Chapter One: A Familiar Stranger
Taking a deep breath, a young man of sixteen years old was preparing to go to Platform 9 ¾ with his false documents in hand. He was gazing at himself in front of the mirror, wondering if he was going to be able to get away with it. His brown eyes were too much like hers. His hair was the exact same shade as hers, but with a different consistence. Clearing his throat, he said with a well-rehearsed American accent, "Good morning. Where might I find Platform 9 ¾?" He shook his head, cleared his throat, and repeated his words again with some modification, "Morning. Where's Platform 9 ¾?" He wished he didn't have to use the accent at all because it sounded dreadful. He had little choice. He was told on more than one occasion that his voice sounded just like his father's.
"Here's goes nothing," he muttered.
"That's the spirit, dear," the mirror told him sarcastically. "I've heard Americans talk and you're not going to get away with it."
"Shut it," he ordered the mirror with annoyance. He pulled at a chain around his neck and stuffed the pendant under his shirt.
He picked up the handle of his trunk. It had wheels to make it easy to transport, giving him more of a Muggle born appearance. With some trouble, he got his trunk to the bottom of the staircase to the pub area of the Leaky Cauldron. He paid for his room and went off to find a Floo Network to get to the station.
"I wonder if Harry's all right," said Hermione worriedly to her red-haired companions. "He hasn't written us all summer."
Ron sighed as he adjusted his Prefect pin, which was upside down. It flipped back over. He took it off all together and stuffed it into his pocket. "You can't blame him if he didn't want to write to us. I wish we knew something. If I knew anything, I'd tell him this time. I even wrote that I'd tell him anything I knew over the summer, but he never wrote back."
"Professor Dumbledore said that he was fine," said Ginny. "I mean that he was staying at his aunt's house. Harry's blaming himself for what happened to Sirius."
Hermione bit her lip as she saw someone unfamiliar coming along, pulling a trunk on wheels. He looked about their age. He was tall just as tall as Ron with a similar body structure. He looked a little confused. "Excuse me, are you all right?" she asked.
The boy blinked at her with surprise. He opened his mouth and he attempted to say something, but couldn't. He seemed transfixed on her face. "What's the matter, mate? You look lost," said Ron just behind Hermione.
The boy's head whipped to look at Ron and he gulped. "Um—yes—I—mean I think I'm lost," he stammered nervously. "I'm looking for the train to my school." He saw the Prefect pin on Hermione's collar.
"You're American, aren't you?" asked Hermione. "How old are you?"
"I'm sixteen," replied the boy. "And yes, I'm American. I'm on a special exchange program with a school in England. By any chance, would you be going to that school?" Most of this was just an act; he knew perfectly well who the people he was speaking with. His skin was tingling from the air.
"I didn't know that there was an exchange program," said Ron thoughtfully. "What's your name?"
"Jared Blake," replied the boy. "It's nice to meet you. And you are?"
"Ron Weasley. This is Hermione Granger, and my sister Ginny," answered Ron, introducing the two girls. "I guess we'll help you."
"Thanks," said Jared with some relief as he followed them, feeling his excitement build. He would have never gotten away with that before. He had to remind himself that they didn't know him. At least not yet.
"The Platform is between Platforms nine and ten. All you need to do is to go through the divider. Run a little first if you're not sure," instructed Hermione. "And you should be fine. We have to go back to our parents. Good luck." She gave him a smile as all three of them walked off. Jared smiled back at her.
Ginny glanced back at a little as her brother and Hermione continued walking. There was something strangely familiar with that boy. She shook her head as she turned and noticed they were way ahead of her. "Hey, wait for me!" she exclaimed.
Jared continued onward until he was through the divider. He knew where it was the whole time, but his conversation with Ron, Hermione, and Ginny gave him a chance to assess the situation. It was disconcerting seeing them as peers rather than authority figures. He had one pressing question in his mind: where was Harry Potter?
He got his answer as soon as he went through the divider. Harry was by himself. Apparently, he had arrived early. Jared was a little taken because Harry wasn't like himself. Harry was loading his trunk without any assistance and looked like he was unwilling to speak with anyone. Jared remembered that it wasn't a good time for Harry. Sighing, Jared walked up to him because it was the section to load his trunk in. "Excuse me," said Jared quietly. Harry moved out of his way and allowed him to put his trunk in place. He was just about to leave when he heard Harry's voice. "I've never seen you before. You look too old to be a first year."
"I'm not. I'm an exchange student from America. My name is Jared Blake."
"Harry Potter." Harry held his breath waiting for the usual sweep for his scar, when Jared's eyes didn't weaver, he was a little surprised. "Are you by yourself?"
"Yes, my parents are very busy. Well, I'll see you on the train." Jared walked onto get the train. He wanted to go early because there was a specific compartment that he liked. He also wanted to avoid running into other people for a while. It was a mind trip seeing Ron, Harry, Hermione, and Ginny. He needed to settle himself for a while.
