Chapter 7 : Chapter 7: Dich wiederzusehen, dich!
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Chapter 7: Dich wiederzusehen, dich!
Harry Potter stirred on his new bed, his first impulse was to coil in fright but then he remembered where he was and how he had come to be there. He scratched his lower back, opened the window and picked a few faded, oversized clothes with him for a quick shower.
It was a rare experience for him, feeling the warm water had a soothing effect on his itching and Harry let his mind reel with everything he had learnt the day before, from the fact he was a wizard to the fact his parents actually loved him and had died defending him from a dark wizard named Lord Voldemort. He tried hard to hold the tears while asking his father and mother for forgiveness, telling them how sorry he was for hating them and for believing the lies his horrible uncles had told him.
His sorrow was interrupted by one of the culprits herself, aunt Petunia's yelling could be heard chastising him for daring to use the shower instead of cleaning himself from the tap as he was allowed to do. Harry sighed, closed the valve and dried himself with a towel before dressing and leaving for the kitchen, where he ignored the continuous telling and threats of further chores to pay for the water and electricity he used.
"Only two breakfast plates, boy! Vernon's at work early to compensate for your weirdness yesterday, and I'm taking Duddleykins to have his new uniform fitted," she cooed while pinching Dudley on the cheek. His cousin was having some problems seating properly, it looked as if having a pig tail on his buttocks could be quite uncomfortable for some activities. Harry thought about his own new uniform, and how good it felt to be able to actually purchase new clothes, and a wand, and everything he wanted with his own money!
As the bacon sizzled, Harry continued to daydream of how many things he could buy for himself, he could even walk into a shop and come out with a grand piano on his back! He could eat proper meals every summer day, all that money would allow him to have friends and have a real birthday cake come July the thirty first; he snickered imagining how many presents he could purchase, "I'd have a pile bigger than Dud--" Harry let his arms fall to the side all of the sudden, "But then... Then I'd become just like Dudley..." he said, looking at the fat boy as he hit his aunt on the head with a long kitchen fork because she had walked in front of the television set.
"I don't wanna be like Dudley," he repeated out loud without noticing, but aunt Petunia managed to hear him.
"Of course you'll never be anything like my Dudders! He's a wonderful boy and he's going to a real school for people who are worthy," she spat at him.
"Yes aunt Doro--"
"I mean, yes aunt Petunia," he quickly corrected and returned to the stove.
The unsettling notion of becoming a big bully like Dudley continued to haunt him, he finished breakfast, was given the leftovers to eat and washed the dishes before going to his room. He dropped to the floor and picked the silver card holder full of Muggle money, as Hagrid had called it. Harry was running a finger over it when the wind pushed the window a little bit, making him catch a glimpse of his own reflection on it.
"Idiot!" he yelled and hurled the tiny miniaturized thin trunk, hitting his mirrored image on the glass pane and cracking the window. Embarrassed of himself, Harry buried his face in his cupped hands and sighed. He had a new life in front of him at all he had been able to imagine was how to buy friends and how to best his cousin in stupidity.
"Mum and dad would be ashamed of me, even the girl behind the glass would be ashamed of me," he mumbled before walking to the window and checking the damage.
Harry opened the silver case using the runes and removed a single fifty pounds note, shrank it again using the same finger-writing and removed his wand from under the mattress. Carrying all his magical items either around his neck or in his pockets, he walked downstairs and made a show of finding the clipping shears and telling his aunt he was going to do gardening at Mrs Mulligan, which he actually intended to after returning from a quick journey to the nearest bed clothing shop. Aunt Petunia dismissed him with the same wave of her hand she used to push flies away and he set out for adventure.
A very short-lived adventure it was, for it ended with him stepping out of the bus with an apology no sooner than he boarded and tried to pay his fare with a fifty pound banknote. He had forgotten to bring any coins with him, and would have had to purchase a life-long bus ticket, or so had the driver told him. Walking back to Privet Drive, he decided to prune Mrs Mulligan's hedges instead and chance a light lunch at Mrs Figg rather than face aunt Petunia's stingy scraps; his worn-out blanket, formerly a curtain with etched little chirping birds, would have to be replaced another day.
An hour and three quarters later, and five pounds richer, well actually two pounds richer since uncle Vernon was paid a manager's fee equivalent to half his earnings plus a daily fifty pence rental for the use of his clipping shears, Harry chased and finally captured a tabby cat he was sure belonged to Mrs Figg's that tried to run from him in Wisteria Walk and knocked on the old lady's door.
"Hello dear," she greeted, "how have you been?"
"I'm all right, Mrs Figg. I've brought you one of your cats!"
She hesitated for a second, "That's not one of my babies, Harry. See for yourself, Mr Paws, Ms Tufty and Mr Snowy are resting over there on the couch, and Mr Tibbles is standing right behind you," Mrs Figg pointed over his shoulder.
"Oops!" Harry said while lifting the feline to his face and looking at the odd markings around its eyes, "I'm so sorry, I better put the cat back where I found it then..."
He returned shortly after and politely accepted an offer for tea and cold sandwiches, taking his time to help and to please the lonely lady with a few melodies on her poorly tuned piano. She noticed his discomfort and constant scratching, asked about it and he told her it was after a motorcycle ride that he began to itch. Mrs Figg walked to the corner table, picked a jar containing a yellow powder inside and without previous warning tossed a handful of it on him.
"For the fleas, dear," she explained.
* * * * * * *
The night was no deterrent for Hermione Granger, it was more of a partner in crime, if escaping through her round attic window to roam the neighbourhood was a crime. It was close to four in the morning and she was sitting with her legs crossed on the topmost roof of an old house, thinking about her new life as a witch. She was wide awake due to falling asleep in the car the evening before while returning from the most magical of places, a hub of wizard activity called Diagon Alley where everything was fascinatingly new. It was so unfamiliar, that she was scared.
