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For Your Own Good
For Better and Worse
As he followed his mother and brothers through King's Cross Station, towards the barrier hiding platform nine and three-quarters, Ron Weasley wished he could feel as excited as he'd dreamed he would feel on this special day of his life.
But every time I've dreamed it, there were people there who don't actually exist. Like Henry, Jeanie and Mal, little Pearl…
His hands went up to his shoulders as he remembered how it felt to have Pearl Blake leap onto his back without warning. The ambushing hug from behind was her standard method of greeting him, to which the proper response was a yelp of surprise, followed by a swift tweak of a braid or a tickle under the arms.
She's such a tiny thing. Always has been, right back to the first time I saw her in my dreams, outside the orchard three winters back. Ron hid a smile as his mother directed Percy through the barrier. Packing another snowball together and yelling at Fred and George. "Why don't you pick on somebody your own size," she said, when either of them would have made two of her…
One of the twins' voices broke through Ron's reverie. It was either Fred pretending to be George, or George pretending to be outraged that their own mother couldn't tell them apart. Ron didn't see why the twins should object to people mistaking them for one another when they did their best to obscure the issue on a daily basis, but the conversation brought up another dream-memory, this one of a boy his own age with a shock of brown hair and a sly smile.
"Don't let them fool you," advised Mal, stepping between the twins and pointing. "He's Fred, that's George."
Both twins grimaced. "How can you always do that?" demanded the now-identified George.
Mal grinned. "Fred's prettier," he said, and vanished through the barrier to the sound of laughter all around.
"Come along, Ron," said his mother's voice as her hand plucked at his sleeve. "Honestly, what's the matter with you today?"
"Nothing." Ron shook his head, trying to dismiss the dreams from his mind. "I'm fine."
Still, he couldn't help but keep his eyes open for anyone who reminded him of his dream-friends as he stepped onto platform nine and three-quarters. He thought for a moment he'd spotted Jeanie, but the girl with the bushy brown hair was gazing about with an awestruck expression very unlike Jeanie's usual cool competence, and no one near her looked anything like Mal or Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds. Another boy resembled Henry slightly, but he was far too tall, taller even than Ron was himself, and his incredulous stares at things like trunks being levitated up the steps onto the train matched not-Jeanie's.
I suppose that means they're Muggleborns. So they couldn't be who I was thinking about anyway.
With a little sigh, Ron gave up his quest in favor of listening to the twins wind Percy up about being a prefect and his mother cutting it off short. Ginny seemed to have disappeared, and Ron found himself wishing he could do the same. Going to Hogwarts didn't seem like it was going to be any different from living at home.
Percy'll follow all the rules and do more than he has to do, like always, and the twins'll break all the rules and only do what they want to do, like always, and I'll just sort of muddle along. Like always.
He looked up at the clouds of steam puffing from the engine, his eyes finding in the curls and billows the outlines of the faces he'd been secretly hoping he might see today.
They always make me feel, in the dreams, like I can do more than muddle. Like I'm somebody special, somebody important.
I wish I could feel that way while I was awake.
The train whistled, snapping Ron out of his momentary daydream. Fred and George were hanging out adjacent windows, his mother scolding them shrilly, and Ginny had reappeared from wherever she'd gone to. Awkwardly, he slid his arm around her for a hug. "See you at Christmas, I guess," he said.
"I guess so. Have a good term." Ginny glanced towards the far end of the train. "Why don't you go down there?" she suggested. "I don't see as many people. It might be easier to get a seat."
"I will. Thanks." Ron turned to say goodbye to his mother and let her fuss over him one last time, then hurried down the length of the train towards the area Ginny had pointed out, swinging himself up into a carriage just in time as the train whistled again and the brakes let go. He could hear the twins promising to send Ginny a Hogwarts toilet seat, and wondered for a moment how she'd be able to tell. Was the school crest carved into them somewhere, or the House crests for the dormitory toilets, the way they were embroidered on the corners of sheets and towels so the house-elves could be sure to get the right linens back to each dormitory?
No, that's stupid. Toilet seats don't move about. Not unless somebody's hexed them, or the twins are blowing things up again.
Ron leaned out of the carriage long enough to wave to his mother and Ginny (who wasn't crying this year, he noticed, though she did seem very interested in the windows further along the train), then climbed the rest of the steps and shut the door behind himself. Several compartments had their doors shut already, and a quick glance at the windows revealed their seats fully occupied, until he came to the middle of the carriage, where a lone boy sat looking at a few sheets of paper.
