Harry Potter belongs to J K Rowling, the wonderful lady who has inspired so many people to try their hand at writing too. Warhammer 40k belongs to Games Workshop who have a very scary legal team. Please don't sue me, I'm not very well off and could only pay you in pictures. I only mean to pay homage to the wonderful, funny, baroque, gruesomeness that is WH40k.
I should also say a big thank-you to my very patient Beta Jacobus-Minoris who has read and reread my writing, pointed out my grammatical mistakes, questioned the suitability of some of my wilder ideas as well as putting up with my long winded rants about plot ideas.
Well here it is...the first chapter of the short story that I promised...read the word count...and burst in to laughter.
I'm planning two more chapters of this too...hmmm...
Not more Carrow I'm afraid, but there will be more very soon :-D
He watched in horror as Sirius seemed to fall in slow motion, the man's expression of jubilation melting into one of surprise. Breaking free of the grasping arms which tried to restrain him, he rushed forward, a scream of "Sirius" filling his ears ...but he was too late. Before his horrified eyes, his beloved godfather fell through the tattered curtain, vanishing into the space beyond.
Without a thought, Harry threw himself after...
...into darkness, stormy clouds tossed by in an incredible wind that threatened to tear him away...voices on the edge of hearing, whispering, crying, muttering, distant lightning...
"Sirius," he screamed into the madness, his voice oddly muffled and distorted, "Sirius!" But he seemed to be alone among the strange, amorphous shapes that coalesced momentarily among the streaming shadows, before disappearing, their names tugging at the edges of his mind.
"Sirius," he screamed again, frantically struggling against whatever it was that seemed to have him anchored to the spot.
Something began to form among the sudden patches of light amidst the eerily shifting clouds, a striding figure, too blocky and angular to be human. It strode towards him, a staff in one hand, wind-tossed robes shifting around its form, eyes glowing a steady green.
Harry's eyes widened in amazement as the being came closer, revealing a metal giant, its form blood-red with bronze trim, a profusion of scarab decorations, arcane engravings, a strange angular crest rising up between the baleful glowing eyes.
"You," the titan boomed, "let me in now!"
"What?" Harry gasped.
"Now," growled the giant, holding out one enormous gauntlet, glancing behind. "I am being followed by...something. Neither of us is safe."
"W...why? Sirius, have you seen Sirius?" Harry asked desperately, hopefully, not really understanding what this being was.
A distant howl sounded over the constant whistling of the wind, a primal unearthly cry that promised pain and horror and unending torment.
The giant crouched down closer to Harry, until its helmet was only inches from Harry's face. "There is little time left, man-child," the giant sighed softly, "this Sirius you ask after, if he came to here, then he is gone...dead...but safe from the predators of this place. Now...listen closely, I will give you two choices. Either let me in willingly, or I will fight you for your body...and you will lose. Choose swiftly now, man-child."
Harry stared up into the baleful green eyes of the metal giant, the events of the past few hours beginning to catch up with him. The fight in the Department of Mysteries, Sirius...Sirius, the one really bright point in his life...gone...his friends hurt...Hermione looked really bad..."What would happen, if I let you in, if we...joined?" he asked slowly.
The giant huffed, impatiently Harry thought. "I theorise we would become something...new. I would cease to be me; you would cease to be you. We would...blend together."
Harry nodded thoughtfully, his eyes taking in the multitude of small scratches and craters on the giant's armour, marking him as a warrior of sorts. He didn't have a hope of killing Voldemort, he was just too young and inexperienced; but this being, well...he'd probably eat Voldemort for breakfast and then jump up and down on the Death Eaters as an encore. It was just a gut feeling, an impulse, but then they were so often right in his experience. He couldn't really see what else he could do, considering the circumstances.
He took the giant's hand, his own appendage dwarfed by the blood and bronze gauntlet. "Okay, let's do it," he smiled at the giant, who seemed startled at his quick acceptance.
The howling screech came again over the thunderous whispers and the never-ceasing gale, closer than ever, gleeful now as it sensed its prey nearby. The giant didn't hesitate, but reached forward, seemingly hugging Harry to his broad barrel-chest. Harry's awareness of his surroundings blurred and darkened. The last thing he remembered was the giant's mutter of "What's that doing there?", a painful yanking, and then a release as if a particularly nasty splinter had been pulled from a festering wound he had been hitherto unaware of.
Remus and Shacklebolt both heaved as the pressure pulling Harry into the Veil lessened momentarily. Seeing their chance, they pulled the slight youth back into the relative reality of the Department of Mysteries, dreading what they would find. How could Harry possibly survive going through the Veil of Death? Even the Boy-who-lived couldn't survive that, could he? Would they even have a whole boy? Would he be cut in half, his upper torso forever lost through the veil?
That concern was soon proved false as the limp form of Harry slumped on the steps in from of the Veil, his arms still reaching towards the rough arch and its shivering curtain, his mop of black hair even more rumpled and ruffled than normal, his glasses missing who knew where. And then he moved, fitfully at first, trying to pull himself into a sitting position. "Sirius," he muttered.
Remus and Shacklebolt both released breaths they hadn't realised they were holding. Shacklebolt pulled a hand down his face in relief. "Merlin," he gasped with a small chuckle, "that was far too close."
Remus leaned forward, trying to catch the eyes of the only child of the Marauders. "Harry," he asked gently, "Harry, speak to me...are you all right?" He looked in concern at Harry's green eyes; normally so full of life, now glazed and unfocused.
"Sirius," Harry whispered again, "Sirius?"
Exchanging concerned glances with Shacklebolt over the top of Harry's ruffled hair, Remus gathered the boy into his arms. A flurry of robes next to him announced the arrival of the Headmaster, who looked grimmer and older than Remus could ever remember seeing him. The old man quickly examined the limp youth, his brow crinkling in concern. Grabbing a nearby discarded shoe, he quickly waved his wand over it, muttering "Portus."
"Remus, take this port-key," Dumbledore thrust the shoe into the werewolf's hands "sanctuary is the activation word. Get Harry to Poppy, quickly now," he said urgently. With that he stood, striding off back into the fight, Shacklebolt following behind.
"He's going to be fine," Shacklebolt murmured reassuringly as he went past.
He blinked his eyes in confusion as the world faded into focus around him; an arched and white washed ceiling above, familiar but strange, white stone walls, the feel of clean linen sheets and flannel pyjamas next to his skin, the sensation strangely muted, but familiarly reassuring at the same time. Warring expectations clouded his mind as one fought for dominance over the other, memories crashing over him, of time spent training on a colossal star-ship, a spider crawling across a discarded sock in the dark of the cupboard under the stairs, a war of conquest on a strange world with two moons setting on the horizon, a hot sticky summer's day, the sound of lawn mowers in the distance as he pulls up weeds, a glimpse of a glorious god-like man with startling red hair and intensely coppery skin, Sirius falling through a rough stone arch, a look of intense surprise on his face...
He curled up in a ball at the onslaught, his breathing beginning to escalate...he forced himself to sit cross-legged on the bed. He'd faced worse than this on numerous occasions, as a neophyte even. He took a deep breath, releasing it slowly, wrestling his mind under control, as he fell into the comforting familiarity of the basic mental exercises his mentor had taught him so long ago. Feeling calmer, he reached for the clothes laid out nearby, struggling slightly with them. He gave up on the footwear and the thing with the peculiar fastener; the fastenings were just too...complex, battling memories tripping up his fingers. Struggling to his feet, he made his way towards the door, lurching drunkenly, the floor too close, things too large, his body familiar and strange, weak, unresponsive.
There was some sort of lock on the door, but he easily brushed it aside with a thought, ignoring the indignant female shouts that came from behind him, as he stumbled quickly down the corridor intent on his destination. A strong desire for something reassuring and familiar drove him on as he pushed unseeingly past gaping students, nosy paintings, ambulatory staircases in his single mindedness.
The doors, part of his mind confirmed, as the entrance to his desired haven appeared, large and reassuring, but absurdly plain. Pushing past them, he made his way inside, the familiar scents of paper and parchment, dust and the comforting weight of many books in one place impinging on his senses, but oddly distant, muffled as if he'd become temporarily deaf. He smiled in delight; there was nothing like a new book to conquer, dissect, absorb...
Squinting slightly, he made his way among the shelves, idly looking for something that piqued his interest. Finding something suitable, he curled up in a deserted corner and began to read.
Ron and Hermione watched in concern as Harry buried himself in their first year magical theory book, muttering to himself. His school robe, which he had insisted on wearing, kept pulling up past his wrists, as he turned a page or pushed a lock of hair from his face.