She had always been proud of comprehensively understanding the world around her, because an insatiable thirst for knowledge and to prove her worth drove Hermione to try her best at everything she proposed herself, in spite of the personal cost of being teased and ridiculed. At the age of eight she had met a little boy who showed her there was an equal somewhere, Green-eyes, as she called him, had given her the hope to cling to when no family wished to touch her, when no schoolmate wished to befriend her, and when no sweet dreams comforted her.
Now that hope materialized and she had a new opportunity in a world where she belonged and the until then hard to explain events around her made perfect sense. Furthermore, if Mrs Morewitt and Deputy Headmistress McGonagall were any indication, wizards were wise and powerful, and would appreciate her for who she was, instead of making fun of her dorky habits.
The only problem was that Hermione had never known of the very existence of a magical world until yesterday, whereas there were around forty new students going to Hogwarts that were probably sons and daughters of other wizards and witches, having grown up in such environment gave them an unfair advantage that she would have to counter somehow, lest she be ridiculed not because of being too smart, but for being too dumb.
Some of the books she purchased at The Earmarked Parlour provided help in solving a few riddles of the magical world, one titled Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century explained some events that had actually breached the invisible barrier separating the Muggle and wizarding worlds she had grown to be a product of. Another big book, Hogwarts: a History was quite intriguing as it told of the school's founding and it's millenarian history, yet left many accounts unfinished or simply skipped over large portions of time.
She had felt her blood freeze when reading about a baby named Harry Potter, who had defeated the darkest wizard of the times, escaping with nothing but a scar in the shape of a lightning bolt on his forehead, according to several unconfirmed witnesses accounts. The dates coincided with a child of Hermione's age, and the image of a boy with a similar scar behind thick glass flooded her mind. Could it be him? Did green-eyes make such a deep and lasting impression on her because he was such a powerful wizard? She shook her head to clear those unanswered questions, it was enough for her to have shared an instant with him, to have him tell her there was an equal out there in the world and she would never be alone. How true those words became, since she found a world of equals, of witches and wizards like her.
Pushing that train of thought away again, she turned to the wooden box resting on her lap. Given the under-age magic restriction, she always left her wand inside the protected box Mr Ollivander gently recommended after noticing her cousin Bernadette opening each and every wand box she could in his shop. Hermione had already memorized several basic wand movements and incantations, careful to try them with a wooden kitchen ladle she borrowed and mimic the descriptions, however using a true wand would be a test of her abilities and she would have no time to practice.
"What if I fail, or don't have enough witchcraft in me?" she pleaded to the slowly brightening skies. Her time alone was interrupted by an instinctively recognizable flapping, Kettle had perched next to her and brought her a shining two inches long screw. She thanked him profusely and scratched his head, standing up and guiding him to her right shoulder before heading home.
Bernadette had just woken up it seemed, when she scared Hermione to death by yelling from her bedroom window while she climbed to her attic using the outside wall and makeshift ladder. Hermione stuck her tongue out at her and chose not to reply verbally, knowing she would only bother to accuse her to aunt Claire and uncle Charles if something really important or unusual happened.
She finished climbing and greeted Blacksnout before securing the round window pane open for Kettle to come and go as he pleased. Hermione grabbed a few clothes and took a quick shower, walking downstairs carrying one of her first year books under her arm and sitting by her new place on the table, just opposite aunt Claire and next to her cousin.
"You know dorky-mione, I think your cat John chose me as his new owner," her cousin said after pulling the book on charms Hermione was reading before breakfast, "he's been sleeping with me for the past three nights."
"I'm so sorry for him, Berny, I hope you'll keep your nose out John's life," she commented off-handedly, earning a glare in response, "now give me back my book!"
"Girls! No fighting before seven in the morning, I thought we had an agreement on that?" uncle Charles shouted from the corridor.
"Oh! Daddy, daddy, tell Hermione she's allowed to bring some good-looking wizards for Christmas, pleaseee? There were some cute ones in that Dragon Alley yesterday," she said with a wink.
"Shut up, Berny..." she said flushing madly, "And the name's Diagon Alley!"
Her cousin returned the book and shrugged, grabbed a toast and began to spread butter and jelly over it. Soon the rest of her family had gathered for breakfast and the table discussion drifted to more mundane topics, and she excused herself to her attic again.
Almost a full week after her visit to the hidden wizard centre in London, young Hermione was still struggling with some concepts and had barely finished the first reading of only half her magic books. She considered nothing short of three thorough readings to be satisfactory, and feared many of the incantations she had been memorizing so far were probably misspelled.
When absolutely in doubt or unable to elucidate something alone, she resorted to asking questions by sending a letter to Mrs Morewitt, who couldn't leave her shop due to all the hustle and bustle of Hogwarts students new and old shopping for their books. Her replies were helpful, but Hermione still felt as if she had barely scratched the surface of this wonderful new universe.
* * * * * * *
No matter how hard he tried, how inviting the still unfamiliar comfort of a real bed with real soft and hole-free covers was, or how tired he felt after the day's chores, Harry couldn't fall asleep. He had his eyes set on the digital alarm clock he had rescued from a pile of unwanted items Dudley had thrown away, counting the seconds as they pushed each other away into oblivion, painfully slow and irritatingly steady.
"Eleven fifty eight minutes and twenty one seconds, twenty two, twenty three..."
Yes, the boy living in the smallest bedroom was obsessively counting time, but he had a purpose. He would be eleven years old as the thirty first of July arrived, and for the first time he had reason to celebrate. No more than a week ago he had been told the truth about his life, his parents were wizards as was he, and he had been hammered in the head with invitations to attend the best magical school in the world! Not only that, but he had also made a friend, a real friend the size of a wardrobe who had promised to come and visit him again for his birthday party.
Harry didn't tell his giant friend that his relatives had never, nor would they ever celebrate his birthday, although they did have fun giving him mostly useless presents. Hagrid, the groundskeeper at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he would study come September, would be arriving during the day and he wanted to have something to offer, at least a few pancakes since aunt Petunia had no dragon meat stocked in the icebox.
