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For Your Own Good
By Anne B. Walsh
Harry glanced out his window to see where Dudley's gang was (three houses away from number four), then checked his clock. Their routine had varied by only five minutes either way for the last four days, and he felt confident that he could reliably predict where his cousin would be at this time tomorrow.
Which means, if I'm reading my 'organic chemistry' book by the window right then, and I just happen to drop it out of the window, and it just happens to knock him in the head…
He had worried at first about letting the Potions book out of his hold, but a chance encounter with Dudley while he'd been puzzling over a passage from The Standard Book of Spells, Grade One, in the park had told him that the charm on the books extended to their contents as well as their covers.
I was scared half to death when he snatched it out of my hands, but then he started trying to sound out all these ridiculously long words that I know weren't on the page I was looking at, and eventually he just threw it into the bushes and took off to find something better to do. Harry grinned a little, imagining Uncle Vernon picking up the fallen textbook and flipping it open (Aunt Petunia, he was sure, would be far too busy screeching and fluttering ineffectively around her son) only to be confronted with paragraphs of incomprehensible scientific language and impossibly complex diagrams, rather than the lists of potion ingredients and brewing instructions which actually existed within those pages.
And once they're done panicking over Dudley and shouting at me, one of them will think to call 'Miss McGrath's office' and report what I've done. She'll come back out here, or send someone else who looks suitably scary, and the Dursleys will be happy to agree I should be shipped off to a 'special school'. Harry snickered under his breath. If they only knew how special it really is!
His grin growing wider, he returned to the sketch he'd been drawing. A stick a bit longer than one of his arms took shape on his paper, with a stiff, broadly-woven net attached to one end, about the same size as his outstretched hand and deep enough to cradle a softball.
"Though why they call it a softball, I don't know. It doesn't feel soft when it hits you." Harry rubbed a spot on his upper arm, wincing at the recollection. Pearl might be small, but the speed and accuracy of her throwing had made her a hot property in the pick-up baseball games held along Tudor Lane since she'd grown tall enough to pitch inside the strike zone. With the force-multiplier of a crosseball stick on her side, she was frankly terrifying, and Henry worked hard to stay in his sister's good books if any gatherings of wizarding families were in the Blakes' immediate future.
I wonder what Meghan's like? His pen slowed, then stopped, as he gazed out the window, turning his head to face the setting sun. Is she as much like Pearl as I am like Henry or Draco's like Mal? Or is she more like Jeanie, or Mom, where it bothers her to think too much about her alter ego?
Pushing aside the picture of the stick used to catch and throw the enchanted item known as a crosseball in the game of the same name, Harry began to draw a diagram, labeling it with names and connecting people with lines where he could. His own name went in the center, his birth parents to the right, with James Potter spearing off to Sirius Black and Lily Potter to Aletha Freeman. Another line connected this latter lady to Meghan Freeman, and a fainter one, labeled with a question mark, to "Gigi" and "Jeanie".
Since I don't know their names here yet, but I do remember that Mom and Aunt Gigi were friends when they were young, before Mom went away to Hogwarts.
Curving around the top from Sirius Black's name, Harry added "John Reynolds", since he'd spotted a younger (though paradoxically more drawn and worn-looking) version of Henry's uncle in the wedding photograph once James had been convinced to kiss Lily right of center rather than left. He'd considered writing to ask Professor McGonagall for the man's name, but had almost immediately thought better of it. She'd been surprised enough by his interest in Aletha Freeman, and he would have an easier source of information once he reached Hogwarts.
Hagrid knew my parents too, which probably means he knew their friends, and he's already said he's going to invite us down for tea…
The thought of "us" led inevitably to the one member of the Tudor Lane household who had, as yet, no place on Harry's diagram.
