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For Your Own Good
The Best-Laid Plans
By Anne B. Walsh
Petunia Dursley hummed to herself as she cleared the table from dinner. The day had been entirely calm and pleasant, with her Dudders in and out of the house with his friends, her own enjoyable chats on the telephone, Vernon coming home satisfied with the number of people he'd shouted at during the day. She could almost believe, for these few precious moments, that the even tenor of the life she had chosen for herself had never been shaken, that her sister had never died, that no unwelcome bundle had ever been left on her doorstep with a letter she'd read through carefully, then just as carefully burned, to make sure no trace of that knowledge could ever reach her nephew…
The doorbell rang, and she stifled a groan. This was surely Harry, back from his day of school testing.
And what they'll have made of his unnatural tendencies, I have no idea. I wish he'd inherited some of his father's wildness, or a bit of Lily's temper—perhaps then we could be rid of him altogether!
Shoving this away as an idle dream, she went to answer the door.
Two people were revealed on its other side, both her nephew with a tall stack of books in his arms and the forbidding-looking woman who had called for him that morning. "Good evening, Mrs. Dursley," said the latter, Miss McGrath, if Petunia recalled correctly. "Do you and your husband have a few minutes? Some results have come up from Harry's testing I think we ought to discuss. You can take those to your bedroom," she added to Harry. "Mind what I told you, now, a chapter a day from each of them, and no shirking."
"Ah," said Petunia weakly as Harry looked at her sidelong, both a question and a trace of unholy amusement in the eyes so like her sister's. "Yes. Why don't I help him with that, you can come right in, Miss McGrath, the living room is just through here—Dudley darling," she called, hoping her rising hysteria could not be heard in her voice. "Why don't you come upstairs with me, just for a moment? My husband, Miss McGrath, Vernon Dursley…"
"How d'you do," said Vernon, offering his hand as Dudley squeezed by, looking in astonishment at the huge stack of books Harry was holding. "Right this way. Would you care for anything to drink?"
"Thank you, but no," said Miss McGrath, her voice fading as Petunia herded both boys upstairs, catching a few books as they threatened to fall from the top of Harry's stack.
"What did you tell her?" she hissed at Harry in the upstairs hallway.
"Nothing." Harry shook his head hard. "I didn't tell her anything, I promise."
"All right." Slightly mollified, Petunia opened the door to Dudley's second bedroom and gestured Harry inside. "In here, then, and mind you don't break any of Dudley's things." She glanced down at the books she still held in her hands, automatically checking to be sure they weren't anything that would give the boy ideas, then thrust them at Harry. "Stay here, stay quiet, and don't you dare let me catch you sneaking downstairs to eavesdrop."
"No, Aunt Petunia," said Harry obediently, but Petunia caught the faintest quirk of his lips as he turned away to look out the window. She would have pursued this further, but Dudley, behind her, was beginning to snivel in outrage. Swiftly she shut the door and steered her son into his own bedroom, petting and soothing him as had become second nature.
"I know it's not fair, Duddy-dinkums," she told him as he glowered towards the closed door, "but it's only for tonight. He'll be out of there again as soon as Miss McGrath leaves, and there's not much he could hurt, now is there? Play something on your computer, darling, but keep the sound low, Mummy has to go downstairs and talk…"
With Dudley safely distracted at the prospect of blowing up squadrons of aliens, Petunia hurried back down the stairs, hearing the familiar sound of Vernon laughing at one of his own jokes. "Here I am," she said, crossing into the living room. "Terribly sorry to have taken so long, but you know how it is with boys that age, I'm sure, Miss McGrath."
"Indeed." Miss McGrath sat very upright in one of the armchairs, looking from Petunia to Vernon and back again, and Petunia had the uncomfortable sensation that she was back at school, about to take an examination for which she hadn't sufficiently studied.
"What can either of you tell me about Harry's parents?" the older woman asked after a moment. "His father, in particular. Was there any tendency towards violence in the family background, or any reason to believe his emotional development might be subpar?"