His aunt had questioned him constantly about the new bed covers, first she accused him of stealing them from the neighbours and then of taking them from Dudley's bed, but she could clearly see they had no little dancing bears or jolly clowns holding colourful balloons on them. That was his first and last selfish purchase anyway, he decided becoming anything like his cousin was too shameful and not something he wished to accomplish. It was horrible enough to have been chosen by a similar wand to the one his parents' murderer had used to kill them.
Besides, Harry was forced to stay in his room ever since Dudley had been taken to his new uniform fitting. His cousin had stayed overnight in the hospital to remove the veritable pig tail Hagrid gave him, and according to his aunt the seamstress had fainted when she saw it and Petunia thought it best to remove the added appendage before attending Smeltings. Uncle Vernon was so upset he had forbidden Harry from leaving his bedroom until September the first, or forever if "any more funny business happened in this house" he had shouted before shoving him inside the smallest bedroom.
"Whoo-hoo!" Harry yelled as the clock's digits turned to zeros. He turned on his bed and let his head fall on a real pillow, a bit puffy but a pillow after all, closing his eyes and welcoming the oblivion of sleep. That is until he heard a loud bang followed by a deep thump, hurried footsteps and screams in a striking déjà vu of last week. "Hagrid must've come for breakfast", he wondered while glancing at the clock and reading seven twenty one in the morning.
Silently opening his door and hoping his relatives were too distracted by the giant to notice him breaking out of his bedroom, Harry walked to the top of the stairs and popped his head over the banister. Sure enough, his large friend stood on the Dursleys' front door, quite literally because it had fallen off its hinges again, holding a curious set of large packages. He beamed upon catching a sight of him and welcomed Harry downstairs, who looked up at him with a sincere smile for remembering his birthday.
"Happy birthday, Harry," he said, "it took me a lot o' pleadin' with the Headmaster ter come and see yeh again, but I'd never break my promise!"
"Thank you!" Harry hugged his large friend's leg and then invited him to the kitchen leaving his uncles cowering behind the couch and Dudley holding his recently mended bottom with both hands right behind his parents. Hagrid bent over to avoid the overhead lamps and fit through the door, and then placed all his oddly shaped bundles on the counter.
"Now Harry, I'm certain yer uncles 'ave put up a nice birthday party fer yeh, but I've made yeh a cake anyway," the large man explained, waving his oversized arms and picking a square package next to a strange, shaking one wrapped in brown paper.
"Thanks Hagrid, I don't deserve it--"
"Nonsense! An' I've got yeh sumething else, c'mon, open it!"
Harry approached the shaking brown present and touched in gingerly first, Hagrid insisted it wouldn't bite him and urged him to rip the paper. As he pulled the brown wrapping out, two large yellow eyes surrounded by a pristine mantle of white feathers locked with his.
"It's an owl!"
"Snowy owl, an' I thought yeh'd like it ter have a nice home, so I used yer Galleons fer this rosewood cage!"
Staring at the ornate brass-barred, rosewood framed octagonal cage, Harry chanced a greeting to his new flying friend. Having witnessed their intelligence before, and strength he remembered while rubbing the back of his head, he wanted to treat it as an equal. Opening the side door, he noticed a large perch and a plush toy mouse that actually wriggled and squealed while hanging by the tail from a hook.
"No ruddy owls in my house, I don't care who--"
Hagrid interrupted uncle Vernon's tirade by subtly placing a frilly pink umbrella on his lap, and Harry extended his arm for the snowy owl to climb. It looked at him again and hooted, he smiled and ran a couple of fingers over its head before returning the owl to its fancy cage.
"Breakfast, Hagrid?" he asked while setting a few pans on the stove and taking the ingredients needed for pancakes. Harry took the chance knowing no punishment would be delivered by his relatives while his magical friend was there.
He stood amazed with his mouth hanging open, staring at the foot and a half tall pile of pancakes Hagrid devoured in under three gulps, he also noticed his uncle's red face, his cousin's watering mouth and his aunt's horrified eyes peeking through the kitchen door every few minutes. Harry snickered and thoughtfully scraped a few leftovers after they finished the meal, leaving them on a plate for his uncles to serve themselves later.
Harry heard uncle Vernon yell something about going to work and wanting to find the house free of freaks when he returned, before storming out the door-less front entrance where he was heard telling the neighbours they were changing the door, "too much crime" he explained.
Turning to the cake Hagrid had brought, he picked it and wondered whether it had been dropped or perhaps jolted around in the way there. The top of the apparently meringue covered layer was lopsided and one half completely dry, the layers below differed in colour, either from separate flavours or, to Harry's utmost fear, an excess of wizard ingredients; a bright pattern-changing candle with a spinning number eleven in gold topped his birthday cake.
"Made it meself," Hagrid boomed, pointing his umbrella and lighting the candle, "now make a wish!"
Harry felt ashamed of himself again, only a few hours ago he had been thinking of how big and fancy a cake he could have bought with his money if he wasn't confined to the bedroom, and yet an entire bakery could never compare to this odd looking birthday cake, because a friend had made it for him, thinking of him. "I wish to be worthy of friends," he muttered and then blew the magic candle, which continued to change colours and spin its double ones.
Producing a knife from his huge moleskin coat, Hagrid cut the home-made pastry and handed him a slice before quickly devouring his own. Harry tried as much as he could to take a bite of his birthday cake, he tried it sideways, he tried dumping the cake slice in a glass of milk, he tried smashing it with a plate and he even tried subtly chiselling it into smaller pieces, only to end up bending his fork. Either he broke his teeth or he found a way to turn the rock-hard cake into something edible by humans, anything else and he would be disappointing Hagrid.
Harry chose to risk his teeth and keep a friend. "Hard as stone," he thought but managed to scrape an edge and taste a few crumbs. They continued to talk about Hogwarts and he learnt a little more regarding Lily and James Potter; it turned out they were Head Boy and Head Girl, a very desired and contested position in the school's seventh year. They had also been very powerful wizards, something Hagrid was sure Harry had inherited fully.