And how he fits in, on either side of the worlds, I have no idea—but wait, maybe I do. Considering, Harry wrote Draco's name on the opposite side of the diagram from his parents', then sketched a faint line from him to Sirius Black, and a stronger one to Tonks, whom he added in the upper left corner. Except in that case, like he said himself, shouldn't Mal's surname be Blake? But it's not. It's Reynolds, and always has been. Slowly, he added the lines from Draco's name to those of the three people whose identities in this world he did not yet know. He fits right in with them, too…
Except that there shouldn't have been any way for a super-pureblood kid like him to even meet a werewolf and a woman who's practically a Muggle, much less get adopted by them!
"So there's something I either don't know, or can't remember." Harry folded up the diagram and tucked it inside the nearest textbook, double-checking the cover to be sure it was something other than Potions (Transfiguration, as it happened). It wouldn't do to drop something with so many unusual names out the window tomorrow. "I could ask him, but I don't want to take too many chances. Nobody's around to pull either of us out of it if we start getting dragged away from our bodies here…"
For one instant, he floated in the darkness and chill between the worlds again, before a shout from outside the window snapped him back to the reality of a summer afternoon at number four, Privet Drive. Some of the chill, though, lingered in the vicinity of his heart, along with a thought he hadn't quite been able to banish since he'd seen the clipping from the Daily Prophet, and managed after a bit of mental gymnastics to match the name and face shown there with Ryan A. Blake, owner of the messiest handwriting and fastest draw on either side of the Atlantic.
What if, just this once, what everybody says is right?
Curled up on the couch with a battered copy of The Ordinary Princess, Jeanie looked up as her mother came through the door—
Not your mother, nagged a nasty voice in the back of her head, she's not your real mother. Any way you slice it, she's a lie and so are you. None of this ought to be yours, and it certainly shouldn't make you happy, not with what you know had to happen to bring it all about!
"Hello, love," said Gigi with a smile, then stopped, looking more closely at Jeanie. "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing." Jeanie shook her head and returned to her book. "It's nothing."
"Oh, nothing." The couch dipped as Gigi sat down on the other end of it and lifted down her workbag from the corner where it lived. "All right, then."
I hate the way she understands me sometimes. Jeanie turned a page without having read a single word that was on it. My real mother…doesn't. Instead she pushes and nudges and pokes at me until I feel like I'll never get any peace if I don't tell her what's wrong. Mom just sits down, does something of her own, and waits until…
"It's the dreams again," she said irritably as the silence got to be too much for her.
"I thought it might be." Gigi's fingers never faltered on her needles, knit two, purl two, repeat. "How does the prospect of going away to Hogwarts make your alter ego feel?"
"It makes her feel…excited. Well, excited and scared." Jeanie set the book aside. "She's scared that she won't make any friends, that everyone will look down on her for being Muggleborn, that she'll be so far behind everyone who was raised magical that she'll never catch up, but most of all she's terrified of…" She shrugged her shoulders. "Of me. Of having someone find out that she dreams of being me."
"And why is that terrifying?" Gigi glanced to one side just in time to check a furious explosion from Jeanie. "I'm not trying to be stupid, love. I'm asking for her reasons, to see if they match the ones I can think of. Who is she the most afraid will find out? Other magical people, or her parents?"
"Both." Jeanie shut her eyes and reached into the life of the solitary, bookish witch who both was and was not her. "Magical people because she's afraid they'd think she was so desperate to social-climb, or so ashamed of being Muggleborn, that she made up a fake magical family for herself, and her parents because…" Her throat closed around the words, and instead of finishing the sentence she scooted blindly across the couch to Gigi's side, huddling close.
"Will you tell me the story again?" she whispered.
Because when it's a story, for just that little while, it can all have happened to somebody else, and I can believe what we tell the world. That I'm Jeanie Hope Reynolds, daughter of John and Gigi, and I never was anybody else at all.
