonks mimed something heavy hitting a wall, as the car merged back into traffic. "Kid I knew in school tried Apparating off his broomstick while he was flying it the summer he turned seventeen. Last I heard, he's mostly learned how to walk again."
Harry grimaced. "Magic's not very safe, is it?"
"No more than anything else worth doing." Tonks shook her head a trifle impatiently. "Look, your wand's not about to jump up and bite you on the nose, not unless somebody's hit it with a pretty strong jinx, and even then it might not take. Wands don't like acting against their masters. But no, magic's not safe. If you wanted safe, you should've tossed that Hogwarts letter in the bin and gone to Muggle school like your relatives wanted, maybe trained up for a job at your uncle's business, sorting letters or something. How's that sound?" She grinned at Harry's gagging noises. "Exactly. But if you're sensible about it, you should be fine. Don't use random spells you found in some old book, don't tickle a sleeping dragon, don't tease a hippogriff—"
"What's a hippogriff?"
Stories about Tonks's days at Hogwarts, and the mishaps and triumphs pertaining thereto, filled the rest of the journey to London without trouble, and it wasn't until the car was stalled in heavy traffic three blocks from King's Cross that Harry remembered a question he'd wanted to ask Tonks. "Can I show you something?" he asked, and at her nod dug his picture frame out of his backpack. "The people here," he said, opening it to the central photograph, the one from his parents' wedding. "Do you know who any of them are? Besides my mum and dad, I mean, they're kind of obvious."
"Well, that's my cousin Sirius." Tonks grimaced, pointing to the dark-haired man who had thrown back his head to laugh. "My late cousin Sirius, I should say, and not a moment too soon. Shame he turned out like he did, I remember him from when I was a kid, and he was brilliant. He used to come visit Mum, tell her stories about the crazy things he and his friends had done lately, and he'd always bring me something fun. Come to think, this chap came with him a couple times." Her finger moved over one place, to the image of the sandy-haired, ruefully smiling wizard Harry knew only as 'John Reynolds'. "What was his name? Something mythological, because I remember being glad it wasn't just my family that did that to their kids…"
Harry bit back his frustration and waited, until finally Tonks nodded. "Remus," she said, tapping her finger against the photograph, the newly-identified wizard dodging aside from the impact point. "His name was Remus. Can't recall the surname, but how many of those can there be? Especially in the same year as your dad and Sirius Black, and Gryffindors all three. Maybe one of these days you should look him up, see whatever happened to him."
"Maybe I should." Harry didn't bother suppressing his grin as he tucked the picture frame away again and zipped his backpack tightly shut, since the car was just now pulling up in front of King's Cross. He climbed quickly out and slung his backpack on while Tonks said a few quiet words to the driver. Then, as the car pulled away, witch and wizard entered the bustling Muggle train station together, following the signs which pointed them towards platforms nine and ten.
"Going to be all right?" Tonks asked as they threaded between groups of business-suited men and women, boisterously shouting children, bewildered-looking tourists.
"I think so," said Harry, though in truth he felt rather like he'd swallowed a whole, still-wriggling Chocolate Frog. Coming here in the alterworld, with his cousins, his friends, even his parents and little sister all preparing to embark on the Hogwarts Express together, was very different from standing in front of the barrier between platforms nine and ten alone except for one pink-haired witch, whom he'd met for the first time in his waking life just over a month ago.
"Hey." Tonks's voice was gentle, and Harry looked over at her. She was smiling a little, holding out her hand, and awkwardly he put his own into it. Her fingers closed around his and squeezed reassuringly. "You'll do fine. Deep breaths, head high, and never let them see you sweat."
"Can I let them see me be sick?" Harry muttered, and Tonks groaned once and swatted him lightly on the back of the head, before the sound of voices made her glance over her shoulder.
"Here comes somebody you might like," she said, nodding towards a small group of people advancing purposefully towards the barrier between platforms. "Whole bunch of somebodies, actually. I'd better get going, Kingsley doesn't say things like 'urgent' for no reason. Take care, Harry, and don't forget to write."