"D'you mind?" Ron asked, sliding the door open and gesturing to the compartment. "Everywhere else is full."
The boy nodded, looking up from his papers. He had a thin but friendly face, topped with a messy thatch of black hair which grew every which way. Brilliant green eyes regarded Ron steadily from behind round-framed glasses. Ron frowned a little, trying to pin down his vague feeling of recognition, but then dismissed it. There were only so many ways people's faces could be put together, after all.
"You a first year?" he asked, shutting the door and sitting down on the opposite seat.
"Yeah." The boy folded up his papers and tucked them away in a pocket. "You?"
"Yeah." Ron scooted forward on the seat, holding out his hand. "Ron Weasley."
The boy smiled a bit lopsidedly and met the hand with his own. "Nice to meet you," he said. "I'm Harry Potter."
Ron felt his eyes go so wide he was amazed they were still inside his head. "You're not," he blurted before he could stop himself. "I mean—are you?"
"Have been all my life." Harry's smile broadened. "More or less. Can I have my hand back?"
"Oh. Sorry." Ron let go and sat back, his mind whirling. He'd known, in some corner of his mind, that The Boy Who Lived was only a few months younger than he was himself, that they would likely be in the same year at Hogwarts, but never in his wildest fantasies had he considered that he might casually meet the hero of the wizarding world on the train to school. "Do you really have…" he began, then lost his nerve and brushed a hand against his forehead rather than finish the sentence aloud.
"What, this?" Harry parted his fringe with two fingers, revealing the famous lightning-bolt scar. "It's there. But you know what's funny?" He grinned, a quick flash of humor that invited Ron to share the joke. "You probably know more about me than I do. Up until last month, I never knew I was anything special at all."
"You didn't?" Ron fought the urge to rub his eyes or pinch his arm. If this was a dream, it wasn't one from which he wanted to wake up. "How come?"
"I grew up with my mum's sister and her family. They're Muggles." Harry glanced up at the luggage rack, where a battered backpack reposed, then turned his attention back to Ron. "I saw your family on the platform, I think. Are you all magical? How many brothers do you have?"
"Five all told, and then me and my little sister Ginny, and yeah, all magical. Mum and Dad too, and most of my relations." Ron cast his mind through his family tree as far as he knew it. "I think Mum has a second cousin who's a Squib, but we don't talk about him."
"Squib?" Harry asked, frowning.
"That's when your family's magic but you're not. Sort of the opposite of a Muggleborn." Ron glanced over his shoulder, towards the rest of the train. "Percy's a fifth year, he's a prefect for Gryffindor, and then Fred and George are twins, they're third years and they're always getting into trouble. Bill and Charlie've already left school, they're older. Mum says she's looking forward to next year, when she'll finally have us all out of the house."
"Mums always say things like that, from what I've seen." Harry shrugged. "I don't think they mean anything by it. So what do you like to do? Do you know how to fly yet? I can't wait to learn how. I used to think I might want to be a pilot when I got older, but broomsticks look so much better than airplanes or helicopters."
"I can fly a bit. The twins let me use their brooms sometimes over the summers, if I do their chores for them." Ron grimaced at the thought of the hours of garden degnoming he'd performed by himself, though that was a small price to pay for a few minutes riding Fred's Comet or George's Cleansweep. "Mum and Dad got them these old used broomsticks for their birthday, not this past year but the year before, and they spent the entire summer cleaning them up and getting them into better condition, and then last year they went out for Gryffindor's Quidditch team and got on as Beaters."
"Beaters." Harry's forehead furrowed. "That's the players who go after the Bludgers, right? The crazy black balls that try and kill you?"
"You don't know Quidditch?" Ron blinked in astonishment. "How—oh, right. Muggles. Don't suppose Muggles have broomsticks, and they wouldn't be able to enchant the Bludgers or the Snitch either. What do Muggles play, then?"
"All sorts of things. Football's a really popular one." Harry sketched a flat rectangle in midair. "There's only one ball, it's round and about so big, and you can't touch it with your hands, but anything else goes. You've got to try to get it into your opponents' net, and keep it away from yours. It wouldn't work very well on broomsticks, as far as I can see from the pictures. Don't you need your legs to hold on with while you're flying?"