He asked about the large man's time at Hogwarts, he looked a bit embarrassed and said he had been expelled, without further explanations, but that he had been given a good job at the school and was grateful to Headmaster Dumbledore. Hagrid also explained to him how to care for his owl and the fact it was a she, meaning it was sure to have a more temperamental character.
"This is my best birthday ever, Hagrid, I'm very happy to have you as a friend!" Harry said and hugged the oversized man. He nodded and wiped a tear from his bearded face, telling him that he was supposed to be back soon and would be seeing him at the school.
Walking him outside, Harry didn't see the motorcycle anywhere and asked how he had arrived today, to what Hagrid simply shrugged and answered he had flown. He didn't have a chance to continue asking because aunt Petunia started to shout about someone fixing her door, and the giant used a hand to lift it and jam it on the door-frame, just before waving goodbye at Harry.
Trying to eat another bite of his birthday cake but unable to accomplish the task, he cooed in his owl's ear and picked her cage, bringing the cake, wizard clothes and trunk full of books up to his bedroom. "Go to your room and stay there!" he heard aunt Petunia scream once he finished clearing the kitchen. He complied and sat on the bed flipping through some of his books, but unable to read for too long without headaches or simply without losing interest, by late evening Harry began to think of a name for his snowy owl. He chose Hedwig, a name mentioned in one of the schoolbooks he had just glanced through, and she seemed to approve with a hoot.
Hedwig's cage had hooks on the sides and on top, he knew birds of all kinds enjoyed heights and then escaped silently to look for a few nails or anything he could use to hang it on the wall. Finding no hammer and fearing being discovered outside his room, Harry grabbed only a handful of nails and sped upstairs before Dudley or aunt Petunia could see him. Hagrid's cake would prove invaluable in more than one way after all, he used his slice to hammer the nails on the wall and, happy with the results, hung the owl's cage and fell back on the bed, hands behind his head.
The very next morning he woke to strange sounds on his door, drills and screws poked on the door and he sat upright surprised, before knocking on the door. Uncle Vernon opened and smirked at him, pointing to a chain and waving a big padlock on his hand.
"That's to make sure you don't disobey me again, you worthless freak! After all we've given you, and you bring that... That monster into my house?"
"Don't you dare answer me boy!" he yelled through the slightly ajar door, "Be thankful we're still allowing you to go to that school of m-m-- School of freaks!"
So it was that Harry spent the rest of the month confined and locked in his new bedroom, being dragged outside for house chores only to be promptly shoved back in as soon as he was finished. The wait was unbearable but he contented himself composing music and playing on an imaginary keyboard, playing with Hedwig and with his wand, or daydreaming about his parents and wondering if somehow the little brown-eyed girl who lived in his dreams had any part in turning his life around like this.
Hedwig had knocked the light bulb in the ceiling away while flying around, he had no real lamp because the room was stripped bare of everything before Harry was allowed to live there, except for a mattress and the thick curtains, which his uncles insisted were always shut so that the neighbours could not see him. He had no light available after sunset unless he could buy and smuggle a new light bulb, but the bedside clock on the floor was illuminated and he lay on his side counting seconds again, wishing for September the first to arrive quickly and release him from this prison once and for all.
* * * * * * *
"Wingurd-- No, that's wrong, wingardiummm leviosah!" Hermione said while waving the wooden soup ladle, huffing at her continuous mispronunciation when she was less than a week away from going to Hogwarts. She continued practising her first year spells and completing her second or third reading of the course books in anticipation of the day she would face the magical world. She only left her attic for using the lavatory or to share a meal, which she would barely touch at all.
Her previously fitting robes were now somewhat loose, and she had returned to an old habit of biting her nails; she sat on the rocking chair and chewed on the remaining bits of her pinky nail before turning the page and casting a quick glance at Blacksnout, who was coiled above her around a wooden beam. "You're the lucky one," she told him, thinking how much easier it was to be a lazy boa constrictor than a Muggle-born witch.
She switched subjects again, delving into the amusing history of the wizarding world and its battles, landmarks and curiosities. Hermione found references to her new Headmaster, it seemed Albus Dumbledore was a very revered figure indeed, and she couldn't wait to meet him!
But wait she did, the days lingered and the hours slugged over the endless path of time, that eternal walk with no beginning and no end. She studied and she trained, she prepared and researched, her trunk had been redone at least seven times by the end of August, and no matter how many reprimands, pleas, threats or bribes she received from her uncles she wouldn't eat or sleep properly. A single month was all the time she had to fill her head with millennia of magical culture, and it was all but spent.
Mrs Morewitt was more than glad to answer her owled, or rather ravened questions, but even she had chastised Hermione for being too obsessive, and refused to answer any more letters until she had been assured by aunt Claire that she was resting and having fun as a child should.
Having received a phone call from Annie, who had returned from vacation abroad, they agreed to meet for lunch and uncle Charles was more than happy to push his obligations aside if it meant dragging Hermione out of her attic. She could see her uncle two tables away, reading a magazine, while she had a difficult conversation with her friend.
"So that means you'll be away for the whole year?" Annie asked.
"Yeah, it's a very, very special school, and I really want to go, but I... I'm not..."
"Are you nervous about going there?"
Hermione simply nodded and her friend confessed she had noticed the heavy bags under her eyes, and how thin she was. They continued to eat their happy meals in silence for a while.
"You know that I'm, well that I'm not good at making friends, and I just found you and I--"
"Hermione you're not gonna loose my friendship because of this," Annie said, "and I'm sure we'll be able to write each other!"
She lifted an eyebrow, wondering how Annie would react to receiving a parchment letter delivered by a big black raven with a missing toe. Leaving a mental note to ask Mrs Morewitt about Muggle post to and from Hogwarts, the girls continued to talk and share their summer experience, or rather Hermione listened to her friend's tales of vacation in Greece while she shared snippets of summer life in an attic.
