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Chapter 1: Fair Warning
Just as Harry was about to reach the stool where a patched, grubby hat waited to Sort him, a wise-looking old wizard shouted, “Harry! Oh, God! I almost forgot!” He ran forth, purple robes flapping, and clapped a hand on young Harry’s back. “Come with me, Harry. You are Harry, right?" He examined the boy with messy black hair and green eyes, squinting. "Hard to tell. Haven't checked up on you since...ever. We need to go up to my office straight away.”
“Your office?” Harry repeated, gulping nervously. Everyone in the Great Hall was staring at him, and it made him all the more nervous. He knew it. He wasn’t a real wizard. Hagrid had gotten it wrong, after all. The old man was probably going to toss him right back on the train.
“Yeah, we’ve got loads of catching up to do, now that you're mature enough to understand it all.” He smiled, left eye twinkling and then his right. And then his left eye twinkled again. “The name’s Dumbledore, by the way, but you can call me Albus.”
“Okay.” Harry focused on his shoes, feeling worse than ever. Why would someone as twinkly as Albus want to catch up with him, an eleven-year-old boy with no special qualities whatsoever except for a weird scar implausibly sustained in a car accident?
“Excellent!” Albus steered the boy up all sorts of stairs and things and they ended up in his office, which had lots of bells and whistles. Harry whittled away some time ringing the bells and playing the whistles until Albus kindly asked him to stop, since he was trying to speak.
“Sorry,” Harry said sheepishly, laying an enormous smoking silver instrument aside. (It was a mandolin with an addiction.)
“This could have been a nightmare!” Albus replied cheerily, prodding his wand to make stars appear around the room. He made them float along merrily until remembering Harry’s blank face, and went on, “I very nearly decided not to tell you anything at all, and just let you be Sorted fancy-free with the rest of the children. Who knows how long I would have let this go on? Two years? Four? Six?” He paused, booming with laughter. “Oh, but let’s be realistic here. Between the death-sport that is Quidditch and that weirdo I just hired to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, your life expectancy is like a month!”
“Excuse me,” Harry interrupted, rubbing the scar on his forehead. He was rather fond of that scar. It reminded him of a wiggly little snake. Hiss, hiss. “What are you saying, Professor?”
“Right, right.” Albus was still smiling, his beard doing a little magical dance. “I was merely about to explain to you exactly what I believe you will be facing during your years here at this fine institution.”
Harry leaned forward, eager. “You mean all the stuff I’m going to learn? Potions and spells and charms?”
“Potions?” Albus repeated. “LOL, Harry, you’re going to suck at Potions. No, no, I’m talking about Voldemort.”
“For crying out loud, Potter, that’s not even his real name –”
But he stopped, realizing that a portrait had fallen off the wall and whacked Harry over the head. Harry’s arm had somehow gotten stuck inside the portrait, and Phineas Nigellus Black was biting him.
“Bad!” Albus twinkled his eyes at Phineas until he retreated, scowling. “Okay, focus!” he barked. Harry jumped. “Not you, Harry. I was talking to my glasses. They’re all out of focus.” He took them off and rubbed them on his robes. When he returned his spectacles back to the bridge of his long, crooked nose, he said, “Frankly, Harry, I don’t have very high hopes for your education here. You’re going to be very distracted by all sorts of creatures that have no business being in a school we like to call ‘the safest place in the world’.”
Harry’s face paled. Dumbledore was about to tell him to calm down when he saw that it was just a ghost sitting cross-legged in the air in front of Harry, juggling lemons. After the ghost had been ordered to leave, Albus folded his hands pensively under his chin and studied the boy. “Your aunt and uncle must really hate you. Not only am I going to put your life in the hands of people who want to kill you, but there is a big ass snake crawling around in my plumbing and I’m not saying a damn thing to anyone because of insurance reasons.” He sat back in his chair, yawning. “I’m sure you understand.”
Harry blinked. “I’m – I’m not sure that I do, sir.”
“Whatever, that’s not important. What’s important is that I prepare you for all the perils that’ll be raining down on you; and it’ll be up to you, a ginger delinquent, and a girl I like to mentally refer to as ‘The Teeth’ to solve all my problems. It’s your job to sort out a giant troll, a snake, this one dude that talks to you in your dreams, and all the Horcruxes I could’ve been looking for but couldn’t be arsed to do so over the holidays, because, well, YOLO.”
