Harry Potter awoke with a start, out of breath, and with his heart pounding furiously. He was lying spread eagle on the bed, his limbs quivering with active alarm or fear. The surface of the ceiling, painted a mute yellow, looked completely unfamiliar. Rubbing his head—which throbbed as he sat up—he took in the room. Everything was the same mute yellow, even the bookshelves built into the far wall. He squinted at the very Muggle bedroom he was in, complete with a digital alarm clock. A small silver frame sat on the side table. He tried reaching for it, but his hands were unexpectedly clumsy, making him drop it. The crack! of it hitting the wooden floor jolted his nerves.
Running feet pounded outside the door and the door handle turned. The door was thrust open and a boy bolted into the room. His face held an odd mixture of excitement and pain. He stared at Harry as he closed the door slowly behind him. "How are you feeling?" the boy asked in serious concern.
Harry gaped; looking at the boy of roughly twelve was like looking at himself in the mirror, except with lighter hair.
"Where am I?" Harry asked in confusion.
The boy stepped closer. "In your room. In your house." This was spoken methodically.
Harry put his hands on the bed in preparation to stand, even though his legs didn't feel up to it. He was dressed in flannel pyjamas that were, like everything else, totally unfamiliar.
"Everything is all right," the boy said earnestly. He came over then and grasped Harry's arm as he sat beside him.
Harry held the backs of his hands up and stared at them. They didn't look right.
"You were hurt; you don't remember what happened," the boy said as he stroked Harry's arm as though to comfort him.
"Don't remember what?" Harry asked. He cast his mind back, trying to recall the events of the day before. School and Quidditch. The battles with Voldemort. His starting Auror training. All of these blurred in his mind.
"You were attacked and injured. And now you don't remember."
Harry looked at the boy again. Cold panic filled him. "Merlin," he breathed, "who are you?"
"I'm your son," the boy said, now showing slight signs of distress. His face returned to an unaffected state quickly though. "I'm thirteen. You don't remember any of this," he repeated.
Harry's mind swirled at that. He stood up and stepped around the room. The door opened and a totally unfamiliar woman looked in. She had dark red hair and a portly shape. "All right in here?"
"It's fine," the boy insisted impatiently. The door closed. He turned to Harry expectantly. "You fall asleep for long periods of time and when you wake up, you don't remember again," he said factually. "The doctors don't know what is wrong with you really, but they have lots of fancy words for it anyway."
"What happened to me?" Harry asked as he looked over the bookshelf for anything familiar. There were used children's books and novels he didn't recognize.
"You were cursed."
Something about the way the boy said this brought Harry's attention back to him. "You aren't a wizard?"
"No," the boy said quietly, and then with a wince gestured for Harry to keep his voice down.
With a sharp look Harry said, "Where is your mum?"
"She's dead. She wasn't a witch."
Harry scratched his chin. "How long-"
"Three years," the boy said, interrupting him. It sounded like it still hurt to remember.
"I'm sorry," Harry said. He breathed out hard and looked at the ceiling. "I suppose the chances that I, for some reason, drank half a dozen random potions in the dungeon and am having a very strange vision are kind of low."
"'Fraid so," the boy said dully.
Harry looked at his hands again. They were older, that is why they looked so odd. He stepped back over to the bed and sat down. "I can see what your mum must have looked like by looking at you," he commented. "I'm sorry I don't remember you." When the boy shrugged at that, Harry said, "How long has this been going on?"
"What is the last thing you remember?" he asked back, clasping and unclasping his hands.
"Being at the Ministry for Auror training. We were having drills in the workout room. There was an emergency: two of the Death Eaters had escaped from interrogation."
The boy finished for him when he hesitated. "You and the other trainees went to help. That's when you were hurt. Mum said you used to be better. When she met you, you would only forget after a few months and not everything." He scooped the frame off the floor and held it up for his inspection.
Harry didn't recognize the woman in the photo at all. A bit overwhelmed by so much unrecognized loss, a tear threatened to slide out of his eye. He brushed it away with his soft sleeve.
"I'm sorry, Dad," the boy said, grabbing his arm again.
Harry disengaged himself from the grip and put his arm around the boy's back. "I'm sorry too " he said, trailing off. He didn't even know the boy's name.
"Arthur," the boy said, filling in his lines as though by rote. "My name is Arthur."
The enormity of the situation struck home. Harry grabbed the boy with both arms in a hug and held him fiercely. His tears ran into the boy's hair, which stuck in all directions, just like his own.
Sniffling, Arthur said, "I'm sorry, Dad. Sometimes I can go through this without making you cry."
Harry pulled him tighter. "Arthur, eh?"
"Named after your friend's father," Arthur supplied levelly.
"Did you ever meet him?"
"He died before I was born, along with another powerful wizard you liked. You sometimes remember that. But it isn't a very nice story and not a good idea to tell it to you."