"Yeah, you do," Ron confirmed, settling back into his seat. "Usually legs and a hand too. That's part of the trick of playing Chaser, is either being able to hang onto the Quaffle with just one arm or being a good enough flyer to only use your legs. Keepers, who guard the goal hoops, they have to have really excellent balance because they've got to have both hands free at all times to catch the Quaffle, and that might mean going up or down or sideways really fast…"
His initial unease at meeting Harry Potter, the hero of half his mother's bedtime stories and two-thirds of his own secret fantasies, had vanished as though it had never existed. Harry Potter, the real person, wanted to know about all sorts of things that Ron could explain, and knew about other things that Ron had never dreamed existed (such as an American Muggle sport called baseball he'd studied during his final term in Muggle school, which he thought could be adapted for broomsticks without much trouble), and was generally fun to talk to.
Ron wasn't positive, but he thought he might just have made his first friend.
"Excuse me," said a voice from the compartment door, drawing Harry's attention away from the Chocolate Frog he was unwrapping. A round-faced boy stood there, looking worried. "Have you seen my toad?"
Harry shook his head mutely, not trusting his voice. He recognized the face, but this hesitant and fretful-looking Neville Longbottom was a world away from the happy, confident boy Henry counted as a friend, and Harry had a sneaking suspicion he knew why.
If his parents only stopped the Death Eaters who attacked them because they were being extra careful after catching Lucius Malfoy, and Lucius Malfoy's still free around here…
"I've lost him again!" Neville groaned aloud. "He keeps getting away from me!"
"He'll turn up." Harry picked a Licorice Wand off the pile of sweets beside him. "Maybe try putting a few bits of this out near the last place you saw him? He might think they were bugs."
"I suppose." Neville took the Licorice Wand, though he looked doubtful. "If you see him, let me know?"
"Sure," said Ron through a mouthful of Cauldron Cake as Neville shut the door to the compartment again. "Don't know what he's so fussed about," he said once he'd swallowed. "If I'd brought a toad, I'd lose it as quick as I could manage. Mind you, I brought Scabbers, so I can't talk."
"Scabbers?" asked Harry, going back to his Frog.
"Oh, didn't I mention Scabbers?" Ron reached into an inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out what appeared to be a large handful of gray fur. "He's my rat. Percy's rat until this past summer, but then the letter came with Percy's prefect badge and Mum and Dad went over all gooey and bought him his own owl, so Scabbers got handed down the line." He set the rat on his knee and crumbled a bit of Cauldron Cake between his fingers. "Scabbers! Come on, Scabbers, food! He's totally useless," he added to Harry as a pointed head lifted out of its furry coil and yellowed rodent teeth were bared in a yawn. "Never wakes up unless he's eating."
Harry made a noncommittal noise, looking closely at the fat gray rat with its twitching nose and naked tail. Somewhere in the back of his mind, certain memories of Henry's were beginning to stir, memories of the often-repeated stories of his parents' days at Hogwarts, memories of nicknames and reasons for those nicknames, memories of conversations he hadn't been supposed to overhear, the latest of which had taken place at the baseball park a few weeks before (keeping box score wasn't that difficult). "How long had Percy had him before he gave him to you?" he asked casually.
"As long as I can remember, really." Ron shrugged. "The way I heard it, Percy found him in the garden one day, and brought him inside all upset because his paw was hurt. Mum wasn't too sure about having a rat in the house, but it was starting to get cold at nights and she didn't want to throw him back out, and Percy promised to take care of him, so she said it was all right. She used this salve she brews on his paw and the hurt spot scabbed right over, and that's why Percy named him Scabbers." He grinned a little. "He was only about five years old, but Bill and Charlie haven't stopped ragging him about it since. Here you go, Scabbers, Cauldron Cake. You like this stuff."
Five years old. Harry set the Chocolate Frog aside. His appetite had momentarily deserted him. Percy's a fifth year now, so it was ten years ago that he was five, and "starting to get cold at nights" sounds like autumn to me. A rat with a hurt paw, turning up out of nowhere in a wizarding family's garden, ten years ago this autumn…
But, Harry reminded himself before he got carried away by his own storytelling, he had no proof. Scabbers might be nothing more than a rat who'd been smart enough to trade the dubious blessings of freedom for the security and comfort of a human household, and the story Henry had heard his dad telling his uncle at the baseball park could easily have been an invention of his dreaming mind to explain why none of the adults in Henry's life were present in Harry's.
But I still don't want to look at him too long.
Even if none of it's true, it makes me angry to think about what I might have had.
"You might want to keep him in your pocket a while yet," he suggested to Ron once Scabbers had finished his pile of crumbled Cauldron Cake and was cleaning his whiskers with his forepaws. "There's an awful lot of owls and cats around, and I thought I saw a big dog somewhere on the platform. It'd be a shame if he made it all this way with Percy and then got eaten the first day you took him to Hogwarts."