She returned home to lock herself again inside that attic, packing, reading, practising. Her last two days were spent wondering if she could have her trunk resemble her goblin gold pouch, storing ten times more than what would fit right now, because either she went to school naked, or she left half her Muggle and magical books at home! Another problem was the fact her Hogwarts letter explicitly indicated the possibility of bringing one familiar with her. Kettle would find her anywhere, and she had bought him a very beautiful cage for that purpose, but she trusted neither her uncles nor her cousin to take good care of Blacksnout while she was gone. Hermione sat annoyed on the glossy red trunk with her arms crossed, furrowed her brow and huffed, wondering how to solve her dilemmas.
Less than one day to go and she had still to manage closing her trunk, but at least she had found a big old leather travel sack where her clothes fit nicely, and had reduced the amount of Muggle books to a third of her initial selection. Rearranging the positions of some items and placing her lapis lazuli magical puzzle to a corner, she pulled the lid over and jumped on top, releasing a loud "yes!" when the latches finally snapped shut.
The thirty first of August died with a beep of her digital watch, in eleven hours she would be leaving for the greatest adventure of her life and she still felt completely unprepared, despite her elder witch friend's reassurances. Hermione would face the challenge as she always did, head held high and with the conviction that no matter how difficult the path ahead, she would walk it to the end. With those last thoughts, she decided to have a full six hours of sleep and sprawled herself over the comfort of the large bed she was sure to miss when sharing a bedroom with other girls at Hogwarts.
* * * * * * *
Harry had no idea where, how or why he was being sprayed in the face and everywhere else with a very noxious spray of insecticide. All he could hear were aunt Petunia's scream about fleas and abominable freaks invading her home and bringing all sort of pests with them, before storming away and shouting at him to get ready to leave.
He had noticed Dudley scratching himself since before his birthday and Hagrid's visit, but last week his uncles began scratching themselves too. Now he knew why, whatever powder Mrs Figg had thrown at him had kept the fleas away but not killed them. They simply looked for new hosts.
"Ready to go Hedwig?" he asked and received a nod in reply.
Heaving the very full trunk and dragging it downstairs, he put it inside uncle Vernon's car and walked back inside to fetch Hedwig and use the privacy of the lavatory to check his gold pouches and Muggle money. He twirled his wand around his fingers again before replacing it under his sleeve and walking away to seat in the back seat without looking back.
The journey was silently deadly, glares were aimed at him every few seconds and grunts were heard after every hoot from Hedwig. Uncle Vernon only spoke upon reaching their destination, saying he had already spent too much on repairing his front door three times and that parking at the railway station was too expensive for any reasonable man to pay, therefore he rounded the area and made his way to a clear stretch of road. He stopped to exit the car and drag Harry out, cage included, pop the lid of the luggage compartment open and drop his trunk unceremoniously on the hard asphalt.
"I hope not to hear from you or your kind again," he said, climbed back inside his vehicle and sped away, leaving Harry to fend for himself with a heavy trunk and a huge birdcage, ten blocks away from King's Cross Station.
A group of Japanese tourists dressed in their strange traditional shiny silk clothes had seen the event unfold, they snapped a few pictures and then approached him while he was still sitting on the floor. One of the elderly tourists who sported a very thin white beard and a funny black hat with etched silver dragons bowed to him and extended his hand.
Unfamiliar with such gestures, Harry recoiled at first but the old Asian man kept his offered hand firmly in front of him. He extended his own thin arm and was promptly lifted to his feet, while the other eight foreigners continued to snap pictures of him and his owl Hedwig using their ancient looking photo cameras.
"T-Thank you, sir," he said.
The others took turns bowing to him and Harry did the same, patiently imitating their gestures one by one, and then they stood looking at him expectantly.
"I'm, er... Oh bother! What time is it?" he asked as he remembered why exactly he had been dumped near King's Cross.
The Japanese men and women looked at their eldest companion and, with another bow, continued on their merry way snapping more pictures of trash canisters and parked cars. Without a word, the old man graciously lifted Hedwig's cage and walked east towards the railway station. Harry snapped out of his confusion when the man was roughly twenty paces away, he heaved his heavy moss-green trunk and ran to join him.
"Sir? Do... You know... The way to--" he tried to ask between heavy breaths but the older man silenced him with the lift of a hand.
"Fumimaro Daisuke, is my name," he introduced himself with another bow, which Harry mimicked once more, stating his name as well.
"Harry," he said as he finished his bow, "and I wondered if you knew the way to King's Cross, Mr Duis-- Deys-- Er, sir?"
Embarrassed for being unable to repeat the kind old man's name, Harry remained silent and followed him down the avenue, they turned left and came upon the large building from where his new life would begin. Already tired from dragging his heavy trunk along, the young boy rushed to the first available cart and used his last strength to heave the luggage on it, dropping face first on top and exhaling deeply. The old man placed Hedwig softly on top and motioned for Harry to walk inside, bowing again and saying "Good luck, Mr Potter."
He replied with yet another slight bow and turned away, but thinking he should have thanked the strange tourist more politely, looked over his shoulder only to find he had already vanished, probably rejoining his group of photography addicted friends.
"Platform seven... Eight... Nine! And ten?" Harry scratched the back of his head again, "How am I supposed to board a train if the platform isn't there?" he had been wandering up and down the people packed station three times already. It was ten minutes to eleven in the morning and he was beginning to feel desperate, until one word caught his ear. Muggles, he heard, and after looking around found a family of red-haired children pushing carts loaded with trunks instead of regular suitcases.
He approached and watched them standing in front of the pillar between platforms ten and nine. The adults were holding to an older boy's shoulder and, after glancing around, told him to go. Harry cringed and thought the boy was about to crash into the wall but then he simply vanished through it!
"Excuse me?" he asked approaching the lady that seemed to be the red-haired boys' mother, "Could you please help me, I'm supposed to find platform nine and three quarters?"