Finding his favorite compartment, Jared took a seat and was smiling with great satisfaction that it wasn't occupied. He stared out the window and watched as Ron and Hermione caught up with Harry. There is tension between the best friends as they try to catch up in a few words about Harry's summer. They got on the train as Ginny had a brief conversation with her mother. Jared could almost tell what Mrs. Weasley is saying, "Take care and don't get into any trouble. Make sure that your brother and his friends are all right. You'll write me and tell me otherwise, right?" Yes, that was exactly what she was telling her and Jared was positive of it.
He continued to stare out the window as someone knocked on the compartment. Jared turned his head in a daze. "Hullo, I was wondering if you mind me sitting here. The other compartments are filling up fast." Jared knew who it was, but he looked a bit different than what he remembered. "Sure, no problem," said Jared after realizing that Neville Longbottom wanted an answer from him.
"Thanks. I'm Neville Longbottom."
"Jared Blake. I'm the exchange student from America. It's nice to see a friendly face."
"So, you're just starting Hogwarts this year?"
"It's a year long exchange. What's that?" asked Jared, referring to the plant that Neville was carrying. In the leaves, a toad was sitting, held down by what looked like vines.
"Oh, this is my Mimbulus mimbletonia and my toad, Trevor," replied Neville. "Don't get too close though, it will squirt you. It does it with strangers."
"Oh," said Jared lightly, remembering Neville's love of plants. "It's very nice. I don't even have a familiar. I was thinking of getting an owl when I got there. My parents gave me money for one, but I'm not sure what I want to get."
"Neville, there you are," said Luna Lovegood as she peered into the compartment. "Do you mind if I sit here?" She had her wand tucked into her ear as she stared at Jared. "Oh, I didn't know you were talking to someone. That was rude of me. I'm Luna Lovegood."
"Nice to meet you," said Jared. "Jared Blake. The American exchange student." He said the last part almost wryly. He was going to get tired of introducing himself after a while. Perhaps, he should have had some business cards printed up. It would have made things a lot easier, if not less annoying. "Have a seat," he offered.
Luna took the seat next to him. "You look awfully familiar though. I can't place you," she said as she gazed at him. "Maybe it's the Doppelganger theory."
"I don't think I have a twin anywhere else in the world," said Jared with a nervous laugh. He didn't like the fact that she was able to look like she could see right through him. Much to his relief, Harry showed up carrying two cages with his owl, Hedwig, and another containing Ron's owl, Pig. Ginny had a carrier with Crookshanks in it. Jared nearly laughed at the poor half-Kneazle. Crookshanks had his face pressed up against the wired door of the carrier, squashing his already squashed face even more. "Come on in," he said, very thankful for their intrusion.
"Thanks Jared. I guess you got acquainted with other people already," said Ginny cheerfully. "Does anyone mind if I let Crookshanks out? He's not very happy."
"How will you get him back inside?" asked Neville gazing at feline.
"We'll stuff him back in later," said Harry as he put the owls in the open overhead compartment. Pig was being his usual hyperactive self, twittering from bar to bar of his cage. Hedwig was turning her head away from the irritating owl and pretending like she didn't know him. Harry gently stroked her feathers and she hooted. "I'm sorry about this. We'll be there soon, Hedwig." She hooted at him softly.
Crookshanks was padding around the compartment floor. He seemed very interested in Jared, rubbing up against the boy's shins. Jared, without thinking, picked up Crookshanks who didn't even hiss at him. Jared gently rubbed the feline's ears, causing Crookshanks to purr like a motor engine. "Wow, I've never seen Hermione's cat take such a liking to someone so quickly," complimented Ginny with some amazement.
Jared looked a little startled, but his expression softened. "My mother had a cat like this one. He died when I was little," he explained. "He was my buddy when we'd go exploring the house. Where are the other two?"
"Oh, you mean Ron and Hermione? They're at the Prefect compartment. They should be coming here as soon as they're done with business," answered Ginny.
Harry had taken his place by the window, which Neville offered him without saying a word. He was gazing out the window. Luna was no longer interested in Jared, but in Harry. Jared wasn't overly concerned with Harry, knowing that it would be sorted out later. So, he continued rubbing Crookshanks' ears. He knew that his presence there would prevent the others from prying and asking Harry about how he was doing. Somehow, Jared knew that Harry would be grateful for it.
Ginny, who Jared knew was never comfortable with long silences, broke it after a few minutes, "So, how was your summer, Luna? You wrote me about going to Sweden. Did you find anything?"
"Not really," answered Luna. "It was mildly disappointing. But my father and I looked at the old evidence from before." The girls filled the silence with talk about Luna's strange creatures. Jared was grinning as he remembered the repeated warnings that his mother used to tell him when he was small. It was a wonder why his mother and Luna were friends.