"Very well." Gigi turned to one side, allowing Jeanie to snuggle in more closely. "A long time ago, in a country far, far away, lived a young woman named Gertrude, although she hated that name and went mainly by her initials, GG. An even longer time ago, a friend of hers had tried to give her a silly rhyming nickname, but it hadn't stuck. Sometimes GG wondered about that friend, what had ever happened to her after she went away to school, but mostly GG's life was too busy for silly wonderings. You see, not only was she doing very well in her work at the local bookstore, but her parents had surprised both her and themselves the year before. They now had not one, but two daughters, and both of them named for Shakespearean queens."
The story sent ripples of cold down Jeanie's spine, but Gigi's warm hand against her back chased them away again. "GG was amused at the number of their neighbors who thought little Neenie, as the family called its newest member, must be her child. Hadn't they seen her mother Rose waddling around the neighborhood through the previous spring and summer? Hadn't they noticed her father David passing out 'It's a Girl' flyers at the couple's dentistry office for months? But of course, some people don't care about evidence or facts, or anything except a good gossip. Still, the fact remained that GG and Neenie were sisters, born not quite nineteen years apart, and GG loved her baby sister very dearly."
Then where is she now? the sly voice spoke up again in the back of Jeanie's mind. Where is Neenie's precious older sister, if she loved her ickle sissy all that much?
Shut up, Jeanie snapped as Gigi continued the tale. I don't have to listen to you.
Maybe you don't have to, but you always do anyway. The voice chuckled. And someday you might be sorry you didn't listen sooner…
"…began to have dreams, dreams that felt like a warning," Gigi was saying as Jeanie administered a mental smack and turned her attention back to the story. "First, flashes of terrible pain and fear, then a drifting, floating feeling, like being disconnected from the world. Exhaustion, sorrow, but also a trace of satisfaction, as though she'd done something very hard against truly terrible odds. Distorted voices saying impossible things, and then loneliness, horrible, endless loneliness. And always, every time, the dreams ended with the image of a calendar page—the calendar hanging on the wall in her parents' kitchen, with the seventeenth of August circled in red—and GG would wake up with two words ringing in her ears. Get out."
"Like someone was trying to tell her that something bad would happen that day." Jeanie opened her eyes to look up at Gigi. "And that she shouldn't be at home, because that was where the bad things would happen."
"Exactly. So when her parents announced that they were closing their office on that day, that they were going to take their once-a-year day to do only and exactly what they chose to do, GG offered to take little Neenie out for an airing instead of staying home with her as she'd originally intended. David and Rose were happy with that, and so the plans proceeded." Gigi's voice caught a little on the final word, and she set her knitting aside, tucking her needles through the ball of black-and-gold variegated yarn. "It wasn't until later, until too late, that GG realized she'd never told her parents why she'd changed her plans. And what they chose to do with that day, it turned out, was stay at home themselves."
"And the bad things happened to them instead." Jeanie shuddered, both her personas perfectly at one in this reaction. The stories of war she had heard since she was old enough to understand dovetailed into her alter ego's reading and research far too well for comfort. "You didn't want that."
"No." The denial was instant, vehement. "I didn't want that at all. And I spent the longest time blaming myself, hating myself, wishing it had happened to me instead. I made the decisions that had to be made, I got up and went to work and took care of you, love, but inside I was screaming and throwing things and beating on the walls of reality. Demanding a chance to do it over, to fix that one stupid mistake, the mistake that took them away from me, from us. And if that meant I had to be hurt instead of my mum and dad, so be it. I deserved it." She reached over to the box on the bookshelf, snagging two tissues and handing one to Jeanie. "Until I began to dream again, about exactly what I'd asked for. A chance to undergo that pain myself."
Jeanie looked up from blotting her eyes. This part of the story was new to her. "You did?"
"I did." Gigi twisted her tissue between her hands. "And I came to see that if I had stayed home that day, if all those bad things had happened to me instead, my mum and dad still would have been hurt. It just would have been a different kind of pain. Very like what I was undergoing myself." She slid an arm around Jeanie, half to give comfort, half to take it. "I wouldn't have wished that on my worst enemy, let alone my own parents. As for trying to make sure none of us suffered…could I have?" She sighed, cuddling Jeanie closer. "Would they have taken a warning that came in a dream seriously enough to not stay home that day? I don't know. I can't know."