"Just go through there," a beautiful girl around his age answered, she was obviously related to the older woman.
He hesitated for a second, looked up at the girl's mother and breathed deep, pushing his cart straight forward but refusing to close his eyes. Knowing magic could be, well quite magical, he accepted the need to go through a solid brick pillar and allowed the wall to swallow him. Within an instant Harry found himself next to the most magnificent train he had ever seen. No picture or toy train could do it justice, the thick white steam pouring out of the locomotive engulfed him as he followed the contours of the metallic scarlet skin, the polished brass handles and huge golden bell, and the gleaming black chimney on top.
Hundreds of children and their parents ran to and fro the passenger cars, pulling trunks, escaping hugs and sharing last moment kisses. He felt somewhat overwhelmed and with great effort climbed on board, looking for the farthest empty compartment he could find, placing Hedwig's cage on top of his trunk, from where he pulled the Hogwarts required robes and cloak, quickly donning them as Hagrid had instructed him to do.
Resting after the exhausting start of his journey, Harry's mind cleared enough to recognize he had never told the silent old man his family name, yet he had wished him good luck and addressed him as Mr Potter! His thoughts made him miss the fact that the train was already in motion and only noticed it when a red-haired boy knocked on the wooden sliding door and asked to sit with him.
"Everywhere else's full, would you mind sharing?"
"Of course not," he said, "come in, sorry about the trunk, I had to drag it for a mile and didn't have the strength to put it away..."
The taller, freckled boy waved and took a seat opposite him, admiring Hedwig. "I'm Ronald Weasley, Ron for short."
"Harry Potter," he answered in kind.
"Really?" the boy named Ron asked and looked up at his hair-covered forehead, "Blimey, mum said you'd be in my year at Hogwarts but I didn't believe her."
Harry felt extremely self-conscious again, much like he had when Hagrid offered him a wizard's meal in The Leaky Cauldron and people queued to shake his hand. Thinking of a way to change the subject, he asked him about his family. "I saw your family outside the platform in King's Cross."
"Yeah, it was full of Muggles, wasn't it?" Ron said, "I thought you would've apparated directly into the platform!"
"Apparated?" Harry asked, "I don't know what you mean..."
Ron sat open-mouthed before regaining his wits, "You know, apparating!"
"Sorry, don't really know what that is, I live with my uncles and... And they never told me I was a wizard, you see..."
"Oy! You mean you've lived with Muggles all your life?"
Harry nodded, "Are all your family witches and wizards?"
It was Ron's turn to nod, and they stared at each other, trying sort the many questions running in their minds. Harry had so many, including what apparating was, but chose to ask the one he had been struggling with since that day Hagrid took him to Diagon Alley.
"Do you what happened to Lord Voldemort?"
Ron shrieked loudly, waking up a large white rat he had kept hidden under his sweater that squeaked in unison. Holding the struggling rat, Ron took a deep breath and, looking straight at Harry, whispered "Don't say his name!"
"What name, Voldemort?"
The red-haired boy shrieked again, "Yes, him! Now hush Harry, blimey!"
"Why don't you want me to say Vold--"
"Stop repeating You-Know-Who's bloody name," Ron said actually becoming somewhat angry, "not all of us are like you!"
"My friend Hagrid didn't like to say the name either, why's that?"
Whatever answer Ron was prepared to give remained unknown when a lady pushing a cart full of sweets opened the sliding door to offer her goods. Harry looked at his schoolmate Ron and saw him counting some Knuts, and asking for one chocolate frog.
"Are those other sweets any good?" he asked out of real curiosity.
"Yeah, but expensive," Ron answered and picked a wrapped candy.
Harry thought about it for a second, he needed to know and understand this new world, and what better place to start than sweets! "We'll have a few boxes of everything," he said, and pulled a couple of Galleons from his goblin pouch.
"Blimey, Harry that's a lot of gold!"
He shrugged and the cart lady gave them boxes full of Pumpkin Pastries, Berttie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, Chocolate Frogs and Cauldron Cakes, among other items he could afford with the two Galleons he fished before. "So that was your mum and brothers I saw in the station? All of them?"
"Five brothers unfortunately, and an annoying little sister..."
"I liked her, she told me how to get through the wall. What's it like to be a wizard?"
Ron looked befuddled by the question, "What do you mean?" he asked.
"What do you do for fun, where do you go, that sort of thing!"
"I play Quidditch! And... And... I dunno, go visit relatives and such?"
Not knowing what Quidditch was, and not wanting to lose a promising friendship because of his own ignorance, he nodded and was about to ask something else when the door opened again. A boy with a face he had already seen peeking through the glass cleared his throat in a pompous manner and asked, "Excuse me, you must be Harry Potter. My friends were having a debate whether you are him or not?"
"Yeah, I'm Harry."
"Excellent, my name is Draco Malfoy. Would you care to spend time in the company of more respectable people?"
"Er..." came Harry's eloquent reply, "I'm fine here, thanks."
"Red hair, shabby clothes, ridiculous familiar, undoubtedly yet another Weasley..." the boy who identified himself as Draco sneered, "Pity, I hope you come to your senses, Potter, and find the right friends to be with," he said before walking away with two other boys.
"What was that all about?" Harry asked.
Ron looked at his feet for a moment, "He's a rich pompous prick, that's what it was. You see my family couldn't really afford-- I mean instead of an owl, I inherited my older brother Percy's rat here," he said pointing at the sleeping rodent.
"I'd love to have brothers, wizard brothers!"
"No you wouldn't! It's bloody horrible!" Ron exclaimed, "They keep making fun of you, and playing pranks and then doing magic on you, all because I can't..."
"But you said you play Kiltrich with them," said Harry, already imagining what it would be to have grown with brothers instead of a bullying cousin.