"Ugh." Ron shuddered. "Percy'd never let me live that down. Thanks for thinking of it." He slid Scabbers back into his pocket, then broke off a piece of Pumpkin Pasty to drop in beside the rat. "Who'd have brought a big dog? They probably won't be allowed to keep it, not unless they're related to somebody who can bend the rules for them…"
A discussion of people who seemed to be able to get away with anything, magical editions vs. Muggle, was well underway when the compartment door opened again.
"Has anyone seen a toad?" asked a girl's voice. "Neville's lost one."
"We've already told him we haven't seen it," said Ron impatiently, facing the speaker. His eyes widened slightly, as though he were surprised by something or trying to track down an errant memory, but then he shook his head.
Harry turned to see what had provoked this reaction.
For the second time in just over a month, he felt a cold chill shoot down his spine.
The girl standing in the doorway was already wearing her new Hogwarts robes, with the gray school crest over her heart showing that she hadn't yet been Sorted. Her hair was decidedly bushy and a middling shade of brown, as were the eyes now fixed suspiciously on Harry. "Is something wrong?" she demanded of him. "Do I have dirt on my nose?"
Once again unable to trust his voice, Harry shook his head.
Like brother, like sister, I guess…
"Someone looking for a toad?" asked another voice, and this time Harry wasn't able to keep from smiling. He glanced over at Ron and waved his hand at the interior of the compartment, and after an instant of surprise (probably, Harry thought, at being consulted in the matter), Ron nodded.
"Care to come in?" Harry asked the people in the doorway, waving at the empty seats beside himself and Ron. "We've got room."
"Thank you," said the girl who was surely Jeanie Reynolds's alter ego, stepping across the threshold and sitting down on the other side of Harry's pile of sweets. Neville followed her in, looking a bit nervously over his shoulder. Harry wasn't surprised, as the next person into the compartment wasn't, strictly speaking, a person at all. Orion had filled out a great deal since Harry had last seen him, and his copper fur gleamed with health, though he was opening and closing his mouth and wrinkling his nose as though trying to rid himself of a bad taste or smell.
"Did you say you'd found a toad?" Neville asked the pale-blond boy now standing at the entrance to the compartment.
"I've got him, but Orion there found him." Draco reached into an inner pocket of his robes and produced the hand-sized, wart-covered amphibian. "Here you go."
"Trevor!" Neville took the toad eagerly and sat down beside Ron. "Thanks so much! I'm Neville Longbottom, by the way."
"Draco Malfoy. Laugh and get it over with, and then call me Mal," Draco added at Ron's faint snort, as he stepped into the compartment and shook Neville's non-toad-holding hand. "And you must be, hang on now…" He waggled his fingers as though counting on them. "Ron Weasley. Right?"
"How'd you know that?" Ron blurted.
"My cousin used to date your brother Charlie. Tonks, the crazy one with the pink hair."
"Oh, right!" Ron's face cleared as he shook Draco's hand in his turn. "How's she doing? She was always fun to have around."
"Thanks, I think so too, and she's fine, just busy with her apprenticeship. I'll let her know you remembered her." Draco finger-combed a bit of hair off his face. "Now you two I don't know," he said, turning to face Harry and the girl. One eyelid dropped in a lightning-fast wink to Harry, who had already caught onto the idea.
If we're too friendly, too fast, somebody might figure out that we have more in common than just meeting at Madam Malkin's. Better all around if we pretend this is the first time.
"Hermione Granger," the girl was saying now, shaking Draco's hand, and Harry breathed a silent sigh of relief at finally having a proper name to use for her (it lessened the probability of his blurting out one that he should have no way to know). "Are you all from magical families? I'm not, it was ever such a surprise when my Hogwarts letter came, but I've tried a few of the simpler spells in our textbooks and they all worked for me, I can't wait to start classes—did you say your dog's name was Orion?" She held out her hand to this creature, who sniffed politely at her knuckles before curling up against the compartment's side wall. "He's very handsome, but he's awfully large, isn't he? Are you going to be allowed to keep him in the dormitories?"
Across the compartment, Ron rolled his eyes at Harry, opening and shutting his hand quickly like a yammering mouth. Harry shrugged one shoulder, wishing he could explain the nerves he could all but smell radiating off Hermione, which were surely contributing to her current fit of babbling.