"Some pretty bad things out there," murmured Jared, getting Harry's attention. "I read all about it. My parents didn't want me to come at all, but I really had no choice."
Harry stared at him for a moment, "Did you want to ask me anything?" There was a definite mark of hostility in his voice. "Come on, what did you want to ask me?"
"Harry, calm down," said Ginny. "There's no need to get angry."
"No, it's all right," said Jared. "He has every right to be angry. This is one screwed up world. Some just get hit more than others. I'm sorry if I sounded too forward. I didn't mean anything by it."
Harry's features softened at his words. He swallowed what anger he had towards him. "I'm sorry. It's just that I know that people are going to ask like they did last year."
"We'll be with you," Neville reassured him. "I mean Ron and I will be in the dorms. Ron and Hermione can give people detention for pestering you."
"I don't think Hermione would," said Jared. "Ron might, but not her."
"How do you know that? You only met them for less than five minutes," scoffed Ginny.
Jared shrugged his shoulders. He was a quick thinker and said, "Because when I met with you three, he wasn't wearing his badge. I didn't even know he was a prefect until you and Harry came in." He really wanted to say that he knew them pretty well. Intimately actually, but he couldn't if he wanted to keep his cover.
Harry had more of an appreciation of Jared at that point. "I don't think Hermione and Ron should be assigning detention on my behalf. I'm tired of people doing stuff on my behalf. I'm sick of it." The others were quiet again for nearly fifteen minutes before Neville decided to take a stab at some conversation.
Almost an hour past before Ron and Hermione showed up. "Hello. Oh, I see everyone's met Jared," greeted Hermione.
"Hermione, move, so I can get a seat," ordered Ron as he gave her a little push. He was so much bigger than her. She was only around five and half feet tall, while Ron towered over her at just over six feet tall. Jared watched with mild amusement, not knowing if he should shake his head at them or laugh out loud. "You could say excuse me," retorted Hermione. "You're just mad because Malfoy is still a prefect."
"Aren't you? He called you a 'Mudblood' during the meeting. And you just let him. Now, move," countered Ron angrily. Hermione obligingly moved out of his way and he took a seat next to Neville, while Hermione took hers next to Ginny. "Besides, there's no point in fighting Malfoy. He's just saying it to get a rise out of me. Why should I make him think he's winning by reacting? That's your problem, Ron. He'd leave us all alone much more, if you wouldn't react to every single thing he does or says."
Jared was experiencing a moment of déjà vu as he remembered getting an almost similar speech when he was younger. He fought the compulsion to recite it along with Hermione. Ron averted the would-be argument by waving his hand dismissively. He turned his attention to a more pressing matter, "So, how are you doing Harry?" Neville and Ginny seized up.
"Fine," replied Harry automatically.
Jared shifted a little as he continued to look out the window, ignoring the tension all together. He wasn't worried at all because he simply knew better. He also didn't want to interfere with what was happening. If the three of them wanted to fight, they were going to fight. "Right," said Ron with a nod.
"Are you sure, Harry?" pressed Hermione. Jared almost predicted that. She never knew when to leave well enough alone, but it was one of the things that he loved about her.
"He said he's fine, Hermione," insisted Ron. That was also a response that Jared expected. It was almost like a patterned script that Jared was used to. This was just the normal way Ron and Hermione communicated, but Jared knew better. They were more than capable of just bickering back and forth like an old married couple. Hermione looked like she wanted to say something else, but decided to leave it be. There was no doubt in Jared's mind that Ron and Hermione were going to be discussing it later on. "So, Jared, where in America are you from?"
Jared turned his head, "Huh? Oh, I'm from Los Angeles in California. All the way in the West Coast."
"This must be quite a change of climate for you," said Hermione. "I've never been to California before."
"It's pretty hot during the summer," agreed Jason. "And it doesn't snow there, you have to go elsewhere. But there are lots of different cultures in one place. You don't have to go far to get tastes of Mexico, China, and lots of other countries. So, who needs snow?" He wasn't lying. He knew a lot of different places in the world because his parents and he went on vacations to various places. They spent two weeks in California before, so Jared had experience to draw from. It was all part of his persona as an American.
"What kind of schools do they have in America?" asked Ginny, picking up on the topic.
"Well, we don't really have much in the way of boarding schools because it's very expensive for most people, so most of our schools are just during the day. At the end of the day, we go home to our families. My parents were a little worried about sending me to Hogwarts, but I convinced them that it's worth the experience. I hope to broaden my horizons, so that's why I'm here."
"Didn't your parents know about You-Know-Who coming back?" asked Neville. "We were in the Ministry of Magic just before school let out last year. Less than a year." He wasn't bragging. He was warning Jared.