"Quidditch, and yeah we play sometimes, but it's like..." he looked gloomy and tried to explain, "It's like this, my older brother Bill's a successful curse-breaker, then Charlie was the best chaser in the Gryffindor team, Percy's already a prefect and has the best grades ever in Hogwarts, the twins Fred and George are like geniuses or something, they'd prank the Headmaster himself if they had time to do it... My sister Ginny happens to be the only girl, so she's got all of mum's attention. And then there's me."
"It's all right, Ron, you'll be good at something too," Harry understood very well what it was to feel worthless, "all you need is courage to be a better wizard and to know your talents!"
He looked at his newest friend Ron, who then blushed as red as his hair and mumbled something about cheese. Harry had to ask again, because even with his trained ear the rattle of the train car wheels over the rails muffled whatever he had said.
"No, not cheese, chess! I'm good at chess, wizard's chess? No one at home can beat me..."
Harry smiled and then congratulated him, "See? That's a talent you've got, and nobody else!"
"Yeah, I reckon I do," he said, with clearly uplifted spirits.
"What about magic spells, can you do any?"
"My brothers taught me one, hold on," Ron said, picking his wand and his pet rat called Scabbers. He told Harry that the wand was also a hand-me-down from Percy, and tried a very long incantation that was supposed to turn his rat yellow.
Disappointed because Scabbers remained as dirty and white furred as he was seconds before, Harry continued to enjoy some wizard sweets and took in the rushing scenery out the window, while Ron tried the flourish wand movements and silly incantation again.
He then heard a knock on the compartment door, it slid open and a girl with bright brown eyes, a mane of frizzled hair framing her face and a petite nose above very familiar long front teeth took a step inside. She politely greeted his red haired friend and apologized for interrupting before turning to greet him. The moment he saw her face reflected on the glass his heart had stopped beating.
It was too wonderful to be true, it was impossible, it was as unthinkable as herding flying cows, she would never be real! The girl who rose from his fantasy world rather than from real life was standing right behind him, her reflection on the windowpane showing a much more vivid and grown-up image than the faint memory of the little girl's face that brought him comfort in so many painful, hopeless nights. Perhaps he had fallen asleep on the train, but it couldn't be true, or else there really were flying cows gaily flapping around in a farm somewhere.
Harry prayed she wouldn't disappear if he tore his eyes from the reflection on the window, regained some control over his breathing and body motion, and turned to face her. She remained standing there, she was real, and at that infinite moment in time Harry felt complete.
* * * * * * *
Her wristwatch would perform the programmed alarm chime in no less than seventeen seconds, however Hermione's own sense of time woke her first and, by pressing the plastic button, she cancelled the pre-set command. Knowing that nothing electronic could function properly within Hogwarts, she unhooked the watch and carefully stored it inside her bedside drawer, picked the clothes she had prepared last night and walked downstairs for a shower.
Breakfast turned into a bitter-sweet affair, she was excited but sad, for it was little more than a month ago that she had reconciled with her family. They didn't need fear her because there was an explanation to who she was and why she could do the unusual things she did. Hermione was a witch and would be leaving for the greatest school of magic in the world in less than four hours.
"Everything set, pumpkin?" uncle Charles asked as they finished the meal.
"Yeah... Am I--"
"You've made the right choice, Hermione," he answered her first, "we'll be leaving at nine, be ready by then."
Hermione reviewed her trunk again, checked on Blacksnout and coaxed Kettle to perch himself inside his cage. She removed her wand from the secure box and stored it in her pocket, tied her hair and removed the swivelling pane from her round attic window. She then grabbed a rope and wrapped the heavy trunk and leather bag with it, pulled the other end and through the use of a pulley system heaved her luggage through the glass-less window and down to the ground, thirty feet below.
Once finished, she replaced the pane of glass and locked it, ran a hand over some of her books and things, lifted Kettle's cage and walked downstairs and out to the front yard, where uncle Charles was struggling and puffing, trying to sort her things inside his car.
Pushing the large cage into the passenger seat, Hermione turned to be assaulted by an unexpected hug from her cousin Bernadette, who whispered "Be safe, come back soon!" in her ear, and received a warmer than usual pat on the cheek from aunt Claire. She took one last look at her home and, with a resolute nod, climbed inside the vehicle.
The instructions indicated she was to board the Hogwarts Express before eleven in the morning, on platform nine and three quarters. They had never heard of platforms having anything other than integers however and turned to Mrs Morewitt for help.
The bookshop owner and witch friend had explained how she was supposed to walk through the wall in between platforms nine and ten, but wasn't certain whether uncle Charles would be able to cross it; she had also laughed at Hermione's face when she told them in her time the ghost of Boadicea, the Briton queen, still haunted King's Cross and used to delight herself in scaring the first-years.
Not the most pleasant area of the city, finding a paid parking proved easy enough and they walked to the large building, quickly grabbing the first available cart and resting for a few minutes, regaining their breaths.
"Next time, we'll bring... A cart of our own... Uncle Charles!"
Her uncle was so exhausted he barely nodded and continued to breathe heavily. They were more than an hour earlier but, not wishing to risk the first and only train taking her to Hogwarts, and hoping that a certain tribal ghost wasn't still haunting young first year witches and wizards, Hermione pulled her tired uncle to the correct pillar.
"I think this is where I'll let you go into your world... If only I had known, if--"
"Don't uncle Charles," she said and hugged him, "everything is fine now, I'll see you again for Christmas, all right?"
"Yes pumpkin, we'll be here... Now go, I'll keep an eye out for us Muggles," he whispered.
She looked at the wall, tilted her head and bit her bottom lip for a second, shrugged and walked forward, confidently pushing her cart. Fortunately there was no ghost waiting to scare her to death, only the sight of a wrought iron archway bearing the name of the platform and a magnificent steam train greeted her wide-open eyes.
Very few people were found on the boarding platform itself, it was indeed too early; an old wizard wearing a pointy hat with purple stripes walked along the engine wheels, waving his wand up and down, and a series of magical carts bumped into a couple of Muggle aluminium ones, pushing them over the edge into an unused stretch of rails, effortlessly transferring every trunk, bag and cage. A group of six older students stood in a circle laughing at something and Hermione walked by them to approach the wooden magical carts.