He'd been inconsolable when he'd been told he couldn't borrow any books over the summer; that, in fact, he was going to have to go two whole months without his new home. In desperation, Harry had taken refuge in a rarely used part of the library, and if Hermione hadn't managed to coax him out from among the books on ritual magic of the Orient, he would most certainly have missed the Hogwarts Express. She had argued with him, debated with him, and eventually he had taken her hand and allowed her to lead him away.
She was gradually coming to the conclusion that Harry's little trip through the Veil had damaged his brain in some way; maybe it was oxygen deprivation. He just seemed so...unfocused...confused all the time. Ron had had to help him dress ever since, for Merlin's sake. She knew for a fact that he'd had to tie Harry's laces that morning; his fingers were just too clumsy fumbling over the once familiar task...and yet, she'd managed to have an intelligent if rather confusing conversation with him about ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs that morning; it was how she'd managed to get him out of the Library.
And now he was being sent back to the Dursleys on the Headmaster's insistence, despite highly vocal protests from numerous people. Ron and Hermione exchanged concerned glances. They were going to do their best to keep an eye on Harry this summer, even if it was only through owl post. Frankly, he needed all the help he could get, they felt, as he futilely fought to remove his shoes. Growling in frustration, he gave up and, standing, hiked his robes up, beginning to struggle with his trouser fasteners.
"Harry, what are you doing?" Hermione shrieked, as he finally succeeded in undoing the fly. "You can't take them off here!"
"Mate, you have to wear them," Ron said, looking rather strained.
"But they're uncomfortable," Harry muttered, "too tight...itchy...I'm hungry!"
"You have to keep the trousers on mate, you can't not." Ron moved over to try and redress his friend, who fought him off, and tried to get the offending garment over his trainers at the same time. With a deft flick, Harry slung them through the open window, leaving the offensive garment pin-wheeling away in the slip stream of the train.
"Gone!" Harry announced smugly. "I'm hungry."
Ron groaned, and Hermione buried her face in her hands; this was going to be a very long train ride.
"Anything from the trolley, dears?" the witch asked, as she put her head round the compartment door.
He drifted out of his meditative trance, feeling much more...not himself precisely, but clearer headed, more aware of his surroundings, and which left him able to wonder exactly what and who he was now. He definitely wasn't Harry anymore, but he also wasn't Horemheb the Firebrand either. No more conquering the Galaxy for the Emperor, re-uniting the lost sons and daughters of Humanity, standing on new and unfamiliar planets, his brothers-in-arms at his side as they did battle, but then again there was no more exploding snap, or lazing around, or resenting his hateful relatives, or Quidditch either...he just...wasn't interested any more.
He was just growing too fast and too large now to concentrate on much else than his radically changing body, a building awareness of new organs forming within, new nutritional needs fuelling his seemingly unending appetite...he growled at the locked door to the smallest bedroom of No.4 Privet Drive, his stomach...stomachs growling in sympathy. He'd already eaten anything that was remotely edible in this squalid little room, apart from the books. Pacing, he eyed the barrier speculatively; maybe if he dug the hinges out...his hunger drove him on, past the splintering of cheap eggshell door, and down the stairs to the kitchen. Quietly checking through cupboards, he poked at packages and boxes and tins, but none of their odours really appealed to his appetite. The vegetable rack wasn't quite so lucky. And then he moved on to the fridge...a waft of meat scents drifted out as he opened the door, causing his mouth to water uncontrollably...
And that was how Uncle Vernon found him, steadily working his way through the second multipack of sausage rolls.
"WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING YOU LITTLE TURD!"
He turned to the source of the noise, still munching his way through a savoury pastry...and then pain blossomed across his back, a nasty crunching sound as the kitchen chair Uncle Vernon had hit him with splintered with the impact.
Anger bloomed like a red tide behind his eyes, and with a bellow of inhuman fury, he bounded to his feet, grabbed the front of the fat man's pyjamas, and easily tossed him through the nearby wall. The flimsy plasterboard crumbled and buckled under Uncle Vernon's considerable weight, leaving a ragged hole through to the living room, and a stunned and groaning Uncle Vernon rolling on the living room carpet covered in dust and bits of wall.
"You nasty little brat," a familiar voice screeched behind him. Turning, he found Aunt Petunia standing in the kitchen door, clutching her dressing gown around her thin frame, Dudley peering over her shoulder. "You ungrateful little thief," she hissed her eyes filled with fear and anger, "after everything we've done for you...and you go and repay us by stealing," she finished, utterly outraged.
"Mum," Dudley whispered at her urgently but Petunia was utterly beside herself with rage and ignored him as she watched her sister's son quietly finish off the last of the sausage rolls she'd bought in for lunch on Sunday, for her darling family, certainly not for unnatural burdens on her family.
"Now get to your room and stay there," she hissed spitefully at him. The disgusting brat got to his feet in a graceful surge and padded past her like some large bipedal cat, dark curls bobbing around his face, his faded pyjama bottoms, only slightly baggy around the waist now, ludicrously short in the leg. She ignored it, for though he was already taller than her, was probably going to be taller than her Dudley, there was no way she was going to spend a penny on clothing for the nasty little ruffian. Just a few more years, and she'd be able to throw him out for good.
The next morning did not get any better.
His appetite was seemingly only worse, except now he was banned from meals for the foreseeable future, and Uncle Vernon was giving him looks normally only reserved for rabid dogs. As he moved towards the breakfast table with its stack of toast already in place, the thin and spiteful woman barred his way glaring nastily.
"You're barred," she hissed like an angry cat. "After that outrageous stunt you pulled last night, you won't be getting anything for the rest of the day...and possibly tomorrow as well," she finished, with a vindictive smirk. "Now, clean that mess up," she jabbed a finger towards the hole through to the living room, through which Dudley was clearly visible watching cartoons on the television. Though he quickly disappeared when he realised he was being watched.
He tried, he really did. He picked up all the pieces of broke plaster board and put them in the bin, swept up all the larger particles of dust that according to Aunt Petunia would choke the vacuum cleaner fatally, and then carefully dusted and cleaned the rest of the room. He even managed to master the operation of the vacuum cleaner, though he was a little hazy as to what operational prayers the machine required, and whether it even had a machine spirit. Aunt Petunia refused to elaborate, and so he settled to carefully and methodically cleaning the living room carpet square by exacting square...
...until Aunt Petunia appeared by his shoulder, screaming abuse about lazy incompetent idiots who could never do anything right, ripped the hose of the cleaner from his hands and forced him outside, while telling him to get out of her sight, all the while telling him that he wasn't getting any food...
...straight into an open air larder. He looked around the garden behind the detached dwelling, breathing in the delectable smells of the surrounding vegetation. His mouth watering, he reached for the nearest plant, thorny stemmed with full pink flowers that looked vaguely familiar, though he'd only seen white ones before. A small part of his mind supplied a name...roses...an ancient Terran plant, another part of his mind excitedly exclaimed. So Humanity took these plants to the stars with them, spreading them across the Galaxy. The younger part of his mind joined in the excitement.
The garden continued to entertain as he sated his appetite; some of the plants were achingly familiar, some utterly alien. There didn't seem any particular logic to it either, he thought, as he sat comfortably by a wall trellis carefully striping the vine off it. Some of the plants were obviously deliberate choices like the roses, beautiful ornamentals with a delightful scent, but some were more puzzling like the...dandelions, part of his mind provided. Had they been accidentally transferred from world to world, he frowned thoughtfully, as he stripped the leaves and small yellow trumpet shaped flowers from their stems, looking remarkably like a panda as he did so...or had people missed familiar weeds too? A curious conundrum...
"My begonias," a familiar female voice wailed behind him. He turned from his careful demolition of the climbing vine to see what all the fuss was about to find an upset and pale faced Aunt Petunia standing in the middle of the lawn (he hadn't eaten that yet), her hands raised to her mouth in horror. "My roses," she moaned, looking around in a daze.
Which was all rather funny, he thought, as a large proportion of his younger memories revolved around day after day spent in this garden, labouring over it, digging, weeding, pruning, mowing...in a way it was rather his garden, he had after all made it what it was, and so, if he wanted to eat it, he would. And if she hadn't wanted it eaten, well...she should have fed him instead of giving him no alternative, but to seek out other sources of nutrition. In other words, she had only herself to blame, he thought idly as he stripped another stem of its leaves and flowers.
"My honeysuckle," Aunt Petunia shrieked, "you can't eat that, you stupid boy!" she said storming over, and attempting to wrest the plant away from him. "What were you thinking? Now get inside!"
It was at that moment the neighbour put his head over the fence.
"Good morning, Harold," Aunt Petunia twittered, fussily smoothing her skirt, "lovely weather we're having today."