Harry regrouped, flinching at what his imagination put in place of the unknown. "So you are saying that when I fall back to sleep, I'll forget again?" At Arthur's nod, Harry said, "How long can I stay awake?"
"One time you made it three days, but then you slept for over a month."
"You almost made it that long this time, too. It's been getting longer," the boy said painfully.
Harry stared at him. "A month. And then we start again." He sighed. After a moment of thought he stood. "I need to get out. Let's go for a walk." Arthur found clothes for him in the drawers under the shelves which he changed into. "Do you know where my wand is?"
This led to some deliberation by the boy, but he eventually opened the bottom drawer and untaped the wand from under the shelf above. "Elsa wanted to get rid of it. Mum used to freak when she mentioned it. So I hide it."
"Thanks," Harry said sincerely as he pocketed the wand in the hooded sweatshirt he was wearing. "Do try to keep an eye on it for me."
Arthur nodded solemnly then said, "Not too far," in concern as Harry walked with purpose out of the room. As they crossed the hallway into the kitchen, the boy yelled down to the end, "We're going for a very short walk!"
A barely intelligible 'okay' came back. Arthur picked up a set of keys off of a rack and went to the door. He turned back to Harry with an expectant gaze. Harry was busy taking in the rooms. Deciding there was no point to memorizing them, he followed his son out.
Out on the street, the sun shown warmly. "I take it Elsa doesn't approve of magic."
"She goes kind of crazy about it. But Mum hired her a year before she died, and what am I going to do?"
Harry put a hand on his shoulder. "I wasn't criticizing, just looking for information." After they walked to the end of the block, Harry asked, a little hurt, "No one ever came around?"
"You mean people you knew before? Yeah. But Mum eventually told them to go away. No one could do anything for you. Doctors at St. Mungo's even tried, Mum always told them. She wanted to get on with life."
"Do you ever hear a popping sound, like," he popped his finger on his cheek.
Arthur's eyes brightened. "I used hear it a lot."
"It is someone Apparating, in or out," Harry explained. A man trimming his grass stared at them. Harry waved pleasantly and the man smiled.
"What does that mean?"
"It means someone was appearing or disappearing by magic. When was the last time you heard it?"
Arthur looked a little saddened. "When I was six or seven."
"So, six or seven years ago."
"Let's turn back," Arthur suggested. At Harry's doubtful look, the boy said, "When you fall asleep it's kinda sudden and you don't wake up again, no matter what."
Harry turned around and they headed the other way. "We don't have an owl, do we?"
"Owls don't make very good house pets," Arthur pointed out with an air of authority.
"I used to have one."
"Hedwig. You've told me; although not in a long time. I like to hear new stories, but it is hard since you don't know what you've told me about and I don't know what you haven't."
"I told you about Hogwarts?" At the boy's emphatic nod, Harry said, "And Voldemort, presumably?" Another nod. After they passed their house going the other way, Harry stated quietly, "This has to end."
Arthur took his hand. "You are really nice to me when you are awake. I'd rather this than not have you at all."
"Arthur, I didn't mean that." Harry thought a long time, until they stopped because Arthur tugged on his hand to signal that they were going too far. "I need you to try to contact someone who can, but it is hard for a Muggle to do that. It has to be someone who will understand." He fell silent again as they passed a garden being copiously watered to combat the heat. "Did I tell you about someone named Snape?"
"I don't think so."
"It's been a long time," Harry breathed, talking to himself. "Let's go back to the house. I want you to do something for me."
"What do you want me to do?"
"It's summer holiday, right?" When Arthur nodded, Harry said, "I want you to go into London and try to find this wizard. I think he might be able to help. He was adept at magical potions, and I know where you can start to try to find him."
Arthur's expression showed the first signs of doubt at that. Harry could see him pull a brave face over his pained one as they walked up to the house. Inside, Harry took a grocery list pad off of the refrigerator and a ball-point pen from the second drawer he tried. They sat at the dining room table and he wrote down an address on Charing Cross Road.
"I want you to go to this address. It won't seem to exist, but where it should be, there is another doorway you can't see."
Arthur's face went a little pained, but he didn't protest. Harry ran his hand over the boy's head once in affection.
"You think I'm a little crazy."
"Everyone thinks you're a little crazy."
Chagrined, Harry tapped the pen. "This is the only way, Arthur."
"All right," Arthur agreed reluctantly.
Elsa stepped out of the hallway, a little quieter than expected. "I'll make you some tea, Mr. Potter," she said in a sweet voice. Harry leaned over to watch her go into the kitchen. The faucet sounded. His instincts went on alert.
Quietly, he started another diagram on a second sheet, like a brick wall. "This is the thing: getting into the Leaky Cauldron is going to be a little leap of faith for you. I'm not sure a non magic person can get in, but I have seen Muggles on Diagon Alley so I know it's possible. Try closing your eyes maybe." Arthur held his gaze steady through this. Bolstered, Harry went on, "Inside the pub it's going to be like it was five hundred years ago. Smokey with hags and people who bathe once a month."