“Wait,” Harry interrupted. “Did you say someone was going to be talking to me in my dreams?” He began to panic, sweating. “I’m not sure if this school is any better than Smeltings, now that I’m being properly warned.”
“It’s a nightmare! You deffo should’ve gone to Smeltings,” Albus confirmed gaily, emitting puffy purple clouds with his wand now. He enjoyed showing off his magical talents to first years, who weren’t able to do any of it yet. “And don’t even get me started on Snape!”
“Snape?” Harry could feel his pulse quickening. “That was the one with black hair, right?”
“Forget his hair, Harry, the man loathes you. Absolutely loathes you! Wants to vomit at the sight of your mangy hair, tries to jinx you from behind, wishes you were never born, etc. But I’m going to let him be your authority figure, anyway. Just put up with the bullying. Someday when he lets slip that he’s in love with your dead mum, you’ll feel too awkward to remind everyone about the time he tipped the bowel juice of a rat into your beef stew.”
“Put what into my what?!”
“Right, right, what am I missing…” Dumbledore tapped his chin, lost in thought. “Oh, yeah. Everyone you love is going to die. I’m thinking about bringing your parents back from the dead just so that you can lose them again, make sure the pain is always fresh. We’re all going to blame your soon-to-be-dead-godfather for a crap load of murders he didn’t actually commit, and Remus Lupin – he’s one of your father’s mates, Harry, but you won’t see him for a couple of years because he…well, he just doesn’t like you – but anyway, Remus is going to get sacked because my hands are tied." He jutted his thumbs at himself, proud. "You're looking at the most powerful wizard in the history of ever right here, but I bow to social prejudices. This is why I’ve never done anything about the enslavement of elves. I’m sure you understand.”
“No, you’re making less and less sense as you go on, Professor.”
“That’s because you’re bad at storing information. I’ve done some Legilimency, digging through your memories without your permission. Your brain is a mess, Potter. Really pathetic memories you like to think about, and I want you to know that I know about all the bad stuff you did as a little kid. Like when your parents were murdered because of your existence."
Harry looked like he was going to cry.
"By the way," Dumbledore said jovially, "Arthur’s injury in the Ministry is totally your fault. Just letting you know in advance that all the consolation you’ll be getting on that note, and the assurances that you didn’t do anything wrong, are total rubbish. Everyone blames you.”
“He’s actually going to be your father-in-law, but we’re not getting into the future of you and Mrs. Butterface right at this moment. And by that I mean that she’s going to be the face of a successful brand of butter.” Dumbledore raised his arms over his head, hands in fists. “Harry/Luna for life!”
Harry stared at him.
“Anyhoosie, there’s He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named that you’ve got to contend with.” Albus waved at Harry. “Hear me in there? Little piece of Tom Riddle’s soul? Har, har, har, it’s funny because you don’t get it yet.”
“A piece of someone’s soul is inside of me?” Harry cried, jumping out of his seat. He began pulling on his arms, his hair. “Get it off! Get it off!”
“Harry, you idiot, you can’t get it off! He’s living inside your liver.”
Albus rolled his eyes. “All the years that I’m going to be seemingly ‘X-raying’ you, and you will never, not once, realize that in reality I actually am X-raying you. Got to keep tabs on old Voldy in there.”
Harry curled up on the floor, rocking back and forth and muttering nonsensically to himself.
“Harry, get up. I never Hoover down there, you know. We’ve just got the one man on our cleaning staff. Isn’t that twisted? One man to clean up the whole castle and he can’t even do magic. Trollolololol.”
“Tell me it’s over,” Harry pleaded. “I can deal with the little man hiding in my liver and my godfather dying and some man named Remus who’s never even sent me a postcard in the entire eleven years I’ve been alive, but only if that’s the extent of it. I can’t bear more bad news.”
“Well, it’s not all bad,” Albus reasoned. “You’ll get to learn magic. Some of it you’ll have to teach yourself, of course, since most of your professors will be incompetent. You’ll even have to teach your classmates.”