"Morning, Petunia," their elderly neighbour replied giving him... Horemheb... Harry...a penetrating stare, "shouldn't you be whisking him off to the hospital? He ate your aconite about ten minutes ago; he's probably going to need his stomach pumped."
Petunia gave the interfering, nosy old man a sickly smile, before turning an evil glare on him; apparently, he'd ruined her plans for the day...not that he could really find it within himself to get that upset about it.
The drive to the hospital occurred in thunderous silence, Aunt Petunia sitting ram-rod straight in the driver's seat, obviously still fuming about the damage he'd done to "her" garden. He had to admit, it did look rather battered now; he hadn't realised how much he'd eaten.
But more importantly, who was he? Horemheb...Harry...? Their memories, personalities, essences warred continuously in his mind. It was only due to the meditation skills and mental control techniques of Horemheb the Firebrand that he wasn't a drooling shell of flesh at this very moment...but he didn't feel like Horemheb. Horemheb was old and dangerous, devious and coldly calculating, not given to childish flights of fancy or impulsiveness. Harry, on the other hand, was an angry and neglected youth, who dearly wanted a family to call his very own above everything else.
So who was he?
He sighed heavily at the conundrum as they pulled up near a large sprawling brick, concrete and glass building, a veritable temple to the work of the medicae...a hospital, another part of his mind supplied.
"Out," Petunia snapped at him, "and stop your stupid daydreaming, you lazy boy." She stormed away, not waiting for him to catch up.
In hindsight, the hospital visit was rather disappointing. After a long wait in a waiting room, with a small and very disruptive child who alternated between crawling under the chairs and screaming at the top of his lungs, he was finally seen by a nurse, who very quickly became thin lipped and grim, but very professional, and who insisted on seeing him without Aunt Petunia present. His explanation about his being punished by the withholding of food, and his eating the garden in desperation, made the nursing staff even grimmer... though they were very nice to him, and found him some sandwiches when he explained he was still hungry...then there had been a hushed and unpleasant conversation between Aunt Petunia and the nurses. His hearing was slowly getting better, but he still only caught snatches. Apparently, they didn't approve of his clothing. He had to admit the trouser things Aunt Petunia had made him wear were rather uncomfortable in the crotch area. He considered removing them for a moment, but decided the resulting shouting from Aunt Petunia probably wasn't worth it.
The conversation with the nurses drifted into arcane details involving diet sheets and protein supplements and follow-up appointments with out-patients, with Aunt Petunia turning an increasingly interesting grey colour. He stopped listening after that; he had far more pressing issues, such as who, or what, was he?
The summer was shaping up to be surprisingly chilly, Dedalus Diggle thought, as he shifted nervously underneath the invisibility cloak Moody had lent him for this most important of task, the guarding of the summer residence of the Boy-Who-Lived. Yes, full of mists and inexplicable cold patches; he shivered involuntary, only to be expected with Dementors freely breeding, and Death Eater attacks every other day. It was as if the War had never ended...and the poor muggles, bless them, bewildered and clueless as to what was going around them.
And here he was, in the thick of things, protecting their most important asset in the War against He-who-must-not-be-named, except...it had got decidedly strange. He'd been told a little of what had happened at the Ministry, that poor Harry, the brave, brave boy had been badly affected by his experiences... which really didn't do justice to some of the things he'd witnessed over the last two weeks.
The previous summer the young saviour of the Wizarding World hadn't gone out much, and when he had, he'd only really gone to the children's playground a couple of streets away, sitting quietly on one of the swingy things, keeping to himself. But this summer...
Only yesterday, he'd found himself having to sprint down the street, nearly giving himself away, and such an undignified thing to do in robes, as young Harry Potter sprinted past at half six in the morning in the most obscene outfit he'd ever seen. The boy was practically naked, clothed only in tiny little shorts, and white and battered looking shoes. And somehow, despite the lack of sun, he'd acquired a tan, his skin sporting an almost coppery glow. It was a good thing Auror Tonks hadn't been on duty, the possible effect on such an impressionable young lady, most unsuitable...
And there were all his trips to the local library, and all the time he spent in the nearby copse jumping around in the trees and swinging off branches and waving a metal pole around. He was getting so tall now too, and there was that terrible incident at the start of the holidays concerning the hospital. Dumbledore had been told all about it, but refused to allow them to obliviate those involved without any real explanation as to why...and those strange arguments with his relatives, who seemed to be the most appalling people possible... and what was a machine-spirit when it was at home? He had no more idea than Vernon Dursley.
His thoughts trailed off gloomily, as he ignored a soft rustling behind him. Probably a fox; there was a surprising amount of wildlife around, given how heavily populated and built on this area was...
A huge force, like an iron wrecking ball caught him in the head, his vision fading to black as he lost consciousness. The last thing he was aware of was a large foot as it strode past.
The ride on the peculiar purple bus was almost...fun, he thought, as he stepped off outside the shabby inn, the sign proclaiming it to be "The Leaky Cauldron" creaking slightly in the breeze.
He still hadn't resolved who he was, a question which was causing him much existential angst; but today he decided he was going to try being Harry Potter, just to see what it felt like, and that was when he'd remembered about the Knight bus, and Diagon Alley, and most importantly of all the bookshop...and what was more, since it was an important shopping area there was a good chance there was more...
He'd left a note for Aunt Petunia explaining his plans for the day and promising to eat regularly, since she had become strangely obsessed with his diet, stalking him around the neighbourhood and ambushing him with snacks; not that he particularly minded it.
He did wonder a little if he was going to experience the usual trouble that Harry Potter seemed to suffer whenever he went into the Wizarding World, but apparently he'd grown too much, changed too much to get more than a second glance, though one elderly witch did tut at the state of his garments. Frankly, he was inclined to agree with her. Dudley's old t-shirt was grey with age and was riding up into his armpits rather uncomfortably, while the jeans which he'd resorted to cutting off at the knees were bordering on painfully tight in the groin region. He'd only just managed to get them on that morning; give it a couple of days, and he wouldn't stand a chance. Even the rucksack he'd borrowed from the junk room had seen better days. He'd tried mending it, but apparently sewing really wasn't one of his talents.
In fact, the only thing he had on that did fit were his flip-flops...brand new, no previous owner, flip-flops. A pity they were a violent shade of lime green, but you couldn't have everything. He'd even given Aunt Petunia a hug when she'd handed them over. He wasn't sure if that had been the right thing to do though, given her expression, part fury, part shaken...something afterwards. But no matter...more pressing now was the proximity of the bookshop, and was there more than one? And maybe, maybe a public Wizarding library; now, that would be perfect.
The disapproving mutters about his appearance increased as he worked his way up the alley, but he happily ignored them. He had more important things on his mind as he carefully examined the surrounding shop fronts for signs of literature. A small rack of shelves outside a shabby second-hand shop caught his attention. Sandwiched between a chest of drawers which kept snapping at passersby, and a basket full of walking sticks and umbrellas, the shelves were stuffed with battered and dog-eared looking tomes. A handwritten cardboard sign announced "Buy one, get one free, only 6 knuts!"
To his disappointment, they mainly appeared to be Hogwarts textbooks, most of which he'd already got, but there were also several about magical gardening, "A Year on the Magical Allotment" by P. Thrower, and "Attack Plants for the Advanced Gardener – a new approach to home security", the author's name obscured by heavy use. Not quite his thing, though if Aunt Petunia had been a witch, he could see her enjoying it. Next to it was "A million and One Household Charms You Never Knew You Needed."
He tilted his head in puzzlement.
Was it even possible to have a million household charms? Surely some of them must be versions of one another. He reached for the battered old book...only for a nasty wrenching sound to occur as material under stresses it was never meant to bear finally gave up the ghost.
Sighing heavily, he grabbed an introductory textbook on Arithmancy and retreated inside the shop, trying to ignore the breeze now playing across his buttocks.
The dark interior of the shop resolved itself into a deceptively large space filled with clutter, furniture and bric-a-brac piled high, musical instruments hanging on the walls among dusty old portraits, and twee display plates featuring pastel landscapes and insipid puppies. A display case held a set of bored chess pieces, who had plonked themselves down for a gossip and a smoke, while below them a spoon and a dish slowly waltzed around their shelf. Rails of tatty old robes of every conceivable style and colour hung near the back, beneath them serried ranks of shoes, boots and sandals. Nearby an animated suit of armour slowly paced back and forth with a contemplative air...
But nowhere could he see a till or a counter of any kind. He turned on the spot, gazing round carefully. Had he walked past it?
"It appears to me that you are in need of some of our high quality second-hand robes," a sharp voice commented behind him. He whirled on the spot, his heart racing, his secondary heart, partly formed as it was, attempting to keep up.
Standing next to a dresser full of mismatched china, staring at him expectantly, was a tall and gawky young man, with a shock of auburn hair and a beaky nose that dominated his narrow face.