"Why—why, yes," said Petunia quickly, nudging Vernon with her elbow. "I begged my sister not to marry him, to wait for someone a bit steadier, less wild, but she never would listen to a word I said, it was James Potter or nobody for her."
"Unemployed little vagrant that he was," Vernon joined the conversation, as Petunia breathed a sigh of relief that she'd married a man so quick on the uptake. "How he expected to support a family is more than I'll ever know. I've always suspected he killed himself and Lily in a fit of despondency, turned on the gas and blew up his house after realizing he couldn't pay his bills." He shook his head heavily. "Not to ill-wish anyone, but it might've been better if the boy had gone with his parents…"
"Is something the matter with Harry?" Petunia put in quickly, seeing Miss McGrath's eyes narrowing. "Something we ought to know about? We've always been worried, done what we can to keep anything from going wrong, but we're only human, after all."
"Indeed," said Miss McGrath again. "And I'm sure any violent tendencies in Harry couldn't possibly be blamed on you. What's bred in the bone, after all. However, I will confess to a certain uneasiness with the idea of sending him to an ordinary school. I've given him some books on more advanced subjects than he would usually be studying—with cases like this, sometimes all that's needed is to keep the mind occupied—but if there's any sort of incident before the end of the summer, please contact my office immediately. It may be necessary for him to be sent…somewhere else. At no cost to you, of course," she added before Vernon could open his mouth. "It's part of a new initiative, to make sure our children are safe while they learn."
Upstairs, in what had been Dudley's second bedroom, Harry lay with his ear to the heat register, his face buried in a pillow from the bed to muffle his laughter. This plan had sounded like fun while it was being thrashed out on the train, but it was twice and three times as much fun as he'd expected to hear it playing out beneath him.
Now I just need to decide what kind of "incident" I'm going to create. Dropping one of my textbooks out the window while Dudley's walking past might do it. Maybe the Potions book, it's the biggest—or no, what did Professor McGonagall charm it to say? He unearthed his face long enough to glance at the bed, where his textbooks stood neatly stacked in a pile. Organic chemistry, that's right. So Dudley gets a nice dose of organic chemistry to the head, and I get to go away to Hogwarts without the Dursleys knowing anything about it…
The pillow became necessary once more.
"This number should always find me, or another member of our staff," said Miss McGrath, handing over a business card. "Don't hesitate to call, anytime, day or night. Your safety, and that of your son, is of course our foremost concern. May I see where Harry's window falls on the outside of the house, please?"
"Of course," Petunia began, getting to her feet, "but why—"
"You'd be astounded what technology can do these days." Miss McGrath smiled, her lips very thin. "If he's getting up to anything in that bedroom he oughtn't, we'll be able to see it, and stop it before it starts. If you would?"
"Vernon, would you mind?" said Petunia faintly as the full implications of this burst over her.
I'm going to have to explain to Dudley why he can't have his second bedroom back…
But it's only for a month, she comforted herself. Only for a month, and then everything will be the way I wanted it. The way I thought it never could be. The way I wished for.
Sometimes, it seemed, wishes really did come true.
Holding tightly to that bit of knowledge, Petunia started up the stairs.
Her darling Duddykins wasn't going to like this at all.
Turning back from shaking Miss McGrath's hand and wishing her a good night, Vernon blinked. For one second, he thought he'd seen wings fluttering at the window he supposed he'd now have to think of as Harry's.
Nonsense. I'm overtired, imagining things. Or possibly it's just a reaction from learning there might actually be a chance to get rid of the boy. "If there's any sort of incident during the summer"—oh, there will be. Mark my words, there will be. And then he'll be gone, gone for the better part of a year, and not likely to be much trouble when he comes back, either…
Vernon smiled, envisioning what Harry's life would be at a school of the sort Miss McGrath had hinted about.