One sprang to life and fought a second cart for the right to carry Hermione's belongings, she laughed and moved back to board a passenger car by the middle of the train, followed by the victorious cart that lifted the heavy trunk, leather bag and raven cage up to her. She pulled Kettle first and then returned twice for the rest of her things, then she made use of the lavatory to change into her robes and Hogwarts cloak, making sure to keep her wand safely stored in the inner pocket.
Curiosity got the best of her, and after fishing for her copy of Hogwarts: A History she sat comfortably to read on the origins of the aptly named Hogwarts Express. Frederick Edward Bones, Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor between 1812 and 1876, discovered a Muggle development running through his family estate, a parallel set of steel lines over wooden boards. Intriguingly ingenious was the contraption that ran over the rails, a series of closed cars pulled by an object Muggles call a steam engine. A similar contraption was adapted to run on magic and became a fair transportation system for the school alumni, since it is not possible--
"It's not possible to apparate in or out of Hogwarts grounds," she completed, having already read the same warning over a hundred times. Returning the book to its place, she spent the following minutes watching families and children saying their goodbyes and fooling around on the platform, until a small round-faced boy and a girl with pale grey eyes, the likes of which she had only seen on Mr Ollivander before, knocked on her compartment door.
"Hello!" she greeted and pulled Kettle's golden cage to a side.
"H-Hello... I, er... Is t-this full?"
Hermione looked around and, confirming she was the only occupant, shook her head and invited the children inside. She introduced herself first, noticing the boy and girl were too nervous to do anything more than look around or at their own feet. "I'm supposed to be the nervous one," Hermione thought and moved forward a little.
"My name's Hermione Granger," she said.
"Lisa, Lisa Turpin," the girl snapped her head at her but struggled to keep a firm eye contact.
The girls then looked expectantly at the small boy, who seemed to remember something and was patting himself all over. "I-I'm Neville Longbottom, p-pleased to meet you..."
"Are you both first years?" Hermione asked.
They nodded, and Lisa pointed at Kettle, "Is the large raven yours?"
"Yes, his name's Kettle, he's been my familiar for more than six years," the raven puffed his feathers and nodded, while Hermione felt proud of using a wizard term to describe her avian friend.
"I wanted an owl but mother offered me a toad, I refused because they're too old-fashioned," Lisa explained, "so I'll be using the school owls for my letters."
"W-Whose leather bag is that?" the boy named Neville asked.
Hermione poked the bag, "No it's not..."
"Yeah it is!" the boy insisted.
"Fine!" she said, picking the bag and pushing it under the bench, "Now you can't see it supposedly moving, so there's nothing for you to worry about."
Lisa laughed at the look in Neville's face, "Quite a clever solution, Hermione, I'm certain you'll be sorted into Ravenclaw!"
"Maybe not, my uncle says I've got my father's courage, that's a Gryffindor trait, correct?"
"Your family must be powerful wizards," Lisa said, and Neville looked pale for some reason.
"Actually, I'm Muggle-born..."
"But, but what about your robes, and the magical raven?"
Hermione thought about that for a second, before answering, "Kettle chose me for company when I was very little, and I've been friends with a lady witch for some time, Miranda Morewitt?"
Neville flashed a look of recognition but Lisa simply nodded. "My granny talks about the Morewitts some times, they were k-killed by You-Know-Who..."
Bringing both hands to her mouth, Hermione gasped and fell back on her seat. "I didn't know that, she... She lost her family?"
The boy pursed his lips and nodded silently, before exclaiming "Trevor! I forgot I was looking for him!"
"Who's Trevor, your brother?"
"No, it's my toad, it keeps running away..." he said dejectedly.
Lisa and Hermione stifled a laugh but then she offered to help him find the lost amphibian, asking if Lisa would mind joining the search. The three first year students left the compartment door open and walked along the moving train looking for any sign of it, as well as asking people inside their compartments.
They ran into a blond boy with very pointed facial features, he had similar silver eyes to Lisa and Hermione began to understand this as a physical characteristic in some wizard families. The boy was flanked by two taller young wizards and she felt uncomfortable under his evaluating gaze, as if this boy was examining her for some reason.
The boy nodded and continued on his way up the train, followed by his escorts. She asked Lisa and Neville about him but neither knew for sure who he was. "Probably a Malfoy, father has invited Mr Malfoy home in a couple of occasions for business, and that boy was just a smaller version of him," Lisa added.
They were soon reaching the end of the train, Hermione was leading the search and she reached a compartment with only two boys inside, around her age by the look of it. They were surrounded by sweets and she snickered thinking how many they had already eaten, judging by the smudges on the red-haired boy's mouth. He was holding a fat white rat and waving his wand over it, probably trying some magic, and she knocked before sliding the door to ask about Neville's lost toad.
"Hello, how do you do? I'm sorry to interrupt," she said and turned to greet the other boy who was staring out the window. "Hi, we're looking f-for... We... I..."
Whatever speech abilities she had managed to conquer after eleven years of life among humans flew out the very same window that black-haired boy had been looking through. Hermione saw him turn and face her, and life as a witch became more than a new adventure, it became a dream. Green-eyes was there, sitting among open sweets and wrappers, next to a curious white owl and a red-haired boy holding a sleeping rat.
He was real and he was looking straight at her with those same all-seeing eyes she had encountered so many years ago, but there was no thick glass between them any longer, there would never be anything between them, for he was her equal and she would never leave his side.
1.- Finally a decent sized chapter! Only 10,000 words!
2.- Dich wiederzusehen, dich! / German; To see you again, you! / Title inspired by the aria "Konstanze, dich wiederzusehen" of The Abduction from the Seraglio, by Mozart.
3.- I don't know how much sweets cost, I hope two Galleons is enough for lots of boxes!
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