Horemheb...no, he was Harry today, took in the stranger (how could he not have noticed him?), his piercing blue eyes behind horn-rimmed spectacles, the ruffle fronted shirt he wore under velvet green robes.
Grinning hopefully, Harry held up the books. "Can I, err...pay for these, please."
The shop owner eyed him up and down for a moment. "Not robes then? A veritable Adonis, such as yourself, shouldn't be going around wearing such hideous rags. Follow me."
He blinked in bewilderment as the gangly man strode off between the clutter of precariously stacked furniture. "Well...come on then!" The man turned and snapped at him.
There really wasn't anything he could do really, and so he followed, hoping for a potential escape route to reveal itself in the near future.
"I'm the son of Wilkes & Son, you know," the shop owner continued without a pause. "Frankie Wilkes, or Franklin to my mother." He turned and glared. "Mr Wilkes to you, of course." He turned to the nearest rail of garments and gestured extravagantly, his lace cuffs flapping around his skinny wrists. "How about this one," he pulled a robe out, "it will complement your...footwear rather nicely, I think."
Harry eyed the navy blue and lime green checked horror dubiously; the designer had obviously had second thoughts, and tried adding silver lace around the cuffs, neck and down the front in extravagant frou-frou ruffles...whatever he or she had been trying to achieve, it had failed miserably.
"Have you got anything in err...black...plain black?" Harry asked, backing away from the horrific garment before it could contaminate him in some way, clutching the books and Dudley's old rucksack to his chest. Mr Wilkes looked disgusted. "Plain?" he squawked. "Such a beautiful specimen of the human race as yourself can't possibly wear something plain!"
He pulled several more garments from the rails around them, displaying them for Harry's perusal; shot midnight blue silk with a frieze of animated hedgehogs cavorting around the hem...fuchsia pink and gold, with a gold lacy under-robe...something extravagant that looked as if it were made of peacock feathers...cream embroidered linen...
"Err...how about that one?" Harry pointed to it. Mr Wilkes sighed heavily. "It's rather dull," he pouted, "but I suppose it will bring out that beautiful complexion of yours."
An hour later, he finally managed to extricate himself from the clutches of Mr Franklin Wilkes who seemed determined that he have a set of robes for every day of the year...and footwear to match.
After some rather fraught negotiations, a little bullying and some outright manipulation, he managed to get away with just three sets of robes, some rather comfy boots and a leather bag that looked like the unfortunate love-child of a sea urchin. He'd had to go along with that one, as Mr Wilkes had succeeded in ripping the old rucksack from his hands in a moment of distraction. The highly opinionated shop keeper had then dumped the contents on a side-table littered with kitten figurines playing musical instruments, before burning it and his old clothes.
He'd managed to rescue the flip-flops, and of course, he'd bought the books he'd actually wanted to buy in the first place.
Feeling strangely drained, he retreated to his original intended destination, seeking the soothing book stacks of Florish & Blotts, his new robes flowing around his legs, the fine black wool surprisingly comfortable...and absolutely no chafing in the groin region.
Total immersion in the "Theory of Magic" section soothed him considerably, but also caused him a certain amount of puzzlement. What was the connection between the psykery of Horemheb the Firebrand, and the magic of Harry Potter the school boy and reluctant hero? Harry's school text books had been rather basic, but he'd assumed that was because they were intended for apprentices to the mystical arts. There must be something, or why had the whole incident with the Veil been able to occur? Or for that matter their joining of minds, their pure blending of...essences...souls even...which raised an interesting question; did he now have a larger soul than normal? What sort of effects would this have on the way his mind functioned? His emotions? His warpcraft...magic? And how would you go about measuring such a thing? Was there some way he could make a scale that would measure the un-measurable...but he was getting off topic...
The book he was currently flicking through was shaping up to be rather interesting, with a little careful thought. The author was putting forward an interesting theory that magic was in fact a force of something he or she had labelled the Ether, a hypothetical substance that filled space and time. According to the author every living thing had a sort of internal well spring linked directly to the Ether, a necessity for life, with witches and wizards naturally housing large or faster flowing springs enabling them to do magic. Many of the details were rather odd, and he wasn't entirely sure about the author's obsession with badgers, but they were definitely on the track to somewhere.
"Excuse me," an exasperated voice came from beside his shoulder, "are you going to buy that book or not?"
He grasped the book in question to his chest, his startle reflex better controlled this time. Looking round he found a smart young man in the purple paisley waistcoat and bowtie that was Florish & Blotts' staff uniform glaring up at him. "This isn't a public library you know," the sales assistant continued sarcastically, "the till is over there if you wish to purchase it."
His stomachs rumbled in protest at the length of time since they had last received food. Blushing slightly, he grinned down at the shop assistant. "I err...yes, this one is rather interesting. Thank you."
The shop assistant gave him a sharp nod, and stalked away, though he had a suspicion he was still being watched. His stomachs gave another expressive rumble. He really was quite hungry, and so he drifted to the counter and paid for the dozen or so books that had caught his attention.
Once out on the Alley, he began to walk back to the Leaky Cauldron, intent on seeing what the "House Special of the Day" was today. That was until the most delectable scent caught his attention. It wasn't the Apothecary, though that did smell rather interesting, and it certainly wasn't the ice cream parlour. Lacking any visible source, he decided to follow his nose, back up the Alley, past Florish & Blotts and into the dark and narrow alley next to Gringotts. Harry had always been a little frightened of the seemingly evil forbidding place, especially after his accident with the Floo that summer, but now...well, it looked a little shabby and down-at-heel, and there were obvious signs of illegal activities going on, furtive transactions in the shadows, dark shop fronts that didn't obviously promote their products, scantily clad ladies lurking in doorways, people who were only just human...
...but he walked through them, his head held high, confident in the knowledge that he was the most dangerous person there at that very moment...following that delectable scent to its very source.
"Would you like a nice pie, young man?" an elderly voice enquired. He looked down, straight into the shocked and outraged face of a small bushy tailed rodent, a squirrel, Harry's memories supplied, that looked as if somebody had poked it in the bottom with something sharp. He winced in sympathy; it looked very uncomfortable. The squirrel itself appeared to have set up home among a pound of wax fruit of myriad varieties, including the spiky crowned shape of a pineapple.
It was a hat, a very ornamental hat, which was being worn by possibly the ugliest old woman he had ever seen.
"I, err..," he checked the sky a moment, "good afternoon madam," he smiled down at her.
The old woman looked slightly surprised, but appreciative. "Would you like one of my nice tasty pies," she grinned up at him, displaying a lone incisor, black and stained and clinging on for dear life. "Freshly made they are, a bargain at 4 knuts each."
His stomachs rumbled demandingly; the pies did smell wonderfully meaty. Maybe a couple would tide him over till he found the source of the enticing aroma.
The pies were as tasty as they smelt; the old lady, Madam Doris even, blushed when he complemented her on her cooking. Thanking her again, he wandered off down the Alley, following his nose again as he finished off the last of the pastry, his developing osmadula suggesting that the "donor" for this particular pie had been an unfortunate door-to-door salesman who had tried flogging Madam Doris novelty self opening blinds. At least he tasted nice.
A dirty man in a patched and threadbare cloak stepped into his path, brandishing a cheap looking knife, and a wand that had seen better days. "Your money or your life," the ill shaven ruffian grinned at him, breathing a wave of halitosis his way, "but...I'm thinkin' more of your money and your life...see, a rich geezer like you'se probably got it comin'." He grinned, displaying his rotting teeth.
Harry grimaced in disgust, and continued with the last bit of his pie.
"You listen' to me?" the would-be mugger snarled, knocking the last bit of crust flying.
He saw red, how dare this low-life...He growled, the sound reverberating in his chest, deep and primordial...and threatening. The ruffian took a step back, his expression suddenly worried. This apparently wasn't the easy mark he'd thought.
A large hand shot out, faster than the human eye could see, slamming the would-be mugger and destroyer of pies into a nearby brick wall. The shabby man slumped to the muddy cobbles, his knife clattering as it landed ten foot away.
"Oops," he muttered, looking around, but nobody seemed to be paying them any particular attention. He eyed the fallen man carefully; it seemed a pity to let him go to waste. To his glee, Madam Doris was still visible in the distance selling her tasty snacks.
"Madam Doris," a voice called behind her, and she turned to find the surprisingly nice young man heading towards her holding...a limp body with one hand. Not just handsome it seemed, but strong too.
"Madam Doris, may I present some fresh ingredients for your wonderful pastries." He dumped the limp figure at her feet. "My, err, hand slipped," he whispered conspiratorially to her, before heading back up the Alley.