Best thing that could happen to him, really.
Best thing that could happen to all of us.
Humming under his breath, he went inside. The occasion seemed to call for a drink.
Ignoring Dudley's hiccuping howls from across the hall, Harry accepted a letter and a small parcel from the heart-faced barn owl who had arrived at his window a few moments before. "Thanks," he told it. "You'd better stay here a little while, until everyone goes to bed. If my aunt and uncle see you, they won't like it at all."
The owl clacked its beak quietly and pushed off Harry's wrist, fluttering over to perch on the bottom of the bed frame, where it began to preen a wing. Harry turned his attention to the items it had brought him, tearing open the letter, which was addressed to him in a broad, not-quite-scrawling handwriting.
Dear Harry (the letter began),
Struck me after I got home that you might not have an owl of your own, since I doubt your relations feel any too friendly towards magic if Professor McGonagall was taking you around Diagon Alley. So I figured I'd send Merope here to see if you had any letters you want her to take for you. Also thought I should warn you not to write to Mal directly, though you'd probably gathered that already. I get my letters in and out via house-elf post, so yours can go along with that if you like. Just send it to me and I'll make sure it gets where it's going.
I've been informed it's your birthday, so many happy returns. There's a little something you might like in the parcel. Thirty-two days until Hogwarts!
Don't let the Muggles get you down,
P.S. Don't eat it all at once.
Grinning, Harry ripped into the parcel to discover an assortment of fascinatingly named sweets, from Cauldron Cakes and Pumpkin Pasties (which looked like they would come in handy should he be denied meals at any point in the next month) to Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans (complete with a handy guide on the back of the box to help differentiate green apple from grass and toffee from earwax) to Chocolate Frogs (both Original and Crunchy, which featured realistic bones made from crispy rice). He opened a Chocolate Frog immediately, catching it in the air as it attempted to escape, and began to clear off the cluttered desk. For the first time ever in his life, he had more than one letter to write.
In this world, anyway. He smiled as he dug paper and pen out of the desk drawers, thinking of the correspondence Henry maintained with the friends he'd made during the twice-yearly visits of the Blakes and Reynolds to magically-inhabited areas of England or Scotland. They might even be real on this side too. That'd be brilliant.
But I'll find that out in thirty-two days. Just now, I have to write Tonks a thank-you note, and then tell Draco what happened when I got my wand, and how Professor McGonagall's planning on sneaking me out of here…
"Now, Dudley," said Vernon, dodging a blow with the Smeltings stick (some knacks never quite left one) and sitting down beside his red-faced son. "Just you listen to who was here a moment ago, and what she had to say."
"I don't care!" Dudley bawled aloud, pounding his heels against the floor. "I need that room! Make him get out!"
"Oh, we will." Vernon laughed under his breath. "We will. But we've got to be strategic about this, Dudley. We've got to think it through."
The jovial tone in his father's voice slowly sank into Dudley, who snuffled a few times and blew his nose on one of the tissues Petunia was holding out to him. "Think what through?" he asked, blotting at his eyes. "It's my second bedroom. He's got no right to be in there. Especially not while I'm away at Smeltings!"
"You're quite right, Dudley, he hasn't." Vernon leaned in closer to his son. "But how would you like knowing that while you're away at Smeltings, having the time of your life, that he was somewhere else, somewhere he'll get what he truly deserves at last? And all you'd have to do to make sure it happens is let him have that room for the next fortnight or so, and then you get your friends together and wait for him to come along…"
Dudley began to look interested.
…so then he said, "I think we must expect great things from you, Mr. Potter," Harry wrote rapidly, Merope the barn owl watching the moving end of his pen with interest. "After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things—terrible, yes, but great." Because that isn't creepy at all. Was he that bad with you, or was it just more of my being The Boy Who Lived?
Speaking of people who get nicknames, I think I'm going to start collecting ways I can mess about with the things people call You-Know-Who. How does He-Who-Must-Be-Hyphenated strike you to start with?