Harry pondered this. “That doesn’t sound too horrible, I suppose.”
“Nah, it’s brill! You’ll even get to mack on a super-fine Ravenclaw.” Albus uncorked a bottle of swirling silver memories and took a swig of it. “Ahh, that’s delicious.” He toasted Harry. “To your mum! The girl your Potions professor will never get over!” He nodded at the bottle. “This is his, you know. Tastes like rejection.”
“At least I feel safe here.” Harry sucked air into his cheeks, nodding idly. “After living in a cupboard for all my life, these stone walls and cold dungeons and candles in lieu of electricity feel so warming!”
“Safety is for dweebs, Harry. You say embarrassing things. Stop saying embarrassing things.”
The boy stood up, brushing some lint off his school robes that looked not at all like robes and more like an unflattering maternity dress. “So is that all, then? Can I go down and be Sorted?”
“Pfft, no need. You’ll be in Gryffindor. It’s where we put all the overconfident ones. And some of the ones who aren’t confident at all. And some of the ones who are actually rats. We’re quite inconsistent in that way.”
“Oooookay.” Harry shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He wasn’t wearing shoes, though, because Petunia wouldn’t let him have any. This is what happens when the magical world doesn’t have caseworkers who check on kids after dropping them off on doorsteps like a spiffing round of ding-dong-ditch.
“If you can make it through all that, then you’re ready for anything!” Albus clapped his hands. “Let's see...fire-breathing dragons, dead Cedric, Inferi, my death is all your fault, overpriced Cauldron Cakes, a very old bald man who hates you... Yes, I think that about covers it.”
Harry breathed a sigh of relief. “Good.”
“Sorry in advance that I’m going to be so ambiguous,” Albus told him. “It’s how I get my kicks. That along with watching you think you’re losing your mind because you can hear voices no one else does.”
“It’s okay,” Harry said, trying to pull himself together. He blinked, clearing his mind. “I’ll be fine, I think. Just as long as I get to keep my beloved new owl forever and ever.”
Dumbledore cleared his throat. “Yeah, about that…”
“And as long as I don’t get any more scars. I’ve already got the one on my forehead, thank you. Don’t need more squiggles.”
Dumbledore looked distinctly uneasy. “Uh huh…”
Harry beamed, considerably brightened by this point. “Heck, I’m just glad that I’ll never have to go back to the Dursleys’ ever again!”
“Right…” Dumbledore held up his hands, stopping him from speaking. “Listen, kid. I can’t guarantee all that. There’s a lot of fine print on that letter you got in the post. A lot. And it’s invisible.”
“What exactly are you trying to say, Professor?”
Albus gazed evenly at him, his eyes extra twinkly. “Harry, my dear boy, there is one thing I must warn you about.” He waited for Harry to say something, hoping he would prevent Albus from breaking the news. But Harry had chosen this moment to listen intently.
“Harry, there’s no easy way to say this. But…you’re going to die.”
“No worries – it’ll only be for a short bit. Blink and you’ll miss it. A ruse, shall we say? Anyway, it’s just a little theory of mine that could seriously backfire, but we’re going to wing it!”
Harry felt slightly sick, but nodded. “Sure.”
“Trot off, now,” Dumbledore ordered happily. “The feast is still going on. Plenty of pudding and pumpkin juice for all.”
Harry, who had his hand on the doorknob, stopped cold. “Pumpkin juice? What the hell am I supposed to do with pumpkin juice?”
Albus blinked. “You drink it, genius.”
“That’s not…that’s not sustenance!” Harry sputtered. “It’s bloody pumpkin! Are you telling me that I’m going to be expected to drink the liquid of a pumpkin on a regular basis?”
Albus frowned, his voice small and weak. “But it…it’s one of our oldest traditions…”
Harry rolled his shoulders, swaggering out the door. “Whatever, Dumbles. Potter out.”
Albus stood up. “What are you doing?”
“But you’re supposed to save the world! I don’t want to have to do it myself!” He reached out to Harry, eyes huge. “I had everything figured out! I was going to fake my death and retire in Bermuda!”
“Get your shit together! Imma go be a Muggle.”
Props to Gina (justonemorefic) for the insertion of Ginny's face on tubs of butter.