Doris watched him go with a wistful sigh, as she pulled out her butchering knife. Not just handsome and strong, but well mannered too. If only more of the youth of today were like him.
The scent lead Harry to an intersection between Knockturn Alley and what an ivy encrusted sign proclaimed to be Shift Alley. In the middle of the space was a public fountain in the Classical style, with the water falling continuously into a scalloped bowl from the mouth of a Medusa, the snakes of her hair constantly writhing and hissing at passersby.
And on the corner was a restaurant of sorts, its doors and window done in a decorative style that to Harry's limited experience suggested the Far East and the Exotic...and the delicious scents that wafted out of the doors...his mouth watering nearly uncontrollably, he made his way quickly over the street, noting the name of the sign as he went past, a glowing neon green affair proclaiming this to be the "Jade Radish".
His eyes quickly adjusted to the dimly lit interior, revealing a spartanly furnished space, a plain flag floor, clean and polished, and well proportioned wooden tables and stools all polished to a deep sheen. On the white-washed walls hung long paintings depicting serene and austere landscapes populated by pine trees, fast flowing rivers running through deep valleys, red-roofed houses clinging to the slopes. The crowd was decidedly...just human...but the food...the food smelt glorious.
Two of the serving staff approached him cautiously, tall and pale with their red hair pinned up, their loose, high-necked indigo coloured uniform doing little to hide their long lean strength.
"Can we help you?" the left-hand waitress asked, her voice slightly lisping.
He looked around interestedly, his attention rapidly falling on a cloak shrouded figure who sat nearby, a dainty hand appearing every so often to snag a tasty morsel from the bowl in front of her, the contents of which...he breathed in deeply. It smelt so wonderful.
He smiled cheerfully at the suspicious waitresses. "I'm after lunch. Would it be possible to have the same as the gentle-lady over there? It smells quite delicious." He gave them a hopeful grin.
The two ladies looked at one another, their yellow eyes suspicious but speculative. The left-hand one nodded to her colleague, before striding off back to the kitchen area.
"If you would follow me sir," the other waitress trilled, her face relaxing into a polite smile that never quite reached her eyes. "I'm Snow Fox, by the way. Would you like something to drink while you wait for your meal?"
He looked around again, not really recognising any of the food stuffs or beverages on display. So much to explore and discover. "What's popular at this time of day?" he asked carefully, having decided to start with the most usual and then work his way from there.
SnowFox eyed him speculatively for a moment. "Well, iron-root tea is always popular at midday..."
"Then I will have that," he agreed, giving her a cheerful smile.
A rather hairy man nearby coughed into his noodles and turned, giving him a funny look, but he just ignored it, not really understanding why.
The iron-root tea quickly arrived in a quietly elegant pale green teapot with a small matching cup. Snow Fox smiled sweetly at him, and retreated before Harry could do much more than smile his thanks. The tea proved to be fragrant, having an interesting smoky aroma, with just a hint of almonds. Very refreshing, he thought, as he started browsing the Arithmancy text-book he'd more or less accidentally bought.
A bowl of noodles, unfamiliar vegetables...prawns and a meat he'd never tried before appeared in front of him. Harry looked up, startled to find Snow Fox smiling down at him. "Would you like some more iron-root tea?" she asked, "you've pretty much finished that pot."
She was right too; he'd been so engrossed with his accidental find he'd been unaware of the fact. He grinned sheepishly at her. "Err...yes please, that would be really nice," he said, carefully placing the amazing Arithmancy text down next to his lunch. Why hadn't Harry chosen to do such a fascinating subject when he'd been given the opportunity? He really didn't understand it.
"Hmmm...bit of a brain box," Snow Fox teased him with a smile.
"I ermm...like reading," he blushed.
"And modest too," she giggled, as his blush deepened. "And so what's handsome, clever and modest's name?" she asked, fluttering her eyelashes.
"Ermm..." he blushed harder, reaching round for something suitable. "Atum," he smiled at her, feeling flustered. It was such a common name from Horemheb's youth it had been the first thing he thought of...but really, it was oddly suitable. The more he considered it, the more he liked it...Atum, entire, complete...a new name for a new existence.
Snow Fox gave him a considering look. "Atum, hmm...it suits you. Well, I'll go and get you some more tea then." She gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder as she went past.
The dish of noodles was as delicious as it smelt, and Atum took his time savouring it, his appetite driving him to order a second bowl when he'd finished. The atmosphere around him notably relaxed, though he wasn't entirely sure why, as he slowly worked his way through his third pot of iron-root tea, and the second helping of the noodles; the meat had very quickly been revealed to be that of a type of venomous snake, rather pungent in taste. Customers had gradually started introducing themselves to him; the overly hirsute gentleman from the next table...a werewolf, Harry's memories tentatively suggested, though Atum suspected otherwise...another very ugly old lady, who was apparently Doris's friend Enid...a very thin and very nervous man of indeterminate age, with the most colourless eyes Atum had ever seen. He looked completely normal, but there was something just...off about his presence, his psychic imprint...and the heavily cloaked lady from the table opposite, who moved closer, just so she could enquire about his interest in Arithmancy. Soon they were deep in conversation over a large bowl of crispy fried spiders, candid cockroaches on sticks, and yogurt mint dip, as they discussed runes and aspects of magical theory that had been niggling at Atum for days...which led to his bemoaning the apparent lack of bookshops in such an apparently popular shopping area.
The cloaked lady had eyed him carefully, and even leaned over and had given him an experimental sniff. "Not entirely human," she'd commented thoughtfully in her quiet voice. "Hmmm, if you turn right out of here and go down Shift Alley you'll soon find "J. Dee, Esoteric Books." They keep the more...specialised publications for the more serious practitioner. And then if you walk further down, on the corner of Jenny's Jitty is the "Curio Shop"." She leaned closer. "Tell Mistress Haddock that Madam Spider recommended her to you, and she will show you the more interesting texts, for the more... discerning Magical practitioner."
Atum got the impression of a smile from under the cloak as she leaned closer and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. "Well, it's been lovely talking to you, Atum, but I really must be off. Don't be a stranger now." She shifted the cloak tighter around herself, and drifted away towards the door...past a rather familiar figure, a dark and brooding wizard with lank, straight hair and a large beak of a nose.
What was Professor Snape doing here? Atum though in puzzlement as he nibbled delicately on a candid cockroach, though it was the summer holidays, so maybe the good professor was also on a similar hunt for the ultimate lunch. He sipped his iron-root tea thoughtfully. It was one possible explanation for the professor's presence here, though of course the man could be hunting for something; after all, all sorts of deals and bargains were struck in places like this. Just two tables away a trio of...he wasn't sure what they were...were discussing the sale and movement of some sort of...potions ingredient, he thought, though what sort of potion would use unicorn foal hearts he wasn't entirely sure. It sounded like the sort of thing Professor Snape would be interested in.
And that was when he locked eyes with the man. Snape stiffened in shock, eyes widening before they narrowed dangerously, his shoulders hunching dangerously as he stalked forward.
"Have you no sense left in that thick skull of yours?" he hissed, as he approached. "What are you thinking, loitering in a place like this?" He spied the remains of Atum's meal, his face going a colour normally only seen on a three day old corpse. Atum looked at him in concern. "Are you all right sir?" he whispered. "Do you need to sit down, or...can I get you some tea? The iron-root tea is wond..."
"Iron-root tea!" Snape raised his voice, wincing when the other patrons turned and stared at him. "You stupid boy! How much have you drunk?"
"Errr..." Atum looked at him in utter bewilderment, "I think this is probably my fourth pot," he lifted the lid and checked, "yes, definitely my fourth pot," he said with a cheerful grin, "it's really nice."
Snape, if possible, went an even stranger colour, grey and pasty...and then he spotted the empty dishes and bowls. If Atum had thought he was upset before...
"Are you all right professor?" Atum whispered in concern. "You don't look at all well. Why don't you sit down, I'm sure you'll start to feel better after a drink. They do some really nice teas here, "he added conspiratorially, watching in concern as the dour potion master's face went through a series of strange contortions. "Hmm... would you like a crispy fried spider?" he offered. Snape stared at the seared looking arachnid that was lurking in the depths of the bowl, and then at him, dark eyes unreadable.
Atum quietly drank the protein shake a furious Aunt Petunia had thrust into his hands. It seemed the best thing to do, he thought, as he watched her rant at Headmaster Dumbledore, poking him repeatedly in the chest with one long bony finger as she explained to the elderly man that he couldn't take her nephew away for the rest of the summer, as he had a number of out-patients appointments to attend and a strict diet plan to follow that she was going to over-see, no one else.
The Headmaster had tried protesting at first, but now seemed to be sitting back and watching the show, as it were, watching Aunt Petunia with a mixture of surprise, and...Atum considered the matter...amusement. Apparently this wasn't what he'd been expecting.