Like Tonks told me, thirty-two days until Hogwarts. Don't let the purebloods get you down.
Hope to hear from you soon,
Folding up his letter and tucking it into the smaller of the two envelopes he'd found in the desk drawers, Harry sealed and addressed it before sliding it into the larger envelope with the note of thanks he'd written to Tonks earlier. "Here you go," he said to Merope after this in its turn was sealed and Tonks's name written on the back. "Thanks for the help."
Merope hooted softly and took the letter in her beak, then spread her wings and launched herself out the window. Harry held his breath, waiting for a bellow from Uncle Vernon or a shriek from Aunt Petunia, but none was forthcoming, and he exhaled slowly, glancing around his bedroom—his bedroom—with a smile.
I wanted this life to start looking more like Henry's, and it's happening. A room of my own, a pile of books I've either always wanted to read or want to read again, seeing my parents' pictures and finding out more about them, even the chance to go away to Hogwarts and learn magic…
The only other things he could think to want weren't things at all, but people, and even those were starting to accumulate.
And maybe I can make some more progress on that tonight. A yawn interrupted his train of thought momentarily, and he pulled off his jeans and trainers, deciding just for tonight to go to bed in his T-shirt, since the rest of his clothing was still downstairs in his cupboard. Now that Mal and I both know what we know, we can start working towards figuring out who everyone else is, and where they are. Yawning again, he switched off the light and crawled between the sheets. It shouldn't take long, once we both buckle down to it.
It shouldn't take too long at all.
Henry Blake's eyes shot open just before the punch to his mattress from below. Grinning, he rolled over and stuck his head over the edge of the bunk. "Oh, Dra-co," he sing-songed, careful not to pitch his voice loud enough to wake the still-sleeping girls across the room.
The improvised bedcurtain slid aside, and Henry pulled his head back just in time as a pillow shot through the space where it had been. "You know how I feel about that damn name," snarled Mal, following his pillow off the bed. "And you, by the way, are out of your mind. What if that hadn't been me?"
"Then I would've had a pureblood kid who thought I was mad, which they're probably all going to think anyway because I'm not rabidly anti-Muggle after living with the Dursleys most of my life. Not that big a deal." Henry shrugged, swinging himself off the bunk and landing with a soft thump on the floor. A brief shiver ran across him at the impact, but he ignored it. "You never mentioned you'd found Dora on that side of things."
Mal shrugged. "You don't remember everything from one side to the other, y'know? At least I don't, not when I'm here. I try to forget about it the best I can, except for the funny bits. Which Lucius Malfoy, let me tell you, is not. I'd like to make his dreams come true." He pressed his fingers to his temples, in the same gesture Draco had used earlier at Madam Malkin's. "But you know about that."
"Yeah, I know." Henry frowned as his fit of shivering recurred, joined by a dull headache. "Wait, do I? I can't remember."
"Sure you do. Think about it some, it'll come to you." Mal glanced over his shoulder, where Jeanie was starting to stir. "Maybe we should take this somewhere else. We don't want to wake them up. Or maybe we do, what d'you think?" He grinned, but the expression looked strained. "Ask them right out if they're dreaming the same sort of things we are, and if their names on that side are the same as what their names used to be on this side, because if so I've got an idea about Uncle Ry but you're not going to like it—"
"Hang on," Henry interrupted, sitting down on the edge of Mal's bed as a wave of dizziness washed over him. "I don't feel right."
"Nor do I." Mal sat down on the floor with more speed than style. "Oof. That may've been a mistake." He swallowed hard, pressing a hand against his chest. "What the hell—"
"Don't know, but I don't like it." Henry tried to get a clear thought through the pain-filled fog now swirling in his head. "Maybe we shouldn't be doing—whatever we're doing. Prob'ly a mistake."
"Gonna say yes," Mal muttered, starting to lower himself into a prone position. Halfway there, his elbows gave way, and he collapsed to the floor.