"I know," replied Jared as he continued to rub Crookshanks' ears. Hermione stared at her cat who was purring like mad. He noticed that she was staring. "Oh, I'm sorry. This is your cat. You want him back?"
"No, that's all right," whispered Hermione as she glanced at Ginny who shrugged.
"I can't believe that stupid cat likes him," muttered Ron.
"He's not stupid, Ron!" exclaimed Hermione defensively.
"That cat looks like he ran into a wall, Hermione!" he retorted. "He's not a normal cat. I think he's out to get me."
"Actually, he's at least half-Kneazle," remarked Jared. "He's smarter than the average cat, but I don't think he's out to get anyone. Kneazles are very loyal animals. They are at least loyal to their owners and they protect their owners, especially their personal space." Ron looked flabbergasted at the last part of Jared's explanation.
"You really think Crookshanks is half-Kneazle?" asked Hermione.
"Great, two know-it-alls in one place. How did I end up here?" muttered Ron as he threw his hands into the air, nearly knocking Neville's plant and toad off his lap. "I'm sorry, Neville."
"Or maybe, Crookshanks doesn't like you because you don't like him," pointed out Jared. Ginny and Luna started giggling. "If you made an effort, you two could get along."
Ron's face turned red as he glared at Jared. Now Hermione was giggling along with the other two girls. "Who the bloody Hell do you think you are?" demanded Ron.
Jared looked a little taken back by Ron's reaction. He knew that he had probably gone too far. "You need to learn how to take a joke," he said placating him. "I have a problem with my impulse control. I get it from my father. At least that's what my mother tells me. I also have his temper." It seemed kind of odd that anyone would share that kind of information with near strangers. It was a lapse on Jared's part; they didn't know him yet. "So, what does a prefect do exactly?"
Hermione glanced at Ron as he slumped into his grumpy mode. "You see we're in charge of the other students and we help them. Our school is on a point system. There are four houses: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin."
"You don't want to get into Slytherin," put in Ginny.
Hermione continued, "Each house has certain characteristics and depending on your personality and what the Sorting Hat says, that's where you'll go. I, Ron, Ginny, Neville, and Harry are in Gryffindor, while Luna is in Ravenclaw. Each house acts as your family while you are at Hogwarts."
"I see," said Jared. He stopped rubbing Crookshanks' ears, which the half-Kneazle didn't really appreciate. He hissed at Jared. "Oh, I'm sorry, Crookshanks."
"That's all right. Crookshanks, you've gotten enough attention from him already. Come here," said Hermione gently. Crookshanks jumped off Jared lap and went over to Hermione, but stayed at her feet.
Harry quietly announced, "We're almost there. Why don't we get our robes on?" Jared was the only one who wasn't scrambling to get them on. Ron fumbled with his prefect pin again, exasperating Hermione thoroughly. She grabbed it from him and pinned it on his chest for him. Jared had seen a scene like that so many times. "There. Just leave it alone, Ron," ordered Hermione.
"That pin is like your head. Hermione has to straighten both of them out," quipped Ginny. Jared chuckled.
"What is this? Pick on Ron Day? Stop it before I give you detention!" snapped Ron as he glared at Ginny.
"Detention? I'm your little sister. How could you even consider giving me detention?" asked Ginny with mock shock.
"Fine, I could give you detention. You don't need to be in Gryffindor for that," said Ron as he threw a glare Jared's way. "You're the one who started the whole thing." Jared opened his mouth to defend himself, but he realized that he couldn't say it. If Ron knew who he was, he wouldn't be able to bring himself to even give Jared detention. He shut his mouth instead. Instead, he decided to put on his robes.
It was only a matter of time before he had to really get to work. Time was relative though, but Jared knew that he had taken a big gamble coming. The train came to a stop. Hermione and Ron were the first ones out of their compartment. He stared at them, wondering which one of them would be the target.
AN: It's not that hard to figure out who Jared is. He's smart as his mother, but he's got a lot of his father in him. He's certainly making a good impression. There will be Ron and Hermione moments, but not right away. I'm going back to my Ron and Hermione roots. There is a lot of background history to go over along with some questions to answer. Things are being seen from Jared's perspective. As for the title, it sucks, but I've never been good with titles.
Also, for those of you who are following Veritas, it has been put on hold because of the new canon material that J.K. Rowling has posted on her site that I cannot ignore. I need to figure out if I'll continue posting it on Fanfiction.net or just post it on my fansite. So, for you Veritas, readers who might be reading this, you can post your opinion if you wish.
By the way, I have lost my beta reader due to circumstances that are beyond her control. It is understandable. However, if anyone would be interested in editing this particular story, please contact me via email. Or post a review and I'll get back to anyone who's interested. This is just for beta reading this story.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. This story belongs to me and cannot be posted anywhere else without my permission.