He shifted slightly, looking down at his revolting green flip-flops. They were slightly on the small side now; a pity, he was rather fond of them. At least Aunt Petunia had got him some training clothes that fitted. He fiddled with the hem of his grey jersey shorts as he drank his protein shake. The small selection of vests, jogging bottoms and shorts were blatantly cheap, but considering how fast he was growing he really didn't care. Aunt Petunia had almost smiled when he'd hugged her to say thank-you.
Headmaster Dumbledore managed to break through Aunt Petunia's rant, trying to explain that he needed Harry to help him with something and that then he could then go to stay with school friends for the rest of the summer. But Aunt Petunia refused to listen.
Atum exchanged bemused looks with Dudley; hopefully, Aunt Petunia was going to win. When he'd received the Headmaster's letter several days ago, he'd seriously considered leaving Privet Drive; he'd be away from Aunt Petunia's hateful glares and Uncle Vernon's spineless fear, but on the other hand he'd have well meaning people breathing down his neck all the time going by Harry's memories, interfering and trying to get him involved in things he really didn't care about. Harry might have, but he, Atum, wasn't remotely interested in flying on a broom and playing sports. And Harry's friends... he sighed heavily. They were like strangers; he'd received and sent a few letters to both Ronald and Hermione over the past month until their correspondence had dried up, he wasn't entirely sure why. Hermione had hung on the longest, but even she seemed to give up in the end. Maybe he shouldn't have tried discussing the importance and symbolism of the number four in stabilising household wards, and how it could be substituted for with a square perimeter of salt...she'd been rather quiet after that. He took a thoughtful gulp of protein shake.
In fact, he was getting on better with his cousin Dudley. He looked at the other boy sitting next to him on the sofa, who was currently devouring a popular psychology book. He looked dubiously at the cover...The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat...
He wasn't quite sure what to think, but Dudley was eagerly devouring the book with every sign of enjoyment. His open consumption of popular psychology was a positive outcome of...well, some rather dubious manipulation he'd helped Dudley with; it was the least he could do for his cousin, all things considered.
He'd woken in the middle of the night, hunger gnawing away at his stomachs, driving him downstairs searching for something, anything, that would sate his cravings. It had been like this since he'd been banned from taking the Knight Bus unsupervised to Diagon Alley again by Professor Snape. He'd nearly got the hang of apparition thanks to Professor Snape using it to get him home that time, so very soon he'd be back chasing up that book shop the Spider Lady had recommended. But right now...
He checked the cupboards, noting that the one under the sink where all the really interesting smells were had been heavily padlocked since he'd been caught drinking an entire bottle of anti-freeze. The resulting A&E visit, several attempts to pump his stomach, and the series of lectures he'd received from various medical staff, a furious Professor Snape, and Aunt Petunia, had all persuaded him that if he decided to ingest something that apparently shouldn't be ingested, he was going to do it in private, and hide the evidence carefully afterwards.
He considered tearing the lock off, but discarded that thought, and raided the fridge instead.
His rummaging was interrupted by a muffled and revolted shriek behind him. "You can't eat that raw!"
To his surprise, Dudley was stood in the kitchen doorway looking rather pale. A determined expression on his face, his cousin strode forward and prised the package of smoked rashers from his fingers. "Come on, I'll make you a toasted bacon sarnie, it's much nicer," he said over his shoulder, as he turned the grill on and slapped some rashers on to do.
Atum watched his cousin curiously as he bustled round the kitchen, putting slices of bread in the toaster and retrieving the bottle of tomato ketchup from the depths of a cupboard. Dudley was obviously for more domesticated than anyone gave him credit for.
Slices of lightly browned toast were dropped on a couple of plates, sizzling bacon retrieved from the grill and placed on the bread, pepper ground on top, and then Dudley reached for the ketchup placing a liberal dollop on the top of each pile of steaming bacon. Smearing the ketchup out and slapping the top slice of toast on top, he cut the toasted sandwiches in two, pushing one of his creations in front of Atum.
"There you go," Dudley grinned proudly, "one of my friends at Smeltings showed me how to make these...they're brilliant," he said plonking himself down opposite Atum, and taking a large bite out of his sandwich. Atum had to admit as he thoughtfully chewed a mouthful of toast, tomato sauce, and bacon, it was rather tasty. "This is very good," he commented, causing Dudley to blush pink at the praise. And so they sat in silence for a moment, enjoying their impromptu meal.
Atum eyed his cousin carefully. He wasn't exactly an expert on people, but something was obviously bothering him. Why else would he be up in the wee hours of the morning looking for a snack...
"Something is troubling you," Atum said softly, his voice coming out almost as a growl. Dudley looked up startled before chuckling. "Your voice," he smiled.
Atum smiled ruefully. His voice had changed rather rapidly over the last few weeks, becoming deeper and fuller, acquiring an almost feral quality. It often startled him, what it did to other people.
Dudley shook his head sadly. "It's nothing really. It's just...I've finally found something I really want to do with my life, and... and I know Mum and Dad aren't going to like it. They've practically got my life planned out for me... Smeltings... Uni, if I protest enough... a junior position at Grunnings... selling drills..." He grimaced.
"And what is it you wish to do?" Atum asked, genuinely curious as to what his cousin had set his heart on.
"Promise you won't laugh?" Dudley asked nervously.
Atum nodded, gesturing for him to continue.
"Clinical psychology," Dudley said firmly, "maybe with children...after last summer with those Demonator thingies, I... I did a lot of thinking and umm...read loads...neither of us have exactly had what you could call a normal childhood, and ermm... I thought I could bring a unique perspective to it..."
Atum nodded thoughtfully. "I think your Mum was trying to protect you in a way. I get the impression that her parents really doted on my mum, and made her feel very...overlooked...and she didn't want you to feel the same way..." He smiled at his cousin's startled look. "I think your idea is sound...it sounds like a lot of study and hard-work are involved, but...well worth it," he smiled at his cousin, "it sounds good to me."
Dudley grinned in relief, before sobering up. "Now I just have to persuade Mum and Dad of that," he said glumly.
Atum cocked his head to one side. "You just need to appeal to the things they love best, fame, fortune, social standing..."
Dudley looked at him startled, before turning thoughtful. "Yeah, that could work," he grinned slyly, "thanks, Harry."
It did work too, and Atum had had a ring side seat as it were, as his cousin wheedled and coaxed his parents into seeing his point of view. Examples of psychologists working with Aunt Petunia's favourite celebrities were put forward, the cost of their treatment was speculated on, examples of famous self-help books were waved at them with explanations of just how many copies had been sold in so-many countries. Atum had sat back and watched the show as Dudley had succeeded in winning his parents over without so much as a crocodile tear in sight.
And now Dudley was building on his success, nervously working out what A-levels he needed to take and reading round his subject, happy to discuss his new love with anyone who would listen. It was rare to see Dudley without a book nowadays. Atum approved.
Petunia let out a particularly outraged shriek, followed by soothing placations from Headmaster Dumbledore. Atum hurriedly sank into one of Horemheb's centring exercises, quickly and efficiently filtering the excess adrenalin from his system. It was getting easier to do as his new organs came to full maturity and began to work fully.
He eyed the Headmaster's gesturing hands with concern as the old man attempted to sooth the furious Aunt Petunia. One was quite normal, pale pink skin with wiry fingers, long and clever, but the other was blackened and shrivelled; it almost looked mummified. How had the Headmaster come into contact with such a nasty curse? Atum sighed heavily into his protein shake; the possibility of him actually getting a closer look was probably nil. Giving the wizened dead hand a mournful glance, he took another gulp...only to find it empty. He stared down into the glass in surprise and puzzlement; where had it all gone?
"You drank it all," Dudley nudged him with a grin.
"So that's decided then," Dumbledore said cheerfully, smiling around the room. Aunt Petunia sniffed derisively, glaring at the invader of her nice orderly home, arms crossed over her bosom.
"Harry, would you mind walking with me to the end of Privet Drive?" Dumbledore asked with a small smile.
"Of course sir," Atum said rising to his feet, finding to his mild surprise that he was now several inches taller than the Headmaster and much, much broader.
"Have you finished your protein shake?" Aunt Petunia snapped.
Atum nodded, showing her the glass.
"Good," Aunt Petunia sniffed, "stay here while I get you your snack." She stalked into the kitchen, leaving the living room to descend into awkward silence. Storming back in, she thrust the nutrient dense flapjack into Atum's hands. "Make sure you eat it," she snarled, "all of it...now, off with you."
"Yes Aunt Petunia," Atum smiled at her, dutifully devouring the flapjack with a few swift bites as he shuffled towards the door.