"And no one is ever told what would have happened." Jeanie frowned. "Except you were. We all are, even today."
"Well, sometimes the rules do change." Gigi bent to lay a kiss on her sister-daughter's head. "And the rest of the story you already know, so I think it's time to move along. Unless you have any more questions?"
"Just one." Jeanie scooted back a little, enough to meet Gigi's gaze directly, brown eyes fixed on brown. "Which world is real?"
"In which world do you love people?" Gigi countered immediately. "In which world do people love you?"
"Both of them." Jeanie shook her head a little at the silliness of this question. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"I know you hate to hear this, but you'll understand more when you're older. For right now, what would you think of treating each world as real while you're in it, and enjoying yourself as much as possible, no matter who you are?" Tucking her yarn and needles back into her workbag, Gigi returned it to its place. "Will that do, until we have world enough and time to look more deeply into metaphysics and the like?"
"I suppose so." Jeanie scowled. "But I like questions to have answers, real answers. Not just possibilities."
"In which case, love, you should have sent back a polite refusal to that Hogwarts letter. In both your worlds." Gigi got to her feet. "Now, if you wouldn't mind rousting those boys out from wherever they are, and telling them they have exactly two minutes to get those crosseball sticks off my front walk before said sticks become mine, to be redeemed only by satisfactory completion of chores…"
Harry was out in the park the next day, sitting on a bench beside the swings reading The Horse and His Boy (disguised as something called The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which he had a sneaking suspicion was poetry), when a shadow fell across his book. He looked up, and his stomach sank.
I should have been listening more carefully…
"Hi, Dudley," he said with mock unconcern, then got to his feet and glanced over his shoulder. "Hi, Gordon. Hi, Malcolm." The two brawniest members of Dudley's gang stared back at him in silence. He had no doubt Piers and Dennis, the skinnier pair, were lurking somewhere nearby, doubtless to intercept him if he tried running. "Does Aunt Petunia want me home?"
"Not yet." Dudley smirked. "But she will in a few minutes. Once I get in all covered in blood, and tell her how you attacked me for no reason, how my friends had to drag you off." Gordon and Malcolm nodded in unison. "And they had to make sure you couldn't hurt me any more, didn't they? Once we're done with you, you won't be leaving the house again until that Miss McGath or whatever her name was sends a car to take you away to the special school." His smirk widened and twisted, turning even nastier than before. "I hear it's out in the middle of nowhere, just for freaks like you."
That does sound a lot like Hogwarts. Harry fought back his laugh. Under the circumstances, he thought it would be misinterpreted. But I don't want the first time I see it to be through two black eyes! I wonder—maybe this is a good enough reason to use magic and I won't be expelled before I ever get there—
His hand was on the grip of his wand, concealed inside the hem of his T-shirt, when a low, menacing growl brought all the boys' heads whipping around.
"It came from over there," Gordon breathed, pointing to a nearby clump of bushes.
"No, I think it was there!" Malcolm pointed to a small stand of trees.
Carefully, Harry began to sidle in the opposite direction.
"You're both mad," said Dudley with authority. "It came from—hey! He's getting away!"
Abandoning caution, Harry bolted for the street, only to find himself cut off by a giggling Piers and a snickering Dennis. He fumbled out his wand, hoping he was holding it the right way, and spun around to face Dudley.
When dealing with a pack, John Reynolds' voice rang in his mind, always challenge the leader first. If you can beat him, the rest will slink away like the cowards they are.
"Come on if you think you're hard enough," Harry said softly, staring straight at his cousin.
For one instant, his eyes slipped past Dudley, and in that instant a plan shot into his mind.
Now if I can just pull it off…
Dudley had stopped short, blinking in confusion at the slender stick in Harry's hand. "What's that supposed to do?" he asked.