Harry put his hand up for Arthur to hold in his response. "Don't meet anyone's eyes. They'll recognize you for certain. No. Really. Go through to the back by the dustbins. There is a brick wall. Use the wand to tap the bricks in this pattern." Harry wrote numbers on the bricks and handed that over. "An archway will open up and let you onto Diagon Alley."
Arthur casually turned the small sheets face down and took the pen as Elsa came back out. She put the teapot and a cup by Harry, who looked up intently at the middle-aged woman. The friendliness in her eyes masked something else. He dug just a little deeper.
"Thank you, Elsa, but I don't need it yet." She started to walk away. "Arthur, maybe you would like some tea?" Harry offered.
Elsa spun around at that. "Children shouldn't drink tea!" she scolded and scooped the pot and cup back up and returned them to the kitchen. Arthur seemed very alarmed by all this. Elsa stalked back through and into a bedroom down the hall.
"She put sleeping pills in it," Harry whispered to him. He pulled out his wand and pulled her door closed with a slow spell and shot Arthur a sly look.
"She did what?" Arthur blurted in a betrayed voice.
"It's all right. If I were her and a Muggle, I would worry about you talking to me too." He didn't want to add anything to the boy's burdens, even if he didn't trust Elsa one bit. Harry leaned over to see into the kitchen and cast a tea making spell. The pot rinsed itself from the tap and zipped into his hand. Harry set it on the table and hit it with a heating charm before he Accioed two cups and the canister of tea leaves as well.
Arthur gave him a very affectionate look. Harry waggled his eyebrows at him and added the leaves by hand. With a glance down the hallway to make sure the door was still closed, Harry took up one of the sheets again.
"You don't have to go far at all. The first place on the right is the Apothecary's. Go in there and ask if they know how to reach Severus Snape. He used to teach at Hogwarts but it's summer, so even if he still does, he won't be at the school. "
Harry poured tea for them both. "Is there any strange money around? Coins?"
Arthur brightened. "Up in the attic."
"Take them along. Buy yourself an ice cream at Fortescue's, just down the street. Best ice cream in the world. Whatever you do, don't turn down the alley by the bank. Dark wizards hang out there. They'll have you for dinner—literally. If the man at the Apothecary doesn't know how to reach Snape, ask him who else might."
Arthur looked over the sheets. "What then?"
Harry gestured to hurry him along. "Try to reach him. Tell him what is wrong with me and ask if he can help."
Arthur stood up. "Why haven't you mentioned him before?"
Harry shook his head. "I hated him. He hated me." He shrugged. Arthur looked alarmed. "Is there a robe in the attic as well? A plain one with no Gryffindor patch?"
"I think so."
"Wear it. Hurry, I want to try to be awake when you return."
Ten minutes later, Arthur came back down cautiously, so as to not make the steps to the attic creak. Even though there were many excuses for him going up there, he didn't want a confrontation with Elsa. His father stashed the wand in the left pocket of the robe and looked into the money sack. As he opened his mouth, Arthur said, "You've already told me what they are worth."
"Good boy," Harry said and gave him a quick hug. "Put the robe on just inside the door to the Leaky Cauldron, otherwise you will really stand out."
Arthur knocked on Elsa's door. "I'm going to the store," he said. "Then I'm stopping to get my new game from Eric to show it to Dad." She murmured something in reply. Arthur stopped before Harry again and received another hug.
"I want to be more to you than this," Harry said painfully.
Arthur looked up at him in grim hopefulness and then averted his gaze. "I'll be back as soon as I can, but it will be a few hours. I have to take the underground five stops and change once."
"I'll be awake," Harry insisted. He sat down beside the teapot.
Arthur stepped out the side door and waved in the window as he passed. After he was gone Harry almost passed out on the table. His longing to go himself to sort out what was happening wasn't enough to overcome his acute weakness. He hoped Arthur would manage all right and imagined that he would have in his place. This bolstered him as he poured tea and swigged it hot. The scald of the heat woke him up completely.
Arthur rode the underground in a daze. His emotions were tearing away at his insides and it didn't feel like there was much of himself in there to spare. After a long, monotonous journey he got out at the correct stop and walked up the long staircase. Out on the street it was sunny and bustling, full of people with rational things to be doing.
Arthur walked down to the address scrawled on the paper and stopped. There was a bank, all granite and glass on one side, and a small shop on the other. His dad was right: the address he had given him was missing. He stashed the shopping list paper back in his jeans pocket and sighed. Londoners stepped around him as though he were an object. He looked between the two establishments again and positioned himself right at the break where the polished granite met the wood facing. A lorry rumbled by behind him, tossing sand at his back, while he sadly pondered what to do.