Outside, the sun had actually managed to peak through the clouds and the day was proving to be rather nice and actually warm for once, birds singing in the trees and bees making their way among the flowers in the gardens of Privet Drive. Atum walked along in silence, trying to ignore the odd sideways glances the Headmaster kept giving him, the soft breeze further tousling the black curls which now hung around his shoulders and playfully tugging at the Headmaster's beard.
"Harry, my boy," Headmaster Dumbledore turned to him as they reached the corner by Magnolia Crescent, "how are you? Last year was rather rough on you with all sorts of unforeseen misfortunes and trials thrown your way that I'm afraid I failed rather miserably to protect you from." Atum watched as the old man paused, collecting his words. "What I mean to say is...are you all right?"
Atum looked into the clear periwinkle blue of Dumbledore's eyes, sensing the concern, worry, affection even of the other man. He looked round at the leafy trees and monotonous dwellings, the uninspired ground-cars...
"I'm fine Headmaster...in fact, I've never felt better," he grinned cheerfully, before turning sober. "But you are injured, sir," he said with concern, glancing down at the wizened hand, "what happened?
Dumbledore eyed him carefully for a moment, before nodding to himself as if he'd just confirmed something. "Just a little accident my boy, nothing to worry about. Well then, I'd better be off. I suspect we will next meet in September...have a good summer Harry," he said with a small smile, patting Atum on the arm.
"And you too, Headmaster," Atum replied inclining his head respectfully.
Dumbledore looked at him slightly startled before smiling. Turning on the spot, he disappeared from Privet Drive with a crack of displaced air.
Snape frowned slightly as he carefully measured the shredded hellebore leaves... ahh, just right. With a cleft flick of his wrist, he scattered them in the simmering cauldron, stirring slowly anti-clockwise as he did so, the potion slowly turning a delicate shade of rose, thickening slightly to the consistency of golden treacle...perfect. He allowed himself a small smile before turning to the next cauldron, checking the bruise balm as it entered its final simmer. Hopefully the little cretins wouldn't behave like human bludgers this year. Maybe, he snorted to himself, and trolls might fly.
"Severus! Severus, are you there?" The sound of the Headmaster's voice drifted through from the living room. Snape threw his hands up with exasperation. Why, why was it always when he was brewing? In fact, he could almost guarantee that the more delicate and exacting the potion, the more likely he would be interrupted.
Casting a stasis charm on the rose concoction, a possibly promising variation on burn salve, he stumped through to the living room, fuming to himself. "This had better be important," he snarled.
"Severus," Dumbledore's disembodied head admonished him from where it sat among the green flames of the floo connection, "it's Harry, he's disappeared from his relatives again, and no one can find Mundungus either. Nymphadora is rather worried."
Snape blinked at him; was that all? It only made it the fifth time this week to his almost certain knowledge, not that he was going to tell anyone. He checked the clock on the mantelpiece...ah, lunchtime.
"Have you checked in the Jade Radish? It's generally where he goes for lunch," Severus said edging back to his laboratory and his nice soothing cauldrons.
"Really, Severus, this isn't the time for jokes," Dumbledore replied, his voice pained.
"All right, all right I'm going," Snape huffed; and he'd been having such a nice day too.
Diagon Alley was quiet, slightly panicked, and plastered with those awful purple posters, courtesy of the Ministry. The few shoppers about didn't linger, but hustled from shop to shop, furtively looking around as if they expected the Death Eaters in full regalia and led by the Dark Lord himself to appear at any moment. Snape couldn't help but sneer at the sheer stupidity of the average witch and wizard.
And talking of stupidity... He glowered to himself, as he caught sight of the brat's little friends lingering behind a small crowd of red-heads, quietly and urgently talking to one another. Interspersed within the ginger horde were the familiar moth-eaten Lupin and someone he guessed was probably Tonks in disguise. An evil thought crossed his mind, and he almost grinned...in public. Stalking over to the Weasley horde, he spied the perpetrators of the hellish brood.
"Mr Weasley, Mrs Weasley, good afternoon," he said stiffly.
Surprised, the Weasleys turned as one to see the legendarily cantankerous and anti-social potions master standing there, almost smiling. "Hogwarts shopping, I take it?" Snape gazed around the silent, staring group.
"Indeed, Severus," Molly smiled tentatively, "a pity young Harry couldn't join us this summer. I hope he's all right...those awful relatives of his..." She scowled fiercely.
"Which brings me to my business in the Alley," Snape said. "I was wondering whether I could borrow your eldest while I retrieve Mr Potter from wherever he's run off to now. It shouldn't take long," he checked the time, "say, in an hour's time in Flourish & Blotts?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
The Weasley crowd smiled delightedly, and Snape allowed their inane chatter to wash over him.
Five minutes later, he was striding down Knockturn Alley, with a bewildered Bill Weasley trailing after him.
"Professor," the oldest Weasley spawn asked, "I thought we were retrieving Harry?"
"We are," Snape said over his shoulder.
"But..." Bill Weasley tried to protest, but Snape ignored him, intent on getting to the Jade Radish as quickly as he could.
The Fox ladies were their usual helpful selves.
"I'm afraid you just missed him," Snow Fox smiled apologetically, "but he did mention something about a book, and he went that way." She pointed down Stick Alley.
"Thank-you, Madam Snow Fox," Snape gave the fox spirit a small smile, "a good afternoon to you."
So the blasted brat was probably ensconced at J. Dee's then, buying Merlin knows what. He sighed heavily to himself as he strode down the narrow cobbled alley.
"Professor, this area is dangerous; would Harry really come along here? I got the impression he was more sensible than that," Bill said, looking around. He wasn't worried for himself so much, but the idea of his little brother's best friend coming down here on his own... the danger he'd be in... It made his blood run cold. He glared when Snape chuckled; this wasn't anything to laugh about.
Snape stopped at the door of J. Dee, Esoteric Books and rang the bell.
"You're kidding me," Weasley hissed, "didn't this place get raided by the Aurors last year?"
Snape gave him a sarcastic look as the door slowly swung open. "After you," he smirked.
The interior of the bookshop was gloomy and dark, every possible physical space filled with shelving crammed with books of every possible size and description. A step led into an equally crammed back-room. A narrow staircase poked into the most improbable of places led to further floors, a makeshift paper sign promising Pan-dimensional esoterica & Demonology 1st floor. Runic Philosophy & Natural Science 2nd Floor.
"Looking for your waif and stray?" an amused middle-aged voice asked.
Turning, the two men startled slightly at the sight of the tall and bony woman who had apparently appeared from nowhere. Clothed in respectable tweedy robes, a cream satin blouse and pearls, she could have worked for the Ministry, so dull and stuffy was her appearance...except for the eyes. Weasley felt the hairs stand up on the back of his neck; her eyes were like silver mirrors.
"Dare I ask what he's looking at?" Snape said with a tone of long suffering.
"Oh, he's upstairs looking through the Demonology section at the moment," the woman replied with a small and not very reassuring smile.
Snape swore expressively. "Blasted brat, that's the last thing we need!" He added, and stormed up the staircase.
The woman chuckled. "He is a very inquisitive boy, very perceptive." She smiled at Bill Weasley.
Weasley smiled tightly before nervously retreating up the stairs, his back prickling uncomfortably under the woman's watchful gaze. The stairs led him to a narrow landing, made even narrower by the overflowing shelving along its length. Carefully edging past, Weasley followed the sound of Professor Snape's voice, raised to a furious yell as he admonished Harry about his choice in books, interspersed with the occasional, rather defensive sounding mutter. Weasley paused in his tracks; that didn't sound like Harry, or not the Harry he remembered from the previous summer. But, of course, he was at that age, so maybe his voice had really dropped, but if that was so... his voice had really dropped. Weasley grinned to himself ruefully; he could just imagine the teasing when the Twins found out. He sidled round the corner prepared to sit back and watch the show, only to be brought up short. He goggled, he really couldn't help it. Was that Harry? No wonder he'd been able to sneak off to Diagon Alley with no one the wiser; little Harry Potter was huge...
In fact, he thought, as he lent carefully against the bookcase by the door, if anything he was taller than both himself and Snape, which was an impressive feat, since neither of them were short men. He did note to himself that the good professor was still managing to look down his nose at Harry, despite having to crane his neck slightly.
And it wasn't just Harry's height either; those broad, broad shoulders and massive arms only further added to the overall impression of heroic size; and since he was only sixteen, Harry was only going to get larger. Was there some giant blood in the Potter line that no one knew about, and what about Lily? What had she brought to the table, as it were?
Now that was a possibly interesting project; were muggle-borns that muggle-born?
He cleared his throat meaningfully as Professor Snape really got going on the possible legal ramifications of raising Greater Demons near vulnerable children.