Henry tried to struggle to his feet, tried to shout for his parents, his aunt and uncle, but nothing wanted to work. His vision fogged over, and with the last of his strength he groped for the small plush animal lying on Mal's bed, flinging it as hard as he could across the room. Somewhere in the back of his mind he seemed to hear a low, satisfied laugh—
And then his world was darkness and screaming, and biting, bitter cold all around.
Jeanie Reynolds grunted as her brother's stuffed badger hit her in the chest. "Mal, 's not funny," she mumbled, sitting up and rubbing sleep out of her eyes. "What're you—oh, no!" The exclamation tore out of her as she catapulted free of her covers at the sight of her brother crumpled on the floor, her cousin slumping backwards onto the lower bunk. "Pearl, wake up! Get the grownups, we need them!"
"Huh?" said Pearl sleepily. "How co—" Then she gasped, and Jeanie heard scrabbling behind her. "Mom!" her little cousin shrieked in her shrillest tones, awakening a chorus of confused voices from the other bedrooms. "Mom, Dad, wake up, something's wrong with the boys! Uncle John, Aunt Gigi, we need you!"
"Come on, you two, come back," Jeanie murmured, rolling Mal carefully onto his back and making sure he was still breathing (he was, even if it sounded like a frightening amount of work), then reaching up to the bed to do the same with Henry (whose breaths were shallow but present). Neither of them responded at all to her touch, and both sets of hands were cold and limp in hers. "Don't give up on me now. You know where you belong, you know where you ought to be—follow my voice, I'm right here, you can make it…"
A sudden wave of anger shot through her, and she leaned over her brother, glaring at him over their clasped hands. "You get back here right this minute, Malcolm Lyall Reynolds," she snarled. "I am not going to Hogwarts alone this September!"
Mal's fingers contracted suddenly around hers, and his eyes shot open as he gasped in a full breath and started coughing. "That…was scary," he wheezed out between bouts of shivering. "Sounded…like Mom…"
"Someone call me?" said a voice from behind them, and Jeanie shuddered in relief as her mom dropped to the floor beside them, lifting Mal into her arms. "You can let Henry go now, love," she said to Jeanie. "Pearl and Thea've got him."
Glancing up to see that this was true, with Henry's sister perched beside him clinging to his other hand and his mother leaning over him with her wand running up and down his body, Jeanie released her cousin and scooted over to occupy her mom's free arm. Her dad, his red robe askew, knelt down and wrapped all three of them in a hug, holding on tight. "The next time you want to give me an early-morning heart attack," he murmured to Mal, "I'd appreciate a day's notice first."
"I don't even know what I did." Mal's shivers had mostly stopped now, but his face was still drawn and his eyes bleak. "We were just talking, Henry and I, about—"
Gigi laid a finger on her son's lips. "What you were talking about may be part of the problem," she said softly. "We'll work it out once we have all of you back safe and sound, hmm?"
Mal nodded once, then buried his face in the shoulder of his mother's yellow bathrobe.
He didn't know where, or even who, he was. Cold and darkness surrounded him, filled with lines of light in every color he'd ever imagined light could be and a few he hadn't, some of them seeming to pulse with welcome, others glowing with sullen revulsion.
Part of him yearned towards the lines, while another part shied back. The lines meant worries and fears and decisions, thoughts and feelings and memories, and memories especially were terrible things. Memories were filled with screams and blinding green lights and cold, cruel laughter. Memories hurt, and he was tired of hurting.
Maybe it would be better just to stay in the darkness forever.
Closing his insubstantial eyes, he curled himself into a ball and let his mind drift as he waited for forever to begin.
And so we see that dream-travel is not exactly the safest thing ever to happen. Next time: what exactly is going on here, and how to fix it, if it can be fixed…also, a few more points will be settled to your satisfaction, O readers, if not yet to that of the characters. Stay tuned!