"It's a magic dog-calling stick." Harry swallowed hard, praying he could keep a straight face. "You heard the dog growling already. Do you want me to finish doing the magic and bring it all the way here?"
"You are crazy." Nevertheless, Dudley looked uncertainly at the wand. "There's no such thing as magic. You can't make a dog come to you just by waving around a stick!"
"Of course I can't." Harry brought his other hand out of his pocket. "I have to whistle for it too. Do you want me to do that?"
"Go on, then." Dudley crossed his arms. "Let's hear you."
Tucking two fingers into his mouth, Harry folded back his tongue a certain way (as Henry had been taught by his mom two summers prior to this) and blew.
The shrill, clear sound sent Gordon back two hasty steps. Malcolm took three. Dudley alone stood his ground. "So you whistled," he said scornfully. "And you have a stick. Do you really think I'm going to believe that's magic?"
"Ah," said Piers weakly from behind Harry. "Ah, Dudley."
"Uh, uh," was Dennis's contribution, along with a bit of frantic finger-pointing. "Uhhhh!"
Dudley paid them no mind. "If that was a magic whistle," he said, glaring at Harry, "and you used it and your little stick to call a dog, then where's the dog?"
Gordon whimpered once before clapping both hands over his mouth. Malcolm looked unsure whether he wanted to wet his pants or be sick.
"Well?" Dudley demanded, closing with Harry until they were nearly nose to nose. "Where's the dog?"
Harry used the tip of his wand to make a little turning motion.
From behind Dudley came a second growl, this one a bit louder than the first.
All the color drained from Dudley's face, and he turned shakily to look over his shoulder.
The enormous dog behind him, so thoroughly dirty that it would have looked grayish-brown no matter what color it actually was, bared its teeth and snarled before making a snap for the seat of Dudley's trousers.
Dudley's scream could have shattered glass. Harry wasn't sure it hadn't shattered his eardrums. Rubbing the side of his head, he watched Dudley racing away at top waddle down the street, his gang outdistancing him handily as they sprinted towards their own homes. One part of his mind was gibbering in terror of the consequences awaiting him for this, while another part was convulsed in laughter at the contortions Dudley had to go through to run. The rest of him was busy staring at the huge, bony creature which was now sitting wearily on the ground, tongue hanging out one side of its mouth.
Where did it come from? And why did it do that? And—
"You're hurt," he said aloud, seeing for the first time the little droplets of red trailing from one of the dog's paws. "And you don't look like you've had a good meal in a long time. You don't have a home, do you?"
The dog looked up at him, then cautiously nudged its head forward. Just as cautiously, Harry raised his hand and laid it gently on the broad, bone-ridged skull. The dog sighed once and closed its eyes, and Harry began, carefully, to scratch, raising puffs of dust with every motion of his fingers.
"I'm going to have to go in a minute," he murmured in time with his scratching. "There's going to be all kinds of trouble from what you did. But…" A sudden thought froze him in place. "Do you know, it may actually not be a bad thing?" Realizing he still had his wand in his other hand, he quickly slid it away into his pocket. "There's a chance this could be something I've been waiting for, something I thought I'd have to do myself—no, more than a chance, this is it!" He laughed aloud as the fullness of it sank in. "It happened, it just happened, and I didn't have to do anything—"
Faint, yet unmistakable, his Aunt Petunia's shriek rose into the air, and Harry groaned. "Here we go," he said, withdrawing his hand. The dog opened its eyes to give him a mournful look, as though wondering why he'd stopped. "Look, just—just stay here, all right? Hide if you have to, but don't go far. I'll be back, and I won't be alone."
The dog thumped its tail against the ground three times, then turned and vanished into the clump of bushes from whence it had come. Harry dusted off his hands, scooped up his book, and ran for Privet Drive as fast as he could go.
Unless he was very much mistaken, the incident which was going to get him to Hogwarts had just occurred in all its glory.
And something else has happened, although Harry doesn't know it yet. But you know it, O readers, don't you?
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