"Right...well..." Snape said, still glaring up at his errant student, "Mr Weasley here is going to escort you to Flourish & Blotts, where you will join with your...friends, who you will stay with for the rest of your visit to the Alley today." Snape narrowed his eyes dangerously. "Am I understood?"
Weasley watched in fascination as the maybe giant, that might be little Harry, nodded solemnly. Snape's glare intensified.
"Yes sir," little Harry rumbled mournfully.
"Good," Snape said approvingly. "Weasley, I leave him in your capable hands." He gave the slightly stunned red-head a small grin. And with that, he swept out of the doorway, the sounds of his footsteps in the stairs oddly muffled by the presence of so many books, before the soft silence returned. Weasley stared up at "little" Harry, and the giant stared back with his solemn green eyes that were now unobstructed by glasses.
"Right," Bill sighed, "shall we get going then?" He smiled tightly.
"Hmm...can I buy these first?" Harry hefted his armful of books.
Feeling rather frazzled, Bill Weasley lurched into Flourish & Blotts, desperately searching for the soothing sanctuary of his family, Harry following him. Getting Harry out of the Knockturn area had been rather...interesting as every other passerby seemed to know him, and then insisted that they stop and chat...and then Harry had bought a couple of pies from one of the Graveyard Hags...and then he ate them, after offering to share. Somebody definitely needed to have a little chat with Harry about Hags and their diet; he was sure the lad would be really upset when he found out.
Diagon Alley wasn't any easier. How Harry knew Frankie Wilkes, proprietor of the dodgiest shop on Diagon Alley, he didn't know, but it had apparently been necessary to stop and have a ten minute chat...and then the trunk shop to pick up his new trunk; fortunately, that had been a quick in and out.
By the gardening section, he caught a familiar flash of red hair as his mum checked over the latest titles.
"Mum," Bill called, gesturing Harry to follow him, "I've got him."
"Oh, wonderful dear," Mrs Weasley smiled absently, as she flicked through a book on compost. "Did Severus go back to Hogwarts then?"
"I think so," Bill sighed, "probably a potion on the brew."
He turned, "Harry..." Blinking, he looked round. How the heck had six foot and counting managed to disappear like that? Hopefully he'd stayed in the shop. "I'll ah...just go and look in the runes section, then," he told his puzzled mother, "come and collect me when you're ready to leave."
"All right dear," Mrs Weasley gave him a sympathetic smile, before turning back to the vegetable husbandry books.
With a sigh of relief, Bill turned the corner into the runes section, hoping to find something new and interesting to take his mind off things...only to find he'd already been beaten to it. The broad black robed back of Harry Potter blocked his view of the new releases shelves completely.
Sighing heavily he considered his options, but apparently Harry had heard him, as he turned and gave him a slightly embarrassed smile.
"Have you seen this one?" he asked in his rich rumble. Bill eyed the offering a moment; Memories of the Sands, wasn't that the memoirs of Algie Hiskins? He'd retired from curse breaking in Egypt only a year ago, and had worked on some really big finds.
"Thanks," he smiled up at Harry taking the book.
The large youth sidled sideways, shunting his new trunk with him. Currently in its shrunken state, it looked rather like a heavy duty travel carrier for a particularly ferocious and small sabre-toothed cat. The two settled into a companionable silence, broken only by the rustle of pages.
He could hear the familiar chatter of Ron and Hermione somewhere the other side of the shop. It was strange, but now he came to it he found himself feeling...uncommonly shy to face the two people who knew Harry Potter the best. Did this make him a coward...weak?
Atum considered the question a moment, but eventually gave it up, shaking his head with a sigh. He didn't know what to think about the situation. Maybe he was better just to play innocent as he had at the Dursleys; they seemed to be more or less coping with him.
He turned the page of the book, its dense diagrams of Babylonian Cuneiform Seals oddly calming in their angular intricacies, but also strangely familiar. They reminded him a bit of the sort of warding systems and amplification arrays engraved on Horemheb's armour. Atum pondered them for a moment, humming to himself; there were distinct possibilities there for some interesting research...definitely likely to bear more fruit than his foray into Demonology anyway. He winced slightly as the memory of Snape's rant drifted to the fore-front of him mind. It wasn't as if he actually wanted to raise a Greater Demon, it was just...what happened to Horemheb the Firebrand's Tutelary?
Horemheb had found himself flung into the empyrean of the warp, trapped there, and his Tutelary, instead of trying to assist him, had instead attacked. He'd only just managed to get away, had been forced to run for his life, looking, searching for some way out, or some place from which he could fight back. The meeting with Harry had been rather fortuitous, even if he had landed millennia in the past, on virtually the other side of the Galactic Hub. The fact was the insane warp entity was no longer out for his blood, soul, and whatever else it could get its talons on.
But his frantic journey through the Warp had shown a few things to Horemheb. Things were not as he had been led to believe, the Tutelaries were not what they seemed, the psychic techniques he'd been taught were not always as benign as they seemed...and he was trapped millennia in the past, unable to warn his brothers. His Le...Horemheb's Legion was walking blindly into danger with the absolute best of intentions.
And he still couldn't find out why.
Atum sighed heavily to himself; at least he could find a good book to drown his sorrows in.
"Bill, have you seen Harry anywhere?" a horribly familiar voice asked from mere feet away. "I've asked Mum, and she said you'd brought him here."
Atum peaked through his eyelashes, only to find Bill Weasley staring rather pointedly at him. He blinked puzzled; what did Bill want from him? Bill nodded meaningfully towards his little brother, cocking an eyebrow.
Oh. Atum felt himself blushing slightly, but clamped down on it quickly. Turning, he gazed at Harry Potter's two best friends in the world. "Hmm...hello," he smiled tentatively at them.
Ron and Hermione stared back, mouths hanging open, their expressions ones of utter disbelief.
"Uh...Bill," Ron said, slowly edging away slightly, "this isn't very funny...even the Twins wouldn't think this was funny..."
Bill snorted with laughter at him. "Don't be ridiculous, Ron. Professor Snape is convinced this is Harry, and went to some lengths to retrieve him from... a different bookshop. Are you saying Snape can't even recognise his own students? Harry's just hit puberty, that all..." He trailed off, obviously having difficulties convincing himself as much as his brother.
Atum sighed heavily, causing Ron to start nervously at the sound. All right, he had grown a bit- a lot, in all sorts of directions, his hair was longer, he didn't need glasses (something that he was rather thrilled by), and he was certainly better dressed, but he hadn't changed that much, had he?
He met Hermione's suspicious gaze. "You didn't reply to my last letter," he accused, his voice a little more forceful than he'd meant.
Hermione jerked slightly, fearful at his tone, before her attitude turned belligerent. "What was I supposed to say?" she spluttered. "I mean, of all the ridiculous things, a square of salt being used in warding? I've never read anything of the sort," she fumed, arms folded defensively over her chest.
Bill raised an eyebrow. "A square of salt? Yep, use it in curse-breaking to hold things in place...or as a quick and dirty form of protection. It's too fragile to stand up to much, but in the right situation... well, it's saved my life on a number of occasions."
Hermione stared at him in disbelief. "I've never read anything about even in the advanced books at Hogwarts," she glared.
Bill shrugged. "You won't. It's one of those things that only really get used in the trade. It's not very useful for everyday..."
Hermione glared. "But..." she began.
"Not all knowledge is written down," Atum said, his deep voice reverberating around the shelves. "Sometimes you have to...infer it, discover it...it is a puzzle to uncover, discover...complete." he smiled at the girl.
She huffed, utterly unimpressed by his announcement. "Anyway," she said, temper obviously not improved, "we came to tell you that we're leaving soon, so you'd better get your school-books together Harry."
"I bought them over a week ago," Atum shrugged, "I got everything else as well. It seemed a good idea to be prepared. This was the last thing I needed." He patted his new trunk gently.
Ron and Hermione stared down at it, utterly unimpressed.
"I tried putting all my books in my old trunk, picked it up only for the bottom to fall out...all over my feet," Atum explained, Bill wincing sympathetically. "The lady at the luggage shop persuaded me to have a Ravenclaw model. It looks a reasonable capacity...I should be able to get all my books in, and then I'll just need a kit-bag for my clothes."
Ron and Hermione stared at him silently.
"You've gone mental you have," Ron announced, "even more than Hermione. How the hell have you managed to fill a standard trunk with books? That's impossible, that is."
Hermione flushed scarlet. "Of course it's possible. I've got a Ravenclaw model trunk too; how else do you think I'm able to get all my school texts from every year, and the reference books, and my favourite novels in..."
Atum watched the pair descend into verbal sparring; was he really going to have to put up with this for the next nine months or so?