"I won't." Harry squeezed Tonks's hand once more in farewell, then stepped away from the barrier as she faded into a nearby crowd of Muggles, clearing the way for the small ginger army which had just arrived there. To his great satisfaction, hanging back from his mother and siblings as though reluctant to pass through the barrier was a boy about Harry's own age, as tall, gangly, and freckled as his alterworld counterpart, whom Pearl had discovered being picked on by his twin brothers outside the family's orchard on a snowy afternoon three and a half years ago, and had summoned her own brother and their cousins to his aid.
And he and Henry have been friends ever since, though it's mostly been through letters up until now…
The red-haired twins had vanished through the barrier now, their younger brother on their heels. Their mother nodded once before following, her daughter at her side. Harry glanced to right and left, making sure no Muggles were watching, and took a deep breath before stepping into the seemingly solid wall himself.
One instant of darkness surrounded him, and then he was through, looking up at the sign which hung overhead, declaring to all the world that they had arrived on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. Beyond the crowd thronging the platform, about half of them wearing robes, the rest dressed in Muggle clothing, he could see the scarlet engine of the Hogwarts Express, steaming as the train prepared for its journey, and the long string of carriages which would convey the students. Owls hooted, cats yowled, trunks thumped stairs as they were hoisted aboard, and over it all rose the chatter of a happy, excited crowd of people, friends greeting one another after a summer apart, parents bidding their children a fond farewell.
Exhaling a long breath of relief, Harry hooked his thumbs into the straps of his backpack, easing its weight on his shoulders. "I made it," he murmured to himself. "I really made it."
"Excuse me," said a voice beside him. He jumped, then turned to face the speaker. The little girl with the mane of red hair (whose name, he reminded himself, he wasn't yet supposed to know, though his acquaintance with Tonks would make an adequate excuse should he slip) was looking him over dubiously, her big brown eyes resting momentarily on his backpack before returning to his face. "Do you need help getting your trunk past the barrier?" she asked.
"What—oh, no, but thank you." Harry shook his head, realizing how strange he must look to a girl who'd seen her brothers preparing for their own journeys to Hogwarts most of her life. "My trunk's already at Hogwarts, waiting for me. I live with my aunt and uncle and they don't like magic very much, so it wouldn't have been safe for me to have it at home."
The girl's eyes widened. "Are they…" She glanced around before speaking the word in a breathless undertone. "Muggles?"
"Yes, they are. But not all Muggles are bad," Harry added, which cut off her horrified reaction and replaced it with a confused look. "Really, they're not. I have—" Quickly, he censored his mention of Gigi Reynolds, inserting instead the only item which could truly be said to apply to Harry Potter rather than Henry Blake. "—a teacher who's a Muggle, and she gave me a lot of good advice, helped me get my Hogwarts letter and everything."
"Really?" The girl seemed awed by this. "I always thought Muggles were afraid of magic."
"Some of them probably would be, but most of them just don't know it exists. And some of the ones who do know like to hear about it, learn about it, even though they can't do anything with it themselves." Harry shrugged. "My mum's parents were like that, from what I hear. I never met them, though, they died before I was born."
"I'm sorry to hear that. Did your parents die too? Is that why—" The girl flushed and shut her mouth tight. "I'm sorry," she said again, her words barely distinguishable as she stared at the ground. "Mum's always telling me I ask too many questions."
"No, it's all right." Harry stepped closer, waiting until the girl looked up at him again before he smiled. "My aunt always says, if you don't ask, you'll never find out." Inwardly he grinned at the ambiguity of the familial title. "Are you going to Hogwarts this year too?"
"I'm too young." The girl glared at the train as though it were personally responsible for this. "My brother Ron's going, though. And Fred and George and Percy were already there. Bill and Charlie are older, they've left. Oh, and I never said who I am!" She giggled a little, and held out her hand. "I'm Ginny, Ginny Weasley."
Harry met the hand with his own. "Harry Potter," he said, and realized an instant too late that this had been a mistake, as Ginny's eyes went even wider than before. "Don't yell," he hissed at her, and glanced around, spotting a tiny niche in the wall behind them. "Come on, in here."
Overriding her half-voiced protest, he pulled her into the nook and put his free finger to his lips. She gulped once, then nodded, and Harry released her hand, letting out a breath of relief. "Thanks," he said. "Sorry to drag you like that, but I didn't want you shouting my name across the entire platform."