She's equally scared of what's coming that she doesn't know, and what's coming that she does, because she has no way to explain to herself how she knows it. But I can't tell Ron that, because he'd want to know how I know so much about somebody I've just this instant met…
"…would make things easier, because their dorms are just below ground level, so we might be able to arrange a dog door," Draco was saying as Harry reengaged his ears. "What about you? Know anything about the Houses?"
"I've been asking around and I hope I'm in Gryffindor, it sounds by far the best." Hermione peered down at the Hogwarts crest ornamenting her robes. "Though I suppose Ravenclaw wouldn't be too bad."
"It's not really about best or worst, though, is it?" said Harry, drawing all eyes to himself. "It's about being who you are, and not trying to turn yourself into who you're not just because someone else thinks it's best. It has to be what you think is best, where you'd be the happiest. That's why the Houses are the way they are. I might like Gryffindor for myself, but if being Sorted into Ravenclaw would make you happy, then I'd say Ravenclaw's the best for you."
"I never thought about it like that." Hermione was regarding him now with respect, which Harry found a pleasant change from the amused tolerance with which Jeanie most often eyed her younger male relatives. "But I'm sorry, I don't think I caught your name."
"I don't think I threw it." Harry grinned at Hermione's reluctant laugh. "Harry Potter. Pleased to meet you."
"Are you really." Hermione tried to smile, but the expression looked a little strained as she glanced from Harry to Draco, with sideways flicks of her eyes towards Ron and Neville as well. "That's amazing. I've read so much about you. But I really should go." She got to her feet and hurried to the compartment door, words tumbling behind her. "There's something I forgot, I have to go and deal with it. I'm glad you found your toad, Neville, good luck keeping hold of him—"
"What's with her?" Ron asked as Hermione vanished into the corridor.
"Girls." Draco shrugged, sitting down where Hermione had been. "Who knows. So where do you lot want to be Sorted? Hufflepuff for you, Neville? Orion could help keep track of Trevor for you if you like. And Ron, I know Weasleys tend towards Gryffindor, but you could always be the family rebel and try for Slytherin instead…"
Under Ron's mock-indignant, laughing rebuttal, Harry noticed Orion get to his feet and slip out the door Hermione had left open.
Hermione leaned against the wall of the corridor, shaking from head to toe, wishing with all her heart that one of the spells she'd been able to learn on her own would have sufficed to turn her invisible.
I can't do this. I can't go on like this. I was hoping they wouldn't be here but they are, and they have to know who I am, I hardly look different at all from the dreams, they look very different but who they are is still the same, I can tell, and the closer I am to them the more likely it is I'll slip and give myself away, and who knows what would happen if I did but it couldn't possibly be good, we might even all be dragged out of this world and into the other one and I don't want that even if they do, or into that void in between the worlds which nobody wants—
Something cold and wet touched her hand, making her yip in a very undignified manner. "Orion!" she hissed, glaring down at the copper-coated dog. "Go away, I don't want you!"
Orion promptly sat, gazing up at her with soulful brown eyes.
"Well, all right." Hermione slid to the floor beside the dog. "But only for a little while."
A cold nose snuffled once against her ear, then withdrew, and Hermione couldn't stop the smile. "You know that's not very comfortable," she said, leaning her weight against the dog's solid body. "Oh, Orion, what am I going to do? I want to be the best, I want to prove it wasn't a mistake to let me come to Hogwarts, but I can't face them every day when we have to be strangers, I just can't…"
The dog lifted his heavy paw and brushed it against the side of Hermione's head, then planted it firmly against the Hogwarts crest on her robes.
"Listen to my head and my heart?" Hermione smiled, laying her hand across the paw. "I could almost think you know my parents. Any of my parents. All right, head and heart it is. And that comes with a bonus." After rubbing a few times behind Orion's ears, she got to her feet. "My head and my heart both think Ravenclaw sounds wonderful, and judging by what I saw in there, none of them are likely to be Eagles any time soon!"
Orion nudged at her hand with his nose, and Hermione laughed and administered another ear scratch before she pushed the dog gently away. "Go back to your boys," she said. "I'll be just fine."
And I will not think about how much more pleasant this train ride was when I was somebody else, because I'm not somebody else, not here, not now. I'm me, myself, Hermione Jean Granger, and I'm not about to give that up to make other people happy.
No matter who they are, or might have been, to me.
Well, that was unexpectedly difficult to write. Stress levels at the job continue to rise, which is a contributing factor, but I think the 'honeymoon' phase of this story may be over. Of course, maybe not. We'll see how future chapters play out.
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