"Why not?" Ginny had her hands planted on the wall behind her, and hadn't taken her eyes off Harry since he'd said his name. "I mean, if you really are—"
"I really am." Harry lifted his fringe to reveal the lightning-bolt scar, and grimaced at the worshipful expression which came into Ginny's face. "But it isn't like that, all right? I was a baby on the night I'm famous for. I don't even remember what happened. And really, I don't want to be famous. I'd rather be just plain me." Irked by the incomprehension he could see in Ginny's eyes, he tried again. "Look, do you like it when people stare at you? I bet your brothers have done that to annoy you before. Sitting there and staring at you, or maybe whispering and laughing with each other, and you know, you just know, they're talking about you."
Ginny nodded. "Is that—" she whispered, then coughed once and tried again. "Is that what it's like for you? People staring at you, and talking about you, and you don't like it?"
"Yeah." Harry glanced up at the clock hanging over the platform. He had a few minutes still until the train left at eleven. "So you know what I could really use?" he suggested. "I could really use a friend. Somebody I could write letters to, who'd write me back. Somebody who knows a lot about the wizarding world. And somebody who likes me just because I'm me, not because I'm famous." He looked back at Ginny and smiled, making sure to meet her eyes. "Do you think you could?"
"I can try." Ginny tried to return the smile, but her lips wobbled. "Except you are famous, and how am I supposed to forget that?" she burst out. "You're a hero, all my life I've heard stories about you—"
"So let's pretend I'm somebody else." The idea burst into Harry's mind whole and complete, and he let the grin it brought in its wake spread naturally across his face. "Let's pretend I'm not Harry Potter at all. My name's Henry, and I just moved here from America, so that's why I don't know very much about the wizarding world. Could you write letters to Henry, and tell him all the little things he doesn't know, and be his friend? Please?"
"I—think so." Ginny laughed, a breathy, tremulous sound, but true. "Yes. I can. But how is the owl going to know you're Henry?"
"That's easy. I'll write to you first, and you can just ask the owl to return. Maybe I'll even do that tonight, if I'm not too tired, but tomorrow at the latest. And then I'll borrow somebody's owl, or—does Hogwarts keep owls?" It was Harry's turn to laugh this time. "Yes, of course they do. How else would all those letters get out?"
Ginny's smile returned, stronger this time. "They do, and all the students are allowed to use them, if they don't have an owl of their own," she confirmed. "The Owlery's one of the highest towers in the castle. The Astronomy Tower's higher, and the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw dormitories, but that's all—" She jumped as the train whistle blew.
"I'd better get on. Thanks, Ginny." Harry reached out to shake her hand again, and smiled reassuringly as he felt it quivering in his. "Friends, right?"
"Friends." Ginny swallowed once, then returned the smile, its corners settling into place even as her handclasp grew stronger. "Henry."
Harry grinned at her, then hurried across the platform to climb aboard the Hogwarts Express, choosing one of the carriages near the end where he didn't see as many students already hanging out the windows to call to friends or relatives. Finding an empty compartment, he stowed his backpack on the luggage rack over his head, after opening it enough to extract the story he'd been writing earlier. Unfolding it, he skimmed down the final page until he came to the last sentence he'd written in his room at Privet Drive.
"He didn't know what he was going to," he read aloud, softly, as the train whistled again. "But it had to be better than what he was leaving behind."
And I obviously disclaim that quote, which has always been one of my favorites from the first canon Harry Potter book.
Sorry for the wait, all. My head has been griping at me about the fact that I am now providing administrative support for approximately 120 employees at my place of work, which I like to call Glass Bathroom Bank (long story), and do not at this time have anyone to back me up in this endeavor. So that if I take a day off, sick day, vacation, what have you, the work simply doesn't get done. Instead it piles up until I get back. Fun.
If you would like to support my ongoing attempt to escape from corporate America, you can always pledge a bit of money at my Patreon page, or purchase one or more of my original novels or collections (search for Anne B. Walsh at your favorite purveyor of fine e-books) or, if money's tight for you right now, leave a review or comment, either here or on Facebook. My thanks goes out to all those who have already done so. Knowing people are still reading and enjoying my work helps my mood and my health more than I can express.
Tomorrow is Fiction Friday on my blog, Anne's Randomness, where I will be continuing my retelling of "The Most Incredible Thing". Will I be able to make it doubly fictional with another chapter of this story as well? Stranger things have happened. Thanks, as always, for reading, and I'll see you next time, whenever that is!